Don’t Waste Your Summer

Every summer, I have grand plans to spend it bonding with my family. My ideas are going camping, museums and spending time in sowing seeds of faith and wisdom. But, instead I get caught up in schedules, errands and before I know it the summer is over. Then I promise myself next summer I will do better. I will spend more time with my daughter before she goes off to college and we don’t have summers together. 
Summer goes so much quicker than we ever expect it too. We start out with the best intentions when our kids are small to use the some to the best of our abilities, but then life just seems to get in the way. We get sidetracked and we waste the opportunities given to us. Often we as parents forget —God’s given us just 18 summers with our children before they leave home for college. So, don’t waste this precious time. Don’t look back with sadness, not memories, because those days can’t be done over.
Summers are also a great opportunity to talk about your faith as a family, to let your children see how faith and family have been important from one generation to another. Jesus showed us the importance and the impact of spending time together in his relationship with his disciples. He shared life with those twelve who were closest to him. He knew he had just a few short years with them and that he had to make the most of it. 
He modeled to his disciples what a mature relationship with the God looked like. He taught them how to pray, to worship, serve and to live with other Christians. By doing life together the disciples were able to grow in their faith. This idea making disciples of our children made me rethink how I talk and what I do during these summer days. What do I want my kids to learn before they leave home? What memories do I want them to have? Deuteronomy 6 gives a clear instructions to parents as to how to intentionally point our children to the Lord. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 6:5-7).
From the time we wake them up to the afternoons at the lake, to the long walks and bike rides through the park, we have an opportunity to shape our children by pointing them to Christ, to engage them in conversations about the gospel. If we continue to keep our summer schedule as busy as our school year schedule, we’ll miss the unique opportunities summer gives us to spend extra, unhurried time with our children.


Fallow Ground: Fallow Makes Fertile

“Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you.” -Hosea 10:12 I grew up in small-town North Dakota. My father, who was a rural preacher, grew up on a farm. Each Sunday afternoon we would have to go for the “Sunday drive” around the countryside to “look at the crops.” I rarely saw the weekly changes that my father found so interesting. It was during those rides, however, that I learned what different crops looked like, what a “dirty” or “clean” field was, and the ongoing effects of too much or too little rain. We also talked about the farming practice of “fallow fields.” Before the current practice of field-design planting, farmers would rotate crops in a field year-to-year in order to prevent depleting the soil of certain nutrients that was caused by growing the same crops year after year. Yet the wise farmer, my dad told me, let a field go fallow every few years. Although there was no income from that field for that year, the benefit of “letting the ground rest,” as he described it, enabled bigger yield crops in the following years. Fallow ground becomes fertile ground. “It’s just like everything,” he said, “Performance is always better after a rest.” This summer, for the first time in my 24-year ministry, I am taking a Renewal Leave. For three months, June 4 – Sept. 2, I will not be engaging in any pastoral duties at Forest Hills Church, and I will be attending worship elsewhere during this time.


The Rest of the Story


Have you even been in the middle of a good book?  The characters are captivating, the dialog is snappy, the plot is as thick as ever.  It’s so good it’s tough to put it down.  But, of course, life calls and you must insert your bookmark and turn your attention elsewhere.  Finally, at the end of a long day you decide to finish up the chapter you’ve been working on.  You head to your favorite chair in the living room right next to your reading table.  Confusingly enough, the book is not there.  You are not sure where you left it.  You check the bedroom, the kitchen counter, even the backseat of the car.  Still nowhere to be found. 
Your book is gone.  You were smack dab in the middle and now your book is gone.  As much as you would love to finish the story, you are now unable.  You feel frustrated and uncomfortable leaving something so great incomplete.
What if we were to look at our faith life as a book? How far along in the story are you?  Do you find it to be riveting or does the story of your faith put you to sleep?  How often do you put time into reading?  How much do you look forward to getting through another chapter?
God is writing his story upon our lives.  But what he has written we need to read and engage with and make a part of our lives.  For so many Christians, faith is an intellectual decision to believe in Jesus.  Our conversion becomes the end of our journey.  The truth is, once we are saved and trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are only halfway through the book!  God is inviting us to live into the rest of the story. 


Leaving a Legacy

Last week was a sad one for our church. We lost a long time member and friend in JoAnne. As we grieve the loss, her life is in our lives, we also remember the legacy she leaves. A legacy is much more than jewels, money or even societal standing. These things will fade or go away but a true legacy will last forever. Sharing with others the eternal legacy a belief in Jesus Christ gives us is the most important thing we can do.
JoAnne knew the importance of leaving an eternal legacy. She lived out her faith for all to see. She was a regular church attender. She believed that going to church weekly was important for her Christian growth. JoAnne studied and talked of scripture often. Her children said, at her funeral, she would even mutter verses in her sleep. She acted out her faith in service to others. JoAnne loved to quilt and turned it into a ministry, making over 800 quilts that she gave out to soldiers, children, people in need or sold for charities. JoAnne also sent out dozens of cards each week, encouraging those around her. She knew the importance of Proverbs 16:24 “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
The Bible shows us that Paul, like JoAnne, gave himself in the service of Christ and in the end, when they both knew their lives were coming to an end, they couldn’t wait to meet their Savior. Paul and JoAnne continued to write and encourage others in their faith throughout their lives. They both left clear legacies of standing firm in their faith, whether it was Paul defending it while in jail or JoAnne’s faith filled joy while dealing with cancer.


Burning Churches

I remember singing in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris when on our college choir tour in 1992. Our last note hung in the air as if attached to the high Gothic ceiling as our choir director kept us on cue waiting for the sound to fade. It seemed like ages, but it was perhaps more like 10 seconds. It was a magical moment. We had sung Ave Maria, a fitting song (meaning “Hail Mary,” the first words that the angel Gabriel said to Mary) to sing in the cathedral whose name means “Our Lady” (referring to Mary). I remember thinking that my voice has been added to the countless voices raised in that consecrated structure to bring glory and praise to our God. Besides its spiritual legacy, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of such a huge church building! Actually, the cathedral is rather small for a medieval cathedral. It was one of the first cathedrals to be built in the newly innovated Gothic style (pointed arches, stained glass windows, and flying buttresses, an architectural style developed in northern France in the first half of the 12th century). Notre-Dame was started in A.D. 1163 but was not completed until A.D. 1345. Over the next few hundred years, the architectural style was pushed to the extreme, until vast cathedrals–one-and-a-half and even over twice its size–were built in Seville, Spain; Milan, Italy; Cologne, Germany; and York, England. Although not as big, Paris’ Cathedral of Notre-Dame is perhaps the most famous of Gothic churches, in no small part to Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and it being a central landmark in the world capital of Paris (Napoleon was crowned emperor there in 1804).


The Reality of Easter

The Reality of Easter   This past Easter Sunday was a glorious celebration of new life and victory.  We left our churches inspired and re-energized in our faith.  Then we turned on the TV or listened to the radio.  News of what had occurred in Sri Lanka stunned our sense of joy. Three churches were targeted and nearly three hundred innocent Christians were killed.  The coordinated attack involved six suicide bombers.  David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA said that the attacks were “planned on Easter to strike fear in the hearts of Christians.”
But you see, the main problem for a terrorist is that Easter and fear do not mix.
Like light in a dark room, the victory of Easter drives out all fear.  It is not just a fairy tale that we perpetuate, or some kind of wishful thinking.  In the first century a real man was crucified on a real cross and really buried in a tomb.  On that first Easter, that same man really rose from the grave as an unadulterated act of divine authority and power!


Discipling, No Not Disciplining, Teenagers

When we talk about parenting teenagers, our conversations run toward the issues and discipline needed for those “troublesome” years. We forget to talk about the disciplining that needs to happen during those “transformational” years. Yes, discipleship happens through all of their lives but, it is in the teen years that we start to develop patterns that follow us into our adult life. In Deuteronomy, it instructs parents to be teaching all the time. This teaching comes in many forms from role modeling, to discussions, to lessons. So what should we be teaching in each of these forms? Role modeling good spiritual growth habits to your teen is the best way to show them how easy it can be. If we don’t make our faith the number one priority in our life, why would our teens? They should see us reading our Bible, going to church, small group, doing personal devotions. Waking up before they do and getting in your personal devotion time is great (and I know there is a season for that) but, if they aren’t seeing us doing it, it didn’t happen. Another area is going to church, I LOVE to sleep, but I make it a priority to get up early on Sundays and go to church.This is showing teens, that church is important.


What Does Unity Look Like after General Conference 2019?

Last blog I wrote asking for prayers for the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church that was being held in St. Louis, MO. This Conference was held to determine the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality.  The General Conference is the international body of representatives of the global United Methodist Church, and it is the Church’s highest authoritative body. It sets the official positions and rules of the United Methodist Church, which are then published every four years in The United Methodist Book of Discipline. In 1972, the General Conference added the exclusion of homosexuality, stating that homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and forbidding clergy from performing homosexual unions or marriages, and forbidding people who are self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from serving as clergy. A special General Conference was called in St. Louis last month to hear proposals to change this position. What was called “The One Church Plan” proposed the elimination of any prohibition on homosexuality and allowed each church body, congregation, and clergy to have their own position based on their own conscience.


Kingdom Politics

Yes, I used that word…a word charged with division and laden with opinions.  But, in all honesty, there are many such words in our current cultural lexicon.  The beauty of it, for Americans, is that no matter our opinions or positions, we are allowed to make our voice heard.  We can cast a vote, we can protest, we can freely speak our convictions and beliefs.
As with any freedoms afforded to us, responsibility follows directly behind.  The fact is, our political process carries with it consequences.  But we are not always willing to accept responsibility for the outcomes, intended or not.
There is an often used phrase, “Politics is downstream from the culture.”  In other words, our cultural milieu, our shared values and mores dictate the flavor and direction of our political realm.  People embedded in the culture elect leaders to represent them in government.  In theory then, these elected leaders write and pass laws that in turn reflect what the culture esteems.
But there is yet a higher tier.  Religion.  In the end, culture is downstream from religion.  It all begins with what we believe.  You see this truth reflected around the world.  The religious beliefs of the people form a culture that in turn creates some from of governance.  As the Judeo-Christian worldview wanes in the United States, other religions have cropped up to fill in the void.  These other worldviews then compete with Christianity in the arena of ideas for influence in the culture.  We can all feel the tension of this tussle.  We sense it all around us and see it plainly in the political world as opposing ideas seek representation. 


Lent, what is it?

The season of Lent started this past Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. If you’re like me, you may not have grown up practicing Lent, and you might not be too familiar with it. Maybe you’ve heard of it, but you don’t really know all the ins and outs and why people observe the practice of Lent.
In general, most people think about two things when they think about Lent:
  1. seeing people on Ash Wednesday with a smudge on their forehead
  2. a season where you “give something up”

The textbook definition of Lent: Lent /lent/ noun

  1. the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. In the Western Church it runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday and so includes forty weekdays

Lent is not a new idea. In 325 AD, a bunch of Christian leaders got together at something called the Council of Nicaea. During that meeting they established a lot of things, including the way the Bible is set up, and establishing Easter as its own Christian holiday. They also discussed a 40-day season of fasting called Lent. This shows Lent is something that has been around for a very long time. What started a long time ago was really strict rules about fasting and prayer that were designed to help Christians repent of their sins and remove things from their lives that distracted them from Jesus. In today’s times, we tend to think of Lent as a time where we “give something up.” When I was younger most of what I knew about Lent was my friends couldn’t eat candy, pop, or watch TV (depending on their family). I never really connected it with the true purpose of giving up something to focus more on Christ. But Lent did not just get thrown in before Easter for no reason. It was placed there on purpose because Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. It prepares us for Easter by reminding us of how much we need Jesus.



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