Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bit By Bit

Several months ago, the Lord layed on my heart the distinct impression that He wanted to do something extra special in our church during the Advent season. I prayed about it, sought His direction, and did everything I could to prepare for His move...though I had only a vague idea of what He wanted to do. The only thing I was sure of was that He was going to move.

I don't have to tell you that 2009 has been the most challenging economic environment in recent history, rivalling the Great Depression for depth and breadth of impact. And yet, God's direction became increasingly clear as Advent approached: He was going to ask me and my church to give of ourselves at an unprecedented level - regardless of the condition of the economy. It seemed daunting, potentially ill-advised, and downright foolish at times to think that in a time of such great need, we could actually give more than ever before.

I began to speak to my church about this challenge. You see, in 2008, on about 1 week's notice, I had decided to ask the church to give on Christmas Eve - a special offering designated entirely for local benevolence. They'd never done anything like that before, but still took in about $450. Not bad, I thought, for our first time out. But I knew that was just the beginning!

Our first goal was to increase the number of shoeboxes going to Operation Christmas Child with Samaritan's Purse. 42 last year...46 this year - a 10% improvement! Next we began to gather mittens for our Mitten Tree, all of which go to children in our school system. Last year, 72 pair...this year, 100 - a 40% improvement. I sensed that our church was not only listening to God's direction, they were actually following it!

Goal #3 was to increase our contribution to the Love Network, intent on providing Christmas for families that weren't going to get it any other way. We had 14 families posted by our Mitten Tree and they were all taken the first Sunday! Ten families last year, 14 this year - another 40% increase.

Finally, Christmas Eve arrived. It rained all day, but sure beat snow or ice, and we had a great turnout. I reminded those attending of our focus in the season, conducted the service and collected the offering. The results? A one time gift of nearly $1300 was received, to be split 50/50 between the food banks of Iowa and Keokuk counties - an increase of nearly 300%!

It was overwhelming to watch God do what He promised He'd do - all because we did what He asked us to. And as great as Advent 2009 was, I have a distinct sense that we've just begun...that we haven't seen anything compared to what God is going to do, if we'll just keep listening and obeying as He leads. Bit by bit, we're getting there - not to some financial or numerical goal, but to living, loving and giving as God did in sending Jesus Christ. And as He continues to do, to the glory of His name!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I've always tried to model a life of faith-filled walking for my kids. You know, the kind of life that doesn't get discouraged by circumstances, is rock-steady in the storm and never hesitates when faced with an obstacle. Most of the time, I do okay with this and I'd like to believe that my kids have a pretty good concept of what "faith-walking" looks like. But every once in a while, God reminds me of just how vulnerable I am to doubt...and then blows me away with His provision once again. Frankly, it's immensly humbling - and a little bit embarrassing - for you'd think I'd have this thing mastered by now...after all, I'm a pastor!

We knew that the rooming arrangement for my college-age son, Jordan, was going to change at some point, as his course of studies was going to take longer than the other 3 guys with whom he'd been sharing an apartment. Every time the topic of finding another place to live would come up, I always assured him that God would take care of him, just as He always did. I was modeling the faith-walkin' life all right...but his deadline was still months away.

Week after week passed, and nothing happened. I talked to Jordan's college pastor (Mark) in Chicago, asking if there was anyone who might be willing to take in a good Christian guy, but with no success. At 2 months to go, I confess that I started to get a little nervous (inside) while assuring my son that God would provide (I hoped!).

At just a little over 1 month to go, I decided that maybe God needed a little help, so I plopped myself in front of the computer and my demi-god, "Google," to see if I could find him a place to live. Within 15 minutes of searching, I was totally frustrated and discouraged with the options, and God spoke quietly but firmly to my heart, "Kirk - this is not the way." So I closed the web browser and recommitted myself to waiting. What was taking God so long!!

Now, I could go into a long story full of details, but suffice it to say that at almost exactly one month out, I received an email from an unknown couple in Chicago who indicated to me that they had felt God leading them to create an apartment in a storage room of their house. They had gone to Pastor Mark and asked if there was anyone looking for a place to live. Understand this: they had never met Jordan, didn't know of Jordan, and didn't know he was looking. Pastor Mark said, "Well it just so happens that I do know of someone."

And here we are - 3 weeks before Jordan needs to move out - being reminded of God's provision...again. A great, godly couple in their 30s, with no kids and some room to spare has opened their home to my son. But it gets even better. They are doing this... for as long as he needs............FREE of charge. WOW! And just as I've chided my son at times, my heavenly Father now lovingly chides me for my fear, doubt, worry and plain old lack of faith.

I don't know what provision you're needing right now, but I invite you to trust Him again. Oh, the Lord didn't give us what we asked for...He gave us more and better. Sometimes that's readily apparent - often times it isn't - but His faithfulness to provide for those who love Him and seek to honor Him (albeit in a vast multitude of different ways) is unshakeable. As the Lord prompted & reminded me, I passed on to my son again the verse that has carried me for 25 years: "I will honor the one who honors Me" (1 Samuel 2:30). Why not make it your verse also?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


About 6 months ago, I felt led to use a rather unique way to help the people of my congregation grasp that no matter what tomorrow holds, God's Holy Bible has the counsel & direction you need to handle it. Though not an original idea per se, it was a new idea to the people of my church in North English.

Called a "Brown Bag Sermon," every 5th Sunday I invite one of our children to bring me a brown bag with an item of importance to them in it. I promise not to look in the bag until the moment the morning message arrives, then preach a message using what they brought as the focal point.

In my first two "Brown Baggers" things had gone well, but I was a little uneasy about this last one because this particular 5th Sunday fell on the 1st Sunday of Advent. I found myself just a little anxious as I wondered what on earth would be in the bag; would it be appropriate for Advent; and what would I do if it wasn't.

Honestly, I nearly recanted on my commitment, coming up with numerous reasons why I should not do it during Advent. But as the Sunday approached, I felt a very clearly challenge from the Lord as He simply asked, "Do you trust Me?" Now, this wasn't the first time He'd asked me this, but it was probably the most unusual time. I took a deep spiritual breath and said, "Yes, Lord, I trust You!"

On the 5th Sunday of November we had the privilege of dedicating two beautiful children & their parents (which always brings a great spirit to a service). As the 3-year-old handed me his brown bag, the mom simply said, "The most important thing in the world to him is in that bag!" I actually toyed with taking a peek at it early in the service, but, reminded of my declaration of faith to the Lord when He questioned my trust level earlier, I refrained.

At the moment of truth, I reached into the bag and pulled out (drum roll, please)......a blankie! And as only God can do, He honored my trust by helping me over the next 10-15 minutes share with the congregation how, no matter how old we get, we all still need a "blankie" of sorts. We never really grow up, and the needs this 3-year-old has, that make him cling to his blankie, are the very same needs we have at every age compelling us to cling to other things for security. I challenged them to cling to Jesus for their security and not the things this world has to offer.

I even begged the congregation's leniency with Scripture as I reminded them that as Jesus' disciples were about to lose their "blankie" - their security (which had been Christ Himself) - and were quite distressed at Jesus' talk of their "blankie" leaving (His death), He promised them that Someone else would take His place...The Comforter! (The Gospel of John, Chapters 14, 15 & 16).

Scripture IS sufficient to help us, no matter what's in the "bag" of tomorrow, and The Comforter IS sufficient to grant us the security, peace and confidence to embrace each and every day. Unlike the "blankie" that we all sooner or later put away, this Comforter will never leave us or forsake us, but provide what we need when we need it most, everytime!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Me...A Grinch?

I couldn't help but notice that the TV airwaves (are they still called that when they come from space...from a cable?) have rapidly filled up with all the traditional Christmas shows, most of them not even waiting for Thanksgiving to be over! Cold, snowy, or not, Christmas is indeed coming (less than 4 weeks now), so we may as well settle in, hunker down and discard the belts once again!

One of my favorite Christmas shows might surprise you, as it's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." If you haven't seen it, you really owe it to yourself to view this classic piece of American culture...at least once. In a nutshell, the story goes that there's a mean old "Grinch" who simply can't stand Christmas, so much that he states more than once in the film, "I must stop Christmas from coming!" He proceeds to do everything he can to carry his desire out, stealing everything possible from the beloved Whos of Whoville. The result? Come on, I told you that you need to watch it for yourself :^)

What startled me a bit today as I was doing my sermon prep for the Second Sunday of Advent was the idea that, though I'm not green and grumpy, I can quite easily become as much of a Grinch (at least in purpose) as the Grinch himself! How? By allowing (or dare I say, even making) Christmas into something it was never meant to be!

If I, even full of good intentions, foster the idea that anything is more important at Christmas than the celebration of Jesus, the Christ-Child, then I, just as sure as if I were the Grinch himself, am actively working to "stop Christmas from coming!" Oh, the holiday will occur regardless of my actions, but Christmas...the real Christmas...will never happen.

The only way to avoid getting "Grinchy" is to make sure that my family, friends, parishioners & coworkers know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christmas is first and foremost about Jesus...about worshipping the One who gave up everything so that you and I might get to experience what real joy is all about at this potentially misdirected time of the year.

And who knows? Maybe choosing to avoid "Grinchyness" will (spoiler alert) lead to each of us having "a heart that grew three sizes that day."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One Way Or The Other

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19
Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you! Joshua 3:5.

Not long ago, my son and I were watching an episode of one of our "it's a guy thing" shows on TV, "Mythbusters." The myth being tested was whether or not you could stop a car moving at full-speed by suddenly shifting the transmission into reverse. Now, I've never tried to do this (and not sure why anybody would want to), but I do know what happened when I tried to put the car into a gear it wasn't ready to go into! I don't think anyone ever forgets the sound of those grinding gears! Needless to say, the myth was "busted" (proved wrong), as they never were able to get a car, regardless of the type of transmission, to shit into and unwanted gear and force a stop.

The flip-side of this reminds me of a biblical truth that permeates all of Scripture: you can't move forward if you're stuck in reverse. Reverse, for the sake of our discussion, is what we'll affectionately call "the past" and Forward we'll carefully call "the future." The simple fact is that the greatest obstacle to us embracing the future is our tendency to cling to the past.

All through God's Bible, we see God doing one amazing thing after another. Yet, at the same time, we never see Him do something the same way twice. How often we long for the "good ol' days" when it seems everything was better - and probably some of those things were. I have seen people spend incredible amounts of time and money in an effort to recreate those days. They are so reluctant to shift out of the past...to shift out of Reverse.

Problem is, until we are willing to shift out of Reverse, we can never go Forward - we just can't go both directions at the same time - it must be one way or the other. Now, this doesn't mean to forget the past...that would be foolish. But we must realize that the purpose of the past is to provide a solid foundation of learning, and thus, actually prepare us for the future. We would be lost without our past, and we should never throw it away. But correctly understood, it will always propel us into the future.

God has an abundance of amazing, new things prepared for us, ahead of us, but we'll only enjoy them as we move Forward. Because God's purposes are unshakeable, we can gratefully let go of the past, confidently embrace the future and thoughfully accept His new ways to accomplish those purposes. While we will always appreciate how God brought us this far, we must also realize that the things that brought us here won't be what takes us Forward, for He is constantly preparing to do a "new thing."

So what must we do? "Consecrate [our]selves." This means to learn all we can from the past, but prepare ourselves for tomorrow by setting our focus wholly on the Lord's purposes and ways. It won't always be easy, but it will always be good with the Lord as our Helper. So let's make sure we're in Forward, give it some "gas," and securly move with Him!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Frustration...And Joy

I'm a little embarrassed to admit to you that I spent more than two hours tonight online with just one person! Now, had that one person been somebody really important, like a longtime friend, attender at my church wrestling with a serious issue, or dear family member, it would have been okay. But alas, it was none of those worthy causes. Instead, it was via "Live Chat" with a sales person!

What's really frustrating is that if all had gone like it should, the entire ordeal should have taken about 15 minutes - not two hours! First I was misdirected, second my "Shopping Cart" wouldn't work, third I was given bogus information and fourth the whole thing "timed out." It would have been quicker AND simpler to have just driven to Cedar Rapids and back!

Oh, we finally "succeeded" (depending upon how you define "success," I suppose), but I found myself growing more grateful by the minute that my relationship with the Lord isn't plagued by these problems. I've yet to be misdirected, receive bad information or "time out" with Him. In fact, just the opposite has been true: He deals directly with whatever troubles me, His information has been and always will be true, and He's got all the time I'll ever want or need (matter of fact, He'd love to have more time with me!).

I don't think it's coincidental that my online ordeal led right up to my weekly prayer time with some friends here at the church office. What a remarkable study in contrasts! We shared our hearts, went right to Him, laid it all on the line, felt His direction and finished with Joy - refreshed by our encounter - not frustrated.

The lesson? Hopefully it's crystal clear. The next time anything has you frustrated, stop...go to the Lord...lay it all before Him...and rejoice that He is not only available, but ready and willing to help you with whatever is going on. The results of your interaction with Him probably won't come in the mail in "6-10 business days," but it will bring more satisfaction, peace and genuine joy than anything else this world has to offer!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Greener Grass

I'm sure you're all familiar with "The Myth of Greener Grass." In a nutshell, it states that things will always look better from a distance, and once you actually get there, there'll be something else that looks better. Thus, you're almost always better off staying where you are and "blooming where you're planted" (another old adage I'm sure you recognize).

While falling for this myth is often naive, recently God has been helping me to understand that it's also counter-productive to the life of faith. You see, the "Greener Grass" myth is all about wanting what you don't have. God's Word calls it "coveting" and declares it to be a sin. Is it wrong to want things? Absolutely not. So where's the sin come in?

The sin comes in because wanting what you don't have (or coveting) is a direct affront to God as Provider in our lives. When we covet, we are saying in not-so-subtle language, "God, I don't like how you're providing for me. Matter of fact, I don't trust that you have my best in mind and I think I can do better." And far too often, we head off down the road of self-provision (a.k.a. Greener Grass) and find out it was yet another illusion and that God actually did know what He was doing.

The problem is that in order to learn this lesson, it often takes us, our family or others getting hurt (seems to be the only way we learn, doesn't it?). I know this from personal experience, having hurt numerous people over the years as I received my "education" via the school of hard knocks (brought about from my pursuit of the myth).

True to my confessed Star Trek mindset, I remember first officer Spock getting a healthy dose of this reality in one episode, culminated by his frank admission that, "Having something is not nearly as much fun as wanting it," for in getting it, he discovered it was not at all what he really wanted (let alone needed).

Wouldn't it be great if we'd just learn to be more content, confident that if we don't have it, we don't need it, and that if God deems we need it, He'll provide it? It certainly would involve less pain, damage and wasted time & effort.

I confess that I'm not there yet, but I am encouraged that I am getting there. There's a host of things I could wish to be different right now, but 90% of them are rooted in the myth. I choose today to turn away from that myth and turn towards the only One upon whom I can rely...all the time. Besides, this grass right here is looking greener all the time!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Worth Fighting For?

Sorry for the delay between posts, but I've been wrestling with something: How do you determine when something is worth fighting for? Not just disagreeing over, but actually taking a stand and saying in essence, "Here I stand and I will not be moved!" Obviously, you've got to be careful about what you're willing to "die" for and as any parent of a teenager can tell you, if you take this position too frequently, you can end up with losses you hadn't envisioned and were not prepared to suffer.

Emotion is important in this realm, because if you aren't passionate about a certain issue, you will quickly fold when the fire gets hot. But emotion can't be the only defining characteristic. I mean, if passion about an issue was the sole measure of it's merit and/or value, we'd find ourselves looking up to people like Hitler, David Koresh and the like, for they were definitely passionate, but passionately wrong.

So there's got to be more to it than this, and as I prepare for this weekend, I understand that it has to be about more than this. You see, I'm heading into a meeting Sunday afternoon where there will be plenty of passionate people...almost totally at odds with one another. So how do we draw the lines?

I know I may sound "old-fashioned" and "dated" in my thinking, but I still believe that God's Word has to have the final say. We dare not go about making up the rules as we go, following our "gut" or "intuition" or current trend/philosophy. We need to be crystal clear where it is crystal clear, gracious where it is not, and filled with wisdom from on high about where the line is between the two.

Thus, I find myself asking a serious favor from a relatively limited audience (unless there are thousands of you out there I'm totally unaware of who are afraid to make yourself known to me as "Followers" - which I suppose is possible). The favor? To pray with me for clarity, grace and wisdom as my church and I both enter a pivotal moment in our spiritual journey - privately and corporately.

I know that the last thing Jesus wants is a fight, but I also know that when His Word and His Way are being assaulted, there may indeed be a time to fight. May His Name be lifted up, any enemy humbled and the Body of Christ united as we follow Him!

Friday, October 23, 2009


I've been privileged over the years to sit under and learn alongside of some pretty amazing leaders - most recently at my last church in New York. Each of those respective leaders had their own style, philosophy, experiences and personalities that "flavored" their approach, but the lessons I've gleaned from them have been nearly universal - especially if you want to be successful at all.

One of the many great things about those lessons is that, while they've been applied most frequently at the "institutional" or "professional" level, each lesson has been much broader and deeper than that. One could almost argue (quite successfully, I believe) that each finds its truest fulfillment outside of those levels, for their deepest fulfillment is found in the areas that, without which, we truly founder.

One tool where visualization of principles is often enhanced is through the watching of video media (movies, cartoons, slides, PowerPoint, etc.). My last "great leader" was keenly aware of this, and frequently used such to make his points. I'll never forget watching a movie together with staff entitled, "Drumline," for from it, I took away these golden nuggets of leadership wisdom - broad & deep. (Note: There is some language in this film that, depending upon your personal convictions, might bother you a bit - just so you're aware before you go and rent it).

Here's the nuggets I was able to "pan" from this media "stream," along with my own interpretation of what each means:
  • One band must produce one sound (True Community = Unimaginable Power)
  • It's not always about doing what you love most (Responsibility = Some things you don't love need done)
  • You've got to learn to follow well before you can lead well (Growth = You can't push people anywhere - you must draw them forward)
  • You've got to love the sound of the band more than the sound of your own drum (Humility = Only take prominence when invited to)

As I mentioned before, I believe that these are most powerful when they transcend our "professional" roles and become models for us as spouses, parents, friends and co-workers. Not only will adherence to these benefit us professionally, they will benefit us at every level of our lives. Why? Because each is a biblical principle, and was long before this film was made! As such, they move from the realm of "good ideas" to the arena of "foundational truth" - tried and tested over the generations.

My challenge to you is to take just one of these and ask the Lord to help you live it. The ripple effects of this commitment will oscillate farther than you could ever imagine, and you ensure that a "Well Done!" is on the way from Christ Himself!

Friday, October 16, 2009

It's Not What You Think!

“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

At least once a year (sometimes much more, depending upon your church), you are going to walk into your church and hear the pastor attempt to convince you to give more money to the work of the church. And, if your pastor is like most, he’ll more than likely refer to this month’s Scripture passage (among others) in his endeavors. Nothing wrong with this, but if that’s the only time you examine these verses, you will have missed the vast majority of the reason God chose to put them in His Word to us!

You see, the principles above can apply to money, but they are intended to go much farther than that. The verses aren’t intended to be primarily about money, but about our hearts (which is the bottom line for most of what the Bible teaches us, is you dare look!). Yes, God’s challenge to us each is to give, but if all we give is money, or if we dismiss this verse because we think that’s all it talks about, we will have missed one of God’s most important lessons!

The most important thing to take from God’s Word above is this: Generosity is one of the key distinguishing marks of a Christian, and it should characterize all of our behavior. Whether it is with our dollars, our time, our compliments, our gifts & abilities or our forgiveness (to name a few), each and every one should be characterized by generosity.

Why? Because God, through His Son Jesus Christ, has been incredibly generous with us, His children. Simply put, we should be generous in everything because God is generous in everything! Do you have to give just like someone else? Absolutely not!

Give like...give what...only you can give – you’ll be surprised at the results! You’ll discover that since such generosity honors and points people towards Him, it will invariably create within us a spirit of joy…I guarantee it!

Friday, October 9, 2009


“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

Not long ago, I received an advertisement in the mail from a resort that was pulling out all the stops as it tried to tempt me into spending some of my hard-earned money. Its tactic? Dangling this phrase in front of my often-weary soul: “Looking for some peace and quiet? Have we got a dream vacation for you! Come join us for 6 days and 5 nights of absolute bliss as we pamper you on our beaches, catering to your every whim and desire!” I have to admit, it sounded good, and I’m sure would have even felt good, but the Lord flashed the “red light” in my heart and prompted me to make sure and take notice of an all-too-frequent lie deftly hidden among the luscious-sounding words of this advertisement. The lie? That peace can somehow be attained and enjoyed with nothing more than a change of location.

Make no mistake…this lie sells! Marketer after marketer attempts to convince us that the solution to our inner struggles is purely a geographical one. Each tempts us with the idea that we can leave behind all that troubles us if we’ll just come to their place. Sunset skies, tranquil waters, gentle breezes and our favorite foods are wonderful, but make no mistake; they have very little, if anything, to do with peace-finding. Our world is filled with people who have the capacity to go anywhere, do anything, move anytime, and yet “peaceful” would be the last word we’d use to characterize their lives!

Ever since his demise some millennia ago, our adversary, Satan, has been in the business of counterfeiting the real things of God. He readily dispenses cheap imitations of just about anything God offers: love (lust), joy (spending), and contentment (acquiring things) are just a few of the commonly peddled alternatives. And when we get to the topic of peace, he’d love for us to believe that it is obtainable any other way than by coming to Jesus Christ.

Trouble is (for Satan), Jesus makes it very clear that His peace is unique, unlike anything our enemy can ever offer. Look at His words in the verse above: "I do not give to you as the world gives." See, the world’s peace is fleeting, elusive and unpredictable. That means it’s tough to find, even on a good day, even harder to hang onto, and as far too many have discovered the hard way, unreliable at working the same way or providing the same thing twice.

Take Jesus’ peace, though, and you’ll find just the opposite to be true. It’s never hard to find, but comes any and every time we ask for it. It’s easy to hang onto, as Isaiah 26:3 states, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (just keep our eyes on Jesus). And it works the same way every single time we seek it, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a vacation anytime I can get one…but not to attain peace. The only place I need to be to attain this peace is with Jesus. An old piece of “bumper sticker theology” stated this truth quite simply: No Jesus? No Peace. Know Jesus? Know peace.

Take a vacation when you need one…but find your peace long before you leave. Jesus is ready and willing to grant you His peace…and quite possibly save you a lot of money!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pay Attention!

No question about it, these are interesting times (to say the least). Wild weather, eye-popping disasters, erratic economies, wide-spread disease and the constant metamorphosis of ideas, traditions & practices that once seemed unchangeable - you can no longer be completely sure of what the world will look like when you get up each morning.

As you might guess, in an era marked with such transition & change, I am frequently asked about what I think is going on. Questions like, "Is this the End Times?" "Do you think so-and-so the antichrist?" "Aren't you worried about the world your kids will live in?" are regular conversation between my roles as Pastor of a local church & Chaplain of a regional retirement community.

The truth is, I'm not exactly sure what all the turmoil, confusion and reorientation means. From day to day I have my thoughts, but I'm not prepared to say "Thus saith the Lord" about any of the particulars. What I do have a certainty about comes from Jesus' own words to us in the Gospels (you know: Matthew, Mark, Luke & John - His good ol' boys while on the earth).

Look at what He has to say about these types of times: "The disciples came to Jesus privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him" (Matthew 24, New International Version).

Now, you'll probably draw your own conclusions from this, but I'll tell you what I do know. Take a look at the world around you...see how it matches up with what He has said here...and know that at the very least, Jesus is saying to us today, "PAY ATTENTION!!" He gave us His Word so that we'd never have to be surprised by what's going on, and so we could face each day with a sense of expectation, not fear. May He find each of us ready for whatever tomorrow may hold; not because we're "super Christians" but because we paid attention and made Him our immovable anchor.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Certain In Uncertainty

In 72 hours I hope to have the answers I've longed for from my doctor. For over a year now, I've been battling voice problems, and after months of popping various ineffective pills in an attempt to treat a damaged larynx (voice box), my doctor has decided it's time to "go in" and see what's happening.

Honestly, it doesn't worry me at all, but I do wonder what God is up to. I'm sure you've been there before - not quite sure about what's going to happen next. There have been times in my life where this uncertainty has pushed to the very edge of sanity, but not this time. I can't guarantee you just why, but I'd like to think that just maybe, my faith is growing. Not in the doctors or medicine (to be sure), not because I just know that God is going to "fix" everything, either. But because I really believe that He is in control, and no matter what the outcome is, He is already way ahead of me on that road.

I had someone ask me, "Kirk, what would you do if you couldn't sing anymore? Or preach like you do now? I mean, your voice is your life!" I'm sure I came off a bit flippantly (though not intending to) when I replied, "Guess it will be time for me to write!" (my profs in grad school always told me to do more of this). While it is hard to imagine what life would be like without the speaking/singing ability I have enjoyed, let's get one thing really clear: my voice is not my life...the Lord is my life!

In the midst of some uncertainty, I am absolutely certain that God knows what He is doing (and frankly, if it goes "bad," it won't be the first "bad" looking thing He's allowed in the process of bringing things much better to my life!).

Another thing I'm certain of in this time is that God is up to more than one thing that is becoming great. I've got a youth retreat this weekend (first one ever for our fledgling youth ministry) that I am convinced is going to result in life transformation for many (rain or shine). My beautiful wife, Tonya, is actually bringing the morning message Sunday (since the retreat is Sat-Sun) and while she's more than a little nervous, I know that God is going to do something great in her and through her.

Obviously, there's several opportunities for you to pray about some things here, but I want you to know that while there may appear to be a great deal of uncertainty surrounding these things, God is enabling me to live with certainty. Not because of who I am, or what I've done, but because of who He is. Whatever you may be facing right now, know that He loves you more than you can imagine, and that He has your life firmly in His hands - won't you reach out and take those hands today?

Friday, September 18, 2009


"Radiant." Dictionary.com describes this, among other things, as:

1. Emitting rays of light; shining; bright.
2. Bright with joy, hope, etc.

Let me tell you, it was my great privilege and joy to meet with a young lady this week who is all these and more. The best part? She's this way because of what Christ is doing in her life!

The keen eye noted, I'm sure, that today's blog is entitled, "Radiant...Now" (couldn't figure out a way to italicize the title above). I'm equally sure that those keen eyes are paired with sharp minds which pick up the obvious conclusion: "radiant" was not always the way this life would have been described...but it is now.

Have you ever listened to someone talk about how you should try this thing or that thing, and what a difference it has made for them? Our media world has this down to a science (albeit a predictable science) with everything from weight loss to laundry detergent. I remember listening to people talk to me years ago about what a difference Christ had made in their lives, and because of this, I should try Him, too. I also remember thinking, "That's easy for you to say...you've got it all together...you don't know what my life has been like."

It was almost humorous (and honestly, a little disheartening) to hear this young lady confess to me that this is exactly what she had thought of me and other pastors who had attempted to speak into her life over the years. While she appreciated the efforts, it had never really touched her life like she needed. And because her life had gone untouched, when it got challenging...I mean really bad...she found she didn't have the resources within her that those challenges demanded. Life got tougher, more confusing and she quite frankly didn't know if she was going to make it (in case you haven't figured it out, this is the time when she was not "radiant").

But then someone touched her life. Someone she'd heard from before, but not an "I've-got-it-all-figured-out-and-am-on-top-of-my-game" person (like she thought all pastors are - boy does she have a lot to learn about us!). The point is, someone who knew exactly what her life was like, and who obviously did not have it all figured out, chose to reach out to her in love, challenging her to take a new direction with her life.

Granted, not all stories end this way, and hers continues to be written, but let me tell you this much: she responded to the challenge, the new direction took her to Jesus, and now...she is absolutely radiant. One of the coolest parts is that she recognizes how God was using all the messed up, confusing, painful "junk" of her life to bring her to this point. She even confessed to me, "Kind of gives me a whole different perspective on my life up to now!"

I pray today, no matter what you're facing, that you'll not turn away from the One, Jesus Christ, who can just as powerfully make you radiant. If you don't believe me, just ask and I'll put you in contact with one young lady who absolutely is! "If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

And if you're one of those who have discovered the secret to being radiant, never underestimate your power to persuade someone else to investigate the One who said, "I am the Light of the World" (John 8:12). Don't you dare rely just on us "all-together" pastors to get the job done. His radiance is ready to be shared...and enjoyed...now!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Says Who?

I know, I know - if I was any kind of red-blooded American, I should be blogging about 9/11 today. Who will ever forget where they were when they heard the news & saw the images of eight years ago? Not me, for sure...but not what the Lord has laid on my heart for today.

Seems like nearly every day (hour?) you'll hear somebody, somewhere, cry out a phrase most of us learned to speak right after "Mine!" as a child. What is it? Let me see if you can figure it out. What's the first thing you think of when you see someone being mistreated? Hopefully, "That's not fair!" jumps to mind, and it indeed has become one of the most prolific proclamations among us as relatively-spoiled-compared-to-the-rest-of-the-world Americans.

The great UCLA coaching legend, John Wooden (if you're too young, Google him - you'll be impressed!) was challenged in his prime about his approach to the game of basketball. Now, he was blessed with an almost unimaginably talented group of men over an extended period of time - so much so that he literally couldn't use them all at the same time! When taken to task about why he played certain future Hall-of-Famers more than the others, being called categorically "unfair" in his decisions, he responded with one of the greatest quotes of all time (in my humble opinion). It went something like this:

"Our culture has done a great disservice to people in determining that in order to treat every person fairly, each person must be treated the same."

Coach Wooden knew his players' strengths, weaknesses & abilities better than anybody, and in doing so, knew exactly when & where to play each one of them so that their contributions would be maximized for the good of the team. If that meant in one game a "star" played 40 minutes and another sat, it was the coach's call. And if the next game the roles were reversed, it was the coach's call.

This is exactly why Jesus actually treated different people differently. In our equality-minded culture, this sounds almost reprehensible, for I know that as a pastor, people expect me to treat everybody the same. But if you really think about it, treating everybody the same is one of the most unfair things we can do.

To expect "Johnny" to run a 5-minute-mile at 300# just because "Tommy" can (at 140#) is ridiculous. And to demand that my son be a great singer because his sister is, equally ridiculous. One step further - if an employer treated all his or her employees the same, regardless of skill or performance, he or she would quickly lose all the top performers and the business would settle into mediocrity.

The way our treatment of others is manifested will be different for different people...it must be...because different people have different needs, strengths, skills & potentials. But hear me well, the reason for that treatment must be absolutely the same - because we love them.

Back to Jesus, this is why He was "hard" on some (because they needed a kick in the seat...or a wakeup call) and "easy" on some others (because they needed hope or encouragement or such). In no way did He treat everybody the same, but He absolutely treated everyone fairly.

Thank God that He does not treat us all the same, but that He treats us according to what we need, granting compassion when it's needed and correction when it's needed; both a tender shoulder and a stiff-arm (at just the right times).

I'll be the first to confess that I don't always get this right - not by a mile - but I am endeavoring in my daily life to be more this way, asking the Lord continually for wisdom to know who needs what and when. If I, by His grace, can be more and more like Him in my desire & ability to do this, just maybe I can improve on my ability to give each person what they need most...the love of God with skin on!

The next time you're tempted to cry out, "Hey, that's not fair!" Remember that it's "the coach's call" and with our Heavenly Coach, he's never lost a game yet! What may seem quite unfair to us, may indeed be the very best thing that can happen.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Rest - that ever elusive ideal which far too many experience far too little of. We go on vacations, try to get to bed earlier (or sleep in a little on the weekend), find something mindless to do, or get together with "old shoe" friends. Yet, far too often, in spite of our best efforts, we find ourselves more tired than ever. Why is this so?

I believe we find the key to this dilemma in the words of Jesus Christ: "Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened down, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28). Kind of funny, isn't it, that for many people, one of the first things that is negotiable when they're trying to make room in their schedule for some rest is their attendance at church, Sunday school, or Bible study. Not that those are guarantees of rest, but they can really help us with what Jesus wants to make sure we don't miss in this verse (actually, you'll only really see His emphasis in the Greek language).

Let me type this verse out for you as it would appear in the Greek: "Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened down, and I will give you rest." Notice the difference? Both "me" and "I" are what we call emphatic. They mean, "pay special attention here." And if Jesus were to speak out loud to us right now, He'd emphasize the very same thing...maybe something like this:

"Hey! Don't work so hard to find rest. You're wasting your time to do all the other things you do in seeking rest if you're not coming to Me first. You're never going to find what you really need if you look everywhere else but to Me." Ok, so you get it, but how do we do this?

By taking time each and every day (morning is best, before the tyranny of the urgent kicks in), quieting ourselves, asking the Lord to speak to our hearts, and spending some time in His Holy Bible. I simply say to Him (following the example of Samuel in the Old Testament): "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Then I read, listen, and pray about what He shows me. I cannot tell you how many times this discipline has brought peace & rest to my spirit and life.

Needing some rest, are you? Go ahead and do all your other things (there's nothing wrong with them...usually); but first, take some time, even a few minutes, everyday, to spend with Him. Come unto Him and He will give you rest!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Watching the Lines

Tonight, I enter into the potentially exciting, always challenging and "it will be a miracle if someone doesn't yell at me" world of officiating. To be specific, I'll be watching the lines for the varsity girls' volleyball team, the "extra eyes" of the net official who will be counting on me to see what he cannot clearly see. Sounded like fun when I volunteered (I was wanting to be around the teens more), but I have a feeling it may be more work than I imagined.

"Line watching" may not sound like a very glamorous position, but in reality, it's the kind of person each of us need in our lives. You know...someone who helps us to know when we're "in bounds" and "out of bounds"...or hopefully, giving us the "high sign" when we're getting close to the lines.

Funny how the "expert" line watchers in our lives often come from the most religious of circles: our churches, small groups & Bible studies. Some actually pride themselves on being professional "line watchers," and are quick to point out when we're either headed for trouble or already "out of bounds."

The problem with so many "line watchers" is that it's so very easy to be watching for the wrong things. I found myself at a "practice" line-watching session the other night, intensely focused on the "big things" and suddenly missing the more subtle things (I'm going to have to work on that). I easily spotted the ball way out of bounds, but almost missed entirely the nudge of a toe on the backline by the server as they served.

And I thought, this is so like life! We (or other "line watchers") emphasize the "big" violations, yet so often are almost (or completely) unaware of the "little" things...the unseen things.

You know, Jesus was a "line watcher," but not like you might think. While we can probably come up with a short-list pretty quickly of obvious "line violations," those tended not to be the ones Jesus focused on. No, He focused on the ones that everyone else misses. Not because He's picky, but because He knows which ones matter the most.

I find it interesting that Jesus was surrounded by "line watchers" and yet they absolutely couldn't stand that He was also one. Why? Because the "professionals" of Jesus' day were content to let the "little" ones go by and give all their energy to the "big" ones. Jesus, on the other hand, was very adept at picking out the ones considered "little" - matter of fact, He specialized in them, because He knew that what most of us write off as "little" were indeed the most important, and thus the most dangerous if left untouched.

The "professionals" focused on the "big" ones of actions; Jesus precisely nailed the ones thought "little," i.e. attitudes, motives, and rationales. And in doing so, He spoke to the very heart of not only those aware of their "line violations" but those who were certain that they hadn't any. Ouch!

If you ever dare look a little deeper, you'll find that Jesus had only one "line" to watch (as opposed to the "professionals" who were trying to keep track of hundreds). His one "line"? Love. In every situation with every person at every time, He watched to see if what was being done was motivated by Love. Being the very embodiment of Love (1 John 4:8), He could spot it a mile away. If it layed under any word, thought or action, your "ball" was "in" - if not, your "ball" was always "out" because it had "crossed the line." It was always His only reason for acting & speaking, and thus He was always "in bounds."

Whether I go down in volleyball history as a great "line watcher" or not remains to be seen. But much more importantly, I pray that I will always be a great "line watcher" of first my own heart, and then of those entrusted to me, according to the "line" of Jesus Christ. Sooner or later I'm sure I'll miss a call in volleyball, but may the grace & power of our Lord always keep me "in bounds" and a great "line watcher" on the most important things!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Steps & Stops

Infamous Pastor and prayer warrior, George Mueller, is quoted as saying, "God not only orders our steps, but also our stops." Referring to Psalm 37:23, I have to admit that I am a lot more secure in Him being in charge of my steps than my stops. That's probably because I am one who likes to keep moving. Just last week in an editorial to our local paper, I said something to the effect of, "I can't just sit here and do nothing!"

For some reason, it's a lot easier to live a life (in all it's varied forms) that's feels like it's going someplace than to live one that feels like it's in neutral. I'm sure it has something to do with things like self-worth, self-esteem and pride. And frankly, it's a lot easier in my preaching and personal theology to focus on a God who wants us to do something than on One who is begging for us to stop.

How often we've been caught up in the rat-race of our lives and looked at others (who seem to be relatively unconcerned about our latest passion) and thought, "For Pete's sake, don't just sit there...do something!" And granted, there are definitely times to get busy and do something. But I'm sure I'd be surprised at how many times God would like to yell (and at times, often through adversity, He does yell), "For Pete's sake, Kirk, don't do something...just sit there!"

If you read me often, you know that I have been wrestling with what to do...what is the next step God has for me? And I've concluded that for now, at least, He wants me to "just sit here." Now that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm to go inactive (I don't believe that at all), but it does mean to continue to bloom where I am planted. After all, He knows the desires of my heart, and I know that if and when they are best for all involved, He'll orchestrate a change.

In agreeing with Him to stay "stopped" for now, He is speaking fresh volumes to me through more time in His Word, the Bible; and challenging me to pray more directly about things that I know need His touch. You might remember the old adage, "A rolling stone gathers no moss"? Well, if I can stretch an analogy a bit with you, my life needs some "moss" - the kind of growth that comes from being in the "shady, cool, moisture-laden" places of life.

I need the "shadow of His hand" and the refreshment that comes only from His living water and Sabbath rests. And apparently, if I am intent on always stepping, those things have a tendency not to happen. So I need to welcome His stopping, make the most of this season, and prepare my spirit for whatever lies ahead (because when He says "move!" again, I want to be ready).

How about you? Is your life characterized mostly be stepping or stopping? Whichever it is, why not join me in embracing the stops, as something equally essential, and a critical part of God's perfect plan for our lives? Just maybe it's time to let some "moss" grow on your rock as well!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bad News Or Good News?

"I hate to tell you this, but your plates are expired," said the officer. "Great," I thought, just what I need. First, I get stopped for doing 33 in a 25 and now my plates are expired!" Thus began my trip home one recent late afternoon as I left Williamsburg, Iowa. The day had already been long and I was anxious to get home, and frankly, I hadn't been paying much attention to the signs marking the new speed limit as I entered the school zone.

Suddenly it occured to me that my plates couldn't be expired...I had received no notice of it from the automated state system that always reminded me ahead of time. I had never had expired plates before. As the officer made out his paperwork, I pulled out my cell phone, rang my wife, and asked her if we had received any such notice. She assured me that we had not.

When the officer returned to my vehicle, my attitude had already modified from embarrassment to confusion. When I told him I couldn't understand how this happened (the expiration, not the speeding), he reminded me that I had just days before the expiration would cost me another fine.

Because I had a "clean" record, the officer graciously allowed me off with a warning, and I pledged to investigate the plate expiration immediately. Come to find out, when we had purchased the lease on our van, its "owner" had never been changed from the lease company to us. Hence, the reminder had gone into "limbo" - some never to be opened file in an unknown email or P.O. box.

Within an hour the next morning I had it all cleared up, but I couldn't help wondering what could have, would have happened had I not been stopped by this man faithfully doing his duty. I would have been fined for sure for expired plates is what! And once again I was reminded that God has an almost humorous way (at times) of taking care of us. I learned to slow down, was spared the ticket, and an even greater ticket because of this slightly embarrassing incident. All in all, a relatively cheap, but very powerful lesson...and reminder of God's faithfulness.

I can't tell you how many times in my life this type of thing has happened (not with tickets, but with God taking care of me). The next time you're absolutely sure that something bad has just occurred, remember that our God is a master of using and redeeming any and all circumstances as He seeks to take care of us. You may just find that the bad thing ends up having some very good results.

"We know that God causes all things to work together for good, for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28). Don't ever let the idea that this verse has become almost cliche detract from the fact that it is true!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


"The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else." Oswald Chambers

I came across this quote just a few days ago and have been pondering its validity - you know, not everything that sounds good is. For a whole ton of people, the idea of "fearing God" has fallen out of fashion in their personal theologies, being outvoted by perspectives of God that keep Him a lot more on the gracious, forgiving, compassionate side. Nonetheless, I agree with Mr. Chambers, and increasingly realize that if I don't have a healthy fear of God, I am destined to fear everything else.

I've been dealing with some fear recently (you might have picked up on it in my recent posts). And let me tell you, fear can be absolutely paralyzing. It can make you freeze when you need to move, hesitate when you need to decide, cower when you need to stand and run when you need to advance. Fear has caused inumerable panics, illnesses and broken relationships and keeps the vast majority of people from ever discovering what they truly could do if they tried.

But since God is a master of redeeming things, He has given us the opportunity to not be controlled by our fears, but to be in control of our fears, utilizing them to bring out the best in us. It is fear that causes a parent to run into a burning building to rescue a child. It is fear that causes a spouse to reach out for help when the marriage is getting rough. It is fear that compels the wise steward to keep some funds in reserve. It is fear that causes us to intervene in the life of a troubled person whom we love. And it is fear that motivates us to seek out & expand our wisdom with God's wisdom before we begin any new venture.

You see, fear is primarily caused by the things we don't know. Markets, weather, terrorists, bosses - they all can bring a measure of fear into our lives because they are unpredictable...we just don't know what they're going to be like in any given moment. Apart from God, those terribly unpredictable things are what we are left to base our decisions & choices on, rolling the dice with such frequency that uncertainty becomes the hallmark of our lives.

And that's why I choose to fear God instead. Not the kind of fear that thinks He's ready at any moment to strike me right between the eyes with a bolt of lightning and turn me into a grease spot on the floor with my eyes bugging out, but the the kind of fear that recognizes my violations of His guidelines & principles always bears a high cost...for me and others.

Contrary to much thought, there is no unpredictability with God. That's right, I don't worry about how He's going to respond or act. As I alluded to in an earlier blog, I may not know how He's going to act, but why He acts is absolutely consistent, rock-solid & unshakeable. He acts because He loves me. And love, pure love (beyond what we can know in any earthly relationship) will never act out of spite, jealousy, revenge or anger; it will always act for my ultimate good, because that's what love, by definition, does (see 1 Corinthians 13 for more on this).

Tomorrow continues to carry a mark of uncertainty, but only an uncertainty of what it will look like. And I am reminded every day that in choosing to fear God, I need not fear why it will occur...I need only be diligent in making sure that I don't approach those days apart from Him. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Measure of A Man

I know that it's only been five days since my last post, but a lot is going on and the time is available, so here it goes (short as it may be). While I believe I'm getting some direction in my walk of faith, frankly, I woke up this morning feeling scared again...afraid of the unknown...all of the things I can't control. Been there? I'm sure you have!

One of the interesting things I am realizing is that "fear of the unknown" is quite a misnomer, because frankly, it's about 99% unknown. Matter of fact, the more I know, the more I am aware that I know almost nothing at all. The things that tend to bring me peace, calm, stability and assurance are not known at all - but the regular gifts from my Heavenly Father (on a totally unpredictable, but perfect schedule).

What I do know is that whether my current faith venture "succeeds" or not will depend a great deal on how well I obey...how well I follow where the Lord leads me. Graciously, He doesn't force me to go anywhere (love doesn't do that). But He does bid me to come and follow where He leads, and His paths are always for the ultimate good of both others and myself. So, last week's question remains: Will I trust Him?

I have no idea where the path of obedience will lead me, other than the fact that it will lead me towards Christ...and to be more like Him. The path might bring prosperity, notoriety, influence or power. On the other hand, it might bring want, obscurity, or isolation. Contrary to most thinking, though, what I perceive to be "the destination" won't be at all, for the purpose of this faith walk is not to take me somewhere as much as it is to teach me to walk.

Thus, "success" in this journey will not be measured by the end result, but whether I take the journey at all. If Scripture has taught me anything, it is that "obedience is success." May the Lord find me obedient...wherever it ends up taking me...so that others may see Him in me.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Where's The Line?

I have a confession of sorts to make: It is frequently easier to tell someone what they should do than to actually do it for yourself. No surprise, huh? You all have known this for years (as have I) but recent circumstances have led me to a fresh wrestling with a question that I'd like to pose to you...and I welcome your input and feedback.

Here's the question: Where is the line between "faith" and just being "stupid"? It's usually not hard to discern this in hindsight, but doing it in "real time" can pose quite a challenge. I could easily recount many times where a step of faith has been taken and there have been some tremendous rewards/benefits/blessings from doing so. But I can just as easily remember times where I was just plain stupid (upon looking back) and brought about some pretty significant challenges (actually, that's an understatement - some really hard things had to be dealt with).

As a pastor, I'm quite familiar with the Bible's teaching (and absolutely believe it) that rather we make the "right" or "wrong" choice, God is more than capable of using it, redeeming it, and making it into something pretty amazing. But truthfully, I'd rather not "screw up" in the first place! So how do you know where the line is? How can I make sure I'm making a true "faith" decision and not being plain "stupid"?

As you might have guessed, I'm trying to make some decisions right now that, to me, appear to be fairly significant, and I want to get it "right" so badly. One of the ironies of this predicament is that while it hasn't arisen recently, it has been accentuated recently through my very own preaching (as the Lord has led me). Believe me, if my goal had been to avoid dealing with this, I wouldn't have asked the Lord (as always) for help in my sermon preparation...I'd have just picked something "safe" that everyone else needed to hear!

Sorry - you're not going to get any more details than that on my situation, but I'd love to hear from you. God has directed me so often from people, places and situations that were "off the radar" - so He may just want to use you right now to help me. Go figure! And I'm the one who's supposed to have the answers! Email me at necchurch@netins.net - I promise that I'll respond and let you know how this all turns out. "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


“Let us not become weary in doing what is right, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not get tired and give up.” Galatians 6:9

A very common leisure activity for people in the summer is water-skiing. I’ve always been amazed at the gracefulness of those skilled in this refreshing sport, but never embraced the challenge of trying to do it for myself until after my wife, Tonya, and I started dating. While her parents did not have a monster boat for skiing, it was more than adequate to get my 200# out of the water…and then some. Understand this: Tonya and her family all ski beautifully, and Tonya’s mother skied until she was 70 years old…there were no “skiing slouches” in her family!

Well the day came for my “baptism” of sorts behind the ski boat and frankly, I was nervous. Water and I got along just slightly better than water & electricity do, but I was determined (by vanity & a desire to “fit into” this family) to learn to water ski. I had never received instruction, but simply observed the rest of the family, so with their encouragement to “just stand up after the boat starts pulling,” I donned my ski vest and plopped into the dark, deep, but calm reservoir waters of Mississiniwa Reservoir in Indiana. They assured me that “it’s easy,” but as my father says, “Anything’s easy if you know how!”

Fifteen minutes passed…then thirty…then an hour…I still hadn’t “stood up” while being pulled, and I was getting beat up! Every time I tried to stand, I’d get pulled over the front of my skis and make some pretty spectacular crashes, I’m sure. They began to encourage me with words like, “Guess today’s not your day…we’ll come again and you can start fresh,” but I was determined to persevere.

Finally, at about the ninety-minute mark, the determination (or pride or fear of embarrassment) paid off and suddenly I was up, cruising along and having the time of my life. I certainly needed the rest, so I rode around the reservoir for quite a while before I “wiped out” and was picked up by the boat. I’ll never forget what Tonya’s dad, Bob, said as I climbed into the boat: “I’ve never seen anyone try so long to get up, not succeed, and not give up in my life!”

It was a great day of accomplishment, and I’d love to tell you that my entire life has been characterized by this attitude, but it hasn’t. What I can tell you is that perseverance is one of the great characteristics Christ wants to be a part of our daily lives. It absolutely needs to be in our lives, or we’ll never “reap [the] harvest” that God has waiting for us. I don’t know what you’re facing right now, but I want to encourage you to “not become weary…do not get tired and give up” and persevere until your harvest...it is more than worth the effort!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Matters Most

I have been blessed! I mean it...ridiculously blessed. Those of you that know me may or may not be aware of that, but I dare say that your perspective on my life might be a little different if you knew that:
  • I have moved so many times that it exceeds both hands to count
  • I have seen my father crushed twice - by a falling tree & a concrete beam
  • I have a family member who is partially disabled from an accident
  • I have watched my family lose everything in a bank foreclosure
  • I have two family members who have had to deal with life-threatening tumors
  • I have watched a large portion of our farm burn to the ground (as a teen)
  • I have undergone multiple back surgeries - all before the age of 40
  • I have wrestled with life & death more times than I can count
  • I have survived a totalled vehicle when we could have all been dead
  • And there's more (just not here today)

I list those things because sometimes it's easy to look at any given person and think, "Wow - they've got it made!" and have little or no idea as to what their lives really look like...you know, out of the public eye. It's far too easy to assume that because someone's life looks good, that it has been easy. The simple fact is that one of the biggest lessons I've learned in my life is that everyone has a story (and often it's an amazing one that is just waiting to be told and heard).

Those of you who frequent this blog might remember that I had the opportunity to "get away" like I've never done before, spending a week with family in the Caribbean. What you don't know is that last week I also got to spend some wonderful days with the rest of my family in Indiana.

And as I've paused and reflected on both first-rate experiences, I have been overwhelmed with the fact that I have been blessed! Not necessarily with the things you might first think of, but with the things that matter most. No, my life has been far from easy (just like yours), but in spite of all the trials, pains & fears, it has been good!

Part of me wishes that I could give you a secret formula for enjoying this "good life" but a much more real part is glad that I cannot, because frankly, if this blessing had been dependent upon my own skills, abilities or merits, it would have been forfeited long ago! No, it has nothing to do with what I deserve and everything to do with whom I serve...the Lord Jesus Christ (I guess you might argue that He is the formula).

Now some would say, "But if you serve Him, why has He let all these things happen to you?" And the truth is, I don't know (at least not fully - some things maybe never). But what I do know is that no matter what has come my way, He has always been faithful to provide me what I need (not what I want, thankfully, for my wants are too often misinformed).

He has blessed me with many deep friendships, always placing people around me who have loved me, prayed for me and encouraged me. He has given me opportunities to see His working as He transformed lives every place I have been. He has given me a family I don't deserve: a beautiful wife of almost 24 years, 3 amazing kids (after we were declared "infertile"), and 2 sets of parents who model Christ to me unwaveringly. He has spared me when I was foolish, forgiven me when I was rash, healed me when I was broken, and restored me when I despaired. On top of all that, there are inumerable things I have not had to endure!

I'm sure that you don't have all the things your heart desires (just like me), but if you'll pause, even for a moment, I believe you'll find that even the roughest journeys have been blessed with so many of the things that matter most...the things we need. I pray that even in this moment, you will have a fresh realization of the goodness of God. Not because you've got it all, but because He's been faithful to give you what you need. Trust His promise today from 2 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Circle of Life

The Circle of Life...seems like only yesterday I was taking my toddling boy (now nearly 19) to see "The Lion King" in a little town north of Des Moines, Iowa. Whether or not you liked the movie, it was hard not to be moved as Elton John's lyrical magic resonated "The Circle of Life" to begin the movie...I was physically & emotionally moved by the powerful truth and soaring harmonies of what has now become an Elton John classic.

It's one thing to sing such a song, often times quite another to live it. In the last 2 weeks, I have been privileged to welcome a brand new baby girl into our fellowship of believers. I've also been honored to remember a passionate believer who no longer has to dream about eternity...he's enjoying it now. And in less than 48 hours, I'll be humbled to unite a beautiful young couple in holy matrimony (too archaic? they're gettin' married!).

In all this, I'm reminded of King Solomon's words in the Bible book of Ecclesiastes (yes, I spelled that without looking it up - just one benefit to Bible college). While you may not be familiar with the book, I bet you are with his words: To everything (Byrds fans, "Turn, turn, turn"), There is a season ("Turn, turn, turn"), And a time for every purpose under heaven.

Like so many truths, Elton John was not this one's author, nor were The Byrds, but God Himself speaking through King David's son, Solomon. You don't have to read far in Solomon's book to discover that he had pretty much seen it all: death & life, war & peace (long before Tolstoy), sorrow & joy. And while at times he teeters on the edge of cynicism, you realize he had gained enough perspective to recognize that each season has its perfect place in this journey we call "life."

I have no idea if you, as a reader, are engaged in any of these phases of life or not, but I want to assure you that while some are more fragrant than others, they all fit together as complementary scores in the grand concerto of creation. No matter where you are, I invite you to rest in the knowledge that "The Circle of Life" has as its author God Almighty, and every piece will fit together in its time...perfectly. Enjoy & celebrate each and every one!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Am I A "Rascuell"?

Don't worry, I don't expect you to have any idea of what a "rascuell" is (pronounced ras-kyooll). You won't find it in any dictionary, and only a very select group of people could give you the inside scoop on this original term. Fortunately, I am one of that select group.

When I was a teen-ager, a group of my "mature" friends and I decided that the little wannabe teen-agers were definitely more immature than us (which was obvious by the way they annoyed us all the time). Based on this "fact," we began calling them "rascuells" (a derivative of rascals), and were often merciless with our use of the term towards them, much to their chagrin. We were soooo mature!

I came across an interesting quote today by Author M. Scott Peck, "Maturity is defined as the ability to delay gratification, scheduling the pain & pleasure of life in such a way to enhance the pleasure by meeting & experiencing the pain first & getting it over with." What jumped out at me (I believe at the Lord's prompting) is the question it posed directly to me: Am I the mature person (now at 48) that I think I am or should be?

Without a doubt, I should be more mature than I was 35, 25 or even 5 years ago, but am I? While just a day ago, I would have assured you that I am, based on Peck's definition, I'm not so sure. I've tried to instill this in my children by challenging them with my own adage: If you play first, the work never gets done; if you do the work first, there's always time to play (not sure if this is a "truth" or not, but I hope it has made a point).

I think that the most obvious area of challenge to my own "maturity" in this area is in finances, because if I really embraced Peck's truism, wouldn't I be saving more, using the credit card less, and laying up my treasure in heaven? (Matthew 6:19-21). Wouldn't I be more satisfied with what I have, and less desirous of what I don't? The simple fact is that, as author Skye Jethani puts it, "formation into the likeness of Christ is not achieved by always getting what we want" (italics mine).

With Father's Day right around the corner, I can't help but wonder what my kids have really learned from me in all my "maturity"? Christian musicians & pastors, Philips, Craig & Dean, recorded a beautiful little piece a few years back entitled, "I Want to Be Just Like You" that powerfully reminds each of us dads & parents of the role God has placed us in "to be just like Him, because [our kids] want to be just like me [us]."

I invite you to accept the challenge with me today to not measure our maturity by years, titles, educations, or salaries, but by our hearts...hearts that are prepared to do what should be done, what needs to be done on a daily basis. Only as we model true maturity by doing the hard work first will we ever enjoy the fruits of delayed gratification...on this earth and in our eternal home. If our kids don't learn this from us, then from whom? Besides, who wants to be a "rascuell" anyway?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Perhaps My Greatest Challenge Yet

I am preparing to do one of the very most difficult things in the world for me to do: Take a break. And I'm willing to bet that there are a number of you reading this who know exactly what I am talking about! The prospect of stepping away from the privileged responsibilities I carry as pastor & chaplain almost frightens me, as the sense of accomplishment, worth and value that I gain from these is often more important to me than I'd like to admit.

As foolish as it sounds, silly questions (I'd call them "childlike," except I doubt if a child wonders such things) like this run through my head (if only for a few moments), "Will I be less pleasing to God though I'm not serving Him next week?" "Will God be less available to me because I'm not writing a sermon, or visiting the sick or encouraging the disheartened?" And even as I ponder these and other questions, I realize how very easily I can become ensnared in one of the many traps that I regularly preach and teach about: the Performance Trap.

And then, as I reflect on the increasingly long history which God and I share, I remember just how often He has used me when I least expected it, when it seemed least likely and beyond common sense. And as usual, He begins to lovingly chide me as He reminds me that ministry has very little to do with where I am located, official titles, or well-crafted agendas. It has everything to do with being available. The truth is that even while taking a break, my life, as a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12), is, by His grace, a continual act of service - public and not so, conscious and not so. And His connection to me is only a matter of location when I realize that the only place I need to be is with Him.

Fortunately, that can happen any and everywhere. And as I prepare to "take a break" for a few days, the only thing He asks of me is to continue to include Him in those days. I may not be "punching the clock" for this time, but I dare not "punch out" of my relationship with Him. Things will be just fine without me...I don't worry about that at all (I have a great church family!). But will I be just fine without them? I need to be. And the more comfortable I am with this, the more likely it will be that God will use me somehow, somewhere, with someone in these next few days...and I won't even know it. I don't need or want to know it!

As I come to grips with this challenge, I realize that one of the best things I can receive from...and give to...the Lord, my family and my two congregations, is a refreshed, focused, relaxed, prioritized husband, father, and godly man. Which means embracing this gift, resting in His care, and humbly facing perhaps my greatest challenge yet, that of trusting in His unconditional love for me, just as I am.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hidden Treasure

Contrary to my "Trekkin'" persona, I'm not much of a daredevil (seems like you'd almost have to be in order to be a dyed-in-the-wool Trekkie). Watching people do crazy things like bungee jumping, skydiving, and extreme thrill rides is as close as I'll ever get to actually participating. BUT...I do like to explore! Give me a new trail, timber, cave or mountain, and I am quick to lace up the boots, put on some comfortable clothes, and come back in a couple of hours (or days, if I can pull it off).

Thus, when we moved to a new farm as I turned a teenager (one that was rumored to be full of Indian artifacts), it didn't take me long at all to head off into the woods and across the fields on an artifact expedition. Now, 30+ years later, an ordinary looking box tucked away in our storage closet bears silent witness to the discoveries made on those journeys. If you were to peer inside this not-so-impervious vault of my own design, you'd find arrowheads, axeheads, scrapers, spear points, grinding stones, and an odd assortment of yet-to-be-classified treasures, borne as the fruit of my ventures on that farm. I've often dreamed of taking my own kids back out there some day for a little exploring of their own!

I had the opportunity just a week ago to drive past the old farmstead, taking literally miles of backroad gravels to our familiar place out in "the sticks." It was incredibly fun to point out to my kids all the locations and sites where I had worked...and played...so hard with friends and family. They had often heard me recount my artifact hunting and obviously, had seen the treasures in my worn out box. It was about time to actually show them the treasure-laden land first-hand.

As we came around the last bend in the road before our old farm, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. No longer were there fertile fields, neatly manicured with orderly rows of what would soon be the Fall harvest. Instead, there were new homes built in several places (not shacks, either!) and hundreds of acres of only pasture - beautiful and green, but perfectly concealing the treasures laying hidden below the surface. You couldn't tell that they are there, but I knew they were!

I couldn't help but wonder if the new homeowners, with their finely trimmed lawns and quaint little horsebarns had any idea as to what lay just below the surface of their prized properties? Did they know what treasures lay just inches under their "Turfbuilder" yards and concretized driveways? I couldn't imagine that they did, or why would they not be looking for those treasures, discovering and sharing the joy of antiquities revealed?

While those acres of beautiful soil may never be turned again, and thus, maintain their treasures in silence for all eternity (which about drives me crazy!), I realized that as is so often the case, there was a great lesson in the whole trip. I found myself wondering how many people I had passed in my life, due to busyness, prejudice or self-centeredness...people who were full of hidden treasure that I never took the time to discover. How many missed joys, cherished memories and exciting adventures had I forfeited by not taking the time to do a little "digging" in their lives?

I may never again have the opportunity to find hidden treasure in open fields, but I certainly am given the opportunity to dig for, find and share the hidden treasures in the people around me...maybe even you. Want to go exploring with me? You can do it right where you're at by taking the time to discover the very next person you meet. I'd love to hear about your adventures! And if you ever want someone to join you, just drop me a line at necchurch@netins.net. Whether it's a person or a field we get to explore, the time will be well spent and the treasure well shared!