What Others Say

I have read your columns many times, have saved the ones that "speak" to me and reread them....... I just want to thank you for your inspired writing, illuminating faith and the day to day that focuses on God and His Son....
- Carol C.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Place to Rest

We live in a time-crunched world where life is lived on the run. Millions pull out of their driveways in the pre-dawn dark, grab a last-minute breakfast burrito and merge onto freeways while listening to the morning news and traffic reports between cell phone calls. It is a frenzied start to a frenzied day.

Weary from long hours at work, the same drivers re-enter the stream of traffic making their way home past memorized billboards that serve as markers for their movement. Weekends are filled with a hundred errands, second jobs, T-ball, soccer, football. Church is squeezed into an already full schedule that has no margins.

Richard Foster analyzed it like this: "We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators." We are increasingly depressed and suicidal. We have turned to alcohol and drugs in a desperate effort to cope. We know deep down that something isn’t working. There must be a better way.

Most people recognize the Ten Commandments as foundational to human conduct and life. But somewhere along the way we reduced the Ten Commandments to nine. We eliminated the fourth commandment as irrelevant and archaic: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” A half-century ago, businesses were closed on Sunday and sporting events recognized Sunday as a day for worship. All that has changed. Today our calendars are filled up to a 24/7 frenzy.

When Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man, he affirmed the need for the Sabbath in our lives. He underscored the importance of the Sabbath to all of us for mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

In his book, Living the Sabbath, Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba writes, “Put simply, Sabbath discipline introduces us to God’s own ways of joy and delight. … When our work and our play, our exertion and our rest flow seamlessly from this deep desire to give thanks to God, the totality of our living --- cooking, eating, cleaning, preaching, parenting, building, repairing, healing, creating --- becomes one sustained and ever expanding act of worship.”

Sabbath requires time for rest, silence, solitude and worship, but it is more than a day of rest. It is a way of life that is filled with wonder, worship, awe and delight. When Jesus declared himself the Lord of the Sabbath, he offered to us a better way. He said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest to your souls.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Refugees

Three years ago I served as the pastor of an English speaking church in Nuremberg, Germany.  It was a fascinating experience.  The church was small, only 30 or so, and composed mostly of young adults starting their careers in Nuremberg. They came from Cameroon, South Africa, India, Japan, Ukraine, Poland, Ireland, UK and, of course Germany. There were even a couple from the United States.  Nuremberg, once shrouded under the dark cloud of Nazi history, has emerged in the twenty-first century as a cosmopolitan city welcoming people from around the globe.   We returned to Nuremberg last year to encourage the young believers we came to love on our first visit.

As a result of that experience, I have followed the recent refugee reports in Europe with special interest.  I have been impressed with the way Germany and other European nations immediately opened their resources, their communities, their arms and their homes.   According to ABC News, “Dozens of volunteers have been driving to Hungary and to the Serbian border, picking up refugees walking along the highway in the aim of helping them travel to Western Europe.” Universities are offering free classes to refugees. In Berlin more than 780 people have opened their homes for temporary shelter. The continued flow has become overwhelming.

I am always encouraged to see people reaching out to those who are different and desperate. There are, of course, dangers and risks, just as there were dangers and risks in Jesus’ Good Samaritan story.  But the rewards far outweigh the costs.

In the United States, we are a nation of immigrants, refugees and their descendants. We all came from somewhere else, often from places suffering famine, disease and oppression.  In the 1960s and 70s we welcomed refugees from Viet Nam.  Forty years later they have built businesses and sent their children to college where some became doctors, lawyers and engineers. When we lived in Minnesota, we came to know and love the Hmong who fled slaughter in Laos following the fall of Vietnam.  They came to the U.S. as animists.  Today many are devoted followers of Christ. St. Paul has the largest Hmong church in the nation. 

While some traditional churches in the U.S. are in decline, many immigrant churches are growing.  Liberian Christians are breaking ground for a new building north of Minneapolis and in St, Paul a church composed of immigrants from Myanmar (formerly Burma) is growing so fast they are out of space.

The United States has agreed to receive 70,000 refugees in 2015. Some will respond to these new residents with fear and suspicion. But love, acceptance and generosity can overcome fear. 


In every century and every generation there are refugees, the innocent who flee their homes for safety.  Centuries ago, Isaiah wrote: “Cast your shadow like night at high noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive.  Let the outcasts of Moab stay with you. Be a hiding place for them from the destroyer.”  (Isaiah 16:3-4)

Monday, September 14, 2015

War Room

When I first saw the advertisement for the movie, War Room, I thought, okay, here we go again, another blood and guts movie: special effects, bombs, explosions, guns; angry men killing each other and trying to survive.  It is the typical stuff for most war movies. 

My son-in-law slipped off with some of his buddies to see it.  This further confirmed my assumptions.  The movie was number one at the box office on Labor Day.  I decided to check it out.  So, I took my wife, we bought a ticket, and wandered into the theater to sit back and see for ourselves.

There are no bombs or explosions.  No one gets killed. There is no blood.  War Room is all about the battle taking place every day in homes around the world. Husbands and wives whose marriages are falling apart.  Parents absorbed in their own problems, trying to make ends meet, stressed out and blaming each other.  Children falling through the cracks.

The “War Room” is a closet, a place to pray. 

It could be a break-through movie.  It could save marriages.  It could lead husbands and wives to discover what we discovered years ago, that there is nothing more powerful than prayer.  Across the years my wife has prayed for me, and I am convinced it has made all the difference. 

We have always prayed.  But years ago I realized that I forget what I pray for.  And, when God answers prayer, I seldom give thanks or recognize His answer.  I started writing down prayer requests as I prayed.  Later, when I reviewed my prayer requests, I was astounded at how faithful God was to answer my prayers.  Of course, sometimes His answer was, “No.”  Sometimes He taught me that I was asking for the wrong thing. That in itself was helpful. And sometimes He granted what I requested. 

I learned that prayer is a conversation with God.  He speaks to us as much as we speak to Him.  Not in an audible voice, but with an inner voice.  Often the best part of prayer is listening to God. I discovered that when I pray in the early morning, the conversation with God lingers and continues through the rest of the day.

 I have never met anyone who felt they prayed too much.  I have met many, including myself, who wished they had prayed more.  When Billy Graham was 92, a reporter asked him if he had it to do over, would he would do anything differently.  He said, “Yes.  I would spend more time in meditation and prayer.”

James wrote, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3). 


Jesus said, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).  “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6).

Monday, September 7, 2015

Listen Up!

I am not a great listener.  I lose focus.  One word can trigger any number of divergent thoughts causing my mind to race off in pursuit like a dog chasing cats.  At other times I leap ahead, thinking about what I want to say rather than listening to what is being said.  I have to discipline myself to re-focus on what is being said, sometimes scrambling to piece together the gaps that I missed during my mental lapse.

My wife knows this. She can see it in my eyes.  Sometimes she will stop talking and the silence will awaken me from my temporary daydream.  “You’re not listening,” she says.  Of course she is right.  But occasionally I am lucky enough to be able to repeat the last sentence that she spoke, retrieving it from some kind of digital recording in my head, even though it’s meaning was not being registered in my brain.

My wife, on the other hand, is a great listener.  That is one of the reasons I married her.  She listens intently, not just to me, but also to anyone speaking to her. I once watched a total stranger stop her on the street in New York and spill out his life story.  I have witnessed the same thing on subways, in train stations and shopping centers in the U.S. and Europe.  You can see it in her eyes.  She focuses.  She doesn’t glance around the room wondering if there is someone else she should speak to. She doesn’t look beyond you.  Her eyes don’t glaze over in a fixed stare pretending to listen while she thinks about something else. 

Listening is a powerful gift. It is transformational. When someone listens to us without judgment or accusation, we hear and see ourselves differently. Somehow the act of having someone truly listen enables us to sort through our emotions and confusions to reach better conclusions.  Feelings of isolation and loneliness dissolve and melt away when someone listens to us. The listener, by listening, has the ability to heal.

Most of us are far more intent on being heard than hearing. When we pretend to listen, we are, more often simply waiting for a gap, a chance in the conversation to insert our already preconceived conclusions. We interrupt one another with conversations that often are running on different tracks.

How many times have we injured someone, or simply failed to help someone, because we were too quick to speak?  How different our world would be if parents listened to their children; if bosses listened to their employees; if businesses listened to their customers; if politicians listened to the people; if persons in power listened to each other?  Maybe if we were better at listening to one another, we might be better at listening to God.


The Bible says, “Everyone must be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  (James 1:19).  God says, “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:2-3).