Wednesday, July 30, 2014


During worship on Sunday morning we pray in our church.  That may not be much of a surprise.  Churches are supposed to pray, aren't they? 

Now I am not certain, but I suspect that my church prays a bit differently  than the average congregation from the several different branches of Christianity that I have been associated with in my lifetime.  I have been Lutheran and Methodist, and I'm currently serving a Reformed congregation.  When worshipping among different congregations of those groups, and also other branches of the Christian family, I have been in powerful times of prayer. 

One of the things that stands out to me in our congregation is that each Sunday we ask for prayer requests.  Each Sunday I walk into the aisle and ask if there is anything anyone wants to lift up.  And each Sunday there are from perhaps 10 (rarely), to 15-20 (much more common), to even more, things that the congregation wants lifted in prayer.  So I work those requests into our congregational prayer and then keep them as the things I pray over during the next week.

Prayer requests aren't that unusual but in my experience there are many congregations that won't do them, or if asked, people do not share them.  I think it is a blessing to serve a congregation where people share what is on their hearts.

But not everyone wants to share every concern, and there is a way we handle that.  There are slips of paper, like the one in the picture, where people can write down their requests and share them with me in confidence. 

Disclaimer: I am not about to share a confidential request, nor am I going to share something that was contrived to make a point.

After supper this evening I went over to church to go through the sermon I have prepared for a funeral tomorrow.  And as I walked into church I glanced at the little table where the blank prayer request forms usually are and I found the one in the picture.

Now on this past Sunday, after worship, I had personally cleaned the church and put things away.  This request was not present at that time.  So it must have been placed there yesterday, at the funeral I preached yesterday. 

I also had a funeral late last week, so tomorrow will be three funerals in eight days, at my church, and I am aware of at least one other funeral, today, in a different church.  For a town of about 3,000 that is a lot of heartache. 

One of the things that is "standard" in our congregational prayer is to pray for our community.  It is something that I work into the prayer without anyone needing to bring it up.

In Colossians 4:2 Paul writes:

"Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving."

I am glad for this anonymous invitation to continue in prayer for our community.  I am glad that God worked through someone, unknown to me but fully known to Him, to leave this slip of paper in our church.  Someone who knows that the healing for our heartache will be found in God.

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.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


" The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful  inheritance."  

The other day I went running on the road that leads toward Stone Lake.  I run out that way about once a week.  It is a nice road to run on, as it is paved, and after I go past the clinic there is very little traffic. 

I like the quiet.  There may be an occasional car or truck.  Usually the only thing making noise, besides the wind, are the occasional horses, cattle and deer.  And those animals mostly blend in with the scenery.  The landscape is forest and range land and those are the animals you expect to see in that environment.

While there is range along Stone Lake Road, it is not open range.  There are fences on both sides of the road, keeping the cattle and horses away from the vehicle traffic.
But on this day things were different.  I ran to Mundo Lake and then turned to come back to town.  I was about a mile or so into the return trip and I saw a cow, a large cow, feeding in the ditch along the road.  She was in the ditch, and on the wrong side of the fence. 

She hadn't been there on my way out and as I got closer she saw me, startled, and quickly moved back through a very large hole in the fence.  She joined three other cows standing just inside the fence. 

The fence had formed a boundary for the cattle.  It kept them in one place, their own place, and outside of the place used by others.  The fence kept the cattle inside their range and away from the cars and trucks traveling on the road.

But the fence had been broken and I could see what would tempt a cow to push through it to the other side.  The summer has been dry but the grass in the ditch was long and thick.  The fence was in place to protect the cows but they were tempted by something on the other side that was very appealing.

God puts boundaries into our lives, and the places He puts them in are good for us.  The psalmist goes so far as to say that God's boundaries are pleasant.  Things on the other side of His boundaries are sometimes so appealing.  They look so good and we yearn for them.  We may push hard, and find ways  through the fence.

Maturity as a Christian includes learning where God's boundaries are and trusting that He has placed them there for our good.  Those things on the other side, which look so good, are really harmful.  They harm our bodies, our hearts, and our souls. 

May you and I learn where God has placed boundaries for our lives.  He's put them there for our good and His glory.

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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"Surely I am coming soon."

The news over the past week seems to be an endless cascade of chaos.  A civilian airliner shot down over the Ukraine.  Another airliner crashing in Africa.  Fighting between Israel and Hamas, that, while not labeled as such, shows all the characteristics of war. 

Syria.  Iraq.  The girls in Nigeria still being held as captives.  The largest known outbreak of Ebola, an incurable disease.

Closer to home there is the crisis at the southern US border.  Reports of children forgotten in cars, cars parked in the heat of summer.  People being shot.  Some randomly and some not.

I imagine that in virtually every community there are hard and painful things that have happened recently.  Unplanned, unexpected things, things that have torn people apart.  People being forced to live in pain that they couldn't plan for.  That they couldn't imagine. 

As I was reading of some of these things today, and pondering the ways in which our community and the congregation I serve was being affected, I found myself reading the last words of Jesus recorded in the Bible, Revelation 22:20, where Jesus says this:

"Surely I am coming soon."

Jesus speaks these words as He concludes the Revelation that He gave to John the Evangelist.  It is a revelation that includes wonderful pictures of what eternity will look like for those who are God's own, when sin and the enemies of God are completely defeated, as well as the eternal destiny of those who will remain as God's enemies. 

Nearly two thousand years after Jesus spoke those words we who have placed our faith in Him are still waiting.  From our vantage point two thousand years hardly seems to be "soon," especially in the chaos that seems to be all around us.

But from the One who created time itself, two thousand years has an entirely different look.  He has His reasons, and I trust that they are very good ones.  I have no doubts that He will return, in power and glory, in His timing.  And so, in the chaos of today, I include in my prayers the words that John prayed in response to Jesus:

"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!"

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.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tested by Fire

A few Sundays ago I began preaching through the book of First Peter.  The text for this morning was 1 Peter 1:6-9.  Verses 6 and 7 say this:

"In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

As heat is applied to gold to remove its impurities and bring out its brilliance so too do various kinds of things come into our lives that refine our faith. 

The range of trials can be very wide, from things that may be no more than annoyances, to things that make wounds in our hearts that are deep and very painful.  Peter is helping us to see that in God's plan these things can be used for our good and His glory.  They refine our faith.  They remove the impurities and imperfections of our hearts so that we can more fully see, and show to the world around us, the glory of God. 

We don't seek out trials in our lives, and we would avoid them entirely if we possibly could.  But they happen.  And as they happen there is a place for God to be at work in us. 

The next time you become aware that you are in some sort of trial or testing, may you also seek to see and understand how that situation may be used by God to refine your faith, a faith that is more precious than gold.  A faith will never perish.  A faith that will one day bring you into the eternal and glorious presence of God.

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.

Friday, July 4, 2014

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Something interesting happened outside of the parsonage this afternoon.  I could never have guessed that something like what I saw would actually happen.  I couldn't have dreamed it.  It was the kind of thing that would perhaps happen in a movie, except it wasn't a movie.  It was real life.  It falls into the category of "You can't make this stuff up." 

It crosses into that part of my job that is confidential, so you'll have to trust me.  I know I've written a teaser, but I can't share the details. 

That phrase, "you can't make this stuff up," has been an irregular presence in my life for perhaps the past ten years.  Maybe longer than that.  It just seems that in the past ten years, time and again, something has happened that is best classified with that heading. 

Some things were good.  Some not.  All were unexpected and unpredictable. 

As I sat outside today and watched the kids, pondered the incident I had seen, and recalled an online discussion yesterday, my pastoral mind was kindled.  Because there is something else that is so unlikely, so unexpected, so undeserved, that it almost could fall into the category of "you can't make this stuff up."  Almost.

And that is the salvation God holds out to sinners, people who have sinned against Him and, by faith in His Son, Jesus, turn towards God and receive forgiveness and eternal life. 

Forgiveness that is complete.  Forgiveness that covers all sins, from birth to death.  Every one. 

And the promise of eternal life with God.  A sure and certain promise, given by One who cannot fail to keep His promises.  Not ever.

Gifts that are completely free.  Completely undeserved.  And yet a gift that is there for the taking, for the heart that trusts in Jesus. 

In Galatians 5:1 Paul writes:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

On this day, July 4th, a day when Americans celebrate freedom as a nation, may you know an infinitely better and perfect freedom, the freedom that can be yours through faith in Christ.

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.