Skip to content

Archive for

Heaven Is the Finish Line – Acquired Taste

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you … realize what a rich and glorious inheritance he has given to his people. Ephesians 1:18

Bonus Reading: 2 Peter 3:11-14

Our friends Mark and JoAnne gave us their unused NordicTrack.  As they delivered it, we started talking about exercise, and I commended the benefits of running.  Even in mid-winter, you can stave off cabin fever and keep yourself in shape.  JoAnne said, “You know, I don’t like to run but, I like the idea of liking to run.”

I thought, That’s a good admission—filled with hope.  How could she turn that idea into the reality of liking to run?  Run!  Get out and do it.  Start simple and build up an appropriate pace.  Learn about the sport.  Do it as a discipline until it becomes a joy.  Soon you’ll be an avid runner.

Some of us need to admit the same about God and His presence.  “I don’t like the presence of God.  If I did, I’d spend more time cultivating, acknowledging, and seeking it.  But I like the idea of liking the presence of God.  So I’d better make a start right now.”  You don’t want to show up in heaven one day without maximum capacity to enjoy this God who wants to usher you into His very own happiness.  Heaven is an acquired taste, and we’ve got to get ready for it now.

—Greg Lafferty in Preaching Today

My Response: I could make a start at liking the presence of God by …

Thought to Apply: We are meant to be addicted to God, but we develop secondary addictions that temporarily appear to fix our problem.—Edward Berckman (writer)

Adapted from Preaching Today (254)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.


Heaven Is the Finish Line – Homecoming

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:11

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-6

Sarah’s question took me by surprise.  My 11-year-old asked if her grandparents would be married in heaven.

As I stumbled through a sophomoric answer, I began anticipating a place where sadness is consumed by joy.  It’s hard to picture the new heaven and new earth, but I suspect there’ll be green and yellow tents and baseball mitts and countless opportunities for healing conversations.  I imagine the homecoming feast described in the Bible will include families and stepfamilies spanning dozens of generations, celebrating a new home where all is set right.

If you’re like me, you are skilled at ignoring this—going about daily business as if the matters of this mortal life deserve our full attention.  Many of us work, raise children, get promoted, coach Little League, save for retirement, buy a house, travel, retire on a lake in the Ozarks, and life goes on.  Or does it?  Eventually it ends.

My musings in response to Sarah’s question were founded on my Christian faith, which has come to shape the way I see everything. I believe we’re people with a future that will last much longer than our present bodies.

—Mark McMinn in Finding Our Way Home

My Response: To periodically get beyond the details of daily life and focus on my true spiritual home, I’ll …

Thought to Apply: All men think all men mortal but themselves.—Edward Young (author)

Adapted from Finding Our Way Home (Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.


Heaven Is the Finish Line – Tuned Elsewhere

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not seen. 2 Corinthians 4:18

Bonus Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9

On a balmy 1982 October afternoon, Badger Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin, was packed with over 60,000 University of Wisconsin fans watching their football team play Michigan State’s Spartans.  It soon became obvious that State had the better team and would win.  What was odd, however, was the seemingly unconnected and increasing eruptions of applause from the Wisconsin fans despite the mounting defeat.  Why were they cheering as their team was losing?

Many fans, it turns out, were listening to portable radios broadcasting another game in progress 70 miles away in Milwaukee, where the Brewers were beating the St. Louis Cardinals in game three of the World Series.  They were responding to something they couldn’t actually see.  Likewise, Paul encourages us to fix our eyes on the unseen.  When we do, we celebrate even in difficulties because we’re tuned in to see God’s larger picture at work.

Paul says a Jesus follower can live confidently because of the guarantee that God’s presence indwelling us carries.  His power is available to us here and now!  And we rest assured of a secure future.  We are at home in either place—in our bodies or with the Lord.

—Tom Taylor in Paradoxy

My Response: Am I really open to being at home in either place?

Thought to Apply: The bottom line is in heaven.—Edwin Land (physicist & inventor)

Adapted from Paradoxy (Baker, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.


Heaven Is the Finish Line – After D-Day

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later.  – Romans 8:18

Bonus Reading: Romans 8:18-25

D-Day and V-Day.  Oscar Cullman, in his book Christ and Time, used an analogy from World War II to illustrate the believer’s current status.

D-Day was when the Allied forces landed in Normandy and established a beachhead.  The strategizing generals on both sides recognized that the outcome of the war was decided on that fateful day in June 1944.  They understood that if the Nazis had driven the Allies back into the sea, they would have won the war.  But because the Allied armies prevailed at Normandy, they sealed the eventual doom of the Nazi cause.

But between D-Day and V-Day—marking the surrender of the enemy and the Allies’ liberation of all of Europe—there’d be many months of suffering and struggle. There’d be horrendous battles as the Allied armies, little by little, pushed back the Nazi forces.

The Cross and the Resurrection were God’s D-Day. God in Jesus fought and won the decisive battle. Although Satan is raising havoc, his power has been broken, and Christ, through the church, is driving back the forces of darkness. God’s V-Day isn’t yet here. But because of God’s triumph on D-Day, we know how it all will end.

—Tony Campolo in Speaking My Mind

My Response: How can knowing the final outcome give me an edge in today’s struggle?

Thought to Apply: Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.—Howell Forgy (chaplain at Pearl Harbor)

Adapted from Speaking My Mind (W Publishing, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.


Heaven Is the Finish Line – Unnatural Death

The Hope of HeavenKey Bible Verse: And if we have hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world.  – 1 Corinthians 15:19

Bonus Reading: Philippians 3:20-21

Peter, a fisherman like his biblical namesake, had been a doer of kind deeds and a practical joker, but he was no churchman.  At his funeral, friends and family reminisced for almost two hours.  By the time for my meditation, I calculated I had about four minutes before the crowd would lose interest.  So, chucking my notes, I pointed to the three tables of photo albums and mementos laid out to represent Peter’s life.

“So,” I said, “what is all this?  Is this it?  Is this Peter’s life?  Is this what it distills to?

“I don’t care what religion you belong to or would never belong to, what beliefs you profess or scorn. I’d bet a sweet purse that every one of you in this room has an instinct that is sharp as a razor right now.

“The instinct is that this world isn’t big enough, long enough, deep enough to contain or explain even one single life in it. The instinct is that death, no matter how natural its causes, is always unnatural, a brusque intruder, a gloating enemy, and that death shouldn’t be allowed to have the last word.  The instinct is that we weren’t made for this world only.  We were made for eternity.  This world isn’t enough.

“Did you think it was?”

—Mark Buchanan in Things Unseen

My Response: I sense the universal yearning for life beyond the grave when …

Adapted from Things Unseen (Multnomah, 2002)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.


Heaven Is the Finish Line – Tunnel Vision

The Hope of HeavenWho Said It…Os Guinness

Os Guinness was born in China, where his parents were medical missionaries, and educated in England, with a doctorate from Oxford University. He has lived in the United States since 1984, serving as a scholar in several secular and Christian “think tanks.”

His passion is to take academically important public policy issues and make them intelligible and practicable to a wider audience.

What He Said…Tunnel Vision

Facing the prospect of a suspected brain tumor, I was in a hospital in northern Virginia ready to undergo a brain scan. A nurse entered the room briskly and said, “Excuse my asking, but are you claustrophobic?”

“No,” I answered.

“Good,” she said. “Some people can’t take the scanner. Our nickname for it is the ‘coffin machine.'”

“Thanks very much,” I replied lightly.

Five minutes later it was hard to get her words out of my mind. Both that session and the next turned out to be an unexpected time of personal review.  Just as a drowning person sees his life flash before his eyes, so I saw the years of my life scroll across my mind as I lay in my “coffin.”

Each memory was alive with sights and sounds and smells.  I shivered at the still-unrealized potential of hopes, dreams, and fears.  I felt again the wonder of this brief but glorious journey of life.  As Winston Churchill said in the last days of his life, “It has been a grand journey—well worth making once.”

—Os Guinness in Long Journey Home

Adapted from Long Journey Home (WaterBrook, 2001)

Prayer for the Week: Thank you, Lord, for the hope of heaven. Use it in my earthly life to inspire and sustain my passion and purpose.


Real Disciples Do Church – Being the Body of Christ

Being the Body of ChristBecause converts in the New Testament were undergoing intense persecution, many who’d come out of Judaism were tempted to escape the heat by reverting.

The writer of Hebrews reminded his readers why their initial decision was still valid.  If they patiently endured, he urged, it would build their character and lead to victory.  But he realized their resolve was likely to founder if they tried to tough it out in isolation.

Interact with God’s Word

Hebrews 10:23-25

  1. Do you know a professing believer who is neglecting to meet regularly with one church family?
  2. Would you expect that this individual is holding tightly to his hope or beginning to waver?
  3. What are some ways in which the very act of meeting together strengthens the faith of those who gather?
  4. In what two ways can believers who meet together (v. 25) support each other?
  5. Brainstorm some ways you could do the kinds of encouraging singled out in verse 24.
  6. Why does the fact that we are getting closer to the day when Christ will return make regular involvement in a church family more essential than ever?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to provide you with a fresh impetus for growth from your church fellowship, and to help you determine how you can best make a vital contribution to your family there.

Hebrews 10:23-25

23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

Prayer for the Week:  In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Pastor and 16 Members Abducted During Choir Practice In Nigeria

The pastor of an evangelical church in Nigeria, along with approximately 16 other people, have been abducted by gunmen. It is also believed that Reverend Zakariah Ido’s son and daughter were taken with him and that one person was killed during the attack.

“It is sad to inform you that one of our pastors, his daughter and 15 other members of ECWA Church Dankade were kidnapped in the early hours of today,” Reverend Nath Waziri told the Nigerian news outlet The Nation.

Details are forthcoming, but the news outlet Sahara Reporters says one person was killed during the attack. One witness reported there were at least 20 gunmen that surrounded the church as choir practice was underway Saturday night. “It was at about 12:30 midnight. We had a combine choir practice in the church with other neighbouring communities. We normally hold the combine choir practice from 9:00pm to 1:00am,” the witness said.

The abduction occurred in Kaduna State, near the center of Nigeria, early Sunday morning. Rev. Waziri gave the following details:

The church hosted a combine choir fellowship Saturday night to early hours of today. Then, this morning (Sunday), kidnappers stormed the church, when the gunmen came, they asked everyone in the church to surrender his or her phones and demanded the whereabouts of the pastor.

After threatening the choristers they became afraid and showed them the pastor home. They took him away and his daughter with 15 others amongst which there is the son of the pastor of Assemblies of God Church.

Rev. Ido serves the Dankade congregation of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), a large network of churches in Nigeria. The denomination has over 6,000 congregations in Nigeria with over 10 million members. The schoolgirl who was kidnapped in 2018 by Boko Haram, Leah Sharibu, and her family are also members of an ECWA church.

Tensions between extremist Muslim groups and Christians are at an unprecedented high in the Sahel Region of Africa. This attack comes on the heels of a Catholic priest and five church-goers being murdered in Burkina Faso and another six Christians being murdered at a Protestant church in April. There have also been several other kidnappings and threats against religious leaders, including Christians and non-violent Muslims.


Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness

The following is an adapted excerpt from the new book Choosing Marriage.

Did you ever think someone could show you love through a bologna sandwich?

I didn’t think so either.

Until I found out that my then-boyfriend-now-husband (a poor, broke, medical school student at the time) spent close to two months eating bologna sandwiches every day, in order to cut down his grocery budget to $10/week. Just so he could save up enough money to buy me an engagement ring.

The truth is this: Marriage will cost you.

When you think of the cost of marriage, what comes to mind?

According to recent statistics, the average couple today spends $26,444 on a wedding. That’s a lot of money, but it’s nothing compared to the REAL cost of marriage. Because like it or not, marriage will cost you MORE. It will cost you something great. It will cost you a price much larger than the money you spend on a ring or a wedding or a honeymoon.

It will cost you yourself.

I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy…” and it made my stomach turn.

What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing that their main goal in life is THEIR OWN personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live. If you’re getting married with that as your main goal, to make yourself happy, you will be disappointed in a severe way.

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about LOVE, which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving, and then doing it all over again.

No wonder we often choose divorce over commitment…because most of the time, we’re choosing “personal happiness” over real commitment—over real love.

They say marriage teaches you more about selflessness than you ever wanted to know. I have found that phrase to be true in my relationship with my husband. Because at the heart of it, real love is all about sacrifice. About the giving of yourself, in ways big and small. That’s what marriage will cost you.

It’s about offering forgiveness when you’ve been hurt.

It’s about giving your time though it’s not always convenient.

It’s about sharing your heart when you’d rather hold back.

It’s about cleaning the kitchen after a long weekend, even if it’s your least favorite job.

It’s about choosing to respond with love when you’d rather respond in anger.

It’s about offering a listening ear, when you’d rather tune out or go to bed. 

It’s about putting someone else’s needs and desires before your own.

It’s about giving up that last bite of cake, just so your spouse can enjoy it.

It’s about putting aside your rights, to make space for the rights of another.

The list could go on and on, but it always ends with the same formula:


That’s what marriage will cost you. 

We live in a world that DESPISES the sacrificial side of marriage and tries to explain it away. They teach us to strive for power, control and the upper hand in a relationship. They tell us to do what feels right, and not to tolerate anything less. They fool us to thinking that love is about doing what makes us happy. And the second we feel less than happy, they encourage us to bail…to abandon ship…and to stop investing…to give up on love.

But they’ve got it all wrong.

Because the more we give, the better we become. Real love is not self-seeking, and it will ALWAYS cost you. More, and more, and more. Again, and again, and again.

It will cost your heart, your time and your money. It will cost your comfort, your rights and your pride. It will cost you to “lay down your life” for the life of another. Because only those who learn to die to themselves are the ones who get to experience the resurrection power that comes with it.

Resurrection into real love, into real life and into meaningful relationships.

This article is an excerpt from Debra Fileta’s new book, Choosing Marriage. Learn astonishing survey results, and practical steps to take in the hot topics of LOVE, SEX, INTIMACY, CONFLICT, COMMUNICATION, CONFESSION and so much more.

Order Choosing Marriage today!

Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles all over the web! She’s the creator of the popular relationship blog, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter!


Real Disciples Do Church – I Have a Dream Too

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse:  They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.  – Acts 2:42

Bonus Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

I have a dream of being part of a Christian community where you can be honest about your doubts and fears without being met with worn-out clichés or empty platitudes;

  • a place that recognizes faith as a time-laded growth process, not the product of an “instant-pudding” altar prayer;
  • a place where you can get help today but be challenged to grow so you’re better prepared to face tomorrow; a place of intimacy, where you can know and be known;
  • a place where it is hard not to find God; a place where finding God is as corporate as it is personal;
  • a place where you belong whether you’re single, married, divorced, widowed, young, old, rich, poor, smart, dull, thin, fat, beautiful, or ugly;
  • a place where you can find meaningful service, where you commit to something bigger than yourself;
  • a place that needs you;
  • a place of safety;
  • a place off-limits to witches, demons, and the walking dead—the safest place in the world.

We could call it church.

—Ed Gungor in Religiously Transmitted Diseases

My Response: The something bigger than myself that I’m committed to is …

Thought to Apply: My burden is borne by the others; when I falter and fail, the faith of the church comes to my aid.—Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German pastor & theologian)

Adapted from Religiously Transmitted Diseases (Nelson Ignite, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.

Ask The UMC: Are we saved if accepting God’s grace happens gradually, not in one moment?

United Methodists understand that people have different experiences of awakening and turning to God. Some may have a sudden, powerful experience. For others, it’s more gradual.

Here’s how our official document on baptism, By Water and the Spirit, explains it:

“Our personal response of faith requires conversion in which we turn away from sin and turn instead to God. It entails a decision to commit our lives to the Lordship of Christ, an acceptance of the forgiveness of our sins, the death of our old selves, an entering into a new life of the Spirit — being born again (John 3:3-5, 2 Corinthians 5:17). All persons do not experience this spiritual rebirth in the same way. For some, there is a singular, radical moment of conversion. For others, conversion may be experienced as the dawning and growing realization that one has been constantly loved by God and has a personal reliance upon Christ.”

During certain seasons, like Aldersgate Day and Heritage Sunday, United Methodists may focus on John Wesley’s experience of having his heart “strangely warmed” as he attended a Moravian Society study session on Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. This was a definitive, memorable experience for Wesley at the time, and one that led him to wonder whether he had ever actually been a Christian before the sense of assurance he felt that night.

Throughout their ministry, Wesley and his brother, Charles, who had a similar experience a few days prior, often sought to describe the value of such a “heart-warming” and memorable experience. What the Wesleys never did, however, was insist that such an experience was necessary before people could properly say that they were growing Christians continuing in the way that leads to life.

Indeed, John did not say that his Aldersgate Street experience was fully definitive for him. In the days that follow, he notes in his journal that he had some sense of peace, but not yet of joy. It wasn’t until two weeks later, June 6, 1738, that he describes experiencing joy, and that was fleeting. A letter he received from an unnamed believer stated that if he had any doubt at all, he had no faith at all. What restored him wasn’t another “experience,” but rather making use of the means of grace of “searching the Scriptures,” in which he found texts that comforted him, assuring him that any measure of faith was indeed faith, and that growth was always possible from there. See “The Journal of The Rev. John Wesley,” Nehemiah Curnock, Editor (London: Robert Culley, 1909), 476-482.

So what do we see in this “memorable moment?” Such a moment was important, but not in isolation from many more, and from a host of ongoing conversations, practices and intentionally making use of the means of grace as Wesley had also done prior to the Aldersgate experience.

The same is often true for us. While God can come to us at any time and any place, it is often helpful to prepare our hearts to be receptive to the Holy Spirit stirring within us. The means of grace, regular practices of studying Scripture, receiving communion, responding to human need, and working for justice, put us in a place where we are open to receiving the grace of God.

Some of us may experience profound and memorable moments of assurance, as John and Charles Wesley both did in 1738. But those moments are not the full or even a very large part of our actual story of salvation. They may instead be seen as extraordinary moments on the way toward our complete salvation, our lives becoming filled with God’s love and fully aligned with God’s will over time.

Have questions? Ask The UMC or find a pastor near you to talk with. And check out other recent Q&As.

This content was produced by Ask The UMC, a ministry of United Methodist Communications. First published May 21, 2019.

Real Disciples Do Church – The CH Syndrome

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse:  All of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.  – 1 Corinthians 12:27

Bonus Reading: 1 Cor. 12:22-28

Many communities have several churches that preach the Word faithfully and experience the work of the Spirit among them.  People joyfully declare, “This is my church home.”

But in these same communities, a sickness—the Church Hopper Syndrome—runs rampant.

If you asked one of those infected, “What church do you attend?” they might answer, “Well, I go to Church A to hear my favorite preacher, but I go to Church B for my small group because they have a great program, and then I like to visit Church C for their fellowship activities, and I go to concerts at Churches D and E.”  If you asked, “So, which is your home church?” you might hear, “I’m actually a member of Church F, but I haven’t gone there for years!”

If you got personal and asked, “Where do you put down your spiritual roots?  Where do you serve?  Where do you give?  Where do you invest yourself in the lives of others?” you’d probably get a confused stare.  These people actually believe that the church exists to provide them with what they want from the experience. And that’s precisely why most are so miserable and empty!

—Kevin Harney in Seismic Shifts

My Response: Am I a consumer of religious services or am I contributing to my spiritual community?

Thought to Apply: It is no good supposing that membership of the universal church of Christ is enough; we must belong to some local branch of it.—John Stott

Adapted from Seismic Shifts (Zondervan, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Real Disciples Do Church – Nature’s Cathedral?

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: “So we promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.”  – Nehemiah 10:39

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 10:23-25

When editor Charles Dunagin interviewed me for a reporting job in 1979, he asked what, if any, church I attended.  “The church of the woods,” I retorted.  He was unimpressed.

I later learned that Dunagin was a churchgoer and a passionate quail hunter.  Though well acquainted with the glories of nature, he knew that the outdoors is no substitute for church.  Since then I’ve also become a churchgoer.

Those folks who claim the outdoors takes the place of church don’t typically spend their outdoor time in worship.  Back when I missed church during deer season, I was watching for antlers on Sunday mornings, not seeking spiritual instruction.

The Bible praises the wonders of nature; and Moses, Elijah, and Jesus withdrew to the wilderness to commune with God—but not to the exclusion of His house.

The woods can’t deliver what church offers.  We experience a unique closeness with fellow believers as we praise God in song, communicate with Him though prayer, respond to His Word preached, and partake of Communion.

But you’ll still find me camping out on several weekends each year.  And I don’t think God will fault me for it.

—Ernest Herndon in Nature Trails and Gospel Tales

My Response: Does recreation or corporate worship have prior claim on my weekends?

Thought to Apply: Being a Christian without joining others in church is like being a soldier without an army or a football player without a team.—Mrs. William Janzen

Adapted from Nature Trails and Gospel Tales (InterVarsity, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Real Disciples Do Church – Staying True

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple.  – 1 Peter 2:5

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:4-8

[continued from yesterday]  My visits to the other church are exciting for a time.  They do seem to have it all together.  But soon the reality takes over from fantasy.  The other church isn’t so perfect.  The preacher isn’t adored by everyone.  There is a grumbler’s club.  They have budget shortfalls.

It’s taken me years and countless mistakes to learn that no matter which church I’m in, people will be people and we all fall far short of God’s glory.  We all need His mercy to survive another day.  There is no perfect church.

While I may enjoy friendship and fellowship with other Christians in other churches, I owe it to my church family and friends to stick with them for the long term, shoring up the foundations in my own congregation.

There are legitimate and often painful reasons to leave a church and seek spiritual fellowship elsewhere.  Many Christians have been forced to make that difficult choice, and rightly so.  Too many of us look for a new church for the wrong reasons—out of boredom, discontent, and a desire to spark up what we ourselves have neglected, instead of sticking it out for the sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding long run of church membership.

—Steve Russell in FaithToday

My Response: How much time and effort have I put into enhancing my church?

Thought to Apply: Every person needs three homes: a family home, a heavenly home, and a church home.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/05)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Real Disciples Do Church – Staying True

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple.  – 1 Peter 2:5

Bonus Reading: Romans 12:4-8

[continued from yesterday]  My visits to the other church are exciting for a time.  They do seem to have it all together.  But soon the reality takes over from fantasy.  The other church isn’t so perfect.  The preacher isn’t adored by everyone.  There is a grumbler’s club.  They have budget shortfalls.

It’s taken me years and countless mistakes to learn that no matter which church I’m in, people will be people and we all fall far short of God’s glory.  We all need His mercy to survive another day.  There is no perfect church.

While I may enjoy friendship and fellowship with other Christians in other churches, I owe it to my church family and friends to stick with them for the long term, shoring up the foundations in my own congregation.

There are legitimate and often painful reasons to leave a church and seek spiritual fellowship elsewhere.  Many Christians have been forced to make that difficult choice, and rightly so.  Too many of us look for a new church for the wrong reasons—out of boredom, discontent, and a desire to spark up what we ourselves have neglected, instead of sticking it out for the sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding long run of church membership.

—Steve Russell in FaithToday

My Response: How much time and effort have I put into enhancing my church?

Thought to Apply: Every person needs three homes: a family home, a heavenly home, and a church home.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/05)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Real Disciples Do Church – Flirting?

Being the Body of ChristKey Bible Verse: When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  – Luke 4:16

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 6:11-12; 10:35-36

I was whining to a friend recently about church.  I told him I was disillusioned.  Little things were bugging me and worship had lost its spark. I felt numb, lifeless, and unfulfilled.

“Well, why don’t you check out our Sunday evening service instead?” he replied.  “It’s just your style.”  My friend goes to another church and, in fact (gasp), another denomination.  It sounded good.

Craving something exciting and different had crept into my life.  So I took him up on his offer and dropped by his little church.  Fresh music, new friends, warm smiles, and a challenging message from a different kind of preacher—it was as refreshing as a cold drink on a hot day.  The place was alive.  I drove home tapping the steering wheel and singing one of their edgy praise songs.  I had a rush of new hope.  If that was what church could be like, I wanted to go back.

But as I stood on the doorstep, slipping my key into the lock, I felt a sudden pang of guilt.  I had been flirting with another church.  I checked over my shoulder to see if any of my elders had followed me.  I ransacked my pockets—was I going to get caught carrying their bulletin?  I felt that I was having an affair.  [continued tomorrow]

—Steve Russell in FaithToday

My Response: A feature of my church that I’m not so keen on is …

Adapted from FaithToday (9-10/05)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Real Disciples Do Church – Loose Connections

Being the Body of ChristWho Said It…Bob Hostetler

Bob Hostetler isn’t your average pastor.  He’s been a disc jockey, won repeated awards from the Associated Press for his broadcast writing, authored his own books, and co-authored 11 books with youth evangelist Josh McDowell (two received the ECPA Gold Medallion award).

Bob and Robin live in southwestern Ohio and have two adult children.  They have also foster-parented ten boys (“not all at once!” Bob clarifies).

What He Said…Loose Connections

Many of us shop around until we find a church geared to meet our practical needs.  It’s only normal to include these needs in an evaluation of a church and its ministries.

But it’s something else entirely to evaluate a church in no other way.  As a pastor, I’ve answered many questions from Christians looking for a church: “Do you have a youth group?” “… a men’s ministry?”  “Do you belong to a denomination?”

There’s nothing wrong with those questions, but no one has yet asked me, “Does this church need more servants?”

We attend the church we select and eventually we join.  Until something happens.  The pastor fails to visit us in the hospital.  Or Mrs. McKenzie in the nursery snaps at us when we’re late picking up our children.  Or the church grows to a point where we don’t feel “at home” anymore.

So we move on.  We find another church.  Until something happens there.  We’ve bowed to the idol of individualism instead of committing to a community and staying faithful through good times and bad.

Adapted from American Idols (Broadman & Holman, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: In my community, Lord, help me to be a functioning part of Your body as You intend.


Centering Down – Focusing on God

Focusing on GodTwo factions of Israel’s religious leaders were temporarily allied in playing “stump the chump” with Jesus.

First Jesus silenced the Sadducees. Then the Pharisees pitted their expert against Him.

The Pharisees had classified more than 600 laws, often trying to distinguish the more important from the less important.  So to their minds, the question their expert posed was luring Jesus into a quagmire.

Interact with God’s Word

Matthew 22:34-40 Matthew 22:34-40

  1. Do you think the Pharisees placed more emphasis on what people should do or what they shouldn’t do?
  2. Which aspect did Jesus emphasize?
  3. How can you love God as a person, not a mere force (See John 14:9 and 16:27)?
  4. What spheres of love are suggested by “heart,” “soul,” and “mind”?
  5. How does the word all restrict the way your love may be attached to other objects?
  6. In the second commandment, why is a person’s self-love taken for granted?
  7. How would displacing your self-love with God-love make it easier to engage in true neighbor-love?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to help you penetrate through daily responsibilities and church involvement to a personal encounter with Him.

Matthew 22:34-40

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 24:12

12 Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.


Centering Down – Battlefield Baptism

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: “Away with your hymns of praise! They are only noise to my ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is.”  – Amos 5:23

Bonus Reading: Amos 5:21-24

At chapel yesterday with my friends from around the battalion, I eagerly anticipated the baptism of SSG Falcon, the soldier I’ve been discipling. I wanted this new beginning experience for him to be just right.

We began the service with a hymn. This being Iraq, we get no guitar, keyboard, or drums. We have the chaplain standing in front singing.  That’s it.

As we sang, I noticed the dirt on the concrete floor, and that just about everyone was singing off-key.  This isn’t how baptisms are supposed to go, I thought.

But then I felt God’s gentle vise-grip of conviction on my heart as I began to see the service from His perspective.  These 20 or so men weren’t concerned about making a show of worship or impressing people with their voices.  They were here to be impressed with God, and to give Him their hearts.

God isn’t into the song if the singer’s heart isn’t in tune with Him.  He’s not pleased with a church’s “high-techness” if the focus isn’t His glory.  He’s tired of people “worshiping” just to feel good, or to display their own abilities or creativity.  God is serious about His people’s hearts.

—Chris Plekenpol in Faith in the Fog of War

My Response: How reliant is my worship on program elements and surroundings?

Thought to Apply: Many of us are not thirsty for God because we have quenched our thirst at other fountains.—Erwin Lutzer (Illinois pastor)

Adapted from Faith in the Fog of War (Multnomah, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.


Centering Down – The First Commandment FIrst

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38

Bonus Reading: Matthew 22:34-40

“Love God with all your heart” means: Find in God a satisfaction so profound that it fills up all your heart.

“Love God with all your soul” means: Find in God a meaning so rich and so deep that it fills up all the aching corners of your soul.

“Love God with all your mind” means: Find in God the riches of knowledge and insight and wisdom that guide and satisfy all that the human mind was meant to be.

In other words, take all your self-love—your longing for joy and hope and love and security and fulfillment and significance—and focus it on God, until He satisfies your heart and soul and mind.  You’ll find that this isn’t a canceling out of self-love.  This is a fulfillment and transformation of self-love.

Self-love is the desire for life and satisfaction rather than frustration and death. God says, “Come to me, and I’ll give you fullness of joy. I’ll satisfy your heart and soul and mind with My glory.”

This first commandment makes the second commandment doable.  The second commandment no longer threatens to be the suicide of our own happiness.  Instead, our inborn self-seeking—now transposed into God-seeking—overflows and extends itself to our neighbor.

—John Piper in What Jesus Demands from the World

My Response: How can I begin to love God, and then my neighbor, as myself?

Thought to Apply: We should give God the same place in our hearts that He holds in the universe.—Anonymous

Adapted from What Jesus Demands from the World (Crossway, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.


Centering Down – Your Belt Sander

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Hebrews 10:23

Bonus Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

One power tool in my arsenal is a belt sander.  Its two rotating cylinders that drive a loop of sandpaper in a circular motion look a bit like a miniature Caterpillar track.

The challenge is to keep the sanding belt in the middle of the track.  The belt tends to slip to the right or the left, and eventually slides off the cylinders altogether if I fail to stop and make adjustments.  So I end up sanding a bit, stopping to center the sandpaper, sanding some more, stopping, re-centering, sanding, and so on.

Belt sanding isn’t a profound activity even for one who likes power tools.  But it provides a useful metaphor for Christian spirituality.  We slide off center, you and I.  We need to stop and center ourselves in God’s presence over and over again.

There are deadlines at work and bills to pay and children to taxi and all sorts of other distractions.  The world tells us to speed up and step up and keep up.

God whispers an invitation to slow down, to sit down, to center, to remember, to be bathed in grace and love and wisdom, to keep Christ as close as possible to the core of our lives.

—Mark McMinn in Finding Our Way Home

My Response: What adjustments would help me re-center on Christ?

Thought to Apply: The tragedy is that our eternal welfare depends upon our hearing, and we have trained our ears not to hear. —A.W. Tozer (Illinois pastor)

Adapted from Finding Our Way Home (Jossey-Bass, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.



Centering Down – Face Time

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: His servants will worship him. And they will see his face. Revelation 22:3-4

Bonus Reading: Exodus 33:12-23

I once read that on average American children spend less than three minutes a day face-to-face with their fathers.

Ever since learning that sad fact, I’ve made it a point not simply to spend time with my children, but also whenever possible to look them in the eye.  This is how a father knows his children: by studying the subtle changes in their countenance.  And this is how children know their father: by gazing upon his face, where they see the sternness of his rebuke and the tenderness of his love.

That’s why it is so amazing that God offers us such knowledge of Himself. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” the Scriptures say 1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV). “Then we shall see face to face.”

There’s something metaphoric about this promise, of course, but we shouldn’t dismiss its literal dimension.

When we get to heaven we’ll be able to gaze upon Jesus’ physical face. God has promised to show us His glory “seen in the face of Jesus Christ” 2 Corinthians 4:6.

If only we knew our heart’s true desire, we’d know that His face is the one we’ve been looking for all these years, that seeing Jesus face to face will satisfy our deepest longings.

—Philip Ryken in He Speaks to Me Everywhere

My Response: How frequently do I carve out “face time” with my heavenly Father?

Thought to Apply: Human things must be known to be loved, but divine things must be loved to be known.—Blaise Pascal (French scientist & philosopher)

Adapted from He Speaks to Me Everywhere (P&R Publishing, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.



Centering Down – Halfway Measures

Focusing on GodKey Bible Verse: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce.'” Matthew 15:8-9

Bonus Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

Involved in a project, I was torn between doing something with my son and finishing my work.

But after a brief debate with myself—A good Christian dad would spend time with his son versus Yeah, but work is important, too—I went out to our driveway with him to play basketball.  Well, to be honest, my body went out there, but the rest of me was still down in my office working.

After about ten minutes of playing what probably felt to him like a one-sided game, Brent said, “Dad, if you have something else to do, we don’t have to do this.”

I was embarrassed and quickly called the rest of me out of the office to join us.  I gave myself to playing with my son, and the activity turned out to be a lot more enjoyable—for both of us.

For days after that experience, God was teaching me something: If a ten-year-old boy knows when his dad’s heart isn’t in what he’s doing, you can be sure that God knows exactly how much of us is really involved in our acts of praise.

He expects us to give it our all.  Just going through the motions equals unacceptable worship.

—Gerrit Gustafson in The Adventure of Worship

My Response: If worship is total self-giving, could I be counted among the worshipers last Sunday in my church?

Adapted from The Adventure of Worship (Chosen, 2006)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.


Biblical mothers: not a job for the faint of heart

Mother's Day 3It has been 100 years since U.S. President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as a special day to honor mothers, especially those who had lost their sons to war.

Did you know Anna Marie Jarvis and fellow members of the Methodist Episcopal Church led the charge to make Mother’s Day an official observance?

The church still plays a prominent role in Mother’s Day.  So how do we keep the focus on worshipping God, while celebrating and honoring the gifts of mothers?

The answer seems obvious:  Just turn to the Bible.

For quick capsules on Eve, Sarah and Hagar, Rebekah, Mary (mother of Jesus), and Ruth, click on Just turn to the Bible.

Happy Mother’s Day!



Praise her for the many fine things she does. These good deeds of hers shall bring her honor and recognition from people of importance. – Proverbs 31:31 (Living Bible)

Please join us in honoring the mothers in your life by commenting on our Mother’s Day post. Share some words of encouragement, a scripture or a picture of a mom who is special to you.




Centering Down – Out of Nowhere?

Focusing on GodWho Said It…Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley started out as a minister to students at First Baptist Atlanta in the shadow of his well-known father, Charles. But then, a dozen years ago, he, along with four others, founded North Point Community Church in North Atlanta.

That congregation has expanded rapidly and now meets on three campuses. Andy has consistently mentored a young group of future leaders and Christian ministers, and has hosted conferences for leaders under 40.

What He Said…Out of Nowhere?

One summer in the late afternoon, I was walking along the beach by myself.  The air was noticeably still.  I remember thinking how odd it was that there wasn’t even a breeze.

After walking for about a mile, I turned around to head back to the hotel and something strange happened.  Suddenly there was a breeze.  I didn’t feel it as much as hear it whistling in my ears. Where had it come from?

It had been there all along.  But as long as it was at my back, I didn’t hear or feel it.  As soon as I faced the other way, my ears immediately sensed its presence.

The same is true of God.

As long as we have our backs turned to Him—pursuing our own interests and desires, living life the way we think it should be lived—we remain unaware of His presence.

Once we turn in His direction, beginning to prioritize our lives around His values and principles, it’s as if He comes alive to us. There’s a heightened sense of His reality.

Adapted from Louder Than Words (Multnomah, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: When I feel driven and distracted, Your voice gets drowned out. Help me, Lord, to discover how to focus on Your presence in my life.


Happy Mother’s Day from your friends at Central Church!

Happy Mothers’ Day!

For the Christian, biblical truths are an opportunity to hear our Heavenly Father’s voice! That’s why this Mother’s Day, we can think of no greater gift than to share with moms everywhere a few of the biblical truths that have meant so much to my wife.

God chose you to be their mother. Of all the possible scenarios that could have been, God chose you to be the mother of your children. Not the women you idolize on social media. Not the perfect version of yourself that you are chasing. Shocking as it may be, God is in control and Psalm 135:6 even says that He does what pleases Him. Even after considering the character, strengths, and weaknesses of both you and your child(ren), God hand-picked you to be their mother.

God knows you need peace. In our house, the term “hot mess” is very popular. Family is running around doing a hundred things. Sprinkle in an argument. Add a dash of impatience. Garnish it all with a threatening “if one more person tracks dirt through this house…” Voila, absolute pandemonium. And while Target is a magical dreamland that us men do not understand, only time with Jesus provides the lasting peace you need. As Martha learned from Mary (Luke 10:38-42), the chaos of life can wait and the only thing worth being concerned with is quality time with Jesus Christ. At any moment of any day, He is your comfort and rest.

 God loves your children. Like, absolutely adores them. Even more than you do. And that’s important for two reasons. First, God’s love is perfect. Mom, there is nothing you want more than to know your children are loved and taken care of. God has an everlasting love for your children that will provide grace for the days you might not win Parent of the Year. Second, God’s love is eternal. The most important legacy you leave behind will be that you trusted on Jesus Christ for salvation, and looked forward to the hope of heaven. God desires a passionate relationship with your children, one that will last for all eternity. Our daughter Sophie will excitedly tell you the truth if you ask her who loves her the most: “God!” Slow down and take time to thank God for his love for you and the hearts of your children!

Maybe it’s on a painting in your house, maybe you whisper it under your breath to avoid snapping, but children are a blessing and reward from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). The bible also says in Proverbs 31 that ultimately, a mother’s children and husband will bless and praise her!

Mothers, today we celebrate you and all that God has done through your life! Infinitely more exciting than cards, macaroni projects, or a day at the spa, will be the day your perfect Heavenly Father holds you close and you hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”


Sierra Leone: A Mother’s Day Story

Mother's Day 1A Hallmark card rarely makes it into the hands of a mother in Sierra Leone.  In fact, across a very wide world, messages of gratitude aren’t delivered via mail.

Mother’s Day for most of in the developed world is usually a time of celebration.  But, in Sub-Saharan Africa where nearly half of the world’s maternal deaths occur, giving birth can be very dangerous.  This is especially true in rural, underserved areas where health care is often lacking and preventable complications during childbirth are often undiagnosed and untreated.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone’s First Lady is addressing the issue of maternal and child mortality and she’s turning to The United Methodist Church and other faith communities to help.  In Africa and beyond, United Methodists reach out to mothers and mothers-to-be by bringing life to their children – vulnerable children whose lives are fragile and short-lived because of malaria and other diseases.

Your heart will be touched when you take a moment to watch love in action in a special Mother’s Day video feature from United Methodist Communications.

The Founding Mothers of Mother’s Day

Mother's Day 1In the late 1860s, before there was an official Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S., a Methodist mom organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation.

When Ann Jarvis was working to establish Mother’s Day as a national event, and when her daughter picked up the mantle from her, they were not thinking about greeting cards and flowers.  Instead the Methodist women who invented the idea in America wanted to honor mothers in a deeper way.

They were thinking about the work of women and the significant testimony that women could give about the need for peace.  Ann Reeves Jarvis organized women’s clubs in the 1860s to serve suffering mothers and children.

Women came together with their sisters in their locations to respond to the needs that they could see. For Ann, she was in a coal mining part of what is now West Virginia. And she could see the needs of women and children. And she could see the effect of the economy of her day on the people that she cared for most directly.  She started mothers clubs. And she talked to them about hydration for fevered babies, about sanitation and nutrition. And then the Civil War came along and they put a field hospital right outside Grafton.

Ann recruited nurses for military hospitals, and after the war formed friendship clubs to promote reconciliation.  Ann Jarvis was convinced that mothers, women, but especially mothers, had to work for peace because they could see the ravages of war in their husbands and in their sons, in a way that was so focused and so clear that their voices would be powerful. And that’s what’s at the genesis of the current Mother’s Day.

In May 1908, Anna Jarvis organized the first official Mother’s Day celebration at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia.  There was also a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Phila00delphia on the same day.

Mother's Day 2In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in the USA. Others like Julia Ward Howe and Juliet Calhoun Blakely also advocated for a Mother’s Day type recognition in the U.S. in the late 19th century also.

Mother’s Day is celebrated in a variety of countries.  In Thailand, Mother’s Day is celebrated in August on the birthday of the current queen, Sirikit.  In Ethiopia, families gather each fall to sing songs and eat a large feast as part of Antrosht, a multi-day celebration honoring motherhood.

In the United States, Mother’s Day in 2019 will be celebrated on Sunday, May 12.

This Mother’s Day, give Mom something better than flowers or chocolate

Mother's Day 3Better than flowers or chocolate-how can that be?  Flowers are a treasured tradition and chocolate is, well  – chocolate – what more needs to be said?

You know Mom will appreciate these things, but there is something that would mean even more.

You already know what that is.  You know she would love it if every Sunday you were where you are now, with her in Church.

It isn’t simply your physical presence that is meaningful, although she loves to be with you.  What would make it meaningful is if you were coming as a faithful follower of Jesus.

There may be many reasons why “faithful follower of Jesus” does not describe your life today. Maybe:

  •  When you were young, you were excited about the Church and Jesus, but you feel you’ve outgrown it.
  •  You had questions the Church couldn’t answer, so you went looking elsewhere and never came back.
  •  Life is simply too busy and Church never was much of a priority.

Whatever the reason, take some time to consider Jesus.  Here are some websites that might be useful:

Mother's DayAfter doing that-tell Mom about it, talk about it and give her joy that won’t fade like even the most beautiful flowers do.

God’s Love Demonstrated – Compassion

CompassionJesus told His disciples (Luke 22:15) that He’d looked forward to His last Passover meal “with deep longing.”

Apparently by prearrangement, a furnished upper room was provided to commemorate Israel’s escape from Egypt.  Peter and John drew KP duty: buying and preparing the lamb, as well as the ceremonial food and wine.  The absence of household servants may have been to assure privacy and security.

Interact with God’s Word

John 13:1-17

  1. When Jesus and the other ten disciples arrived, there was no servant to wash the guests’ feet. Why would Jesus be the last person expected to perform this task (see Luke 22:27)?
  2. How did washing His disciples’ feet show “the full extent” (v. 1) of Jesus’ love?
  3. Why do you think Peter objected to allowing Jesus to serve him in this way?
  4. What does this passage say about our willingness to serve others?
  5. If we decline to serve others, is there a sense (v. 16) in which we are claiming prerogatives that Jesus didn’t claim?
  6. How do you treat those who work under you (whether employees, volunteers, or children)?
  7. Why is a general willingness to serve (v. 17) not enough?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make you alert to opportunities to serve, and help you discover the satisfaction that caring for the needs of others brings.

John 13:1-17

1 Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.

4 So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. 6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” 8 “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.” 9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing?

13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.'”

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.

God’s Love Demonstrated – Retreat or Rally?

CompassionKey Bible Verse: Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other, let us really show it by our actions. 1 John 3:18

Bonus Reading: 1 John 4:7-12, 16-17

In the fall of 2003, four independent fires raged through the Los Angeles area, with nearly 3,000 acres burning.  One fire reached Valley Center, devastating scores of families and homes.  Two families lost loved ones.  Those who lost their homes had no fallback position.

On the Saturday following “containment” of the fire, the men of Ridgeview Church decided to help out.  Instead of heading to the mountains for their annual men’s retreat, they stayed in Valley Center and spent the day cleaning scorched homes. The ensuing rains brought flooding, with erosion and mudslides. The men stayed to help with that, too.  More than 100 men gave this desperate community about 1,000 man-hours and thousands of dollars’ worth of supplies, equipment, and skill.

The people of Valley Center responded with profound gratitude for the help they received from the men of Ridgeview Church that Saturday.  But Sunday morning said it all.  Ridgeview Church was packed and filled with excitement.  And over the coming weeks, many in the community kept coming back to learn more about Christ’s awesome love for them.

We make the greatest impact for Christ when words come packaged with deeds.

—Todd Wendorff in Being God’s Man … by Claiming Your Freedom

My Response: Was canceling the men’s retreat a godly decision? Why?

Thought to Apply: Christianity demands a level of caring that transcends human inclinations.—Erwin Lutzer

Adapted from Being God’s Man … by Claiming Your Freedom (WaterBrook, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.


God’s Love Demonstrated – POV Adjustment

CompassionKey Bible Verse: “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”  – Matthew 7:12

Bonus Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

I was impatiently standing in line at the grocery store on a brutally frigid evening, anxious to get to my warm home for dinner. But the line wasn’t moving.

I waited and waited. I shifted my weight. I sighed loudly. I muttered under my breath. Still no movement. What was taking so long? Was the cashier a trainee? Was some customer chattering away to her? My blood pressure was rising fast.

Finally I looked at the head of the line to see who was daring to delay me—and I saw a tiny elderly woman slowly and painfully pulling dollar bills out of her wallet in slow motion, her hands red and raw and stiffened by the icy weather. She could barely move her fingers. Apparently she had walked to the store in the subzero weather.

Oh, man. My point of view (POV) was instantly readjusted. I glanced heavenward for forgiveness, then walked over to say, “Excuse me, ma’am, you don’t know me, but it’s cold outside and I’ve got a car. May I give you a ride home?”

This is what I’ve found: the Golden Rule becomes the most natural response in the world once you see life from the other person’s POV.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: Whose POV is God wanting me to see?

Thought to Apply: The great thing about serving the poor is that there is no competition.—Eugene Rivers (Boston pastor & social activist)

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.


God’s Love Demonstrated – Art Appreciation

CompassionKey Bible Verse: He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. 2 Corinthians 5:15

Bonus Reading: Mark 10:42-44

Art Clark’s party was in full swing.  At least 200 people milled about, each trying to get close enough to shake his hand.  This loving man who’d brought great joy into his work was set to retire.

As I watched Art, I tried to imagine Jesus as a retiree.  What would His party have looked like?  Just like this, I thought.  Art and Jesus are a lot alike—God’s “gracious messengers of impossible love.”

I surveyed the room.  We were a hodgepodge of students and staff, young and old, children and grandparents, colleagues and neighbors, friends and family.  But different as we were, we were alike in the most important respect: we all loved Art.

Then, I shared a story about the end of a cold February workday.  I’d set out for my car through fading daylight and blowing snow.  Head down, I stepped off the drifting sidewalk, surprised to discover a cleared path ahead of me.  Someone had used a snow blower to lead me to my car.  Who did this? I wondered.

At that moment, I heard Art’s horn push through the wind.  Looking up, I watched his truck lights fading into the night, his outstretched gloved hand waving a farewell.  Impossible love?  Not for Jesus, or Art Clark.

—Clifford Denay Jr.

My Response: Someone I know whose joy in serving gladdens others is ____.

Thought to Apply: God does not so much need people to do extraordinary things as he needs people who do ordinary things extraordinarily well.—William Barclay

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.


Many Europeans Happy to Pay Tax to Churches They Don’t Attend

Here is an interesting article from Christianity Today regarding the European Church Tax.

A church in the Austrian countryside. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Despite pervasive secularization and widespread opposition to religion gaining a more prominent place in society, large majorities in six Western European countries still support the tradition of paying church taxes.

The practice may seem foreign to Americans, and particularly surprising in post-Christian Europe, but a new report from the Pew Research Center shows that most Europeans don’t oppose the tax. In each of the six countries surveyed—Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland—at least two-thirds of adult citizens, ranging from 68 percent in Sweden to 80 percent in Denmark, continue to pay the church tax.

This seems a remarkable reality as a third of Europeans, including 51 percent of Swedes, oppose a more important role for religion in their countries, according to another recent Pew study.

Typically entered into church rolls upon baptism, it can’t be denied that some Europeans are leaving the church tax system by deregistering from churches. Parties opposed to the tax have also led public campaigns and pushed legislation to inspire people to withdraw. Earlier this year, a German bishop proposed abolishing the tax to further separate church and state.

“But there doesn’t appear to be a mass exodus,” state Pew researchers. “The survey finds that between 8 percent of adults (in Switzerland) and 20 percent (in Finland) say they have left their church tax system.”

The tax employed in numerous European countries is used to fund religious organizations, covering costs such as clergy salaries, building upkeep, and “charitable services” like schools and hospitals. Despite the name, not all countries consider it a tax in the formal sense; nor is it only Christian churches that receive revenues. For example, Jewish, Muslim, and humanist groups also participate.

Among those who currently pay the tax—which typically amounts to between 1 percent and 2 percent of an individual’s taxable income—some are interested in getting out. Among respondents, 1 in 10 of Danish payers and 1 in 4 (26%) of Swiss payers say they are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to take official steps to avoid paying the church tax in the future.

But the overall trend is to keep paying. Nearly 9 in 10 Danes (88%) and Finns (87%) who pay say they are “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to take action to opt out of the system. Most Swedish (78%), German (78%), Austrian (77%), and Swiss (72%) payers say the same.

Across the board, the majority of payers self-identify as Christians and most non-payers say they are religiously unaffiliated. And yet, in countries like Denmark and Sweden, strong minorities continue to pay even though they say they are religiously unaffiliated. More than a fifth (22%) of Danish adults who pay the church tax and a third (32%) of Swedish payers say they are not religious.

Areligious, antireligious, nominals, and “nones” are on the rise in Europe and church attendance is sparse. So why do people keep giving a cut of their income to religious institutions?

According to the study, the reasons vary, but a primary component is the widely held view that religious institutions support the common good.

“People who say they pay the tax tend to express more positive feelings about the impact of churches on society,” say the researchers. “For example, many self-reported payers say that churches and other religious institutions strengthen morality, bring people together, and help the poor.”

More than half of payers in all six countries say churches play an important role “in helping poor and needy.” Majorities also say religious institutions “bring people together and strengthen community bonds,” including 84 percent of Swedish payers.

Current payers are also “marginally” more likely than former payers to “at least sometimes” attend services at a church or other place of worship, and to place greater significance on religious beliefs. Even so, most who currently pay the tax do not regularly attend church.

Among Danes and Swedes who pay, less than 3 in 10 (28% and 29%, respectively) say religion is “somewhat” or “very important” in their lives. In Finland, where 71 percent of adults pay the tax, a full 90 percent of those payers say they “seldom” or “never” attend church. Large majorities of payers in the other five countries say the same.

In Germany, the practice of collecting the Kirchensteuer dates back to the mid-19th century when economic and political upheaval eroded church sovereignty and pushed churches toward independence from the state, their loss of land and power actually made them more reliant on government funding. Church taxes were inaugurated in Denmark and Sweden at the turn of the 20th century, and Austria’s tax was initiated by the Nazis in 1939.

While autonomy has shifted, the partnership between church and state remains. Governments collect the tax and, after taking a fee, pass revenue on to faith-based organizations.

For many churches benefitting from the tax, it’s not just a drop in the bucket. In 2017, the Danish People’s Church collected about $1 billion from the fee, which was roughly three-quarters of its revenue for the year. The Catholic Church in Austria had a similar story that year, taking in 460 million euros, also about three-quarters of the church’s revenue.

In Germany in 2017, the nearly 12 billion euros levied comprised almost half of the revenue of the country’s Catholic and Protestant churches.

Importantly, in at least two of the countries analyzed—Germany and Austria—government records tell somewhat of a different story than citizens themselves. In both countries, more than 7 in 10 say they pay the church tax, though government estimates put the number much lower (about a quarter in Germany and half in Austria).

“Despite these discrepancies, analysis of our survey data confirms that respondents who say they pay church taxes are attitudinally different from those who do not,” stated the study authors. “At the very least, self-reported church tax payers think they are paying the tax or accept a general social obligation to pay such taxes, even if their personal circumstances might exempt them.”

Portugal and Spain, predominantly Catholic countries, are unique for their voluntary church tax systems. In Spain, 27 percent of adults say they pay the church tax. In Portugal, 14 percent choose to pay.

“Some social scientists have theorized that church taxes could be among the factors driving people away from religious organizations,” noted researchers. “However, a comparison of responses across 15 Western European countries surveyed by [Pew] shows no obvious connection between secularization and the existence of a church tax.”

“If anything,” they wrote, “people in countries with a mandatory church tax are more likely to self-identify as Christian than are people in Western European countries that do not have any church tax system.”

God’s Love Demonstrated – Puzzling Presence

CompassionKey Bible Verse: I have no one else like Timothy, who genuinely cares about your welfare. Philippians 2:20

Bonus Reading: Romans 13:8-10

I will never forget the day Arthur Clark reported to work at our local community college.  He introduced himself as “Art,” and warmly smiled as he offered a handshake.  His eyes were filled with life and laughter, empathy and understanding, kindness and compassion.  Art gave complete attention when he looked at me.  I was taken aback.  Where did this man come from? I wondered.

From God, it turned out.  Art treated folks as Jesus would have.  He didn’t preach God’s love; he demonstrated it in everyday acts of kindness and courtesy.  Throughout his 31-year career, Art’s gracious attitude never changed.  Stories of his love for students and staff alike flowed.  If a new student was lost, Art would often be seen walking him or her to the correct classroom.  He encouraged the discouraged, befriended the lonely, smiled at strangers, joked with friends, and always said yes to requests for help.

Countless times I watched him jump-start stalled student cars in the bitter cold of our northern Michigan winters.  Art always arrived on the frozen scene with a smile and battery cables poised for action.

Like Jesus, Art appeared where he was most needed and least expected.   [continued tomorrow]

—Clifford Denay Jr.

My Response: Where am I most needed this week?

Thought to Apply: Do little things as if they were great because of the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ who dwells in you.—Blaise Pascal (French scientist & philosopher)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.


God’s Love Demonstrated – What Fuels Them?

CompassionKey Bible Verse: “I have been a constant example of how you can help the poor by working hard.”  – Acts 20:35

Bonus Reading: Luke 10:25-37

As a cub reporter for the Chicago Tribune, I was assigned to write a 30-part series on the poor of Chicago.  Roaming the city in search of appropriate families to write about, my eyes were opened to the vast, informal network of Christians sacrificially serving the poor. I came upon food pantries, homeless shelters, clothing centers, job-training institutes, nursing homes, drug rehab programs, sports ministries for kids—all run by Christian charities.

An emergency shelter for homeless families operated by the Salvation Army especially inspired me.  I became a regular there, hanging around to talk with displaced families but also observing the volunteers who poured their lives into serving these otherwise forgotten people. For me personally, the Tribune assignment faded into the background as I began focusing on the much larger story of what was motivating these Christians to give so much of their time, energy, and money to helping others.

These volunteers weren’t serving reluctantly.  On the contrary, it appeared to energize them, flowing naturally out of their lives.  I got the sense that they simply couldn’t not serve.

As an atheist, it didn’t make sense to me.  I wanted to know why.

—Lee Strobel in God’s Outrageous Claims

My Response: When have I been energized by serving someone?

Adapted from God’s Outrageous Claims (Zondervan, 1997, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.


The Entire Bible Is Being Read at the U.S. Capitol Right Now

Today is the last day of the U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon, which consists of volunteers reading the entire Bible in front of the nation’s Capitol Building without commentary for 90 hours straight.

“Because the Bible is at the heart of America’s founding principles, it should be voiced at the heart of our Federal Government, exhorting our nation to return to God’s precepts,” says the site’s home page.

About the Marathon

The Bible Reading Marathon was started in 1990 by Dr. John Hash and Dr. Corinthia Boone. It is now led by Keith Davidson, founder and director of Seedline International, a ministry that focuses on producing and distributing the Bible throughout the world. According to the Bible Reading Marathon’s website, there are volunteers scheduled for all 90 hours of the reading, but people who walk by are also welcome to read. The guidelines stipulate that readers need to be born-again Christians.

CBN reports that around 400 people have participated in the D.C. Bible Reading Marathon and that they can choose from over 100 Bibles, including translations in Farsi, Russian and Chinese. One lady even flew standby from Alabama just so she could read.

The reading is held on the west terrace of the Capitol steps, no matter what the weather is or what time of day or night. Davidson told Fox News, “The readers face west, proclaiming God’s Word across America! The Bible is read to proclaim the truth and call our nation back to its religious principles.” Several legislators have participated, including Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas.

National Day of Prayer

The Bible Reading Marathon concludes on the same day as the National Day of Prayer (NDOP), during which people will meet all across the United States, including at the Capitol Building, to pray for our country. The theme of this year’s NDOP is “Love One Another,” a phrase taken from John 13:34, where Jesus says, “Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, told CBN he believes this theme is appropriate based on where our country is right now. He said, “We’re so divided. We don’t show respect for one another. We’re not treating people even close to the way Jesus would want to treat people and would want us to treat others. And we need to understand that love is the real Christian badge of discipleship.”

While Dr. Floyd believes we are in a “desperate situation,” he observes that “government cannot fix us, and politics cannot heal us.” What we need is a great move of God and for the church to “pray like it really matters. Pray like we really believe God. And,” he said, “let’s trust the Lord for the next great spiritual awakening in the United States. That’s what the greatest need is in America today.”

If you can’t attend a National Day of Prayer event near you, you can join online here.

Effective Stewardship – Month #9

God uses money as a test to help us grow.

“If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,

who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11)


Someone once said, “Experience is a good teacher, but she gives the test first and then the lesson.” That’s certainly true, and based on many of life’s experiences, we frequently fail the test before we can benefit from the lesson.

The formula “e equals mc2” is familiar to many college students but understood by very few people. Most of us know it had something to do with Einstein and was the formula that led to the release of enormous power and to the nuclear age. Similarly, in funding the local church, “e” might stand for every, “m” for member, “c” for commitment, and the “2” for the effort multiplied by itself. The fruit of that kind of effort is much more powerful than what Einstein discovered, even as Jesus described it in Matthew 21:22 — “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

Right now, as we consider the opportunity to support the ministries here at Central United Methodist Church, God is putting us to the test. As Gordon Moyes stated, “Responsible giving or stewardship is not man’s way of raising money, but God’s way of raising people. . . .The church’s budget is not a list of its expenses, but a record of its vision. It is not a list of bills to be met, but a program of ministry to be achieved.”

As each of us prayerfully considers what God would have us give, and as we obey what God asks of us, we can trust Him to provide the resources. That’s a test — a test of where we are spiritually much more than where we are financially. It’s a test of us as individuals and of us as a church. The question is whether or not we really believe that God has the power and ability to bless our obedience “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).

How are you doing concerning God’s tests regarding money in your life? If God’s provision in your life in the days ahead depends on how you obey His leading now concerning your giving, what will the future be like for you?

It just might, you know. . . .




God’s Love Demonstrated – Mop Duty

CompassionWho Said It…Bill Pollard

Bill Pollard began his career in corporate and tax law.  He then used this expertise as a Wheaton College vice president.

But in 1977 he joined The ServiceMaster Company, a firm that provides management services for hospitals and schools and serves the residential market under brand names such as Merry Maids, TruGreen, and Terminix.  Bill served as its CEO and now chairs its board.

He also chairs the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Executive Committee.

What He Said …Mop Duty

As a new member of the ServiceMaster leadership team, my orientation included We Serve Day. On that day every leader in the organization directly serves customers, like front-line employees do every day.

I was working in a busy corridor of Chicago’s Lutheran General Hospital. I had just set out my wet-floor signs and was about to mop the floor. Suddenly a passing woman stopped and asked me, “Aren’t you Bill Pollard?”

I responded that I was, and she identified herself as a distant relative of my wife. She looked at me and my mop, shook her head, and asked, “Aren’t you a lawyer?”

“No,” I said. “I have a new job.” Noticing other people gathering around, the embarrassed woman leaned toward me and whispered, “Is everything all right at home?”

Like the Twelve, too many shun “foot-washing” tasks that lack status but reveal a serving heart.

Adapted from The Soul of the Firm (Harper Business/Zondervan, 1996)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, please motivate me to reflect Your compassionate heart to hurting people around me.


Whose Will Be Done? – Following God’s Will

Discerning the Will of GodFor new insight, try looking at a familiar Scripture passage from a fresh perspective. Take the story of the Woman at the Well—usually viewed as a case study in pointing someone to God.

Today, look at it from the angle of an exhausted Jesus and what it was that actually recharged his batteries.

This was early in Jesus’ ministry, and with His growing acclaim, He had apparently decided to withdraw from Judea to avoid immediate direct confrontation with the Pharisees.

Interact with God’s Word:  John 4:3-8 John 4:27-38

  1. Based on verses 6-8, how would you picture Jesus’ physical and emotional posture at this time?
  2. What did Jesus’ disciples assume would revive their exhausted rabbi?
  3. What did Jesus hint (in v. 31) had already lifted His spirits?
  4. How will knowing you are doing God’s will in His power (v. 34) bring a sense of fulfillment?
  5. Share an example of how you felt rewarded with “good wages” and joy (v. 36) from being part of God’s planting-and-harvesting team.

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to empower you to make the shift from resisting or reluctantly accepting His will to gladly embracing it.

John 4:3-8 John 4:27-38

3 So he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.

6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” 28 The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”

30 So the people came streaming from the village to see him. 31 Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.”

33 “Did someone bring him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. 34 Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. 35 You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe[a] for harvest.

36 The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! 37 You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. 38 I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.

Whose Will Be Done? – Listen to Your Coach

Discerning the Will of GodKey Bible Verse:  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”  – Luke 22:42

Bonus Reading: Matthew 26:36-46

With his 2006 British Open victory, Tiger Woods had amassed victories in 11 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18.  This victory was particularly emotional for Tiger with the recent loss of his father.  After his final putt he embraced his caddie and the tears fell freely.  To become the world’s best golfer, Tiger relied on his father as coach, mentor, and friend.  But I’m sure, like any other kid, there were days when Tiger simply didn’t want to practice.  Then dad was there to keep him focused on the goal.

Our Savior had a similar experience in the Garden of Gethsemane.  As He braced to shoulder the sins of the world, Jesus reached the limits of His humanity.  He cried out to His Father, pleading for another solution.  But the Father knew the ultimate goal.  Jesus relied on His Father’s perfect will and continued down the path to the cross, where He achieved an eternal victory.

Are you relying on your Father?  Do you hear His voice in desperate times?  “Don’t give up,” He whispers. “Victory is just around the corner. Keep walking with me, and we’ll make it through this.”  Listen for the encouraging words of your Coach, and you’ll be on your way to victory.

—Lane McGullion in Georgia

My Response: What might be required for God to keep me focused on His goal for me?

Thought to Apply: The basic decision, after all, is to let God be God, to say “yes” to the work of the Lord.  —Luke Timothy Johnson (monk turned theology prof)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.


Whose Will Be Done? – Clear Vision, Murky Path

Discerning the Will of GodKey Bible Verse: How can we understand the road we travel?  It is the Lord who directs our steps.  –  Proverbs 20:24

Bonus Reading: Numbers 9:15-23

As a computer professional, I worked for one company for 13 years, moving from hardware and software technician to officer and partner. Eventually I owned almost a quarter of the firm.

As my contributions to the bottom line increased, the company tried to tighten its grip on my heart.  But years ago I’d felt God’s call to deliver a message to the church.  A day would come, I believed, to leave my firm and become a full-time author.  I didn’t know how God would bring this about.  But on the side I learned the writing craft by attending conferences and producing magazine articles.

My vision remained sharp.  But my loyalty and sense of obligation to my company weighed heavily.  If I left, its survival was not assured.

Should I keep waiting? I tensely wondered.  Maybe God wants me to keep working and write part-time.  O God, show me what You want me to do!

Then God, in His mercy, solved my dilemma.  Another company, with its own computer systems, purchased ours.  Within a few months, I’d transferred our client data and transaction history.  I was then free to bow out with no harm to the firm.  And the sale provided me with money to live on as I pursued writing full-time.

—Bryan Davis in Spit and Polish for Husbands

My Response: In what situation am I waiting for God to act?

Thought to Apply: God always gives his very best to those who leave the choice with Him.—J. Hudson Taylor

Adapted from Spit and Polish for Husbands (AMG Publishers, 2004)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.



Down with Put Downs – Attitude Check

Gentle SpeechWho Said It…Dan Britton

Dan Britton is a senior vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, overseeing its camps and its campus, sport-specific, and coaches’ ministries.

Both the Virginia high-school football and lacrosse teams he captained won conference and state honors. At the University of Delaware, he was the lacrosse team captain and a leading scorer. He then spent four years as a starter for the Baltimore Thunder.

What He Said…Attitude Check

Carson Palmer, a Heisman Trophy winner and the number one NFL draft pick in 2003, signed a $49 million, six-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals. $10 million of it was his signing bonus.

However, that $10 million wasn’t contingent upon his great throwing arm, his intelligence as a quarterback, or his great play-calling.  It was contingent upon his not saying anything negative about his team, coaches, or management.

Basically the $10 million signing bonus was a loyalty pledge in which Carson guaranteed that he wouldn’t be critical.  If he ripped into his team, he lost the cash.

After someone has wronged us on the field or in the locker room, it’s easy to lash out.  God desires not only for us to keep our mouths from cursing but also to keep them positive.

The tongue is only a reflection of what is in our heart.  When you’re under pressure, what comes out?  Criticism or encouragement?  You might not get paid $10 million for having a Christlike tongue, but your Savior will be glorified!

Adapted from Heart of an Athlete (Regal, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Teach me, Lord, what it means to have a Christ-like tongue. Check my tendency to tear others down; prod me to build them up.


What did the UMC Judicial Council decide about the Traditional Plan?

UMC Judicial Council 2019

The Judicial Council, at its April 2019 meeting, reviewed actions taken by the special General Conference in February. The council serves as The United Methodist Church’s supreme court.

General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, passed the Traditional Plan, which enhances current policies about homosexuality and strengthens enforcement, and approved procedures for local churches to disaffiliate from the denomination and retain local church property.

General Conference delegates then asked the Judicial Council to rule on “the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect” of the Traditional Plan. In addition, the Council of Bishops requested a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the disaffiliation plan.

The Traditional Plan: Decision 1378

The court considered whether to rule on the Traditional Plan as a whole, but determined instead to rule separately on the constitutionality of each of the petitions making up the plan.

Decision 1378 reaffirmed the court’s previous ruling that seven petitions in the Traditional Plan are unconstitutional and therefore null and void. The remaining provisions (excluding one sentence) are constitutional.

The constitutional provisions include:

  • Petition 90032 — expands the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include those “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union, or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual.”
  • Petition 90036 — prohibits bishops from consecrating, commissioning or ordaining self-avowed homosexuals. (The text does not include the word “practicing.”)
  • Petition 90042 — mandates penalties for clergy convicted of performing same-sex wedding ceremonies. Those penalties are a one-year suspension without pay for the first offense and termination of conference membership and church credentials for a second offense.
  • Petition 90043 — prohibits conference boards of ordained ministry from approving candidates not meeting ordination standards regarding sexuality.
  • Petition 90044 — allows complaint dismissal only if it has no basis in law or fact and mandates information shared with the complainant during the complaint process.
  • Petition 90045 (excluding the second sentence) — expands just resolution requirements to include a statement of harms involved and how the resolution addresses them.
    Note: A sentence mandating that each just resolution include a commitment by the respondent not to repeat the violation was ruled unconstitutional and is therefore null and void.
  • Petition 90046 — requires the complainant to be a party in the just resolution process.
  • Petition 90047 — allows the church to appeal errors of law from trial court findings to the Judicial Council.

These changes take effect in the U.S. Jan. 1, 2020. In Africa, Europe and the Philippines, the legislation will take effect in May 2021, 12 months after the next General Conference in May 2020.

Disaffiliation (“Gracious Exit”): Decision 1379

The Judicial Council also reviewed the amended legislation allowing a “gracious exit” for churches to leave the denomination. Petition 90066 was previously ruled unconstitutional; however, delegates amended it. The amended version creates a new paragraph dealing specifically with the “limited right” to disaffiliate for reasons related to church law on homosexuality.

Requests from churches that want to leave the denomination must meet three minimum requirements:

  • The disaffiliation resolution must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference.
  • The conference board of trustees establishes the terms and conditions, including the effective date, of the agreement between the annual conference and the exiting local church in accordance with applicable church law and civil laws.
  • The disaffiliation agreement must be ratified by a simple majority of the members of the annual conference present and voting.

The court ruled the new paragraph satisfies the first two required conditions for disaffiliation, while a provision elsewhere in The Discipline, requiring annual conference action, fulfills the third minimum requirement.

Decision 1379 said the amended petition, taken together with the consent of the annual conference, “is constitutional and provides a means for the disaffiliation of a local church.”

Requirements for exiting churches include payment of apportionments, fair share of pension liabilities and other obligations. This legislation requires the process for exiting the denomination to be completed by the end of 2023, at which time the provisions of the new paragraph expire.

This legislation goes into effect immediately in the U.S. and on Jan. 1, 2021, outside the U.S.

Whose Will Be Done? – Who Calls the Shots?

Discerning the Will of GodKey Bible Verse: “May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.”  – Matthew 6:10

Bonus Reading: John 4:31-34

What if we ask for guidance and God guides us in ways we don’t want to follow? What if we pray for wisdom and the wisdom we receive seems more like nonsense? What if we pray for patience and the answer means nothing but trouble for us?

All of this shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus hinted at the problem when He gave us the Lord’s Prayer. Included in that model prayer were the words [of today’s Key Bible Verse]. The basic difficulty comes clear if we lay it out in a syllogism:

  1. God has a will (or desire) for your life.
  2. But you also have a will (or desire) for your life.
  3. Therefore, when you pray, “Your will be done,” you are asking that His will take precedence over yours.

Only one will can be done at a time. Either He is in control or you are. It’s not easy to pray like that because when you ask that God’s will be done, you’re implicitly asking that your will be overturned, if necessary. It’s not easy to pray that way when you’re standing beside the hospital bed of someone you love.

But then you’re not really in control anyway. It only seems that way.

—Ray Pritchard in The Incredible Journey of Faith

My Response: In what situation am I now prepared to pray, “Your will be done”?

Thought to Apply: Ninety-five percent of knowing the will of God consists in being prepared to do it before you know what it is.—Donlad Grey Barnhouse (Philadelphia pastor)

Adapted from The Incredible Journey of Faith (Crossway, 2005)

Prayer for the Week: Lord, help me to accept your “good and pleasing, and perfect” will, even when that runs counter to my natural desires.