Hope Community Church
Wednesday, January 24, 2018



January 23, 2018: Childlike Wonder

Image goes here.

Yesterday I finally put away all our outdoor Christmas decorations.  But before I boxed them up, I checked them for burned out light bulbs.  So here’s a question—when checking for burned out Christmas lights, is it best to do that when it is dark or in the daylight?  Answer: If you are checking light strings that are not attached to anything, then checking them in the dark can make it very easy to spot the burned out light bulbs.  But when the light strings are intertwined with garland and wreaths, it is better to check them in the daylight.  The reason is that in the dark, your eyes tend to focus on the bulbs that are lit, and it is easy to miss the bulbs that are burned out.

So what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? 

As Christians, the older we get, the more we can tend to focus on the things that are familiar and known.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  These basic, undisputed pillars of truth allow our faith to stand steadfast.  As one man said, “What really concerns me is not the things in the Bible that I don’t understand, but rather it’s the things I do understand and yet I’m not applying—that’s what concerns me!”  True enough!

But there many advantages to asking questions.  Some the greatest scientists in history not only had brilliant minds, but they also had insatiable curiosity.  They asked questions that everyone else had stopped asking.

Likewise, one of the dangers we can fall into as mature believers in Christ is that we stop asking questions.  When we stop asking questions, we can sometimes lose the mystery and awe of the very doctrinal truths that we so dearly hold to.

For instance, take the nature of Jesus.  We believe that Jesus is God incarnate—fully God, and yet fully man.  Scripture is very clear about that fact.  But there are many things that Scripture does not answer.  For example, if Jesus experienced the limitations of a human being, then we can assume that He also experienced the limitations of the cognitive development of an infant, toddler, and child.  And so when in His childhood did He become cognitively aware of His true identity?  And what was that like?  Did God the Father supernaturally speak and explain everything to Him, or did Jesus just become aware of it?  And did He begin to remember what life was like before His incarnation?  Was He ever tempted as a child to use His supernatural powers?  In addition, Scripture says that not only were all things created by Christ, but that in Christ all things hold together.  So how did Jesus hold together the entire cosmos while He was still an infant?  And was He consciously aware He was holding together the entire universe?

Granted, we need to be careful that these unanswerable questions don’t cause us to seek answers in unbiblical sources like the apocrypha and other unbiblical writings.  But the value of these questions can instill within us the awe and mystery of these foundational doctrines, which in turn leads us to worship God whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are so far above our thoughts!

 When we stop asking questions, we can lose the mystery and awe of the very doctrinal truths that we so dearly hold to

So as we continue this venture through these Alpha videos, take the time not only to dwell on these incredible truths, but also allow your mind to ask some childlike questions that you haven’t pondered before.  Don’t just focus on the lights that are lit, but notice the lights that are not lit, and let them pull your heart into greater wonder and worship!

January 16, 2018: Greater

Image goes here.

Last evening Ollie & I watched the movie “Greater.”  It’s the touching, true story of Brandon Burlsworth, a walk-on college football player who played for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  He went on to be one of their best starting offensive linemen.  In fact, in 2010 the Burlsworth Trophy was established, given to the most outstanding division 1 college football player who began his career as a walk-on.  (Btw- in 2015 & 2016, the award went to Baker Mayfield, this past season’s Heisman trophy winner.)

The movie is actually a flashback which begins with Burlsworth’s funeral.  Brandon Burlsworth was a committed believer and his steadfast trust in God is highlighted in the movie.  The movie keys in on the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I highly recommend the movie.

That question has been asked by people throughout all of history.  It’s a derivation of the larger question, “If there is a God who exists, why does He allow evil and suffering?”  It’s commonly known as the classic problem of evil.  Philosophers have questioned that if God is good, how could He willingly allow evil and suffering to exist?  And if God is all powerful, then could He not stop evil or could He not create a world where suffering does not occur?  So if God is all-good and all-powerful, from whence comes evil and suffering?

In seminary, I had a wise apologetics professor who said there is not one problem of evil, but many problems.  Thus we need to be careful when addressing this issue that we address the right question that people are actually asking.

For instance, there is the theological question of evil.  We can partially answer this question by referring to Genesis 3 and Adam’s free will and his choice to sin.  We can also refer to Romans 8:19-22 and show that when sin entered the world, creation itself also fell, and so natural disasters entered the world.

Then there is the cosmic question of evil.  The book of Job gives us a glimpse of this.  In the beginning chapters of Job, the cosmic curtains are pulled back, and we see the backstage interaction between God and Satan.  But then the curtain closes, and on center stage is Job and his friends wrestling with the issue of Job’s suffering.

However, many people who ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” are not asking the theological or cosmic question of evil, but rather the personal question of evil.  Often underlying that larger question is a personal question such as, “Why did my sister die of cancer?” or “Why was my good friend killed by a drunk driver?” or “Why didn’t God save me from that child molester?”  To these difficult, personal questions the Bible does not give us answers.

The book of Job highlights this.  At the end of the book of Job, God never really answers Job’s questions.  Rather God points to Himself as the ultimate answer.  God is good.  God is all powerful.

In the end, the who question is much more important than the why question—who is in control, who knows best?  Maybe this is because God knows that answering the why questions only produces more why questions.  Or perhaps God knows that if He were to try to explain the why questions, we would not be able to comprehend it.  It would be like Albert Einstein trying to explain the theory of relativity to a kindergartener.


In the end, the who question is much more important than the why question.  When our loss is great, God is greater.

So instead, God answers the who question— who is in control, who knows best?  God is good and loving; God is in control; God really does know what is best.  In the end, this is the only real answer that can bring us comfort in our personal struggle with the problem of suffering and evil. 

But that answer also necessitates faith—a sincere trust that our Father does know best.  So the Christian life begins with faith, continues in faith, and in the end, it finishes with faith.  When our loss is great, God is greater.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for….   And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  (Hebrews 11:1-2, 6)

January 9, 2018: Avocados, Alpha, & macArthur

Image goes here.

Yesterday Ollie went online to view a video about avocados.  The woman on the video was explaining how to know when avocados are ripe.  She said that when we buy them, they are often unripe, so we need to give them time to ripen.  On the other hand, we can also make the mistake of allowing them to sit too long and they become overripe.  The flesh in these avocados can turn dark and even go bad if left for too long.

I later thought how that is a great paradigm for what we are doing as we invite people to Alpha.  Some people fall into that very unripe category.  This morning I received an email from Jean talking about her first official rejection to her invitation to Alpha.  I also received my first official rejection this past weekend.  I felt led to invite a neighbor who I knew was fairly skeptical.  His response to the invitation was fairly emphatic.  He told me when it comes to spiritual things he doesn’t have any questions, that he is very comfortable in what he believes, that he is very against organized religion, that issues of faith were to him a very private matter, and that he respected my beliefs and hopes that I would respect his.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond to him. Later I reflected on the conversation and I found myself second guessing myself about what I could have said.  But then God reminded me—God must be the One who works in the hearts of people.  Jesus Himself said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”  It’s God’s job to do the heavy lifting, not ours.  So I simply need to be at peace and continue to pray for this person. 


It’s God’s job to do the heavy lifting, not ours!

Some people are just unripe.  But don’t let that discourage you!  There are people like those avocados which are well on their way of ripening.  As we talked about last Sunday, some will respond like the Samaritan’s townspeople in John 4.  They were not only curious about what Jesus had to say, they also invited him to stay in their town for two days so they could hear more.  Ultimately, they enthusiastically embraced Jesus as their Messiah.

On the other hand, are there also people who can be overly ripe if no one reaches out to them?  Are there some people who humanly speaking have a limited window of time when they are open?  I have heard some people say that the Church missed a great opportunity after WWII to have an impact on Japan.  General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the occupation of Japan, called on the Church in the US to send missionaries to reach a very needy and open country for Christ.  Some did go.  But I’ve heard many say we missed an opportunity to have a huge impact on that nation.

So let’s not make the same mistake in our spheres of influence!  Let’s live with the urgency that Jesus Himself felt.  Let’s go out in the harvest and seek out those who are open!  I think Jesus is telling us that there are a lot of ripe avocados out there!

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  (John 4:34-38)

January 2, 2018: Could 2018 be the year of Christ’s return?

Image goes here.

2018—a new year.  Could this be the year of Christ’s return?

When it comes to the second coming of Christ, believers are faced with a dilemma.  Perhaps this is why some of us have mixed emotions when we think about this issue of Christ’s imminent return.

On the one hand, Jesus taught that no one knows when He will return, that His return will be sudden and unexpected, and that we must be ready because He could return at any moment. 

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

“And behold, I am coming soon….  12 “Behold, I am coming soon….”  20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!  (Revelation 22:7,12,20)

On the other hand, there are certain signs that Jesus gave us that will precede His coming.  Most believe that those signs have yet to be fulfilled.  So how could Jesus return at any moment if those signs are still in the future?  Truth be told, for many of us, these signs do not make us anticipate Christ’s return with greater expectancy.  Instead, it does just the opposite—we assume that Christ’s return is in the distant future.

Dr. Wayne Grudem has proposed a very sensible solution to this dilemma.  He proposes that “it is unlikely but possible that the signs have already been fulfilled, and therefore we simply cannot know with certainty at any point in history whether all the signs have been fulfilled or not.”  Grudem then examines each sign individually and demonstrates how it is unlikely, but possible that each sign has been fulfilled already. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pgs. 1091-1105)

This position reflects the balance that the New Testament presents.  The unlikeliness that the signs have already been fulfilled can help us to avoid the mistake that the Thessalonians made in the first century.  It seems that they were so convinced that Christ was coming very soon that they made radical decisions that were unwise.  For example, some quit their jobs.  So Paul had to instruct them to go back to work.

On the other hand, this position can help many of us in our generation who tend to think that Christ’s return is in the far distant future.  Even though it is unlikely that the signs have been fulfilled, it is still possible.  And so we must be ready.  He could come at any time. 

So 2018 may be the year of Christ’s return!  And even if Christ’s second coming does not happen this year, He may still come for you individually by calling you home.  If He does, will you be ready?

So how are you readying yourself for that moment?  If Jesus did come this year, would you have any regrets?  Are there any difficult decisions you need to make?  Is God calling you to make any commitments this year so that you will be ready when He comes?  Don't be taken by surprise!  Jesus Himself said, "I am coming soon."

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-5)


December 19, 2017: Alone at Christmas

Image goes here.

So what was your first thought when you saw the title of this blog?  If you are like most, you probably thought that this was a blog talking about those who will spend the holidays alone and the need to reach out to them.  Although that is a very worthy topic to be addressed, that’s not what this blog is about.

When we think about Christmas, we naturally think about spending time with family and friends.  Christmas songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” reinforce those feelings.  We view Christmas not as a time to be alone, but rather a time to be with others.  That’s not a bad thing, but I think we can overdo it and spend all of our time with people.  In doing so, we can lose the opportunity to take in the real meaning of Christmas. 

For me, amidst all the busyness, I find I need some alone time to pause and reflect on the incredible miracle of the incarnation.  I need time to think about the incredible love of God to initiate such a daring plan and the sacrifice of Jesus to be willing to take on human flesh to save the world—to save me!  Let me encourage you to do the same.

Maybe you cannot do this before Christmas itself.  For me, it’s difficult to do it before our Christmas Eve service, because even if I gain any insight, my mind tends to wander back to the worship service.  Perhaps, for you it’s difficult to do before you finish the shopping and/or the food prep and/or the decorations and/or the house prep for family members coming home.  But let encourage you to plan and even schedule some time alone.

Image goes here.

Maybe it’s a time early in the morning before anyone awakes and you grab a cup of coffee and just read the Christmas story in Luke and spend some time thinking and praying about it.  Or maybe it’s late at night after everyone has retired, and you take time to lie on your back looking up under the lighted tree just to pray and to thank Jesus for coming for you.  Or perhaps it’s in the evening when everyone is in a food coma, watching a Christmas special on TV, you quietly grab your warm winter coat and slip outside unnoticed to reflect and to talk with the Lord as you walk around the neighborhood enjoying the Christmas lights.

However and whenever you do it, take some time to be alone this Christmas.  It will make your time with others more meaningful.  And more importantly, it will fill your heart with the joy of the real reason for this season.

December 12, 2017: John Piper on Fasting

Image goes here.

Today is day 8 of our 11-day fast.  For those of us at Hope, we are fasting one meal a day as we ask God to use us to reach people for Christ (see last week’s blog below).  If you missed out on this fast, I encourage you to begin your own 11-day fast.

This fast has also encouraged me to reread John Piper’s book A Hunger for God, Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer.  Let me highly encourage you to read it.  You can purchase it or I just now realized that you can download a free PDF of the entire book by visiting his website (click on this link).

At the risk of overwhelming you with quotes, I want to share with you a number of excerpts from his book.  Because of the length of this blog, you may want to read only a couple of these quotes at one sitting during your prayer time when you would normally eat.  Hopefully, Piper’s insights will encourage you and give your fasting greater significance.  Towards the end of this blog, I also included his answer to an important question: Why Does God reward fasting?


“The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.”

“Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense. In the first half, appetite is lost. In the second half, appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the higher hunger that isn't. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God; it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.”

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night….  The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

“Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us. What are our bottom-line passions? In his chapter on fasting in The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, ‘More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.’”

“When midmorning comes and you want food so badly that the thought of lunch becomes as sweet as a summer vacation, then suddenly you realize, ‘Oh, I forgot, I made a commitment. I can't have that pleasure. I'm fasting for lunch too.’ Then what are you going to do with all the unhappiness inside? Formally, you blocked it out with the hope of a tasty lunch. The hope of food gave you the good feelings to balance out the bad feelings. But now the balance is off. You must find another way to deal with it.”

“I almost subtitled this book: Fasting – The Hungry Handmade of Faith. What a servant she is! Humbly and quietly, with scarcely a movement, she brings up out of the dark places of my soul the dissatisfactions in relationships, the frustrations of the ministry, the fears of failure, the emptiness of wasted time. And just when my heart begins to retreat to the delicious hope of eating supper with friends at Pizza Hut, she quietly reminds me: not tonight. It can be a devastating experience at first. Will I find spiritual communion with God sweet enough, and hope in his promises deep enough, not just to cope, but to flourish and rejoice in him? Or will I rationalize away my need to fast and retreat to the medication of food?….  Fasting reveals the measure of food’s mastery over us – or television or computers or whatever we submit to again and again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God.”

But you might ask, “But are we not fasting because we want God to use us to see people come to Christ?  Aren’t we doing this because we want people to respond to our personal invitations to Alpha?”  Again, John Piper addresses in the conclusion of the book, Why Does God Reward Fasting?

“One crucial question remains: Why does God respond to fasting? Why does he reward us when we fast? That he does is strewn across the pages of the Bible and history. And Jesus promised he would: ‘Your Father who sees [your fasting] in secret will reward you’ (Matthew 6:18, RSV). The question is urgent because a wrong answer can dishonor God and do us great harm. For example, suppose we said that fasting gets rewards from God because it earns them by showing the merit of the one who fasts. That would dishonor God by turning his free grace into a business transaction. It would imply that fasting springs ultimately from our own will, and that this self-created discipline is then offered to God for recompense. This is a great dishonor to God because it claims for us what belongs only to God, namely, the ultimate initiative of prayer and fasting. In this way we put ourselves in the place of God and nullify the freedom of his grace.”

“Well, if God does not reward fasting because we create it and offer it to him to get a recompense, why does he reward it? If, in fact, God himself is the Creator and Sustainer of fasting, why is it that he has appointed this act as an occasion of his reward? The answer is that God is committed to rewarding those acts of the human heart that signify human helplessness and hope in God. Over and over again in Scripture God promises to come to the aid of those who stop depending on themselves and seek God as their treasure and help.”

“It is the ‘poor in spirit ‘who will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). It is those who ‘wait for the Lord’ for whom he works (Isaiah 64:4). It is those who ‘trust in God,’ not in their horses or chariots, who triumph by his power (1 Chronicles 5:20; 2 Chronicles 13:18; Psalm 20:7). It is those who ‘delight in the Lord’ and trust in him who get the desires of their heart (Psalm 37:4-5). The sacrifices acceptable to God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart; these empty things he will reward (Psalm 51:17). The one who serves God not in his own strength but ‘by the strength which God supplies’ will be rewarded by the Lord (1 Peter 4:11). God rewards those acts of the human heart that signify human helplessness and hope in God. The reason for this is that these acts call attention to God's glory.”


December 5, 2017: Hope’s 11-Day Fast

Image goes here.

Kathy Cash from Dallas, TX, told a humorous story in “Today’s Christian Woman”:

One day, my husband announced to the family that he was going to fast and pray. Ginny, our 5-year-old, had recently learned that fasting meant not eating. “No!” she shouted. “You can't fast! You'll die!”  Her dad carefully explained that many men and women fasted in Bible times. Ginny paused a moment. Then, with a flash of insight and a note of warning, she proved her point. “And they all died!” she said.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about fasting.  So if you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to go on our website and listen to my message, “Why Fast.”

We are asking all of us who call Hope Community Church our home church to fast and pray, skipping one meal every day for 11 days (one day for each session of Alpha that we will be hosting in January).  We actually began this fast on Monday, December 4th, and will continue it through Thursday, December 14th.

During that time which you would normally eat, take time to worship and pray.  Here are some things for which you can pray:

  • that our hearts would break for the those who do not know Christ, just as God’s heart breaks for them
  • for the upcoming Alpha on Sunday mornings beginning in January
  • for the specific people who you personally will be inviting
  • for boldness and sensitivity for everyone at Hope who will each be inviting 1-2 people to this Alpha; for openness for the people who will be invited
  • for protection from the spiritual battle that we will all encounter as seek to expand the Kingdom of God
  • that we would see at least 40 guests join us for Alpha in January
  • that we would see lasting fruit from this Alpha
  • for all the logistical aspects of hosting Alpha—breakfast, set-up/tear down, the audio and projection equipment, signage, for a new parking lot team, our welcome team, children’s ministry teachers and helpers, Alpha facilitator, small group leaders, etc.
  • that through all this, God will be glorified
  • that this emphasis on being missional (embracing Christ’s mission to seek and save that which was lost) would continue long after Alpha and truly become a core value for all of us at Hope

The relationship between fasting, prayer, and people coming to Christ continues to remain a mystery.  No one has formulated a definitive answer regarding the interaction between God’s sovereignty, our prayers and actions, and the response to the gospel of those who do not know Christ.  But all Christians would agree that God calls us to pray for all people to come to Christ and that when we pray, God hears those prayers and responds.

So let’s all join together for this 11-day fast.  Let’s ask God to do something through our church that only God can do.  Let’s continue to ask God to change the world through our body here at Hope!


November 28, 2017: Unrighteous “Righteous” Anger

Image goes here.

Yesterday I drove our son Justin to the airport at 5:30am.  Initially I was surprised to see so many cars already on the tollway.  Thankfully the traffic was moving very quickly.  But when we got about a half mile from the O’Hare exit, the traffic on the lane designated for the airport came to a complete standstill.  It was bumper to bumper, stop and go. 

After inching along about another quarter mile, a large SUV pulled towards me in the lane to my left, wanting to cut in line in front of me.  My “righteous” anger kicked in as I thought to myself, “NO WAY is this guy going to squeeze me out!  He’s probably one of those rude drivers who just drives to the front and then cuts in line!”  So as he kept creeping closer, I stayed on the tail of the car in front of me.  He finally gave up and let me drive forward.  There was a strange sense of satisfaction that coursed through my veins.  But that’s when I saw him duck behind me, and then immediately pull off to the right.  As it turns out, he was not trying to butt in line, but rather he was actually trying to take the exit ramp to I-90, but must have got caught to the left of the long line of cars in the O’Hare exit lane.  So much for righteous anger!

But then when I got to the actual exit to the airport, sure enough, there were a few cars that had bypassed the long line, and were trying to cut in line just as the exit veered off to the right.  Again, I pressed the nose of our car closer to the bumper in front of me.  In fact, one time I had to slam on my brakes to keep us from hitting the guy in front of me.  That’s when Justin reminded me, “Hey dad, just let him in.  It’s not worth getting into an accident.”  I hate it when my son needs to remind me to be responsible!  That could have been an expensive repair, especially since the vehicle in front of us was a Mercedes Benz SUV!

In spite of all the traffic, I was still able to drop Justin off an hour before his flight.  Later as I was driving home I thought about those cars trying to cut in line.  How do I know if those people were not just trying to avoid waiting in traffic, but rather they were in danger of missing their flights and were desperate to get to the airport?  Have I not also been in situations where I underestimated travel times due to traffic?  More importantly, what would Jesus have done if He were driving?  Ouch!  Conviction!  I had to repent and ask God for His forgiveness.

It made me wonder—how many times do we think we are totally justified in our “righteous” anger, when God looks at us and just shakes his head thinking, “If only you knew….”  Our sinful nature automatically thinks our judgments are correct and that our anger and actions are totally justified.  But are they?

So the next time your blood pressure rises and you are tempted to say or do something, before you act on that impulse take the time to first pray and ask the Holy Spirit what you should do.  Like me, you may find that your righteous anger is not so righteous.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  (James 1:19-20)


November 21, 2017: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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?

Image goes here.

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

Image goes here.

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?


Wayne's Blog

↑ Grab this Headline Animator

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner



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