What would you say if you couldn’t speak?

What would you say if you could not speak?
What would you say if you could not speak?

What would you say if you couldn’t speak?  This might seem like a trivial thought, but I actually think it matters.  If my voice could not say things, if all that comes out of my mouth was taken away, what is one thing that my heart would long to proclaim?  I wonder this because I say a lot of things each day.  Do I ever take the opportunity to proclaim the one thing I long to proclaim, Jesus Christ?

I have talked with enough Christian people to know that what we say out of our mouths and what we do with our lives does not always match.  We might get together on a Sunday morning and worship God, only to leave that all behind when we enter our jobs or schools that week.  I recently asked someone if what they claimed with their mouth matched what they did in action.  They told me that it did because they didn’t talk about Jesus.  That was not the answer I hoped for.

What I long for is people who can’t help but talk about Jesus, myself included.  They don’t do this out of obligation.  They do this out of love for Him.  They have been changed, set free, set on a new path, and they can’t help but tell the world.  That might mean it is costly.  That might mean people will mock.  That is nothing compared to what Peter and John did in the beginning of the book of Acts.

 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20

To make a long story short, they did not care if people thought what they were proclaiming with their lives was wrong; they could not help themselves!   Beat them, imprison them, and try to quiet them down.  All the effort to take away their voice did not work.  It was too good of news to keep to themselves.

We all have a story to share.  It is a story where God showed up and redirected our life.  He has forgiven our sins!  The story matters and needs to be shared.  May we get to that place where we can’t help but speaking about what we have seen and heard.  The world needs to hear the message!  Let’s speak while we are able to.

What do you want me to do?

Can you fix it?

It is with great joy that my kids get new toys and with great despair that they break them.   I have never quite understood why churches, or carnivals, or church carnivals give out such cheap stuff as prizes.  Or, better yet, why do companies even make such cheap items?

Still it never fails.  My kids go to an event and they come home with junk.  My oldest son has gone to birthday parties and come home with a bag filled with weird items.  The least they could do is fill the bag with candy because then I could eat some.   Instead they arrive home. quickly show me the items they received, and proceed to break everything.  They are not destructive by nature, they are just boys.

This becomes especially amusing to me when I get one of my kids, usually my youngest son (3 years old), coming to me with a ball of plastic.  “Hey dad, can you fix this?”  I might be handy, but I am not that handy. Sometimes I can piece something together to make them happy.  Sometimes I can make something else that is even more exciting to them.   Most of the time I have to ask them, “What do you want me to do with that?”

Can you put this lettuce back together?

It is a helpful question to consider.  If my boys thrust a heap of plastic at me they might be asking me to throw it away for them.  They also might be asking me to melt it down and make something else.  In either case I just don’t know what my role is, unless I ask.

It takes faith from my boys to ask me to fix something for them.  They do this because they believe that I can do it.  I should point out that often they are wrong, but I do my best anyway.

That same faith my boys show me can also be shown to Jesus Christ, except He really can solve the problem.  I was struck by this as I read Luke 18 and the account of a blind beggar.  He had clearly heard of Jesus and when he finds out that Jesus is passing by he gets excited.

“He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Luke 18:38

The crowd reacted with rebukes.  They did not want this blind man to get in the way of their celebrity.  The man was persistent and Jesus stopped.  The man was brought to Jesus and what Jesus asks next is very interesting.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Luke 18:41a

Why would Jesus ask that question?  Isn’t it obvious?  The man was clearly expressing some faith, but in order for people around him to understand all that was going on the man needed to say what he was after.  This also was a way to verbally express faith.

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied” – Luke 18:41b

This is like my boys when they come to me with their broken toys.  This man was coming to Jesus with his broken life.  His request was to take that broken life and make it whole.  He just wanted to see.  He just wanted to find relief from this condition he had been in and he truly believed Jesus could give him it, if he just asked.

This opportunity was not lost among many.  The man received his sight and followed along praising God.  He knew where this came from and was not shy about praising God for it.  This caught on and the people around him praised God also.

It is a compelling testimony that should encourage us.  We all experience brokenness at some level.   We can give to Jesus whatever mess we  are in and ask him to make it right.  It might be a painful process, like melting plastic down to something else.  It might be as simple as snapping something into place, like some of the toys out there.  In any case, it all comes to us from Jesus Christ.

The question is the same for us, though: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Do you have stories of the work of Jesus in your life?  Please share an example below.  We can then, like the crowd, praise God along with you.

Look I built this Lego set…..without you!

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to stop and assess all that he has accomplished.  Since I haven’t gotten to that point yet, I will just talk about what I do know.  I know that my oldest son turns eight years old in a few weeks!  Can you believe it? In order to appreciate this, we must take a stroll down memory lane.

When he was born, it feels like we were living a whole different life, or at least a different chapter.  We had just celebrated our one year anniversary by attending “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Oprheum Theater in Minneapolis.   This I remember because my wife was at the end of her pregnancy and we had to climb up many stairs to get to our seat.  Even though our seat was like the 4th row from the top, we couldn’t go to the top and walk down.  We had to come up from the bottom.  I guess that was just the beginning of the fun.

At the time he was born, I was working at a bus company as a mechanic.  I had been driving school bus for a few years and had naturally moved into the shop role.  We were poor college graduates, but God provided all we needed and more.  Like all first time parents, we had no idea what to expect.  No birthing class or advice can really prepare you for the ultimate responsibility that is contained in that little bundle.  We learned how much sacrifice goes into a child and also how overwhelming the love is for this child.

Who are you?

I remember being instantly scared when I saw him because I didn’t know him.  Here was this kid that I was supposed to parent and I had no idea who he was.  He was so calm, small and beautiful.  In that moment, time seemed to stop and nothing else mattered.

But, things get going again and things change. Kids don’t get to choose what their parents are doing, they just go along for it all.   I eventually prepared for ministry, a process that I wrote about in a few Sunday Series posts a while back.    We moved with him as our only child.  Then after a short time we moved again and he weathered it all very well given how young he was.

He was the only one of our kids born in Minnesota and he tells his brothers that all the time.  The other three were all born here on Cape Cod.  We are in such a  completely different chapter of life with our 4 kids and an established setting.   He has also changed some and has become more independent, never failing to let us know that every day.  In a way, this is helpful because he can help his brothers with things.  Last week when we celebrated our anniversary, he helped the babysitter take care of his siblings.  He enjoys doing that when it is convenient for him.  This is a huge help to us!

However, there is one side of this independence that makes me sad.  I am finding that he is needing me less and less.  This is something to rejoice as a parent because it means that I am doing my job.  Yet, it is a sad thing to think about because there is a loss of innocence that comes with that.

The world is not an easy place and doesn’t always make sense to kids.  My son sees stories about shootings on the news and has questions about that.  He cannot make sense of people killing each other. (who can?)  Just Monday he was reading a book with the World Trade Center towers in it.  He asked my wife why they weren’t there anymore.  That is a hard reality for a young child to come to grips with, but he needs to learn these things.

The icing on the cake for me was when we gave him his early birthday present.  Since it was a Lego set, we let him open it early because we are going away soon and he can’t take it along.  Normally with a Lego set, it is me putting the thing together while he gives me the pieces.  This time I watched as he put the entire thing together without me.  I was proud of him, but he did it without me.

All this does is highlight something very important for me.  My kids are growing up and learning from every moment I have with them.  Those of us who have influence in the lives of kids have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility.  We want them to get to the place where they can live life competently and then look at you and say, “look what I did, aren’t you proud.”

I know the same can be said of God’s relationship with us.  God loves us with an unconditional love, even better than I love my son.  In fact, the Bible says that God lavishes us with love and adopts us into His family.  I know that there is nothing more exciting than to stand before God someday and have him tell me that he was proud of who I have become.  The real good news in it is that God takes our lives, no matter how broken, and pieces them back together through His Son Jesus Christ.  He enables us to live life in Him!  God looks at each of us and sees the potential, not the failure.  This is what an awesome father does for his children and God is even better than that!

I don’t know it all, but I do know Jesus.

The landscape of our culture is in change.  People are bowing to whatever is popular and ignoring what is right or wrong.  The notion that Christians have a monopoly on truth is somewhat ridiculous because truth is always true no matter who possess it.  Yet, our world has gotten to the point that even with evidence  showing the hand of God, people will find a way to undermine it.  It is the classic case of asking the same question hoping for the result you want.

What color Popsicle is it?

When I went to the store last week I bought some popsicles.  There are only purple and red popsicles in this box. I asked my son: “What color do you want, red or purple?”

He replied: “Purple”   Being a good father, I gave him a purple one.  He said: “not that one.”  So, I got a red one and he took it and said: “yes, purple!” This happened twice.   Apparently if I want to believe that the popsicle is purple, that is perfectly fine.  Another one of my children told me that they wanted a red light to mean go.  I will try that when I come to a stop light that is red and drive through it.  I will tell the officer that I wanted red to mean go and green to mean stop.  I think that will be convincing.

Will I make this turn?

The truth doesn’t change because we ask the same question a bunch of times.  It just is.  Things were no different when Jesus encountered people in the gospels.  They didn’t always like the answer and would often try to find some other reason, other than what actually happened, in order to explain the situation.

In John 9 there is a story about a man who was born blind.  Jesus reaches out to this man by spitting in some mud and wiping it on his eyes and  telling him to go wash in the pool.  After he washes in the pool he is able to see. It is a miracle!  There doesn’t seem to be any way around what has happened here.  But, the true answer does not sit well with the officials.

They start off not even wanting to believe it was him, even though they obviously knew who he was.

“His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”  Some claimed that he was.  Others said, “No, he only looks like him.  But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” – John 9: 8-9

They go on to question the means by which he was healed.  They ask him how he can see – a legitimate question.

“The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash.  So I went and washed, and then I could see.” – John 9:11

How much more do they need?  Here is a man they recognized as having been blind and now seeing.  They asked him how it happened and he told them.   They ask him again about Jesus.

“What have you to say about him?  It was your eyes he opened.  the man replied, “He is a prophet.” – John 9:17

Remember that this man was blind and he had not seen Jesus.  He doesn’t know anymore than he told them.  They then find his parents who confirm that this is their son, but they can’t explain why he can see.  They, ironically, tell them to ask him.  They have done that already and haven’t like his answer.  But, they ask him again.

“He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know.  I was blind and now I see!” – John 9:25

He didn’t know all of the details and he didn’t care.  He was blind before and now he wasn’t.  How hard is that to grasp?

“Then they asked him, “What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?” – John 9:26

Will I make it now?

The man has now lost his patience with them and he tells them that he has already told them.  They get upset, insult him and throw him out.  The conversation breaks down because they refuse to listen to the truth.

Last week I wrote an article about evidence that even an atheist can’t ignore.  In it, I referenced an article written by a known atheist about what he had seen with his own eyes and how much of a witness the evangelical missionaries had been to him.  It was a refreshing article.

It reminds me, though, that even with a lot of evidence there are still many who just ignore it.  There are so many people who think that truth can be changed with public opinion polls.  Well, it cannot.  The Word of God is the source we measure up to.  Jesus Christ is still changing lives and the evidence is all around us.    Many of you have first hand experience of the work of Jesus Christ in your life.

If there is a historical Jesus Christ, then we each need to deal with the implications.  No, we don’t know all the answers.  But, like the man in John 9 we can say, “I once was blind, but now I see.”  To accept the truth or not is ultimately up to each person.

Evidence Even an Atheist Can’t Ignore

There was an interesting article I came across as I was prepping for a class I am teaching.

It was written by a man named Matthew Parris, a journalist from the UK, who has made very clear that he is an atheist.  However, after returning from a trip to Malawi, the country he was in as a kid, he made some really amazing assertions.  The article is entitled “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.”  You see, after watching many different charitable organizations come and attempt to help the people there, he came to the conclusion that the best help the people in this country were receiving was coming from Christians.

“In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

Keep in mind that he calls himself an atheist.  Yet, he recognizes that there is something different about what followers of Jesus are doing.  It is far more than just throwing food at people or offering financial help; it is a transformation.  It is something that changes the heart and, as he says, it is a good thing.  He acknowledges this change in the daily lives of the missionaries he had known over the years.

“The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them.”

He goes on to explain even further about how as he has interacted with Christians, he has noticed a difference in how they talk, relate and what they do.  Even in their work there was an undertone of Christian life.

“Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.”

Evidence suggests someone has been here

The evidence is overwhelming for him, which even appears to annoy him some.  It is as if he wishes this evidence wasn’t there, but it is.  I wonder how a world of supposed tolerance makes sense of all of the good going on because people are motivated to go love people in the name of Jesus Christ.  It would appear to me that so often the evidence is there, but people are ignoring it or distorting it because they just don’t want to believe it.  The human heart is inherently sinful, which naturally doesn’t appreciate being exposed.

This is exactly what happened back in book of Acts when the disciples went out and ministered in Jesus’ name.  There was clear evidence of His work, but so many of the people just didn’t like it.

In Acts 4, for example, right after Peter and John reached out to a beggar and he was healed, they were brought to give an account of the event to the court.  Obviously, if a man was healed and walking again, people were going to notice.   The community leaders were “greatly disturbed” because they were proclaiming Christ.  But, Peter was not going to deny Jesus again.

“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” – Acts 4:10

There was no denying what had happened and now they told them what it was all about.  It goes on to say they were astonished and had nothing to say.  Their command was for them( Peter and John) to stop speaking in this name.  Of course, Peter told them that they cannot help but speak about what they had seen or heard.

And so it is with those of us who follow Jesus.  We cannot help but talk about Him.  This bothers people, but as we see from the Matthew Parris, it also confounds people.  We need to be all about Jesus and letting His love be known to those around us.  Even people who don’t believe in God are making claims about the changes that are taking place in lives because of Christ!

The evidence of God’s work is all around us.  Lives are being changed.  People all over the world are turning to Jesus Christ as the answer.  Why? Because people who truly follow Jesus are loving people and living in stark contrast to the selfish pursuits of a secular society.  People do notice these things.  The evidence speaks for itself.

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Just stopping and actually stopping.

This morning I am off on a short trip to Minnesota to attend graduation for my Master’s Degree.  It is a culmination of many hours of reading, writing and more reading.  In all, I would say that this experience has been a real stretching time for me. I have often joked that my life wasn’t crazy enough so I added more work to it.  Then there were the days when I wished I could just stop doing school work because I was exhausted.

Summer 2008

As I was packing my bags, I was reflecting with my wife about how our lives can be divided into certain chapters.  It is as if each of the chapters of life are completely different from the other ones.

Chapter 1- Childhood – This seems like a whole different life.  There are times when memories of something come to me, but for the most part a lot of this is a foggy mess.  I have some great memories of this time, if I actually remember them that is.

Chapter 2- College – I remember my first days of college and what that was like.  I remember the collect calls to my parents because I didn’t have a cell phone.  I remember that strange feeling of being on my own.  It is a mixture of excitement and terror.  There are many unknowns in college, but I was assured I was where God wanted me to be.

1st child, 1st day home

Chapter 3- Marriage/New Family-  I got married right before my last year of college.  I have told some of this story in the Sunday Series posts titled “life lessons.”  One year later we had our first child.  That time in our life had its own unique rhythm to it. I drove school bus and worked in the shop as a mechanic.  We had less responsibility because once I was done with work I didn’t have to think about it again until the next day.  At this point in our life we were not where we were intending to be, but we were making out way there.

Chapter 4- Transitions This is when the whole process of ministry started for us.  We had the accreditation process, interviews and a lot of waiting.  Then we ended up going to a church and experiencing some struggle there.  We were not there long, but now we have been at the current church for over 5 years.  Which I suppose means we are in a more stable period of life in that sense, but in a crazy, labor intensive period in another sense. (did I mention I have four kids now)

There are probably better ways to divide these periods out.  But, the thing that strikes me is how much of it just feels like it is racing by.  There are times when we might wish to be in a different phase because the kids are up early or are needing a lot of attention.  But, as I look back I realize that there are things that I miss about those earlier days.

For me it all comes down to stopping and paying attention.  There will never be a time in life when everything will be perfect.  There will never be a time when something couldn’t get better or when the grass on the other side doesn’t appear to be greener.  The funny thing that I have learned is that my life might not be perfect in the sense that I would like, but it is perfectly arranged for me.  The grass might appear to be greener, but it really isn’t as green as it is looking.

It is what it is.

The best place for me is where I am.  That means not getting ahead of time and trying to plan too much out.  It also means not living in the past.  I need to be right here, right now.

So, as I travel today, a lot of these memories come to mind.  There are many pieces of those other times in my life that was so unique.  Yet, I don’t long to be there again.  I long to enjoy the time I have right now, knowing that one day it will all be over.  When I stand before my Lord, I want to hear that I have done well and not that I have squandered the time I have been given chasing some dream that was never intended for me.

So, if I can be of encouragement to you today, let me encourage you to take some time to stop and notice what actually consists of your life.  Stop and appreciate the people in your life.  But even more than that, just stop and listen to the whisper of God.  He might have something to say to you, but in order to hear it you need to stop.

Things to Celebrate

God is good!

I think it is helpful as we begin a new week to make a few notes on things to celebrate.  I know that this weekend was a busy one for me, but at the same time, God did some awesome things.

We have youth group on Friday nights.  This last week we split up for a guys and girls night.  We will occasionally do this in order to deal with guy and girl topics and to keep things fresh.  The funny thing was that we had planned for the guys to be outside for the night, but it was very windy and the coldest night we have had in a while.  That doesn’t matter, though, when you are trying to teach boys to “Man-Up.” We played a little wiffle ball, put together our first attempt at a zip-line and made a camp fire.

The campfire was a real challenge because gusts of wind would come and throw coals in the eyes of our students.  It does make them pay attention, though.  We also tried to make some form of tin foil meals that included some beef and other items.  That worked to a point, except the tin foil ripped and we had a huge grease fire.  We tried a few times and ended up with marginal success.  We have a camp-out in June where we can fine tune this process.

We even had a half bottle of tabasco left that one of our students drank.  I am not kidding, he drank it.  This was challenging because it was a shaker and we required that he swallowed it all at once.  Wow.  I did not think he would do it.  This gives new meaning to “Man-Up.”

The real highlight for that night was the relationships that we are able to build.  Our discussion was very scattered and distracting due to the wind, but that didn’t matter.  God is working in the lives of these guys and they seem to really connect with each other and with God.   I celebrate God’s work in them and the joy of being able to be involved in that. What a privilege!   The girls did something surrounding the topic of inward beauty, but I wasn’t there to report on that.  All I know is that they had a really great night as well.  Praise God!

Saturday I took a group of our student leaders and adult leaders to an event   surrounding the importance of the Gospel.  As with any of these events, there are points that we take with us and there are things to ignore.  However, for me the highlight was the car ride there and back.  In the spirit of truly not throwing away any opportunities, I love car rides.  Where else do we get to have discussions with teenagers in an environment where they can’t escape?  It is awesome!

Our discussion surrounded some deep topics like predestination, God’s goodness and a variety of Old Testament stories that are just amazing.  We were also able to discuss things about our lives.  They were asking each other about fears, how they came to know Jesus and what some of their future goals were.  This is something I celebrate as well.

On the way home we stopped for dinner and talked about what we learned.  I love this because each person takes different points with them to apply. They then are able to articulate those things to each other and we are all edified as a result.  God is at work in them and it is incredible.

Sunday was a blessed Lord’s Day.  We heard a few testimonies yesterday in the service about how God has used people in some simple ways to impact others.  One man told a story about post cards he had written to a young man in Alaska and how through that he is now able to help him in the midst of a crisis.  Someone else talked about a young man in the hospital who he has had the chance to minister to.  Another person testified about the way a person who has recently passed away impacted their life.  These are all things to celebrate; God is alive and active among us.

Feeling Better!

Lastly, I celebrate the health of my youngest son.  Saturday, as I was leaving for my event for the day, he was sick.  But, by Sunday he was much better.

What are you celebrating today?   Even in difficulties, I know there are always things to celebrate.  Be encouraged today and trust in the Lord for His work among you.