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."