Category Archives: Highlights


Bad things happen to good people.

We live in a broken world. It all started in a perfect Garden, thousands of years ago when the first humans were unable to obey a simple command and sin began to multiply in this world. From that point on humankind has demanded to be in charge of our own lives. This is the most damaging impact of sin which is at work in all of Adam and Eve’s descendants and compels us to try to live without God. Living in a sinful world means we deal with accidents, sickness, shootings, and all kinds of tragedies that happen to good and bad people alike.

If it were not for God’s mercy (when He withholds what we really deserve for our sinfulness) and grace (when He generously gives us what we could never deserve) our lives would be filled with the horror of constant tragedy, pain, and separation from all that is good. At this very instant, God’s goodness is being poured out all over the world because He loves us in spite of our rejection of His Son, Jesus.

Is God powerful enough to stop tragedies like Sandy Hook? Yes, absolutely! And He does prevent tragedies and accidents all the time – but not every time. That’s what we find so difficult to understand and accept.

Why doesn’t God stop all the bad things from happening? Because God understands how foolish it would be to let us have our own way all the time. If I got my way and what I want every time, I would soon think of myself as god.

We have finite minds and that makes it difficult to understand an infinite God. Every day we grapple with the limitations of being human but God is not limited. We can only guess what might happen tomorrow but God knows every detail.

Don’t reject God because He doesn’t measure up to your standard. My measuring stick and your standard is broken and faulty. God is trustworthy because He is all-powerful, always present, and knows everything. Even when everything seems to be going wrong, God is still in charge.

Starting NOW

Just a few hours ago, I posted an article titled, “A New Command” about Jesus’ admonition that His disciples should be known by their love for one another. Then the decision was announced: The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld President Obama’s Health Care Law. (I realize there are numerous readers who live outside the U.S. – forgive me. Maybe this applies to situations where you are.)

Would you allow me to humbly offer some advice about how we love each other? And could we start now?

Well meaning Christians are responding – many in anger. If my Facebook page and inbox are any indication, good church people are already mounting campaigns, raising funds, and declaring the Court’s decision as unchristian and unbiblical.

Let’s recall that early in the history of our Faith, the Roman government attempted to obliterate Jesus’ followers through ruthless persecution and barbaric punishment. They failed. In fact, within a few years the term “Christian” was transformed from a term of derision to a compliment as Rome adopted Christianity as the official religion.

That did not happen through a campaign. Christ followers did not mount protests and call press conferences and enter into public debates. There was no political action committee to receive funds and try to sway the thinking of government leaders.

The change took place not because Christians were making pejorative statements but because they loved one another and they loved their neighbors. They learned to love sacrificially; without bias, anger, or revenge as a motivation. They had no idea their behavior toward each other and their neighbors would radically change the world. The love was offered with simplicity and sincerity. Just like Jesus loves us.

I am not suggesting that Believers should not be involved in the political arena but we should be known for our love not our anger. We should be humble. If the church had been taking care of the poor and the sick, the widows and orphans we wouldn’t need a health care law.

Starting now, let’s all be careful of what we say and how we say it. People who are far from God are watching us. Let’s love one another.

Jesus said it, “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

A New Command

Today I counted them: seven emails that ended with “if you’re really a Christian, you’ll pass this on to ten friends,” or something similar. And nineteen of my “friends” on Facebook posted pithy sayings, Scripture quotations, and inspiring photos with a quasi warning: “only those who are really Christians will hit ‘share’.”

Recently, someone was helping me load my car after a presentation at a church and as the trunk was closed he said, “I’m surprised you don’t have a sign or bumper sticker that says you’re a Christian.” Without even thinking I said, “I hope I don’t need a label.”

I looked around the parking lot and almost every vehicle had some kind of fish (ichthus) or symbol that most people would interpret as “religious.” Over the next few weeks as I visited churches and navigated the highways I was keenly aware of those markers.

Are they really necessary? Do I actually need to forward those emails and share those posts on Facebook so that others will know I have chosen to follow Jesus?


Jesus never referred to his followers as Christians, only disciples. And this is what he said to them: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35.

Jesus commands his followers to love each other with the same kind of self-less, sacrificial love he showed to us by dying on the cross! He does not tell us to obey all the rules, dress a certain way, vote for a particular party or only use the organ when we sing hymns. Love one another.

The directive seems so simple – why do we find it so very difficult?

The pastors of the Pekin Ministerial Association have been trying to model this “love one another” command by setting aside our differences in doctrine, methods, and style in order to meet practical needs in our school district. But that isn’t enough. All of us who claim to follow Jesus are obligated to love each other. No permission is given to not love someone for any reason whatsoever. Love one another.

Our love for one another as Believers in Christ is what should set us apart. How are we doing?

Jesus said it, “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.”

FYI – Historically, the term “Christian” began as a derogatory, demeaning, and bigoted label. I imagine the Believers who received Paul’s letters at Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth would be flabbergasted that the term has any positive connotations at all!

Learning to Lose

Brady’s baseball team lost last night. It was a tough loss because it wasn’t even close. The Sluggers played four games in a tournament over the weekend; winning the first twoBrady_Pitch_1 decisively, losing the third in a tight game where the lead changed every inning. Then, when they were tired and sore, the fourth game was almost a rout. It was a tough lesson in losing.

We forget that every time someone wins, someone else loses. That’s the only way winners are determined in our sports-addicted culture. But losing is necessary.

Baseball players and fans all know that Hank Aaron had 755 home runs but we forget that it took 12,364 trips to the plate and that he struck out 1383 times. Losing is necessary.

When we learn to lose we begin to understand what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

We have a tendency to worship winners when in fact our worship is to be directed to Jesus who “made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant.”

It doesn’t make sense; it’s counter-intuitive. Losing is necessary.

I hope my grandson wins many a baseball game. Winning is fun and I cheer him on every opportunity I get! I also understand there will be loses and I pray those will be times of learning what it is to be humble and self-less so as to avoid being filled with vain conceit. Losing is necessary.

Jesus said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:25)


The small, black kitten strayed into our yard while I was tossing a “nerf” baseball to Brady (6) and Broc (4) who were doing their best to hit a homer with their “nerf” bats. Brandt (2), who is terrified of cats, was standing right next to me; one fist tightly held on to my trousers and the other was clutching his “nerf” bat. Every time the kitten turned toward us Brandt would tug on my trousers and mutter, almost whisper, “woof, woof”. Then he would hide his head between my knees.

The dance around my legs – while I was trying to toss the “nerf” ball – went on for several minutes. Soon I was laughing so much I couldn’t continue. I picked up Brandt, hugged him, and he said, “Bad kitty!” This grandpa will cherish that memory (and laugh) for a long time.

It’s ironic that Brandt would be afraid of a kitten weighing less than two pounds which was probably quite intimidated by the two-legged boy weighing almost 20 pounds! If the kitten had come toward Brandt one swipe of the bat he was holding would’ve sent a convincing message.

Allow me to make two observations out of the many possibilities:

One – We are often fearful of people and things which, in perspective can do little eternal harm. Usually these are situations where God has made tools available to us, some of which we hold in our hands, like Brandt’s “nerf” bat, but instead we choose to hide. God offers us the opportunity to be equipped for living, but we want to live on our terms and end up being frightened of the silliest things.

Two – We often look at God’s moral order and declare it “invalid” and “out-of-touch.” We smile at a child whose is afraid of a small kitten but ignore the dangers of eternal consequence when we fail to practice self-control in the areas of morality, money, etc. Instead we flaunt our selfishness and pride claiming the “right” to decide what is right and wrong for ourselves.

There are so many things in this life which are frightening. We are often intimidated and panic-stricken by fear; a dread which can paralyze us. At those times we want God to be right there so we can hang on to his trousers, hide between his knees and, finally, pick us to assure us that everything will be OK.

In the middle of trepidation we need assurance – the palpable presence of God. We want Him to pick us up so we can whisper, “Bad world.” We want to be able to laugh in the face of fear.

God is there. He will never leave or forsake us. His love has no end and His grace has no boundaries. When we cry out to Him we will be heard. He does not sleep; is not distracted; we have no reason to fear.

David writes about the reality of God in Psalm 28:6-8

Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

The LORD is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

God knows your need. He knows about that situation or individual who seems to wander around like the black kitten. No matter what our situation, David reminds us that the antidote to our fear is the Lord’s strength. He is our shield and fortress. God understands our fears. May we be afraid of all the right things.


I was fifteen years old when I had my first ride on a motorcycle. I didn’t sleep for two days and nights afterward but it wasn’t from excitement. Remorse, fear and conviction kept me awake. Dad had explicitly forbidden me (and my younger brother) from ever riding a motorcycle and I had disobeyed.

My Dad grew up in an orphanage but when he was in high school he had a friend, Ed, who came from a “real family.” That family included Dad in many of their activities and he often spent weekends with them. On Ed’s 16th birthday his parents took him to a local dealer and he chose his new motorcycle.  Dad would describe this event with great personal excitement. No one at the orphanage had ever received such an extravagant gift and he was probably more thrilled than Ed!

Dad rode in the car with Ed’s parents and followed as he rode his new motorcycle home. Just a few blocks from the dealer, Ed failed to see an unmarked, two inch diameter, 10 ft galvanized pipe sticking out of a truck. The pipe went right through Ed’s head – killing him instantly. Ed’s parents, along with my Dad, witnessed every gory detail.

Out of that horrifying experience came the rule in our house: Don’t even think about riding a motorcycle. We could all argue that the rule was unreasonable; the fear irrational; that some good therapy would’ve helped Dad understand the motorcycle was not at fault. One might even present a good case for the rarity of red warning flags coming loose from objects extending out of trucks.  I could even make the argument that I rode the motorcycle in a farm field, wearing a helmet, with no other vehicles or obstacles in sight. But those are just excuses: I had disobeyed – sinned.

I was literally sick due to lack of sleep and the emotional turmoil. Dad was no dummy – he asked what was going on. I confessed and expected the punishment to be swift and severe.  Instead, the discipline handed out that day has lasted a lifetime and has been unusually cruel – and it’s also been one of the greatest gifts my Dad ever gave me.

In spite of his absurd fear of motorcycles, Dad was gifted with great spiritual wisdom. He looked me in the eye, shook is finger in my face and with a stern voice said, “Don’t ever forget the conviction, remorse and fear you’ve experienced the past three days. The motorcycle rule is insignificant compared to God’s commands. I pray that every time you’re faced with a decision of whether or not to obey God you’ll remember how you felt after that motorcycle ride.”

No other punishment was handed out. Within the family setting, nothing was ever said about the incident. To this day, every time I see a motorcycle, I’m reminded of how costly it is to disobey.

Have I lived perfectly since then? No. Not even close. (Just ask my wife and children.) But there have been – and continue to be – many times when I recall the sense of foreboding after I rode that motorcycle. It was an unforgettable lesson about remorse over sin; about confession and repentance and the receiving of forgiveness.

Is it possible that we have become immune to the sense of fear and remorse for disobeying God’s commands? Has conviction hung over us for so long that we have learned to live with it? Do we experience remorse and conviction when we act in defiance to God?

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:5-10


Sometimes life throws us a curve ball…and sometimes this is the understatement of the day. Pain, suffering, disappointment and grief are no respecters of persons for they come to us all. And when the pain is so real and the suffering so intense, the human inclination is to become suspicious of God. We ask God that age-old question “why?” while already convinced that He couldn’t possibly have a satisfactory answer. But if these suspicions are ever to be replaced with trust, then we would do well to ask what there is about God that would demand our absolute trust.

A child might learn in Sunday school that he can trust in God because God is POWERFUL. God is big, God is strong, God is mighty! And so He is. Isaiah writes: “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust” (26:4,5). And Paul says that Abraham “did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20,21).

We trust God because we know He is powerful enough to do all that He says. He is sovereign and in total control of the universe, and there is absolutely nothing that is too hard for Him — “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).

And Jesus said simply: “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). But there is nothing that will destroy trust faster than power that is abused. Power in and of itself will never earn a person’s trust. Satan is powerful. There are many men and women who wield power in this world, but not all are trusted. In other words, we trust God in part because He is powerful, but if God is only powerful, then He is not yet worthy of our trust.

But God is not just powerful, He is also GOOD. And power plus goodness equals a perfect and complete recipe for trust — almost. David exclaims: “How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings…Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 36:7;34:8). And Nahum writes in beautiful simplicity: “The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (1:7).

Those who take refuge in God are those who have trusted in God and so we trust God because He is good and because we know that His power always works to accomplish our greatest good (Romans 8:28). On close examination we discover that power plus goodness is only an “almost” perfect recipe for trust, for someone may be both powerful and good, and still be quite stupid and foolish. The bumbling fool may be both powerful and good and still cause those around him to look upon him with pity even as they run for safety from his foolish decisions. So in the end we find that the only one who could possibly be worthy of absolute and unconditional trust is He who is infinitely powerful, infinitely good, AND INFINITELY WISE.


Lois and I have asked ourselves, have we come to idolize good health? Is it possible that we’ve taken one of God’s good gifts and made it something more? After all, there are no guarantees that life will be free from sickness, pain, and hardship. Quite the opposite. Scripture assures us that difficulties, hurts, and illness in the lives of Believers become opportunities for us to experience the reality of God’s abiding presence, overwhelming compassion, and boundless grace.

In  2Corinthians 12:9 we read, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

So we write this to boast about Christ’s power at work: Lois is doing very well; no pain and very little discomfort. She is getting noticeably stronger everyday and is more active. Recently she explained to someone that she is sleeping so well at night she no longer wakes up to change position which is amazing considering the size of the scar and the extent of surgery.

We believe all this is in answer to prayer, so, thanks for praying.

This coming week is full. Bettye Lou, a dear friend of my Mom, Clarice, and of our whole family, is coming from Indiana for a visit. Mom will certainly enjoy that. Over the holiday weekend, Lois’ sisters are coming as well.

Another answer to prayer: this past week Clarice had her three month checkup from the surgery for her broken neck. Although the bones haven’t fused very much, the surgeon was pleased the screws are holding everything together. He gave permission for her to take off the neck brace as much as she is comfortable with. That will make life a lot more relaxed not only for her but for her care givers at the nursing home.


I love talking with young adults . . . they keep me on my toes! “T,” a college student, just got off the phone. He’s had it with church and religion and all the hypocrisy. His Mom called me last night and asked if I would be willing to talk with him. She really wanted me to “talk some sense into him” so he wouldn’t “throw his life away.” I said I would talk with her son but only if he called me.

I was surprised when he called. “T” was loaded for bear and unloaded all the hurt, confusion, frustration and anger he’s been harboring against the church. It was pretty messy. The phrase that seemed to be repeated over and over was, “just a bunch of hypocrites.” So I challenged him to give me one example of this hypocrisy that was bugging him so much.

This is the nicest way I can summarize: “When I was a kid, the pastor talked all the time about giving 10 percent. Ten percent of your money; ten percent of your time; and ten percent of your talents. Nobody did it – at least not my parents or my friends’ parents. I’ve seen the tax returns. More like three percent. Yet every Sunday they’d go to church and smile and make nice and pretend they were doing the ten percent thing.

“When I got to college I was introduced to Islam. One of the things you agree to do when you become a Muslim is bring all your money to Mohammed and then the leaders let you take some back. Now that’s commitment.” When he finished I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

The hypocrisy in the church is most evident when it comes to money.

In 1896 Judson W. Van DeVenter penned some words that Winfield S. Weeden put to music as a hymn we know as “I Surrender All.” History proves that these two men did indeed surrender everything to follow Jesus but we cannot sing this song honestly. Maybe we should re-write the lyrics to represent what we teach but what few of us do. Therefore, in order to make the song reflect reality, I propose the following version:

Ten percent to Jesus I surrender
Ten percent to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In his presence daily live.

I surrender ten percent, I surrender ten percent;
Ten percent to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender ten percent.

Ten percent to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me Jesus, take me now.

I surrender ten percent, I surrender ten percent;
Ten percent to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender ten percent.

Is the “ten percent tithe” Biblical? It was in the Old Testament. But Jesus seems to hold up a higher standard when He asks us to “take up our cross and follow.” And when he teaches us that if we want to save our lives we have to lose them first. Paul continues the theme when he talks about being “living sacrifices.”

No wonder our young people are walking away from the church. We’ve made being a Christian way too easy.


“This will change your life forever.”

Last night I was at a meeting at our local high school and got back home at 8 pm. Lois and I talked about the day and prayed together and then I needed to unwind. There wasn’t much on TV but we ended up watching Deal or No Deal.

The host, Howie Mandel, tried to make the contestant and audience believe this was a game about faith, luck, and nerve. Its not. Deal or No Neal is about greed – simple, unvarnished, drooling greed. (Our early church fathers listed greed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins.)

Another phrase that Mr. Mandel used multiple times was, “Winning a million dollars will change your life forever.” I wasn’t counting at first, but I think he used a form of that phrase at least a dozen times. “This will change your life forever.”

But will winning a bundle of money really change someone’s life forever?

There are a lot of people who are confused about this. We know the “church answer” but honestly, what would most people rather have: a million bucks? Or, a life of surrender and obedience to God? Would we rather build houses, buy cars, and take off on world class vacations or clean toilets at the local homeless shelter?

As pastors and church leaders we need to personally wrestle with this question.

Our surrender to the Lordship of Christ must be continually evaluated. The people we lead see right through empty words. Our lives are an open book – and people can “read” us from a mile away. What is it that has changed your life forever? Does your family know where you place your loyalty? Does the household of faith you serve see you as someone who is totally committed to God?

Not only should our commitment and surrender be obvious to those around us, our obedience needs to be what makes us real. We all fail and fall; sin and disobedience is part of this life and we need to acknowledge our failures and shortcomings. Confession and repentance always results in change and those adjustments, those changes should be noticed.

I’m not advocating that pastors stand up on Sundays (or any other day) and publically discuss all their sins! What a disaster that would be. What we ought to understand is that lives of sacrificial surrender and humble obedience should speak for themselves.

Back to the main question: What is it that changes a life forever?

Are we communicating the love and forgiveness, the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ in a way that the people around us will notice the greed that drives a popular TV program? Will we be known for the transforming power of Christ in us? Or will people remember us as selfish and greedy?

“So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”  You call out to God for help and he helps – he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.  Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God.”
1 Peter 1:13-17 The Message