Staying on the Short Lead

February 9, 2016

We have a little dog who loves to chase the critters through the woods that borders our property. At first we let her run to her heart’s content. However after seeing a pair of foxes close to our house, we decided it would be better to keep her on a leash.   We have a leash that allows her to wander out about twenty feet and this works great on a sidewalk. But on the trails of the woods it creates a problem since she likes to step off the trail into the brush; inevitably getting the leash tangled in the undergrowth or wrapped around a tree. I have learned that it is better to use a short lead which prevents her from getting off the trail. I also have noticed that with the short lead she is constantly glancing at me for direction.

I started to compare the experience of walking my dog with my walking with Jesus and I found some surprising similarities. In both cases we start out great; side by side on our journey. But just as my dog fails to follow my lead, I am prone to do the same with Jesus. Instead of constantly seeking His guidance my concentration breaks and I step off into the undergrowth of life. All of a sudden, I am confident and independent with an alarming sense of self-sufficiency. In nose-to-the-ground fashion I achieve tunnel vison for taking care of MY kingdom all by MY self. I have to worry about my finances. I have to take control of my career. I have to protect my rights. The next thing I know I am tangled up; all wrapped around the priorities I have created instead of looking to Jesus for direction.

Mathew 13:22 tell us “…the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word making it unfruitful.” If we take our focus off our Lord and Savior we will undoubtedly wind up tangled in the vines and brambles of daily life. Go too far astray and we become so wrapped up in our self-made problems that we are miserably stuck.

Mathew 6:25-32 is all about worrying over things that are really out of our control, and Jesus warns us that worry shows how little faith we have. Obviously we should have appropriate concern over our appearance, finances, and well-being. What we must not do is make these concerns such a priority that we become impatient and impertinent. When we do that we are telling Jesus that he can’t handle it as well as we can.

When I have my dog on the short lead there is less chance she will get too far out in front of me. She has to keep in step with me or the minimal slack of the lead will tug her back. As we walk together she makes sure to pay attention to my direction and we stay in synch. Likewise, if I don’t want to get out in front of Jesus I need to make sure I do the things that keep me in synch. Make time for prayer and devotion. Read the Bible daily. Worship with a faithful body of believers. Galatians 5:24 says “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Walking in the Spirit with my focus on Jesus is much easier if I keep myself on a short lead.


Spiritual Power Pack

January 1, 2015

I have this smart phone that goes dark every few seconds. I know this feature saves the battery but it drives me nuts. Every time I want to use the phone I have to wake it up and put in a code. It is compulsive, and a bit crazy, but I will poke it to keep it alive just so I don’t have to do the “extra step” of putting in the code. Since I never know when I might need to read a message or check a calendar I find myself tapping the thing constantly to keep it active and at the ready.

Wow. That’s just like my faith. I mean I want my faith to be “on” all the time. I never know when I might need to rely on it. At any moment there might be a family or financial crisis that requires me to lean into my faith. No time to wake it up or remember a code. So to keep my faith active and at the ready I have established a few habits.

Quiet Time  Several years ago I realized that I could “hear” God the loudest when my world was the quietest. At the time, my world was the quietest in the morning before the kids got up to go to school. I developed the habit of getting up an hour before everybody else to have time for devotions and meditation. Now that the kids are away at college I could pick anytime of the day but I like having morning coffee with God so I have kept it that way. I have found that I can’t rush this time. I don’t finish reading a devo for the day and then hit the shower. I spend time with my eyes closed just listening. Most of us have heard Psalm 46:10 repeated “Be still and know that I am your God”, but you should also remember Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” [emphasis mine]. Spending time with the Lord should not be a checkbox on your daily To-Do list. Relax and consider what an awesome privilege it is to be alone with the creator of the universe.

Prayer   My wife models a fantastic prayer life for me and for that I am truly grateful. She understands that prayer is a privilege gifted to us at great cost. Prayer is direct communication with God and many people only think of it as their opportunity to tell God what they want. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since they may want health for a child, or they may want wisdom in a situation. But I believe that it is important to pray for what God wants for me. Often my prayers are requests for God to reveal what I am to learn, or how I can become more dependent on Him.

I heard a fellow in a men’s group say he couldn’t find time for prayer because there were too many interruptions. I wondered if he ever spent time sitting in a drive-thru line, or waiting in a dentist office. Ephesians 6:18 tell us to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. I take that to mean that I can pray anytime and anyplace. So I pray while I am standing in a line. I pray while I am driving. I pray while on hold.

In any case prayer is a way to strengthen our relationship with God. Think about it. The people you are the closest to; the people you trust the most, are the people you talk to the most. The same is true with God. The more time you spend communicating with God the deeper your relationship will be.

Reading I stick with two types of reading. First I read books about Christianity. This is everything from easy reads like Purpose Driven Life to heavier reading such as text books on theology and church history. I find these types of books to be entertaining (yes even the text books) while still revealing insight or context that is useful. The other type of reading is the Bible itself. I must admit that I am not as consistent in my Bible reading as I should be. I tend to jump from one book to the other looking for guidance or answers. The reason I do this is to apply parts of scripture to what is happening in my life. I know there is a risk of taking something out of context so I try to be careful about that. Reading has certainly added to my spiritual growth and understanding.

Group Worship I can’t think of anything that will energize my spiritual life faster than regularly worshipping with a body of believers. More than once I have felt distant from God and didn’t see a way back. Then I attend church, or a Bible study, or meet with a small group and I am back in gear and spiritually fortified. A word of caution here.  Relying solely on one type of group worship is like dieting without exercise. You may feel great but you won’t build any spiritual muscle.   If all you do is warm a seat on Sunday morning you will soon hit a spiritual plateau. Likewise, If I never show up in small group or attend a study I would be missing a whole buffet of insight and experience from other believers that can push me to another level. I think a well-rounded spiritual diet is best.

That’s the core of what I do to keep my faith awake and at the ready. I have found that it takes a combination of habits to keep me spiritually balanced and energized. While tapping the screen of your smart phone will diminish its energy, tapping into a group of spiritual habits will certainly increase the energy of your faith life.

Happy New Year

Joy to the World

December 19, 2013

If you gather a group of adults and ask them to talk about the joy of Christmas they will no doubt reminisce about festively wrapped packages, snow covered landscapes, and home baked goodies.  On the other hand if you go to the local mall and ask people to describe the joy of Christmas you might get a snowball hurled at you.  Let’s face it there is no joy in the stress of shopping, snarled traffic, or impending debt.  Still, each year millions of people try to recapture the joy of Christmas by overloading their schedule and their bank accounts only to have that joy fade as fast as the smell of the Christmas tree.

The Bible has a very different view on the joy of Christmas.  Rather than looking for joy in the material Christmas, God tells us to look to the birth of Jesus.  In Luke 2:10 we read that the angel told the shepherds “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  This was the joy of the first Christmas.  A Savior had been born.  Of course the shepherds probably thought that the Messiah had come to deliver them from Roman rule and for this there would be great joy.

In John 15:11 we get a clearer picture of joy when Jesus told his disciples,  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  So what was Jesus’ joy?  Look back in chapter 15 of John and we see that His joy was keeping his Father’s commands; In other words obeying God.  And why did this bring joy?  John 15:10 gives us the answer, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”  So if we keep Jesus the center of our life His love will cover us and this will be the source of our joy.

The bottom line is this; your joy should come from within.  It should come from the relationship you have with a sovereign God and loving Savior.  If you are feeling far from God this Christmas take 5 minutes before you back out of that parking space and into the next traffic jam to bow your head and thank the Lord for his blessings.  Re-center, refocus, and rededicate your life to serving the one who came to save the world from sin.   You will find the real joy of Christmas.

Let’s Take a Ride

December 10, 2013

One day my late wife Mary asked me to get in the car so she could take me for a ride.  She did not tell me where we were going only that she needed me to go. It turned out that she was taking me for a weekend at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.  The converted ship is now a floating hotel where people can stay to relive the grandeur in the age of ocean liners.

Normally I would refuse to go anywhere unless I know the purpose, the time commitment, and the cost involved.  But on this occasion I begrudgingly got in the car with Mary behind the wheel.  We had a wonderful time enjoying the romance of the nostalgia, and in the end I was grateful that Mary had taken control of the weekend.

In a lot of ways God does the same thing.  He doesn’t tell us much about the journey only that He needs us to go.  Instead of asking us to get in a car He asks us to have faith in the Lord Jesus.  John 3:16 tells us “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  All we have to do is believe to start the journey.

Next God tells us to get in the passenger seat.  We can’t drive.  We can’t put the gas in the car.  We can’t even tell God to watch His speed.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  It is not by anything we do, but only by God’s grace that we are even allowed to take the journey of salvation.

Finally God wants us to relax and enjoy the trip.  We can’t navigate and we dare not ask to take a side trip.  Proverbs 16:9 teaches us “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”  Our human nature convinces us that we can find our own way, but God knows the best route from where we are to where we need to be.

If it seems you are on the wrong path, taking the wrong journey, let God show you the way.  He has a wonderful life mapped out for you through faith in Jesus.  As Jeremiah 29:11 teaches us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Let Him take control of your life.  You could not be in better hands.

It has been fun

January 2, 2010

It was fun writing what I thought the world needed to know.  However, life calls me back into reality.  So for now I will close up shop.  Perhaps when life settles into a more routine pattern I will return. 

Thanks to all who came to read what I had to say.

Somalia Refugee Situation Worsens

September 18, 2009
Somali Children

Somali Children

Recent reports coming from the Voice of America and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are indicating that the loss of life from Somalis fleeing poverty and conflict will increase. A number of factors are influencing people to flee the country. Decades of instability, extreme poverty, and now the armed conflict between al-Shabab and the African Union Peace Keeping forces.

For some the most likely route to a better life entails crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Already this year 270 people have drowned in the attempt. For others who choose a shelter in place strategy, the results are not much better. A recent LA Times article reports that the hospital in Mogadishu is filled with gunshot and shrapnel victims. Sadly, one third are children.

Even for those removed from the conflict, daily life is at best a struggle. With nearly 50% of the population living on less than $2US a day survival is a long shot.

Ironically this humanitarian catastrophe has only recently received major media attention as Somalia gained notoriety for pirate activities. Despite rumors to the contrary piracy is not a means to finance the conflict or terrorism, according to the NATO maritime wing commander in the country. Instead piracy has become a means for a few to enhance the lives of many in a country with few other options. The RAND Corporation recently stated that as much as 20% of the ransom pirates earn goes into improving infrastructure and increasing employment. The RAND study suggested that piracy could be kept under control by enhancing economic incentives so that local residents would have other means to earn a living.

Somalia is not the only African country to experience economic or political strife. Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all bare the scars of turmoil, famine, and civil wars. Compassion International has been working in Africa since 1980 helping children cope with famine, drought, epidemics of AIDS, cholera, and the hardships of ongoing local conflicts. Even after nearly 30 years of humanitarian efforts Compassion International still serves over 317,000 children; a testimony to the dire conditions found in most African countries.

Still, Somalia somehow stands out. It is country with economic potential, military significance, and a desire by its people for a stable government. Right now though, it is a country with not much more than hope.

[If you would like to help children in need Compassion International operates in many African countries.  Please sponsor a child. ]


Obama LGBT Hat Trick

September 16, 2009

A Golden Opportunity for Christ Followers

With the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act already passed by the House and working its way through the Senate, the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) scheduled for a House Education and Labor hearing this month, and the introduction of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration is quietly waiting in the wings to pull off a hat-trick for lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) activists.

ENDA introduced by Rep. Barney Frank would prohibit an employer from refusing to hire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill (H.R. 3017) specifically exempts religious organizations, and according to a popular LGBT blog  post by Dr. Jillian T. Weiss this extends to religious oriented businesses, schools and camps. It does not extend to secular businesses that are owned by people of religious beliefs that condemn LGBT sexual orientation.

The Respect for Marriage Act introduced by Rep. Gerald Nadler repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and would grant federal recognition to same-sex marriages if the marriage was performed in a state that allows such unions. The repeal would have implications for taxes, social security benefits, and pensions, regardless of where the couple lives. In other words if a same-sex marriage was performed in Connecticut ( a state that recognizes such unions) and then the couple moved to Maryland ( a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage) the couple would have all the rights afforded a man-woman marriage by the federal government.

All three pieces of legislation will be working their way through Congress and the debate over family values and discrimination will begin to perk to the top of the House’s to-do list late this fall. Already conservative organizations have begun campaigns to illuminate the subtleties of the bills. Mean while LGBT groups are turning up the heat fearing that health care reform, climate change, and the appropriations bills will push their agenda to the back burner and away from the President’s desk.

The legislative trio comes at a time when a growing number of Christian churches and organizations are questioning the biblical validity of the venom being spewed by some conservative Christians. In his book unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters, author David Kinnaman devotes an entire chapter to the intolerance, both perceived and real, that has stereotyped the evangelical church. Kinnaman maintains that this is the single biggest issue that prevents younger generations from being open to the truth of the gospel.

As Christ followers we have an opportunity in this debate to erase years of misconceptions and animosity. We can stop the demagoguery and remember that the traditional views (i.e. slavery) of the church have not always been correct. We can debate the issues with tolerance and compassion. We must open the doors of our churches to the LGBT community and say “There is room in here for all”.  Above all else we can remember that we are called to love one another.