Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is Egypt Far Enough

Through the years of serving God through local churches there have not been many things that have been constant. One constant however is that no matter how much people claim a want for change, there is reluctance to do what it takes. Usually the reluctance shows up in the form of going back to what has been. In church parlance it would be said people want to go back to Egypt. Not to put too fine a point on it, people would rather go back to captivity, than to move forward into something new and unknown.

Why is it that when we want to go back we only go to Egypt? Why not go back further? Why not go back to Abram, not Abraham but Abram. They are the same many but at very different stages of their journey with God. Abram had a nice life for himself. He was married, had a household, cattle, sheep, goats the like. God called him to move to a place he had never been. God did not even show him where we was to go. Simply God said go and I will show you when you are there. When Abram said yes it set in to motion a history of events that lead to his being renamed Abraham, to Issac, to Jacob, to Egypt, to the Exodus, eventually to Jesus, and to you and I.

I am okay with going back, as long as we go back far enough. In the church today we talk about going back. Back to the days when the church was in its supposed glory. Rarely do people want to go back far enough. Let's not look to the 1940's and 50's, let's go back farther. How about the 1740's, or the 1540's. possibly the 540's or even the 40's. Back to a day when there was more concern for following the voice of God than preserving what has been and is known.

All together looking back is fine, but it is time for the people of God to stop living in the past. The time has come to move forward once again. Like the days of Abram, I believe God is calling men and women, individuals and churches to go into a new land. I cannot tell you the name of the land, I cannot pain you a picture of it, but when we get there God will let us know.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Gap

Each morning as I read and pray I find great desire and passion for the life God is calling me to. Then something tragic happens, I close the book, I open my eyes and the rest of the day engages. As the day wares on I find myself living less out of that passion and desire and more toward getting by. As the day comes to a close I am left to lay in bed and ponder the fact that yet another day has passed and I have failed to live out the passion and desire which rests so deep in my soul.

As you might guess I have spent many hours, days, weeks and even months trying to figure out the gap between actions and desires. The struggle is intensified by the fact that I am filling my days with activities that have meaning and positive consequence. I could almost handle the dissonance if I were wasting the days away on the meaningless and trivial. I feel however the events of my day make a difference in the Kingdom of God and the lives of those who I interact with. Still there is something with in me that is propelling me to more. Not more items on the schedule, but to something more than what I am currently doing. Again the difficulty is what I am doing in not bad or unimportant.

So what is it that I feel a passion and desire to do? I am very hesitant to even write it for two reasons, first putting it in on this blog can bring about dangerous conviction. Second, the passion and desire feels arrogant, and in fact is arrogance if it is not God who is calling, urging and longing for me to take this direction. So here goes. I am passioned and have a desire to have a ministry of writing and speaking. I do some of this now but what I am talking about is a full-time ministry of writing books and articles and traveling around the globe speaking and teaching. Ultimately helping people travel on this journey of life in an ever-increasing connection with God.

I would appreciate your input on this. Please drop a comment here on the blog, or an e-mail to

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Misplaced Blame

I am always amazed at the ways I expect God to act. I have expectations of what God will provide for me, what God will do for me. The list is created and brought to God like a parent gives a child a list of chores to be done. Then when things do not happen as I have requested I assume it is God who has let me down. Phrases like, if God really loves me... or if God was real then why didn't he...
I often expect God to function at my beck and call, and when there is action different than I demanded I become a whining 3 year old.

What if the problem is not God at all? What if I am the problem? I realize that is a totally inappropriate question, as rarely is the problem my fault, but what if? Is it at all possible the problem is my relationship with God, not God's apparent indifference to my request?

I am not saying that if I had more faith God would do what I want. I am not saying that we all need to try harder. What am I saying? We all need to run to God. Repeatedly in the scriptures we find the writers reminding themselves and us that God does not what our human effort, or it is not through working harder in our human effort which draws us closer to God. Rather God longs to be in relationship with us. God longs to walk with us in the cool of the day. God longs to be known by us, not for what we can gain. Simply wanting to know us to be in relationship.

How do we accomplish this? The answer lies in the ways we build all relationships. Invested time, energy and effort. We must make it a priority. The challenge is found in the WIIFM. What's in It For Me? Most Americans run everything in their lives through this filter. What if life is not about what we gain, but what we give and to whom we give it to and through?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Enough is Enough

Yesterday as a part of my sermon I used Matthew 22:1-14. This is the parable of a king who puts on a wedding banquet. All the things are in place for the banquet, there is only one problem, those who were invited we not there. The people who the king specifically invited did not show, so the king sends out messengers to the invitees to reinforce the invitation. The results, the people still do not come. In fact they kill some of the messengers. In the end the king invites who ever will come to share in the celebration. In a curious end of the story the king identifies one person at the party who was not prepared for a feast as such. So the king casts this individual to the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

There have been many people who have written about this parable, most of them way smarter than I am. The general feel of the parable interpretation is that those who didn't come are the religious people, those who come to the party are the everyday people looking to follow God, not a religion. The person who was thrown out in the twist ending is a religious person who tried to sneak into the banquet, but was not truly prepared for the feast of the King.

The amazing part is the religious people who were suppose to know better, didn't. The people who supposedly had their act together missed the boat. Rather than cancel the party, the king goes out and gets new people to share in the party. That would never happen now... would it?

The most dangerous thing in the church in America today is not Satan, though formidable, it is not an increasingly secular society. No the greatest challenge is from the people who are church people and nothing more. People who have been in the church, can tell you about it, can articulate the tenets of faith but are not interested in coming to the party. For almost half a century, using that term makes it seem longer, the church in American has been trying to reach those already "connected" to the church. Many a messenger has been killed and mistreated along the way. I say it is time to invite new people to the banquet. The mainline/oldline church in America is not simply broken it is on death's door. Unfortunately it is not dead, if death were to happen resurrection could occur. Resurrection cannot be experienced if there is not death.

Could it be that it is time to let the religious people go their way, and go to the streets to invite those who are looking for a party to go to?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Captive or Free

In chapter 51 or Isaiah the prophet delivers the word of God regarding the people of Israel exiled in Babylon. The word is put behind you Babylon and all that it means and holds. Now I am pretty sure people will not all of a sudden forget their time in captivity. I am sure people will not simply wipe clean that portion of their mind. So what is the Lord teaching them and us?

Babylon was a place of captivity. When we live captive to someone or something it has a lasting effect on us. Our captivity changes the way we live life, even after we experience freedom. There is a tendency to live as a captive long after the day of freedom has been declared. God is telling Israel and us that we need to put that stuff away. We have been set free by the Redeemer of all the universe. Why then do we continue to live as captives in a free land?

One possibility of captivity is that we begin to believe the only life we can live is that of a prisoner. Another possibility is we are not sure we can function as a free person. The last possibility I will mention is the idea that we come to find comfort in our captivity. We might know we are free. We might know the gates have been opened and new life is available to us, but we know captivity and we know what to expect so we stay there.

God tells us leave that behind. Christ did not come to earth, show us how to live, die on the cross and raise from the grave so we can live as captives. We have been given free, yet we must choose to live free.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Life of a Shepherd

As the letter of 1 Peter draws to a close, the writer, most likely Peter, encourages those who are elders in the church. I could do a whole entry on the term elder, but not my focus here. The encouragement offered is to be a good shepherd of the flock God has appointed you to. This idea of the good shepherd in the world of the church has become a very powerful and responsibility laden term. Form my experience when people refer to a pastor as a shepherd, they mean someone who will take care of the flock.

Now there is a component to the life of a shepherd that involves care, but the most significant role of the shepherd, research is so much fun, is one who motivates and supervises the movement of the sheep from place to place. The movement is not just for the sake of movement, but it is to get the sheep in the idea place for their growth and effectiveness. This is so much more than providing care, it means having a vision and understanding what lies ahead.

This is not how we have come to understand a shepherd and thus the job is made even more difficult. There are times when the shepherd has to be confrontational, there are times when the shepherd must take the sheep to places they do not want to go, there are times when the shepherd must use their crook to move the sheep. Not exactly the images of a shepherd we are use to.

In closing, that wonderful image of Jesus with the lamb around his shoulders has become the epitome of the shepherd, but it is not the actual image. The owner or master is the one who would carry a lamb as such, not the shepherd. the shepherd would have the responsibility of keeping the sheep from getting into such situations by leading them to other places.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Deepest Pain

Reading through the early 40's in Isaiah I am stuck by the words God has for the chosen people Israel. These are the people God has called for a special purpose. These are the people God has called apart to bless in order to be a blessing. These are the people who are the object of God's affection. Yet they repeatedly turn to idols and false gods. That which God called apart for greatness, causes the deepest pain to the heart of God.

Fast forward to the church today. The Body of Christ, called out by God to be the tool to spread the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church is not a human creation, it is an impartation from God. I have spent the better part of the last 15 years trying to determine what this thing called the church is all about. I may never come to an answer that is Truth. What I have found is the responsibility of the church is to be the people of God, not for ourselves but to be a blessing to the rest of the world. In other words, the church does not exist for itself. The church exists to give itself away. The primary reason the church exists is to be God's ambassadors to the a world that longs for a relationship with someone, something greater than themselves.

When we in the church function in a way less than that, we are in the same boat as the people of Israel who Isaiah was prophesying to. When we function in the church just for ourselves we grieve the heart of God, we hurt God deeply.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I continue to wrestle with this idea of success. More directly what is it to be a successful Christ-Follower? Due to the fact God meets each one of us right where we are at, coupled with the fact we are a unique creation, I fear there is no such thing as a picture perfect Christ-Follower. There is no possibility of being able to post pictures of what it looks like to be a successful Christ-Follower. Yet, it is important to have a standard by which we can measure.

There are a few classic errors that are made in the pursuit however. First is the works error. Our success as Christ-Followers is not about accomplishing some 'to do' list of spiritual disciplines. It is not about being able to present a resume of Christ accomplishments. The second common error is to think all we have to do is believe in God. This is to claim a belief system, but never have actions or disciplines in our lives which support the claim of belief. The third common error might be the hardest to recognize, I will call it the just like me error. It is common for each of us to develop certain aspects of the faith journey which are pivotal for our development. This is not bad. The challenge enters when we think that is the solution for everyone else. Often this shows up in statements like, "If people would only do _____________ more, then they would know God." This might be a very true statement, but we have to remember God has created each of us unique. While Jesus Christ is the only way to God, we do not have access to Jesus Christ all figured out.

So what do we do? We stop worrying about the details and begin to live our lives as an act of drawing closer to God. Drawing close to God happens in many forms and patterns. But the truest make of success that I can find is a life which continually draws closer to the heart of God, and begins to reflect the heart of God in our day to day living.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Come, Let's Go!

I have just finished a re-read of Erwin McManus' book Seizing Your Divine Moment. Every time I read this book I am reminded of how much I need to hear the words presented. This time through, I was repeatedly confronted by the struggle of identifying a moment. Then it it hit me, sorry I am slow, it is not about definition, rather it is about action. Not a single action, but a series of actions we call life.

It would be easy to become paralyzed trying to determine the measure of each moment that come to me. Which moment is my moment? Which moment is the moment God is giving me right now? Those are all distraction questions. They are possibly the design of me, or of Satan. As long as I am asking those questions and not living actions, I am doing very little for the Kingdom of God. There is a time and a place for reflection, and discernment, yet they are only of value if there are connected to action.

So what is the moment God is putting before me? I don't know exactly. What I do know is there is a moment before me ready, longing to be seized. The only way I am going to seize it is by taking action. Even if I take the wrong action, I will be closer to seizing the moment than if I stayed in my chair wondering.

Are you seizing or sitting?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Back in The Saddle

After a week of rest, relaxation and reflection I am back. In the mode of confession, I did not read a single one of the books on my reading list. I only read one magazine article, and my scriptures. Other than that, I put it down. I did however do a lot of reflecting about life and ministry. The key question for my time of reflection is and was, "Am I where God wants me to be?"

As you can guess this is a multi-level question and quest. One the highest level, I will only be where God wants me to be once I am in the Kingdom realized. There is always more room for my journey with God through Christ to be a deeper and more intentional walk. On a more temporal level, am I in ministry in places and ways God desires for me? This is not a light or easy question. Not a question which is simply answered in a week or even a month of reflection. The beginning of this question lays in the asking is Cortland UMC the place God wants me to be pastoring? AS best AI can discern, the answer is yes. That is not to say everything is going the way I feel it should, or even that I completely like the place we are at as a ministry. Yet, it is to say, I do not feel my heart tugged anywhere else at this time.

The second wrestling is found in a bigger question. I am still called to be a pastor of the local church? I could fill the pages with the wrestlings here, and maybe I have, but the best I can tell for now is, yes. Is it what I will do for the next 40 years of my life? I don't know and I do not have to have the answer. I am responsible for this moment which God is presenting to me.

It is good to be back, and the mind is firing again. I need to take vacation more often.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


There have only been a few Sunday's in my ministry which I have felt exhausted. Today is one of those days. This means I will have to push through morning services on pure determination to complete the work laid before me. More importantly, anything of quality and consequence for the ministry day will have to come from God. My tank is on fumes and I am ready for a break.

Jesus had times when he needed a break, so he would withdraw to quiet places. I am not going off by myself this week, but I am going to spend time with my family, and time simply relaxing. Yes just when the tank is empty, it is vacation. The precious time when God can renew and refill my soul.

Vacation means for the next week blogs will be random at best. Continue to check each day, but I may not enter each day.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Quest For Truth

There is so much joy in the quest for truth. I am convinced that Truth, note the capital T, exists. Additionally I am convinced Truth is found ultimately in God. There is only one major problem, as human beings, there is not one single person who knows the complete picture of Truth. This is not an excuse to slip into relativism or your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth. Rather it is the acknowledgement of our limitations as humanity.

So who's truth is closest to the Truth? Are some truths more true than others? The painful and difficult answer is yes. Only, we as humans do not always know the difference. There are times when Truth can be know by humans, but we do not hold the complete picture. The real measure is not whether or not there is an accumulation of truth, rather is there a living of the truth that has been revealed. There is also a measure of our willingness to quest for Truth. In fact it is more important to be on the quest, than to think we hold all the answers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Paradox of Followers

Over the past few days I have been ruminating about the fickle nature of us human beings when it comes to matters of following God. Fueling the thoughts have been my readings in Hebrews and the minor prophets. Adding fuel to the thought fire is also a chain of recent events. At a local church the pastor just resigned. For the past two years I have been in this area the pastor had been struggle to move the congregation, the largest non-catholic in our area, to a new place. As you might guess the resistance was large, and many left the church. In my own church I struggle with how to get people to engage in the work of God through the church, or how to move past convenience Christianity into vital life-giving Christianity.

So what are the results of my musings? We are strange creatures. There is within all of us a longing for something more, something greater than ourselves. At the same time there is an ever-increasing desire to have everything on our own terms. We want a life with God, only on my schedule, my comfort level, and my determined level of commitment. There are times when our lives say, I will whole-heartedly serve God, as long as it fits my schedule.

In the life of the church, God's vehicle for the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the transformation of lives and all the world, this gets played out in many ways. There was a day and time when people scheduled life around the work of God at the church. Now that work must be fit in around all the rest of life.

The paradox is we want all of God we can get, and we recognize our need for something larger than ourselves. Only we want to be in control of what is larger than ourselves, we want to control God and God's involvement in our lives. We are such funny people.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Complete With A Bow On Top

I find the more questions I ask, the more questions I have than answers. For a long time this really bothered me. I am a big fan of having clear cut and definite answers. I am learning to be more comfortable with mystery and uncertainty. It is completely possible that I do not know the whole story and I do not have complete understanding.

What would happen if we stooped looking for nice neat answers, complete with a bow on top, and began truly seeking after God? Instead of reading the scriptures to prove our point, read the scriptures to learn God's point. Do we remember the Bible was never intended to be a scientific document of proof to beat people up with? The Bible is a companion for the journey. It is our guidebook, our map.

Our scriptures are intended to prove who God is, or even prove the existence of God. It is simply given that there is God. What our scriptures point to, which is really the point, is the live giving relationship God longs to have with us. There are parts of the book I do not understand. There are parts that I struggle to see how God is cultivating relationship. And I am learning to live with that mystery a little better each day.

I do not think we live in a world that is looking to have all the answers. I do not think we live in a world that needs to have everything in nice neat packages, complete with a bow on top. I do think we live in world that is hungry to be on a quest to experience relationship like never before. The relationship God longs to give us, if we will allow the opportunity, questions and mystery in all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's The Deal With The Bible?

For the past 20 some centuries there have been a collection of books, organized into what is called a canon. This canon we might know as the Bible. For many the Bible, or the scriptures are the foundation of a journey with God. From the scriptures knowledge of who God is, what God has done, and how we should live can be gained. Still there are many struggle points with the good book.

So why is it that the Bible faced unparalleled scrutiny among the holy books and other historical documents? There are all kinds of reasons. Some say it is because of science. Others will chime in and say because of the miracles. Still others claim doubt because of the way we see God in the Old Testament. There is also an aspect of looking at the scriptures which has been tainted by what other humans have done with the words given to us. Many a times, unfortunately I myself have been here, humans take the scripture and distort it to fit their message. This is pretty backwards, yet still done my many if not all.

However, there is one reason the Bible is questioned which overrules all the others. The content of the Bible is not merely history, it is not merely literature, the content of the Bible deals with our moral life, and calls us to a high moral standard. If I admit the Bible to be truth, and something I should pattern my life after, I will have to change my life. If I can discard the Bible as story or myth, I can live however I want to, with zero perceived ramifications.

Now I am willing to admit my bias, I think the Bible is not only the single most important book on my shelf, I think it is the single most important book ever written. I do believe it to be 100% truth. I do believe I should conform my live to it, not it to my life. I am also willing to admit I do not have a perfect understanding of the what is presented int he Bible. I must interpret what is there into my life and the lives of those who I shepherd, but I am not the final authority on the interpretation.

In the end we should read the Bible, study it. We should challenge and ask questions. We should seek to investigate all the claims of God through the scriptures. In doing so we need to be open to the idea that God is at work in those pages, and our lives can be forever transformed for the sake of the world, if we would allow it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lessons From a Moose

Over the past few days I have been involved with the hunt for the great moose. Being in Maine, I thought it would be a rather easy and quick hunt. All I can say is... wrong. It took great effort and persistence. We drove for miles, we searched the shorelines, we waiting while the bugs were on full attack and, nothing. Then when we had all but admitted defeat, in the dim light of twilight, there is was. Then as we drove home, in the dark, there is was again and again.

There have been times when my spiritual quest has been parallel with my moose quest. There has been a great search and great effort only to feel like I came up empty. I have been on the verge of giving up on this whole God thing. And wham there is God in full glory. Then while traveling on a road new to me, and the fog all around, God continues to show up.

Why is it God seems so elusive? Could it be that God is right there and I keep missing Him? I shutter to think the number of moose I went right by every day or while on the intentional quest. I wonder how often God is right there and I am moving too fast, or looking for the wrong thing. Or even worse, I just am not looking for God in ways and places which involve only my understanding.

So much to learn from the moose/

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

MIssion in Maine

The joy of being on a mission trip is the clarity which it brings. It becomes easier to see what matters most, and what it is that God has called me to do. I am convinced I waste so much time on things which do not really matter, and neglect the most important things. So much of what the church spends time on is chasing the wind, it is meaningless.

It seems real simple to me, do what ever we can to serve who ever we can. Let God sort out the rest. Here are a few pics from Maine