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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Double Homicide for the Soul

Earlier this year, I spent a couple of hours at the county jail. Before you go too far down the, "what did Nick do" line, let me just disclose that I occasionally fill in as the Thursday afternoon chaplain for guys who are in lock up. I do this a couple of times a year, and usually I meet with a few guys who are awaiting trial for some kind of drug-related charges. Guys in jail can request to meet with a pastor and anyone can request this meeting.

So on this particular day, I found myself face to face with a guy who looked...well, for lack of a better word, normal. Nothing about his appearance would suggest hardened criminal, or even a recreational drug user for that matter. His hair was neatly cut and his appearance to me was of a kind, middle-aged man. Not long into our conversation, though, I discovered that he was awaiting charges on double homicide. In a fit of rage and regret, he had busted in on his ex-lover and her current lover and shot them both to death.

It was a unique feeling that day to listen to this man's story; to hear his remorse, his fear, and his anger come spilling out. He didn't care much about what stripe of faith I was from- he saw me as a priest to whom he could confess and then ask if God could possibly forgive. My faith and my Bible tell me that God forgives all, and I told him as much. I did the best I could to speak hope and peace into a situation that had very little.

Yesterday, that man was sentenced to over 70 years in prison; an essential life sentence. Not only had he ended the lives of two others, but he had in a very real sense ended his own life. And as I look back, I find two compelling thoughts coming to mind. From my view, these two aspects of life are both like homicide for your soul; actions that can bring a quick end to the life, joy, and peace that God wants to bring.

First, I would say never underestimate the cumulative power of many small, bad decisions. Up until Mr. Feeney went and got his gun, his story could sound like many thousands of others- jilted in love, discouraged by relationships, feeling alone, and uncertain of himself. Nothing in his story was evil or horrid. He was just a guy who kept making bad decisions about relationships and how he would respond to them.

Now, I am not trying to suggest that any of you are on the verge of murder. But I do think it's worth pausing and reflecting on the truth that no one plans to do that one thing that will destroy a job, a marriage, or a life. We don't plan to go off the deep end. Very often, though, we do continue to make a string of bad decisions, convincing ourselves all the way that it won't catch up with us. We isolate from our spouses, skip out on church, drive past the gym, eat the extra cookie, buy more than we can afford, stray on-line a bit- little things perhaps in and of themselves. But all of these can indicate a direction in life. Would you be willing today to look at the cumulative choices of your life and ask, "what direction am I headed in?"

A second thought is this: the way we respond to hurt and pain will either bring us life or death. I was saddened and amazed, but not surprised, to read of one family member of the deceased saying in court, "We will never forgive you." I'm sure this raw emotion was and is completely warranted, but I found myself thinking, "how sad. You lost your loved one and now you are in danger of killing your own soul." Bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness have a powerful way of working into our psyche and destroying us from within. It has been said that it's like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick. But we are the ones who ultimately pay.

Bitterness or unforgiveness give us the illusion that we are somehow punishing or controlling the one who has hurt us. The truth, however, is that we have no ultimate control over others. We can choose to be bitter and angry, and that other person can also choose not to care. We try to punish them but only punish ourselves. I hope the family member who stated this finds a path to forgiveness- not because Mr. Feeney does or doesn't deserve it, but because I know the power forgiveness has to bring life.

So, perhaps these ramblings will provide some perspective for you today. It's not every day we have a front row seat to watching a life unravel, but when we do it's a good opportunity to learn and to grow.

May your season be marked by Love, Joy and Peace in Christ-
Nick

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Psalm for the Rest of Us: By Heman

If I'm honest, one of the things that frustrates me about the Bible is how it can be so hard to relate to. Burning bushes, parting seas, man-eating fish, and bread from heaven all make for awesome stories. But my life consists of burning toast, parting my daughter's hair, and bread from Safeway. I'm inspired by the miracles, moved by the stories of Christ, and even touched by angels (or at least the stories of them). My life, however, seems so much more...well, normal than that.

That's one of things that draws me to the Psalms. These songs are raw emotions of praise and pain, confidence and confession. These Psalms teach me how to pray and how to find trust amdist the daily grind of life. The Psalms express belief and trust in God in language that I often adopt for myself. Even when I am not feeling the same level of trust as the psalmists, I can speak their words in faith, "God, you are my Rock and my Redeemer."

But I recently ran across a Psalm that may be my new favorite. Psalm 88 starts out like this, "O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day, I come to you by night." So far, pretty typical stuff. The rest of the Psalm sounds like this:
My life is full of troubles...
I am as good as dead...
I am forgotten...
You have thrown me down to the lowest pits...
Your anger weighs me down...
You have driven my friends away...
My eyes are blinded by tears...
O Lord, why do you reject me...
Your terrors paralyze me...
You have taken away my companions...
My life really stinks and you God aren't helping...

Okay, I may have paraphrased that last one, but you get the gist. This is a lament; a man pouring out his heart to God. Now, typically we expect the Psalm to end with some rousing declaration of trust. We are accustomed to these Psalms ending with an "even yet will I trust you" kind of phrase. But for whatever reason, the author (his name is actually Heman) doesn't have it in him to go there. You know how our friend Heman ends?

Darkness is my closest friend.


Amen. End of Psalm. Nothing more. I can only imagine the awkward pause that must of followed the singing of this hymn in ancient Jerusalem.

By now, you might be thinking, "Didn't Nick say this was a new favorite? What kind of weird theology has entered into his brain to make this a favorite?" Fair enough. But here's where I am at. I like knowing that we can go to God, vent, complain and pour out our hearts. And at the end, we don't have to wrap it all up and sound spiritual. God doesn't need us to pander to him with half-hearted sentiments or veiled attempts at praise. To me, this Psalm grants you and I permission to go to God when life is crummy and not walk away expecting some instantaneous pick me up. It's an acknowledgement that sometimes life is hard and God doesn't have to show up and immediately fix my problems. This Psalm reminds me that it's okay to be real and that in some way, shape, or form, God appreciates the honesty.

So, maybe the most spiritual thing you could do today is vent. Tell God how you really feel. And if nothing happens, you can have peace knowing you join a long line of Heman's who have felt the same way. God still hears. God still records every word. And at some point, maybe in the next Psalm, the next day, or the next season, you will see His goodness and faithfulness again.

Until then, I'm glad to be on a journey of faith with other Hemans,

Nick

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Little Letters

Interesting, isn't it, how big of a difference three little letters can make?

Take for example the words humility and humiliate. On some level, we would all like more humility in our lives. We value that ability to have a fair, honest, and humble assessment of ourselves that keeps us from being big-headed and arrogant. Have you ever heard a friend say that they don't want humility? I haven't.

On the other hand, no one I know wants to be humiliated. Year after year, one of the top three fears for Americans is public speaking (mixed in with spiders and heights, I think). We talk all the time, so why fear public speaking? Because we might say something embarrassing, or trip over our words, or fumble around and that would be...you guessed it, humiliating. We tend to work very hard to avoid situations that might humiliate us.

Have you ever considered our power to choose between these two words? The way I see it, we are daily making the choice between humility or the inevitability of being humiliated. Here's how I understand the difference. Jesus said that, "Everything that is hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light and made plain to all." (Luke 8) Think about that- everything. All our "hidden" thoughts, motives and actions. The behaviors or attitudes we work very hard to keep from others. The mistakes we have made that we keep out of view. All of it made plain for everyone to see. This does not sound pleasant!

But here is where our choice comes in to play. When we choose to face truth about ourselves in the presence of others we are actively pursuing humility. Simply put, this is a definition of confession. The truth may not be pleasant, but in choosing to reveal it rather than hide it, we discover humility. The opposite is also true. When we choose to ignore truth about ourselves and attempt to mask or cover anything unpleasant about us, we are actively choosing humiliation. Oh sure, maybe not humiliation in the immediate context, but sooner or later our hidden lives have a way of becoming public, don't they? And what's even more, Jesus suggests in Luke 8 that even if we manage to keep all the ugly covered up in this life, it will be uncovered in the life to come. One way or another, truth surfaces and we face the music.

So, my challenge lately has been to choose truth now rather later. Deal with what is unpleasant today because it will only be worse tomorrow. And each time I make this choice, I point my life towards humility. And I would much rather be headed there than to blunder blindly on until humiliation finds me. Because eventually, it always will.

May you choose for humility this week as you journey on...
Peace!

Nick

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Prayer/Life

As many of you know, a primary purpose for our trip to Bosnia was to pray for the city of Sarajevo, the people, and the church. This happened in many different ways: prayer walks through neighborhoods, team gatherings at Izvor or our lodgings, and even praying with the local church at their weekly prayer meetings.

One encouraging aspect of all this praying is that prayer became a regular part of life while we were there. Our team was so comfortable and accustomed to praying with one another that any time and any circumstance could become reason for prayer. For example, on Friday night, we were riding the tram back to our lodging after working at Izvor to prepare for the open house. The tram at that hour of day was filled with 20-somethings who were all dressed up and on their way to the clubs and coffee houses. As we stepped off the train, I found myself thinking about how unreached this group is in Sarajevo. They are hungry for something, and desperately seeking life in all the wrong places. A few of us were walking together, and so I simply started praying for these young adults and asking God to fill them with hope and love. When I finished, a few others in our group who were walking ahead of us turned around and said, "we just prayed the same thing!" This was a common occurrence- what we saw and experienced got translated into prayer as it was happening.

If I could bring anything back to my day to day living in the States, it would be this dynamic. How often do I get caught up in my routines and my schedule and forget to pray? More often than I'd like to admit. With our prayer focus in Sarajevo, I began to understand what it meant to "pray without ceasing." When you pray often enough, your heart starts turning to prayer without your conscious brain even putting thought to it.

I want my heart to be so connected to the Father that I act this way all the time. I want to see the line between my normal life and my prayer life begin to blur until it's just prayer/life together. In Sarajevo, we developed the sense that we were walking through each day with Christ. Could it not be the same here? I believe it could be, but I know it takes a focus and a determination to return regularly to Father. But I am encouraged to think that if I will do this often enough, prayer can and will become second nature. Prayer will become like breathing in and breathing out.

May you walk with Jesus through this day and find your journey filled with prayer-

Peace,
Nick

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Back from Bosnia

Hey all-

It is so good to be home! I find myself really missing Bosnia- God did some great things and our team was so focused in on prayer that it is hard to be away from that. I am hoping to bring that "pray without ceasing" attitude back to life here in Kelso.

In case you missed it, or for all those who live out of town, we made a short video that played at our gathering last week. Check it out here! http://vimeo.com/29746474

Stay tuned for a "recap" video sometime next week. When you watch this video, take a moment and pray for Bosnia! There are 800 believers in the whole country. That represents .02% of the population. That's one out of every 5,000 people.

Journey on!

Nick

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stay the Course


Hey friends-

Thought I'd say a quick Hello here to those of you who read faithfully. Hopefully you have had the chance to follow along with our Bosnia trip on our church blog, the House. If not, you can access it by visiting www.easthillsalliance.org and checking out the networking tab. Tons of great photos and thoughts!

We are getting to the part of any international trip that can begin to feel long. I can see it and feel it in our team. The brain and the body get tired of sleeping in a different country, eating different foods, and adjusting to different rhythms. I don't think we realize how much energy we conserve on a typical day when we are in our familiar surroundings- we don't have to think much about getting up, getting ready, driving to work, etc. But in a foreign country, you have to think about everything! And you start to wear down.

If you are reading this, would you just take a moment and pray? Pray that our team would finish well. Pray that I would lead and serve the team well. Ask God to remind me that He has given the gift of encouragement for a reason- now I have to use it! We are truly experiencing remarkable things, but it is really on my heart to reach the end with full engagement and joy.

Thanks for being on this journey with me-

Nick

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why We Go

Note: For the next two weeks, I will be in Bosnia! I may post occasional updates here, but I would encourage you also check the blog for East Hills, as we aim to update daily on our trip.

Today I am in the final stages of preparing to be in Bosnia for two weeks. What an exciting adventure to partner with seven others from EHA to be on the ground in Sarajevo!

On this final day before stepping on board a plane, I thought I’d take a few moments and respond to a question I often hear about this kind of trip. People will ask me, “Why spend all that time and money to go? Why not just send the money to those who are already there?” A valid question! Two questions, actually! As this trip marchs closer and closer, I find my response to those questions growing ever clearer.

First, we go to build relationships and encourage our friends! It is a fallacy to believe that sending enough money anywhere will result in true change. Sure, money is necessary and workers cannot be sent without our support, but all too often we slip into the mindset that sending money is all God wants of us. Taking a trip like this gives our team the real opportunity to see people face to face. We get to shake hands, give hugs, share meals, laugh, cry and pray with them. As we do this with our friends in Bosnia- whether international workers, pastors or locals- God is at work. The gospel advances over relational bridges that get built one piece at a time.

Second, we go to pray on site. I don’t pretend to know all of the ins and outs of prayer. I am not certain whether some prayers matter more than others or not. But I have found in my experience that praying WITH someone is better than only praying for them. Praying at the site is somehow more significant than praying from far away. Please don’t get me wrong- I believe that prayers of any kind from any distance can be effective and powerful. But when we have the chance to see with our eyes and touch with our hands, in some way the Presence of God is given more freedom to work, move and change lives.

Third, we go to be connected. One of the amazing things for me to watch has been how this trip has naturally connected us to Bosnia and the team in Sarajevo. Because we are going, we have talked more in church about Bosnia. Because we are going, we have prayed more at our gatherings. And I have found that I am personally praying far more than I would have had we not been going. Knowing that we will be there in person has helped us “be there” already in our hearts and spirits.

Fourth, we go for the change that will occur in us. Too often, we tend to wonder what good we can do for a country or a city in two weeks. The better question is how much a country or a city can do in us! I know for a fact that our team will be profoundly impacted by what we see and experience. We will be drawn to prayer in new ways. Our eyes will be more open to spiritual realities. We will have better clarity to look at our way of life and question what is crucial and what is not. For this reason alone, I will take as many people as I can on overseas trips!

Finally, we go in order to build our church for the future. As we continue this partnership with Bosnia, I am certain that our vision for the world is growing within the church. Our horizons are being expanded, and people are being challenged to take steps of faith like never before. When we go, we send a message to our entire faith community about the nature of following Christ. We become a sending church. A going church. A praying church. Will this single trip leave a lasting mark in Bosnia? I hope so. But will it create lasting change in our gathering? I am certain of it.

In light of all this, I wonder aloud: How could we not go?

Peace-

Nick


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Serving Left-Overs to God...(Malachi)

I don't know about you, but I think the book of Malachi is about as convicting as they come. I love that this little book is written in a dialogue format. The people keep interrupting the prophet (or God) to say, "Wait, wait, wait. When did we ever do that?" They protest their innocence and want to look good before God. And then God nails them with the selfish, deceitful, lazy heart of their actions.

As we read, we might be tempted to excuse ourselves from such rebukes. I mean, the people were after all bringing sick, crippled, or stolen animals to God. In a day and age where we are no longer required to bring animals as an offering, it is all too convenient to look back and say, "Who would do that?" But then God nails us with truth and says, "You do." So for all of us who protest and say "When did we ever bring you left-overs as a sacrifice?" I offer this list.

Have we ever
- Said we're too busy for church.
- Withheld a tithe or offering from God because money is tight.
- Not had time to read our Bibles or pray because we are too tired.
- Used all our best hours to make money.
- Carved out time to watch our favorite show but not to be in a small group.
- Sacrificed and saved to buy a house, car, or boat but never to give it away.
- Stopped singing or worshiping because we didn't like a song or the way it was done.
- Made our kids get up early for a game or practice but then skipped church because we slept in.

My guess is I could keep going, but I am also guessing that by now most of us are feeling like, "Stop, stop! I get the picture." Truth is, I have seen myself in most of these areas at one time or another. So what's the good news? There is none.

Ha! Just kidding. But the good news can be hard to stomach here because it really takes work. It's not a simple, do-three-things-to-make-it-all-better kind of approach. The message from Malachi is that we must learn to FEAR God. (3:16, 4:2)

In our modern language, we have a difficult time understanding how fear can be anything but negative- terror, anxiety, panic, worry, doubt- all these words play into our modern definition. But what Malachi is telling us when he says to fear God is this: "You should be a whole lot more concerned about whether or not you are listening to and obeying God than absolutely anything else in life." There, now that makes a lot more sense, doesn't it? Using the single idea "FEAR God" is good short-hand, though.

Do you fear God? Do I? And the real questions is do we arrange and rearrange our lives in such a manner that it actually shows we fear God? This my friends is where faith gets real.

Hoping you'll wrestle with this as you journey today-
Nick

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beware of Flying Scrolls..(Zechariah)

I remember once in college, my theology professor teaching a class he called, "there's nothing new under the sun." His point was that very little had changed in the way people did evil, rejected God, and treated one another. Fortunately, he also affirmed that very little had changed in the way God loved the world, redeemed situations for good, and led people into His will.

I offer this idea against the back-drop of our current culture. Marketers work very hard to convince us all that there is indeed very much new under the sun- and we must have it! This obsession with the new can make the Bible feel very foreign and rigid. Honestly, I think we are unaccustomed to speaking the language.

Thus enters the book of Zechariah. For those of us who are more familiar with the territory of the New Testament, Zechariah prepares us to understand the Kingdom vision of God. In particular, the apocalyptic vision of Revelation draws more heavily on Zechariah than any other Old Testament book. Revelation can seem like a foriegn land, until we realize that flying scrolls, evil represented by a woman, the four horsemen, and vision of lamp stands all appear in Zechariah. Like Revelation would do hundred's of year later, Zechariah gives us pictures and images to understand a spiritual world that often lies beyond our senses.

I think the message here is to a group of beleaguered souls returning from exile. They return to a Jerusalem unlike anything they have imagined or seen, and the whole world seems to have changed. The walls are gone, the temple smashed, and evil seems to have its way. But in Zechariah, God calls out a reminder, "I am the same, and there's nothing new under the sun." In this book, we find that failing to listen to God brings judgment, but God's love is relentless. We hear that God still has plans for Jerusalem and her people. We see a God who promises to inhabit His temple and His city once more. And he promises blessing on all who walk closely with Him. Similar story and promises as we find throughout Scripture, but delivered to a new generation of people.

We live in worlds that often seem unfamiliar. Jobs, families or routines can be uprooted and changed seemingly overnight. But God is our constant. And we can depend on the one who has promised that He himself will be our protecting wall.

May the steadfastness of God's plan and God's love hold you on the journey today,

Nick

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lost Foundations...(Haggai)

Context is everything. One of my favorite parts of reading through the Minor Prophets this summer has been to ground them in their original setting. When we do this, the words take on a whole new meaning.

So picture this. The people of Jerusalem have been in Babylonian captivity for 50 years. But then a new regime takes over, and some of them are permitted to return home. Only, for most of them this isn't really home because they have spent the whole of their lives in Babylon. So a contingent of young and old, men and women, return to Palestine and immediately begin to rebuild the altar and the temple so they can worship God. A great start, but things unraveled quickly. You see, enemy nations have moved into the area and the last thing they wanted was for Jerusalem to return to strength, and the temple of the Living God was the ultimate show of strength. So they did everything in their power to discourage the work.

Well, they were successful. The foundation of the temple was in place, but the work was then abandoned. The people left the work unfinished and began to focus on their own lives; building their homes, tending their flocks, and raising their crops. After all, this new temple couldn't even compare in size or stature to the old, so enthusiasm quickly waned. When opposition came, they had all they excuse they needed to forget about God and just focus on living.

Hmm...am I the only one that finds this vaguely familiar? We make a good start with God, we push into His promises and rely on His Word, but then life creeps in. Faith gets complicated. Relationships get messy and some even seem to be against us. And the easy thing to do is just focus on life. Do the job. Earn the money. Make a living just like everyone else. Leave the foundation unfinished.

It is into this dynamic that the prophet Haggai speaks. This is his message from the Lord,
"Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven's Armies says: Look at what's happening to you! You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!" (Haggai 1:4-6)

In other words, the people had buried their heads in making a living, but none of it provided real life. They were empty and their pursuits did not satisfy. So God comes along and reminds them of His temple- that a foundation is in place and they would do well to build on it. God promises them that when they devote themselves to Him, blessing and joy will follow. (2:19) And it does. With enthusiasm, they return and build the temple, and God pours out blessing on the people.

Where in your life are you busy making a living, only to find that it brings little real life? May we all hear the words of God to build on a solid foundation. For some, this foundation has been lost amidst paychecks and properties, soccer and school, work and play. But if we will turn to the Author of Life and build on Him, joy will follow. Will it be easy, convenient, or fun all the time? No. But the blessing and joy it brings is real life.

May you know this life on your journey today-
Nick

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On Dark Days... (Zephaniah)

You ever have one of those days that just feels dark? Maybe it's the weather, or a long to-do list after vacation, or just the flow of life, but yesterday felt like a dark day for me. It seemed that everywhere I looked, rather than being happy, or easy-going, or free, I found a reason to be down.

One thing I like so much about the minor prophets is how they seem to have shared my experience, but on a much grander scale. The prophet Zephaniah was speaking words on one of his dark days, and they sounded like this:

"What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem,
the city of violence and crime!
No one can tell it anything;
it refuses all correction.
It does not trust in the Lord
or draw near to God.
Its leaders are like roaring lions hunting for their victims.
Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time;
who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.
Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain.
Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God's instructions."

Zephaniah looks around his world and sees nothing but doom and gloom. It's a tough time for him and for the great city of Jerusalem. What hope could there be at a time like that?

But then a blinding ray of LIGHT:
"But the Lord is still there in the city, and He does no wrong." (3:1-5)

Did you catch that? In a rebellious, polluted city filled with vicious, man-eating leaders, corrupt judges, greedy prophets and dirty priests, God is still present. Even though the city is dark, God is still light and His light is still good. He did not abandon the situation because it had turned ugly; the ugliness actually brought forth His goodness that much more.

It makes me think of a line from the Lord of the Rings, Two Towers, when Frodo has lost all hope, but his friend Samwise is there to encourage him. About the dark around them, Samwise declares, "Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you."

When we are in the dark, God is still light, and He is still present with us. Darkness or evil does not make God run from us or abandon us; rather He remains in order to shine His light all the clearer into our lives.

I pray that whatever you experience today, you, like Zephaniah, will know that the Lord is still here in this city- in your world, in your home, in your life.

Journey in His light today-
Nick



Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Me, But Not You (Jonah)

Do you have any jokes in your arsenal where you can remember the punch-line, but not the joke? This seems to be a frequent occurrence at family gatherings. Someone in my family will blurt out a punch-line in the middle of a conversation that makes us all laugh, but then someone will ask, "How does that joke go again?"

Or perhaps you tend to remember the joke, but not the punch-line. This seems to be a more common experience with the Bible. Not that the Bible is filled with jokes, but many stories in Scripture are very memorable. We know the characters, the details, and the outcome. But very often, we forget the punch-line. We lose sight of the reason the story was given to us in the first place. This happens with the Prodigal Son, the Exodus, and the Cross.

But the story of Jonah and the whale might take the prize for the best known story with the least known application. We know Jonah ran away when God told him to go and prophecy to those bad guys in Nineveh. We know a huge storm trapped the ship which Jonah sailed on, and that superstitious sailors threw him overboard. We know about the giant fish that swallowed him whole and kept Jonah in his belly for three days. We may even know that Jonah escaped all this, finally went to Nineveh, and that the city repented and was spared God's judgment.

Fascinating story. But what's the point? I believe it actually has very little to do with the fish. There's some deep irony in this story. You see, Jonah is also mentioned in 2 Kings 14. In this account, Jonah prophecies about some successful land reclamation during the reign of Jeroboam II. We also discover that Jeroboam II was an evil king, yet God did good things on Israel's behalf, choosing to show mercy to His people. In spite of their rebellion, God chose to be merciful and compassionate because this was his nature. And Jonah saw it all.

Jonah was well aware of God's nature to show mercy and compassion. But when God shows mercy and compassion to Nineveh, he is outraged. His complaint against God is to say, "I knew it! I knew you would be merciful and not destroy Nineveh! That's why I ran away!" (ch. 4) So when God shows mercy to Jonah and his people, Jonah is okay with that. But when God acts the same way to others, Jonah's not so sure.

Isn't that our tendency? We want God to be forgiving of our weaknesses and short-comings, but we kind of like the idea that God will judge the weaknesses and short-comings of others, particularly of our enemies. The fact that God feels the same way about them as He does about us can be a hard pill to swallow. But this is the lesson of Jonah- that God will show mercy and compassion to whomever He chooses. Our role is not to judge and determine who should and should not receive this mercy, but to faithfully proclaim this message everywhere.

On your journey, may you be the kind of person that hopes God will treat others just like He treat you. May we long to see His mercy and compassion on display all around the world, even to our enemies.

Peace-

Nick

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sticking Up for You (Obadiah)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you are verbally attacking someone, but at the same time totally aware that it has nothing to do with them? Oh, I'm not talking about the kind of moments where we've had a bad day and so we yell at our dog (or our kids). I'm thinking more about moments like this.

The other day, I was tinkering on some project in our garage while the kids were playing out in the cul-de-sac. We live in a neighborhood with lots of other young children, and in general this makes for good times with lots of playmates. But some of these children have, shall we say, less than involved parents in their lives. The behavior they exhibit would suggest they live with very few, if any, boundaries.

So on this day, I watch my three-year old daughter Maddie playing happily with her tricycle, wheeling her doll around the circle. At one point, she drops the doll, and so gets off the trike to go back and pick it up. In that nano-second, one of these aforementioned children runs over and jumps on her toy. In that moment, I feel something rising up within me. I feel some righteous indignation on behalf of my daughter and so I rushed out to her defense. No, I didn't yell or lose my cool, but in one of those very stern voices that only fathers can produce, I instructed this boy that this was not okay. I told him that he was being rude and not respecting the property or the feelings of others.

But the whole time I'm having this one-sided conversation (maybe 30 seconds at most), I realize in the back of my mind that this has nothing to do with the neighbor boy. I honestly don't see it as my role to parent him or teach him right and wrong. This whole scene is occurring because I want my daughter to see her dad coming to her rescue and caring for her by defending her from others.

By now you may be asking yourself, "What in the Sam Hill does this have to do with Obadiah?" You see, the book of Obadiah is exactly the same way. Most of this amazingly short book deals with a prophecy against the nation of Edom, the descendants of Esau and thus relatives of Israel. God has some pretty dire warnings for them, but I can't help but think that these words were never intended to actually reach Edom.

No, these words were for Israel. This is God sticking up for His kids. It appears that Obadiah is written shortly after the downfall of Jerusalem and the resulting exile of her people. The Jews are taken to a distant land and must find themselves wondering if God has deserted them. Obadiah's message was God's way of saying, "I have seen everything they did to you and I will pay them back. Not only that, but I will rescue you and bring you home once more. Trust me to do this."

So, wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you will know the God who rushes to your defense. A God who sees the unfair blows life has leveled against you and promises to make things right again. We may not be able to see how that could ever happen, but God continues to work His good plan in your life because that's the kind of God He is. A God who is always sticking up for you, His kid.

Journey with Him today-
Nick

Thursday, June 30, 2011

From the Mouths of Shepherds (Amos)

This post is a little late due to my involvement in All-Star Camp this week. What a hoot to hang out with the kids at Barnes School. I think a good time was had by all!

One aspect of the book of Amos that I appreciate is the detail we are given about this prophet. For most of the minor prophets in the Old Testament, we get very little detail about their life or background. Sometime a city of origin. Sometimes the name of the father, or perhaps the king who reigned during the time of their prophecy. Sometimes only the name of the prophet! But about Amos, we are given this unique little tidbit: he was a shepherd from Tekoa.

While some recent Biblical scholars have tried to claim that Amos was more of an elite "breeder", all of the earliest and best evidence would suggest that Amos is exactly as the book suggests; a simple shepherd. A low-ranking caretaker of four-legged creatures, mostly ignored by the greater world, except perhaps for a group near Bethlehem some 700 years later. But it is this lowly shepherd whom God calls to minister to kings. Unlike most of the prophets, who give messages to only one nation, Amos delivers God's word to no less than 8 nations. Amos is called upon to deliver powerful words of God's coming judgment to the elite of his day.

This falls in line very well with what we heard last week from Joel. (Remember "the book of the 12"- meant to be read/understood together!) Joel 3 says, "Let the weak say I am strong!" When it comes to God assembling his final army, he pays no attention to our worldly definitions of weak and strong- He uses whomever He chooses. The weaklings become warriors.

Ironically, the "elite" prophet in the book of Amos is a man named Amaziah, who evidently works for King Jeroboam in Israel. Rather than speaking God's truth, however, this seer chooses to say what the king wants to hear. Words of comfort, peace, and security. And he was dead wrong. But not Amos. Amos says what needs to be said because God is the one saying it.

I guess what I really want to say is a reminder to all of us that God speaks in the most amazing ways, and rarely does He use the powerful, the rich, or the famous to deliver his Words. He uses shepherds, fishermen, and outcasts. He uses the weak to shame the strong. The lowly and the despised things become the honored ones in God's kingdom.

No matter where you are, no matter what situation you might find yourself in, God wants to speak to you and through you. Don't say no because of your station, your age, or your place. Allow Him to use you, and the world will be a different place.

On this journey, there's a bit of shepherd in us all. The question is, will we trust God to use even us however He chooses? I hope your answer, and mine, will be yes!

Peace-
Nick

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Learning from Locust (Joel)

The book of Joel opens up with less than positive images. Locust of all kinds (swarming, hopping, stripping, cutting!) are moving through the land like a storm. A severe drought is swallowing up any life that remains. It is a bleak, dark season. The people are called together in a "solemn assembly" to weep, fast and pray.

And where is God? Evidently, He is actually behind the locust and the famine, using these plagues as instruments to bring about repentance and brokenness in His people. Sounds like some typical Old Testament prophecy.

What I find, however, is that in the dire circumstance prophets speak about, God is actually doing something quite amazing. In Joel 2:25, God makes an incredible statement to His people. "I will give you back what you lost to the locust." God boldly proclaims that everything they are currently experiencing will one day be a distant memory because life will again be good.

These words of encouragement can be tough to hear if we find ourselves in the midst of a dark place. Even more so if we believe God has brought the dark season on us! But I think this is the nature of our God- to redeem, restore and bless. And though we may not even be able to see how, He plans to give us even more than we had at first. Times of difficulty, conflict, and strife can actually become the gateway to blessing and joy. This is more than the silver lining in the cloud. This is the all-powerful God declaring that he will utilize His power to give you back what has been lost. The locust took it. God will restore it.

Is this some kind of magic formula? This almost sounds like a math problem: simply add up what you had before, subtract what you lost in the crisis, and then wait for God to add back more than you had before. Is it as simple as that? No, I think the key in avoiding this kind of formulaic thinking is the transition that occurs between famine and feast. You see, the people gather together, weeping, fasting and praying, and put their hope entirely in God. They cry out to Him in dependence. In other words, they choose to entrust themselves to the very one who appears to be inflicting the pain. They do what is counter-intuitive and put their hope fully in the One who stands behind the circumstances.

And in the end, the blessing they receive far outweighs the pain of their circumstances.

That's what God is like. One who seeks to give you back even more than you lost. But we must trust and wait for Him to do it!

May you know this kind of God on your journey today,
Nick

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Back to the Brothel (Hosea)

This summer, we are inviting folks along on a journey through the minor prophets in a sermon series called, "The Book of the 12". As a way to get people thinking during the week, and as a way to help those who might miss a week here or there, I will be blogging about each of these books on Thursday before it gets preached on Saturday and Sunday. I invite your dialogue each week! I believe that as we process together, we are stretched and challenged to grow.

One aspect of the minor prophets that drew me to preaching on them was the idea that these books actually form one book. A great deal of evidence exists that these books, from the very start, were written, designed, and compiled intentionally into one work called the Book of the Twelve. If this is so, as I am prone to believe, then Hosea forms the perfect 'opening chapter' for the book. The introduction here sets up everything else.

So what did God seek to communicate in the opening chapter? At first, it seems quite confusing. God's opening words to Hosea the prophet are, "Go marry a prostitute." I can only imagine the various reactions and choice words Hosea had for this command. But, in obedience, he does just as God says. God wants a very graphic image of how Israel has treated him. I'm not sure He could get much more graphic than this! Hosea marries Gomer the prostitute and together they have three children. (Although if you read the text closely, it is highly likely that these children are NOT fathered by Hosea.)

The children are given names like "not planted", "not loved" and "not my people". And you thought your name was bad! Things do not look good for God and Israel at this point. Yet before the first chapter comes to a close, we see powerful foreshadowing of what God has in mind. He predicts a day when all will be changed, and the kids (metaphors for Israel, remember) will get new names- planted, loved, and my people. This sounds good! This is a story of redemption, hope and possibility!

Or is it? Because what happens next is astounding. Gomer leaves. Gomer betrays Hosea, abandons his love, and returns to living in the brothel. And Hosea, as a representative of God, is left as the jilted lover. Prophecy flows about the anger of God and the coming destruction on Israel for her sin. All is lost! The future is bleak! How could it not be? A redeemed hooker who is given everything throws it all away for her former life of folly. Good riddance, we say!

But not God. God's heart will not yield. Even though He is moved to fury, His passionate love remains unchanged. He sends Hosea to find her and bring her back. Think about that- He sends Hosea AGAIN to reclaim a woman that won't even stay with him. And by chapter 14, the end of this book, God is promising to love and bless his unfaithful bride. How awesome is that?

What turns this book on its head for me, though, is not that we are supposed to be like Hosea, and like God, and love the sinner who keeps on sinning. No, what makes this book amazing is that we are invited over and over to see that we are Gomer. We are ones who have experienced the incredible love and redemption of God, and yet we continue to run to other lovers. We go back to our addictions. We rely on self. We get caught up with the world. We turn from real love and prostitute ourselves with cheap imitations.

And where is God? Coming to find us and bring us home. Again. And again. Because His love will not relent. Even in brothels. Or board rooms. Or bed rooms. He will find you. He will find me. The question for us is will we get up and go home to live with Him, our true love?

I pray we will. Journey on-
Nick

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Morning Commute

No, I am not speaking of some grueling drive from home to work. Mine is only three stoplights and seven peaceful minutes. I am speaking of the much more grueling task we face daily to get from bed to desk, from sleep to work, from rest to productivity. What I am amazed by is how frequently this 60 to 90 minute period of my day can be filled with incredibly negative thinking.

Today, I was very aware of this for some reason. I jotted down just a few of the thoughts the invaded my brain while commuting this morning:
- I can't get plants to grow. There must be something wrong with me.
- I gained a few pounds on Men's Retreat. I really lack self-control.
- I am unorganized and can't keep my office cleaned up.
- I am unsuccessful and a nobody compared to... (I could put any number of "successful" pastors in the blank here; about a dozen of them stared up at me on a conference advertisement this morning.)
- Our church is small and will never make a difference.
- I can't play the guitar and I lack any real skill.
- I'm sure giving and attendance will be poor in June.
- I must have disappointed my parents this morning because my kids were watching TV when they left.

Now, your list might look vastly different than mine, but I wonder how many of us do have a list. Some mornings it can be more quiet and subtle, while other morning it shouts rather obscenely at us. What I am noticing today is how many of these negative thoughts are half-truths. Observations that I have made and then turned into a deeper self-critique. For example, I do have some plants that are struggling to grow in my yard. But how do I go from there to "something is wrong with me"?

This, my friends, is the nature of evil. Call it what you want- the old self, Satan, the Monday morning blahs- but something insidious takes our short-comings and turns them into deeper questions of our worth, value, and identity.

So, on my journey today, I am doing my best to remember who I am. I took a few minutes to pray and read Scripture and asked God to give me a new soundtrack. My only regret is that I didn't start the morning commute this way. Maybe I will tomorrow.

Whatever your morning "commute" is like, may it be filled with words that are true and spoken from your loving Heavenly Father.

Praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. (Eph. 1:3,4)

Journey On-

Nick

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grab the Popcorn

I don't usually take the time to recommend movies on this blog, but in this particular case, I just couldn't resist.

The disclaimers that I give will clue you in right away that this is not your normal film. I will warn you that it is a documentary narrated by an Englishman. The film follows the lives of elderly adults in their 70's and 80's singing in a choir. Before you click to another site, you should also know this: they perform rock music- from groups like Coldplay, Sonic Youth, Crash, and the Beatles.

The movie is called Young at Heart, and if you can find it on your stroll through the local movie store, Redbox, or Netflix site, you will be glad you did. From the opening scene, these old-timers capture your heart and put a smile on your face. Something about this movie really connected with me in a deep way. I think it speaks about the need we all have in life to truly care about something. To have a passion that keeps us going and keeps us singing.

Give it an hour or two- you will be glad you did.

May it speak to you on your journey-

Nick

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Billboard

I guess the Doomsday bulletin board in Portland got changed this morning. This is what it looks like now:2011.05.22 That was awkward


Jesus does know- that gives me hope!

My your hope be in HIM today on your journey-

Nick


Thursday, May 19, 2011

It's the End of the World!

Or maybe not.
Or maybe it is.

Either way, you may have heard that a group of well-intentioned (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt here) Christians has plastered signs and billboards around the country declaring that God will bring this world to an end at 6:00 PM on Saturday, May 21st. So, as long as you live a few time zones west of the International Date Line, you should have at least a bit of warning.

As I hear and read about this group, I certainly think about their apparent lack of knowledge when it comes to Scripture. We are told that Jesus' second coming will be as a thief in the night. Every metaphor and parable used depicts the surprise of the world. And Jesus himself said that only the Father knows the day or the hour. So, I must admit, the idea that we can nail down the precise date and hour feels at least ill-advised to me, if not down-right laughable.

But more than my observations of Scripture, I am curious about our response to this May 21st declaration. Some people, I believe, are led to genuine fear and concern. Along with the end of they Mayan calendar in 2012, doomsday prophecies seem to be more frequent these days. Hollywood has helped us imagine these events to be cataclysmic and deadly. If you find yourself in this position of fear, may I remind you that God holds the world in His hands. If and when it does end, it will be only at His command and in His way. For those of us who have found and placed our hope in Jesus Christ, this ought to fill us with great comfort and joy. The end of the world is only to be feared if it is a random event of unprecedented evil. We, however, have chosen to fear God. And if this is the case, the end of the world has no fear!

For others, however, these end of the world prophecies reveal a different side of the heart. Not only do we mock the idea that the world will end soon, we scoff at the idea that the world will end at all. If we are completely honest, we look inside our lives and realize we have no eagerness to see this life come to an end! This was what I found disturbing about myself this week: that though I questioned this doomsday prophecy for good reason, I also found no hope that it might be true.

You see, if we follow Jesus Christ, there ought to be a part of our lives, a big part of us, that hungers and desires to see this day come! The hope of heaven should so fill us that each day we long to see it come to be. I am not there, though I wish that I were. I find myself too content in the beautiful life God has given me on this earth. Have I perhaps forgotten, that all of this beauty is meant to draw me to Him and His complete beauty? Have I allowed myself to settle for mere shadows of the greater things to come? Have you?

So, while I am going to go ahead and prepare my message for this weekend, and keep paying my bills, I do want to live with an increasing zest and zeal to see one of these predictions come true. I pray that on your journey, you will find the grace and strength to do the same.

"But we are looking forward to the new heavens ad new earth he has promised, a world filled with God's righteousness." (2 Peter 3:13)

May it be so. Journey on-
Nick

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Different Take

I am back to preaching out of the book of Revelation at church. One of the great aspects of speaking from the final book of the Bible is the sheer volume of detail- it would be impossible in any one given sermon to cover the multitude of ideas and thoughts in a chapter. I thought I would take some time over the next few weeks and blog about some of the details I just don't have time to speak about, but that I find fascinating.

This weekend, the message was from chapter 6 (to listen, go here: http://www.easthillsalliance.org/#/home/current-series), which includes the description of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Some of you may be surprised to know that they do not play defensive line for Notre Dame. (For the non-sports fan, just ignore the obscure reference.) One such fascinating detail from this passage concerns the third horseman: this rider is given authority, apparently, to go out and be over famine or economic scarcity such that a loaf of bread will cost a days wages. And then we get this unique detail: but spare the wine and the olive oil. (Some versions say, "don't damage") What is this all about?

Here's my take after reading many different commentaries, all of which seem to disagree with one another and would undoubtedly disagree with me. God gives this rider permission to take away from people what they most needed to survive- basic food for sustenance- but to leave the more peripheral indulgences. While wine and olive oil were of great abundance and used frequently throughout the region, these commodities in and of themselves would not sustain life. If God has sent out these riders in judgment with the hope of bringing humanity to a place of brokenness, this makes total sense to me. By taking away what we really need and leaving what we only think we need, God would be revealing the foolishness of some of our pursuits.

I mean, think about it. How many of us if we had to give up grain or Facebook might actually choose grain? How many if we had to give up clean drinking water or our car might actually keep the car? We are accustomed to having so much, much more than we really need, that the idea of not having our basest of needs is tough to even imagine. I wonder if that is why the third rider is given this authority: take away what they really need in order to expose the triviality of what they want most. If Revelation is an unveiling- a new way of seeing the world- this would certainly accomplish it.

May the curtain of our lives be pulled back to see all of the ways in which we put our hope and our trust in stuff that won't last. May our security be in the Giver of Life alone.

Journey on-

Nick

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Hearty Yes and Amen

My uncle writes a weekly blog and I couldn't resist pointing you to it this week as he offers some perspective on the recent end to the Osama saga. It has been interesting to watch these events, and I think John helps put my finger on why. Take a few minutes to read:

http://www.johnstumbo.org/blog/index.php?/archives/243-Obama-Gets-Osama.html



Peace,

Nick

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A New Title

If you are a regular reader of this blog (all 6 of you), then you might notice a new title today. "Pastor's Corner" was something I came up with quite awhile back and just never considered if it was an apt description of my writings. In truth, I think it failed to really capture what I want to do here.

Pastor's Corner implies that I offer wise, pastoral advice to those who come seeking help. While at times I may lean this way with my blog, my greater desire is to simply process the journey that we are all on. To walk through the struggles, the joy, the pain, the wonder of being asked to walk day in and day out with the Master of the Universe. How can any of us hope to accomplish this? Only by His grace.

And so I will continue in this attempt to offer some perspective on my own journey in the hopes that it might inform and inspire you on yours. As always, I welcome and hope for your input. I would like this to be more dialogue than monologue.

I leave you with this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that summarizes my thoughts better than I could:

"With God, one does not arrive at a fixed position; rather, one walks along a way. One moves ahead or one is not with God. God knows the whole way; we only know the next step and the final goal. There is no stopping; every day, every hour it goes farther. Whoever sets his foot on this way finds that his life has become a journey on the road."

Glad to be on this journey with you!

Peace-
Nick

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Last Minute Lent

Someone in the East Hills family sent me this story during the week. I thought it might be an encouragement to all of you...

This Monday morning I woke up, got dressed for work, drank my coffee and headed out the door; much like any other given Monday. When I came out to my car, I noticed papers all over both my front seats, and all my doors were unlocked. Someone had somehow gotten my doors unlocked, broken in, and took my CD player and some other things.

As you know, I'm a huge fan of music, so this was an almost debilitating blow. Usually, I listen to worship music in the morning on my way to work. It helps me prepare for the day, and it's a time I set aside for God.

You can imagine how I felt knowing that I could not enjoy music in my car now, and the disappointment that sank in my heart. I called a friend immediately to tell her. She reassured me that it was just stuff, and that she was happy it was nothing personal, and they didn't take the whole car instead. Much to my dismay I continued on with my work day, and did all the appropriate things (called my landlord and reported it to the Police).

However, I still felt that sting in my heart, so I called my friend again, and this time she said the words I knew were true all along: "Maybe this is God's way of saying He wants you to listen."

In that moment I knew I had to add this to my Lent list. Originally, I did what every guy wants to do, and tried to figure out how to fix it. However, the moment I let it go and decided I would NOT replace it until after Lent is through, I received phone calls and visits from friends I hadn't heard from in a while, and who didn't know what had happened. I was also blessed with huge support from my family and those closest to me.

The reason I share this with you is because this is a moment when I believe God very intentionally did work on my life.

So, here I sit on my lunch break, still thankful for the thieves who stole my car stereo, because Jesus met me there. I hope this was a good read for you.

May we all find our places in life where we can rejoice, even when we're the victim of theft! When God and His way becomes more central to us than even our most important possessions, we know He really has our hearts. This is where I want to be!

Blessings on your journey-
Nick

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Get That Donkey

One of the tendencies we all have with the Bible, or any book really, is that we can read it so much we miss the really good stuff. Now, I am not encouraging us to read the Bible less. I am encouraging us to read slowly enough to stop and say, “Wow, that is not what I expected.”

One such example is in John 11. You may know the story well- as Jesus approaches Jerusalem for the final time, shortly before his crucifixion, he sends the disciples on a unique errand. They are to go and retrieve a donkey. Jesus will sit on this very donkey and ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Okay, so Jesus and the people of Jerusalem didn’t know they were creating Palm Sunday, but they did.

I have always been shocked that Jesus rode a donkey. A great white stallion seems better. But this is in line with his birth in a manger, his death on a cross, and his life among common, ordinary people. So, in the end, the donkey itself isn’t that surprising. What I was struck by recently was the fact that he asked the disciples to go get the donkey.

I wonder what if felt like as they were untying this beast- a valuable possession to someone else. All they have been instructed to say is, “The Lord needs it and will return it when he is through.” This HAD to be an uncomfortable moment for the disciples involved. And yet, in simple obedience they do what is asked of them, and the King rides into town.

In so many ways, that is our call as Christ-followers. Throughout life, we will be asked to follow and obey in ways that to us don’t make a whole lot of sense. We may not even see the whole picture. But our primary job description is to do whatever it takes to the pave the way for the King to ride in. We are not the main event; we prepare the way for the One who’s coming is the Event.

How many times have I missed this because I want to be in the middle of it all? Today Jesus, I am trying to remember that you are the big deal. And I will go and fetch the donkey. Or serve my family. Or love the unlovable. Or give beyond my comfort. Or choose trust and faithfulness even when it isn’t fun. I will obey. But help me, please, because I am not always comfortable with fetching donkeys. I’d rather ride the stallion in the crowd. Teach me humility, so that You will always be the main event.

May your journey be one of simple obedience so the King can ride in-

Peace,

Nick