Will you be my Valentine?

will_you_be_my_valentineDo you remember asking the question, often with an accompanying small, awkwardly sized card and a box of tasteless, sugar hearts?

“Will you be my Valentine?” It’s a pretty vulnerable question to ask when you are in grade school and your heart is on your sleeve (I still remember the 4th grade when Dalene Whitney told me yes then no then yes again all in the same day).

It’s even more vulnerable years later when you ask a variation of the question: “Am I still your Valentine?”

Today is the 22nd year that Jessica has been my Valentine, and I’m desperately hoping that I’ve been a good Valentine for her. I hope that her years of having me as her Valentine have reinforced in her the reality of God’s overwhelming love. When she stops to count her blessings I hope she has overwhelming evidence that God—through me—has been good to her.

And this isn’t just a post about Jessica and me! It’s a question for all of us to ponder as we think about our many sweethearts today. Have we made them better? Have we been agents of healing? Have we lived and loved so well that our children, students, friends, family members, and loved ones have evidence of a good and gracious God? God is good and gracious and loving and kind; the question is: have our lives highlighted that reality?

One of the most remarkable things about the Gospel story is that God allows us humans to represent Him to our world. Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we fall down on the job. If you’ve fallen down on the job it doesn’t mean the story is over. Valentine’s Day is a perfect day for refreshing resolutions and charting the courses in life that we truly want to follow.


Read the red and pray for the power!

red-lettersRead the red and pray for the power.

These were the instructions that Dr. Fuchsia Pickett gave to our class when Jessica and I were in Bible school in the early 90s, and I think they are the perfect marching orders for each of us as we start a New Year together.

Yesterday, Grace Church committed to three New Year resolutions, and I would love for you to join us as well.

  1. We set a human goal. This is an area of our lives that can be changed solely through the efforts of our determined humanity. We don’t need God’s help to accomplish this goal—we simply need some leverage and true resolve.
  2. We set a supernatural goal. This is an area that will require some divine intervention—we will not be able to accomplish this goal unless God gets involved.
  3. In order to position ourselves for our supernatural goals, we committed to a 90-day “Read the red and pray for the power” New Year campaign.

Our “Read the red and pray for the power” campaign includes two elements: we are going to read a 90-day Bible reading schedule called “Read the red stuff” that will take us through all of the written words of Jesus Christ in 90 days, and we are going to engage in focused prayer around three areas. If you aren’t a part of Grace Church, your three prayer targets will differ slightly from these, but here are the items we are praying for at Grace:

  1. We are praying for each others’ supernatural goals.
  2. We are praying for our “becoming”—we want to step more fully into our individual and collective destinies in 2017.
  3. We are praying for resolution regarding a permanent church facility.

Please join us. Let’s work hard and pray hard this year. Let’s live 2017 to the best of our human abilities and then let’s pray for some things that are dependent on an amazing God. My daily prayer book, The Valley of Vision, includes the following prayer: “May my desires be enlarged and my hopes emboldened, that I may honor you by the greatness of my request.” Let’s not focus on trivia this year; let’s ask some great things of a great God.

You can download a copy of the “Read the red stuff” Bible reading schedule here, and join our campaign today.

Happy New Year! Know you are loved.

Luck is John Doe for God

luckyIn response to challenges that answers to prayer are nothing more than coincidence, Bishop William Temple said, “When I pray coincidences happen, when I don’t they don’t.” I certainly agree with the first half of Temple’s response—coincidences definitely happen more frequently when I pray.

But sometimes they also happen when I don’t pray.

Do you think God ever answers prayers that we don’t even think to pray? Do you think that sometimes our luck or good fortune might actually be GOD pressing closer to us?

Pastor Erwin McManus once said that “Luck is John Doe for God.” I love that. What if luck is God’s attempt to interact with people who don’t even realize that they are being pursued by God? What if luck is actually an interruption from heaven?

Let’s try something. Every time we experience unexpected good fortune, let’s pause to see if God might be behind it. Let’s let lucky coincidences become opportunities to center our focus on God—perhaps He is trying to get our attention in some way.

Maybe the coincidences are indeed just luck. Maybe there isn’t anything sovereign or divine attached to them. But then again maybe there is. Maybe those things are a fulfillment of James 1:17 that tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

Politics: Hold your nose and hold your nose tighter

Stuffed nose: boy with clothespin on his nose, simulating cold. Undated B/W photograph. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Hold your nose and hold your nose tighter.”

That’s how some sociologists describe the game of American politics today. Even when people fervently support a particular nominee or political party they usually do so in spite of certain inconsistencies, flawed voting records, or general character issues or deficiencies. They support their candidate…mostly.

This has probably never been truer than it is today in our current presidential election, with national polls revealing widespread, general distrust of both candidates. Additionally, this current election cycle is probably the most combative, aggressive, and divisive campaign that I have witnessed since I voted in my first presidential election in 1992.

If I may I would like to share a pastoral perspective on how Christians should be processing and approaching this current political cycle.

First, we need to NOT allow this round of politics to become a divisive issue in our churches. Our churches contain representatives from both sides of the political aisle. Let’s transcend the political chaos, remain firmly attached to our higher citizenship in God’s Kingdom, and not allow our national political circus to cause division and broken relationships within our congregations.

One of the ways to do this is for all of us to humbly acknowledge the flawed elements of our chosen candidate. There are legitimate questions and concerns to be raised with each of the presidential nominees. Rather, than ignoring those concerns and becoming defensive and belligerent with one another, let’s recognize that fair, wise, thinking people can come to different conclusions from us.

Second, let’s vote as closely as we can to our values. As followers of Christ, we must ask, “What are our core, animating principles?” What issues of life, liberty, and international concern most closely align with our deepest-seated values and the teachings of Jesus Christ? Which candidate aligns the closest to our most cherished values? We must take the time to find out and then vote accordingly.

Third, we can never stop praying about all of the issues, problems, and opportunities in our world today. Remember that the Apostle Paul placed prayers for leaders and authority figures near the top of our prayer lists (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Fourth, let’s live our faith. This is an amazing time in which to live courageous, noble, God honoring lives in our generation. Let’s do so for the glory of God and for the future of our world.

Morning Dedication (A Puritan prayer to start our day)

prayer-warriorAlmighty God, as I cross the threshold of this day, I commit myself, soul, body, affairs, friends, to your care; watch over, keep, guide, direct, sanctify, bless me.

Incline my heart to your ways; mould me wholly into the image of Jesus, as a potter forms clay; may my lips be a well-tuned harp to sound your praise; let those around me see me living by your Spirit, trampling the world underfoot, unconformed to lying vanities, transformed by a renewed mind, clad in the entire armor of God, shining as a never-dimmed light, showing holiness in all my doings.

Let no evil this day soil my thoughts, words, hands. May I travel miry paths with a life pure from spot or stain.

In needful transactions let my affection be in heaven, and my love soar upwards in flames of fire, my gaze fixed on unseen things, my eyes open to the emptiness, fragility, mockery of earth and its vanities.

May I view all things in the mirror of eternity, waiting for the coming of my Lord, listening for the last trumpet call, hastening unto the new heaven and earth.

Order this day all my communications according to your wisdom, and to the gain of mutual good.

Forbid that I should not be profited or made profitable.

May I speak each word as if my last word, and walk each step as my final one.

If my life should end today, let this be my best day.


Before and after selfies (help for young media socialites)

engrossed in phones

friends selfies

One…two…three…smile for a selfie.

Aren’t selfies—photographic self-portraits—a curious phenomenon? Much has been written recently about the psychology of the selfie, and what our fascination with self-portraits says about us humans. My goal in this post isn’t to add my two cents to that conversation, but rather to offer a word of encouragement for those of you who sometimes feel hurt or left out because of today’s selfie/Instagram craze.

If you’ve ever felt left out or rejected when you see your groups of friends posting fun-filled selfies without you, please consider a couple of thoughts.

People aren’t always having as much fun as their selfies suggest. I recently heard about four young girls who were standing in line at a theme park, thoroughly engrossed in their respective smart phones. They were oblivious to one another, lost in their personal online worlds, when one of the girls suddenly said, “Hey, let’s take a selfie!” The other girls agreed, crowding together, and striking happy, laughing poses until the selfie was taken. Then they all checked the selfie to approve of how they looked, and then they separated and returned to their isolated smart phone viewing.

A carefully selected and posted selfie isn’t always an accurate representation of how much fun people are having without you. Sometimes they’re having more fun than the selfie suggests, but often they’re not. Selfies by nature capture a happy scene, but they say nothing about the accompanying drama and issues that could possibly be going on behind the scene.

Also, viewing other people’s selfies makes us forget about all of the times that we did fun things without them. Since posted selfies of friends highlight and immortalize the fact that our friends had fun without us, they tend to make us feel worse than we need to feel. Before the days of Facebook, Instagram, and selfies, we never had frame-by-frame updates about what our friends were doing without us, and we were just fine.

Now, however, when we see them having fun without us we can feel rejected, and that momentary sting makes us forget about all of the times when we did fun things without our friends. We’ve done tons of things without our friends, and we weren’t rejecting them. We were simply living life.

Let’s help our kids and young friends hold these things in perspective, and let’s make sure that our selfies and social media apps are tools that enhance our life without inflicting unnecessary hurt upon others or upon our own souls.

Why Every Pastor Should Work Out

rockyEvery pastor at every age should work out. They should exercise, eat well, get sleep, drink lots of water, and practice moderation in all other areas of consumption.

Granted, physical exercise is a distant second to our other priorities, such as prayer, teaching, and pastoral counseling, etc., but it is still important. Paul didn’t forbid Timothy from exercising or showing concern for his physical health, he simply said that its profit was only “little” compared to more eternal priorities and rewards (1 Timothy 4:8).

Here’s the thing though. Pastors need to stay engaged in those more eternal priorities for an entire lifetime. We can’t be burning out or quitting prematurely because we’ve let the health of our bodies lag behind our spirits.

In a 2010 New York Times article, clergy members were dubiously ranked as having higher rates of obesity, hypertension, and depression, as well as lower life expectancies, than most Americans (For the article link, click here).

I certainly understand the stresses and pressures that accompany the clergy lifestyle, and indeed it seems nearly unavoidable to remain free from some of those effects; however, one of our perks as pastors and ministry leaders—if we’ll take advantage of it—is our ability to govern our time. We have the luxury of controlling our calendars and building moderate workout routines into the rhythm of our weekly schedules, and thus reaping the benefits of both increased strength and flexibility, and decreased stress and depression.

Church Leader, we need you. This generation needs you. And we’re going to continue needing you for many years and decades to come, so let’s commit to not letting Big Macs, soft drinks, or sedentary lifestyles cut our ministries short. Let’s devote a “little” time each week to the discipline of physical fitness so that we can spend years devoting the “majority” of our time to the things that matter most.

If you want to go for it and ramp up your workout commitments, here’s the skinny (no pun intended):

  1. Eat 5 or 6 small meals per day, containing balanced portions of protein, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.
  2. Drink 7 or 8 glasses of water each day.
  3. Lift weights three days each week, working out each body part once per week (a simple weightlifting routine of this nature should only take about thirty minutes to complete, including a few minutes to stretch and warm up).
  4. Do twenty minutes of cardio training (running, walking, biking, etc.) three times each week. Try to use an interval approach to your cardio routines, wherein you vary your running, walking, or biking speeds (interval training boosts the metabolism and strengthens cardiovascular health better than static cardio does). By the way, if you lift weights and do your cardio on the same day, lift weights before your cardio training.
  5. Pick a day each week where you rest your body and engage in some guilt-free eating of your favorite high calorie foods and desserts. You will have earned it, and it won’t be terribly detrimental to your overall workout aims.