Monday Morning

“Jersey Frank”


“Panther Nate”

“James from Maiden”

While driving to the church office this morning I had my favorite local sports talk radio station on, listening to “The Mac Attack” call in show.  The subject was football, in particular the NFL and our local team (Carolina Panthers).  Today marked the beginning of the football new year, not sure why, when the sports talk world leaves behind the NBA and Major League Baseball to get ready for the start of high school, college and NFL preseason practice.  I love this time of year; hope springs eternal for fans of the sport.  As I listened to the callers discus our hometown team, person after person wished the show hosts and listening audience a “happy football new year”.  Listed above are the four names that I could remember as I sat down to type.  There were black callers and white callers, callers from northern states and those from small communities in the south; each spoke with excitement about the chance to be a part of the show and pledged their allegiance to the Panthers.  As I laughed about the funny nicknames and ridiculous predictions for the upcoming season, my mind went to an insight that I had discovered years ago…a professional sports team can unite it’s city.  Yes in Charlotte we have fans of every college within 200 miles, and passions run deep and can even be a little over the top.  We enjoy those rivalries and the bragging rights that come from winning championships.  However, on Sunday’s during football season we put away our rivalries and unite under the team colors of the Panthers.

The football new year discussion was for me a nice respite from the angst that is engulfing our American society this summer.  Once again our nation is choosing sides on matters of race, authority and politics.  It’s devastating to see images of African Americans killed by law enforcement officers, and then law enforcement officers killed in response.  And so we respond by saying: “black lives matter”, “blue lives matter”, “all lives matter”, and so on.  We look for people and institutions and laws to blame for all the violence and anger.  We point fingers at people we have never met, and offer our opinions on why they are in the wrong.  I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like to live as a racial minority, or serve in law enforcement as do some of you who will read these words.  But my goodness, if we can put aside differences of race and politics and unite behind a football team…surely…

What I’d like to do on this Monday morning is share with you with a couple of thoughts related to the events of last week.

For starters, I believe that empathy is something that God calls us to cultivate in our lives.  Empathy, to put it simply, is the ability to understand and share the emotions and experiences of another human being.  Empathy is different from sympathy, which is feeling pity or sorrow for another person’s misfortune.  To empathize is try as best we can to walk in another person’s shoes; to gain an understanding of what it must be like to experience life as they do.  While I have my thoughts and feelings regarding the deep divide that has been magnified by the events of last week, I’m trying to refrain from simple minded knee-jerk reactions, and empathize with the people who see life so differently.  If you think about it, the basic Gospel message centers on God’s empathy and sacrifice for humanity. Jesus shared our flesh and experienced the entire range of what it is to be human; He gets us…He can empathize with our plight.  However, going beyond simple empathy, He also sacrificed any privilege He had and gave His life that we might be reconciled to God.  As His followers, I’m convinced that a faithful response to what has our culture roiling is to empathize and be willing to sacrifice our ego in order to show grace and understanding.  The powers that be will deal with the legal ramifications of the violence, the power of God is what will deal with human hearts that need to be mended and shaped.  Indeed I’m praying that God will give me the gift empathy;  I’m praying that God will give me the words to communicate the grace of God in the midst great turmoil this coming Sunday.

The other thought is also related to prayer.  I’m not only going to pray for empathy, but also for the Holy Spirit to be with those on the front lines dealing with this cultural divide.  My prayer for community and organizational leaders is that they sow seeds of forgiveness and grace among those who look to them for direction.  In my view this is a spiritual problem we face, and thus it requires a spiritual response.  Jesus was born into a world marked by deep divisions among people groups; for heaven’s sake the Hebrews wouldn’t even extend simple acts of human kindness to the Samaritans.  Rather than ignore or defend the lack of dignity afforded to people who were different from those in Jesus’ community, He built bridges between them.  This morning I’m praying for the Spirit to move the shapers of opinion and policy to be bridge builders according to the model given by our Lord.  Like me you might not be on the front lines, yet this doesn’t mean that we don’t have a role to play.  So please join me in selecting a person or two and spend some time in focused prayer for him/her.

One bonus thought.  Today each of us will come in contact with another human being; how will we treat him/her?  Let’s resolve to be one small player in an enormous movement of Christians who are covering our community with God’s grace.  I once heard a pastor teach a lesson on healing wounds that divide people, by emphasizing: “It might not be your fault, but it’s your time.”  I love that.  Friends, it is indeed our time.

Grace to you,



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Build a Bridge


“No big Deal!”

“Blown out of proportion.”


“The one’s who are upset are ignorant.”

“Political correctness has taken us over.”

These were some of the responses I read or heard in the wake of a prayer that was offered during the PCUSA General Assembly meeting last month.  The prayer, made during a time of remembrance for those killed in mass shootings in Orlando and Charleston, was given before the entire Assembly by Mr. Wajidi Said from the Portland Muslim Community.  Mr. Said was one of several guests invited by the event planners who participated in the time of remembrance.  Without quoting the entire prayer (you can find it online), I’ll include his opening words:

“Allah bless us and bless our families and bless our Lord.  Lead us on the straight path-the path of all the prophets: Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammed.  Peace be upon them all. Amen.”

I know that scores of words have already been written about this prayer, and many have weighed in with their thoughts on whether or not it was appropriate for the bi-annual gathering of a Christian denomination.  Yet I’d like to add my voice to those who are trying to make sense of it all as they lead a local congregation in the PCUSA.  I’ve had several emails and texts asking for my opinion on the subject; people are talking.

Like others have expressed, I don’t have a problem with inviting people of other faiths to watch our governing process at work.  In the spirit of good will, I’m more than happy to have our guests bring greetings and well wishes from their faith community.  I like the idea of our Church reaching out into this pluralistic culture in the spirit of Christian hospitality, inviting dialogue and looking for common opportunities to be of service to those in need.  With Jesus as our model, I believe we attract people to God’s grace by acts of kindness, rather than by ignoring or intimidating them.  And I try see others, even those with whom I differ and disagree, as friends rather than adversaries…frankly I just find this a better way to live!  So my comments aren’t intended to impugn Mr. Said in any way, he did what came naturally and honestly as a leader in the Muslim community.  Like most of us would do, he refused to tailor his prayer to the audience.  While not in a rage or surprised by all this, I do feel moved to write that I think it was a poor decision on the part of those who invited him to pray and see the entire event as emblematic of why many would say (myself included) that we Presbyterians seem somewhat diminished these days within the Christian community and public square.

My idea for a healthy way to discuss this is best expressed in two broad concepts: 1. “Truth”;  2. Building bridges.

The day I read the prayer my thoughts immediately went to what we proclaim to be the Great Ends of the Church, set forth in the Book of Order, dating back over 100 years to the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

-the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind;

-the shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

-the maintenance of divine worship;

-the preservation of the truth;

-the promotion of social righteousness;

-the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

What a remarkable mission/vision/purpose statement for the people of God.  While our local congregations might update or amend or elaborate on these six points, most of us would agree that they beautifully capture what Jesus taught His followers to be about.  In reading the list, my mind lingered on the notion that we are to “preserve the truth”.  To preserve the truth…what does this mean for us?  What does it mean to say that our responsibility as Christians is to preserve and transmit the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our church family, community and world?  Simply put, I believe the words that Jesus spoke about His own identity direct us to the truth we are to preserve; “I am the way, the truth and the life, no person comes unto the Father, but by me.”  My understanding of Christ Jesus is that He is the truth; the truth about God and about humanity.  With that said, let’s circle back and consider the prayer offered to our gathered Assembly.  What truth was conveyed or preserved by the prayer?  Was it a statement of belief in the truth that all prayer, regardless to whom it’s made is the same?  Or perhaps it was a statement that affirming the faith of another, no matter what it is, is a good thing.   Perhaps you’re among those who think that having this prayer was just something that happened and others are making too much of it.

In reflecting on the prayer I find some truths that, whether intentionally or not, were likely transmitted to the Assembly and those who are now in the know.  For starters, I think that prayer could’ve communicated to some the notion that all religious faiths are spiritually equivalent and lead to the same G(g)od.  Moreover, some who read or heard the prayer could be led to believe that Jesus was merely a prophet among others; He’s dead and gone just like they are and in no way the living Lord who is seated at the right hand of the Father.  Or perhaps some could be persuaded that a blending of “truths” (syncretism) will lead to the actual truth, whatever that might be.   And finally, by having that prayer offered at our Assembly it could be that some might conclude that God isn’t really paying attention any longer, or that God just doesn’t care.  As opposed to having faith in the providence of the God who is revealed in Scripture, we might just as well be good deists who believe that God exists but has no interest in our little lives or churches or denominations.   Here’s what I’m pondering:  If the Church’s mission is to preserve the truth, we need to define and understand the very essence of that truth we are bound to preserve.

My other reflection has to do with whether or not having Mr. Said lead our Assembly in prayer actually served to help build a bridge between the Muslim and Christian communities in this country, or anywhere for that matter.  Believing the best in them, I think that this was what the organizers of the service, the staff leaders of our Ecumenical and Interfaith Ministries, had in mind.   Consider for a moment the question of how we build bridges that connect us to those from whom we are separated.  My initial reaction to the question is to affirm the principle that we don’t build a bridge by relinquishing our dearly held core values or beliefs in order to be more palatable to those who would disagree with us.  In other words,  I don’t think that a structurally sound bridge connecting two sides/people/communities requires total agreement or adoption by either side.  To the contrary, such a bridge requires respect, openness, and a willingness to cooperate.  The time honored adage; “Seek first to understand, before being understood”, comes to mind.  For an imperfect example: I try to build bridges with my 20 year old son when he’s home from college for the summer.  He’s an awesome guy of the millennial generation, and as is the case with most every generation, those folks are so different from their parents!  Desperately wanting a deeper relationship with him, I look for things we can enjoy discussing or doing.  So we talk about the sports teams we follow, we discuss faith and church, we debate the merits of thin vs. thick crust pizza, we try to define what “success” looks like in each of our lives, we cook together on the grill or smoker.  He talks-I listen.  We love each other, but we’re different.  Our bridge doesn’t involve this uncool 51 year old pastor becoming a millennial.  I don’t have to watch his favorite Netflix shows with him, listen to his music that he knows I don’t genuinely care for, stay up until 1:00am on a work night, adopt his speech patterns and lingo, or wear skinny jeans.  I respect him too much to try to be like him, and here’s what I’ve noticed…he respects me for not trying and just being who I am.

Understanding that this prayer didn’t indicate our Assembly had adopted a thing, I still can’t see that it was a proclamation or advancement of the Gospel (Great End #1).  Of course many of us do understand that “Allah” is Arabic for “God”, but let’s not pretend that Mr. Said was addressing the Triune God whom we know in the persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I’m left to wonder if we really gained any measure of respect or appreciation from Mr. Said’s community because in the service the GA suspended what many of us believe to be truth in order to make him feel welcome?  He would’ve felt welcome, I’m guessing here, if our Assembly had allowed him to simply say hello and welcome the Presbyterians to Portland.  Unfortunately no real bridge was built that morning in Portland.  In fact I believe that this underscores the need for bridges to be built within our own house, so that all Presbyterians might continue in the one body to pursue that mission/vision/purpose statement outlined in the Book of Order.  It’s a conversation we’ll be having in the congregation I serve beginning later this month with a six-week sermon series on the Great Ends of the Church.

This entire episode has provoked in me a great deal of thought and reflection these past few days.  I hope (pray) that you too will consider these things as well; specifically, what it means as a follower of Christ Jesus to “preserve the truth” and how it is that God intends for us to build bridges.

Grace to you,




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts On The Good Life

At the conclusion of our 30 week sermon series on The Story, basically a survey of the entire witness of Scripture, I posed a simple question: “What is the good life for you?”.  We were discussing the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John, and in particular, the vision of our ultimate destination as believers.  Understanding that heaven is beyond all human words and comprehension, we looked at the vivid imagery that God provided His people in the closing book of the Bible.  Since writing those sermon notes I’ve been thinking about the good life.  Maybe it’s a function of being 51 years old and knowing that there are more days on this planet behind me than in front of me, or perhaps having a great week away with my family recently that has me pondering the subject.  As you might have noticed, often I use this blog as a journal of sorts to help clarify or guide my thinking…and that’s the case with this post.

It seems natural here that I make the obligatory and obvious comment that the good life can’t be bought, or measured with numbers in a bank account.  We all know this to be true, but in your mind what is this elusive good life?  In the above referenced sermon I shared that for me a good day could include the opportunity to eat a fried bologna sandwich from Faye’s Grocery after a morning of trout fishing with one of our dogs.  Additionally, good days that perhaps add up to a good life might also include quality time with  family, watching a ballgame with Davis, golfing with my Dad, or an afternoon with friends at the Keenland Horse Race Course in Lexington, KY.  A good day is having a cup of coffee with Amy Jo while reading a good book and listening to the rain on the roof of our Sugar Mountain home.  You and I can create long lists of things we love to do that make a day enjoyable.  But is the good life merely the compilation of lots of good days?  Not for me.  The notion that life is just a collection of days ignores the fact that God has a purpose or plan for each of us.  Simply living day to day, in my mind, seems to be a disjointed approach to life that emphasizes experiences as stand alone events that we might document with our smart phones, rather than a journey with a divinely ordained destination.

After some reflection, I’ve found that there are several elements in my life that I think make it good.

-To live in communion with God, and experience a sense of community with the people in my life.

-To exchange ideas with those in my community about the nature God’s claim on our lives and His creation, and how we might respond in faithfulness.

-To take action on the ideas we’ve shared so that God is served and glorified, and I experience a deep sense of fulfillment.

-To enjoy recreation as a means of replenishing and preparing for what God would have me do next.

This sounds simple I know, yet these priorities together seem to work for me.  Featured in this pattern for living the good life is God at the center, an emphasis on healthy relationships, a sense of mission or purpose that is shared with others, and meaningful recreation.  Not that I need a formula or 4 step recipe, life is far too complex, but knowing myself I do need a general pattern.  I can get complacent, develop tunnel vision, or become stuck in a rut.  However, if I can wake up each morning with this image of the good life in mind, I notice that life does in fact tend to be good.  I’m not saying that it is care free, easy, always exciting, painless, uncomplicated, or one long party.  In fact it might include pain and discomfort, and extend me well beyond my comfort zone.   I’ll share with you that for past few weeks I’ve been incorporating this pattern into my prayer life as a form of petition and thanksgiving.

How about you?   Are you living the good life?  If so, what is it that constitutes that life…and have you taken the time to articulate or even write down your thoughts?  Again, I hope that you’ll accept these thoughts for what they are – ramblings from my private journal shared publicly.

Grace to you,






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Quality Gatherings

Recently I led a class that included a discussion on the early Christian Church as it is described in Luke’s second volume in the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles.

“They (the fellowship of Christ followers) devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs they saw by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common; they sold their possessions and gave to those in need.”                     -Acts 2: 42-45

That particular text remained with me for hours after it was discussed, and the question kept repeating; “What are some of the features of a quality, or meaningful, Christian gathering?”  We know that the early church enjoyed a rich experience of God’s grace and favor, resulting in the rapid spread of the faith where many were “added daily to those who were being saved”.  Those first Christ-followers, usually numbering around 30, met in homes throughout Jerusalem in the face of intense opposition from both the Roman government and the Temple authorities.  Their enormous impact has been felt for the past 20 centuries around the globe, as the Gospel of Christ Jesus has transformed billions of people’s lives.

As you read the passage from Acts, what do you see as the key features of that first “church”?  What did they do?  I see five elements that were present when God’s people would gather.

1.  Study (“They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.”)

2. Fellowship (“All the believers were together…”)

3.  Communion, and the sharing of a meal (“…to the breaking of bread…”)

4.  Prayer

5.  Sharing of their resources, a sacrificial offering (“They sold possessions and gave to those in need.”)

Those first gatherings gatherings had both a simplicity and intentionality.  Knowing that they were in the presence of the One who left behind an empty tomb, the believers insisted that their gatherings bear fruit in the lives of those who risked personal safety and security to meet.  In other words, they didn’t go through the motions or simply meet for the sake of meeting…they made every moment count.  Consider what would happen in those homes.  They would engage their minds in a time of study while enjoying the company of other believers.  There would be a time for sharing a meal, as well as lifting one another up in prayer.  Finally, they recognized that God intended for them to give sacrificially of their resources in witness to God’s grace to the world.  Remarkable isn’t it?!  Simple and intentional.

I’m wondering how you and I might transform the gatherings in which we participate, that they might resemble the ones hosted by our first brothers and sisters in Christ.  Those of you who know me probably are aware that I love worship services and study groups, but meetings…?  Gatherings/meetings are essential to the life of any congregation, after all we are an organization (meaning that we are organized).  There’s something theological about meetings for God can be glorified by the manner in which we conduct our common life.  Understanding that the church is the “Bride of Christ” as well as His Body, we have an obligation to be good stewards of the congregation and her resources.  So, as I often do in this space, I’m just thinking out loud with you in regards to how we can add greater depth and quality to our gatherings.  If a meeting or class or church social event were to feel somewhat like a house church gathering of the first century, how would that look?  Along with me, will you return for a moment to those five characteristics and consider how we can make each of our gatherings more meaningful.  We’re not reinventing the wheel here, God has given us the model.

Grace to you,




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts for Lent

We are now in the last week of January, and even though it seems like only yesterday, Christmas is a full month behind us.  Amy Jo and I noticed yesterday that one of our neighbors still has the discarded family Christmas tree on the front porch, a nice Fraser Fir that still has green needles.  It now seems possible that the season of Lent could begin with discarded Christmas trees and piles of snow in shaded areas still visible.  Lent comes into our lives earlier this year than in most years; it’s February 10th to be exact.  Although the majority of you have celebrated Lent for many years, let’s have a quick review and primer on the meaning and significance of the season.

Lent is the forty day period (excluding Sunday’s) leading up to Easter.  The season begins on a Wednesday, which Christians call “Ash Wednesday”.  This forty day period is set aside as a time of preparation for Easter and involves the practice of spiritual disciplines such as intentional prayer, study, fasting,  and service.  Many will “give up” a certain lifestyle practice during the season, some will “take on” a particular practice during these forty days.  For example, I’ve given up caffeine in years past and one year took on the discipline of waking up fifteen minutes early for prayer.  How one chooses to create a new routine for Lent is really up to the individual.  Simply put, in my mind the new routine is designed to increase our awareness of God’s presence in our lives and develop a greater appreciation for what God has done for us in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  Each time we consider what we’ve given up or taken on, our minds can focus on the grace and love of God that is ours in Christ.  Furthermore, in these moments we can consider what God is asking us to do in service to His purpose for our life, our community or this world.

At Mallard Creek we observe Ash Wednesday using the common tradition of having ashes imposed on our foreheads.  Why ashes?  Historically ashes in the Judeo-Christian tradition have symbolized;  1.) Our human mortality, and 2.) Regret for our sins and repentance from them.  Thus when a we receive the ashes the person imposing them will say something like, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”  We will have the sanctuary open and ashes available on February 10th from 7:00-9:00am, 11:00am-1:00pm, and 5:00pm-7:30pm.  During these three intervals participants will be offered some aids for meditating on Scripture and entering into a time of prayer.

So, what will be your practice this year during Lent?  If you’re running short on ideas, please feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help with some suggestions.  As for me, I’m still working on a Lenten discipline that will marry our congregation-wide study of The Story with the season.  My goal will be to have this be a time of intensive growth, both heart and head, in my relationship with Christ.

Let us all pray that the Lord uses this holy season to further His work in our lives.

Grace to you,



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer thoughts: escaping vs. replenishing

It will soon be summer, officially beginning on June 21st, and many of us will break from the routine.  Beginning with our earliest days as elementary school students, we’ve developed a pattern where summer just looks and feels different from the other three seasons.  In those days summer represented a needed respite from all the classes, school lunches and early morning bus or car rides.  Summer was the time for staying up late on week nights, sleeping in a little later in the mornings, and spending much of the time in  between working and/or playing outdoors.  Even as an adult, summer has always looked a little different from the other seasons in terms of my schedule and lifestyle.  I like to emphasize different aspects of pastoral ministry during these months in order to remain refreshed and energized.  For example, I typically spend more time visiting and getting to know the people I serve with during the summer, because the demands on my time in other areas of church life decrease during the season.  Moreover, this is the time I get away to study and plan the preaching/teaching schedule for the upcoming “school year”, looking at the big picture of where we’re going as an organization.  Finally, summer is when I like to rest a little…and this is where we’re going today.

Recently I read an article in Leadership Journal in which the writer, Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church, contrasted escaping and replenishing.   This prompted me to consider my habits and practices when feeling depleted by the demands and expectations that come with pastoral ministry.  The truth is, many of us in our culture experience the sensation of being depleted.  We give, we go, we push…and then we give and go a little more the next day.  This cycle is tough to break and ultimately leaves us feeling weary and generally, spent.  Can you identify with this?  It really is a function of our 21st century world that requires us to be “plugged in” 24/7; always accessible, always available, always stimulated.  Then there comes a precious hour or two in the day, or day or two in the week, when we have the opportunity to take a break.  What do you do with that much needed time?  It seems to me that we have a couple of options; we can escape or we can replenish.

The act of escaping allows for us to get away from reality, to be mentally and physically checked out.  Escape comes in many forms, some that are no so healthy (guessing that you get my drift).   Getting away from reality often makes us feel good for the moment, yet when life demands that we return to the real world we find ourselves feeling all the more weary.  Escaping doesn’t feed, reenergize, or refocus us in any way, it merely enables us to be absent for awhile and return with nothing more in the gas tank.  Think about a pain killer that masks the pain we feel.  It works for a short time, but when the medication wears off we still have the pain.  Escape is that momentary pain killer that does no more than mask our sense of depletion.

On the other hand there are things we can do that actually will replenish us during the down time.  Whether it be reading something extraordinary, a healthy hobby, great conversation with someone we hold dear, or ______(fill in the blank); we will return to our routine with renewed energy.  Jesus taught His disciples the art of replenishing.  Consider His response to feeling fatigued and burdened by the challenges of life when He found a quiet place and spent time with the Father in prayer.

“And when Jesus had sent the multitudes away, he departed to the mountain

to pray.”    Mark 6: 46

Notice that He didn’t just simply escape, rather Jesus committed the time to something that would feed Him.  Being fully human and fully divine, Jesus needed strength and courage…He couldn’t afford to be depleted.  Because Jesus has a sense of purpose and destiny, He knew to break the routine and replenish His life.

So how about joining me in evaluating our personal patterns as they relate to “down time”.  Question: are we prone to escape or replenish?

Grace to you,



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“What God Wants to Know”

Years ago I read a book that had as the title what I’ve titled this blog entry; “What God Wants to Know”.  That was an interesting question for me to ponder as a young pastor who was trying to determine what God wanted from me personally.  I understood that the Lord wanted my life to be fully surrendered, He wanted my service and devotion; that God wanted me to be faithful vocationally as a pastor.  Yet as I read that book with each chapter featuring a question posed by God in Scripture, I sensed God also wanted to know where my heart was….what really mattered to me…what motivated and animated me.

Here are a few of the questions that were explored in the book:

-“Where are you?”  Asked to Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis.

-“Where is your brother?”  Asked to Cain in the book of Genesis

-“What is in your hand?”  Asked to Moses in the book of Exodus.

“Who will go for us?  Asked to Isaiah in the book of Isaiah.

Questions that Jesus posed:

-“Do you want to be made well?”  “Who do you say that I am?”

-“What is your name?”  “Why are you so afraid?”

Of course there are other questions found in the Bible, but you get the picture.  My initial response when considering these questions was to wonder why an all-knowing (omniscient) God would need to ask any question at all.  If He is in fact omniscient, doesn’t God already have the answer to any question or dilemma that might exist in heaven or on earth?  Like then, I do believe now that God does have all the answers, which leads me to conclude that He must ask the questions for our benefit.  He asks us, for example, why we’re afraid in order that we might think about the nature of our fear and deal with it.  Or God might ask who we say that He is, again for example, so that we might spend time meditating on the nature and majesty of the Almighty.

During the season of Lent (40 days of preparation for the celebration of Easter) many followers of Christ Jesus will give up a certain type of food or drink, or perhaps will give up an activity that’s a part of their daily routine.  Historically, the act of “giving up” has encouraged the faithful to pray or meditate on the Easter story each time the person consciously chooses not to partake of that food or activity, etc..  In past years during Lent I’ve given up certain things, such as a daily bagel in 2011; or have taken on a particular discipline for the season, such as getting up 15 minutes early for prayer in 2012.  This year I’m going to spend my devotional time each day considering the questions God asks of me.  Included in that exercise I’ll be asking what God wants from me as His disciple.   My hunch is that considering these questions will lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of God and the life to which I’m called.

So here’s an idea.  If you’re not settled on a Lenten routine this year (it’s getting late!), how about joining with me in considering what God wants to know from you, and what He wants of you?  My plan is to structure this activity around studying some of the questions mentioned earlier in this blog.  After meditating on the scripture text each morning, I’ll pray that God gives me a sense of how that question posed 1000’s of years ago speaks into my life today.  My prayer is that the Lord will begin to clarify what it is that He wants from me, and awaken me to a deeper experience of His grace and peace.

The sermon this week at Mallard Creek deals with the 1st question of my Lenten observance; “Ask!  What shall I give to you?”  This is what God spoke to Solomon, the young King of Israel, as he was embarking on his reign.   Essentially God was asking the king what he wanted from God’s hand.  Thus far this week I’m enjoying the study of that text, in particular due to the fact that the congregation is having two town hall style meetings on Sunday.  The meetings are with the Batten Company (our chosen design-build firm) for the purpose of helping fine tune our understanding of God’s vision for the ministry of this congregation, and the 1st step in developing a comprehensive plan for campus on Mallard Creek Church Road.

If you wish to join with me this Lent, here’s the study I’ll be following:

Week 1:  “What shall I give to you?”  1Kings 3: 4-15

Week 2:  “Where are you?”  Genesis 3: 1-13

Week 3:  “What is your name?”  Mark 5 1-17

Week 4:  “Why are you so afraid?”  Mark 4: 35-41

Week 5: “Do you want to be well?”  John 5: 1-15

Week 6:  “Who do you say that I am?”  Mark 8: 27-30

My prayer is that God will be at work in our lives this Lent as we read each of these passages for seven days.

Grace to you,


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Week 3 on Prayer…Thanksgiving

Years ago I read an article where the author quoted a couple of letters published in a Dear Abby column.  The first letter was from a 15 year old girl who talked about how unhappy she was because she had to share a bedroom with her sister, got into trouble for coming home late, and didn’t get the phone call she was hoping for from some boy.  She signed the letter, “Healthy, but unhappy and ungrateful”.  The article then included a follow up letter;

“Dear Abby, happiness is being able to walk, being able to talk, and to see.  Happiness is being able to hear. Unhappiness is reading a letter from a 15 year old girl who can do all these things and yet says she’s unhappy.  I can talk, see, and hear, but I can’t walk.

Signed, 13 and happy and grateful for life”

Although an obvious and simple lesson, the truth communicated from these letters is often lost on many of us.  For whatever reason folks like you and me tend to focus on what we don’t have or can’t do, rather than on the good things in our lives.   Rather than count our blessings, we number our failures, unmet desires, and missing pieces that we think would complete the puzzle we call the good life.  And most of us don’t keep these disappointments to ourselves either, we share them with our friends and family, and in quiet moments drag our list of complaints to our Lord.  I’ve done it.   In a sense we’re following the biblical model when we direct our frustrations to God (see the book of Lamentations), however if we’re doing so with the attitude of entitlement and gracelessness, we’re missing a major element in our relationship with Him; thanksgiving.

This Sunday at Mallard Creek we’ll continue to discuss prayer, teaching thanksgiving as a critical aspect of our communication with God.  Our basic message will be that if you and I want to pray with greater purpose, we need to carve out time to count our blessings from God and humbly offer Him our thanks.

Let me ask you a question:  Who or what is the source of your prosperity?   Are you responsible for all you have in this world, is it luck, or perhaps something else?  Before we talk on Sunday I hope you’ll think about  that for a moment, as your answer will say much about where you are in life.   Some of us hold the opinion that we are self-made; products of hard work and good choices.  Others of us maintain that we somehow won life’s lottery, a prize that has allowed for all the good fortune we enjoy.  Do either of these sound familiar?  In all honesty there’s probably a tiny grain truth to both of those perspectives on life, yet there’s a greater truth reflected in God’s Word.  The Psalmist (Ps. 100) wrote; “Know that the Lord is good, it is He who made us and we belong to HIm.”   He understood that we are the products of our Creator and all that we have is given by God’s hand.  Moreover he teaches that all of life is to be viewed with the understanding that God is fundamentally and completely good, thus we see our blessings as given by God’s hand.  There is no such thing as a self-made person, nor is there some magical lottery out there that a precious few luck up and win.  Along with the Apostle Paul I believe God uses everything He’s given us, both the good and the bad, to do good in our lives.  Our response is to make good and faithful use of God’s gifts, and to acknowledge God as the giver.

Here’s where gratitude or thanksgiving enters the mix in our time with God.  It’s that moment when we humble ourselves and count our blessings with God, giving Him our thanks.  I have found it helpful to actually write down the things I’m grateful for…and have always found that this list is much longer than the list of things I’m lacking in life.  I once heard someone express anger over the fact that she hadn’t received a thank you note from a person to whom she had given a nice gift.  She was rightfully disappointed, and over time that disappointment led to friction between the two people.  All over the lack of gratitude.   Maybe this resonates with you as it does me; unexpressed gratitude can create division among friends and even family.  Do you see where I’m going; how this unexpressed gratitude might create a barrier in our relationship with the ultimate gift giver?

One more quick thing that we’ll consider on Sunday.   We’ll look at the fact that expressing gratitude actually leads us to recognize more aspects of life that are gifts from God.  In other words, gratitude leads to more gratitude.  As we give God thanks we begin to naturally look for, and notice, additional things for which He deserves our appreciation.  Am I off base in saying that counting our blessing gives us eyes to see them?   The more we count, the more we see?

I look forward to talking with you further on Sunday morning.  If you want to catch up on the first two lessons in the series go to and find the sermon archive page.

Thanks, and grace to you,


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Week 2 on Prayer: Confession

Last week we spent the sermon portion of the worship service at Mallard Creek discussing a challenging aspect of prayer; adoration.  Even as I prepared my teaching notes, I was conscious that adoration of God in prayer can seem unnecessary, forced, or even manipulative.  I mean, does God really need (or want) our little expressions of praise and adoration?  To say that God does desire our adoration almost reduces God into some needy Deity that depends on our response for His own self worth.  With that in mind we spent about 20 minutes discussing why God desires and deserves our adoration, and why the act of praise is a foundational building block in constructing a healthy prayer life.  You can find the worship service in our archive at

This week we’re moving from adoration to confession in the 4 week series (remember the ACTS acrostic).  In confession we move the focus from God, His nature and attributes, to ourselves.  In confession we take responsibility for ourselves, our words and actions that comprise the man or woman that we see in the mirror.  I believe that the journey to shalom (being well, whole, together and at peace by God’s grace) has at least these two movements…1.  toward God; 2. toward self.  Our prayer of adoration moves us toward God as we acknowledge who the Lord is and what He has done and is doing.  By making such declarations we are speaking truth, which I think must be pleasing to God.  In confession we are also speaking truth, only this time in regard to who and what we are.

Confession is that act of self-examination.  Such examination causes you and me to see ourselves as we are; the good, the bad and even the ugly.  It’s a moment that calls for us to remove all pretense we might try to carry before the Lord.  It’s a moment when the masks are removed and the the hiding places exposed, that we might stand before our Father just as we are.  The word confess means literally to agree with.  It is simply an admission of what we’ve done.  Another way of saying this is we come clean when we confess.  I like that image because if we don’t come clean, what do we remain?  Dirty!

Consider this passage from Isaiah:

“But your sins have separated you from your God; and your iniquities have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”   Isaiah 59:2

Do you see what God is saying through the prophet?  Our sins that aren’t confessed create separation between ourselves and our Lord.  In other words, we remain dirty because we haven’t come clean with the God who already knows!  Years ago I read a book titled, Whatever Became of Sin.  The author’s basic premiss was that in our society the Gospel has been reduced to a collection of self-help remedies and aids to positive thinking, because we’ve lost our awareness of our own sinfulness.  Incorporating confession into our prayers restores the power of the Gospel in our lives, for we experience real forgiveness and redemption.

So this Sunday let’s think about the place that confession should occupy in our time with God.  In preparation you could read 1John 1 :5-10.  This text will be our beginning point, in particular the insight God gives through John when he wrote; “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  Yet if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will cleanse us of all unrighteousness.”   I often joke that we should extend our time for silent confession during worship, but the truth is…we really should!  Speaking frankly and from experience, I really could spend the entire hour in confession; how about you?  OK, let’s come clean.

Grace to you,


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Purposeful in Prayer

Beginning this Sunday we’ll spend four weeks studying Biblical texts that are centered on prayer.  I’ve been trying to title the series, and thus far have been stuck between two titles; 1. “Conversation with God”, 2. “Purposeful in Prayer”.   Maybe we’ll combine the two.

Did you know studies reveal that about 35% of all Americans pray “at least several times a week”.  Chances are you are among that 35%, spending time in prayer on a regular basis.  If you’re not…why?  Is it because you’re not sure that prayer matters?  Or that you have some doubts as to whether there’s anyone on the other end to hear your prayer?  Or perhaps you just haven’t made this a part of your lifestyle.  Regardless of how often we pray (or fail or forget to pray), there can be no mistaking the fact that God desires to have an intimate relationship with each of us that is strengthened and enriched by the act of prayer.   In my mind I define prayer simply as communication that builds a connection between the human and the Divine.  I believe prayer allows us to know God in a deeper way than simply thinking about Him does.  Prayer reveals the will of God, taps into His power, and opens us to experience the love and peace God offers.  In prayer we find direction, as well as comfort when facing the unknown.  If it sounds like I’m building a case for prayer, I am.  Here’s what researchers at the Association of Religion Data Archives found:

-The deeper people allow themselves to venture into dialogue with God, the more they experience the divine love of God.

-Those who pray regularly are better able to cope with their own suffering, and are more responsive to the needs of others.

-Regular pray-ers are more likely to care for a sick person, offer financial help to another, and assist others in finding employment than those who report to pray little if at all.


In spite of all the encouragement we find to pray, many of us find prayer to be a difficult spiritual discipline.  How many times have you thought, as have I, “I just don’t know how to pray or what to pray.”?  This is where we’ll begin our discussion this coming Sunday (1/4/15).   At the risk of sounding rigid or formulaic, we’ll discuss then ACTS acrostic for prayer which has been a guide for Christians over the centuries.

Adoration 1/4

Confession 1/11

Thanksgiving 1/18

Supplication 1/25

The text for this Sunday is Ephesians 3:14-21.  Here the Apostle Paul prays fervently for the Christ followers in Ephesus, but does something important before lifting them to God…he breaks into a time of praising God simply for who God is.  He writes:  “I kneel before God….all in heaven and on earth derive their name from the Lord…God’s riches are able to sustain us…to God be given all the glory.”  Maybe this sounds like the Apostle is trying to curry favor with the divine, but I see it much differently.  Paul is simply acknowledging God for who and what He is; it’s a natural reaction when a paltry human being addresses the creator of the universe!   Learning from his Hebrew heritage which reverenced God for His holiness, as well as the instruction of Jesus who taught us to “hallow God’s name” in His model prayer, Paul is simply offering to God what God has revealed that He desires…our worship and praise.

So this week let’s think about what it means to ascribe praise and adoration to God, and how doing so will deepen our experience with Him.

Grace to you,



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment