Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 30, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we conclude 2014 and look toward 2015, I would like to encourage each of us to consider taking a page from a popular devotional strategy called "One Word".

The idea of "One Word" is to find a Biblical word or phrase that can capture your imagination for the entire year, and make it an emphasis in prayer and study toward developing one particular aspect of your life for the entire year.

Through prayer and contemplation, I have chosen a word, or should I say the word chose me.  I am not sure if it is a Biblical word, but it will be particularly relevant for me in developing as a follower of Jesus Christ.   The one word I will focus on in 2015 is "mindful".

Being "mindful" has lots of implications.   It will impact my purchases, my interactions with others, my awareness of my own thoughts, habits, and choices and how each impacts my witness for Jesus and my pursuit of His kingdom and His righteousness.

One choice I have made that should help me be "mindful" is to start each day with God's word, as I make my way through the "One Year Bible" on my iPad.  Each morning I will read some of the Jewish scriptures (what we often call the "Old Testament"), some from the gospels, Psalms and Proverbs, and the letters of the apostles.   I look forward to having my mind formed by God's word and allowing me to be "mindful" throughout my day as I listen for what God is saying to me.

I may have a few blogs in 2015 that reflect on my "one word", so be prepared.  I also encourage you to prayerfully consider finding "one word" and doing the same.  If you make that choice, I invite you to share your own "one word" as a comment to this blog.

This is a great way to start the new year, and to learn from one another as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December 23, 2014 - Along the Way ...

"Seeing isn't believing, but believing is seeing" ... "Just because you haven't seen something, doesn't mean it isn't real" ... "Sometimes the most real things are the things you can't see" ...

These are quotes from movies like, The Santa Clause and The Polar Express, and I am sure there are similar quotes in other traditional Christmas movies.   So they got me thinking as we continue on this Advent journey in 2014 about the role belief in Santa Claus might play in our world today.

I will admit that for years I railed against the belief in Santa Claus as a distraction from the truth about Jesus.  Like a classic episode of South Park, I pitted Santa Claus against Jesus in a dueling death match.   But I am coming to a different opinion the more I consider the role Santa Claus, and the poem "The Night Before Christmas" play in the world today.

Believing in something we can't see is one of the most challenging obstacles to believing the good news about Jesus.  It's not just that we can't see Him now, and that we have to rely on the eyewitness accounts of His contemporaries, but it is that even many of His contemporaries refused to hear or acknowledge the truth as Jesus told it to them.

This morning I was watching part of the movie The Santa Clause with my children.  As I saw Scott Calvin being persecuted for who he had become (Santa Claus), and the things he said about his experience, I realized that Jesus was treated much the same way simply for telling the truth.  Only in both cases it was a truth that people were not ready to hear or believe.

Now I am not saying that Santa Claus is real, or that the movie The Santa Clause portrays the truth.  But what I am saying is that these movies, and the idea of Santa Claus, do offer a window into the fantastic world of faith.  

Consider these scriptures in light of some of the quotes I shared above.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)
"For we live by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7)

These two quotes come from the same letter Paul sent to the church at Corinth, a church who was losing their faith and beginning to rely only on what they could see with their own two eyes.   To them Paul reaffirms the role of faith in receiving the wondrous blessings God has for everyone who is in Christ.

I pray that this Christmas, we will learn to see again with the eyes of faith, we will look with wonder  at the amazing events surrounding the story of Jesus' birth, and we see the fantastic world of faith revealed through the eternal Son of God, who took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!   May there be peace on earth, and may it begin with us, as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 16, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we continue this Advent journey, today has me thinking about time.  Time is something we all experience, but most of us struggle to understand.  

First of all, we know that time is God's creation.   He invented time, and therefore He stands outside of time.  This is how the Bible is able to say in 2 Peter 3:8-9 ...

"Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  

Time is not as significant to God, as it is to us.  Yet there is always purpose to time.  We wait because God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish.  We wait, and we are called to be patient too, as we have been given the Holy Spirit who develops our patience like a fruit on a living vine.

But how does the Holy Spirit develop our patience?   

I have often said, "Patience is a virtue, but that does not make it easy."   It is hard to wait, yet we are called to wait, and during Advent we acutely feel the weight of our waiting.   So how does the Holy Spirit help us develop the fruit of patience?

Spiritual disciplines are the tools the Holy Spirit uses to develop His fruit in us.  And the Spiritual discipline we use together to develop patience is the church calendar.   

It was the same for God's people before Christ.   They had annual feast days and festivals, which helped them to remember the past as they lived in the present and looked forward to the future.  
Our church calendar functions for us today in much the same way.  

The church calendar begins with Advent, follows into Christmas, Epiphany (celebration of Jesus as the light of the world), Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.  Each year we relive these moments in Jesus' life, remembering, finding strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.   

Ultimately, we know that as we learn to wait, that God will one day bring an end to our waiting, and Jesus will return in power and glory!  He will come to judge the living and the dead, and to make all things new!   Our waiting will not be in vain, for those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength, as the prophet Isaiah says.   Those who wait on the Lord will never be disappointed.

I invite you to share your own thoughts about waiting and the ways the Holy Spirit develops our patience, as we journey together along the Way ... 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December 9, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we prepare for the coming of the King, we ought to examine our thoughts, our habits, and our choices.

This morning, in my devotions, I read Hosea 2:2-23.   I encourage you to read it as well.   You may be shocked, as God reveals His true feelings about love, faith, and obedience.   We do not often hear such graphic words of condemnation, but it is God's heart revealed through His word.

After reading Hosea 2:2-23, consider your thoughts, habits, and choices.   Are they pleasing to God?

Sometimes we misunderstand grace as permission.   Grace is not permission.  Grace is an undeserved gift.  God extends His mercy and love to us, even when we have done nothing to deserve it.  It is a gift, and though the awesome power of the Holy Spirit, grace is life changing.

None of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven, that is why we need Jesus.   Nevertheless, we should not resign ourselves as victims of our own inability.   We are God's children!  We have been called by name.  We have been forgiven, redeemed, and restored through faith in the blood of Jesus.
Every day we are being made new in the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit.   We are not victims.  In fact, the Bible says "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!" (Romans 8:37)

Note that even in Hosea 2 at verse 14, God promises to bring His bride back and renew His love for her.  This is amazing grace!  God loves us, and His love restores us and makes us new!

So as we continue to prepare for the coming of the King, let us each examine our own thoughts, habits, and choices to see if there is something we ought to surrender to the grace of God.  Let us do so in preparation for the coming of the King, as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 2, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Today, I want to reflect on Advent; the time of year in the Christian calendar when we remember what it was like for God's people to wait for the coming Messiah, as well as remind ourselves that we are now waiting for the return of Christ to make all things new.

So how should we prepare for the coming of the King?

In Psalm 24:4, we are told those who may ascend the mountain of the LORD (temple), and stand in His holy place, are those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who do not trust in idols and do not swear by a false god.

So we need to prepare ourselves in order to approach the King.

In Psalm 24:5, we are then promised that those who do will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Savior, and then verse 6 tacks on these words ...

"Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob"

So I ask myself, am I of that generation, am I seeking God's face?  

In order to answer that question, we must first ask what does that mean?   What does it mean to seek God's face?

The word "seek" itself implies that seeking requires effort.   It does not simply happen, it involves a clear decision, a commitment to pursue at all costs.   God's face is His entire being, it is His character, all that He is.  Knowing God is a lifelong pursuit.   We cannot know Him unless we invest time, seeking Him, reading His word, asking for understanding, wisdom, etc.  

So am I seeking God's face, am I preparing myself for His coming by exerting effort to really know Him?  

I will allow each of us to answer that question for ourselves, but as I do I also want to direct us to something Jesus taught while He was here on earth.  

(Read Matthew 25:1-13)

This is the Parable of the Ten Virgins, it is sandwiched between Jesus' words on the day of the LORD.  In offering these warnings, Jesus instructs us to "keep watch" for we do not know the hour or the day.  

Are we keeping watch?  Is there something we should be doing that would show that we are seeking, that we are keeping watch?  

These have been my thoughts, I encourage you to share some of your own, as we journey together along the Way ... 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November 25, 2014 - Along the Way ...

This week we certainly have many reasons to give thanks and praise to the LORD!   He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever.  

It is good to state this up front because my thoughts today will be honest reflections on the brokenness of this world.   I am sure by now most of us have heard the news from Ferguson, MO.
To quote one author, "There are no winners."  It is a sad situation all around.   It is sad for the Brown family, and it is sad for Officer Wilson and his family.   Nobody wins.

And it is this brokenness that causes me to reflect.   I hear voices that say we should seek to listen and understand rather than speak, especially as white folks.   And I want to understand, but I am very confused.  I am confused that the rule of law, and respect for those who enforce the rule of law, seems to take a backseat to public opinion based on what has been shown to be false assumptions.

A while back I watched a video commentary regarding the Trayvon Martin case.  In the video, the commentator quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. from his "I Have a Dream" speech.  King said, "I look forward to the day when my sons will no longer be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."   I agree wholeheartedly, and also look forward to that day, but it seems we cannot get there.   Why?

When will we get to the point that the color of the skin of the shooter and the one being shot will no longer be a factor?   When can we see a day where the truth matters more than perception and public opinion?  When will the law, and those who enforce the law, be respected once again?  And more importantly, how will we get there?  What needs to happen for this to become reality?

I read about systemic racism, and I do not deny it.   Yet as a person called to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18 and Ephesians 2:14), I am puzzled by what I am supposed to do.   How do you break down a system of racism?  How do you undo years of privilege based on realities which were put into place long before I was born?   How?

I wish I had more answers than questions, but this is where I am.   I invite anyone to share your own honest thoughts, questions, opinions, answers, and other responses, as we journey TOGETHER along the Way ...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

November 18, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Last week Friday I received the news that my 93, almost 94-year old grandmother passed away.   She died, and is now experiencing the wonderful joy known only to those who belong to Christ.

I am sad that I will not be able to be present to pay my last respects at her funeral, but I am so thankful I saw her alive just 2 months ago.   I am also thankful I was there with my mom and my daughter.   Such a blessing to know her legacy lives on in us.

So what was her legacy?

She was the mother of 10 children, the grandmother of 28 grandchildren, and great-grandmother to 27 great-grandchildren.  

She was a fighter, all her life, and she instilled that fight in everyone of her children.

She was not perfect, but she was genuine.   With Grandma what she saw is what you got.

I think there is a lot more I could say, but I will leave space for others to add their own thoughts.  Nevertheless, I believe her greatest legacy was her testimony and her love for Jesus.

You see my grandma did not always know that comfort.   She did not join the church until she married my grandfather Raymond, and even then she admitted, she did not understand what it meant to love Jesus.

But one day all that changed!   She was in her late 60's or early 70's when her life was transformed by the knowledge of God's love for her in Christ and she became "born again"!

Now I know there are many folks who claim to be "born again", and people doubt since it can be difficult to see the change.    But with my grandma there was no doubt!  Almost overnight she changed.  Anger turned to joy, negativity turned optimistic, and skepticism became wonder.   She started to change her habits, her lifestyle, she lost weight and began exercising, she really discovered the beauty of every day and she shared that excitement with everyone she met.

She volunteered to clean the church building, and took great pride in the cleanliness of the bathrooms believing them to be fit for a king.

Over the past few years, her health had slowly deteriorated after her mind had long been gone.   She suffered from Alzheimer's disease/Dementia, but I don't know if I should say she "suffered" as much as we suffered; those of us who knew her previously.   She held onto the joy and wonder of each day.  She cut out pictures from newspapers and delighted to share the daily conversations she was having with God.   It was a joy to visit her, but it was definitely different.

Still I am thankful for every moment I had with her.  I am thankful to see the transformation that took place in her life, and I am proud to have called her "Grandma".

If you are reading this, and want to share your own thoughts and memories, please do so.   This reality I am sure touches all of us along the Way ...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

November 11, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Today is Veteran's Day.   As we remember and give thanks to all who have served along with their families to defend the freedoms we possess in the US today, let us also consider what it means to be a veteran in service to the LORD.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately.   Here are some scripture verses that have come to my mind, which I believe can shed some light on this subject.

Psalm 144:1 - "Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war ..."

Ephesians 6:12 - "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

I Timothy 4:7-8 - "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for the present life and also the life to come."

Our military members train daily for war.   Even those of us who serve on a part-time basis must remain ready at a moment's notice to enter the fight and accomplish the mission.   So what about warriors in God's service?

In these three scriptures I see a call to prepare for battle, but especially the type of battle we face along the Way.   Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Living in Christ requires recognition of the Way and commitment to live according to Him.   In short, training takes time and requires commitment.

So how are we training ourselves to be godly?   How are we training our hands, our feet, our minds, bodies, and will for war?

One answer is given in I Timothy 4:13, following Paul's exhortation for Timothy to set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity, he says, "Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to preaching and to teaching."   Apparently, Paul believed training involved God's word being read publicly, preached publicly and taught publicly.   In other words, it meant seeking God's will in the Way together.

Training can take place individually, but it is more effective when we train together.

I find this in physical training.   When I have a trainer, and I am training with a group, I push harder, fight longer, and find that extra something to drive through even when my body wants to quit.

I feel the same is true in training in godliness.   We can train on our own, but I believe we will be less effective than if we train together, letting iron sharpen iron in the body of Christ.

But we must also realize that training is for a purpose.  We do not simply train to train.   We train for war.   We train to bring Jesus to people, as we become more like Jesus through the Holy Spirit's power.  We train because God has a purpose for our salvation, and we want to do all we can to prepare for the opportunities God will bring our way this day.  

So what do you think?   Are there other things we can learn from these scriptures or other scriptures?

I invite you to share your thoughts, as we journey together along the Way ...

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November 6, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As promised here is my response to the question: "If you could change anything about your body what would it be?"

My initial reaction when the question was posed was, "I wish I could change my eyes."

You see, over the years it has always been my eyes that have prevented me from pursuing my dreams.
I was unable to become an Air Force pilot because my vision is impaired, I am color blind, and I have poor depth perception.   I was unable to become a police officer because I am color blind.   Finally, you can't make a very good race car driver if you have poor depth perception.   Imagine the wrecks I would have caused ...

So it has always been my eyes that have held me back, and if I could change anything it would be my eyes.   At least that was my initial reaction.

However, after I thought for a moment, I was reminded that I am who God created me to be.   I am the person with the unique body that God gave me, not to pursue my dreams but to fulfill His purpose for me.

If I had perfect vision, I may have never become a pastor.   If I had perfect vision, my dreams could have kept me from seeking first God's kingdom and His righteousness.   If I had perfect vision, imagine how blind I might really be.

Those are my thoughts, I invite you to share yours as we journey together along the Way ...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bonus!!! - Along the Way ...

I heard a question on the radio yesterday that made me think.   I would like to share that question with you and see what you think as well.  

"If you could change one thing about your body what would it be?"

I encourage you to consider that question, and share your response.   Tomorrow, I will share with you my thoughts as we journey together along the Way ... 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

November 4, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we head to the polls in the US for mid-term elections today, I thought it might be good to think about those voices we seldom hear.  

Over the past month or so, I have been considering with you what it means to "love your neighbor" well.  Last week, I received a great opportunity to listen in on some of our neighbors whose voices are seldom heard.  So let me challenge you to listen with me.

The following link is an opportunity to listen: dojustice.crcna.org/MarginalizedVoices

I encourage everyone to sign up today.  Let's listen together and consider what it means to really love all of our neighbors well, as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 28, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Love is God's call for His people.   As people loved by God, we are called to love others.  I invite you to reflect with me for just a few minutes on Paul's words in Romans 12:9-21.

(Read Romans 12:9-21)

Clearly, love is active, and it requires a change of heart.  Earlier we talked about how we cannot love with words or tongue alone, but that love requires action and truth.   In much the same way it is not possible to love with actions alone, but love must come from the heart.

Paul says, "Love must be sincere."  (v. 9)

Since love comes from the heart, we cannot fake it.   I cannot simply give to my neighbor in need, I must also be willing to give myself, my friendship, my heart.  Those are the most difficult to give.  Yet if love is to be sincere, then I believe that is what it will require.

Paul also says, "Honor one another above yourselves."  (v. 10)

In order to honor another above myself, I must have my heart changed.   My first inclination in every situation is to honor myself, love myself, make sure I have what I need or want.  Yet, sincere love doesn't work that way.  Sincere love honors others, even above ourselves.

One of the ways you can see honor being given to others above ourselves, is when we rejoice with those who rejoice!   Jealousy is one of the biggest challenges to sincere love.   If I can be happy because you are happy, or if I can be joyful because you have succeeded even beyond me, then I know that my love is sincere.  It is not easy, but it is what real love requires.

Finally, Paul says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."  (v. 18)

Peacemaking is love put in action.  Living at peace requires sincere love, honoring others above yourself, rejoicing with those who rejoice, etc.   Peace is the fruit of sincere love put into action.

Notice, however, that Paul states, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you ..."  Some people will not live at peace with us.  That is the reality of living in a broken world.   Nevertheless, Paul is saying make sure it is not you that is refusing to live at peace, rather he says, "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

Love is our call as God's people, His dearly loved children, so let us make every effort to love others sincerely and from the heart, as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 21, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Loving my neighbor is very difficult.  It begins with having the right heart, knowing how to answer "Who is my neighbor?"  It continues with understanding that love must be put into action according to truth.  But how do we decided when and how to love our neighbor well?

This question is related to the complexities of life.  I do not have access to all the necessary information, yet I am called to love well anyway.   Therefore we must learn to discern, and good discernment requires relationship.  I cannot love well, unless I first know my neighbor.

In learning to discern, we must first remember that our greatest need is relationship.   We need each other.  I need my neighbor as much as she needs me.   Without a good relationship, it is difficult to make the best care choices.  So we must be content with establishing relationship before any material goods can be exchanged.

And this is true for all situations.

One of the reasons (and there are many) I do not give to the homeless person standing on the freeway with a sign is because I do not know him.  In order to really care for him, I need to know him.  And whether he knows it or not, in order for him to receive from me, he needs to know me too.

Unfortunately I do not take the time to get to know him, and one of the reasons is because the street corner near a busy freeway is a less than ideal place to establish a relationship.   It would be better done in a coffee shop, or a local restaurant over a meal.  But when you do not know someone, it is difficult to even take that first step.

So what should we do?

Ultimately, I cannot meet every one of my neighbor's needs, especially for all those who are called my neighbor.  Therefore, my responsibility is to first get to know my neighbor; those God has placed around me.  In relationship, I fulfill her greatest need and she meets mine.   Over time the relationship can grow to include meeting other needs, but it must always begin with a relationship.

Derek Webb wrote a song called "Rich Young Ruler" where he states the following,

poverty is so hard to see
when it's only on your tv and twenty miles across town
where we're all living so good
that we moved out of Jesus' neighborhood
where he's hungry and not feeling so good
from going through our trash
he says, more than just your cash and coin
i want your time, i want your voice
i want the things you just can't give me (http://www.lyricsmania.com/rich_young_ruler_lyrics_derek_webb.html)

"More than just your cash and coin, I want your time, I want your voice,
I want the things you just can't give me."

Offering ourselves to another is the greatest gift we can give, and receiving others as gifts in and of themselves is the greatest gift we can receive.   We were not made to live alone, we were made for God and we were made for each other.  

So what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?  I invite you to share your thoughts as well as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 14, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Last week, I considered the question, "Who is my neighbor?" as I began to consider what it might mean to really love my neighbor.  This week, I would like to examine the question, "What does love look like?"

(Read I John 3:11-24)

John makes clear that love for one another is obedience to God, and it has always been that way.

"This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another." (11)

He cites Cain's refusal to love his brother Abel as an example of disobedience to the command and then calls us to not be like Cain.  He also states that the evidence that we have passed from death to life (see also John 5:24) is that we love our brothers (read "others").   So clearly loving others is not an option for those who seek to follow after Jesus, but what does love look like?

John helps us understand what love looks like by referencing Jesus' sacrificial death and encouraging us to sacrifice for the good of others. 

"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,
how can the love of God be in him?
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth." (16-18)

What would it mean to love "with actions and in truth"? 

This past weekend I was privileged to listen to a seminar on finding a Biblical perspective for the immigration debate.  The speaker said that in order for us to address this debate Biblically, we must begin with the more foundational reality - the immigrant's humanity; i.e. each person is made in the image of God.

I think starting with the image of God in all humans is critical in the immigration debate, but I also believe it can offer us a better way forward in loving our neighbor.  If each person I encounter on a daily basis is my neighbor, shares my humanity, and is created in God's image, then God's command to love "with actions and in truth" is binding.  I must care for the needs of the other, and seek to understand their needs in order to meet them, even as I seek to understand and meet my own needs.  

Loving "with actions and in truth" will lead us to do something for those we encounter, when their need is apparent.  Indeed we must do something!  However, doing something does not mean doing everything.   Sometimes to love "in truth" will require us to offer relationship without meeting other needs because the person created in God's image may need to learn to care for themselves.

Deciding how to help actively and truthfully, requires great discernment and a close relationship to God Himself.  Only God is able to meet our greatest need, so we must be careful not to overstep our role as "brother" or "sister" into trying to be a savior.   Again, knowing the best response for a particular situation will require great discernment, but I think the best place to begin is relationship.

In relationship, I offer myself to another and honor them by creating space in my life for them.   Healthy relationships begin with real friendship, and enable us to see that the best gift we can give and receive is ourselves.

So how can you show love by creating space for another in your life this week?  I invite you to share your ideas and other comments, as we journey together along the way ... 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014 - Along the way ...

This past Sunday I committed myself to be more intentional about "loving my neighbor", but what exactly does that mean?

In order to answer that question, I must begin with the question, "Who is my neighbor?"

This famous question was asked Jesus to which He responded with a parable.  (See Luke 10:25-37)  Yet the parable is only half the story.  The interaction begins with the man's question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"   Jesus answers by asking him, "What is written in the law?"  To which the man replies, "Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself."   Jesus answers, "You have answered correctly ... Do this and you will live."   Then because the man wanted to justify himself he responds, "Who is my neighbor?"

The answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" is a tricky one.   In essence, every person ever created, but especially those in close proximity to me at any time, is my neighbor.   So in order to love my neighbor well, I need to see people (all people) as God sees them, and I need to love them as He loves them as an expression of my deep love for God Himself.

So, "Who is my neighbor?"

Most often we read the parable of the Good Samaritan, and we see that our concern should be for others, to love them in their time of need, and take care of them.   I agree.  That is certainly part of what Jesus is teaching.   However, Jesus goes deeper.  He requires that love must be not only outward but inward as well.  It is possible to show compassion to another without actually loving them.  

Consider the man's response when Jesus asks him, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"  He replies, "The one who had mercy on him."   Notice what he does not say.   He does not say, "the Samaritan" rather he says, "The one ..."   This man hates Samaritans so much that it would be near impossible for him to acknowledge virtue in any one of them.  He may learn to love outwardly (by showing mercy), but he fails to love inwardly (by acknowledging the personhood of the people he hates in his heart).

So the question, "Who is my neighbor?" is where our conversation must begin.   What about you?  Do you have any thoughts?   I would love to hear what you have to say, as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

September 23 - Along the Way ...

I recently returned from 6 weeks of Air Force chaplain training.   My journey to becoming a Christian military chaplain has been a long one.  Through the process God has formed and shaped me to prepare me for this unique calling.   So I thought I would take some time to share with you some of the things I have learned, and give some perspective on being a Christian Military Chaplain.

Christian military chaplains are often misunderstood.  Some people think a Christian military chaplain is a pastor serving in the military.   While that might be part of who we are and what we do, it certainly does not capture the full picture. 

First, military chaplains, in general, are “inherently governmental”.   There are actually very few jobs in the military that are “inherently governmental”, but a chaplain is one.   We are “inherently governmental” because we provide and provide for the free exercise of religion for all Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.   Therefore, our role is not one the military can choose to do without because we help Military Commanders provide and provide for a constitutional right for every one of his or her troops. 

Second, military chaplains are military officers who possess rank without command authority because we are “noncombatants”.   As noncombatants, our role is a support role.  Still we are military officers, and are held to the same standards as our counterparts in the combatant world.   We train the same, wear the same uniform, and require the same respect for the service we perform.   In the past, both chaplains and others have misunderstood this dimension.  The phrase, “He or she is just a chaplain” was used often.  This phrase dismissed us, and caused us to lose respect among the troops, thus losing a bit of our voice.   Yet, as visible reminders of the holy, our voice is critical, and we cannot let anything take that voice away.   It is up to us to maintain the standard, and change the perceptions of others.   We must meet the standards and similarly hold others accountable in order to fulfill our role as military officers.  We must uphold the standard because we not only speak pastorally to the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines, but we also advise leadership.   Leadership will not listen if we do not command their respect, therefore we must take our role as military officers seriously.

Third, military chaplains, in particular Christian military chaplains, are invited to represent Jesus in a pluralistic environment.   In that environment, there are certain rules of engagement we must observe in order to continue to engage.   We must respect others and provide for the free exercise of all religions, while also not seeking to establish any particular religion.   Therefore, when we pray in public forums, where members of many different faith groups are present, we are mindful to pray in such a way that respects everyone.   Also, because Christian military chaplains represent Jesus, in my opinion, we should not do anything that might hinder an opportunity for meaningful engagement with those we are called to serve.  Ultimately, I believe God is in control, and as I trust Him and pray for opportunities, God will open doors and bring people to Christ, as I bring Christ to people through the Holy Spirit who lives within me. 

I hope this helps you understand the unique calling of a Christian military chaplain, and encourages you to pray for us as we seek to serve those who serve.  If you have questions or comments, I invite you to share them in a post or send me a personal message.   I will do all I can to respond to every inquiry I receive.   

Thank you for reading my thoughts, and for your partnership in the gospel, as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August 5, 2014 - Along the way ...

This past week I have been thinking a lot about matters of life and death.   I attended a suicide intervention training event last week, listened to a presentation on prosecuting perpetrators of sexual assault, and participated in a hospital ethics committee discussion on Elective Termination.

It really is overwhelming.   Emotionally it is all very sad.  Mentally it is taxing to try to live into the experience of another in order to make good, wise choices.  Spiritually it takes a toll on your soul to grapple with the brokenness of this world in such a tangible way.

In the end, however, it all comes down to one thing: Human life is valuable!

We seek to help people considering suicide because we believe that their life has inherent value as well as value to those around them.  It is not just their life.  Our lives belong to God and are shared with the people around us.  Suicide is tragic because it affects so much more than just one life.

Similarly, we prosecute offenders who abuse others for their own pleasure because every human being is precious and deserves proper treatment.   We cannot use others for own purposes without violating their unique personhood.   This is also why prostitution and sex trafficking are so damaging to the soul of our society and must be stopped.

Finally, because life is valuable, elective termination is wrong.   We don't get to decide who lives and who dies; that is God's territory.   Our lives are in God's hands.   It is one thing to choose to care for the mother more than the child during pregnancy because it is a matter of life and death.  Yet it is quite another thing to act to purposely take the life of another.  Every human life is valuable and precious and deserves every right to flourish.

I know this gets back to some of the things I said a few weeks ago, but I feel I must keep this conversation going.   What do you think?  I am interested to hear your thoughts, so I invite you to share them openly or privately at joekamphuis@comcast.net.  

I look forward to greater understanding and appreciation as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

July 22, 2013 - Along the way ...

I wonder about the ways in which God reveals Himself.   I know that He reveals Himself through His Word, His world and His Spirit, and most poignantly through Jesus, but I wonder what that looks like on a day to day basis.

We are often told how important it is to read the Bible regularly, but for what purpose?   If reading the  Bible is just something on my daily "to do" list, or is something I do to merely confirm that which I already know, then I think we are missing the real reason for reading in the first place.

We read the Bible because in its pages we meet the living God.   We see what He is like.  We learn what He desires.  We also hear His voice calling us to the obedience which comes from faith.

Reading the Bible is not a chore or a daily task, it is an invitation to sit at Jesus' feet and be fed, nourished, and refreshed; to be called out and sent; to join Him in His great kingdom venture; and to be reminded that my greatest identity is found in who I am in relation to Him.

But what about some of the other ways God reveals Himself to us?

In creation, we see God's power displayed, we learn about His providential care, and we wonder at the beauty of His imagination that could conjure up the diversity we experience in so many ways.
Creation reveals God to us as well.  It leaves us in awe and wonder.  Not so that we will worship the creation but that we will stand in awe and wonder and fall in worship at the majesty of the Creator.

God also reveals Himself through Jesus.  In Jesus, we see most clearly what God is like.  If we wonder how God might treat a person caught in sin, we look at Jesus.  If we wonder what God might do for those we meet on the streets, who are hungry or in need, we look to Jesus.  If we wonder about God's purpose for suffering and evil in the world as we experience it, we look to Jesus.   Jesus shows us Who God is.   In Jesus, we see God's heart and witness His being, His character, and His perfect image.

Moreover, God reveals Himself through other people.   In our relationships, we see God, though imperfectly, because each of us bears God's image - some clearer than others - but God's image is visible in everyone.

I remember how God revealed Himself through a University of Maryland professor at Misawa Air Base in Japan in a Speech class.   The professor was an avowed atheist, and challenged us to think critically about our faith.  He sent me on a journey of discovery, which ultimately led me to a greater understanding and appreciation for Who God is.   God used Dr. Ruffino in a way that Dr. Ruffino was not even aware, and God revealed His glory through a self-avowed atheist.   That is the power of God!

Finally, all of God's revelation is mediated by the Holy Spirit.   It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the eyes of faith by which we can see what is unseen and eternal.  It is the Holy Spirit who shows us Who God is, What He is like, and What great things He has done, is doing, and will continue to do.   It is the Holy Spirit Who gives us hope and draws us ever closer to the living God.

So I wonder about the ways in which God reveals Himself.  Do you?  How does God reveal Himself to you?  Can you share a time where you saw God in an unexpected way, and it brought you closer to Him?  Together we can share what God is saying to each of us, and together we will see God a little more clearly, as we journey together along the way ...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

July 16, 2014 - Along the way ...

Lately, I have been reflecting on what a consistent Christian life ethic might look like, and I would invite your responses as well.

This question comes up from time to time, especially in political debates.   Ordinarily, Republicans focus on protecting the unborn and preventing euthanasia, whereas Democrats tend to promote care from the cradle to the grave with social programs, including health care, welfare, etc.  The only problem is that both parties have glaring inconsistencies.   I believe a consistent Christian ethic needs to cover all of life, not just the ones that are convenient to further one's own agenda.

That's why it is time for us to think of a consistent Christian life ethic; one that truly values human life in all of its phases and offers care when it is needed.

So what does that look like?

I do not propose to be an expert in these matters at all, so I hope to open up some dialogue through this post.  However, to get the wheels turning I will offer a few of my own ideas.

First, a consistent Christian life ethic will embrace the truth that all people are created in the image of God, and therefore all people have intrinsic value and require our respect.   We must concern ourselves with the needs of each person, as we consider what is best.  No one is expendable, no one gets left behind.  A consistent Christian life ethic will value relationships over labels, and seek to see people as God sees them.

Second, a consistent Christian life ethic will not seek first what is most convenient or self-serving, but will seek first to serve the needs of others rather than to be served in furthering our own agendas.   I want to argue that a consistent Christian life ethic cares for children (whether or not they are born in the US or not), offers encouragement to those who are hurting, stands up for those with no voice (whether they reside inside or outside of their mother's womb), and extends grace to anyone who needs it.  Not because people deserve it, but because that is what Jesus did, and that is what Christians are called to do.

Third, a consistent Christian life ethic seeks justice for the oppressed, marginalized, and victimized.
Justice means to set right what is wrong.  Now, unfortunately, as human beings we are limited in righting every wrong.   Sometimes we just don't know what it will take to make things right.  Yet we must try.  Seeking justice means holding people accountable for their actions, especially criminal behavior, because when one person's actions harm another person accountability is required so that the victim is valued, whether the victim is dead or alive.  Seeking justice also means working to provide truly equal opportunity to every person, so that each person can use the gifts God has given them to care for themselves, their family, and contribute to the betterment of their community.

In short, a consistent Christian life ethic will take seriously Jesus' command "to love your neighbor as yourself".   To really love our neighbors well will require us to get to know our neighbors, listen to them, empathize with them (really trying our best to walk a mile in their shoes), seek to understand them, and work together toward a God-glorifying result.

It will not be easy.  Developing a consistent Christian life ethic will require a lot from us.  Still we must remember that the One we serve is the same one Who gave His all for us, and He has called us to in turn take up our crosses and follow Him.  

So what about you?  What do you think is involved in a consistent Christian life ethic?  How can we take steps to embody that ethic?   I invite you to share your own thoughts as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24, 2014 - Along the way ...

I have been reflecting a lot on identity, lately.   Who we are is who we are in Christ, and who we are becoming is also in Christ.   This is our identity as followers of Jesus.

So what does that mean for our everyday lives?

Understanding our identity is very important because we are the ones people meet and interact with on a daily basis.   As we go, where we go, and with whom we go, any interaction is an interaction with us, as people, as we are, being who we are.

For example, understanding my identity has helped me immensely in understanding my role as a chaplain in the US Air Force.

People say to me, so what restrictions are they placing on you as a chaplain?  My answer is always the same.  In worship, I lead worship in the same way I lead worship at Chelwood Church.   I pray in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   We worship the triune God, and point people to Jesus as the only hope for salvation.  

However, when I am not leading worship, I fill a crucial role as an officer in the US Air Force.   As a chaplain, I am everyone's chaplain, regardless of their faith background or lack of faith.   I serve a professional role in being a safe place for people to share their troubles with complete confidentiality, to provide invocations for all types of ceremonies and formations, to advise commanders with respect to ethical decision-making and matters of morale, as well as be "a visible reminder of the holy".   I do that from who I am and because who I am is who I am in Christ, so everyone I interact with meets Jesus.

The same is true everywhere I go, whether serving as a chaplain or not.   As I meet people at Little
League baseball games, Cub Scout meetings, Boy Scout troop events, prayer gatherings, etc.   I am who I am in Christ, so when people meet me they meet Jesus in me through the Holy Spirit's power.

And the same is true for you.   Who you are, as a follower of Jesus, is who you are in Christ.  

So how is that realization helping you understand the opportunity for kingdom service involved in every personal interaction you have each day?   I invite you to share your thoughts and stories.  I am becoming more convinced that this is God's plan for us as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

June 17, 2014 - Along the way ...

Father's Day 2014 was very different for me.  

First, my daughter is out of town, so I missed getting a hug from her.   Second, my dad died last October, so I missed getting the chance to chat with him and share how much I appreciate him and all he taught me.  Third, I was particularly struck by the wonder of knowing my heavenly Father and celebrating Him on Father's Day.

I vividly remember the day after my dad died.   I was in Air Force Commissioned Officer's Training, and we were about to take the first of two written exams, which would account for about half our grade.   I took a deep breath and prayed silently, "Lord, You are my only Father now."  Praying those words was difficult.  I had to choke back the tears, but it was also life-giving.  Knowing God as my faithful, loving Father, who promises to never leave or forsake me is an amazing privilege!

My dad understood the blessing of knowing God as His Father as well.   His dad died when I was in high school.   He had an interesting relationship with his own father, but he maintained a deep respect and appreciation for him.   Their relationship was strained at times, and not nearly as close as the friendship I shared with my father.  So my dad understood the privilege of knowing God as his heavenly Father as well.  He often talked about God and His goodness, and he had faith that God would always watch over him and protect him no matter the circumstances.

This Sunday I was particularly struck by the words from a teaching document known as the Heidelberg Catechism.  The Heidelberg Catechism is a document we use in the Christian Reformed Church to teach the Christian faith.  In the document, the Apostles' Creed is named as a summary of true Christian faith, and it is explained in question and answer format.

Question 26 states, "What do you believe when you say, 'I believe in God, the Father almighty, 
                                creator of heaven and earth'?"
And it answers, "That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ... is my God and Father because of 
                          Christ the Son.  I trust God so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I    
                          need for body and soul, and will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon 
                          me in this sad world.
                          God is able to do this because he is almighty God
                          and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father."  

To know that the same almighty God who created the heavens and the earth is my faithful Father brings me great comfort and enables me to celebrate Father's Day in a whole new way!

So what about you?   What does Father's day mean to you?   I invite you to share your thoughts as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

June 10, 2014 - Along the way ...

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about unity as a reality and something that requires maintenance.

The unity of the Spirit is something we have through faith in Jesus.   Paul says, "There is one body and one Spirit".   This is the truth.  It is what is, and it cannot be changed.  

Yet there is also the need to "keep" that unity "through the bond of peace".   It takes effort.  It requires each one of us to learn to see the body of Christ the way God sees it.  It means we need to set aside our differences and embrace unity.   It means making a commitment, as I sang in a song this morning at a pastor's prayer gathering, to not harm another with my mouth.  It means we do not speak ill of one another, we do not cut down, unfairly compare, or judge in a way that does not fit with the bond of peace.

"There is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."  (Ephesians 4:5)

This is a challenge for the church today.  Too often we make divisions where God does not, and our man-made divisions (see I Corinthians 1:12-13) hurt our witness in the world.   What will it take for the church to stand as a united witness to Jesus in the world?  How can we begin to obey the command: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace"?

I invite you to share your thoughts, as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

June 3, 2014 - Along the way ...

Last week I saw a friend on Facebook post a question that has intrigued me.  She asked, "What is existentialism?  And how do you think existentialism has impacted modern Christianity?"

First, I believe existentialism is the idea that truth is discovered or becomes known through experience.   For example what we see, hear, and feel (our life experiences) shapes what we believe to be true.  

Second, I believe existentialism has impacted modern Christianity in many ways; some positive and some negative.

One positive way that I believe existentialism has impacted modern Christianity is that God is becoming more than just a theory.   There are two ways by which we come to know God - through His word and His Spirit.  The Spirit reveals God as we experience God at work in us and around us.  The danger of a purely doctrinal (word-based) understanding of God, or understanding God and truth merely through propositions or statements, is that God becomes stale, predictable, and less than He is as the living God.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life ..."  Jesus is more than a proposition.   He is a really living being we can come to know through real life experience.  

A negative way that I believe existentialism has impacted modern Christianity is that God has become known only through our personal experiences.   If God is only known through the experience of the Spirit, then our knowledge of God will always be limited to our personal experience.  The fact that God has given us His word as a means to know Him can become discredited unless what the word says can be verified by my personal experience.  This makes God arbitrary and inconsistent, so that no one knows if the God we experience is really the true God.  

I believe there is much more to be said in this regard.   These are just a few of my thoughts, and I invite you to share yours as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27, 2014 - Along the way ...

Faith is a struggle because it is a battle between what we can see with our eyes and what we can see with our hearts.   Far from the absence of doubt it is a choice to believe in spite of doubt.  It is a choice to see what no one else sees and then act and live accordingly.  This is what it means to walk by faith.

But walking by faith is particularly challenging when we live in a broken world.

Last weekend we heard the accounts of the horrible tragedy of a young man who convinced himself he would never be loved and so decided that he would take love away from many others.   Elliot Rodger made an awful choice and it cost not only his own life but the lives of many others as well.
Elliot's actions were a result of his inability to see beyond what was right in front of his face, and sometimes we also make bad choices (hopefully not to the extent that Elliot did) because we refuse to see beyond as well.

Learning to see what no one else sees requires time spent in God's presence.  It is worship that enables us to see what no one else can see.  Worship makes tangible the truth about who God is and helps us live with expectation concerning what God is doing all around us every day.  

And as we learn in worship to see what no one else sees we also hear the call to live differently; to live with expectation and to live with hope that God is still in control and He will yet make this world new once again.   Walking by faith is a daily choice and it is the choice to believe God in spite of what we see that makes all the difference in the world.

So what does that look like for you?   How do you live with expectation and hope by seeing what no one else sees and acting/living accordingly?   I am interested to hear your thoughts and I invite you to share them here as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20, 2014 - Along the way ...

We talk a lot about "missional living" in the church today.   But what is missional living?  I believe missional living is bringing Jesus to people so that God can bring them to Christ.

This weekend I was struck by the vision for missional living as I have defined it given by the apostle Paul in his 2nd (or perhaps 3rd) letter to the church in Corinth.   2 Corinthians 4 captures the essence of true missional living by laying out the results of the reality Paul presents in chapter 3 verse 18, "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate (reflect) the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (NIV 2011)

(Read 2 Corinthians 4:1-18)

Twice Paul says, "we do not lose heart" (v. 1 and v. 16).  Paul will not lose heart because he knows that although the ministry has been given by God's mercy, the work still belongs to God.  God is the one who brings people to Christ, and God never fails.

In addition, Paul renounces "secret and shameful ways" does not "use deception" nor does he "distort the word of God".  On the contrary, he sets "forth the truth plainly" commending himself "to everyone's conscience in the sight of God."  In other words, Paul is Paul.   He is who he is in Christ and he makes that plain to others through the relationships he shares with them.  He is not afraid.  He does not need to resort to "bait and switch" tactics (finding ways to get people in the door so that you can hit them with the gospel).  He does not need to manipulate conversations.   He is who he is in Christ and he knows that is enough.

Finally, Paul remembers that since the work belongs to God, he may not always see the fruit of that work.  "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  God's work is eternal, so although we may not see it today we know that God is working and what He builds will last for eternity.

So what I must keep in mind, and perhaps each of you as well, is that missional living is about becoming more and more like Jesus by the Holy Spirit's power.   If we focus on what God is doing in us; how He is forming our character to be more like Jesus, and shaping us to share His heart; then as we interact naturally with the people around us (our family, friends, and neighbors) we will bring Jesus to them.  And as we bring Jesus to people, we trust God will bring them to Christ.

These are just some preliminary thoughts about 2 Corinthians 4.   If you have something you would like to add, please feel free to share your own thoughts as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 13, 2014 - Along the way ...

This past weekend I was struck by the anonymity of many of the heroes listed in the Bible.   In particular there is an unnamed "young girl", a captive from Israel in 2 Kings 5:2.  This young girl sets aside her anger,  and any animosity she might feel toward her captor to share the good news that there is a prophet in Israel who can heal her master of leprosy.

Her simple act of love and grace sets off a chain reaction that ultimately reveals God to Naaman and gives Jesus an example to share with the misunderstanding crowds in Nazareth (Luke 4:27).  Her choice changed history and resulted in a story that would bring God glory many times over!

So this made me think.  What about you and I?  We are God's children, and there is no greater name we could be given.  The history books may never record our names.  You and I will likely never go down in history, but the truth is that our actions and choices can.  Why?  Because God can use our actions and our choices to bring Himself glory!

Just imagine, the choice you make today to show God's love to someone in need, could be the beginning of a beautiful story that will bring God glory for years to come!

Last week I heard the simple story of a lady who made a choice one day to show love to someone in need, and that simple choice resulted in a God-glorifying story that is still being written today.

This young lady (in her middle 30's) was a woman on her way to the top of one of the most prestigious news producers in New York City and the world!  One day she encountered a young man on the street.  He asked, "Excuse me, Ma'am.  Do you have some change?  I'm hungry."  The young man was 11 years old.  At first she said, "No", but she could not shake the words, "I'm hungry."  So she turned back and offered to take the young man for a meal.  That meal turned into a weekly occurrence, and eventually led to a complete transformation in that young man's life!

Now I don't know that our stories will be that dramatic, but I do that the opportunity to show God's love to others presents itself every day.  If we can have eyes to see and ears to hear, and if we will choose to respond, we will be amazed at what God will do to bring Himself glory through us!

So what about you?  Have you been part of an incredible God story?  If so, I invite you to share it.
If not, what might God be asking you to do today as we journey together along the way? ...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

May 7, 2014 - Along the way ...

Today I am utterly amazed.  Following the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the Bible records an amazing blessing spoken by the risen Jesus to His disciples.

(Read John 20:19-23)

"Peace be with you".  

It was a common greeting used by Jews.  It is a wish for complete well-being (peace) in mind, body, and soul; peace with others and with God.  Yet when the risen Jesus speaks that same greeting it takes on entirely new meaning.  There is peace because Jesus is alive!

"As the Father has sent me so I am sending you".

How did the Father send Jesus?   Jesus Himself described his own calling in Luke 4:18-19 when he read from the scroll of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2) and declared that those words had been fulfilled in their hearing.  If Jesus was sent with the Spirit of the Lord to proclaim good news, freedom, and the year of the Lord's favor, then I imagine Jesus has the same in mind for us.

"Receive the Holy Spirit".

These are the most amazing words in all of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit is the gift Jesus gives to all who believe.   The Holy Spirit is the same Spirit of the LORD that was on Jesus.  It is the same Spirit that enabled God to raise Jesus from the dead, and that same Spirit now lives in us!  We are empowered to take up Jesus' calling with the same power Jesus Himself received.  Amazing!

"If you forgive ... If you do not forgive ..."

These words are a little more difficult to understand.  We are not given the authority to forgive or not forgive whoever we choose, whenever we choose.  Rather we are given authority to proclaim God's forgiveness available in Jesus for those who believe.  Forgiveness and reconciliation (peace with God) comes through faith in Jesus, and unless we tell about it, people will not know the truth.

In short, this is quite the calling!  Even so, we have been given the Holy Spirit, so we can be sent by Jesus as Jesus was sent by His Father.  Amazing!

So what about you?  What do you find amazing (here or elsewhere)?  I invite you to share your thoughts as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

April 29, 2014 - Along the way ...

I've been thinking a lot about the body of Christ, lately.  I fear we might be missing the point.  Often when we think about the body of Christ (which the Bible says is the church - see I Corinthians 12:27), we limit the scope of our thinking to a local congregation, but what if there is more?

Consider Article 27 of the Belgic Confession (a Christian testimony used by the church with whom I serve) and its understanding of the term The Holy Catholic Church -

"We believe and confess one single catholic or universal church - a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers, awaiting their entire salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by his blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit.  ...  And so this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain people.  But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith."

I am struck by two things: "catholic or universal", and "this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain people".

What if by emphasizing a local congregation as the body of Christ, we have missed what God intends for us to embrace, which is the worldwide body of Christ?  If so, what have we missed?

I serve on the World Missions board for my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and we have seen for years how missionaries partner with Christians from all different traditions to advance Christ's reign around the world.

What if God intends the same thing for the church in North America?
What if there is only one body of Christ (see Ephesians 4:4-6) and each one of us who have chosen to place true faith in Jesus are part of it?
What if my role as a pastor is not limited to the congregation, who has called me but is to serve the church as a whole; the whole body of Christ in Albuquerque and beyond?

I am not sure I have fully worked through what all of this means, but I thought I would invite you into the conversation.   I would like to hear your thoughts.   Have you ever considered the meaning of the body of Christ as one, worldwide communion?  If so, can you help me understand?  If not, what do you think, are we missing the point?

Let's continue to discuss as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

April 22, 2014 - Along the way ...

Last week was a roller coaster of emotions for me as we made our way through another Holy Week.

On the one hand, I confessed that Good Friday is one of the most awkward days of the church calendar.

Its hard to know what to say when confronted with the reality of Jesus' cross.   Words fail to capture the immensity of that moment.  Besides it seems strange to be excited that Jesus died, and yet as Jesus Himself said, "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." (Mark 8:31)  It had to happen in order for us to be saved, but I still feel awkward being happy about it.  Do you feel the same way?

On the other hand, Sunday I confessed the opposite.  Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus from the dead!  We announced, "Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!"

Whereas Friday is awkward and words seem inappropriate, Sunday is completely different.   When I consider the implications of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, I just can't stop talking about it.  There are never enough words to explain and relate all the benefits that are ours through faith, or all of the sad things that are coming untrue because of Jesus' resurrection from the dead.

I highlighted three benefits; three sad things coming untrue as taught by the Heidelberg Catechism (a tool we use to teach the Christian faith - it covers the apostles' creed, baptism and the Lord's Supper, the ten commandments, and the prayer Jesus taught us to pray sometimes referred to as the Lord's Prayer).  Those three benefits are: righteousness; Christ's righteousness which is imputed to us through faith, new life; the new life we have because the Holy Spirit is alive in us and we are already being made new, and resurrection; not simply Jesus' resurrection, but also the assurance of our own resurrection after we die.

I admit that these three benefits are all amazing, but this year the hope of the resurrection struck me most.  Since my dad died 6 months ago last Sunday, the hope of his resurrection through faith has brought me and my family comfort and has given us peace.  That has been the goodness of the good news that has impacted me most this year.  

So what about you?  What benefit of Jesus' resurrection from the dead means the most to you?
How will you complete this sentence: "Because Jesus rose from the dead I have ..."?
I invite you to share your own testimonies that we might encourage one another as journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

April 8, 2014 - Along the way ...

What does it take to be a disciple of Jesus?

This is a question with which you and I have probably wrestled at times.   We know that we are included in Christ by faith because of God's grace, and that it is only in Christ that we are declared righteous and that we are saved.

But what about following?  What about being a disciple?

In Mark 8:27-38, Jesus issues a call to discipleship.   Following Peter's affirmation that Jesus is the Christ, the chosen one sent by God to redeem His people, Jesus begins to explain all that He must suffer, how He will be rejected, be killed, and then after three days rise again.  

Accomplishing Jesus' mission will require a huge sacrifice on Jesus' part.   But what about us?  What will it look like for us to follow Jesus?

In Mark 8:34, Jesus tells us what discipleship looks like.  "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up their cross, and follow me."

The words are very plain, but what does that look like for you and me today?

I imagine Jesus' own disciples were caught off guard when He spoke these words, just as Peter was caught off guard when Jesus described the way in which He would accomplish His own mission.  And I imagine many of us today are still caught off guard when we hear these words.

Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.

So there will be sacrifice; a willingness to sacrifice even what is good for what might be better; a willingness to suffer; even a willingness to die; so that we might be raised again to new life in Christ, as we follow Him living by the Spirit.

In Ephesians 2:1-10, the apostle Paul describes this process - dead, but God made us alive in Christ, raised us up, and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms ... For we are God's workmanship (poetry) created in Christ Jesus to do good works God prepared in advance for us to do.

So as you consider discipleship, realize that it will require sacrifice, a willingness to suffer, and even die so that we might be raised to new life in Christ!   And it is the new life, which enables us to follow, doing the good works God prepared in advance for us to do.

So what about you?   What do you think it takes to follow Jesus?  Please take time to share your own thoughts as we journey together along the way ...