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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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November 21, 2017: A Thanksgiving Tradition

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A number of years ago, I began a personal Thanksgiving tradition.  Every year, during one of my times with the Lord, I open my journal and quickly write down at least 101 things for which I am thankful.  The list is not in any particular order and I write as fast as I can think.  This little exercise can really lift my heart in gratitude.  It also causes me to think about things that I so often take for granted.

So this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to try it.  If you have done this before, maybe stretch yourself.  Think of 151 things or even 201 things.  Sure your list will include things like those that some of the kids shared on the video on Sunday—e.g. dolphins and butterflies (but hopefully not Nemo, unless Nemo is the name of your dog; although if that’s the case, you need to rename your dog so he doesn’t grow up with a complex!).  You might even find yourself thanking God for cats, though some would say that is really scraping the barrel!

Whatever you do, take time this Thanksgiving to choose thankfulness.  It’s what this holiday is really all about.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His love endures forever.  (Psalm 136:1)
 

November 14, 2017: When things go south in a local church

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I just returned from a meeting with some other pastors to address a difficult church situation (not here at Hope).  It reminded me of a few things that relate to my message this past Sunday where I addressed the need to gather together with fellow believers in Christ (Hebrews 10:19-25).  Here are just some random thoughts, hot off my little noggin:

  1. The church is made up of imperfect people.  We are all imperfect and we all need grace.  We will all at one time or another mess up, hurt one another, and/or offend one another.  It’s because none of us is perfect, even though many of us think we are pretty darn tootin’ close!  :-)
  2. As pastors and leaders, we will all make mistakes.  Eventually, we will disappoint and let you down.  The issue is not “if” but “when.”  When that happens, I pray we will have the wisdom to ask your forgiveness.  But don’t be shocked when it happens.  We too are imperfect.
  3. Give grace to one another.  Just as we desire for others to give us grace, so too, we need to give grace to others.  But Jesus raised the bar even higher.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).  What made that commandment new?  No longer was the standard just to treat others the way we desire others to treat us, but rather the standard was now even higher.  The standard is now to love one another with the same love that Jesus loves us.  That love is a love full of grace and forgiveness.  Why did Jesus give us this command?  Because He knows how challenging it is do life together.  He knows how difficult it is to be a loving, united body of believers.
  4. Don’t give up on your church.  I think if someone hurts us, or if our church leadership makes a decision with which we disagree, or if the church doesn’t do something that we want to be done, it can be easy just to walk away.  But in doing so, rather than becoming part of the solution, we become part of the problem.  When you read the New Testament epistles, one thing that is striking is that many of the churches had problems.  In fact, most of the epistles were written to address problems in the church.  But where would the churches in Corinth, Colossae, Thessalonica, etc. be if everyone just bailed and left those churches?
  5. Be proactive.  If someone in the church says or does something that hurts you, be proactive and talk to that person in at timely fashion.  If you see something that concerns you, share your concern with an elder of the church.  If you see a need and see something that needs to be done in the church, share that need with a leader in the church.  But in the latter situation, make yourself available to do something about it.  It’s easy to insist “someone” needs to do something to meet a particular need, but not be available to help.

In the end, the church is really like our family.  When we see needs or even dysfunction in our family, we don’t just walk away.  We try to address those issues because we love our families.  It’s the same with our church.  The New Testament’s solution for problems in the church was not to leave, but to lovingly, proactively, and gracefully address those issues.  Let’s make a commitment to do the same at Hope!

PS—This past Sunday, I addressed "The Individualistic Room” as the final barrier that can prevent us from experiencing God.  I encourage you to listen to it.

November 7, 2017: Responding to the Prompting of Jesus

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We are continuing as a church to be on a journey with Jesus, embracing His call to be on mission.  Let me encourage you to continue to reach out to those in your sphere in influence who do not know Jesus.  Following this simple B.L.E.S.S. acronym will help:

Begin with prayer

Listen (Take time to get to know them.  Ask good questions and listen to their stories.)

Eat (Share a meal with them or do something fun with them)

Serve (Find out their needs and seek to meet them. And be willing to ask for their help when appropriate.)

Story (When appropriate, share your story.  Share what Christ means to you and perhaps about you own spiritual journey.)

But don’t forget to start with prayer. In fact, we need to continue to pray and respond to the prompting of Jesus.  Jesus promised us that we would receive power from the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).  So we must depend on the Spirit’s power and follow His lead.  But that entails responding to the promptings of the Spirit of God, even when it seems inconvenient.

So did you ask the Spirit of God to empower you & lead you today?  Are you willing to respond to the Spirit’s subtle promptings?

Last August during our “On Mission with God” series, Karen Clements sent me a link to a humorous video.  Beth Moore is a phenomenal, gifted Bible teacher, but she is also very funny.  She tells a story about responding to the Spirit’s prompting.  Let me encourage you to take 9 minutes and listen to this true, humorous, and inspiring story by Beth Moore: The Hairbrush Story.

October 31, 2017: It ain’t over until it’s over

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It ain’t over until it’s over!

I was reminded of this big time last Saturday when Penn State collapsed after accumulating a commanding lead in the 4th quarter, giving up 19 points to Ohio State and losing the game 38-39.  Cheryl said they lost because I skipped out on church!  :-)  My friend Dan had some Ohio State friends who texted him saying they were leaving the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter because they were so frustrated.  Can you imagine what they felt like when they got home and realized what had happened?

But that trite saying is actually a good reminder to all of us as well.  This morning in my time with the Lord, I was reading in the book of Ruth.  Naomi and her family move to Moab because of a famine.  In Moab her husband and two sons die, leaving her a widow caring for two Moabite daughters-in-law.  In a culture with no life insurance and no government programs for the poor, this left her dangerously vulnerable.

Naomi’s name means “pleasant.”  But when she returns to Bethlehem, Naomi says to the townspeople, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 

The name Mara means “bitter.”  From Naomi’s perspective, she interpreted her situation as God dealing with her bitterly, as if He was judging her.  Perhaps she thought God was judging her for an unknown sin.  Or perhaps she wondered if they should not have gone down to Moab, or that her sons should not have married Moabite women (btw- some would say that this was not strictly forbidden as was marriage to the Canaanites, but it was very discouraged since the Moabites worshipped false gods).  Whatever the case, she viewed her situation as God dealing with her bitterly.

Before we judge Naomi, don’t we do the same?  When life’s circumstances turn difficult—when we are faced with serious health issues, or financial hardships, or relational difficulties, or workplace challenges—don’t we often view God as dealing with us bitterly?  Certainly there are times when our circumstances are the result of our own sin, but often that is not the case.  But in those situations, do we doubt the goodness of God?

But in those times, it’s good to remember—it ain’t over until it’s over.  As you know, Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth not only marries Boaz, but they have a son, who becomes the joy of Naomi’s heart.  But the story still ain’t over.  Obed becomes the grandfather of King David, making Naomi David’s great great grandmother.  But even then, the story ain’t over.  Naomi ultimately becomes part of the lineage of King Jesus Himself.

So if you are going through a difficult time, remember—it ain’t over until it’s over!  So trust God and believe in His goodness towards you!

October 24, 2017: Understanding Our Baggage

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Last night Ollie and I watched the 2017 movie, “The Case for Christ.”  It’s based on the true story of the spiritual journey of Lee Strobel, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a committed agnostic.  Strobel initially set out to disprove the Christian faith.

In the movie, Strobel visits an agnostic professor of psychology at Indiana University.  Here’s part of their conversation:

Dr. Waters: Before you go, may I ask you something?

Strobel: Sure.
 
Dr. Waters: It's about your father. I am just curious, what is your relationship with him like?
 
Strobel: Uhmmm, complicated.
 

Dr. Waters: Let me guess—distant, cold, doesn't give much affirmation or express love.

Strobel: Guilty on all charges. Why?

Dr. Waters: I imagine that as a skeptic you are familiar with the great names of atheism– Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud.

Strobel: Of course, yes, some of my greatest heroes.

Dr. Waters: Did you know that all of them had a father who either died when they were young, abandon them, or was physically or emotionally abusive?  In the world of therapy, it is called a father wound.

Last Sunday, in our series on “What Keeps Us From Experiencing God,” we visited the baggage room.  We all have baggage from our past.  For some people the bags are light, but for many of us that baggage is heavy.  That baggage can prevent us from experiencing love, affect our view of God, and significantly influence how we interact with others, including our interaction with our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and bosses.  All to say, in the Kingdom of God, bags don’t fly free.

Robert Lewis, pastor and founder of Men’s Fraternity says this, ““Everybody has a story.  Every guy in here has a story….  Everybody is who they have become, because of moments like that—noble moments, missed moments, hurtful moments, defining moments.  You are who you are in part because of those things.  But do you understand those things?  And maybe the bigger question: Do you understand how those things are impacting your life right now?  You see, to be a real man, you need to look back.  You have to figure it out and decide what’s worth keeping and what’s worth throwing away.”

Jesus said He would set us free.  He promises us “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  But in order to apply God’s truth to its fullest extent, we need to have a good understanding of the lies we have bought into.  Otherwise, those lies will remain blind spots in our life.

So let me ask you—have you taken the time to look back?  Do you have a good understanding of how your past is influencing your life right now?  Have you asked God to give you wisdom to understand how the enemy has planted seeds of lies through those past negative experiences?  Are you experiencing the truth that sets you free?

PS- If you missed last Sunday, let me again encourage you to listen to the message, “The Baggage Room.”

 

October 17, 2017: Taking the Plunge Into Our Fears

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Back in 2010, our daughter Hannah went on a short-term mission project to Zambia.  On one of their breaks, she visited Victoria Falls.  Nearby there was a 300’ bungee jump connected to an abandoned bridge which overlooks one of the rivers near the falls.  Hannah decided to take the plunge.

Now why did she do it?  Mostly because it was a fun thing to do.  But what made it fun?  Fear.

Think about this for a moment.  A huge part of what made that jump fun was that it was a fearful thing to do.  But what countered the fear was trusting that those who operated the bungee jump had everything under control.  As I mentioned last Sunday, fear + control = fun.  However, fear + out of control = terror.  (btw- days after Hannah made her jump, someone did the same jump, but the bungee cord snapped, sending the person into the alligator-infested waters below.  Thankfully, she was fine.  But her fun was turned into terror very quickly!)

When we experience worry and anxiety, which really are forms of fear, it’s because we feel that something in our life is out of control.  Whether it be health, finances, conflict at work, etc., there is something in our life which we cannot control, and that causes us to be anxious.  One solution is to try to gain control over those things.  But as we talked about last Sunday, control is an allusion.  No one is in control of their lives.

But what if we if we were absolutely convinced that someone was in perfect control and we knew that this someone loved us and always had our best in mind?  Would that make a difference?

God tells us that He is that Someone.  He is in absolute control of all things and He loves us more than we can imagine.  So He makes this promise to us—And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

If life is uncertain and control is an allusion, then our only hope for true peace is to surrender & trust in the only One who is truly in control.  Therefore, to the degree that we surrender and trust in God’s control will be the degree that we experience His peace.

So will there be fear in this life?  Yes!  But fear + God’s control = fun, adventure!  Now you might be thinking, “But that’s a 'fun adventure' which I really don’t want to take!”  But God doesn’t give us that choice.  Perhaps it’s because He loves us too much to give us a way out.  And why?  Because when we find ourselves curled up in fear in our worry room, we are forced to walk through the door of surrender and trust.  And when we walk through that door of surrender and trust, we not only experience peace, but we experience God Himself in a deeper way.  And anytime we experience God in a deeper way, the adventure is always worth it.  Always.

 

If life is uncertain and control is an allusion, then our only hope for true peace is to surrender & trust in the only One who is truly in control

So strap yourself in and take the plunge!
 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6,7)

PS—If you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to listen to the message “The Worry Room” (What Keeps Us From Experiencing God, part 3).

 

October 10, 2017: The Practice of Slowing

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Yesterday was my day off.  After a busy weekend, I decided I really needed to slow down.  But once I got into the mode of doing outdoor chores, I found myself pushing my adrenaline button more times than I should have.  So instead of finishing the day refreshed, I once again went to bed feeling spent.  Now for me, I can tell when I have pushed my adrenaline button too many times because when I do, instead of sleeping well, my adrenaline button goes off all by itself.  So after 5 ½ hours of sleep, I found myself lying in bed, wide awake.

So I decided to get up and spend time with the Lord.  But in light of my addiction to busyness, I grabbed a book off my office shelf entitled, The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  I read his chapter on “An Unhurried Life—The Practice of ‘Slowing.’”  Here’s an excerpt:

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  Imagine for a moment that someone gave you this prescription, with the warning that your life depends on it. Consider the possibility that perhaps your life does depend on it. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well. As Carl Jung wrote, "Hurry is not of the Devil; hurry is the devil." Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim [over] our lives instead of actually living them.

In the story of Mary & Martha, Jesus exhorted the task-driven Martha saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What was that one thing?  It was experiencing the presence of Jesus, listening to His instructions, and staying connected with Him.  Interestingly, in the very next verse, Jesus models what He was trying to teach Martha.  Luke writes, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place” (Luke 14:1).  Jesus must have done this regularly for the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray as well.  All to say, Jesus stayed connected with the Father.

 

The great danger is not that we will renounce our faith, but settle for a mediocre version of it.

So let me encourage you this morning to stay connected with Jesus.  How?  Simply by depending on the Spirit’s power and following His lead.  I think I remember someone speaking on that topic two Sundays ago.  Maybe I myself need to listen to his message!  :-)

 

PS- For further reading: Read the story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10.  Then read Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11.  But then note the promise in v.13.  Why does Jesus highlight this particular promise?  Is there any connection between v.13 and 10:38-42?

 

October 3, 2017: The Leading of the Holy Spirit

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This past Sunday, we explored how busyness can keep us from experiencing God’s presence.  Our main point was that to overcome busyness, we must depend on the Spirit’s power and follow His lead.  I wished we had more time to unpack what it means to follow the Spirit’s lead. So let me give you some more input on that topic.

This past spring, during one of my long runs, I listened to a message from Crawford Loritts.  Crawford is a very godly, humble pastor of a church in Georgia.  He was formerly on staff with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) and a favorite speaker for various conferences like Family Life Today and the earlier Promise Keepers movement.

Last February, Crawford did a great series on the Holy Spirit.  One of his messages, “The Leading of the Holy Spirit” is excellent.  I encourage you to listen to it.  Crawford has great wisdom.  On your commute back and forth to work or as you run errands, take the time to listen to this message.  It will help answer this important question, “What does it mean to follow the Spirit’s leading.”

September 26, 2017: Never Hunger, Never Thirst

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There's a story that I didn't have time to share this past Sunday.  It’s a story that I have reflected on many times in my life, especially during times of struggle and darkness.

On Sunday we began our new series “What Keeps Us From Experiencing God?”  We began by addressing the “why” question—Why would we want to experience God?  I mentioned that gratitude for what God has done for us and admiration for who He is are great motivations, perhaps even the purest motivations.  But there is another crucial motivation—All of your deepest desires are met in Jesus Christ and in His will for your life.

Jesus promised us this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  As I mentioned on Sunday, the words “comes” and “believes” have a sense of continual coming and continual believing.  And in the original language, the promises Jesus makes are reinforced by double and triple negatives.  Here’s a literal, wooden translation of John 6:35:

 

All of your deepest desires are met in Jesus Christ and in His will for your life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; the one coming to me no not shall he hunger, and the one believing in me no not shall he thirst never.”
 

Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China.  In 1867 he lost his little 8-year old daughter Gracie.  Three years later, his wife came down with cholera.  As a result, they lost a newborn son after living only one week.  Shortly after that, his wife, who was only 33 years old, also passed away.

Listen to what Hudson Taylor wrote amidst his intense grief and struggles: “How lonesome were the weary hours when confined to my room! How I miss my dear wife and the voices of the children far away in England! Then it was I understood why the Lord had made that passage so real to me, ‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.’ Twenty times a day, perhaps, as I felt the heart-thirst coming back, I cried to him. ‘Lord, you promised! You promised me that I should never thirst.’ And whether I called by day or night, how quickly He came and satisfied my sorrowing heart! So much so that I often wondered whether it were possible that my loved one who had been taken could be enjoying more of His presence than I was in my lonely chamber. He did literally fulfill the prayer:

‘Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living, bright reality;
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.’”
 

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar position today.  Perhaps you also are struggling and find yourself in a dark place.  Let me encourage you to cry out to Jesus in faith.  Claim His promise that as you come to Him and believe in Him, He will meet you and satisfy that deepest longing of your soul.  Claim His promise that He will fill your gnawing hunger and your parched thirst with Himself so that you might experience that overflowing life found only in Him.  Like Hudson Taylor, cry out to Jesus, if need be twenty times a day and claim His promise to you.  He will meet you.  That's His promise.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; the one coming to me no not shall he hunger, and the one believing in me no not shall he thirst never.”  (John 6:35)

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

(Psalm 36:7-9)
 

September 19, 2017: Accomplishing the Mission

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During my time with the Lord this morning, I was reading in Joshua about how they apportioned the land to the tribes of Israel.  To be honest, I skimmed over the verses since they mention a long list of cities and land boundaries.  But there were a few verses that seemed to pop out to me:

13 But the Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maakah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day. (Joshua 13:13)

63 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah. (Joshua 15:63)

10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor. (Joshua 16:10)

12 Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. 13 However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely. (Joshua 17:12-13)

God had already warned the nation of Israel that they must drive out these nations lest these foreign people turn their hearts from being wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord and entice the Israelites to worship their idolatrous gods.  Amidst the overall tone of victory in the book of Joshua, these few verses give an ominous glimpse into the future.  When you read the book of Judges, the disobedience of the Israelites comes to fruition and their hearts turn to other gods.

So how do these verses apply to us?  Let me suggest two applications:

1.The Danger of Compromise

Instead of being fully obedient to the commands of God, the Israelites compromised.  They did drive many of God’s enemies out of the promised land, but they did not complete the mission.  These verses do not tell us why.  Perhaps they just got too busy settling into their new homes.  Perhaps they thought that the 80/20 principle was good enough in regards to fulfilling God’s commands.  Whatever the reason, they compromised.  And so God’s clear warning of the consequences came true.  Their hearts strayed into unfaithfulness and they turned to other gods.

We too cannot afford to compromise.  When God convicts us of sin, we too must make a decisive turn from that sin and draw near to God for forgiveness and transformation.  This applies not just to the sins of commission (doing the wrong things), but also to the sins of omission (not doing the right things).

2. The Need to Fulfill God’s Mission

God gave the Israelites a mission.  He promised them His presence and power to fulfill that mission.  He told them that they would not only glorify God by fulfilling that mission, but they would also be richly blessed.

So too Jesus has given us a mission.  He has commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations.  He also promised His presence and power.  In addition, He also said that we would be richly blessed as we seek to fulfill the mission of His Kingdom.

So let’s respond in faithfulness!  If the angels are writing the annals of human history, let it be said that there was a church in Lake Villa, Illinois whose people were faithful to do their Spirit-filled best to not compromise, but to fulfill the mission that God gave them!  May we, by God’s grace, be numbered among the Joshua and Calebs of this world!  May it be said of us, “They glorified God on earth, having accomplished the work that God gave them to do”!

September 10, 2017: An Inconvenient Blessing

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Yesterday when I went for a run, I ran passed a young man who was limping and had what looked like a removable cast on his lower leg.  I didn’t think much of it and kept running.

But on my way back, I saw the same guy.  The moment I saw him from a distance, I sensed God nudging me to stop and pray for him. 

Now you would think that having just spoken on healing this past Sunday and addressing how to touch the lives of the unchurched a couple of weeks ago, that I would be very responsive to the Spirit’s leading.  But instead I objected.  I thought to myself, “I don’t want to stop running (even though I had just reached my distance goal for the day).  This is inconvenient.  Plus there are other people running on the trail towards us.  What will they think?  And I don’t want this guy to feel uncomfortable.  And….”

After the excuses quickly ran out, I said with some resignation, “OK, God.  I’ll ask him.”

So as I jogged up next to him, I asked, “Hey, what happened to your leg?”

What he then said surprised me.  He told me, “I had a stroke when I was 18 years old.”

I was taken back.  He was so young.  So I asked him, “Wow.  Do strokes run in your family?”

“No,” he replied. “It was caused by… “ and then he mentioned something medical that had to do with a blood vessel.  He added something to the effect, “It’s unusual.  Most people have never heard of it.”

“So do the doctors think that you’ll regain what you have lost?”

“No” he replied.

My heart went out to him.  At most, this guy was in his early twenties.  He looked in good shape, other than a limp and also a slight slur in his speech.  I didn’t know if he was walking to get somewhere with his small backpack or if he was just trying to keep in shape.  But I thought about how life-altering that stroke was for a guy who was so young.  It was one of those aha moments where I quickly thought, “OK, God, I think I get it.”

So I stopped jogging and learned his name.  Then I asked Brian, “Hey, this may seem really weird, but I’m a Christian and I believe that God exists and that He really does hear our prayers.  Can I pray for you?  You don’t need to say anything, I’ll just pray,”

“Sure” Brian said.

So I put my hand on his shoulder and I prayed for Brian.  I prayed that God would restore back to him everything that the stroke took away and that God would do it in such a way that He would know it was God.  I also prayed that Brian would know how much God loved him and cared about him.

I think the prayer meant a lot to Brian because right after I prayed, he reached out and gave me a big bear hug.  I was dripping with sweat, but that didn’t make him hesitate at all!

After I left Brian and jogged home, I continued to pray for him.  I wondered what my life would have been like if that happened to me.  My heart was still heavy with compassion for him and I begged God to heal him and draw Brian to Himself.  How different was my attitude after I prayed compared to what I was thinking and feeling as I approached Brian!  It was a reminder that often, God's blessings often come clothed as inconveniences.

 

God's blessings often come clothed as inconveniences

 

Would you please take a minute and sincerely pray for Brian?  Let’s all ask God to do a miracle in his life! 

And keep responding to those subtle nudges of His Spirit as He moves you also to minister to the lives of those who need to know Jesus.  You won’t regret it!

PS—Let me also encourage you to listen to both my message on “How to Touch Lives” and “The Controversy Over Healing.”

September 5, 2017: Killing the Mosquito

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Last Tuesday night a mosquito jarred me out of sleep about 1:30am. For me that buzzing noise is just as annoying as a loud firecracker.  In fact, sometimes I find it’s hard to sleep just knowing that there is a mosquito in the bedroom.  I keep thinking I feel something landing on me and it keeps me awake.  It doesn’t help that I am a mosquito magnet.  Sometimes Ollie & I will be walking outside and she feels nothing, while I am getting eaten!

So I turned on the light.  Thankfully I was able to spot it and killed it.  I turned off the light and tried to go back to sleep.  Minutes later I heard another buzzing sound.  I turned on the light.  Nothing.  I turned off the light.  Buzzzzzz.  On went the light again.  Nothing.  Off went the light.  Buzzzzzzz.  Finally I decided to try to go to sleep with the light on in hopes that if it woke me again, I could see him when it buzzed.  It took a few more buzzes, but I finally opened my eyes just in time to see him land on my arm.  Smack!  Finally, no more buzzing!

As I turned off the light, I asked the Lord, “What was that all about?  Here I went to bed early to get a good night’s sleep, but now it’s the middle of the night and I am wide awake.  Is this just spiritual battle or what?”

As I lay in bed, I sensed God tell me, “Wayne, that’s what worry does.  For you, an anxious thought can be like that annoying mosquito that jars you out of sleep.  What you need to do when those thoughts come up is just kill them.”

“OK, God” I responded, “So how do I kill those the anxious thoughts?”

I sensed God replying, “By trusting in me and claiming my promises.”  He brought to mind Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As I have aged, my sleep patterns have become more inconsistent.  I still fall asleep very quickly—like minutes fast!  But when I wake up, as us old men do to take our nightly trip to the bathroom (thank you, prostate gland), I can often have a hard time falling back asleep.  Anxious thoughts from the previous day or even thoughts of what I need to do the next day can keep me awake.

August 29, 2017: Going Against the Current

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This morning I dropped Ollie off at O’Hare for an early morning flight to Georgia.  On the way home I was driving through rush hour traffic.  Even though I wasn’t in a rush, it was hard not to get caught up in the traffic frenzy.  Multiple times I had to remind myself that I was not in a hurry, that I had no morning commitments, and that I could take my time to get home.  Yet as cars began to pass me on the left, I found myself zipping over to join them not wanting to get caught behind the long line of cars and trucks in the right lane who were cruising just above the speed limit.  It was hard not to buy into the mindset that if I’m not passing others, I must be falling behind!

It reminded me of a verse in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I like the Living Translation of this verse, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

It’s hard to live counter-culturally.  Yet as followers of Christ, Jesus calls us to march to the beat of a different drummer.  He has called us to intentionally follow Him.  Yet as human beings we find it so easy to get caught up into the mass of human lemmings and allow our world to determine our modus operandi.

This obviously does not mean we become purposefully anti-cultural and lose our ability to relate to the unchurched.  Paul said that he became all things to all people that He might save some.  Jesus Himself was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton.  They knew how to really connect and even party with the unchurched!  Yet they did so while still being salt and light, reflecting the glory of God. They were able to run with the lemmings, while convincing many to take a different course as they modeled that path through living an uncompromisingly distinctive life.

So too, we are called to relate to a world in which we live, while remaining distinct from it.  This can only be possible as we receive wisdom from God’s Word and Spirit, while depending on His power to keep us in step with Him.  As we do, we too will see God use us to infectiously draw people to Jesus and glorify Himself.

So the next time you sense God nudging you to swim upstream--like being at rest in the slow lane while the gears of your flesh are urging you to zip over to the fast lane—heed the Spirit’s leading.  Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold!  You won’t regret it!

August 15, 2017: Busyness as Moral Laziness

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Yesterday, we returned from Champaign after delivering some furniture to our daughter Hannah.  We were pulling a trailer and running the AC, so I was trying to keep our speed around 65 (or lower) to prevent the engine temperature from going above 220 degrees.  Because our cruise control had stopped working I had to keep monitoring our speed manually.  But I was surprised at how difficult it was to maintain that speed.  With traffic flying by me, it was so easy to find ourselves driving over 70mph, with our engine heat spiking.

I think that is a metaphor for my life in regards to busyness.  The world around us is moving at such a fast speed, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the neck-breaking pace.  But I can’t just blame our society.  I too add to the pace.  In fact, I find that I can be addicted to busyness. 

On our vacation in Seattle, there were a few times when I would find that I had nothing to do.  For instance, on our long flight there and back, after catching a nap, I’d find myself getting a little antsy thinking, “I should be/need to be doing something.”  It was challenging just to sit and do nothing for a while.

Today, busyness can be seen as a badge of honor.  In fact, in a study that was done on social perception, people viewed others who were busy as much higher in their social status than those who were not.  In our own minds, we can view ourselves as more important when we are busy.  The irony is that we complain about busyness and say that we hate being so busy, when all along we are deeply addicted to it!

But our busyness can rob us.  It can rob us from spending time with the Lord.  It can rob us from implementing the God-given principle of resting on the Sabbath.  It can deaden our ears to the subtle, quiet voice of the Spirit who desires to lead us.  In addition, busyness can keep us from reaching out to the unchurched, spending time with them, loving and serving them, and ultimately touching their lives for Jesus Christ.

Someone once said, “Busyness is not just from the devil, it is the devil!”  Perhaps there is much truth in that statement.  In many third world countries, the enemy’s strategy is to manifest himself through power so that people will fear him.  This seems particular true in villages and countries where animism is prevalent.  But here in the US, his strategy seems to be much more subtle.  Perhaps by promoting busyness, the devil knows he can keep us from fulfilling the mission that God has called us to undertake.

 

We must make space in our busy lives to love people into the Kingdom

If we are going to be the people that God has called us to be, if we are going to reach the unchurched for Christ, we must make space in our busy lives to love them into the Kingdom.  But that requires making critical choices—choosing not just what to do, but also what not to do.
 

I recently read that the desert fathers labeled busyness is just moral laziness.  Ouch!  It is not being intentional in discerning and pursuing the Spirit’s leading on what we should do.  Perhaps when people ask me, “How are you doing?” instead of responding, “I’m busy,” I should instead say, “Oh, I’m just morally lazy today.”  Double ouch!!

Well, I need to end this blog because I have a lot to do—Oh wait, maybe I’m just being morally lazy!  But let me challenge you today to slow down enough and consider: Is my busyness robbing me from accomplishing what God has called me to do?  What has God called me to do?  What has He called me not to do?  And amidst all those tasks, is my soul at rest, listening and pursuing the Spirit’s leading in my life?”

“I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”  (John 17:4)

33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 6:25)

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

(Psalm 131)

August 8, 2017: Random Chance or Sovereignly Appointed?

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When it comes to our neighborhoods or workplaces, I think the tendency can be to think that we are where we are just by chance or by circumstance. In other words, we can think that we are living in our current neighborhoods only because it so happened that we liked our current house and we chose to live there. Or we can think that we are working in our present jobs because we needed work and our current employers happened to have openings and they hired us. But I’d submit to you there is something greater going on that you may not have been aware of.

In John 15:16, after Jesus tells us that He was the vine and we are the branches, He goes on to say this: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

Here’s a few things that I want you to note from this passage (btw- I’ll let the Calvinist and Arminian theologians wrestle over the first few phrases in this passage!). Note that each of us has been appointed by Jesus. In other words, there is a calling that Jesus has given each of us. And a crucial part of that calling is that we would go and bear fruit, fruit that would last. This fruit could be referring to the fruit of the Spirit which is the internal characteristics that the Jesus wants to produce in us. But when you look at the context, more likely it is the fruit of ministry. And because Jesus says, “that you might go,” He probably has in mind reaching people who do not know Christ.

What this means is that Jesus has sovereignly placed you where you are in order that you can reach those around you in your sphere of influence. Maybe it is your neighborhood, your workplace, your extended family, your kids’ soccer team, or your kids’ play group families. Jesus has sovereignly placed you where He was placed you because there are people there whom He has ordained for you to reach for Himself.

When Ollie & I moved into our neighborhood, we found out that our next door neighbors had twin girls, although they unfortunately lost one of their daughters soon after birth. But it turns out that their girls have the same birthdate as our twin girls! I estimate that the odds of that happening is 1 in 21,800! (For those who like statistics, you can check my math below1). All to say, Ollie and I know God has sovereignly placed us in this neighborhood for a purpose.

And you know what? God has done the same for you! God has placed you in your neighborhood and in your workplace because He has appointed you that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that would remain.

So let’s join together and trust God to reach our spheres of influence, our Jerusalems. And together, we will have an impact on this community and yes, even on the world!

PS- If you missed this past Sunday, we began our new series, “With God On Mission.” I encourage you to listen to this first message.

1So here is the math: The odds of a twin birth in the USA is .0335. The odds of those twins being both girls is .25. The odds of those girls having the same birthdate as our girls is 1/365 or .00274. Therefore the odds that someone would have twin girls born the same day as our girls is .0335 x .25 x .0027397= .000022945 or approximately 1 in 43,600. But since there are two homes/families next to us, the odds are about 1 in 21,800. (Note: This does not take into account that many families have more than one birth; however, it also does not take into account that not all families in Lindenhurst have children at home, so rather than looking up all those statistics, I just assumed that those 2 factors would cancel each other out).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017, 8pm PT

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I’m here with Ollie and my sister Joan on a plane flying back from Seattle. We’ve had a great week with Hannah & Justin (2 of our 3 adult children; Christin was in Indonesia), my 3 siblings, my brother’s wife & grandson. We also enjoyed Justin’s girlfriend who was able to join us for a few days. We ate and talked, ate and laughed, ate and saw some spectacular sights, ate and relaxed, and ate some more! I can see why Seattle is such a popular place! I’m so grateful to have spent this time with our extended Okamoto family!

While we were staying at our vacation home I was able to spend consistent time with the Lord in the morning, but the last 4 days have been very busy. Some of us stayed at Justin’s apartment while others stayed in a hotel, which made connecting a bit more difficult. We did some traveling and had some earlier morning commitments and some late nights. All to say, my times with the Lord these past few days have been very inconsistent.

Which brings me to the present moment. I thought I should spend some time on the plane praying, but quite frankly, I don’t feel like it. In fact, God seems a little distant right now. It occurs to me that it is obviously not His fault, but mine. It’s so easy for the heart to drift. All it takes is a few days of not consistently connecting with Him, and my heart grows strangely cool to the Lord.

So what do you when that happens?

First, I need to keep pursuing the Lord. In Psalms 27, God says, “Seek my face.” The psalmist responds, “Your face, O Lord, shall I seek.” Seek God, even when you don’t feel like it. Secondly, recommit yourself to spending daily time with Him. It’s just like our relationship with our spouses. If we don’t connect with them, it’s easy to feel disconnected, even after a few days. Finally, reject the lie that God is distant from you. He is not only present with us, but Jesus’ Spirit lives in us. He yearns for us. He thinks about us all the time—much more than we think about Him. His compassion and grace passionately pursues us in love.

So I need to shut down my computer, and do those very things.

I look forward to reconnecting with you all this Sunday! Shalom!

 October 10, 2017: The Practice of Slowing

Yesterday was my day off.  After a busy weekend, I decided I really needed to slow down.  But once I got into the mode of doing outdoor chores, I found myself pushing my adrenaline button more times than I should have.  So instead of finishing the day refreshed, I once again went to bed feeling spent.  Now for me, I can tell when I have pushed my adrenaline button too many times because when I do, instead of sleeping well, my adrenaline button goes off all by itself.  So after 5 ½ hours of sleep, I found myself lying in bed, wide awake.

So I decided to get up and spend time with the Lord.  But in light of my addiction to busyness, I grabbed a book off my office shelf entitled, The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  I read his chapter on “An Unhurried Life—The Practice of ‘Slowing.’”  Here’s an excerpt:

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  Imagine for a moment that someone gave you this prescription, with the warning that your life depends on it. Consider the possibility that perhaps your life does depend on it. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well. As Carl Jung wrote, "Hurry is not of the Devil; hurry is the devil." Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim [over] our lives instead of actually living them.

In the story of Mary & Martha, Jesus exhorted the task-driven Martha saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What was that one thing?  It was experiencing the presence of Jesus, listening to His instructions, and staying connected with Him.  Interestingly, in the very next verse, Jesus models what He was trying to teach Martha.  Luke writes, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place” (Luke 14:1).  Jesus must have done this regularly for the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray as well.  All to say, Jesus stayed connected with the Father.

So let me encourage you this morning, to stay connected with Jesus.  How?  By depending on the Spirit’s power and following His lead.  I think I remember someone speaking on that topic two Sundays ago.  Maybe I need to listen to his message!  :-)

PS- For further reading: Read the story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10.  Then read Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11.  But then note the promise in v.13.  Why does Jesus highlight this particular promise?  Is there any connection between v.13 and 10:38-42?

 

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Sometimes I think that my best messages are the ones I preach in the car on the way home from church! So my blog gives me the opportunity to follow up with some afterthoughts. It’s all the things I wish I would have said on Sunday morning. Other times, it’s just things I’m still processing that have nothing to do with my last message.

 So thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope you can get at least something from them!
 
Wayne Okamoto
Pastor