Saturday, June 30, 2012


Last Friday was International Mud Day.  I have never heard of it before but my wife learned about it on the internet, so it must be true.  And given that Robin is fun-loving schoolteacher she set-up an event to celebrate it.  For two hours there were 6 kids ages 3 through 6 running around in the backyard, engaged in various activities, nearly all of them making liberal use of mud.

Each child was given a bucket of dirt and access to a hose.  They danced in mud, made mud cakes, threw mud at each other and wiped their muddy hands on their clothes, and then on each other’s clothes.  When the muddy children needed a break they rested while eating popsicles and drinking lemonade.  They went through a lot of popsicles and lemonade!

When I got home from work and Robin was filling me in on the details she said that here was one particular activity that the boys present were absolutely enthralled by.  On the property where we are living there is a pick-up truck that hasn’t moved for a number of years.  It has sat so long that the wheels have sunk into the ground nearly to the axles.

Robin picked up a handful of mud and chucked it at the truck.  The boys were dumbstruck!  They didn’t quite understand what was being made available to them, so she told them clearly, “Throw mud at the truck!  As much mud as you want to!”  And they did so, with great enthusiasm.  They spattered the truck from front to back, on all sides. 

While there were some boundaries to the Mud Day celebration, such as no throwing mud at the moms or the house, something that they had assumed to out-of-bounds as a target for their mess-making, a parked truck, was actually in-bounds.  And they took great delight in this knowledge.  In our human nature we sometimes push back at boundaries as being restrictive to the things that we want to do.  But as the children learned, there can also be great delight while staying within the boundaries.

One of the things we learn as we follow Jesus is that God has set boundaries for our lives, something the Psalmist makes clear in the writing of Psalm 16, particularly verse 6, which in the NIV reads:

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

The ways in which God makes known his boundaries for us varies.  Some of them are very clear, such as in the Ten Commandments.  Others take a bit more discernment to determine, calling us to prayerfully consider the words of Scripture and apply them to the circumstances we are in.  An example would be in the words of Galatians 6: 16-24.  Paul lists a number of things that are clearly outside of God’s boundaries on our behavior and then follows it with a short list of characteristics that describe what is found within his will.  If what we are considering is in agreement with those characteristics then we can be assured that we are living within God’s boundaries.

God’s boundaries are not meant to oppress us, but to give us freedom.  Psalm 16:9-11 closes with this confident assurance of the joy to be found living within God’s boundaries:

            “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
                        my flesh also dwells secure.
            For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
                        or let your holy one see corruption.
            You make known to me the path of life;
                        in your presence there is fullness of joy;
                        at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Like the children throwing mud at the truck, may you know great delight living within the boundaries God has established on your life.  He delights in our joy, and our delight in him makes his glory known to the world.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Tomorrow I’m doing pulpit supply, preaching at a local church while the regular pastor is on vacation.  So preparing the sermon has been the dominant task on my mind, pretty much all week.  No time to spend blogging when I need to attend to the preparation of a message from God’s word.  Now, on Saturday evening, the sermon is ready, or at least as ready as I should let it be.  I could continue to edit, tweak, etc. it more, and more, but I’m not going to.

We are spending the evening at home, caring for the young son of some friends while his mom and dad have some time together.  It is a beautiful summer evening in Minnesota.  After dinner we sat outside while the kids played, and one of the things they did was play with bubbles.  They had the little bottles of soap with the wands they held by their lips as the blew on them, spreading bubbles over the lawn.   And they had a large wand, nearly a foot across, that they lifted from a trough filled with bubble soap and slowly waved through the air.  They giggled, laughed and chased after large, really large, bubbles rising into the air.

I took a look at the soap my wife had used for the bubbles.  Given that our daughter, her friends and our grandchildren go through a lot of bubble soap in a summer she buys a large bottle to use to refill the smaller bottles.  It turns out that she doesn’t use any ordinary soap, but “miracle bubbles.”  And while “miracle bubbles” sound pretty good to me, as they say on TV, “That’s not all!”  They are “super miracle bubbles.”  And even that isn’t enough.  They are “premium plus super miracle bubbles.”

Now it seems to me that “premium plus super miracle bubbles” would have to be the best soap bubbles ever.  But it turns out that it isn’t.  My wife adds something to enhance the bubble soap.  It must work, because the pictures she takes of the bubbles the kids make and chase with such exuberance are really spectacular.   Not the bubbles I recall from my youth.

“Change is good,” so the saying goes.  This is certainly true sometimes, as in the case of the development of bubble soap.  As we move through stages of life we can also experience change that is good.  We can also see changes that are not good, such as making a series of choices in our lives that only lead to hardship and brokenness. 

The scripture that comes to mind as I watch children blow bubbles and ponder this is Hebrews 13:8, which says:

                Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

In a changing world, one that changes in ways we often cannot control, our Lord and Savior remains unchanged.  He has existed before the creation of the world and he will faithfully carry his children with him into eternity.  His love, expressed perfectly on the cross, will endure forever.

Christ is enough.  No enhancements needed.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Listening for God

How do we know when God is talking to us?  It’s not as clear today as it was for Moses, who first heard from God through a burning bush and them met with God repeatedly during the Exodus.

There are many other places throughout the Old Testament where God is reported as speaking with people, particularly his prophets.  The New Testament also has some accounts of God appearing and giving direction to his people.  The story of Saul on the Damascus Road being a prime example.

I believe that God still speaks to us today, but I sometimes find myself struggling to hear his voice and to discern the nature of his message.  And in that vein I share a few means of helping to listen to the voice of God today.  He may whisper.  He may yell.  But however he speaks and whatever he says, you can count on it being important to him, even if it doesn’t seem important to you.

I was discussing this topic with a friend/mentor several years ago and this was the guidance he gave me when you are trying to understand if God is calling you to something:

  1. It is something God wants done.
  2. It matches and challenges your particular gifts.
  3. It is work that you find internally meaningful.
  4. Others affirm you in doing this.

My deciding to write this blog is one example of these four points in action. 

How do we know what God wants done?  One of the best ways is that the things we are thinking of doing are consistent with what is taught in the Bible.  I am virtually certain that nowhere in the Bible does God give instructions to “write a blog!”  But God does want people to think about and understand his teaching and then communicate that to other people, which is the heart of what I try to do each time I sit to write here.

Over the past ten or so years I have acquired the ability to think and write theologically, hopefully coherently, if not always clearly.  Thinking and writing also stretch me, to think and write more.  And they connect with and develop other skills, such as developing my prayer life and my preaching.

And as I follow God’s lead here I do find it to be meaningful work.  I have no idea how many people read my blog.  But living in a world that is often resistant to God I find meaning in speaking what I believe to be truth as he nurtures it within me.

And lastly, I do occasionally hear from others that something I wrote had meaning for them, which meets the guideline for some external affirmation, not that what I write is good on its own merits, but, I believe, that through my writing God is offering something of himself to them.

Other people have written more articulately on the topic of discerning God’s voice than I have.  One is Kevin DeYoung, in his book Just Do Something.  One of the topics he addresses is a paralysis that can come over us as we seek do know and do God’s will, so that we end up letting good and Godly opportunities pass by rather than doing what God may be laying before our very eyes.

Another example is here, where Roger Barrier gives an overview of the topic, one that is biblically-grounded, as any attempt to discern God’s voice must be, and also addresses the subtle ways in which Satan can distort our hearing and lead us astray.

One way, of several, that God has spoken to me today has been in this brief bit of writing, which I hope has been pleasing to him and helpful to you. 

How is he speaking to you?  

Friday, June 8, 2012


I don’t know this for certain but there seems to be a large section of my brain that is devoted to mostly useless knowledge, at least useless in terms of a practical sense.  It is filled with bits of this and that which only seem to have meaning if I am playing Trivial Pursuit or watching Jeopardy.  My wife can readily attest to this!

So today I was looking on the Wikipedia home page at the section devoted to this date in history, to see if anything happened on this date that I would be interested in learning more about.  Everything seemed fairly mundane so I clicked on the link for June 8 to look at a more comprehensive listing and something virtually jumped out at me.  It turns out that on June 8, 1794, the leaders of the French Revolution instituted their new religion, the Cult of the Supreme Being. 

In a nutshell, one of the things the Revolution was against was the influence of the Catholic Church on government and culture.  In the early years of the Revolution there was an active persecution of the church but the leaders of the Revolution, particularly Robespierre, believed that there was actually a place in society, perhaps not for Christianity, but certainly for Deism.  He conceived of a form of Deism that believed in a supreme being and an immortal soul and held that mankind’s highest calling was to pursue virtue.

This religious expression was short-lived.  Robespierre announced it on May 7th, and led its institution through a grand celebration on June 8th.  50 days later, on July 28th Robespierre fell victim to the Reign of Terror he himself had led, and for all practical purposes the Cult of the Supreme Being died with him.

 Robespierre’s world fell apart in the final two days of his life.  He rapidly moved from one having the power to order others executed to being executed himself.  I wonder what thoughts he had regarding his “Supreme Being” and the state of his immortal soul as he saw his death appear so suddenly near on the horizon.  I suspect that at the least he had been raised as a nominal Catholic and I wonder if there was any kind of awakening within him to the true nature of God. 

And that brought to mind the victim of another “reign of terror,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, of whose last days I read in the closing section of Letters and Papers from Prison.  Boenhoffer didn’t know a distant and impersonal “Supreme Being,” but he personally knew the real Supreme Being, his Lord and Savior, Jesus.  He spent his last hours in prayer with the One he knew and loved, the One whom he would have eternal fellowship with.

Pursuing virtue is a fine thing but it is not as sweet or precious as pursuing the Author of virtue.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3:16-17

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 4, 2012


This morning I read a blog post by my good friend, Mike, around the theme of justice, particularly as it is displayed in the biblical accounts of Jacob and Laban.  These sentences from the second-to-last paragraph really grabbed my attention:

“Rather what is happening is that we have an innate desire to see justice done. The problem is that we can often seek to see justice done even when it comes in the form of an act of injustice.”

What happens when we take the idea Mike expresses, i.e. our innate desire to see justice done, and apply it to what I consider its ultimate expression, the sin that we, that I, commit against God?  The things I do day after day that are not in accord with the way God has called me to live my life.  How do I reconcile a desire to see justice done when I am the very person guilty of the offense?

The Bible is crystal clear in speaking to the standing of humans who sin and their place before God, perhaps no more so than in the words of Paul in Romans 3:23,

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”    

The “all” that Paul is referring to is all of humanity since the beginning of time, Jesus excepted.  All people who have ever lived have done so as sinners before God and deserve the punishment that God has established for their sin. 

Paul speaks to that punishment as well, saying in the first part of Romans 6:23,

“For the wages of sin is death,…”

Thanks be to God that in that very verse that begins with God’s justice God also provides his grace,

“...but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Applied to myself, my desire for justice, even towards myself, is answered by God through his grace.  He places my sin on his Son, who bears the punishment that is deservedly mine so that I can get the gift I could gain no other way but as God’s free gift…eternal life with my Lord and Savior.

And God offers this gift to all who come to him by faith.  I invite you to read Romans 6 for yourself and consider how God may be speaking to you through it.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, briefly reviewed.

Eugene Peterson has had an interesting career in ministry, to put it mildly.  He stumbled into ministry as he was finishing an undergraduate degree in philosophy and literature. After seminary he began a PhD in Semitic languages, intending to have an academic career.  While teaching at seminary and pastoring a church as he worked on his dissertation he sensed that God was calling him into pastoral ministry.  He followed the call and planted a church, serving there for 29 years.  He then went back to teaching, and along the way mixed in writing, producing a large body of what I’ll call “really good books,” including the Bible paraphrase, The Message.  In The Pastor: A Memoir, he takes a look back on his life and reflects on the things that gave it shape and meaning, particularly into that curious identity of “pastor.”

Peterson provides snapshots from each area of his life, describing things that in some cases he never considered having great meaning when they happened, but that were influential in shaping him as a pastor.  As I read them I was reminded of things from my own life that have shaped me and prepared me, as I, like Peterson, move into a vocation that at one time I would have laughed if it was suggested to me.

Peterson has most definitely not written a “how to” guide on being a pastor, and he would have a low opinion of any such book.  He learned, through trial and error, that being a pastor is not a job but a vocation, a vocation that is best lived into as the pastor serves among their congregation, day after day and year after year. 

While not writing a “how to” manual of the pastoral vocation, as Peterson relates his own experiences I find that he does provide some general guidelines to foster a particular pastoral ethos among those who read this book.  “Pastor” was not so much “what he did” but “who he was.”  He did not “work” as a pastor 24/7 but his identity as a pastor permeated his life and relationships.  He counted being a pastor to be a great privilege, writing,

“But the overall context of my particular assignment in the pastoral vocation, as much as I am able to do it, is to see to it that these men and women in my congregation become aware of the possibilities and promise of living out in personal and local detail what is involved in following Jesus, and be a companion to them as we do it together.” (247)

This is a book I highly recommend to anyone who has responded to God’s call to pastoral ministry.  I believe that no matter how much experience one has in ministry reading it will stimulate both reflection and possibility on their journey.  I’m looking forward to reading it again in a few years and seeing how the wisdom Peterson has written here speaks to me anew.