Google+ Followers

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Things You Can't Plan

I've spent these last several days taking trips back and forth to OHSU, the best hospital in the Portland area. My uncle John, who lives about 1 and 1/2 hours south of me, has become very ill and is in intensive care here.

This has been especially difficult because John is the very picture of health. If you think I spend a lot of my life running, John makes me look lazy. He's a long-distance runner at heart and it's not unusual for him to put in an 18-miler on the weekend. He watches what he eats. He goes to bed early and always gets his sleep. He takes regular time for Sabbath and retreat so as not to become burned out by ministry.

And yet tonight he lies in a hospital bed, needing God's provision in a serious way. There are positive signs, but he's still in critical condition. Throughout this process, the doctors have been unable to put their finger on the exact disease or illness that his causing so much trouble. They have a few ideas, but his symptoms are so great and varied that they don't fit any one profile.

This leaves us in a place of great uncertainty. We don't have a name for this. We don't have a plan of treatment or a procedure for recovery. We don't have assurances from the doctor that he will be okay. What we do have is this moment. In this moment, we hear the reports, we pray and we wait. In this moment. We can't make a plan. We can't move forward. We wait, together, in this moment.

I wonder tonight how this might be a blessing for many of us to learn to be in this moment. How much of life do we spend living forward, thinking about and preparing for moments yet in our future, while life occurs around us. I am impacted by the idea that where God is MOST present is with us, in this moment. He is at work in our lives, using every circumstance, if we will listen and look, to draw us to him. But we are busy concerning ourselves with tomorrow.

How much could God do with our tomorrow if we truly entered into Him today, in this moment? What if we chose to wait in Him, rest in Him, and take life one day at a time? Jesus promised that He will be with us always, but that promise must be realized one day, one moment at a time.

And when you're waiting on doctor's reports and praying for one you love, the promise of His presence in this moment, is good to have.

May you know him, in this moment, on your journey-

Nick

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Promptings

I had a unique experience on our State Cross Country trip this past weekend. While exiting the hotel on Friday evening, one of my guys walked straight into a plate-glass window. It was absolutely hilarious and he become the subject of much ribbing over the next 24 hours. As we continued out to our van after this experience, one of the front-desk personnel followed after us. Evidently, she had witnessed the event and felt that perhaps my guy had been goofing around and intentionally trying to cause damage to the hotel. She gave him a brief lecture and headed back into the hotel before I could intervene on behalf of my runner and figure out what was happening.

For the rest of the evening, I wondered if I should go to the hotel desk and speak with this woman. I thought it might be important to let her know I had also witnessed the event and that no harm was intended. On the other hand, I thought, why make a bigger deal about this than it needs to be.

Well, later that evening I found myself walking right by the front desk. Who should happen to be the only person there except this aforementioned lecture-giver! And at that moment I clearly felt the Holy Spirit prompt me- go talk to her.

Now, I don't always listen as I should to these kind of promptings, but on this particular occasion, I did. I walked over to the desk, introduced myself as the head coach of the knucklehead who walked into the window, and proceeded to offer a very sincere and heart-felt apology to her and the hotel. Guessing that this was a God-inspired moment, I waited for her reaction, hoping there might be some kind of opening to spiritual matters.

What I got instead was another lecture. Within seconds, she had my name, my phone number, and my school info so that the general manager could "evaluate the situation." Rather taken back by this, I apologized again and headed back to my room, wondering to myself, "What just happened? Why, God, did you prompt me to talk to her? That did not go well!" I spent the next several hours stewing in my room, worried that a mysterious charge for "window repair" would show up on my bill the next morning.

This episode has served as a reminder to me of WHY we listen to these promptings. In my nature, I want to listen because I believe the results will be good- people will open up to God, respond to a kind act, and I will get to be a part of it. The truth for us is that when God prompts us, He is asking us to trust Him. To trust that He sees what we cannot, that He knows the hearts and minds of all people, and that His plans are perfect. We listen and we act not because we believe we will see the results. We listen and act because we trust that God will, and that He is at work in every situation and in every life. Even in grumpy front-desk clerks.

So, I will likely never see this person again, but I trust that God is doing something in her life, and perhaps, in some minor way, my sincere apology will move her one step closer in that journey.

When the Spirit prompts you today, may you listen and like Philip in Acts 8, run to obey. And when you do, may you be able to trust with all your heart that God knows what He's doing.

Listen for the promptings on your journey today,

Nick

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Election Day

I thought I'd share with all of you these words, which I delievered to the people of East Hills this Sunday. May they give some perspective on the events currently capturing the attention of our great nation.

Later this week, our country will be electing a new president and other various political offices. And I am aware that on Tuesday night, millions of people will tune to see the results. When those results are announced, many Christ-followers will believe they have either won or lost an election, and will have either great joy or great sadness.

Frankly, I think this is wrong. Jesus arrived at a time in history as politically charged as any this world has seen. And yet, for all the various factions that would have welcomed his support and influence, Jesus never chose sides. He never associated himself with one group or another.

Now, don't get me wrong- I am not saying that we should be anti-political. We live in a great country and as citizens of this great country, voting is a right and a privilege of which we all should take advantage. But what I am encouraging you, as citizens of heaven, is to not leverage any of your hope or anchor any of your faith in the outcome of an election.

Jesus never chose sides because he realized that he was a part of something bigger. He had come to usher God's kingdom into this world, and that kingdom of grace, love and forgiveness was for all people. For those on the right and on the left. For those in blue state and red states. For republicans, democrats, conservatives and liberals, Jesus spread out his arms on the cross and pointed the way to the Father.

As a church, our mission is the same. And God's agenda, God's kingdom, is not hindered by any political agenda. So this election, don't leverage any of your hope or anchor any of your faith in the outcome of an election. Put your hope and your faith squarely on Jesus Christ, the only one who has the power to truly change a human heart.

May you know his peace on your journey this week,

Nick

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Fire That Guy!

Here's some thoughts on a recent event for all you sports fans. But even if you hate sports, I think you'll get the idea. ;-)

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Raiders, of the NFL, decided to fire their head coach Lane Kiffin. Lane was the youngest head coach in the league, and had been hired only last year. He took over a team that everyone knew was terrible. But somehow, just a year and three months later he was to have transformed this team into something marvelous. At least that would be the perspective of owner Al Davis, who fired Kiffin just four games into this season.

What I find remarkable is the attitude behind this firing, already the second this year, which is now prevalent in our society. We live in a world that continually asks, "what have you done for me lately?" If the immediate results we are getting don't match our hopes or expectations, as lofty as they may be, we fire the guy and move on. Kiffin was fired with 75% of the season still to play. I wonder how many professional sport franchises have started poorly, only to have a late season resurgence and make the playoffs. Probably many. Unfortunately, Kiffin will never have that chance as he fell victim to our "I want it now" mind-set.

I wonder if we haven't unintentionally shifted some of this attitude to matters of faith. God exists eternally and unchanging in his purposes for us. And yet we can easily look to him and ask, "What have you done for me lately?" If we've recently been fired or laid off, watched a marriage go down in flames, or suffered some sort of tragic illness, we likely believe that God has let us down. "Well, He sure didn't help me there," we think, and we fire him. We fire God from his position as leader in our life and go in search of someone else who can get the job done.

I wonder how different the Bible would have been had the men and women of faith in it's pages shared this attitude. Joseph was sold as a slave and spent many years in prison before God's purposes were revealed in his life. A tyrant king tried to kill David no less than 7 times before God raised him to the throne. The apostle Paul was stoned and left for dead early in his ministry pursuits. And in each case, rather than dropping God from the team, these people recognized that God was still at work and bigger plans were being put in place. In the end, these people, and many like them, shaped the world with a steady faith in the goodness of God.

What has God done for you lately? Maybe a lot, and that's awesome. But maybe you feel like he hasn't done much at all. Defy culture. Stick with him and believe that his promises are worth waiting for. He is good, and we will see that in the end.

As for Lane Kiffin, I can only hope he has faith in someone higher than an NFL owner.

May you know today that the God of the universe journeys each step with you. Keep him around.

Nick

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thinking Forward

Just a brief thought today. I continue to enjoy my read through The Shack. At my current pace of 5 or 10 minutes before bed, I'll have this baby wrapped up by January. Which means it could be the subject of many posts! :-)

In a recent chapter, the main character Mac is again having a conversation with God, and the personification of God (a lovable, plump, black woman) asks Mac where he lives: in the past, the present, or the future. God is making the point that he/she is with him at all times, but particularly in the present. What comes out of this conversation, however, is an awareness for Mac that much of his life is spent in worry and fear over the future. God is aware of this, and points out that while Mac thinks about the future, he almost never imagines God there with him. This future without the presence of God is filled with worries and doubts. But God tries to emphasize that his presence will be with Mac even there.

I've been considering how I think about the future since reading this. I believe that I too, like Mac, often look forward and have fear and worry about what will happen. I imagine a difficult meeting coming up, or a challenging problem that needs to be addressed, and my fear over that future issue begins to rob me of joy and life today in the present. And when I imagine this future, I rarely if ever recognize that God will be with me even then.

And yet I know God is with me now. His presence and his life make a huge difference in the way I view the world. When I look back, I can identify over and over how I have seen God with me through both trials and victories. Yet when I look forward, God is often strangely absent.

Now, I know this isn't an issue with God. God is in my future. This is an issue of my heart and my mind not trusting Him beyond today. And so over the last few days, as I've thought of things to come, I have tried very hard to imagine that God will be there with me. I am surprised at how such a simple realization has brought greater peace to my mind.

God is with you today. But he is also with you tomorrow and in all that will come. Don't allow the joy of today to be robbed by the fears of tomorrow. God will be with you then, and He is Good. Trust in Him for all your tomorrows.

May you know a journey free from fear,

Nick

Monday, September 15, 2008

Pictures of God

About a week ago, I finally started reading the best-seller The Shack. Practically everyone I knew was reading, or had read, the book and when that's the case, it's always a good idea to read the book yourself so that you can at least join in the conversation.

With so many friends already having read the book, I began it with a fairly good idea of the overall plot development and the basis for the book. (Spoiler alert!) So I knew that at some point the main character in the book, Mac, was going to have an encounter with God, or at least this author's interpretation and personification of God. I was surprised by what this did to my reading. While I enjoyed the author's style, I found myself hungry to fast-forward to the God-moments. I wanted to just skim through the story and get right to the dialogue and the conversation between man and God.

As I've sat and thought about this, I've concluded that there is something within all of us that longs for a picture of God. As normal, finite human beings we have a natural interest in a super-normal, infinite deity. Because we've never seen him on the news or bumped into him at the grocery store, we long to know what he's really like. And so these pictures of God come to us from all over- from books like The Shack, from the experience of others, from the movies, and from church, just to name a few sources.

I can't help but think that because of this, there are many false images of God out there. God has been created for us in our minds and we've adopted a personal idea of what He is like, but often times very little of this is grounded in truth. (By the way, I find the description of God in The Shack to be pretty on-target, if not a bit quirky and unusual)

That's why I'm so drawn to Jesus. Jesus was very intentional about coming to us and saying, "If you want to know what God is like, then look at me." In fact, Jesus went so far as to say to his disciples that if they had seen Him, they had seen God the Father. When we ground our image of God in the person of Jesus, we get a far different, and far more accurate, picture of God than we might adopt from the world around us.

Where does your image of God come from? I guarantee you have one. But have you ever stopped to wonder and think about the source of that picture? I meet many people whose image of God bears striking resemblance to their earthly father. Or Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

When we get our picture of God from Jesus himself, we find not an ambiguous deity, but a loving creator that calls us into relationship with himself.

May you know that God on your journey today,

Nick

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Discipline for All?

I had an interesting conversation on my vacation that has still been swirling around in my mind. I was sitting around the campfire one afternoon with several family members, discussing just about everything under the sun, when the topic came around to going to church. I mentioned that I thought church attendance was a healthy discipline. Someone commented, "Discipline works well for some."

This caught me off guard. I had never thought of discipline as something optional in life. As I have pondered this, here are my thoughts. I think that ultimately we can experience two kinds of discipline. The first kind I would call "tough luck discipline." This is when we get up as kids and we say to our moms on a rainy Monday, "I don't want to go to school today!" To which our moms always responded...you got it..."Tough luck! You're going." We engage in something in a routine way not out of choice, but out of force. I can't help but wonder if the person who commented that "discipline works for some" had the "tough luck" kind in mind. We can be forced by parents, schools, and churches to do certain things whether we really want to our not. This kind of discipline may produce some results (such as getting a diploma) but rarely does it produce much joy.

On the other hand, a second kind of discipline could be called "Purpose-driven discipline." In this kind, we choose the routines and behaviors to which we will commit ourselves. We have a goal, or a purpose, in mind, and so we voluntarily do things we might otherwise not feel like doing. Ironically, these can be the exact same activities as "tough luck discipline." The primary difference is motive. In purpose-driven discipline, we have something we want to achieve, and we commit personally to doing what it takes to get there. I would venture to say that nearly every achievement in our lives can be traced to purpose-driven discipline, whether that achievement is at work or in our spiritual life.

By now, you might be asking, so what? What does it matter? I guess what I have been thinking through is how often my disciplines, whether they be prayer or running or something else, can become frustrating, boring, and even discouraging. When this happens, it is helpful for me to stop and ask, "Why am I doing this?" In this question, I'm not throwing my hands up in despair; I am refocusing my heart and my mind. Too often, I allow a self-chosen purpose-driven discipline to become a tough-luck discipline in my life. I think I have no choice and so I become down on myself and my motivation is gone. When I remember why I have chosen a certain behavior, I can again pursue that discipline with joy.

What do you think? Is discipline for everyone? Or is it optional these days?

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." II Tim. 1:7

May you find joy on the journey,

Nick

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

We Are Drifting...

This week as part of my devotional routine, I have been reading Psalm 141. The act of reading the same Psalm for several days has been enjoyable, and I find that different verses will pop out at me on different days.

Today, I have been pondering verses 3 & 4. David writes, "Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips. Don't let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness." (NLT) Something about the phrase "drift toward evil" has lodged in my brain. I keep thinking about how so much of what we do in life is the product of hundreds, thousands, and even millions of small decisions. We rarely do anything, good or bad, all at once. Small choices repeated over time lead to big change. Step by step, choice by choice, we move towards a desired goal, or further away from it.

Whenever we fish on a lake, I am amazed at the surprising nature of drift. When we find a good fishing hole, we pull up to it, put down anchor, and begin to throw out our lines. For a time, the spot is perfect, but after a while I will look down and observe that our boat has "suddenly" run into the weeds. Yet nothing happens suddenly on a calm Minnesota lake. Inch by inch, the boat has drifted, and we find ourselves in a place we never meant to be.

The same is true in life. Dollar by dollar our finances drift and "suddenly" we're in debt. Selfish act upon selfish act and "suddenly" our marriage is in trouble. We don't realize the movement, but we look around and find ourselves in a place we never meant to be. In the same token, short prayer after short prayer and we "suddenly" find ourselves feeling near to God. Generous act after generous act and we are "suddenly" a more loving person. Daily, we make minor choices and decisions that slowly pull us away from God and his love, or move us towards Him.

So the question for us today is, "Which way am I drifting?" The truth is, we are all drifting one way or another, all the time. Are you moving God's direction? And rather than merely answering yes or no, we need to be willing to look at our lives and determine where the current of our choices is taking us. If we're drifting towards God, we should be able to identify the small decisions we are making that allow this to happen. And if we look at our life, and find that our words, our actions, or our attitudes are letting us slip slowly away from Him, then we make changes. Perhaps we don't come back all at once. That's the nature of drifting. We simply begin making better choices, choices that put the wind and the waves in our favor, and we begin moving towards God.

And one day, we look around at our life, and sense that God is much nearer, much more real, than we have ever known him to be.

May your journey be one of constant drifting towards our loving Father,

Nick

Monday, July 21, 2008

Fishing Those Minnesota Lakes

Hey all-

Tomorrow in class, we are all doing a 1-3 minute object lesson, so I thought I'd give you a sneak preview. You'll need to imagine me holding a fishing reel. Just the reel. Got it? Okay, read on...

After class ends up this week, I begin two weeks of vacation here in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes. And one of the things I love to do on a Minnesota vacation more than anything else is to get out on one of those lakes for some fishing.

So I have brought with me this reel. And if you had never seen or heard of fishing before, I could probably convinced you that this is a complete and whole creation. It has moving pieces and different levers here and there. I could attach a lure to the line here and throw it out with my arm, and even reel it back in. And you would think that this, by itself, is enough.

But you've seen fishing, or you've been fishing, and you know that I am missing something. My dad is coming out, and since he has more room, and has extras, he's bringing the fishing rod. If you know anything about fishing, you know that a rod isn't a nice bonus, or something cool to add to my reel. You know that the rod and the reel were designed for each other. By itself, this reel has limited value, because it was designed with the rod in mind. The two were created to go together.

And so also, we are often convinced, especially in our western mindset, that our faith, our personal faith, is enough. That is stands alone. But we were designed with something else in mind, because the God who created and designed us is a God of community. He exists in community himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we were made with a community in mind. Call it church, call it a small group, call it a gathering, or even call it a fella-ship; God has created us for one another. It's not optional, not a nice bonus of the Christian life. We were designed and created with community, God's community, in mind.

And the awesome part is that when the reel of our faith and the rod of community are put together in the hands of a loving God, then we are extremely effective at fishing.

"All of you together are Christ's body, and each of you is a part of it." I Cor. 12:27
"Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!" Mark 1:17

Journey on, friends,

Nick

Friday, July 18, 2008

Things We Don't Like

One aspect of my trips to Minnesota which I always find difficult is going to bed. I know, you may not think this is a big deal, but allow me to explain. To being with, Minnesota is two hours ahead of Washington. On top of that, I am a natural night owl who tends to turn on at about 8 or 9 at night. And last but not least, I have grown quite accustomed to going to bed at the same time as my wife. When I'm alone, going to bed always seems odd, like something's missing. The problem with all of this is that class starts in the morning at 8 AM (6 AM, Pacific Time), no matter what time I go to bed. So I can stay up late and waste hours waiting until my West Coast body is really ready for sleep, or I can decide to go to bed early and do my best to rest. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I go to class on 4 or 5 hours of sleep. (This is not recommended).

This has me thinking about the nature of discipline. For me to go to bed early while in Minnesota is an act of personal discipline. I've been working on a definition of discipline that goes something likes this, "Doing what we don't like to achieve results we do like." I don't like going to bed early, but I really don't like falling asleep in class. So, the result I seek to achieve is a rested and alert mind, which means I must do something I don't necessarily like; aka, going to bed early. I've been truly amazed at how difficult this can be. I mean, just crawl into bed, right? But on some evenings, so much of my mind and spirit rebels against this.

Discipline is certainly something needed when taking Greek. I find myself frequently doing things I don't like (memorizing paradigms, sitting through hours and hours of class, etc.) These activities are not particularly enjoyable, but I can see a result I'd like to achieve. I want to understand God's Word better and feel more confident in how I use the Bible in my sermons. And so again, I find myself doing what I don't like in order to achieve results I do like.

Discipline is rarely easy. (This sounds reminiscent of my last post.) And because it requires some work or effort, we are tempted to shy away from activities that require discipline. But I think God calls us to look at the results we want in our life, and discipline ourselves accordingly. Do we want to grow closer to Him? Then we discipline ourselves in prayer and the study of His Word. Do we want to be healthy physically? Then we discipline ourselves in our eating and our exercising. Do we want a better marriage? We must discipline ourselves to put our spouse first. Over and over, we choose to do things we don't like, or things that would be easier not to do, in order that we might achieve the results we're looking for in life.

And the truth I find is that the more we purposefully enter into discipline, the easier it gets. Several years ago when I began running, I hated it. I did not like to run. But I liked the results I was getting and how it made me feel, so I kept running. Slowly, over the years, it became something I tolerated, then enjoyed, and finally something that I actually looked forward to. I would have never believed you had you told me that I would one day find running to be one of the best parts of my day. But through discipline, even what was once difficult has become life-giving.

So for now, I keep studying Greek, I keep running, I keep praying, I keep going to bed early. And my hope and prayer is that through all of these disciplines, I will be more and more the person God has called and created me to be. How about you?

May you believe that discipline makes the journey better,

Nick

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Greek and Basketball

By Wednesday of an intensive week, the theme of my life tends to center on endurance.

In class, we have been learning in a 3 or 4 hour time span what we are usually given a week to master at home. This isn't necessarily so bad the first day, but by the third day you feel like you've been given more information than you can possibly hold in any lobe of your brain. It reminds me of a Simpson episode where every new fact or figure that Homer Simpson learns causes him to forget something else, like his wife's name, because his brain is full. I'm beginning to sympathize. But I digress... We've spent hours learning the finer points of the Greek participle- present, aorist, and adjectival uses. If you find that complicated, just imagine if you actually understood those terms and had to keep their different forms straight! The mind grows weary after all this learning.

After class, a group of about 11 of us have headed to the gym for some basketball. This is a great way to give your mind a break and allow your body to get some much needed movement. I noticed the first day we were a pretty lively and competitive bunch. By Tuesday, many of us were settling for jumpers over the hard drive to the basket. Today, we were lucky to get half the team back on defense. Or offense. Or off the sideline. Like the mind, the body, too, grows weary.

And yet in both scenarios, in the class and in the gym, I find myself involved in a worthwhile pursuit. These things stretch me and challenge me, and hopefully enable me to improve, whether it be mentally or physically. I guess the theme is that many of the things in life most worth doing will require something of us. It won't come easy. There is something we must sacrifice and something we must be willing to expend in order to make progress.

The question is, will we be willing to pay the price? Too often in our comfort-saturated culture, we are led to believe that anything painful or difficult is bad. I'm not saying we need to become masochistic and look for opportunities to cause ourselves pain, but if you really think the matter through, you may agree that many of life's most valuable moments are the product of great energy, trial, and even pain: exercising discipline in our spending, making a marriage work, forging lasting and meaningful community, raising children, getting our bodies in shape- none of these come without sacrifice! Even the most beautiful moment of human birth is an ironic twist of pain and absolute joy.

I've yet to hit absolute joy in my Greek experience, but I hope it's coming. What is God calling you to do these days? Are you avoiding it because it sounds hard and even painful? Don't. Your best moments and days will be those that have been shaped by a journey involving great struggle.

May you find the courage to go there on your journey today. Blessings!

Nick

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wise Guides

I continue to be amazed at how the small things can make such a huge difference. During the time I've been taking Greek, I've noticed how often a single letter can dramatically change the meaning of a word or a sentence. This week, the small things have begun to matter even more. We learned early on in the course that the letters "ou" mean "not" in Greek. However, above the first letter is a small apostrophe, called a breathing mark. This mark may seem insignificant; nothing more than minutia noticed only by the advanced scholar. Not so. That little mark is of vital importance, because, as we learned this week, if you turn this mark around, the same two letters "ou" no longer mean "not." They now mean "where." One tiny breathing mark above the word, so small you wouldn't notice it without your glasses, changes the entire meaning and makes a major difference in translation.

This is why, in our learning environments, we have wise guides. We have come to know them as professors and teachers. These are people who know the material so well that they are able to look at a class and say, "While this may seem like a minor and insignificant detail, it matters. It really matters, and if you miss it, you will be lost." Our professor is the master of the details- he is able to explain how the words break down so we also can learn how to notice these small, yet incredibly important, details.

I think of how similar this scenario can be to our faith. As "students" of faith, seeking to follow after Jesus, we may be tempted to view some things as minor or insignificant. They may have value for someone, we think, but we write them off as useful tools for only the religious elite. And yet, much like a Greek student ignoring the breathing marks, we can get lost while skimming over unessential details that make a world of difference.

Fortunately, God has blessed us with Wise Guides. We call these the Word and the Spirit. The Bible is God's Word spoken to us; written thousands of years ago but still speaking to us today. The Spirit is God's very presence, placed in the hearts and minds of all those who turn willingly to Him. These are our guides, calling to us, "Notice this. This matters. This is not optional- it can change your life."

I think of topics like community. We are easily led to believe that community, a place where we are deeply known and able to know others, is a nice benefit but only essential for a few. Yet the Word and the Spirit would say otherwise. The Word continually calls us to the "one another" actions of life, and how can we "one another" unless we are closely connected in community? And as we yield our life to the Spirit, I believe we will feel drawn to places where our superficiality is laid down in favor of dealing with the truth of who we are.

What other topics do we try to gloss over as insignificant? And what do our Wise Guides tell us? Loving our neighbor, helping the poor, giving, a life of discipline- these are but a few of the many "details" of our faith that truly hold the power to change us forever.

How are you handling the small matters? May you trust the leadership of your Wise Guides above and beyond your own "student" reasoning.

Blessings on your journey, as you live in the class of life,

Nick

Monday, July 14, 2008

Random Thoughts

As I start a week of Greek here in Minnesota, I thought I would share a few random thought of the last few days-



Saturday night we had the privilege of hearing LifeVoice, a vocal group from Crown College in Minnesota. They led us in worship during our church service, and put on a short concert afterwards. My three-year old daughter Alyssa was downstairs in Kidsville during the service, but came up for the concert. When the music started and the group began to sing, I looked over at her and she was beaming. She had this giddy, gleeful smile on her face and she was laughing with joy. She looked at me and said, "Dance, daddy!" And then she began to "dance" in the aisle. You've never seen anything like it- a little girl waving her arms, jumping around, and just loving the music. I, of course, began to think about the people behind us being distracted, and so I leaned over to tell Alyssa to sit down. As I did, I couldn't help but think about which one of us had captured the true heart of worship. It wasn't me.

Last night I had the opportunity to "practice what I preach." This weekend I spoke about our need to invite God into every situation and go God's way in our life. The flights themselves went fine, but after that things fell apart. The trip from the airport to Bethel was filled with detours and road construction. Our 20 minutes trip took nearly an hour. I got to my room and found it to be missing many items that I would want as creature comforts- a lamp, hangers, an alarm clock, a kleenex box, sheets that fit the bed, etc. It was late. Very late. I was tired and hungry. And I was grouchy. Every thought in brain was a complaint. And then I heard, "Invite God in." I did. I didn't want to be, but I did. I'm not sure it led to a miraculous change of heart, but something about it felt like a better alternative than continuing to grumble and complain.

This morning, our chapel speaker talked about how all of our language surrounding "abiding" in Christ tends to be the language of "striving." We use phrases like "do" devotions, "carve" out time, "seek" Him in prayer, "make" time for God... Why is it when we try to abide we're still busy striving? The observation she made was that perhaps a better way we can abide in Christ is to "notice"- notice the presence of God in our world, notice the grace of God in another person, notice the goodness of God in our lives. Rather than an active project we undertake, we can allow our abiding to be something we observe and are drawn into by the grace of God.

On your journey, may you worship as a child, seek God in all situations, and notice His presence at all times.

Nick

Sunday, July 06, 2008

All About Ya'll

Have you spent much time in the South? My travels have taken (briefly) to such states as Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida. On those trips, I have enjoyed the southern hospitality at local restaurants. Where else can you go and have a complete stranger call you honey, sweetie, and darling? But without a doubt, my favorite expression is the "ya'll." "How ya'll doin'? Can I get ya'll anythin' else? Ya'll come back now, ya hear?"

When you compare the English language to other languages of the world, you may begin to think that Southerners are on to something. In every other language that I know of, a clear distinction is made between you (singular) and you (plural). They look different. They sound different. They are spelled different. But in English, we just have plain ole "you."

So what's the big deal? Well, unless you are a brilliant linguist, my guess is you read a Bible printed in English. And because of our western mindset and our individuals-emphasizing culture, when you see the word "you", you naturally read "me." So we read "Jesus loves you." "Oh great," we think, "that's neat! Jesus loves me!" This is fine and good, (and true), but we often read singular "you" even in places where the Bible intends plural.

Nowhere is this more true perhaps than in the Lord's Supper. I believe that one of the main messages we are to take out of the Lord's Supper is an emphasis on "ya'll." Consider these things. Jesus intentionally initiated this practice at a time when all of the disciples were present and listening. He uses plural language throughout the account. And from its very earliest practice, the Christian tradition of the Lord's Supper has been one of plurality- celebrated when people are gathered together. So many other disciplines can be practiced alone- worship, prayer, Scripture reading- but not the Lord's Supper. The only concept we have of this practice is in the group setting.

Why is this? Why such an emphasis on the group activity? It's because the death of Jesus was for everyone. The redeeming work of Jesus on the cross was for "ya'll." And because it was, the way that we remember and honor the work of Jesus is to honor the "ya'll."

In the book of Corinthians, Paul wrote to a church that was having big issues with the Lord's Supper. He said they needed to examine themselves because they were eating the Lord's Supper with sin in their hearts. We tend to think of personal struggles, but Paul had something more in mind. The specific sin Paul had in mind is that the Christians there were eating in a way that was unloving towards their brothers and sisters. They were eating the Lord's Supper while being unkind to those who were with them, and so Paul says they are dishonoring what the Lord has done. In other words, in order to remember Christ appropriately, we must honor "ya'll" accordingly.

So when you celebrate the Lord's Supper, answer these questions. How am I doing at loving my Christian brother and sister? How committed am I to the body of Christ at my church? How deeply am I living in loving relationships with others Christ has called? Because when we take the cup and break the bread, the way in which we remember Christ is to honor the "ya'll."

You're on a journey, but you are not alone. Ya'll are with me!

Nick

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A God of Fire

Recently, I have really enjoyed listening to other people preach while I am out jogging. Thanks to the modern development of the iPod, this is now possible without the preacher actually running alongside of you. On a regular basis, I tune in to Greg Boyd, who pastors a church in the Twin Cities.

I appreciated some insight he had on why in the Bible, we find a God that is at times described as loving, benevolent, kind, gracious, and good, while at other times this same God seems to be angry, judgemental, and bent on punishment. We believe in one God, and so these are not two different deities. We also believe in the wholeness and perfection of God, so this is not a "yin and yang", good-God, bad-God routine. So if it is the same God, how do we reconcile these concepts that are so radically different from each other?

One helpful insight comes from C.S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia series. In the last book, aptly named The Last Battle, Aslan appears towards the end of the story. To those who know him and trust him, he appears as a mighty, glorious Lion. All those who love him run to him and are filled with joy at his appearing. To his enemies, however, Aslan appears as a horrible monster. They are filled with dread and fear and they run from him. This is the same Aslan, and he is a good and wonderful Lion. But depending on the heart condition of the person, Aslan will appear either as wonderful and beautiful, or as a horrible monster.

This is perhaps a good picture of why God seems to be both filled with love and filled with judgment and anger. As Boyd puts it, God is a God of fire. That's is his nature, and his nature is love. When we trust him, his fire fills us, burns away our sin and our imperfection, and draws our hearts to him. The fire is good and redeeming. But if any will not trust him and love him, God is still fire, and that same fire that is good in the heart of those who trust is painful for those who run from Him. As Boyd points out, it is not God's desire that any should perish. He is not hoping to judge and condemn anyone. But in his nature, he is a God of holiness and love, and when that holiness and love are not received, they become like a horrible monster. The difference is not in the fire. The difference is not the character and nature of God. He is love, and His all-consuming love is like a fire. The difference is in the response and perspective of the person.

What is your response to Him today? Will you trust Him and let him fill you with His fire of love? The alternatives seem rather bleak. But to know His fire, and let it consume you, is life itself.

Journey on,
Nick

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What Matters Most

Some of you know that I was asked to speak at the local high school baccalaureate last week. I thought you might find it mildly interesting to peruse what I had to say that evening. Admittedly, this text is a little choppy; I designed it more as an outline. But maybe this is for you...

When I was asked to speak, I thought about what I might say to you to really make a difference. All the speakers I've heard at this kind of event say "You won't remember anything I say." Which I find ironic, because I always remember them saying that line.

So I thought that rather than simply giving you some advice about your future that you'll probably soon forget, it would be better to talk about where you're at in life, right here, right now.

There's probably a few questions you're tired of hearing these days:
Where are you going to school?
What are you going to major in?
What are you going to be when you grow up?
The world around you is subtly and not so subtly telling you that what really matters is that you go and become something!

And it is great to go and become something, but what about who you are right now? Because the truth is, who you become is directly linked to who you are, right now in this moment.

I want to tell you about a man, with whom most of you are probably quite familiar. But see if you can tell who this is from his bio:

Born in Crowheart, WY- town of 163. Raised on his father's cattle ranch. Wore cowboy boots, chewed tobacco, and lived the cowboy life, working hard by day and partying hard at night. After his graduation, he went to small private boarding school in Massachusetts. His football skills there earned him a small scholarship to attended Columbia University. While at Columbia, he played on a football team that lost 44 straight games. He wanted to work on Wall Street selling stocks, but had to borrow a friend's suit just to go to work. His friend was 5.8, he was 6.2. It was after a week of being mocked for wearing "shorts" that he finally turned to the world of modeling and acting.

As a child, he suffered from aquaphobia- fear of water. Which is ironic since he grew up to play the lead role on a TV show where his little island is surrounded by water. Mathew Fox- Dr. Jack Shepherd on LOST.Nothing about his story suggests that it was his dream to become the star of LOST. And that should tell us something, that while it is good and right to think about what we will become, the truth is that we will likely end up somewhere very different than we intend.

So what really matters? If what our life really does look like 10, 20, or 30 years from is far different than what we set out to do, what is most important?

Swiss physician Paul Tournier once said, "The greatest tragedy in life is that most people spend their entire lives indefinitely preparing to live."

How we live right now, who we are right now, is all we have. On your journey of a thousand steps and a million decisions, the one that matters most is the next one.

There's a guy in the Bible who had this figured out. He had learned a secret and I want to share that with you here briefly.

Philippians 4:10-14.
10 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Three points:
1. What you have in life won't fill you up.
-So no matter how hard you work in college and beyond to become something really great, your level of success or income or accomplishments won't be the difference maker in whether you are satisfied or not.
Tom Brady, the winner of three Super Bowls, has millions of dollars, and a super model girlfriend. But before the most recent Super Bowl, he was interviewed by 60 minutes about his life. He looked right into the camera and at a national audience and said, "There must be more than this." If Tom Brady is saying that, a man who has "everything" the world says you need, what does that tell us?

How do I know that what you have isn't enough? Because what you have right now probably isn't doing it! Your cell phones and cars and incomes aren't enough, and so we're hoping and looking for more. And more won't make it better!

2. Jesus Christ makes all the difference right now.
Paul was in a horrible spot, and had experienced even worse. He'd been beaten nearly to death on several occasions, and here he is, from jail, saying I've got everything I need. Why? Because Christ was filling up his life.
Earlier in this book, Paul lists off all of his great accomplishments, only to say they are rubbish compared to the friendship he has with Jesus Christ. Paul had discovered that Jesus was everything he needed, because through Jesus, Paul was made friends with God. Through Jesus, Paul was forgiven of all his past mistakes. Through Jesus, Paul was empowered to live life differently. And this was far greater than anything he had accomplished on his own.

When I was graduating, I thought I had it all. I had the 4.0, valedictorian, 3 sport letter winner, scholarship anywhere I wanted to go. And for awhile I pursued those things. But I have come to find that nothing satisfies like Jesus.

And the more I try to find joy in being successful, or having stuff, or making money, the less satisfied I am. But when I lean into Jesus, he is enough.

3. You can't give him your future; you can only give him your right now.
Paul wasn't waiting until he was out of prison to follow him.
And some might think, when I'm older I'll worry about spiritual things. When I have a family I'll take them to church. Those are good intentions, but the only life you can offer to God is the one you are living right now.

The moment that matters most is the one you're living right now, and the best thing you can do with your right now is give it to him.
Say to Him, "Jesus, my life is yours. I believe you are God's Son, and through you I can experience real life." And when we bend our hearts to him in this way, the Bible promises that he comes in and fills us, and in the words of Paul, "gives us all the strength we need."


"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Jim Eliott, missionary to the Auca Indians of the Amazon jungle.

You can't keep stuff. You can't keep the future, because as soon as you get there it becomes your past and it's gone.
But if you are willing to give it all up for a friendship with Christ, you gain something that you cannot loose- this moment, being made fully-alive with Christ, and an eternity of living with Him.

And so, class of 2008, Becoming something is great. But who are you, right now?

Meet Him in this moment, and live joyfully in the the journey,

Nick

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

UNEXPECTED

As the parent of a three-year old daughter, I am learning to see life through a new set of eyes. At times, I find my daughter's innocent perspective to be refreshing and challenging. On other occasions, her perceptions can be very humbling as she accurately points out issues that I am otherwise unable to see.

For example, the other day I was reading her a story before bedtime, and in the book a parent had just said to her son, "I love you." Alyssa interrupted my reading, as she often does, with one of her questions. "Daddy," she said, "Sometimes when you are mad, do you stop loving me?"

Talk about being stopped in your tracks. I think my mouth dropped open as I tried to reason through how her young mind understood this question. I was grateful for this opportunity to affirm that I love her no matter what, but I will tell you- being convicted about your actions and attitudes by a three-year old is pretty unexpected. And yet for me, this was a moment to evaluate my own behaviors, and how I parented, to make sure that even in the tough times where discipline and sternness are necessary that I am still acting in love.

I believe that the unexpected things in life hold the greatest potential to change and shape us. This summer, we are going to be looking at the life of David in the Bible. You do not have to get very far in David's story to realize the unexpected circumstances of his life. He was the youngest of eight sons, all of whom were strong and able men, and yet God had chosen David to be king. David could lead armies of men, and yet at other times he struggled to lead himself. He was the head of the greatest nation of his time, and yet he frequently failed miserably as the head of his own family. And yet in each circumstance, in his glorious highs and his wretched lows, David's heart was being formed. By the end of his life, David was referred to as a man after God's own heart.

What I find most encouraging is that David's story mimics our own, perhaps more than we realize. We live in different eras and face different pressures and trials, but God's ability to use every circumstance in our lives to shape us remains unchanged.


Enjoy the journey you are on,

Nick

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two Roads

I'm nearing the end of my week of Greek here in the Twin Cities. My mind is starting to feel a bit worn down, but the experience on the whole has been very positive. The interaction with my cohort in this learning process does as much for my personal growth as the classes do for my academic growth. I have greatly enjoyed being able to open up the New Testament in the language in which it was written and be able to understand some of the more basic phrases and verses even after a few weeks. I feel that with the right application and continued discipline to the language, knowing Greek could have huge dividends in my preaching and teaching.

This learning comes with a caution for me, however. While here at Bethel, my fellow classmates and I have enjoyed some laughs while watching a few television preachers and reading their blogs. (I wonder if those television preachers will ever read mine? That's an ironic thought.) While these "pastors", as they label themselves, have a wonderful grasp of God's word and parse the Greek language like experts, something is missing in their spirituality. They come across as superior and above those they are teaching. Their knowledge has not led them to grace, but to condemn and criticize those who do not understand God's word and obey God's teaching they way that they themselves do. They use their supposed wisdom to twist God's intent so that it suits their own purposes of raising money, recruiting volunteers, or promoting their own ministry. Rather than setting people free, I can't help but feel that they put a heavy burden of guilt and oppression on those they lead.

I have to wonder- what happened? They must have spent YEARS learning the Bible and studying it in order to understand the language the way they do. They have religiously applied themselves to learning all the ins and outs of an ancient language in order that they might better comprehend God's written message to us. And yet rather than making them more full of love and grace for the world around them, it has made them self-righteous, arrogant and judgemental.

Somewhere along the way, the purpose of their journey became convoluted. For some reason, I don't doubt that at the beginning these preachers wanted to know God more, but as they studied and grew, it became less about God and more about how God could be used for their own ends. And so something like the Bible that has the potential to be so wonderful and life-giving has become a weapon they wield for self-glorification.

I don't want that. I don't want to ever get to a point where what I know makes me more self-reliant and less God-dependent. My desire is that the more I know, the more I'll know that I don't know. And my understanding of Him and His words will make me humble at how much I don't understand, or better yet, how little of the things that I do understand am I able to live out. (Isn't that ultimately the bigger issue for us? It's not about how much we don't know, it's about actually doing the little that we know.)

May this be your heart as well. May you deeply desire to grow in your knowledge of the truth, and may that knowledge take you closer and closer to Him who can truly set you free.

Journey in His grace and love,

Nick

Monday, April 21, 2008

What's in a Book

I've just wrapped up day one of a week-long class in Greek. I think I severely underestimated the mental toll that learning a language would have on my mind and body. I feel absolutely exhausted. And there are four more days to go!

I find myself wondering at a time like this about the value of my studies. Is it worth all of this work and sacrifice to learn a language for a country that I will likely never visit? Is it worth it to be away from my family and to force my aging mind to stretch and adopt new concepts and ideas? (I did just turn 30 after all.) Sure, Greek has value because it's the language of the New Testament, but there are hundreds, even thousands, of scholars who know Greek far better than I ever will. Wouldn't it all be easier to just take their word for it and not re-invent the wheel?

And yet in this process something is happening to me. Even in a grueling day of nouns, adjectives, and parsing, I can sense a hunger for God and His Word growing in me. As I interact with friends and other passionate God-seekers, as I read John 1 the way it was originally written, and as I soak in the wisdom of others, I know that God is using this experience in my life.

In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Fosters states, "(Christians) may sing with gusto, pray in the Spirit, live as obediently as they know... and yet the tenor of their lives remains unchanged. Why? Because they have never taken up one of the central ways God uses to change us: study. Jesus made it unmistakably clear that it is the knowledge of the truth that will set us free."

We live in a day and age where we can pay someone to do almost anything for us. We can pay to have a CPA do our taxes. We can pay to have our lawn mowed or our hair cut. We can pay to have someone else cook our meals and even clean our homes. In a sense, we may even believe that we can "pay" a pastor to teach us God's Word. But in this culture where we are so comfortable having others do these things for us, there remains one thing that cannot be done on our behalf: spiritual growth. No amount of money paid to any professional can accomplish a greater closeness to God in our own hearts. Certainly, we pay to go to conferences or even pay a spiritual director for guidance, but even in these situations, it is the attentiveness and commitment of our own spirit and mind that produces any true and lasting growth.

If we long to know God and pursue him, we must value the process of study. We may ask, "Why study when a pastor knows God's word so much better, or when an author is so inspiring?" It is because in our own habit and discipline of study, we bring ourselves before God in way that no one else can accomplish for us. We come to him, body, soul, and mind.

And so we read and study God's word. We take notes and ask questions. We even take Greek and learn the same language thousands already know. (Ok, maybe only some of us do that.) But in the discipline of study, God meets us in the mind.

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you THINK." (Rom. 12:2)

Journey on, friend.

Nick

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Is It So Difficult?

A few days ago, I was enjoying a fine cup of joe and some thinking-space at a local coffee house when the attitude of the cashier/server caught my attention. When I had ordered my drink, I noticed that she seemed a little rushed and perhaps even gruff, but I dismissed this as just a busy time. But it soon became evident that this was more than a busy moment for her; it was just plain a bad day. She called out that drink were ready with a frustrated, almost bitter tone. She prepared drinks and sandwiches with as much moaning and grunting as I have ever heard. But what took the cake for me was when the phone rang. Now, in my mind at least, the phone ringing at your business is a good sign. But the instant this innocent piece of technology began to alert our restaurant employee that someone was one the line, she loudly exhaled, "O, for heaven's sake!" When she answered, she curtly said the name of the business, but with the dark inflection in her voice she might as well as said, "What do you want?"

Now, in all fairness, I don't know this person at all. I don't know if her kids were home sick and she was stressed out about who was taking care of them. I don't know if the business is financially crumbling and she's contemplating a closure. I don't know if her boyfriend just cheated on her with her close friend. All of these, and many more, could be reasons to put someone in a sour mood. But on this day, as an innocent bystander, I found myself thinking, "Really? Really? Is it really that bad?" Is it really so bad that she has a job where she makes fine food and drink for polite customers who pay well? Is it so bad to make money and run a respectable business? I have no idea what had set this surely gal off that day, but I do know that I hope someone else helps me next time.

This experience has me thinking about service. You see, I believe one of the primary activities that Jesus calls His followers to is service. If we want to be like him, we are invited, no commanded, to love and serve others in the way that Jesus himself did. We are asked to put ourselves aside, lay down our wants and desires, and truly care about other people.

How often do I react to service by saying, "O for heaven's sake!" Okay, so maybe I don't use that phrase, but I'm pretty sure that more often than I would like to know or admit, I take a similar posture towards serving others. An office visitor is viewed as an interruption. A need is looked down on as immaturity. I can see the pettiness in others, but not in myself. In so many ways, I become the one who acts like serving others is the worst thing in the world.

I remember a story Bill Hybel's told (pastor of Willow Creek Church in Chicago) about being asked to fly to a conference in South America. The only problem was that he was in Africa and didn't have the proper paperwork to go straight to South America. So, when he realized how much time this would take to fly to America, get the documents, get back on a plane and go to South America, he begin to complain. But his friends, who were good with grace and truth, said to him, "We're not asking you to die, Bill. We just want you to watch a few extra movies and eat a few extra meals." Bill said that this statement immediately changed his heart and he took the trip.

So today, I'm reminded that service may not always be my favorite activity, but in this world of pain, abuse, wars, famine, and death, I have been put in an incredibly fortunate position. I think of Iraqi believers who go to church and serve one another week after week, knowing each Sunday they could be gunned down on the way home. I think of missionaries who willingly take their families into hostile countries, knowing they could be imprisoned or tossed out. I think of Mexican believers who willingly and happily sit on pews that I view as junk. And sometimes I just need to say to myself, "Really? Really? Is it really that bad?" Is it really so bad that I have been blessed so much that I have extra to give away? Is it really so bad that God has put me in a vocation where it's my job to shepherd and care for others, and I get paid for it? Is it really so bad that Jesus wants me to be more like Him, and so he asks me to serve?

And I hope that when I ask myself these kinds of questions, my attitude, and my heart will change.

And maybe yours will, too.

Journey on, friend.

Nick

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Gaining Confidence

Hello everyone!

This past weekend at our worship gathering, we discussed what true confidence looks like. It's not outward bravado that hides inner fears and insecurity. Rather, a God-given confidence is inner security about who we are and what we do. In John 8, Jesus has this security because he lived in complete reliance on the Father. No matter how challenging and critical his opposition may have been, Jesus remained confident because he was doing exactly what God had called Him to do.

This message made me think of another historical figure who also displayed this kind of confidence. Had time allowed, I would have used this as an illustration, but I guess that's what a blog is for- all those wonderful thoughts that hit the cutting room floor.

In the late 3rd and early 4th century, a man named Athanasius became an influential leader of the church, serving as the bishop of Alexandria. This church father, known as the black dwarf (and you thought your nickname was bad), would face many trying times in his quest to advance the gospel of Christ. Athanasius led the opposition against Arius, a guy who was trying to standardize the theology that Jesus wasn't really God. Because Arius had the ear of the emperor and Athanasius usually did not, Athanasius would be exiled from his own city no less than 5 times. But Athanasius had confidence- inner security that what he was doing was from God, and so he could not be dissuaded. He continued to champion his God-given convictions, and by the end of his lifetime, the Arian controversy was put to rest and the role of Christ in the Trinity solidified. Athanasius is called the first doctor of the church, and contributed greatly to developing theology of the Trinity and settling the canon (books of the Bible) as we now have them. Had Athanasius lived with only external bravado, our faith might look much different; much less true to the word of God. But Athanasius was led by an inner reliance on the Father that saw him through all the controversy to a point of great influence.

In your life, may you not settle for mere external displays of bravery and courage. May you have true confidence that comes from complete reliance on the Father.

Journey on!

Nick

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Alone Is So Exclusive

We've recently begun singing a song at our worship gatherings called "You are God Alone." I've loved the message of this song because it's all about God and has very little to do with me. The other day, a friend commented to me that he really didn't like one of the lines, which says "You are not a god in need of anything we can give; by Your plan, that's just the way it is." Particularly the words "that's just the way it is" didn't sit well with him. I agree. I think for all of us, whether we're pursuing God or not, we have a difficult time with this phrase.

Why is that? I believe it's because of the idea that we have absolutely zero control over the situation. If we're bumped off an airline flight and can't get a new flight out for 8 hours, the last thing we want to hear the airline say is, "I'm sorry, that just the way it is." It's like saying, "tough luck pal. The situation can't be changed, so just deal with it." We like the idea that we have some level of control over our life, even our approach to God. And so to say that God doesn't need anything from us, and that's just the way it is, is hard to do.

This is a reminder for us about the true nature of worship, and specifically our adoration of God. We have so often made worship about our response to God for what He does for us. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but too often it becomes the entire content of our worship.
"God, you're so wonderful because you do this..."
"God I love you because you did this..."

Isn't the point of worship for us to say, "God, you're wonderful" Period. "God, I love you" Period?

One author, Albert Day, says it like this, "We never really adore Him, until we arrive at the moment when we worship Him for what He is in Himself...Then we adore Him, regardless of whether any personal benefit is in anticipation or not. Then it is not what He has done for us or what we expect Him to do for us, but what He has been from eternity before we existed, and what He is now even if we were not here to need Him, and what He will be forever whether that "forever" includes us or not- it is that which captivates us and evokes from us the selfless offering of self in worship. That is pure adoration. Nothing less is worthy of the name."

So, it may not be easy for me, but it is good for me to say, "That just the way it is." It puts me in a place of complete surrender to Him. Which in my mind, is a very good place to be.

You are God alone
From before time began
You were on Your throne
Your are God alone
And right now
In the good times and bad
You are on Your throne
You are God alone

Journey on-

Nick

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sailboats or Powerboats

This last weekend at church, we looked at John 6 and the story of Jesus walking on water. I'm always amazed at the detail included at the very end of the passage- as soon as Jesus stepped into the boat, they reached their destination. I studied hard last week to find a way to rationalize or de-mystify this act, but the truth is, even in the original Greek, this is clearly being lifted up as miraculous.

I couldn't help but reflect on how the disciples had spent hours and hours on the sea, rowing with 12 sets of strong arms, and only achieving the halfway point. And then the Savior of the world walks by, gets in their boat, and suddenly they reach the other side. Journey over. I've been reflecting on the areas of my life where I am hard at work, paddling with all my might, but oblivious to the fact that Jesus is asking to enter my boat.

A fellow student at Bethel last week suggested that there are essentially two-types of people in this world; those who follow the powerboat approach, and those who follow the sailboat approach. People in powerboats control the speed, direction, and pretty much everything about the journey. They flip a switch, rev the engine, and point the ship where they think it needs to go. People in a sailboat do a lot more waiting and watching the wind. They sense where the breeze is blowing, and then they hoist the sails. With the sails lifted, the wind carries them along.

Powerboats make a lot of sense. They're predictable and controllable. They make a lot of noise and produce a lot of motion. And yet, as we look at life spiritually, I have to ask: do they get you to the right place? And what happens when you run out of gas? I can get busy living the powerboat life- steering my life where I want it to go, and only too late do I realize I'm out of gas, the Jesus is nowhere near.

What would it take to live a sailboat life? More waiting on God and his direction. More contemplation of my own motives and a willingness to let God take me where He wants. If I'm willing to do this, the payoff seems huge. Because in the sailboat, it's His energy and not mine. In the sailboat, I am the passenger and He the captain. And I have the idea that in this scenario, much like in John 6, with Jesus in the boat and pushing it with his wind, I'll reach the other shore.

My your journey be in a sailboat this week,

Nick

Friday, February 15, 2008

Warm Up the Jetplane

Another two-week stretch of intensive class work here at Bethel Seminary is about over. I feel it would be appropriate at this time to look back on a couple of things that will stand out as significant reminders during this experience.

Life is best lived with faithful friends and companions. One of the best parts of my seminary experience continues to be the group of fellow students that comprise "cohort I." Bethel intentionally moves you through the program with the group you start with. My group of 7 guys from around the county, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and D. C., has become very important to me. We laugh together, encourage each other, and do life together. Every class experience is made even better when we interact over the subject matter.

Who are your friends and companions in this life? Lean into them. Treasure them. We need them more than we know, and it's only in their absence that we most realize their value.

Knowledge can either lead you to pride or humility. I am continually amazed by the number of scholars we learn from in our study in seminary who have incredible minds, lists of PhD's, and no heart for God. On the other hand, I am greatly encouraged by the professors at Bethel who have such incredible knowledge, and yet it has made them so humble before God. The more they know, the more awed they are by God's plan, His greatness, and His love. My hope is that as I learn, it will lead me to humility and increased wonder and awe of the Heavenly Father.

The weather in Washington is quite nice. I may get weary of the rain, but today in Minneapolis it is 8 below zero. It is supposed to be 48 in Kelso. Washington, here I come.

The presence and activity of God can be found almost anywhere. The process of sitting in biblical classes all day tends to gear your mind into the spiritual realm occurring around you. I am encouraged during this time to recognize God through out my day, in different place and times. In the story of a friend, the laugh of a daughter, the meditation of a professor, the routine of getting ready and preparing my mind and body, the work of physical exercise, the joy of silence, the hidden blessings of pain- God is in all of these and more, if our eyes are open and we are looking for Him.

Going home is a good thing. Being away from home makes you realize and appreciate how much you really have. I am glad for this experience, but even more grateful for the life I have waiting for me back home. God is a good God, and He has blessed me. How's your level of gratitude and appreciation for God?

May your journey be a wonderful friendship with God today,

Nick

Thursday, February 14, 2008

On Wild Honey...

Do you ever get the feeling that if you're a "true believer" in Jesus that you're supposed to be a little miserable in this world from all the sacrifices that you make?

I think especially in the evangelical church we can fall prey to this mindset; that this world holds nothing for us and we are somehow saving up all our joy for eternity in heaven. But what if that eternity starts the moment you begin to follow Jesus?

I've been encouraged this week be reading and rereading Psalm 81. This was a song to be sung by their choir, praising God for his deliverance from slavery. I can appreciate that- I know that through Christ I, too, have been set free to live with God as my only master. Later in the Psalm, the writer laments that Israel has lost sight of God and forgotten that He is the one who accomplished these things for them.

Speaking from God's perspective, as the Psalmists often did, the writer expresses how soon God would act on our behalf if our trust was fully in Him. But here's the real clincher for me. Listen to the pay-off of this kind of trust: "I would feed you with the best of foods. I would satisfy you with wild honey from the rock." When you look into these words, this is far more than a promise of a good time in heaven. This is God proclaiming that he wants us to experience His very best right now. Particularly that last phrase, "wild honey from the rock." Think about that. Wild honey was a primary source of sweetener in the ancient Arabic world, and completely unnecessary for food or life. God is promising to give those who trust in Him the very best food just because He wants to bless them. And where will this wild honey come from? The rock- a place where wild honey should not be found.

The only reason for God to give them wild honey was to bless them; to satisfy them with the BEST of food. Maybe we need to rethink our belief about when the joy of eternity begins. I'm not advocating that God will give you a perfect life, or that Christ-followers should have lots of dough, but maybe the image of miserable Christian is less Biblical than we realize.

As you journey, may you discover the God who gives wild honey,

Nick

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Blessed are the Broken

The weather has finally warmed up a bit. The high today may actually reach 20. It's funny how quickly our perspective can change- it feels downright balmy today.

We had a guest speaker come in yesterday who has been in the field of pastoral care and chaplaincy for the last 20 years. The following thoughts come from his discussion.

As Jesus and his disciples gather on a mountain side in Matthew 5, Jesus gives arguably his best-known message, now referred to as the "Sermon on the Mount." A large crowd moves in to hear his words, and as Jesus looks up on this collection of people, he opens with the words, "God blesses those who realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them." (NLT) How like Jesus, and God the Father, to begin with blessing. But this blessing is unique and wonderful. Essentially, Jesus is saying, "Blessed are those who are broken, and are aware that they are broken." We might expect him to go on and talk about how our brokenness will get fixed. But Jesus doesn't say that, at least not here. What Jesus does say is that those who realize their brokenness will receive the Kingdom. The connotation of this idea in the original Greek is that God will give His gifts to the broken. In other words, God will celebrate their brokenness by rewarding them with the Kingdom.

We tend to think of our weaknesses and faults as issues to be dealt with and cleared up quickly, but here Jesus is essentially celebrating what they can do in our lives. An awareness of our brokenness is what connects us to God's Kingdom and His ability to bless us. It's not to say that we're free to remain in our current condition, but knowing this can change our approach to spiritual health. If we think God is disappointed by who we are, we work with a slave-like mentality until we've achieved His approval. If, however, we recognize the love of God and His acceptance of all our brokenness, then we can live as sons and daughters who are free to enjoy the Father, knowing that nothing we do can make Him love us any more or any less. Our brokenness can be brought before Him without fear, for through our weakness, God can show Himself strong.

The world, then, breaks down into three groups of people. 1)Those who are broken but don't know it, 2)Those who are broken and know it, but choose to do nothing about it and pursue their own kingdom, and 3)Those who are aware of their brokenness and offer it to God as a way of connecting to His Kingdom.

This day, may you find yourself in group 3, aware of your brokenness, but also aware that through your brokenness, you are brought near God and His Kingdom.

And you are BLESSED.

Journey on.

Nick

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Getting to Give

The weather outside has taken a definite turn for the worse. We hit a high yesterday of about 5 below zero. The temperature on the inside, however, has stayed nice and warm as we enter week two of class. This week, I'm in Pastoral Care, looking at what it means to care for others in a ministry context.

Yesterday, our professor offered some great insight on how we can approach caring for other people. One verse of Scripture that we use often for friends or loved ones in a tough spot is I Peter 5:7, "Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you." This is a classic verse used to remind people that no matter what they face, God can be trusted and His love can sustain us through the most difficult of times.

We often forget, however, the importance of this verse for US as we seek to give care to others. We can easily feel intimidated or inadequate to help someone going through a difficult time. We wonder what we have to offer and if our words or presence will help the situation at all. At times like this, we need to be willing to quote the same Scripture to ourselves. We need to get the message of Scripture first in order that we can give the same encouragement to others. God does care for us, and as we feel anxious or uncertain in helping others, we too need to "cast our care" on God and allow Him to bring peace and joy into our hearts first. We can then walk into the dark situation that another person is facing, confident of the grace and presence of God that goes with us and before us. We get the message of His love and peace for ourselves, and then we are equipped to give it away.

As you journey today, may God give you eyes to see fellow travelers in need of His love. And may you be aware that the vessel of that love is YOU.

Nick

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Living in the Sea of Unknowing

I find it amazing how God helps us connect the dots in our life.

In a devotional book that I use, I was directed today to consider the value of "this day." Not looking ahead and putting all my heart and my hopes in tomorrow, but rather looking around and appreciating the beauty and mystery of today.

I tend to think of most of my days as common and ordinary, yet perhaps in this I am making an assumption; that what is common and ordinary will lack any mystery or surprise by God himself. In the book I was reading, Abraham Heschel says, "To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to gain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living." (Man's Quest for God) I was reminded today that God most often reveals his wonder and glory to me during moments that I might otherwise excuse as ordinary.

Later, I found myself at Greg Boyd's church, Woodland Hills, just outside of St. Paul. Boyd's text for today was from the gospel of Luke, chapter 11. Here, Jesus is telling his disciples how they should approach prayer; to keep on asking and knocking because God gives good gifts to those who ask in this way. Boyd launched off this text to talk about prayer, and his main point was that we pray because we know and understand so very little in this world that God has created. He said that we float on a small island of supposed knowledge in a vast sea of mystery. When we grab a hold of this, we learn to pray, not because we have a prayer formula that works, but because we are reliant on God to reveal himself, and His will, to us.

My mind drifts to the words of the apostle Paul in Corinthians, quoting Isaiah the prophet, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." When we believe that God and His kingdom are much larger than we can get our minds around, when we embrace that we know very little of how prayer, and life, and spiritual things work, we can truly celebrate that what God has in mind for us is more than we can possibly imagine. It is a wonderful sea of mystery that God invites us enter, unsure of what will happen but confident in his unfailing love for us. "This day", even in its commonness and routine, holds incredible potential.

In an era where "all" knowledge is a mouse-click away, may you rest in the mystery of God's creation and our limited knowledge, which forces us to depend wholly on Him.

Enjoy the journey and embrace the mystery,

Nick

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wrapping Up

Week 1 of class is in the books.

After having had an extensive look into the Gospels of the New Testament, I can honestly say that I am more proud of this book than ever before. I realize that the word "proud" might seem odd to use of Scriptures, but here's what I mean. The more we scrutinized, analyzed, and researched this book, the better it got. Rather than falling apart are not holding up under the microscope, the Word of God only began to shine brighter. What wonderful truth we have been given if we will take the time to sit underneath it and learn from Christ himself.

One item of note from yesterday was a thought about the resurrection from N.T. Wright. This author has become one of my favorites over the course of seminary, and he has written extensively on the resurrection; 700 pages kind of extensive. In this book of monstrous length, Wright examines all the literature available around the time of Jesus and within a few hundred years of his arrival on earth. What he found was shocking. No where, in vast amounts of historical data, could he find one shred of support for a positive opinion of resurrection. Meaning, before Jesus, the idea of resurrection was unheard of and grotesque. No one believed that resurrection in bodily form could have any value. And yet that's exactly what Jesus did. What this tells us is that the resurrection rings of truth. This incredible survey reveals that it would be ludicrous to think the disciples or early church made this up. The only way it makes any sense- is if it actually happened. And it did.

May you find life and joy in the resurrection on your journey today,
Nick

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Seven Hour Small Group

Rather than reflecting on something from class yesterday, I'd like to offer some thoughts on a different kind of experience I had last night. After a long day of class (8:00 AM- 4:30 PM) a group of three college friends met me at the Seminary and we went out for the night. This group of guys and I used to meet on a regular basis in college for prayer, accountability, and growing together as Christ-followers. As we drove to a local restaurant, we realized that it had been over six years since the four of us had been together. In truth, it felt more like six days. We picked up right where we had left off, and for the next seven hours, we shared together our hearts, our dreams, our pains, our joys, our passions and our faults. Truth was spoken, grace was given, and God was glorified in the way that we entered into this deep community. Although I got back to my dorm late and tired, I felt as though we had only been together for a few short hours.

Now, you might be tempted to dismiss this as nothing more than a reunion of old friends, but I will tell you it was more than that. It was a level of Christian community that I have rarely found before or after that group.

I bring this up because I believe all of us long for that level of knowing and connection, and yet very few of us know how to find it or create it in our lives. Even having experienced this group, I have had a very difficult time recreating it in my post-college life. I've spent years in small groups and never found this same kind of Christ-centered community.

Why? Why is this so hard for us to find in our modern world? As I've thought this through, I've identified four characteristics that were present in our lives as we forged this deep bond.
1. Proximity: we were all at the same school and rubbed shoulders on a regular, almost daily basis. We had common experiences and events which we could then process together.
2. Frequency: we met regularly and the idea of skipping out on the group was unthinkable. Sure, weeks came where it just didn't happen, but those were exceptions to our routine.
3. Intensity: when we would come together, we didn't spend much time "shooting the breeze" or just catching up. We saw each other enough throughout the week that this was less necessary. Our times were marked with honest sharing, truth-telling, and fervent praying.
4. Commitment: Perhaps most importantly, we had so entrusted ourselves to one another that we knew we could say absolutely anything and find the heart of Christ in one another. No one was walking out, getting offended, or giving up. We were in the battle together, and knowing that someone had committed to you on that level made real community happen.

As I look at our general inability as people to create lasting community, these four traits are more difficult to come by. They require sacrifice. They require risk. They require a firm belief that God has called us to this. Could we all begin to move in this direction?

I would welcome your input and thoughts. Why is it so hard to develop this kind of powerful community? Is it worth the work to make this kind of thing happen? How can we get there?

May God draw you deep into community with himself and others around you as you journey in His grace,

Nick

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Learning to Fight

Well, we heard rumors of snow all day yesterday, but not a single flake has fallen here in MN. Meanwhile, parts of Iowa and Illinios have had to shut down with over 12 inches on the ground. I guess we got lucky!

Today's discussion in the gospel's centered on the temptation of Jesus. This is a familiar passage for many, and yet today I was encouraged to see something for the first time. Our professor, who gets really amped about all these topics and starts to talk faster and faster, pointed out a startling fact about how Jesus responded to the temptations. As the devil himself comes to Jesus, a very rare personal appearance, he tempts him to turn stones to bread, throw himself from the temple, and bow before him. In each case Jesus is able to say a resounding NO.

What is shocking about this interaction, when you step back and think about it, is that Jesus never once pulls out his trump card. At no time during the entire interaction does he lay down the "I'm Jesus, the Son of God" card. He doesn't take the obvious way out and act superior to all the temptations. Instead, he resists quite simply by quoting Scripture.

This is encouraging stuff. Because, quite frankly, I don't have a trump card to play. I can't just walk away from something alluring by saying, "well, I'm divine, so see you later." Had Jesus done that, it would have been difficult to find much strength from this passage. But Jesus, in His humanity and in His humility, chose to rely on the Father and on His word.

You know what? I can do that. I can remember a few good Scripture verses and say them when I feel weak. I can pray to the Father and say, "Lord, help me." And I can stand with Jesus against the lure of the enemy.

And do you know what happened after Jesus said no the easy plans of Satan? He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. With purity comes power.

Walk in the Father's strength on your journey today,

Nick

Getting Wet

Yesterday in class, we spent a good deal of time considering the meaning and implications of Jesus' baptism in the gospels. This baptism scene, which is discussed by all four gospel writers, has a particularly interesting twist in the book of Matthew.

In Matthew 3, we learn that John the Baptist is in the wilderness baptizing people "when they confessed their sins." So the baptism of John was connected to repentance and the forgiveness of sins. This presents a problem when Jesus comes and asks to be baptized. Does this suggest that Jesus had sin and needed to repent? John the Baptist himself saw this dilemma and said to Jesus, "I am the one who needs to be baptized by you." But Jesus says no. According the New Living Translation he says, "It must be done because we must do everything that is right." While this may be an accurate translation, we lose some significant wording. More literally, Jesus says that he must be baptized in order to 'fulfill all righteousness.'

Whatever this means, it is enough for John and he proceeds to baptize Jesus. This seems like an odd encounter, but remember- we have less than one percent of all Jesus said and did recorded for us. Matthew isn't wasting words here; he's communicating something to us. But what?

Now fast forward to Matthew 5. Here, Jesus is preaching his famous "sermon on the mount". Early on, he says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And then he encourages his disciples that unless their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, they can never enter God's Kingdom. We have the same two words used in a different context, but located in close proximity to Jesus' words in Matthew 3.

What is happening here? Jesus is presenting himself, and his life, as the righteousness that people need. Throughout Matthew 5, Jesus takes the known law (do not commit adultery) and extends it even further (if you look lustfully, you are committing adultery.) All of these laws are beyond our capability to live out. So is Jesus commanding something of us that is impossible to do? No! He's highlighting that he has come, and through His life, we are made right with God.

This goes back to an early theory of the atonement known as "recapitulation." I know, it's a big fancy word, but it just means that a big part of Jesus' work for us was to go back over all of human life and do it right. The reason he could give us right standing with God at the cross is because he had lived in right standing with God throughout his life.

What does this mean for us? It means that we celebrate not only the death and resurrection of Jesus, but that we celebrate his life as well. We can experience meaning in baptism because Jesus was baptized on our behalf. We have the power to live in God's way because Jesus did just that 2000 years ago. We can pray, and be married, and eat, and throw parties in a way that honors God because Jesus has lived a righteous life, and in so doing, he has given that righteousness to us.

For some of you, this was probably for more "heady" information than you cared for, but it was exciting to me to see how Matthew pulled these events together (the baptism and the sermon on the mount) to make a point for us. Jesus is our righteousness, and in His life, we can find real purpose for our own.

May you be blessed on your journey because of His life today,

Nick

Monday, February 04, 2008

Surviving Monday

After an all-night flight into Minneapolis, that's about all I hoped to do today. This was day one of two weeks at Bethel Seminary. My reflections on today will probably be limited as I close-up for shop for the day and try to improve on the hour or so of sleep I managed last night.

This week's class is on the The Gospels. We listened to several hours of introductory lectures as snow fell outside throughout the day. The big emphasis of this class will be understanding what the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) actually say, as opposed to what we would like them to say. In other words, we have a tendency to "read into" a passage and our goal this week is to become more skilled at "pulling out" the information in a passage. This comes from a variety of material- accurate understanding of history and culture, careful observance of the text, and diagramming sentences (I thought I had seen the last of this in the 7th grade, but evidently this rarely-used skill has some practical application!) in order to catch the heart of the author's message.

I will leave you today with one interesting insight I've been mulling on during this course. If Jesus had three years of public ministry, and averaged four hours a day of "recordable" activity (ministry, speaking, miracles, etc...), then our gospels give us less than one percent of all that Jesus said and did! Can you believe that? Can you be comfortable with that? We tend to view the gospels as a complete record of all that Jesus said and did, where in truth we are really just getting the highlights! In my mind, this makes me want to be more attentive to all the material that we do have. If we have one percent of all that Jesus said and did, then the gospel writer's must have had very specific reason's for including what they did. I get they idea they wouldn't waste verses if they were already leaving out the vast majority of stories, teachings, and miracles available to them.

I hope you'll take some time and interact with me this week! Don't be shy- it's okay to post a response, and whether you leave your real name or not, I will do my best to respond. My desire is that in this way, we can learn from one another.

Have a blessed week!

Nick

Friday, January 18, 2008

More Than Perfume

As a part of my devotional reading last week, I was directed to read through the story of John 12. I've been through this passage many times and never really found it all that significant personally. Maybe it's because I'm a guy. In the passage, a woman (Mary) takes a big bottle of perfume and dumps it all over Jesus' feet. Then, she uses her long hair to wipe them off. Whenever I read this passage, I can't help but think of how uncomfortable I would feel to either have this done to me, or be watching as it was done for someone else. It's a wonderfully artistic and beautiful picture of this woman's love for Jesus, yet it always strikes me as a little, well, "foofy".

As the story goes, Judas is the one watching this scene who become uncomfortable. He makes some complaint about not wasting the perfume, but selling and giving the money to the poor. He sounds noble and compassionate, but as the Bible tells us, he was really just a thief who wanted to embezzle some money for himself. Jesus, as we might guess, sides with the woman and tells Judas to back off; she has done a good thing.

What struck me as I read through the passage this time is how it sets two different approaches to Jesus side by side. Two different hearts, if you will. On the one side, you have Mary, who seems to be unconcerned with the value of her gift because she wants to do this wonderful thing for Jesus. On the other side, you have Judas, who is only thinking about what he could have gotten out of the deal if the perfume had been sold. The one came to give, the other wanted to get. The one came to be with Jesus and rest in His love. The other looked to use Jesus to further his own interests.

The humbling truth is that when I sit back and do some honest soul-searching, I find that more often than not, I land on Judas' side. Ok, I'm not embezzling money or anything like that, but I find it difficult to bring something to Jesus (my time, my focus, my life) simply for the fact that I love him. That's what Mary did. She brought what was valuable to her and dedicated it to Jesus. Not so that he could bless her, or give her success, or make her famous; she brought and expected nothing in return. This was an act of adoration. So often when I bring something valuable to Jesus, I'm quietly thinking about how I'll be better off because I've given it to Jesus. I think, in the back of my mind, "if I am faithful in tithing, God will bless my finances." "If I give my time to serving Jesus, he'll give me favor." "If I love people and preach well, God will advance my career."

All of those thoughts, at some level, may be true. I believe that God does bless us when we give. But after reading John 12, I couldn't help but think that when our motive for giving becomes about what we'll get, then we've lost sight of something very important. We've missed the beauty of giving to Jesus because He's worthy. We miss the opportunity to understand real love by demanding nothing in return. And we are in danger of, as Judas did, missing the heart of Jesus all together.

In your faith journey, may you know the blessedness of giving to Jesus and asking nothing in return, other than to know Him more.

Nick