Archive

Uncategorized

And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:21-24

20191229-DSC00114-New Blog Post-2

The Sun Kisses the Snow-Dusted Mountaintop | Northwest Washington | December 2019

It was 2 AM on a Saturday night. We had given up on the last game of the Stanley Cup finals in which the Dallas Stars were in a fierce battle with the Buffalo Sabers. After two full overtimes we had gone to bed. But at 2AM a shout went up from the living room where our son was still watching the game. “We won!”

I threw the light on and woke Diane. I turned on the TV and watched the replay. The win was somewhat controversial, but we won! We had a mini-celebration and then went back to sleep. An early morning awaited me. As a pastor I am seldom awake after 11 on a Saturday night. I’m up at 5 most Sunday mornings. But we had our 2AM moment of celebration. Then we went to sleep – happy and relieved. The celebration lasted but a few moments that night and after a week even the memory of the celebration was gone.

They say the Stanley Cup is the most difficult trophy to win in all of sports. But there has been an even more hard-fought and greater victory, the spoils of which belong to us who by faith acknowledge our former lostness and embrace our present blessedness through Jesus’  suffering, death, and resurrection.

The story Jesus tells of the prodigal son is a classic. It is the context of the above Bible verses. For years preachers had a standard outline for their message:

The Prodigal

    • His madness
    • His sadness
    • His gladness

The Prodigal’s madness is manifest in asking for his share of the family inheritance and going away in a profligate lifestyle. His sadness came as he hit bottom and lost all his money, his friends, and took a job feeding pigs. His gladness comes when he returns home to his father’s embrace. It is wrapped up in the fattened-calf celebration. It is tarnished by the older brother’s bitterness and resentment toward the now returned younger brother the erstwhile squanderer who is now restored. But the celebration continues nonetheless.

You might celebrate when your favorite sports team wins. You might rejoice and celebrate at the birth of a child or grandchild. You do well to celebrate significant anniversaries and important achievements of loved ones.

But our celebration of Jesus’ victory and our salvation is most worthy of all. Celebrating is a spiritual discipline if it is tied to the work of God, the glory of God, and the joy of salvation. Our earthly celebrations are but a dim reflection of the heavenly celebration that occurs every time a sinner repents. It is a foretaste of the celebration to come at the end of all days when we shall be gathered before the throne of the Lamb and celebrate the feast of victory for all eternity.

And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18

20191229-DSC00112

Snow-Dusted Pines | Northwest Washington | December 2019

I’ve done it twice that I can remember. Having said that, I’ve perhaps undone the doing of it. But I learned something in the process. I learned that by fasting I could be more focused and intense in my prayers. I focused my prayers on the Christmas Eve service at the church I served at that time. My prayers were specific. We had about 120 in worship on a Sunday, and I prayed for 200 to be in worship on Christmas Eve that year. All day I fasted and prayed.

As I recall, there were 198 of us in worship that Christmas Eve evening! Big deal, you say? It was to me and the people of that congregation. Perhaps I should have prayed for 400 (though the church would seat at most 250)! Fasting focused my prayers.

Another time I fasted for a time of prayer and sermon planning. I went away and spent time reading the Bible, praying, and listening for God. I spent the day drinking only juice and water. Nothing happened during that time. It was as though I was focused only on fasting and not on hearing and listening to God.

As the time of fasting ended, however, something interesting happened. There is a suggested manner in which one ends a food fast. You introduce food slowly. It’s not like eating a farmer’s breakfast after sleeping all night. So as I came out of the fast new insights, ideas, and thoughts came to mind.

I had spent the day in what seemed to be unfruitful study and prayer. But those hours proved to be very fruitful. God was working in my heart in ways unknown to me during the fast. And it is as though he was teaching me that fasting isn’t the deal. His work in me is. 

Maybe we expect too little. If we think that fasting is a transactional process we’re wrong. We don’t gain Jesus Points by fasting. God doesn’t have certain deliverables due on completion of our fast. Fasting is a transformational process, because we learn truly that “man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:5).

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31

20191229-DSC00110-New Blog Post-2

Into the Wafting Snow | Northwest Washington | December 2019

I used to be able to go long stretches of time without rest or solitude. I would withdraw to watch a hockey game on TV, or play a round of golf. I’d go for long drives to meet with other pastors. But I’d have the radio on. Before the advent of political talk radio I would listen to Bruce Williams or Art Bell or a News Radio station from California! I’d be alone but not really withdraw to a place and time of solitude. To my loss, and most likely to the loss of the people I served and the ministry of the church I led. Lord, have mercy!

Right now, as I write this, I am listening to praise music. I’m enjoying the sonic solitude as well as the space and time of no agenda or yet another meeting to attend or deadline to make. This moment of solitude is refreshing. I am at peace.

I need these moments. I needed them years ago, but the fresh energy of a younger man and the ambition of a driven man, and the need to make something of myself kept me going. 

How does it go with you? Do you have a place and time of solitude? Do you take moments, minutes, hours or longer to be with God without agenda and in silent reflection of who God is, and what he has said? How it is between you and God?

In the quiet moments we may learn something about ourselves and God that we would never otherwise appreciate. As I’ve said before* “Walk a little slower. Be a little quieter. Stay a little longer. For the world is loud and God often whispers.” That’s good advice for me. How about you?

* This quote was told me by someone who attributed it to Chuck Swindoll. It is Chuck Swindoll worthy no doubt, but whether or not he said it, I’ve said it so often that I am claiming the rubric: 

  1. First time: “Chuck Swindoll said…”
  2. Second time: “As I’ve said before…”
  3. Third time: “As I’ve always said…”

Or to quote Rick Warren: “If my bullet fits your gun, shoot it!” Or Charlie Mueller, “When was the last time you paid a royalty for saying the Apostles’ Creed?”

Solitude: No one has a copyright on that!

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. – Romans 12:1 [NLT]

20191229-DSC00106

Snow Laden Pines | Between Leavenworth & Everett, WA | December 2019

Imagine a human god – a hero of this world. She might be a sports figure or musician. He could be a politician or celebrity. These people receive adulation and honor all the time. They must even guard themselves from their fans. I suspect that many such human heros pay little attention to the fans and the throngs.

None of those will save you. None of those will give you life. None of those will answer your prayers. None of those will point you to the true north of a life well-lived. God does all this and more. He has saved us. He has redeemed us. He provides for our daily needs. For all this is proper that we should honor and worship him.

God knows every hair on our heads. He cares for us. He listens when we pray. He does not despise our worship or reject our praise. He welcomes all who come to him. In fact he has come to us in his word and sacrament. He came to us 2000 years ago and lived among us. He lived, taught, healed, performed miracles, cast out demons, died and rose from the grave. He – not our IRAs, beautiful mountain vistas, or any other thing or person of this world – will come again and take us to be with him in his kingdom of life and light, grace and joy forever. Come, let us worship him!

Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
    tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    bring an offering, and come into his courts!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
    tremble before him, all the earth!

10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!
    Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity.”

11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.

Psalm 96

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” – Luke 18:1-8

20191229-DSC00102

Snow-Dusted Pine Trees | Northern Washington | December 2019

I would like to think of myself as a man of prayer. And I do pray. I will say the Lord’s Prayer multiple times a day. I meet with three elders from our church weekly for breakfast. We talk about many different things. And then we pray. We use A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie. It is eloquent and directs our thoughts to needs and opportunities that I would never imagine myself. 

A brief excerpt:

You are everlasting Mercy in the very essence of your being. Give me a tender heart today towards all those to whom the morning light brings less joy than it brings to me:

Those in whom the pulse of life grows weak:
Those who must lie in bed through all the sunny hours:
The blind, who are shut off from the light of day:
The overworked, who have no joy of leisure:
The unemployed, who have no joy of labor:
The bereaved, whose hearts and homes are desolate: 

                                                      And grant your mercy on them all.

But prayer is easily neglected – especially by those who are comfortable in life. If I’m not pressed hard and slowed by troubles and difficulties, I too easily press forward to the next urgent thing. Too often prayer is not one of those urgent things. 

Today I offered a prayer as the conclusion of my message. I offer it here and invite you, Dear Reader, to join me in praying…

Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all! We need you desperately. Let us never forget that. But let us never forget that you are with us, and that you have gifts of peace, grace and life for us. Forgive us for we have sinned – most of all by not fully believing Your word. Have mercy on us because we do struggle. Sustain us in the good fight of faith. Give us joy, O God. Give us peace, we pray. Give us your Holy Spirit. Let us find ways to be with you today: intentionally, reflectively, and joyfully. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Today is January 19, so today’s Psalms are Psalm 19; 49; 79; 109; and 139. Psalm 139 is such a powerful and beautiful Psalm, I encourage you to read the whole thing. When you get to the imprecatory portion, consider how angry you might get in certain situations. Could you express this to God as boldly as the psalmist does? Can God handle it? Can you admit it? Can you commit your way to God no matter what?

Psalm 19:1-4, 14

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalm 49:16-20

Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
    when the glory of his house increases.
17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
    his glory will not go down after him.
18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
    —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
    who will never again see light.
20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

Psalm 79:5

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry forever?
    Will your jealousy burn like fire?

Psalm 109:30-31

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
    I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
    to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.

Psalm 139

Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10

20191229-DSC00101-New Blog Post-2

Belgian Draft Horse (He and his partner pulled our sleigh (with 16 people aboard) through part of the Red Canyon Farm near Leavenworth, WA. | December 2019

My fellow photo club friend recently shared on Facebook that he was asked if he had a personal relationship with Jesus. He answered, “Why, yes I do. I know him well. We see each other regularly. He cuts my grass.” A rather snarky answer to the woman who was most likely sincere – if not a bit out of context. We cannot challenge someone beyond the relationship level we have with them. But I digress.

What if we who identify so closely with Jesus were known for our heart of service? What if she had noticed some way in which she could have served my friend? Might that be part of the story of God’s impact in his life? I wonder if he was already having a difficult day, and a touch of God’s kindness through the hands of a Jesus follower would have brought some of the balm of Gilead to his bruised heart? 

We’ll never know. But we do know that as followers of Jesus we are called to be servants. Paying attention to widows and orphans, caring for needy and sick people, going the extra mile with someone who really needs a second-mile friend: this is our calling. 

You may know the story of Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples on the night he was betrayed. Not the story of the Last Supper, and Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper. The story of Jesus getting up from the table, wrapping his cloak around his waist, taking a bowl of water and a towel, and washing his disciples’ feet. You can find that account in John 13:1-20

Jesus served his disciples in a very menial way. Washing the feet of a guest was servant’s work. And Jesus was a true servant of God and man. He showed it in that act of humble service. I just now looked at the thesaurus for synonyms for service, but none filled the bill for me. Aid, help, helping hand, ministrations: none of them serve us as well as the word service. For service reminds us of servant. Jesus was a servant. 

We are called to be little Christs. That’s what the word Christian means. Little Christ. For most people that’s not what they think of when they hear the term Christian. But maybe, just maybe, we could move the needle just a bit in that direction if we were to dedicate ourselves to serving others. 

Zach Zehnder says in his book, The Red Letter Challenge, “While serving others won’t save you, it may help save someone else.” I’ve got to cogitate on that a bit…You?