Monday, August 31, 2009

"The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this:

If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters,

could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? "

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— John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mirror Reflections

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. -James 1:23-24

When I look in a mirror, it's usually not for the sake of seeing myself. It's to make sure I'm presentable, that I don't have anything stuck in my teeth and my hair is in place. Or maybe something is amiss and I see pen smeared across my face, or realize I need to hit the gym a little harder. If I see something, I usually try to fix it right away.

Not this man. He looks in the mirror, notices some pepper in his teeth, gum in his hair, and dirt on his face. He's aware of these things he needs to fix. But then he gets distracted. He glances away from the mirror and is on to the next thing before he does anything about his appearance.

So the Word reflects our spiritual condition. We look at it and see things that need to change - gossip that needs to stop, cursing that shouldn't be said, love of money we shouldn't have, extra-marital relationships that smudge our hearts.

But how many of us actually do something to change those things - immediately? Instead, don't we tend to put down our mirrors and think, "Man, I really need to change that," and then forget about it as soon as we move on to the next thing?

We choose to walk around in front of everyone else, wearing our dirt and grim on the faces of our souls for all to see. And the whole time we've forgotten to do anything about it.

I sure don't waste time trying to fix my face or hair when I see it's amiss. Why don't I rush to do the same with my heart?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Listen...Then Do.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so decieve yourselves. Do what it says. -James 1:22

I came to this paragraph of chapter 1 with a little bit of excitement and a lot of familiarity. I've been working through Crazy Love by Francis Chan, and in one chapter he hits this topic pretty hard. Or maybe it just hit me pretty hard. He observes that so often we sit in church, feel convicted about something the preacher says, and then go on with life without ever actually changing anything.

With that message fresh in my mind, I approached these verses. I sat for a few moments. Then I made a few notes in my journal:

Still waiting for James to say something convicting to me right now so I can apply this verse. Not that there aren't other verses in the Bible I can't use until then...

You see, while I had been getting some good study notes from the previous 21 verses of the chapter, nothing had really punched me in the gut to tell me what I need to change in my life. But almost in mid-sentence my pen stopped abruptly.

Hmm...does that make me like one who merely listens and so deceives myself?


I took a few steps back to try this again.

Ok, so what has James told me to do so far?
  • Find joy in trials (v.2)
    -Maybe I should start looking at the tiny trials that bug me through my day since I'm not exactly in the middle of a major crisis right now.
  • Ask God for wisdom (v.5)
    -I'm sure not complete in this area.
  • Believe God
  • Take pride in humility
  • Do not let my desires drag me into temptation
    -Hard. Especially when by itself, the desire seems innocent, or is disguised by something else. For example:
    -Desire to be done working early leads me to be tempted to take shortcts with my work.
    -Desire to have friendships with my co-workers leads me to be tempted to listen to/participate in gossip.
    -Desire to avoid conflict leads me to be tempted to not speak up and defent Jesus' Name when someone misuses it.
  • Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger
  • Get rid of moral filth & evil; accept the Word planted in me.

Guess that's a pretty applicable list after all.

Now, what am I going to do about it?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Call to Action

"You know that video you posted?"
"I didn't like it."
"Neither did I."

That's how our conversation started. Before you read any more, I'd really like for you to watch that video clip at Lyla's blog:

I watched it for the first time (and so far the only time) right before bed one night. Usually I will spend some time studying the Word before I turn my lights off, but this particular night I was unable to carry on with my routine. My heart was too burdened by this video.

That's why we didn't like this video. In a way, it's fascinating. But mostly it just made our hearts hurt.

Millions and millions of people all over the world who have no idea who Jesus Christ is. No one has ever told them.

And we're responsible. Jesus told us to spread the Good News. He came to draw all people into His Kingdom. He doesn't want any of them to live in hell forever.

But we sit here in our comfy American homes, attending our quaint American churches, doing our comfortable American thing.

We have such a cushy faith.

We have no idea. None whatsoever.

We never step out, never reach out.

Some pray. Some give money.

But very few go.

We have no idea. And we don't even care. In our culture that the entire world desires to be a part of, we have trivialized our faith. We have made Christianity fit into our lifestyles, but only so it is convenient for us. We have made it comfortable, desirable.

You know what? I don't know that there's much about the Christian life that is desirable. Heaven, yes. Everyone desires to go to heaven. But that's not the Christian life.

The Christian life is hard. It hurts. It means sticking our necks out there.

Speaking up.

Reaching out.

Giving until we have nothing left to give.

Going without.

Abandoning our comfortable lives so that another soul might possibly find eternal life.


We say we know these things. But really, we have no idea. That's why we didn't like the video. We know we are responsible. We are supposed to take action. I suspect the right answer is to buy the next plane ticket to China, Kenya, proclaim the Good News to those who are dying. They are dying in this life, and they will die forever in the next.

That's not the sensible thing to do. Oh my, is it ridiculous in our American minds. To abandon job, family, money, and everything we've worked for? Makes no sense at all.

But to look at it from the eternal - it's the only thing that makes sense. Really and truly.

Lyla and I don't want to be the people who hear, are convicted, and do nothing. We've been that too many times. We haven't got it all figured out. The truth still tears at us from the inside. But we're taking action. A mere baby step in the direction God is pointing. But we are starting. Here. At home. In our community. We are entering the harvest field.

What are you going to do?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Of 'Coons and Dogs

One morning as I was driving along an old paved road through the middle of the countryside on my way to work, I saw something I'd never seen before. It had me laughing and puzzled at the same time. I finally made myself turn around and drive back so I could take a picture with my phone, because I figured it would make a good blog post someday.

That would be a telephone pole. But not just any ordinary telephone pole. This telephone pole comes equipped with the added accessory of a raccoon.

It wasn't until I drove by the second time to get the picture that I noticed a couple of other details. First, even though this poor guy was as high as he could safely get, he was still trying to climb even higher. He was trying to step up onto the very top of the center pole, but there just wasn't enough room for all four paws. Second, the reason for his attempts at climbing as high as possible was positioned at the base of the pole: a large, yellow lab.

This coon had been chased by a big dog, and he went for the nearest and tallest structure he could find. He was now in the wide open view of everyone and everything who happened to be watching...

But he was safe.

So it is when we find safety and refuge in the LORD, our Rock. Sin and evil chase after us and bear down on us. We are forced to make a choice.

Like the raccoon, we can seek shelter under earthly solutions that look safe - leafy bushes right ahead, or maybe behind the barn just beyond. But our destroyer is on our heels, ready to flush us out of the bushes or tackle us behind the barn.

Mr. Raccoon was smart. He knew the shrubbery and walls weren't going to protect him for long. That left two other options: a large leafy tree a few hundred feet away, or the skinny telephone pole straight ahead.

Both of those are good choices. In fact, had I been the 'coon, I'd have preferred the tree. Easier to climb, more branches to hold onto, and some shade to keep me cool while this dog stares me down all day.

But to run to the tree would mean more opportunity for the destroyer to catch up and overpower. The protection would be great, but the path to get there is longer and more dangerous.

God always provides a way out. It would be so much more convenient if He would give us a tree every time we are pursued. But that's not always how He works. Sometimes we get a telephone pole.

It's close, and we can reach it in time. But the climb to the top is straight up and hard work. If we let go, it's a free fall straight to the ground into the jaws of the predator. Not only that, but anyone paying attention might see us out in the open. Exposed.

But it's safe. Because God is there. He will not let us fall into harm when we have run to Him.

Besides, once we reach the top, we'll find that we just can't climb quite high enough to be satisfied.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Roots and Blossoms

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich ought to take pride in his low position, for he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even as he goes about his business. -James 1:9-11

Here lies this paragraph, sandwiched between two others that address withstanding trials and hardships.

Why? What about humble circumstances and wealth serves as a connection between trials and suffering?

Perhaps "humble circumstances" refer not just to poverty (as contrasted with the rich man in the next sentence), but to trials of all kinds. The one who is rich, however, is wealthy not only in money but also in lack of trouble. His life is easy. He does not have trials and discomforts because he can use his wealth to avoid such things.

But this is the man who will not withstand the trial that finally catches up with him, the trial he cannot buy himself out of. He can't take the heat, just as the wild flower withers in the scorching sun. This man has no roots, no depth to his soul that comes by trial. He looks good above the soil, but underneath he has no substance, nothing to keep him rooted. The moment he feels the pressure, he collapses under it.

Not so the one who lives in and through trials of many kinds. Instead of finding a way out and around, this brother perseveres. He gains maturity, completeness, wisdom. He is not lacking. There is substance to his soul, and when the heat is turned on him, he can withstand. He is prepared, equipped, and continues to only get stronger with each passing trial.

(Keyword: passing. No trial is forever.)

In the end, this brother is victorious. He receives the crown of life God Himself has promised to give.
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I recently embarked on my own personal and non-guided (disorganized?) study of the book of James. It's my favorite book of the Bible, and I need to be going a little deeper into Scripture than just reading for the sake of reading. I am by no means a Bible scholar; I am simply a seeker of the Word who journals thoughts and ideas as I study, question, and ponder. Are these the same thoughts and ideas James intended as he penned the words onto parchment? Perhaps not. But I hope them to be thoughts and ideas of truth nonetheless.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Coming Home

It’s dark, but I drive down the middle of the old paved road anyway. Even with my headlights flipped to bright I can’t see much in front of me. But it’s ok, because I’ve driven this road hundreds of times. The night is always black on this road, maybe because there are no man-made lights to illuminate the countryside.

I slow my car as I approach my turn onto the dirt road. The same holes and dips bounce me in my seat, but I don't slow down for them. I know where they are because the multiple attempts to fill them in with sand never worked.

The moon is not quite full tonight, but it still casts a gentle glow over the fields farmed by my father and grandfather and great-grandfather. The smell of freshly-cut alfalfa seeps into my car. My radio plays music, but the silence of the peaceful country night surrounds me and drowns out the sound.

My car travels the final stretch of road, past the old weathered trees on each side, past the gray mailbox, and beside the freshly cut grass. The driveway curves around the large ancient house, the home I knew for so many years. Nothing has changed, minus the overgrown bushes that used to sit out front. The porch light is on, and the lights from inside illuminate the familiar rooms I grew up in. They shine brightly, and I can see that the furniture remains in the same arrangement its had for years.

I park my car and it falls silent, clicking gently as it cools. The sound of singing crickets and frogs in unanimous chorus fills the night air, surrounding me a loudly as the peaceful silence did only a few moments ago. I step out onto the sand of the driveway and take in the smells of the mowed grass and oil-soaked dust from the shed several yards away. The sky is full of bright shining stars. As I gaze at them, one shoots across the night, ever so quickly, yet leaving behind the tiniest trail of light. The night is perfect, and I am surrounded by everything familiar.

I am home.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Blessings from a Saint

She took me to the town's tiny main street, lined with old buildings. There, tucked away across from the homey-looking coffee shop, was the potters' store. She visits them on a nearly weekly basis, my friend does, to fellowship with them, to encourage, and to be encouraged.

Their store is modest, comfortable, and neat. The front room runs directly into their work area. Two large rooms are adjoined to create their workspace. This is where they create, teach, make their livelihood, and minister.

They are a sweet couple. He is tall and lean, with bushy white hair and beard surrounding kind eyes. He speaks softly, but with words that express kindness and caring. He is a gentle man. She is a quiet woman, shorter. She doesn't say much, but her eyes sparkle and dance with life. Her eyes reflect the joy of her Creator.

The four of us chat briefly, then he gives me a tour of the little shop. When we finish, he and my friend begin a new conversation while I browse through their creations. A customer comes in. She is greeted with a warm and friendly welcome.

As I am gazing at the shelves, he approaches me and places a piece of pottery in my hand. He holds it in my hand and begins to speak. My friend backs away to give us this moment. I look down into my hand. There he has placed a small heart, with the word "pure" etched in blue.

He speaks kind words, words that come from a heart tender and sensitive to the Spirit inside. He looks deeply into my eyes and shares this joy and encouragement with me. I have no words to offer in return. But our eyes speak to each other and say all there is.

As we prepare to leave, he gives me a second stone. This one bears the word "restore." He tells me I am to give it to a patient of mine, to tell them that their heart is being restored as well as their body.

Then he places his arm around my shoulders and says he would like to pray for me. His wife comes over to complete our circle of four. He prays for me, over me, in ways I haven't heard anyone pray for me before. He ends, and I look up at the people surrounding me. Friends - old and new - smiling with tears in their eyes. Friends who love me and desire to bless me with the love of Jesus.

I am blessed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apple Red Control

Since February it has plagued me. It has lurked around every corner of my mind, waiting for me to walk near enough so it can jump out and knock me to the ground. It has followed me everywhere I go - to work, to the gym, to the store, to the kitchen for breakfast. It managed to slip itself into a large chunk of my thought life. It caused me to change the way I exercise and the way I eat.

It controlled me.

A thing meant for beauty and celebration, yet it dominated my very being.

Resting behind plastic on its hanger in my closet, it looked harmless enough, this apple red bridesmaid dress. But for six months or more, my life revolved around fitting into this dress.

At the time I tried it on, I was between sizes. So naturally (but not smartly), I went with the smaller size. I had plans to drop a few pounds anyway, and having this dress in the smaller size would keep me motivated to stick to my diet.

Eventually, I reached a point where the dress fit perfectly. I was ecstatic. It fit good and I felt good (which is really a huge achievement for me, especially when wearing fancy dresses).

Only a couple of problems. One was that I was returning to my normal diet pattern. The other was that the wedding was still three months off.

After a month, I was back on my diet in a desperate attempt to get the dress to fit good again. (It would still zip. I just couldn't breathe.) For the next two months until the wedding I agonized and tried my hardest to make it work for me again.

What other things in my life control me in this way? What habits or tendencies or desires do I mold my daily life around for the mere sake of momentary satisfaction?

Or...what would my life look like if I let God have that kind of control in my life? What if He was the reason I work and exercise and eat and live the way I do? What would it look like if I let Him own all of me?

By the way, the dress fit. On the day of the wedding I could breathe and sit down without worry.

And now that the wedding is past, the freedom of a dress-free life is a wonderful thing.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Earlier this month I returned home from a trip through Kansas to see family and friends. The reason for the trip: My brother's wedding. I have a few stories to tell from my time away, which will be posted over the next week or so. But as the focus of my trip was my brother and his new wife, so will be the same for this post.

I arrived in time for a solid 48 hours of wedding activities. We set-up, decorated, ate, rehearsed, hung out with family and friends, ate, did hair done, dressed up, celebrated, ate, danced, and finally cleaned up (and ate). It was tiring and kept us running, but it was well worth every minute.

Everything went off without a hitch (minus one causalty at the dance). Janna was beautiful in her dress, many people came to celebrate together, the decorations looked great, and the food and cake were wonderful.

I don't have much else to say beyond that, so for my non-facebook friends, here are some snapshots of the wedding for you to enjoy!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

What I Learned from the Plant World - Restoration

The following post is written as a contribution to a groupwrite project at As requested: a link to the page that started it all.

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As I was browsing through pictures from my garden in an attempt to write my previous post, I came across a photo that just begged to have its own post.

Looks a little freaky, doesn't it? That used to be a squash plant. It had been flourishing in it's little starter pot. But squash are fragile plants, and in the process of transplanting it into the ground, it broke. The very base of it folded over and cracked in half.

In a couple of days, it was reduced to a few dry and dead shoots of what had once been a thriving plant.

But I left it, partly because I didn't have the heart to dig it up, and mostly just to see what would happen.

Over time, this little squash plant revived itself. Apparently there was just enough life left in the stem to pump water past the broken places and to the rest of the plant. Now, the plant has far outgrown the ones that remained in their safe little pots and is producing fruit.

Amazing, isn't it? What I didn't get a picture of is where the plant comes out of the ground. Underneath this lush foliage remains a twisted, dried up stem. I look at it and am amazed that such a dead and hopeless looking piece of plant is able to support the thick leaves and growing squash on top.

I can't help but remember God's grace to those who come to Him broken and without any hope of life. How much more does He restore His children who are faithful!

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. -1 Peter 5:10

These words were spoken to persecuted Christians, but I have seen God work similar miracles of restoration in lives of people from across the board. We are caught in sin, or life's harsh circumstances trip us up. Health is taken away, possessions are lost, families are torn apart, innocent people are subjected to brutal effects of someone else's sin.

Something happens, and everything we know and trust and find safety in is stripped away. Suddenly we are left alone, exposed, and raw. There is no hope, and our destruction seems like the only possible outcome.

Yet those who hold on, who do not give up, and who desperately cling to Him with even just the tiniest bit of hope those He is faithful and will restore. To those who remain in Him, He remains in and produces a harvest (John 15). He brings life. Not just a life that is barely holding on, but a full and productive life that will bring Him glory.

Know what's cool about all that? Even after restoring His children to life and beauty, the scars remain. Those who have been brought back from a life of death and hopelessness still wear the evidence of the battles they faced. The wounds are healed. But the scars remain.

And they must remain. Because it is from these scars that new life grows.

A new harvest is produced.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lessons Learned from My Garden

You know how too many days of being snowed into your own home can make you a little stir crazy? On these days my mind has a little more freedom to wander, and that's when it comes up with most of my "great" ideas. After the first four or so months last year of blizzarding and -30 degree temperatures that kept me isolated to my small South Dakota home, one of these ideas came to me. I decided to take up gardening.

I still don't know why that appealed to me. I tend to be a plant-killer.

But sure enough, March finally rolled around (still complete with snow and sub-zero temps) and I embarked on my new project.

I bought a few seed packets (only a few, because they would probably all die anyway) of vegetables (if I'm going to go through the work of growing a plant, it may as well produce something for me to eat). I picked up some little pots and troughs and some potting soil. And I set to work. Much to my excitement, after several days the seeds actually started to grow!

Not only that, but they kept on growing! I visited my little plants every day (they had taken up residence in my spare room) and turned their little pots every once in a while to make them reach for the sun and get stronger.

Eventually, the weather warmed up enough to transplant them outside. So in May, they upgraded to the world of grown-up plants. This was hard for me. They were so little and fragile, and here I had subjected them to longer hours in the sun, harsh winds, and bugs that could eat all of them in a single night. Each day I checked up on them, watered them, and made sure they looked comfortable.

Long saga short, my little plants kept growing. So much so that the tomatoes outgrew their cages and I had to add extensions. Finally, at long last, the plants started to produce fruit. Ever so slowly the green tomatoes grew bigger until finally a few of them began to turn red. The squash plants tried repeatedly to make squash, but many did not make it. Finally, a couple began to grow and did not die. Even the peppers began producing until finally they were ready to take off the plant.

At long last, I had my first harvest.

Reminds me of 1 Corinthians 3:7:

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

I worked as hard as I knew how. I talked to my plants, touched them, encouraged them with Miracle Grow once in a while, pulled stray weeds out of their way, and prayed over them. Yes, I prayed over my plants because I didn't trust myself to keep them alive past the first week.

Ultimately, there was nothing I could do to make the seeds I planted grow into plants. I did my best to prepare the way for them to be strong and healthy. But only God could bring them up past the soil and grow them to the point of harvest. And it wasn't a process that happened overnight. No, it took many months and lots of patience before any fruit was evident.

So it goes in our lives. Maybe we have unsaved friends we are trying to minister to. Or maybe we're waiting for a harvest in our own lives. We put forth many hours of hard work, preparing the soil, planting and watering the seeds, and praying over them for a fruitful growth and harvest. We do everything we can to produce healthy and vibrant plants.

But God makes the seeds grow. In His time, He brings forth a harvest. It may take many months or even years of patience and faith on our part, trusting Him to bring this about. He is faithful. And we must be diligent in our gardening, for the harvest will reflect our preparation.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. -Galations 6:9

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I'm Back!

In the event that any faithful readers out there have been checking for posts and finding none, my apologies. I've been out of town...and state...for the past week and my brother's wedding. It was a wonderful time away, and I hope to have some posts up soon about my adventures over the past several days. So please bear with me and keep coming back!


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