I like to play with words. Sometimes
words break out into others words. The breakout gives depth or texture to
the original word’s meaning.
Community sounds like “common unity.”
That may seem redundant, but it helps me see that what we hold in common
connects us in a distinct way, opening the door for deeper relationship.
Our word for gospel comes from the Old English
word split, “god spell,” which meant good news. I track with the Old
English thought that God spelled out his love in Jesus, the center of the good
Beware splits out to “be aware,” that is be
wary or know what is going on. It’s a warning not to be complacent.
Don’t think that the atmosphere has not or will not change. Be on your
I started thinking about the word “beware”
because of a reading in Oswald Chambers. In several successive devotions,
the late preacher warns the believer to “beware.”
Chambers exhorts us to beware that we not take
God’s love too lightly; recognize the terrible price paid for our salvation
through Christ’s death. He also warns us not to let circumstances distract us
from a Christ-like mind, but to apply ourselves to prayer when we are
The counsel that caught my attention was to
beware wanting to be profound or deep instead of seeing God at work in the
“shallow” moments of our lives. Chambers chides the soul that wants to be
considered only deep. The soul that desires to be profound may think it
is out of devotion to God, but Chambers diagnosis this as pride. Here is
his clincher, “Beware of posing as a profound person – God came as a baby.”
Now there is a simple thought that is truly
profound. In order to relate directly with us, God came to us in the
simplicity and innocence of a baby, not the glory of a king or the wisdom of a
sage. He certainly possessed glory and wisdom, but Christ did not
broadcast them to the world. He wrapped them in the skin of an infant
then unveiled them little by little as he grew “in wisdom and in stature and in
favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
Where does this hit home? When I want to
somehow sound original and learned when I preach. What I really need is
to keep it simple. I want to appear knowledgeable when I testify of
Jesus. I don’t want to look too uncomplicated. I want a profound
thought and the right words that will cause someone to believe.
What the Lord shows me – and all of us – is that complexity can
be overrated. He uses simple things to communicate profound truth.
He even started simply – an infant on a hay bed. Beware trying to be
profound and thus prideful; keep it simple, saints, and imitate Christ’s
It’s not often that the words “cancer” and
“encouragement” show up in the same place. Today, I got to see two people
with cancer connect with others in a meaningful way…it was a God moment.
I was visiting a with friend at
Willamette Cancer Center at Riverbend. He was in the middle of a chemo
session. He was keeping a good face, but the chemicals were taking their
toll. As we visited, another man walked by and stopped. Normally,
this man would have walked out a back door. Today, he walked to the front
and “just happened” to go by us.
“I know you,” he said to me. I
introduced myself and called him by name. He said he was doing fine and I
told him I was fair. That’s when he said he was closer to fair than
fine. It was becoming obvious he was not either. My friend fished
into a bag and pulled out a wristband. On one part it says, “cancer
sucks.” On the other side, it says, “choose joy.” The man was
grateful; this gift from a fellow traveler picked up his spirits.
This man is friends with a group of pastors
I meet with monthly. I invited him to join us. He said he
would rather not but would see me some other time. No more than five
minutes later, he was back and asked if he could still join us. Most
definitely, I said. He joined us for coffee and a good discussion about
how to handle a sticky church issue. Everyone at the table
benefited. All this because this man chose to leave his cancer treatment
by a different door.
In all this rambling, you may not see what I saw. I could
see God connecting his kids for encouragement and support. He was helping
us share joy, life and wisdom. He was opening opportunities to love each
other in the midst of very difficult circumstances where there are no easy
answers. The good news is we took those opportunities and made the most
of them today. What fun! What a blessing. Wow, how good God
is to open the doors to help us walk together.
The best seat on the plane is any seat with a
window – and no wing to or engine to block the view of the ground. That
all works as long as the route is not blanketed with clouds.
Part of my trip to Fresno was through and over
the clouds that covered Portland, Salem, and Eugene. We were even flying
inside the clouds for a time – I thought driving in the fog was bad!
Somewhere around Klamath Falls, the blanket of
clouds ended and the 35,000 feet of space between our plane and the ground was
From 35,000 feet, I could follow the roads and
freeways as they cut and wound through mountain passes, roamed into hidden
valleys, and ended up in the middle of nowhere.
From 35,000 feet, the courses of rivers and
streams were clearly visible as they rushed and meandered through the
wilderness and the cities.
From 35,000 feet, I saw the effect of the wind
as it kicked up dirt and sand in the lonely places and dispersed it over the
From 35,000 feet, I could see where I would
rather travel if I were on the ground…and where I would choose not to be.
There are days I wish I could jet to 35,000
feet to look at the full lay of the land so I can go where I need to go with as
little trouble as possible. I’m speaking metaphorically. It would
be nice to see the lay of my life in its detail.
When I’m on the ground, I am unaware of where
each road leads. When I choose to ford a river, I am not always sure there
is not a bridge farther downstream…or a waterfall.
On the ground, I may find myself in the middle
of a storm where I cannot see land or sky. From the air, I would have
seen it coming and chosen a different path.
And there are plenty of times I do not
recognize that I am moving along quite well. Things are find and the road
is smooth. I don’t think about a bird’s eye view then.
When my direction is comfortable, unsure, or
wreckless, there is someone who always has a 35,000 feet view. Through
His Spirit he is able to navigate me through the needful storms and away from
the unwanted turns if I will choose to hear Him.
The Teacher gave us this word of wisdom, “In
his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
My steps have a sure guide who does see from 35,000 feet and
lived at ground level. If I listen and trust, my route will always follow
the best route.
But will God indeed
dwell with man on earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain
you, how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer
of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the
prayer that your servant prays before you.
Sometimes I think I must pray pretty small
prayers. I pray for the welfare and growth of my church. I pray for my family
and friends. I bless the Lord and confess his goodness and my need for him. But
I do not often pray for the impossible.
Solomon prayed that the Lord would come and be
among his people in the temple he constructed. Yet he recognized that even the
vastness of heaven did not contain God. If that were so, how then could this
house hold him? Solomon had perspective. He knew his building was inadequate
even though it was a remarkable human achievement in construction and design.
The building was not so much to house God but to remind people of God’s holy
presence with them. The sight of the temple was to wake them up to God’s
righteousness and mercy, his holiness and justice.
Still, he prayed that the Lord would come in
answer to his prayer to dwell with Israel, to judge her and forgive her when
she recognized her wrongs. He asked the Lord to fill that building
What are my impossible prayers? I would ask
God to save Eugene / Springfield and Fresno, California. I would ask God to renew his church and make
them all holy. I would ask that God finish poverty and homelessness in our
midst. Why do these seem impossible? Because I know everyone will not buy into
God as the source of the answer. Still, I know it is God’s desire that all
people know him and live to honor him. Paul prayed that we would know the
limits of God’s limitless love – another impossible prayer (Ephesians 3). In
perspective, it means asking God to do something incredible and standing ready
to receive his answer. The Lord filled Solomon’s temple with this presence. How
much more can he fill us with the fullness of himself when we stand ready to
receive his answer?
So a friend of mine, Rick, left his job last
year to pursue a run for a state office. Things they are a changing.
My wife, Cheryl, came back from Fresno about
the time Rick made his announcement. She brought two pieces of
memorobilia with her. One was the Fresno Bee, which heralded the retirement of
GL Johnson, 49 years the pastor of Fresno’s first mega-church. She also brought
the memorial bulletin for Marvin Hein, the pastor that married us, who was a
friend, and who recently passed into glory at the age of 82.
While Cheryl was gone, another pastor friend,
Larry, was here helping my leadership team and I envision a new future for our
church. Larry retired from local church ministry about three years ago. Now he
is helping churches get to health or decide on a different route. But even he
is talking about slowing down.
Back to Rick for a moment – he’s not old. He
just happened to be going through a change at the same time these other men
are. Add to this that his own dad passed away not long ago. Things they are a
When I look at all these things together, I
sense nothing but change all around me. Part of it is the changing of the guard
– the older generation is handing off their vision and duties to those who will
pick them up. Those who pick them up will shape them by the vision they
The change is also within the generations.
Church and faith are taking on new tones, new nuances. There is a definite
change in the feel of the gathering of believers. I see that when I meet with
my elders – I have a different way of thinking about church and even that way
is changing. For the elders, they have a picture of what church is and new ways
of thinking are hard to get their mind around. But things are still changing.
I guess I am working at defining this change
and that is really not possible. Things are changing around us and in me. Maybe
it is just the normal path of things – we get older, perspectives change and we
get swept up in the change for a time. Eventually, things settle down or the
change goes on without us because we step aside to let someone else handle it.
I do know the world is changing as these men
who have influenced me and others step aside or pass on. Now the next
generation needs to pick up the baton and move forward with it. It is our leg
to run…our time is now.
I don’t know…but things they are a changing.