Monday, December 21, 2009

A Very Special Gift

Years before Kacie graduated from high school, Kim began planning a very special gift to give to her—a quilt comprised of t-shirts that symbolized various aspects of Kacie’s life over the years: her pre-school dance and gymnastics classes; her grade school softball and soccer teams; special vacations to Disney World and the Grand Canyon; her high school band years; and teen mission trips to Monterrey, Mexico. Kim had been collecting these shirts Kacie’s whole life. Those shirts survived 5 moves in 18 years, but Kim was so excited about this special gift. She selected just the right mix of shirts that she thought would be most meaningful to Kacie.

Early in Kacie’s senior year, Kim took the shirts she had so carefully chosen to the lady who was going to do the quilt. We got the quilt back shortly before Kacie’s graduation party, and we were both so pleased with the way it turned out. Kim could hardly wait to give it to Kacie.

On the day of Kacie’s graduation party, we carefully draped the quilt over the railing in the entryway so that when Kacie came in, it would be the first thing she’d see. Kim was beside herself waiting for Kacie’s reaction.

I’ll never forget it. Kacie came in the door, looked up and saw this quilt made up of all these shirts representing special times in her life over the years. It took several seconds for it to register with her, but as she identified these special images from her childhood, tears welled up in Kacie’s eyes and she cried, “Oh no, what did you do to my shirts?!”

Not quite the Hallmark moment we expected.

Now in all fairness to Kacie, she very quickly came to appreciate and cherish that gift, but her initial reaction made me resent all the time, effort and love that Kim had put into it.

When you think about it, Kacie’s first reaction to her gift is not unlike the reaction of many people to the gift that God has given to us--a gift that He has given out of the overflowing love of His heart. The most special, most precious gift He could give. Yet many people resist it, mock it, ignore it and even reject it.

Yet God doesn’t resent His gift. He doesn’t withdraw it. He doesn’t restrict it. He continues to make it available. Not just at Christmas, but every day of the year.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Putting "Christmas" Back in Christmas

There are a lot of people upset over various retailers who are using generic phrases like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in their stores. Whereas we used to encourage people to “put Christ back in Christmas”, now it seems that we need to encourage people to “put Christmas back in Christmas”.

I understand the angst of those who feel that every year we lose a little ground in the battle to keep the focus on Christ throughout the Christmas season. A lot of schools won’t let their kids have “Christmas programs”, even going so far as to preclude them from playing Christmas music.

However, I must say that I’m not nearly as concerned about how Wal-Mart or The Gap treat Christmas as I am in the way that professing Christians treat it. I really don’t expect the unbelieving, secular world to treat Christmas with respect or reverence. They’re in it for just one thing—the money. If they can improve the bottom line by diminishing the “Christ-aspect” of Christmas, then I’m not surprised that they do it. If they can increase profits by lumping Christmas in with Hanukah, Kwanza and Groundhog Day, then I’m not shocked.

But what about those who say they are Christ-followers? Does saying, “Merry Christmas” while ignoring Jesus make us superior to those we condemn? Does refusing to shop at a store that says “Happy Holidays” really improve our testimony while continuing to pursue all of the materialistic aspects of the Christmas season at other retailers?

I’m sorry, but I think a lot of the protests are just ways of trying to make Christians feel better about ourselves without having to change our ways. We are as responsible for making Christmas a secular day as the unbelieving world. Until we are willing to restore the “Christ-nature” of Christmas—with the emphasis back on Christ instead of Santa, Frosty or Rudolph—we don’t have any legitimate complaints. Until we insist that the birth of Christ will be celebrated in a way that honors and glorifies Him, then let’s not puff out our chests and breathe fire on those who denigrate the Holy Day.

When it comes to putting “Christmas back in Christmas”, let it begin with us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Getting Rid of Sin Stains

The look on Greg’s face was priceless. He had been recording our responses to his question on the marker board. He went to erase the writing, but nothing happened. He looked at the eraser, as though perhaps it was defective, but it looked fine. He rubbed a little harder, but the words that he had written minutes earlier were still there. Then his eyes fell upon the marker. In taking a closer look at it, he realized that he had been writing on the board with a permanent marker, not a “dry erase” marker.

He found a bottle of "dry erase board cleaner" and sprayed it on. While some of the ink ran a little, it didn’t make it go away. A few minutes later, Tim approached the board and began writing over the letters that were already there. Then he took the eraser and successfully erased the writing.

Did you know that if you write over permanent marker with a dry erase marker, you can erase it? I sure didn’t know it. Leave it to the guy who takes care of the marker boards in the Spring Hill schools to know it. I’m glad he did. Greg’s glad he did, too!

Tim tried to explain the science to us, but I didn’t really understand. It doesn’t matter—I don’t have to. I just know now how to erase permanent marker from a dry erase board the next time it needs to be done.

As I reflected on this, I couldn’t help but think about how this is kind of like our sins. Our sins leave marks. No amount of scrubbing or scouring or polishing will make them go away. No matter how many good works I do, my sins are still there. No matter how much money I give to the church or how much time I volunteer in the community, the marks of my sin won’t go away.

Then Jesus says, “Let me cover your sins for you.” He knows what to do. He’s covered lots of sins before. And He’s the only One who can do it. When you apply His blood to your sins, it’s like applying dry erase marker ink over permanent ink. It’s the only thing that will wash your sins away.

I don’t understand exactly how He does it. I’ve had people try to explain the theology behind it, but I still don’t quite get it. But I know He does it. He did it for me. In fact, He’ll do it for anyone. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13).

You don’t have to understand it or be able to explain it. But you do have to allow Jesus to do it. He won’t force Himself on you. But if you ask Him to do it, He’ll gladly say yes. This is what David had in mind when he said, Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)

Whiter than snow. Even whiter than a marker board.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pastor Appreciation Month

October is Pastor Appreciation Month.

Now, I'm sure it seems self serving for me to mention this, given that I'm a pastor, but I don't mean it to be. Don't get me wrong. I like the cards, emails and tokens of love and encouragement from the Life Spring congregation. It's always nice to receive a pat on the back or a kind word. But at Life Spring, they don't limit their expressions of appreciation to one month of the year. Week in and week out, month after month our folks are faithful to show their love and support to me as their pastor.

But it isn't just the kind words and sweet cards or even the gift certificates to my favorite restaurants that most reveal their appreciation for my service as their pastor (though, in case you wonder, those restaurants include K&M, Chili's and Mi Ranchito). It's in their response to the needs of a young couple bringing home their baby after spending his first five months in the hospital. It's the way they have reached out to the family that lost their home and most of their worldly belongings in a Friday night fire. It's their heartfelt prayers offered on behalf of a dear saint who had symptoms of cancer, and their exuberant joy when the diagnosis came back that all was well.

As a preacher, I love to proclaim the unsearchable riches of God's Holy Word. However, if such preaching is lauded on Sunday morning but ignored during the week, such preaching is in vain. If the fellowship is declared "sweet" in God's House but a fallacy in our homes, then it is meaningless.

So I am grateful that at Life Spring, the appreciation for their pastor is demonstrated in real and concrete ways through the manner in which we do life together. And the occasional card or gift certificate isn't bad, either.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It's Gonna Get Bad...

Terrible things are about to happen.

I just heard on the news that very soon, all the trees will lose their lush green vegetation and become barren of leaves and fruit. It will get so bad that grass will stop growing and become brown and dull. Even with adequate amounts of sunshine and rain, few crops will survive.

Temperatures will drop precipitously. In fact, things will be so terrible that we are likely to experience days in which travel is difficult, if not impossible. Streets will be effectively closed down. Those who have failed to adequately prepare will find grocery store shelves empty of the most basic supplies of life.

Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Of course, you already have figured out that I’m describing the normal change of the seasons. But if you use the right language, you can make it sound pretty awful. Certain words paint pictures of despair, even horror.

And while some of us may not be excited about the change in seasons (personally, I love fall and winter), few of us would say we “fear” this change. In fact, we expect it. The truth is that we in this part of the country would be far more concerned if we experienced 90 degree days in December or a sudden resurgence of lawn growth in January, because we know that isn’t normal. Whether we like the change in seasons, we know what to expect.

In a similar way, we shouldn’t allow the events of life to unnerve us as much as they do. The truth is, we’re going to experience various “seasons” of life. They change, like the weather. We may not be able to predict what to expect in the next season of life, but neither should we dread it.

As we begin our church-wide Life Group study based on John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, we need to remind ourselves that we are all going to experience events of life that call for courage and faith. And just as we don’t fear the changes from summer to fall or from winter to spring, we should approach the changes in our lives with a resolve to trust God to see us through.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spring Hill Fall Festival

Experiencing and Expressing the Love of God…

That’s the Life Spring mission statement.

I think we do a great job at the first part of that statement. Week in and week out, we experience God’s love in a variety of ways. We experience it through some awesome times of worship. We experience it in times of intense study of God’s Word. We experience it in Life Groups, where we do life together.

It’s a little more difficult to measure our success in “expressing the love of God”. Whenever there is a need in our church family, we tend to respond quickly and generously. We usually see a great turnout when a plea for assistance in meeting some need in our community is made known to our congregation. I am sure there are numerous acts of concern for others manifested on the part of Life Spring folks daily.

However, this weekend we have an opportunity to Experience and Express the love of God in very visible ways right here in our own community. We’ll leave the confines of our building and the comfort zones of our routine to engage members of our community where they are.

On Saturday morning, we’ll continue a tradition that began even before our first formal worship service three years ago—participating in the Fall Festival parade. Our Worship team will declare the glory of God as dozens of Life Spring folks walk the parade route, handing out water bottles. This has become our “signature”, and some people in the community have already been asking me if we’re going to do it again this year.

It’s a small thing. Handing a person a water bottle. Saying “hello”. We’re not quoting Bible verses or engaging in theological discussions, but we are letting our community know that Life Spring is here, and that we care about the needs that exist among our citizens. Even if it’s just quenching a thirst in the middle of watching a parade.

We will again set up a booth at the Fall Festival, staffed all day by Life Spring people. We’ll have some information there about our church, but it’s not just a publicity gimmick. We’ll have games for kids. We’ll visit with our neighbors about their tomato crops and the mild summer weather and the Chiefs surprising performance against Baltimore (you knew I’d sneak that in somewhere, didn’t you?). I’d love it if someone accepts Christ as their Savior or decides to attend our church, but we won’t be doing much proselytizing that day, so those things may not happen. But at the end of the day, maybe we’ll have had the opportunity to give people a different impression of Christ and Christians than they may have otherwise had.

Sunday morning will start with a new event—the 5K walk/run. Life Spring is partnering with Grace Community Church to host this event, with proceeds raised going to the Spring Hill Multi-Service Center to help families with financial needs in our own community. Following the 5K, we’ll join other area churches at Spring Hill City Park for a Community Worship Service. What a way to cap a weekend of Experiencing and Expressing the Love of God…

If you attend Life Spring, and especially if you are a member of our congregation, I hope you’ll make an effort to participate with us in this weekend’s activities. No, it’s not the only way we experience and express God’s love. But it’s the best opportunity most of us will have for doing it this weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ignoring the Hand That Feeds You

I got up this morning and followed a pretty typical routine. I let Sophie out of her crate, fed her and took her outside. I poured a cup of coffee for me and sat down in my chair to do my devotions. A few minutes later, Sophie jumped up on me, and after wandering around my lap for a few minutes, she settled down and rested peacefully.

After about a half hour, she heard Kacie upstairs. Sophie stirred a little bit. The more she heard Kacie, the more anxious she got. She positioned herself on my lap so that she had a clear view of the staircase behind me. Every time she heard the bathroom door open or the bedroom door close, she got more excited. Then finally, Kacie descended from on high. Sophie jumped off of my lap, scratching my leg in the process. But she didn't care. She was on a mission to see Kacie.

I have to admit, in some ways that irked me. After all, I'm the one who let Sophie out of her crate. I'm the one who fed her. I'm the one who took her outside so she could do her business. And after all that, she abandons me at the drop of a hat in order to embrace Kacie.

I can't help but draw a comparison between Sophie and the Israelites in the Old Testament. God led them out of bondage and slavery. He took care of them. He fed them and protected them from their enemies. He brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey. But at the drop of a hat, they went following after other gods.

Now, I'm not comparing myself to God (or Kacie to false religion), but my point is simply that it is understandable how upset and even angry God got at his chosen people when they refused to acknowledge Him and His provision. But such treachery didn't end with the Israelites. It goes on, even today, among those who claim a relationship with God. We abandon God for fame, fortune and power. We pursue other ambitions while giving lip service to Him.

As God's people, let's be sensitive to those times when we fail to show God the love and respect that is due Him. Let's be less anxious to jump down off His lap to chase the latest fad to come along.

Friday, August 14, 2009

For those of you who know me, this won't come as a surprise. I hate yard work. The mowing, weed-eating and other essentials of maintaining a yard represent, to me, the very definition of the word "chore". And if you've driven by our house lately, you'd shout a hearty "Amen".

Even though this summer has been relatively cool, the recent hot & dry conditions are really taking their toll on our lawn (I hate having to give water to the dog, so I'm sure not going to waste it on the grass.) So for the past few weeks, our lawn has been turning a strange color, somewhere between yellow and brown.

Except for a few spots here and there, which are a deep shade of green. I mean, those spots are really green. And growing much faster than the rest of the yard. You might say "growing like a weed". Because they are weeds.

I have always marveled at this phenomenon. While the plants and lawn struggle to survive, the weeds thrive. Since I rarely water or fertilize the yard, it is going dormant, but the weeds are doing great.

Which is exactly what it's like in the spiritual realm. If you nurture your spiritual life through Bible study, prayer, worship and service, then it can thrive. But if you ignore it--just do nothing--then the weeds move in and take over. The weed of worry. The weed of anger. The weed of doubt. You don't have to water these weeds for them to do well. You don't have to feed them for them to spread. And before long, all you have is a spiritual yard of weeds.

Getting rid of weeds once they've taken root is much tougher than preventing them in the first place. So if you recognize that your spiritual yard is looking a little rough, take action now to keep it from looking like my front lawn.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

American Idols

In studying 2 Chronicles 34 and the revival that occurred during the days of King Josiah, we observed that in an effort to manifest repentance and experience revival, Josiah destroyed that which hindered revival in his day. In his case, that involved destroying the instruments and symbols of idol worship. So he completely eradicated from the land idols, Asherah poles and incense altars. He knew as long as such things existed in the land of Judah, the people would be tempted to return to idol worship and false gods.

It is apparent that for us to experience spiritual renewal, we, too, must destroy that which hinders revival. In some cases, that means ridding from our lives that which is blatantly sinful and inherently evil. No doubt, we can think of some attitudes and practices that fall into that category. But we also noted in Sunday’s sermon that “destroying that which hinders revival” also encompasses ridding from our lives some otherwise good and decent things that represent competition with God for our attention and our affection.

I hope we’ll seriously consider what those things might be, because until we knock them off of the throne and destroy them completely, they will be a hindrance to our ability to reconnect with God in a vital and vibrant way.

For some of us, it may be a job. Not only is it the source of income and financial security, but it consumes us. We are defined by our work. We live to work, rather than working to live. If we aren’t actually working, then we’re thinking about it. If we’re not “on the job”, it’s at least “on our mind”. If the telephone rings, we’ll answer. If an email comes in, we’ll respond. And if it means that we don’t have time for devotions or worship or service, well, that’s just the price that we are willing to pay. But in the end, the job has become an idol that has dethroned our King, and we need to consider the price we are paying to keep it.

For others, it may be a relationship. Not an inappropriate sexual relationship (that would be blatantly sinful), but a relationship that takes us away from God. Or that causes us to minimize our time with God. Or that causes us to compromise our values and convictions. The relationship itself may not be sinful, but when it diminishes our intimacy with God, it becomes an idol that must be destroyed.

It could be an activity, a hobby or an interest. It could be service in a community organization that takes so much of our time that we can’t serve the Lord through His church or participate in corporate worship. It could be our love of golf if it consumes so much of our time and money that we don’t have either for God. It could be football (as much as it pains me to say it) if our devotion to the game rivals our devotion to our God.

It could be our home, if we devote so many resources to maintaining or improving it that we have fewer resources for the Lord’s work. It could be a boat, a second home or any possession that interferes with our relationship with the Lord.

As I quoted from Chuck Swindoll on Sunday morning: I don’t have many temptations to worship evil things. It’s the good things that plague me. If you can relate to that, understand that unless and until you eradicate those “good” things from your life, you will not experience repentance, and if you don’t experience repentance, then revival will just be the topic of a summer sermon series at the church that meets in a middle school.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

All we wanted was a place where we could quietly do our devotions. The first day of the retreat had been glorious. Kim and I had hiked (yes, I really hiked) on some of the trails around the beautiful Glen Eyrie campus in Colorado Springs. We had some wonderful fellowship with some of the others attending the Innovo Retreat. And we were enjoying a rare chance to re-connect with each other. But during this stretch of the afternoon, we pursued some quiet time with a determined purpose.

The area around the Prayer Garden was filled with people. While it was largely overcast, there was enough sun poking through from time to time that we were looking for a shaded area. Then we found it. On the corner of the patio at the castle. It was completely empty. No one was nearby, so we picked out a choice spot which was well shaded. We could see all over the lush grounds. Blooming flowers. Green meadows. And of course, the mountains!

We unpacked our Bibles and our books. Kim got all of her colored pencils out, lined them up and was fully prepared to highlight to her heart’s content. It was glorious.

And then they came. Three college-aged girls, talking and laughing and making more noise than three people should. But I wasn’t worried. It was a large patio. They could see we were trying to read. Even if they stayed on the patio, surely they would make their way to the other side.

How foolish of me. They plopped down just a few tables away. And they continued to talk and laugh as though they were the only ones there. I looked at Kim. She looked at me. The best laid plans. After a few minutes, it was obvious they were there to stay. And with the noise they made, I couldn’t concentrate. So we moved to another location.

It was much quieter, with just one young man at a table nearby, and he was reading too. But it wasn’t very scenic. It was inside the courtyard. There wasn’t much to look at (especially for Kim, who only had me). And our view was further compromised because we were sitting in a little alcove, which made it kind of stuffy.

I wasn’t thinking very charitable thoughts at that moment. About the time we got settled, we heard a loud clap of thunder. It suddenly got very dark, and within a few seconds, it was pouring down rain. But it didn’t matter, because we were sitting in this protected alcove. We didn’t get a drop on us.

And then it dawned on me. If we had stayed where we were, we would have been drenched. There wasn’t time between the first clap of thunder and the first drop of rain to have gone anywhere. God used those giggling, loud-talking girls to move us to someplace where we were dry and protected.

How much like life is that? God sometimes has to inconvenience us to get us where He wants us to be? We get irritated, frustrated, even angry at Him when our plans go awry. Why can’t I just sit here and enjoy my book?, we ask. But because He knows when the skies are going to open and the rain is going to fall, He may want to move us someplace where we won’t get wet.

Or sometimes, in His sovereignty and wisdom, He may leave us on the patio to get soaked. But even then, as Christians we know we’re getting soaked for a reason.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We're All Still Here

The sun came up in the east this morning.

Now, maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, but after all of the mourning, wailing and gnashing of teeth at the funeral of Michael Jackson on Tuesday, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. Surely life can’t just go on, not after the “King of Pop” was buried. Not after MJ was put in the ground. Not after “the greatest performer ever without a doubt” (I actually heard that phrase verbatim twice in the past 24 hours) would never be heard from again.

Why were there no earthquakes?

How can rain still fall from the sky?

I mean no disrespect to the dead. But on Tuesday, you couldn’t log onto the Internet or flip through the channels on TV without running into wall-to-wall coverage of his funeral. An alien visiting from another planet would have thought that we were burying the man who found the cure to cancer, or solved the world’s financial crises or at least had figured out the secret as to why the same number of socks never come out of the dryer that you put in.

Silly alien. No, we were simply engaged in one of our frequent celebrity love-fests. Here’s a guy who’s last record was released in 2001 and his last hit was in 1996. He was frequently the butt of late night comics’ jokes as he demonstrated increasingly bizarre behavior. He looked more like a casualty of some natural disaster than a mega-star. And yet people—including influential, even powerful people—were falling over themselves to shed tears and offer condolences on his behalf.

Again, I don’t want to seem insensitive, but it all seems a little much. I think of some of the dear old saints I’ve known through the years who have made great sacrifices in their service to the Kingdom who left this world with barely a whisper. No TV coverage. No reporters, politicians or athletic stars bid them farewell. No Congressional Resolutions were passed in their honor.

These wonderful folks recorded no number one albums. But some were faithful teachers of the Scripture. Some loved and taught our kids. Some baked pies or drove the church bus or cleaned the restrooms in the church. Some visited the sick in the hospitals or took food to shut-ins.

I don’t know for sure what Michael Jackson’s relationship with the Lord was. I was under the impression that he shared the faith of his parents and was a Jehovah’s Witness, although over the past few years there have been a lot of stories about his interest in Islam or “spirituality” in general. None of that gives me much reason to believe that he knew Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.

And if in fact he was not a Christian, then I hope that he enjoyed his crowds, homes, cars, planes and riches (though all the evidence suggests he really didn't). Because, apart from Christ, it’s all downhill from here (literally).

But for those Christ-followers I mentioned earlier, even without the fame and fortune of this world, they can say along with the Psalmist, But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. (Psalm 49:15)

In light of all that, who would you rather be?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Ripped From the Headlines

I’m sure you’ve heard the story by now.

A powerful government official who openly talks of his faith and his relationship with God commits adultery. For nearly a year, he keeps the transgression under wraps, though there are occasional whispers about the illicit relationship. When he is finally confronted about the affair, he owns up to it. It was wrong he said. It shouldn’t have happened. The damage is done.

King David sure screwed up.

His story is so well known, as are the consequences. Surely no one would ever mess up like that again, right? Oh, that it were so.

Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina, is just the latest and most prominent to repeat the mistakes of the former King of Israel. But in the days since the news of his adultery and betrayal became public, Gov. Sanford’s response to the situation has revealed a vast difference between his character and that of the man after God’s own heart.

Both men shared some of their deepest thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of their indiscretion. David wrote two Psalms detailing his emotions. Gov. Sanford granted several interviews. The emotions they expressed in their respective forums reveal the world of distinction between the two.

David writes of his anguish: When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. (Psalm 32:3-4, NLT) He acknowledges his actions as pure sin: …I have done what is evil in your sight… (Psalm 51:4).

Contrast that with the reaction of Gov. Sanford. In interviews conducted recently, he spoke longingly of his mistress, calling her his “soul mate”. While indicating he recognized the inappropriateness of his actions, he expressed surprisingly little remorse. He seemed especially insensitive to his wife and children. He has humiliated his wife, and he has shamed the Sanford name. During a time when should be devoting himself to salvaging what is left of those relationships, he’s making excuses and digging his hole deeper.

It’s not my intent to pile on Gov. Sanford. There’s enough of that happening in the public realm, including the secular media. But these transgressions point out a right way and a wrong way to respond to sin. Gov. Sanford, for all his professed faith and religious beliefs, seems unable to follow clear Scriptural guidance concerning repentance and restoration. And David, despite the heinous nature of his sins (which included not only adultery, but murder!), demonstrated how we can get right with God when we sincerely repent and seek forgiveness.

The proper response for us now is to pray for the Governor’s wife and children. Pray for the woman with whom Sanford had the affair, and for her family. Pray for those who are disillusioned over the fall of this once vocal Christ-follower. Pray for those who will use this occasion as a further opportunity to cast aspersions on all Christians, especially those in the public eye.

And pray for the South Carolina Governor. Pray that he would truly repent of his sins. Pray that he would seek and accept God’s forgiveness. Pray that he will serve as a Godly example for others. And pray that ultimately, he, like King David, will find again the joy of his salvation.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Faith in the KC Star

I’m one of the rare breed of individuals who have subscribed to the newspaper most of my life, including when I was in college (as a finance major, I even subscribed to the Wall Street Journal until I discovered they didn’t have a “Comics” section). The idea of reading the newspaper every day was ingrained into me by my dad. Although he didn’t even graduate from high school, he was a voracious reader, insisting that we maintain our subscriptions to the Kansas City Times (the morning paper), The Kansas City Star (the evening paper), and The Kansan (the “official” newspaper of Wyandotte County), even when money was tight. My dad would consider me ill-read today if he knew that I only consumed the news of one local daily (even though there is only one local daily left).

A few years ago, in an effort to save money, I decided to take advantage of the “Friday, Saturday, Sunday” offer for the Kansas City Star, figuring that I could keep up with the news pretty well through the Internet. However, I found myself missing the feel of the morning paper, and eventually renewed my daily subscription.

I’ve been rethinking that decision a lot lately. Part of it is the cost relative to the content of the newspaper. Recently, the Star has combined sections and reduced the amount of news content without any corresponding decrease in the cost.

Part of it is the fact that my newspaper carrier in Spring Hill can’t seem to hit the two car-wide driveway to save his life—invariably the paper is at the edge of the driveway in the street. Of course, I don’t complain too much about that, because it’s better than the days I don’t get a paper at all (about twice a month, on average).

Last week, my thoughts returned to cancellation when I read the article asking readers to choose five comics for elimination, including some I’ve read since childhood like Marmaduke, Beetle Bailey and Wizard of Id.

But the one consideration for cancelling my subscription to the local newspaper that ranks above all others is the atrocity they call their Faith section. Every Saturday, they devote a few pages to a section that talks about religion. They ought to call it the Faithless section, for week after week, it is dominated by articles and columns featuring Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and increasingly, by atheists.

Don’t get me wrong—I understand that a secular newspaper is not a forum for the spread of Christianity—let alone my particular brand of Christianity—but in a society in which the vast majority of our citizens define themselves as “Christians”, why does the newspaper insist on featuring nearly every religious system except Christianity? Shouldn’t the ratio really be heavily favored towards articles dealing with the Christian faith? Yet there are times when if it weren’t for the weekly Billy Graham column, there wouldn’t be a single article that touches on anything remotely “Christian”.

I just finished reading their weekly Faith Walk article, which is written on a rotation basis by local folks about their faith experience, except today’s article was written by a women who admitted that she hated church. She didn’t say what her particular brand of theology was, but described herself as a freethinker, who decided to raise her children without religion, presumably with the idea that someday, they could make up their minds for themselves about their faith.

Imagine if she had done that about food. Who am I to tell my children to eat vegetables? They may not like vegetables—I’ll let them decide that for themselves. When they get older, they can decide what they want to eat—or if they want to eat at all.

What if she applies this philosophy to her children’s decisions about drugs or alcohol? Some people abuse drugs and alcohol and some don’t. Whatever my children decide, I’m OK with it as long as they’re happy.

Now, I’m frustrated with all this for two reasons. First of all, and directly related to my introduction to this blog, is that this has nothing to do with faith. It is about the lack of faith. Does The Star put articles on automobiles in their “Food” section, or publish the obituaries in the “Comics”?

But as to the content of her article, my frustration is rooted in the fact that this woman was being disingenuous. It wasn’t that she thought it best for her children to grow up without religion as she initially contended. For she admitted that she found the approach of the Unitarian Universalists quite appealing, for in this church no one would tell [my children] that their mother was evil.

And folks, therein lies the problem. Her children need to hear that their mother is evil. Their father is evil. They are evil. The pastor is evil. Everyone who attends those religious services is evil. And everyone who doesn’t attend their services is evil too. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Because if a person doesn’t understand they are evil in the sight of a holy and righteous God, then they’ll never know the glorious truth that God’s righteousness can be applied to them through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

So when all is said and done, this woman, like so many others, hates church and rejected “religion” for her children because she didn’t like being told the truth. But now that she’s found a “church” (how it pains me to write that, even in quotation marks) that has declared her righteous of her own accord—not in need of Jesus or His shed blood or the cross on which He died—she’s perfectly happy to introduce “religion” to her children.

My prayer is that someday, someone will introduce them to Christ.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

There's not much that just makes me laugh out loud, but I came across this list of the Top 10 Things You'd Say at Work But Can't on the blog of Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. It is one of the funniest things I've read in a long time, so I share with you in the hopes that it brightens your day.

1. I’ll try being nicer if you try being smarter.
2. I don’t know what your problem is, but I’ll bet its hard to pronounce.
3. I’ll pencil that in for never. Does never work for you?
4. I see you’ve set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in public.
5. It sounds like English, but I can’t understand a word you’re saying.
6. Ahhh … I see the screw-up fairy has visited us again.
7. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.
8. I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don’t give a rip.
9. I will always cherish the positive initial misconceptions I had about you.
10. The fact that no one understands you doesn’t mean you are an artist.

What would you like to say at work, if only you could? Reply in comments (comments are moderated, so let's play nice).

Monday, June 8, 2009

If You Twitter Does That Make You a Twit?

Again last night someone asked me, "Just what is Twitter?". And once again, I found myself stumbling around for words. Every time I try to explain Twitter to someone, it seems like a remarkably dumb concept.

Twitter is, in its most basic sense, a communications tool. You have up to 140 characters to get your message across. It might be as simple as declaring "Studying for Sunday's sermon." Or it might be a bit more complex, like communicating a prayer request or a special need within the church. In any event, you have 140 characters (that includes letters, spaces, punctuation, etc) to communicate, so it forces you to be conservative in your word choices.

After that explanation, people are still perplexed. "So, it's like texting?" No, not really. If I text someone, I usually have a specific message that I want delivered to a specific person, like "Kacie, what time will you be home?". However, when I tweat, I am just communicating to a larger audience. Such tweats rarely are profound and generally require no action or follow up by those who might read them.

Or people will ask, "So it's like a blog?". Well, in a way--except you only have a limited ability to communicate, so the message must be straightforward and simple.

To read a tweat, one must be a follower. At the present time, I have 51 followers on Twitter, most of whom I do not know personally. (By comparison, actor Ashton Kutchner has over 1 million followers). However, several of my "followers" are friends, mostly from Life Spring. I follow nearly 70 people on Twitter. Again, most of these folks are people I have never met. Some of them are prominent evangelicals in the church & publishing fields--like Pastor Max Lucado or Michael Hyatt, the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

I must admit that I found it particularly interesting when Max Lucado was tweating from his recent mission trip in Africa. But I also find it interesting when Ryan Meek tweats about Lily or Stephanie Kotchavar tweats about Hank. I'd love it if more people from Life Spring were twittering. I think it enhances the sense of community that we are all seeking.

There is a recent trend in Twitter-land that bothers me greatly. The media--including the mainstream media--has recently devoted a lot of attention to people who are twittering during worship services. Since you can post tweats from your cell phone as easily as from a computer, twittering "on the go" is pretty popular. But twittering during a worship service just seems wrong to me.

There are enough distractions to keep us from giving God our full and undivided attention. Our minds naturally wander to our troubles and trials. Or a baby cries. Or we can't take our eyes off of Bro. Jones who keeps nodding off and nearly falls out of his seat each time just before he wake up. The last thing we need is one more distraction.

So add Twitter to the list of things that can be good and useful and beneficial to the Kingdom and to our effort to reach out to one another which Satan has found a way to corrupt and defile. It doesn't make Twitter "bad" any more than television is inherently "bad" or books are innately "evil". But it does require us to think about the ways we use such things and whether ultimately they bring us closer to God or take us farther away.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Our new summer sermon series begins on June 7th, and we’re going to spend several weeks focusing on some of the great hymns of faith. I’ve already been challenged greatly as I’ve been preparing the first few messages.

Few things are more controversial in our churches than our music. It seems that everyone has an opinion about what type of music should be performed in a worship service, and we are all eager to share those opinions. In recent years, the controversy has been between those who like the old hymns (preferably straight from a hymnal) and praise music or choruses (generally displayed on a screen or a wall).

I grew up on hymns. Truth be known, I grew weary of them. Too often they were sung like funeral dirges—slow and joyless. We seemed to open every service with Victory in Jesus and close with Just As I Am. I wasn’t disappointed when we started attending a church where hymns were sung infrequently, and when they were sung, it was a much more positive and upbeat experience.

But as time has worn on, I miss some of these great old hymns. While I do enjoy much of the newer praise music that we sing, my heart begins to race when we sing some of those familiar hymns. And with the way that Dennis leads our hearts in worship, these hymns take on a freshness that leads us closer to God’s throne of grace.

One of the things that has long intrigued me about the old hymns is the stories behind them. It seems that so many of those songs were born from difficult circumstances, tragedies or adversities that drove the hymn writers to a deeper place. We’re going to touch on some of these stories as we go through the series.

And there is some strong theology that underlies these hymns. It was not enough for these songs to have catchy tunes or pithy phrases—there is real doctrinal meat on the bones of these ancient songs. Though they may have been written centuries ago, there is a relevance that makes their meaning timeless.

This sermon series is certainly not an attempt to suggest that hymns are better than modern music. But it is an attempt to learn more about these songs and their relationship to the faith of our fathers. It is a way for us to keep the fires of the faith burning strongly for us and for future generations.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Remember Memorial Day

"What are you doing on Memorial Day weekend?"

I suppose I've been asked that question a dozen times over the past several days. Memorial Day is the unofficial start of Summer, though the calendar says we're still three weeks away from the Summer Equinox (not to be confused with the Chevy Equinox, which seats 8). Pools open. School's out. And Memorial Day is the first of three extra days off between now and the end of August (Independence Day & Labor Day being the other two). So I can see why folks get excited about it.

At the same time, I fear we've lost a sense of what the Holiday is all about. I remember my parents and other older folks who actually referred to it as "Decoration Day"--it was the day to take flowers to the gravesites of loved ones and "decorate" the graves. It was always a big deal to make the trip to TG&Y to pick up the wreaths to lay on the graves of my grandparents and brother. We added my dad's grave to the list in 1976.

And although the tradition for many families was to decorate the gravesites of all family members, the original intent of the day was to memorialize (hence "Memorial" Day) those who had given their lives in service to our nation. It officially became known as Memorial Day in 1967, and in 1968 Congress declared the observance of this day would be on the last Monday of the month of May in order to create a convenient three day weekend.

I wonder how many of our young people even know the reason for Memorial Day. I stopped visiting the cemetery on Memorial Day years ago. Kim, Kacie & I have never done anything special as a family to observe the day. And I don't think it's only us. But in the process, we lose not only some of our history, but some of our character as a nation.

In the midst of writing this, Kacie & I just had a quick conversation about Memorial Day. She had a vague idea of its meaning, but I gave her a more complete recounting of its history. She may not remember it tomorrow. But she can't say she never heard it before.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the day off. I like the grilling and the time with family and friends. I don't think it has to be a somber day void of fun or frivolity. But let's not forget the reason our nation has set aside this day, and let us keep uppermost in our memories those whose sacrifices make the ballgames, picnics and lake outings possible.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Elder Board not Bored

I'm preparing for our monthly Elder Board meeting tonight. Although it's a relatively light agenda, there are several issues we're dealing with that hold promise of bringing some excitement to the table.

We're going to get a report from two of our men who are senior law enforcement officials who attended a seminar on church security last week. It hasn't been that long ago that we wouldn't even think about such things, but those days are past. My guess is that this issue will take up more of our time in coming months as we try to respond appropriately to potential problems. I appreciate that our Board is so proactive in their thinking.

We have initiated the first steps in the budgeting process for the new ministry year. This would be a lot more fun if we had tons of money to deal with, but this year we're going to have to look long and hard at how ministry money is being spent. Last year we were pretty conservative in our budget estimates, and so far, we're holding our own. A lot of churches are down 20% or more in giving, but our people are quite faithful in spite of the big hits that many families have taken. God is so good. But we know that we need to be careful stewards of these resources.

We are also in the beginning stages of the master plan process for the church property. The Master Plan Vision Team met with the architect last week, and tonight the Board will consider how far to go in the planning process at this time. The cost estimates for construction are sobering, but it will be exciting to see how God accomplishes all of this in His church.

Tonight we will also consider how to proceed in the selection of a new Elder. Several nominations were made by the congregation, and although a few men have removed themselves from consideration, we have a couple of excellent candidates. Our Board has operated so well for the past 2 1/2 years, and adding new Elders is among the most important decisions we make. I know God will lead us if we will be sensitive to His guidance.

There are a few other odds and ends on the agenda, but these are the major issues we're dealing with tonight. We're blessed to have men who are willing to take a night out of their schedule every month to come deal with these matters. And as we grow and mature as a Body of believers, there will continue to be new and exciting issues that keep the Board from getting bored.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blog, Shmog

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. My last blog was 17 days ago.

I feared this would happen. I reached a point where I just didn't have anything to blog about. Now, I 'm sure a few of you will say, Well, that hasn't stopped you in the past! But really, I just couldn't think of anything to write.

Even now, I continue to experience writer's block. But I feel guilty for not having blogged for 2 weeks, so I decided to blog about not blogging.

I have to admit that sometimes the same thing happens to me when preparing sermons. That's one of the reasons I like to preach in "series"--it gives me a road map for future messages. It's also why I enjoy preaching through Books of the Bible. I don't have to wonder what passage I'll touch upon next--I just do the next section of the Book we're going through.

Over the next few weeks, I'll begin a new series of sermons based on some of the old hymns. I've often toyed with the idea of preaching on these old songs which are so rich in theology but rooted in practicality. But I've never tried it before. So I've outlined a tentative preaching schedule that will take us through the summer.

Then, unless the Lord changes my mind in the meantime, this fall we're going to go through the life of Joseph of the Old Testament. Again, I've long wanted to do an in-depth study of his life, so I'm really looking forward to getting into that series.

Which all goes to say that I have a lot more ideas for sermons than for blogs. But at least I've bought myself another few weeks with this one.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Milk Carton Theology

Milk cartons used to be stamped with a “Use by” date. Then they started using a “Sell by” date. Now they just say “Best by” date. What’s up with that? After all, if a milk carton says “Use by” a certain date, and that date has passed, I don’t even open the cap. The milk gets trashed.

The “Sell by” date is a little more difficult. How long do you have to use it after it is sold? When should I start getting nervous?

But the “Best by” date is the most frustrating of all. For whom is it best? Is it best for the store’s profit margin to get rid of it by that date? It doesn’t have to be the “best” for me to use it, but I don’t want it to be the worst either. Just where should I draw the line?

See, this is all very complicated. Now I know some people would just say “drink it, and if it’s bad throw it out.” But I don’t always trust my taste buds. Sometimes I’ll taste the milk, and I’m not quite sure if it’s OK, so I’ll ask Kim to try it.

“Why?”, she’ll ask.

“Because I think it may be going bad”, I’ll respond.

“So you want me to drink sour milk”, she’ll say, and coming from her, it sounds like that much more ridiculous of an idea.

Of course, I have no reasonable response, so I’ll just throw out the milk, because whether it’s really bad or not, I’ve now convinced myself it’s undrinkable.

All this, of course, could have been avoided if they would just put the “Use by” date back on the carton. Not the ambiguous “Sell by” date or the vague “Best by” date, but the clear and unequivocal “USE BY” date.

If we benefit so much from definitive information on a milk carton, how much more do we need indisputable information on the more significant issues of life? And that’s where God’s Word comes in. Trustworthy and reliable, it is the rule of faith and practice for those who desire to honor God by the way they live.

You may not always like what it says. You may not always understand the logic or the reasoning behind its commands and instructions. But it says what it means and it means what it says.

Which is more than you can say for your average carton of milk.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lazy, Crazy Days of Summer

We're entering an extremely busy time for most of our families. Weddings, graduations and vacations will fill already crowded calendars over the next few months. It can be difficult to maintain some sense of normalcy in the midst of such crazy schedules.

As a pastor, I am deeply convicted that we in the church do all we can do to help people navigate these crazy times, rather than to add to the burdens of schedules that are overloaded. At Life Spring, we seek to follow the "Simple Church" model that calls for doing a few things with excellence, rather than to do a number of things in mediocrity.

That doesn't mean that we don't do anything in the summer, but we try to be even more intentional about not filling up the calendar any more than necessary. We'll have a church picnic, which is one of the favorite events for a lot of our families. Life Groups will meet, and our Men's & Women's Ministries will have a few events. But overall, we'll do our best not to add to the stress level of our folks by giving them more obligations than they can fulfill.

All of this is a part of our effort to move people away from equating "activity" with "spirituality". Some people seem to think that just because they're busy with church activities, that must mean that they're OK with God. Very often, just the opposite is true. They are so busy doing things, they don't have time to spend with Jesus (think Martha and Mary, Luke 10).

So if you are a part of our family at Life Spring, we hope you'll join us for our worship services each Sunday morning. Stay active in your Life Group. And attend other activities as your schedule permits. But don't fall into the trap of thinking you must be busier in order to be more pleasing to the Lord. Instead, spend more time at the Master's feet, and just enjoy being a child of the King.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's April 15

This morning, I went to Post Office before I came to work, and I did my civic duty. I paid my taxes. Of course, I pay taxes nearly every day of the year. Sales tax. Property tax. Twice a month, state and federal taxes come out of my paycheck. But Uncle Sam says they didn’t take enough this year. Sure seemed like enough to me, but in the end, I’ll go with what Uncle Sam tells me.

Like most Americans, I seethe a little when I see waste and fraud in the name of our government. I get more than a little irked when we learn some new detail about how our tax dollars are spent. But I’ve got to tell you, as I drove away from the mailbox, I felt a little sense of pride that I was doing my part as a patriot.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t enjoy paying taxes in the same way that I enjoy two scoops of Rock Chocolate Jayhawk at Sylas & Maddie’s. But as I consider the roads I drive on and the police that patrol our streets and the military that keeps me safe, it hurts a little less to pay those taxes. Just as I walked away from the voting booth last week with a sense of pride that I was contributing to democracy (I was voter #68 in the middle of the afternoon), I drove away from that mailbox knowing that the payment of my taxes was a part of the price of living in the United States of America.

Not only do I feel a little more like a patriot, but I also feel a little more spiritual. After all, Jesus said to render to God what is God’s and to Caesar (or Sam) what is Caesar’s (or Sam’s). So when I pay my taxes, I’m doing what Jesus instructed me to do.

It also gave me pause for a little thanksgiving. Thanks, Lord, that I have a job and a salary on which I am taxed. Thank you for my home and the mortgage interest deduction that it provides. Thanks for my wife and my daughter, or as they’re known in the tax world—my little exemptions. Thank you that my health costs didn’t exceed 2% of my adjusted gross income. Thanks that some of Kacie’s college expenses are tax deductible. We’re told to give God thanks in everything, and I guess that means on tax day, too.

I’ll still gripe about high taxes and waste and fraud. I’ll still prefer lower taxes to higher taxes. I’ll still take every deduction and credit I can. But when all is said and done, I hope I remember that even an unpleasant and mundane task like paying my taxes can be an act of worship if my heart is right.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Happy Easter

We celebrate Easter, 2009 during a time of great uncertainty.

The world economy teeters on disaster. No one knows how bad things will get before they get better. How many more people will lose their jobs? How many more families will lose their homes? How many more communities will lose all hope?

The moral fabric of our nation is unraveling at breakneck speed. The concept of sin has been lost on an entire generation. If you believe that God abhors homosexuality, then you are a “bigot”. If you think that God holds human life sacred, then you are “intolerant”. If you subscribe to the idea that in the beginning, God created all things, then society holds you in contempt as uneducated and ignorant.

If ever there was a time when we needed the encouragement of a risen Savior, it is now. If ever there was an occasion for hope rooted in unchanging truth, it is today.

When Jesus came into the world the first time, it was into a world of tremendous uncertainty, not unlike today. People were going through the motions of a lifeless religion. They were staking their futures on the hope of greater peace and prosperity, even as the world experienced greater chaos and turmoil.

Many people viewed Jesus’ death as the end of all hope, when in fact it was the root of real hope, for He defeated sin and the grave when He rose from the dead.

Over this next week, let’s take time to consider the sacrifice He made and the price He paid so that no longer would our hope rest on a fickle economy, feckless political leaders or a finicky religion. Our hope is now based on the firm assurance that He is not here; He has risen, just as He said!

Monday, March 30, 2009


She now has a name. We brought her home on Wednesday, but couldn’t decide on a name that was suitable for four days. I liked the name that Kacie gave to her Beagle several years ago, “Hosanna”. It’s original. It’s cute. It’s meaningful. But Kacie said we couldn’t use the same name twice.

There was Abby, but that’s the name of one of Kacie’s friends. We thought of Doxie, Roxie and Lexi, but those are too traditional. I liked Jasmine, but Kacie did not. She liked Rory, but I didn’t care for it. It didn’t matter much to Kim—she just refereed between Kacie and me. I finally reached a point that I didn’t care—I just wanted to know what to call the dog when she started yelping or began chewing on things.

It finally came down to a choice between Sookie/Suki (we couldn’t even agree on the spelling) or Sophie. Sookie/Suki was the name of a character on one of Kacie’s favorite TV shows (if we were going to name her that way, I would have preferred “Mork”). I don’t know where Sophie came from, but Kacie seemed to prefer it. So that’s her name. Sophie. The Dachshund. Miniature Dachshund to be exact.

It’s been five days now, and I still wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into. Naming the dog was the easy part, compared to…well, compared to everything else. Like the housebreaking. Frankly, I’m about ready to just let her turn the living room into one giant potty. It’s tough enough to housebreak puppies, but we had to try to do it in the middle of a snowstorm.

And she does not like to be crated, let me assure you. She yelps and barks until she develops laryngitis. When we go to get her out in the morning, she turns her back on us like we’ve done her wrong.

So, for all the trouble she’s been, why am I anxiously waiting to get this blog finished so I can pack up my laptop and get home to see her? Why can I just picture her tiny little tail wagging when she hears my voice? Why do I envision her thrusting her 2 lb. 11 oz. body on me as soon as I get seated?

Maybe, in some small way, this is how God views me. I know I’m much more trouble than I’m worth (though I am pretty well housebroken). I’m sure I frustrate the fire out of Him from time to time. But maybe He thinks I’m worth it for those few times that I abandon myself to Him and shower Him with unconditional love and affection. I’d like to think that despite all the trouble I cause, He gets pleasure when I just curl up in His lap and go to sleep.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March Madness

If you’ve ever wondered what a “works-based” religion looks like, just take a glance at the brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament that starts this week. Getting invited to the big dance and staying there is completely based upon what you have done lately.

Just because you’re the reigning national champions, that doesn’t mean you get any preferential treatment. Think you’ll get to stay close to home because you won it all last year? Think again, and wear your long johns because it’s still cold in Minneapolis.

Beating a couple of powerhouse teams during the regular season and winning your conference tournament doesn’t mean you get a favorable seeding or get to open the tournament in your own backyard. Just ask the guys feasting on all things potato this week.

Just getting invited to participate in the tournament is completely based upon recent performance. Started off the season strong, but hit a rough patch late? Say hello to the NIT.

And staying in the tournament—well, it’s one and done for a lot of teams. One missed free throw—One errant pass—One three-point attempt gone awry. It’s the little mistakes that cost a lot of teams the chance to advance.

Now all this is fine in basketball. I have no problem with it. I wish college football would adopt a tournament system as well. Such “works-based” tournaments are fine for sports, but I’m glad it doesn’t work that way in the spiritual realm.

One bad thought? You’re outta here!

One comment you wish you could take back? Pack your bags!

One reckless deed? Well, there’s always next year!

I am grateful that the God who was powerful enough to defeat sin and death is powerful enough to keep me saved. I am glad that it is by grace I have been saved through faith, not from anything that I have done (or not done), it is a gift from God.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give our best. It doesn’t mean that we should slack off or sit on our laurels. But it does mean that we should have a peace of mind that even when the ball falls short of the basket, we’re invited to remain on the court and stay in the game.

Monday, March 16, 2009

All in the Family

Kim & Kacie are in Oklahoma for a few days this week. They left on Sunday after services. I really enjoy having the house to myself.

It’s kind of nice to be able to leave dishes in the sink, or to not have to throw away my soda can before I go to bed. I can eat out of the same dish I warmed my dinner up in, and if I don’t throw my dirty clothes in the hamper right away, there’s no one to say anything about it.

That freedom is great. Except that it is also pretty lonely. I came home tonight, and there was no one to share the news of my day with. There are a few TV shows that we really enjoy watching & discussing together, but I’ll have to watch “24” on my own tonight. And while Kim always leaves me with plenty of food, it’s not much fun to eat by myself.

I have decided that the few obligations that come with being a part of a family are worth it, given all of the benefits.

The same thing is true about being a part of a church family. Yes, there are obligations. Scripture has a lot to say about the responsibilities we owe one another as a part of being in the family of God. Bearing one another’s burdens can be wearisome. Loving one another is not always easy. But these obligations are well worth it when you consider all of the benefits we enjoy in being a part of a community of believers.

We’re blessed at Life Spring to have a loving and compassionate church family. As a part of that family, I owe certain duties and responsibilities to others in the church. But the benefits I enjoy far outweigh my obligations. And if I wasn’t a part of this fellowship, I’d miss my family—just like I’m missing Kim & Kacie right now.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, WWW

I just read that today (March 13) is the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web. I don’t really understand all this, but evidently the “Internet” was out there already, but it became a more useful tool after someone came along with a way to make it accessible to the masses (ergo, the World Wide Web).

It is pretty amazing to think of the fact that just 9 days after I wedded my blushing bride in 1989, the World Wide Web was born. Now, I admit that in those days immediately following my wedding, I was preoccupied with things other than the news, but I really don’t recall there being a big deal made about the creation of the World Wide Web. No bells and whistles. No paparazzi taking photos of its creator. No big press conferences with the President, foreign leaders or business moguls. It happened rather quietly, with little fanfare.

Which just goes to show that some of the most amazing things happen when no one is watching. Like a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. Like a couple of disciples talking quietly with a stranger as they approach their home in Emmaus. Like a zealous persecutor of the church struck blind on a business trip. Only in the light of history do these events take on significance and meaning.

Yesterday’s big news was the conviction of Bernie Madoff. It was the lead story on all the news shows. It was talked about incessantly, even by late night comedians. But something may have happened yesterday (or last week or last month) that got little attention, but which may have eternal consequences. That’s why believers are constantly admonished to be alert, to be on guard, to watch & pray. You never know when the next big thing will happen, maybe right under your nose.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Catching the Vision

I think I can safely speak on behalf of our Elders by saying that we were absolutely thrilled by our Dream Day activity last Saturday. Almost 50 Life Springers showed up to offer their thoughts and ideas—their visions and dreams—for the new church campus.

One of the things that I found most gratifying was the degree to which our congregation seems to be catching the vision that our leadership has been laying out for the past two years. Experiencing and Expressing the Love of God is not just a slogan—it is the expression of the vision that our leadership has for Life Spring. And the ideas and suggestions offered on Saturday indicate that this vision is becoming a reality among those who call Life Spring “home”.

There were plenty of ideas offered about how the property and facilities can assist us in Experiencing the Love of God. Novel classroom ideas for children’s ministry, great discussions about worship that is innovative yet respectful and wonderful thoughts about how we can promote fellowship among the saints all lend themselves to our freshly experiencing God’s love.

But as a church, we are not content to be a gathering place for Christians. There were plenty of ideas about how our property and buildings can be used to benefit Spring Hill and surrounding communities. I didn’t write down all the ideas (that was our architect’s job), but here are a few of the creative proposals for Expressing the Love of God to each other and our neighbors.

An outdoor amphitheater that could be used not only for church-related services and productions, but also could be used by the community for plays or performances.

A community garden that people could use to plant vegetables for their own use, or to make donations to the Farmer’s Market.

There were several suggestions about ways to open up our property to the entire community, such as walking trails with exercise stations, playground equipment, a skate park, and a coffee shop that would be open all week to the public.

We talked about ways to meet the needs of the disadvantaged, including a clothes closet, temporary housing and emergency housing.

These are just a few of the many suggestions offered during 4 ½ hours of discussion. I wanted to share this sampling of ideas just so that you can see why our leadership is so proud of our congregation for thinking in broad and visionary ways.

I drove by a church recently that has signs prominently posted in their parking lot, For Church Use Only. I understand where they are coming from, but what message does that send to the community? May our congregation never have the attitude that we have to “protect” our church from the community. In fact, let’s never lose sight of the fact that it’s not “our church” to begin with. May the property and facilities God gives us assist us in more fully Experiencing and Expressing the Love of God.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dream Day 2009

This coming Saturday, March 7th, we will have a great opportunity to give input into the development of the church campus on 169 Highway. We are hosting a “Dream Day” with our architect at the Life Center from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. This will be your opportunity to offer your thoughts and ideas as to how our 35 acres should be developed over the next 10-20 years.

As I mentioned on Sunday, we don’t want to get tied up in minutiae—what color the carpeting should be or whether we put a steeple on the roof. But we do want to know your ideas about how the property can be used to serve our church body and reach out to Spring Hill and surrounding communities.

So far, some people have come up with some interesting ideas. It has been suggested that we consider putting in a coffee shop that would be open throughout the week to serve the community. One person had the idea of building an outdoor amphitheater that we could use for outdoor services (like our Easter sunrise service) and which we could make available for community plays or activities. Another individual proposed putting in a community garden that people could maintain for their families. Someone else advocated a picnic area, including a shelter house and volleyball court.

I love these ideas. At this point, I have no idea how many of them are likely to become a reality. But I want us to dream big. I want us to think the unthinkable. And then, we’ll prayerfully consider all our options and see where the Lord leads. We won’t get everything we dream about. But we serve a big God, and there’s no telling what He’ll allow us to do.

We’ll be meeting Saturday morning at the Life Center. You can get a copy of the day’s schedule here. We hope you’ll be able to attend the session that most closely aligns with your ministry passion and interests, but you are welcome to attend any of the 30 to 45 minute length sessions. You can even attend multiple sessions if you’d like.

The last session of the morning, which starts at 11:45, will also include an Open Forum, to which we have invited community and civic leaders. We want to hear their ideas, too, as to how Life Spring can be a valuable and contributing member of our community.

I hope you’ll be able to join us and share your ideas as to how to develop our church property for the benefit our community and for the glory of our God.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The State of the Union

As I write these words, we are about 36 hours from President Obama’s first State of the Union speech before Congress and the nation. I took some time recently to look over State of the Union speeches dating back to 1790. Typically, Presidents have tended to describe the state of our union as “sound” or “strong”.

Given the tenuous economic condition our country is in, I am curious to see how the President will define our state of the union this year. I wouldn’t think he would want to downplay the current challenges, but at the same time, it probably wouldn’t be good for him to say “The state of our union is in the toilet.” The markets probably wouldn’t react favorably to such candor.

Of course, when Presidents evaluate the state of the Union, the benchmarks they use generally include such things as unemployment, budget deficits, inflation and other key economic factors. I’m sure they also take into consideration our standing on the world stage, including the strength of our military and our diplomatic relationships abroad.

However, I doubt that many of them give serious consideration to the spiritual state of the Union. How much do they factor “leading spiritual indicators” into their evaluation of our nation’s welfare?

I am afraid if they were to take stock of our country’s “state” using God’s standards, we wouldn’t fare well. We would likely be described as “stiff-necked” and “hard-hearted”, as the Israelites were described during the years of the wilderness wanderings. Undoubtedly, the recurring words used to describe God’s people in the days of the Judges could be our mantra as well: “Once again, [they] did evil in the eyes of the LORD.”

Like those in Haggai’s day, we plant much, but harvest little. We eat, but are never satisfied. We drink, but our thirst is not quenched. Despite the abundance of clothing, we are not warm. And we earn money only to put it in purses and wallets with holes.

We are like those whom Jesus condemned for honoring Him with their lips, while their hearts were far from Him.

If we are honest, we would have to admit that spiritually speaking, the state of our Union is fragile. We pursue the things of this world at the expense of seeking the things of God. We are more interested in our economic well-being than in our spiritual welfare. We are blind to the fact that we could gain this whole world, but lose our own soul. And God has declared that’s not a very good trade.

While it’s easy to criticize the spiritual state of our nation as a whole, let’s not lose sight of the need to conduct such an assessment of our personal spiritual condition. It does us no good to condemn those around us while falling short of God’s standards ourselves.

So, if you were standing before the nation to describe the status of your relationship with the Lord, how would you complete this sentence: The state of my spiritual condition is _____.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Once I was "Lost"

Some of you know that I am a big fan of the ABC TV series “Lost”. Over the past couple of seasons, they’ve gotten into some science fiction and time travelling stuff that I don’t completely understand, but the show still fascinates me.

It’s one of those shows that’s hard to explain. The bottom line is that an airplane crashes on a remote island in the Pacific. Strange things happen on the island. There’s a smoke monster and a polar bear and some wild boars. In addition to the survivors of the crash, there are other people on the island. There was a French lady, and some hostiles and some “others”. Some survivors get rescued. Most don't. If you have never watched the show, then none of this should make sense. If you have never watched the show and this does make sense, please call your doctor right away.

One of the things I find so intriguing about LOST is the spiritual dimension of the show. Certainly, no character is overtly Christian, and there isn’t much talk about God per se, but there are characters who firmly believe that things don’t happen by accident, and that there is a grand design that goes beyond each of us.

This season, the show’s characters are time-travelling. Sometimes they travel ahead in time, and other times they travel back in time. A few times, they’ve even traveled to a period of time which included an earlier time that they were on the island—theoretically, they could encounter an earlier version of themselves, though that hasn’t happened (yet!).

That’s really the point of this whole blog entry (and you didn’t think I had a point, did you?). A couple of episodes ago, one of the survivors (his name is Locke) saw something which he recognized as being a part of an event in which he had previously participated. But rather than walking toward that event, he deliberately took a path away from the event. That led to an exchange with one of the other survivors (Sawyer). Here’s a transcript of their conversation:

SAWYER: Why did you turn us around then? Wouldn’t you want to go back there?
LOCKE: Why would I want to do that?
SAWYER: So you could tell yourself to do things different. Save yourself a world of pain.
LOCKE: No, I needed that pain, to get to where I am now.

When I heard that exchange, I immediately thought, That’ll preach! (That’s the way pastors think, I’m sorry to say). What Locke was saying is that heartache and pain are sometimes part of a process that leads to something greater. Locke’s comments echo those of the Apostle Paul who said, For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Think back to some adversities you’ve experienced in your life. While there may be things you would change if you could, do you realize what a different person you’d be without those experiences? Do you see how God has used even those difficult situations to bring you to where He wants you today? Like Locke in “Lost”, sometimes we need the pain to get to where we are—or to take us where God wants us to be.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Call to Arms

We are starting a new series of messages on Sunday mornings entitled A Call to Arms. It is a study of the great spiritual battle that is raging all around us, and it is a plea to all believers to become engaged in this battle.

Whenever the term “spiritual warfare” is used, there are two extreme responses that are typical. One is a denial of any type of spiritual warfare. Such ignorance or complacency is common among Christians today, and it is one of the reasons that many believers are living discouraged and defeated lives.

The other extreme is to spiritualize everything. Every disagreement, every difference of opinion, every difficulty is viewed as an “attack” of the enemy. This type of reaction leads many Christians to become overly defensive and often leads us towards isolation and seclusion.

Neither of these extremes is Biblical, and neither leads us to a closer, more intimate walk with God.

So as we go through Ephesians 6:10-20 over the next few weeks, we will try to avoid the extremes, and we will seek to develop a healthy perspective on this topic of spiritual warfare. Primarily, we will be encouraged to take the battle seriously, and to arm ourselves with the spiritual weaponry that God has made available specifically for this purpose.

Our first message this Sunday (February 15) focuses on The Adversaries, and reinforces the reality of the battle as well as to clarify what the battle is really all about. If you are able to join us at Life Spring for this series, I believe you will be encouraged by these messages, and you will be motivated to prepare yourself to respond in a forthright manner to this Scriptural Call to Arms.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Groundhog Day

Wow, I can’t believe it. Today is Groundhog Day. We’re still eating turkey leftovers from Christmas and picking up pine needles in the carpet. How can it already be Groundhog Day?

I just visited the Official Site of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club” and learned that the rodent in Pennsylvania (no, I don’t mean Ben Roethlisberger) saw his shadow, thus a harbinger of six additional weeks of cold, snow, ice and other assorted elements associated with the season preceding Spring. Don’t put those shovels away yet, boys and girls.

Now, as holidays go, I think Groundhog Day tends to be underappreciated. After all, how much do we have to look forward to in the thick of winter? I mean, especially this year, with football season now behind us (I don’t count the Pro Bowl as real football, so don’t even go there with me), and with Easter still over two months away, what are we going to do with ourselves? Most workers won’t even get another paid Holiday until Memorial Day, which is 16 weeks away!

So I suggest we start treating Groundhog Day with a little more respect. First of all, any Holiday of any significance is marked prominently with lots of sales. I mean, in a few weeks, we’ll be told that the best way to celebrate the birth of Presidents Washington and Lincoln will be to buy a sofa, television or box springs & mattress. It’s what George and Abe would have wanted us to do.

So why not start with a Groundhog Day Sale? We could be encouraged to buy warm, furry coats. Or to “burrow in for winter” by purchasing space heaters and blankets.

Of course, the really great Holidays revolve around food. If Groundhog Day is going to take its rightful place among the major holidays, then we have to have copious amounts of food specifically associated with this momentous occasion. Groundhogs, also known as woodchucks and pasture pigs (I am not making this up) are herbivores, so let’s come up with special dishes to celebrate the day made with vegetables and berries. Or, for those meat lovers out there, we could enjoy “Waco Groundhog in Sour Cream”, “Groundhog Stew” or “Groundhog Meatloaf” (visit for these and other fine groundhog recipes).

We could come up with songs to sing around the piano honoring the Groundhog and its great contributions to civilization. We will need decorations especially suited for the day. And no Holiday worth its salt would be complete without a line of Hallmark Cards (with online versions available for those of us too cheap to buy stamps).

Perhaps you doubted my wisdom (or sanity) when you started reading this, but by now I hope I’ve got you thinking. Feel free to contribute your own ideas as to how this momentous holiday can be celebrated. Don’t hold anything back. After all, do you think that those Pilgrims and Indians originally anticipated a two day celebration of giving thanks that would be marked by food, football and sale prices so low they may never be repeated? That holiday revolves around a bird that can’t fly, so don’t sell the beloved groundhog short.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Change is in the Cards

I love football. I especially love Chiefs football, but given the team’s performance the past few seasons, I have had to change the way I watch the game.

So, I have adopted a couple of other teams as surrogates for which to root during this winter of my discontent (a winter that I trust will soon be over now that we have a new GM and will soon have a new head coach). I have always liked the Green Bay Packers. Those are real football fans up there, and I admire their loyalty to their team through thick and thin. But it was kind of weird watching someone other than Favre at quarterback.

I also like the Chicago Bears and their straight-forward, no holds-barred brand of football. They just line up and hit someone. But as much as I love to see them play defense, their offense has been painful to watch.

Now, if you know anything about football, then you know that rooting for the Packers and the Bears wasn’t much more fun than rooting for the Chiefs this season. So I also found great solace in rooting against a few teams.

For example, I never tire of rooting against the Oakland Raiders, though in recent years they’ve been so bad that it has lost some of its magic. I also love to root against the Denver Broncos, a team that personifies evil, in my humble opinion.

But this coming Sunday, I will find myself rooting for a team that I have never given a second thought to supporting—the Arizona Cardinals. Actually, I have a hard time remembering that they are not the St. Louis Cardinals since that is the name by which I knew them growing up. They didn’t move to Arizona until 1988, and over the past 20 years, their main contribution to the NFL was to look for them on the schedule, assuming that would be counted as a win for whoever the Cardinals played.

But this has been a year of “change”. As if the election of the first African American President wasn’t remarkable enough, along comes the Arizona Cardinals to defy all expectations, beating three other playoff teams, claiming the title of NFC champions and winning the right to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Superbowl.

It’s the story of rags-to-riches. The story of a team that was down-and-out, but which kept working and striving to reach the top. So I’ll be rooting for them and their quarterback, Kurt Warner (who has a great Christian testimony that he’s not shy about sharing). Because such a story gives me hope that a team that has gone 6-26 for the past two seasons might actually compete for more than a high draft pick within the next season or two.

Now that’s change you can believe in.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'd Rather Be Blogging

I still remember when I first started using the Internet as a ministry tool in 1995. There were quite a few people in the church I pastored asking me what I was talking about. “Inter-what?”, people would ask.

Over the years, I have been both greatly aided and terribly frustrated by technology. Sermon preparation looks very different for me today than it did 15 years ago, though I can’t say that the sermons have improved much. Email takes up a disproportionate amount of my time each day. While it sometimes makes it easier to conduct business, I’m not at all sure that it helps us to communicate any better.

At the rate that technology is advancing, I can send emails from my phone and show pictures on my computer. I can watch movies without a TV. I can program the DVR in my living room from the desk in my office. But I still can’t find my stapler.

You can “google” me and learn I am the pastor of Life Spring Church. You can keep up with my daily activities on “Twitter”. If I wanted to, I could update you through Facebook or MySpace. But alas, I don’t want to.

However, as a further concession to the 21st century, I am going to try my hand at blogging. At first I was resistant to this idea, mainly because it sounded so much like jogging, which I have managed to avoid for the better part of 47 years. But I was assured that I wouldn’t have to change my clothes or shower afterwards, though no one could promise that I might not get winded (I can type really fast). So here it is. My first official blog.

So here we go. Periodically (I can’t make any promises as to how often) I will share with you my thoughts. Not because they are interesting or meaningful. Not because you need to hear what I have to say. Not because I am profound. But mainly, just because I can. I live, therefore I blog. At least for now.

If I start to bore myself, or if I fail to keep up with it, then I’ll stop. But we’re going to give this blogging thing a try. And the neat thing is, you can share your thoughts as well. (See that button that says “comments”. Click it. No, really, try it. It won’t delete anything–at least not anything important.) We can dialogue this way. It’s called an “online community”. It’s the technological version of Koinonia.

The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22) I have always believed that Paul would be creative in using various means and methods to lead people to Christ (while never compromising the message one little bit). So I think the great Missionary would have used email and videos and powerpoints to spread the Gospel. And given how Paul loved to write, I think he would have been a blogger too. Especially if he could do it without working up a sweat.