Acting Out Our Faith: Influence That Matters


As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. – Acts 5:15 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but the only thing of any use my shadow has ever done is keep the sun out of someone’s eyes.  Kind of disappointing in comparison to this passage.  What kind of life convinces people that your shadow can heal?  What past experience promotes that kind of faith in the intangible?  Peter did two things that answer these questions: he followed Jesus and did what Jesus did.

If I want my life to have influence for the kingdom it is good to see how others did so.  Peter may have had a rough start, but when Jesus got him moving in the right direction, not much got in his way.  He pursued the life of Jesus with passion and clear intent.  Peter belonged to Christ and therefore owed nothing to any man other than what Christ supplied.  If I want to influence the world, I can’t do it when other passions and pursuits own me.

It is not enough in this life to act Christian.  Acting Christian can influence others, but usually not in the right way.  It goes much farther to be like Christ and the only way to be like Christ is to follow Him through His spirit.  It is the difference between acting a part and being changed in such a way that you act differently than you did before.  I don’t want to act like anything.  It is tiring and fruitless.  I want to be transformed and be used to transform others to be more like Jesus.  That is the kind of influence that matters.

Lord, help me to be more like you every day so You can use me to influence the world around me.  Draw me further on as I follow Jesus and pursue His life passionately and intently.  Amen.

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Cure


Your Word is the medicine for my malady
It is the cure for the pestilence of my past.
Your truth lights the darkness of my heart
Filling me with a love that will last.

 

You are the cure
The healer of my soul
You make me pure
Refined like gold
Remove my impurity
Restore my infirmity
Redeem my destiny
Make me pure

 

Your Will is the motive for my mission
It is the way to vanquish all that’s vain.
Your strength heals the weakness of my heart
Filling me with courage once again

 

You are the cure
The healer of my heart
You make me pure
A brand new start
Reclaim my affection
Sustain my direction
Reframe my attention
Make me pure

 

Your Way is the method to my movement
It is the path to holiness and heaven
Your Son walks with us lest we stray
And gives us something to believe in

 

You are the cure
The healer of our souls
You make us pure
Refined like gold
Remove our impurities
Restore our infirmities
Redeem our destinies
Make us pure 

Gardening Tips: In Increasing Measure


For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 (NIV)

Our sunflower finally bloomed this last week and it was well-worth the wait.  It reached a bit over 9 feet tall and the bloom is about the size of a dinner plate.  I am hoping to get a good amount of seed from the flower head and will be saving some to plant next year.  We had other plants that did not fare as well.  They stopped growing and produced little or no harvest.  To be fair to the plants, it may have been human error that caused their downfall, but they gone nonetheless with nothing left behind.

We do not have the same excuse as the plants.  Just a few verses before the passage above, Peter is clear that God “has given us everything we need.”  If we don’t grow, we have to look at ourselves.  If we don’t keep moving forward, we will move backward.  If we don’t yet have in ourselves all that is Christ, we still have room to grow.  We need everything Christ has for us.

Our sunflower apparently got everything it needed, or at least most everything.  It is strong, healthy and it is bearing fruit.  When we allow ourselves to be “gardened” by God, we will get everything we need; we will be strong, healthy and fruitful.

Lord, help me to be deeply rooted in who You are and what You desire.  May my life bear much fruit as You pour everything I need to be Your servant.  Let me have a life that reflects Your character “in increasing measure.” Amen.

Read the Directions: Do Not Over Inflate


If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:1-5 (NIV)

I have played a few different sports over the years, and in that time I have inflated a number of balls.  Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs.  They all have the same thing in common – they should not be over inflated.  Several things can happen and all of them are bad.  Over inflation can stretch the ball out of round, cause leaks and weaken the seams, all of which make the balls useless for their respective sports.  Imagine what overinflating can do to an ego.

God has designed us to work the right way.  Just like a soccer ball is designed to cut through the air when it is kicked or thrown, we are designed to work a certain way.  If we are over inflated, we won’t fly right.  We will be off balance, wobbly and inaccurate.  We can also be under inflated.  We can fall flat and unresponsive.  On the one hand we can have a view of ourselves that ignores our limitations.  We see ourselves as better than we are and even worse, better than others.  On the other hand, we can have a diminished view of what God has created us to be.  We are blind to the abundant life He can produce in our lives.  Somewhere there is humility that refuses pride but engages the fullness of life in Christ.

It is easy to get over or under inflated.  In our culture of narcissism, over inflation seems to be the norm.   We are even taught to talk ourselves up and say positive things about who we are, whether they are true or not.  Plenty of the popular talk shows are based on the “You are Special” appeal to their audiences.  They sell them on ideologies that don’t demand true change of character, only a change of perspective. You are a princess because you believe you are.  Nonsense.  There is a great gap between your belief defining the truth and the truth defining your belief.

It is just as easy to become under inflated.  Pride breaks people, whether it is the proud one or the ones who got in their way.  That brokenness can begin paterns of thinking that deny the image of God in His creation.  It is this brokenness that allows people to go into self-destructive behavior, wrecking themselves and their relationships.  Under inflated people get stuck, living flat and empty lives.  This is not the abundant life God calls us to.

There is a level of inflation that puts in the right place with God and man.  We are not full of ourselves, but what He has put in us.  We understand this, so we have no desire to fill up on anything other than what He supplies.  This gives us the ability to fly right and suffer the blows from the world without being punctured or falling flat.  When God is at the heart of what we believe about ourselves we can understand our brokenness and the hope for wholeness with confidence, not arrogance or self-pity.

I pray that God helps me see when I am trying to over inflate.  I hope that my friends and family will, in love and gentleness, point out when I am being full of myself instead of the God who loves me.  I pray that God will guard me from losing air, limiting my expectation by my brokenness instead of His power to heal and renew.  Lord help us be filled with you and nothing else. Amen.

Read the Directions: This is Not a Step


My steps have held to your paths;
my feet have not stumbled. – Psalm 17:5

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways. – Proverbs 4:26

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

Setting boundaries can be a tough job.  We are wanderers by default when it comes to doing what we are told.  We struggle to have our own way from the moment we are born. (Some moms I know think the struggle begins in the womb).  As we grow older, we learn about the boundaries and that there are consequences when we push at them or cross over them.  No matter what area of our lives we may discuss, there are always issues on boundaries.  They are a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean we do well with them.

It is clear from the passages above that God knows our propensity for boundary busting.  He has given us clear boundaries, spelled out in the lives of His people, in His decrees, in the life of His Son.  We need to watch our step.

If you search the internet with the phrase “died after falling off a ladder” you may be surprised how many results you get.  Sadly it is a common enough occurrence that it has its own line in the report on accidental death statistics.  I don’t know how many of those are caused by people ignoring clearly defined boundaries: THIS IS NOT A STEP.  There are clear signs on many things in this life that God has put there for good reason – God wants to keep us safe.

I have been foolish enough to use the non-step on a ladder before, but was never injured.  I could take that as a reason to keep on doing it, or I could take it as God’s grace and mercy sparing me and giving me another chance. I choose the latter (pun intended). I need to pay attention to those signs that God has posted.  They are there for my protection and every time I push the limits, I am closer to a fall.

Lord, help me to see, read and obey the signs You have given to us to live holy lives.  Give me the discipline to live within the boundaries You have set.  May I have ears to hear, eyes to see and a heart and mind to obey.  Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Minding Our Manners


“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?” – Ezekiel 34:17-19

Many of you may have heard the name Harold Camping of late, and the repeated predictions of the rapture.  You might have also taken note that the rapture did not occur this past weekend and will not occur on his newly predicted date.  Harold Camping fits squarely into the false prophet category; one that tramples the pasture and muddies the waters.  His hopscotch approach to interpreting scripture has damaged scores of believers, and brings ridicule from those who disdain Christianity.

It is easy to look at someone like this and blame him for the negativity that people we know have toward Christianity.   We may even find ourselves saying something like, “He’s the kind of guy that makes Christians look bad.”  The problem is that your non-Christian friends probably felt ambivalence toward Christianity before they had ever heard of Harold Camping.  The real problem is the sheep in the mirror.

I know that there have been plenty of times, through action or word, that I have trampled the pasture and muddied the waters.  My life did not reflect the shepherd or the life of the pasture He had provided.  I could blame Harold Camping for people not having a favorable view of Christianity, but I’m pretty sure I have done my fair share of making God’s pasture look less appealing.

Do I think that having a bad day in representing Christ is remotely comparable to false prophecy?  No.  But it never helps when we focus on our frustrations with the behavior of others.  God will take care of Mr. Camping, but my life in Christ is my responsibility.  Every day is an opportunity to live life in the pasture better than the day before.  Every day holds the promise of God’s mercy and grace for me to overcome the failures of yesterday.

Lord I pray that I would have eyes to watch my step, ears to hear you directing them and a will submitted to yours that I might walk them for your glory and honor.  Help me live a life in your pasture that draws others to your flock and doesn’t drive them away. Amen.

Pressing On: Turning the Page


Due to an illness, this is a re-post from February of 2010.  I hope it is a blessing to you.

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh– 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

I have heard from various job coaches and employment websites, “A good resume may help you get the job, but it won’t help you keep a job.”  This idea that what you have done is far less important than what you are doing and where you are headed comes across clearly in Paul’s statement above.  Forget your resume.  I don’t believe that Paul is asking us to be like Dory in Finding Nemo, where every moment the past is a blank slate.  Where would testimony fit in this kind of viewpoint?  What would we do with a passage like, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.”? (Hebrews 10:32 NIV)

I think Paul is warning us not to get stuck in the past, to not become those perennial fixtures at bars, bistros and church pews who share the same stories year after year.  They experience a flash of genius, a moment of brilliance or a dispensation of grace and that experience makes an impact.  Instead of this moment providing the motivation to turn the page in their story, it becomes a bookmark; their story is on pause and never is complete.  And like a story, our lives should be moving toward something; a culmination of events, choices and relationships, woven together by a merciful and just God.

However, you can’t get to the end of the story if you aren’t willing to turn the page.  Each page must be left behind to see what is on the next. Paul had a lot of interesting chapters to his story before he met Christ on the road to Damascus.  He had one of those amazing testimonies about transformation and redemption.  I’m sure he could have told his story again and again for years and impacted many people in his day.  But Paul turned the page.

Are you turning the pages of your story?  Are you willing to let go of what has been to live what is so you can move toward what can be?  Or are you reading the same page over and over again because it is safe and comfortable.  Put your trust in the “author and finisher of our faith” that your story is worth turning the page.  Someday, someone will need to read your story to help them turn the pages of their own.  Turn the page.

The Discipline of Presence


I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Knudsen, taking roll each morning to tally our attendance.  We would raise our hand and say clearly, “Present!” when our name was called from the list, signifying that our day at school had now begun.  However, there were mornings when my hand rose, and my mouth spoke, but my heart and mind were elsewhere.  I was anything but present.

While circumstances have changed, I still find myself proclaiming my presence while not really experiencing it in the moment.  It happens at work, in conversations, at home and even during prayer.  I am elsewhere.  Thankfully, we are assured that God does not suffer from this malady; He is ever present, at all times and in all places.

It causes me to wonder if this is something I am supposed to reflect in my own life.  If this is one of the characteristics of my heavenly Father, shouldn’t I try to be like Him?  When I show up, do I truly bring all of myself to the moment, or do I do whatever will get me by?

In today’s world, it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking we are more connected and present with others because of the vast amount of technology we buy for that purpose.  We email and text and chat and call at home and work and play, thinking this brings us closer together.  I believe that just the opposite is occurring.  It is all breadth and no depth.  With each email, phone call or text message we convince ourselves that we are strengthening our connections when in reality we are becoming less and less capable of being present in the moment.

It is not that technology is evil or a tool of the devil; it is that we do not develop the discipline of presence in our society.  And it is a discipline.  Or maybe it is better to say that it is the result of other disciplines.  We have to make ourselves be someplace, to focus our will on what is at hand.  How many marriages suffer from “You never pay attention to me” syndrome?  How many drivers have near misses or cause accidents because they were on the phone, putting make-up on or wandering around in their head to a song on the radio?  When was the last time you found yourself going through a list of things to do during prayer at church?

I want to learn how to be present, to be fully engaged in my life as it is happening in the place that it is happening, immersed in what God is doing.  This series will explore ways for us to become better at being present in the moments of our lives.  I hope that you find the upcoming posts useful and edifying.

In Loving Memory of Mike Gower


In Memory of Mike Gower

I first met Mike back in 1991.  He and Caroline had taken on the Resident Directorship for the men’s dorm at Simpson College and none of us knew then how much their presence would impact our lives.  We knew him then only as Gower, the big voiced, gregarious general with a strong handshake and a ready laugh, but we soon knew him as the compassionate, loving, wise and patient mentor who directed young men and women into a deeper life with God.

I remember being a resident assistant under his leadership, learning more about what it meant to serve others from him than I did in many of my theology courses.  He was an artisan with relationship, becoming the right person at the right time for each person under his care.  His prayers were insightful, purposeful, and always available.  He loved Caroline “as Christ loves the church” where all of us could see it and aspire to the same love.

I remember visiting Mike in the hospital the day after his open heart surgery with a fellow resident assistant to see how he was doing.  He spent most of our visit asking about how everyone was doing in the dorms.  He seemed indestructible, focusing his will on getting back to what and who he loved.

I remember the premarital counseling sessions that he did with Molly and me, challenging us to love each other more every day.  He pushed us to ask the hard questions and encouraged us to accept the hard answers.  He helped us lay a good foundation for a life together and we are both very grateful.

Choices and changes took our family away from Redding and the Gowers, but each time we returned we looked forward to seeing them and re-connecting.  And each time they made us feel like the connection had always been there, strong and true and genuine.  We finally moved back to Redding a few years ago and stepped back through the doors of our old church, Risen King, to be greeted again by Mike.

It was good to feel that handshake again, strong and true and genuine.  Mike put as much love into a single handshake as many people put into their deepest friendship.  If you were fortunate, his handshake would be followed closely by a hug from Caroline, God’s love and joy in each gracious embrace.  Together they not only welcomed people into a service, they extended an invitation to belong and be loved.  I don’t know if there are greeters in Heaven, but I certainly know someone who can do the job.

I miss Mike.  It will be some time before the sore spot in my heart and spirit go away, but if that is the worst I have to suffer for having called him friend, so be it.  My prayer is that I will not forget that handshake and the loving attitude of service that was extended with each simple greeting.  I hope that someday I can have that same love and grace toward others.  I want my marriage to be a reflection of God’s love for His people.  I want to be like Mike.

You’ll Never Blog Alone


A fellow blogger, Nick, recently posted an explanation of the blog links on his blog site so readers would know what they were and why they were there.  I think it is a great idea and therefore will be stealing it, feeling remorse only for not having thought of it first.

Below is a list of the blog sites I have listed on the right side of the page under the heading “Good Sites.”  I hope you will be able to take the time to visit them and check out the great insights and writing you will find there.

Bill Randall’s Blog: Bill is the Senior pastor at Risen King Community Church and puts forth his ponderings about life with Christ on his site.  Challenging essays on discipleship, prayer, spiritual transformation and more will certainly help you in your walk with God.

Cee-plicity: Cindy Coloma is an accomplished fiction writer with several books under her belt, a speaker, writing coach and teacher.  She is also one of the founding members of a writer’s group in Shasta County California, Quills of Faith.  Cindy writes about life, writing and other issues on her site.

Crafting Mysteries & Suspense: Cathy Elliott is a mystery writer with a heart of gold.  She is also one of the driving forces for Quills of Faith (She came up with the name), encouraging many of the members in their writing pursuits, myself included.  Her blog is about her life and writing, providing information on her speaking expertise and writing acumen. 

Ebs and Flows: Nick has put together a great site here, a collection of authors blogging on the Christian life.  On the website’s “About” page it says, “This is a blog about Christian living that is trying to stay grounded in reality while also striving for that lofty target of emulating Jesus in the world.”  Sounds good to me.

JBM Thinks: In Janis’s own words her site is “A mom’s journey of faith, family, sports, and life.”  Great writing and helpful insights from a mother’s perspective.

Tim Kayser’s Blog: Tim is the executive pastor at Risen King Community Church.  He is a great preacher, a kind teacher and trusted friend.  He has put together an annotated biography of books he read during his sabbatical.  Some fascinating information if you are interested in the theology of the church.