Why?

Tonight I will be doing a funeral for an 18 year old girl who died tragically last week.  Her name was Bridgette and she worked at the local Dunn Bros. coffee shop.  Since we don’t have an office, I spend most of my afternoons over at Dunn Bros. working from one of the comfortable chairs near the roaster.  And it was there that I got to know Bridgette.  She often would come and talk with me in between customers.  She had been through many struggles, but was really putting her life back together.  She was getting ready to leave the following morning for college.  Her car was already packed with all of her belongings.  She had goals, dreams, and plans that she was about to pursue.

My reaction to her death has been all over the place.  From shock, to sadness, to a refusal to accept it, with maybe even a little bit of anger thrown in for good measure.  I will miss Bridgette.  And it doesn’t seem fair.  Why her?  Why now?

Actually, it is only natural for a tragedy like this to bring up all sorts of questions.  At a time like this, many people question the meaning of life, or what happens to us when we die, or what in the world God is doing?  And that is understandable.  Right now many people are hurting, or confused, or angry, or frustrated, or depressed over what happened to Bridgette.

And it is at times like this that I am reminded how nice it is that I believe in a God who is bigger than all my questions.  I believe in a God who can handle my anger and frustration, and who understands my confusion and depression.  He is a God of Hope.  A God of Truth.  A God of Love.  He is faithful, even when I am struggling with making sense of what is going on.

For those of you who may also be struggling with questions, I encourage you to find your answer in God.  Check out some of the other blogs in this website to find out more about this God that I am talking about.  I particularly recommend the blog, called “A Glimmer of Hope.”  It talks about a man who was able to have hope in the midst of a terrible time.

I also want to invite you to share your questions and thoughts with me.  You can typically find me on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons over at Dunn Bros. (corner of 2nd street and HWY 41, downtown Chaska) sitting in one of the big comfy chairs by the window and the roaster.  Feel free to come over and join me.  I would love to talk with you more about hope.  You can also feel free to send an email or give me a call, or even consider stopping by some Sunday for church.  The River is a great place to come if you have some questions about who God is.

Get In The Boat!

We had a great time this past Sunday in church talking about leaving our comfort zones to follow Christ in a whole new way.  We looked at Matthew 14, where we see Jesus walking on the water and then Peter joining Him.  The main point was that while we tend to identify with the guys who stayed in the boat instead of walking on the water, in reality we probably are not even in the boat.  We are more like the crowd of people who followed Jesus enough to be fed (the feeding of the 5,000 is the passage right before this one), but who did not leave everything behind and get in the boat like the disciples did.  So in reality, the challenge is not for us to get out of the boat and walk on the water, it is for us to get into the boat so that eventually maybe we can get out of the boat and walk on the water.

That opens up a great discussion on what does “getting into the boat” represent in our lives?  In what way is God calling us to a more radical following of Him than we are currently doing.  And once we establish what that is, are we going to be willing to go beyond simply being fed by Jesus and take that step of faith to follow Him in a radical way?   

You know the Bible is filled with wonderful stories of men and women that followed God in an unusual way.  They stepped out of their comfort zone in faith and experienced God in incredible ways.  Men and women like David, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, Peter, Paul, Timothy and others.  Of course throughout the history of the Bible, there are men and women who followed God enough to be fed by Him and never took that extra step of faith to experience Him in a radical way.  Those people are mentioned only as part of the crowd.  They are not the people we look to as examples.  We don’t hear many sermons preached on them.  But most of us are content with simply living our lives as part of a crowd who are following God enough to be fed.  The question is, do we want more?  Do we dare to step out in faith and get in the boat with Jesus, leaving behind our comfortable lives to follow Him in a radical way?

I challenge all of us to consider this question: What does, “getting into the boat” mean for me?  What does it look like for me to leave behind my comfortable life and follow Christ?  How is He calling me to follow Him?

You can listen to the “Get In The Boat!” sermon from April 3 by going to our online sermon page (https://riveralliance.com/?page_id=70).  I received so many comments from people after the sermon that I will be following up this Sunday with a closer look at how these guys got in the boat in the first place.  So if you are nearby, please come out and join us this Sunday.  And feel free to comment on this post to start a dialogue about what “getting in the boat” means for each of us.

How Good Is This Book?

I recently read the book, “How Good is Good Enough,” by Andy Stanley.  It is a short, easy read, but contains a powerful message.  The focus of the book is that no matter how hard we try, we can never be good enough to earn our way to Heaven.  Andy Stanley takes a look at the problem with trying to be good enough.  For instance, even if we believe we have been good, how do we know if we have been good enough to make it to Heaven?

In this book the author quotes a recent survey where people were asked if they believed in Heaven and Hell.  “Almost 90 percent of Americans said they believe there is a Heaven, while only 30 percent believed in hell as a real place.  And almost nobody who believed in hell thought they were going there.”  (Stanley, pp.20-21)  If that’s true then does that mean that just about everybody is really going to make it to Heaven?  And if not, then how can we know for sure that we are one of those that will? 

Andy Stanley points out other problems with simply hoping that we have been good enough and then lays out an alternative.  He says that instead of trying to be good enough, we need to be forgiven and points to Jesus Christ as the way to receive that forgiveness. 

This book provides some much needed answers for those who are striving to be good enough to earn their way to Heaven or for those who are not sure if they will go to Heaven when they die.  It is not a deep theological book and is not really for mature Christians who are looking for spiritual formation, but would be a great book to give to those who are searching for answers.  For that reason, I recommend this book.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.  I signed up for their “Blogging for Books” program and will occassionally be posting reviews of the books I receive.

Canned Peaches

Have you ever eaten a canned peach?  They’re pretty good right?  My kids enjoy them so much that they even fight over the left over juice.  Canned peaches come in very handy during the colder months, when a variety of fresh fruit is much harder to come by.

I like canned peaches, but the other day I was peeling a fresh peach for my daughter and I was thinking about canned peaches.  Have you ever thought about the difference?  Canned peaches and fresh peaches don’t even seem like the same thing.  They have very different flavors.  I am sure it has to do with the canning procedure, but whatever the reason, it changes the flavor and makes them different.

But not only are they different, they also just aren’t as good.  There is something really wonderful about eating a big, juicy, fresh peach, with the juice running down your face.  You know what I’m talking about!  Canned peaches are pretty good, but they pale in comparison to the real thing.

Imagine if all you ever knew was canned peaches in your life and then all of a sudden you get your first taste of a fresh peach.  Wow, what a difference!  And you are thinking to yourself, where has this freshness been all my life?  Why have I settled for canned peaches, when fresh peaches are so great? 

So while I was standing there peeling that fresh peach for my daughter and thinking about canned peaches, another thought came to me.  How often do we settle for canned peaches in our spiritual lives?  I think that happens alot.  We are satisfied with our relationship with God being pretty good.  We read our Bible, we pray, and we go to church and participate in worship.  Everything is pretty good.  And we are satisfied with pretty good.  But is that all there is?

I want to challenge you today, to take some time and consider if your relationship with God is more like canned peaches or fresh?  Does God have more in store for you that you are not enjoying simply because you are satisfied with your spiritual life being just pretty good?  Consider David, who in Psalm 42 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.”  Does that sound like a man who is looking forward to some canned peaches?

This Sunday, I will be talking about a new way of looking at prayer.  It fits in well with this idea of canned peaches compared to fresh.  I don’t want to ever be satisfied with canned peaches, when there is freshness available to me.

Hospitality

My wife Julie was diagnosed with pneumonia last Friday.  The doctor told her that she had to go home and go to bed.  She was told to treat it as if she was in the hospital even though she was at home.  I know that many people have been praying for her and thankfully she has begun to feel a little better.  The fever finally broke and while the cough is still prevalent, at least some of the pain has subsided. 

Now of course, when mommy is laid up the rest of the home is put in a tough position as well.  The kids still need to be taken care of, the house still needs to be cleaned, the laundry needs to be done, and of course everyone still needs to eat.  We have four children, ages 2-10 and so you can imagine that while Julie has been recuperating, my life has been kind of out of whack.  I have been trying to be both mommy and daddy for the last few days as well as taking care of a sick wife. 

Thankfully my work is flexible and I have been able to do a lot of work from home so that the kids are still okay.  I also can multi-task, at least to some extent, which means that I can get laundry and other household tasks done while also working on my sermon and even writing this blog. 

But one of the reasons these last few days have gone so well is because of the ministry of hospitality provided to us by our River Church family.  Julie’s parents live nearby, but they were on their way out of town when Julie was diagnosed.  Julie’s mom offered to postpone our trip, but I told her to go ahead and go, because while it would be convenient to have her here, we also have a church family here with us and they have really stepped up. 

We have had a few people volunteer to take the kids for a time so that I could get work done or run errands.  And we have had several families that have brought us meals so that I did not have to think about cooking dinner.  What a blessing everyone has been.

This is part of what it means to “be the church.”  We are called to show hospitality to one another.  We are supposed to care for one another.  It isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always convenient.  But we do it because we are called to “be the church.”  I am so thankful to our church family for the blessing they have been during this time of need.  Thanks church!

Leadership Summit

So this past week I was at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit Simulcast in Bloomington.  It was a great conference featuring speakers like Bill Hybels, Jim Collins, Tony Dungy, Andy Stanley, and TD Jakes among others.  The Summit is a nice blend of men and women who approach leadership from different perspectives.  Topics included change, endurance, mentoring, tension, and motivation, again, among others.  Several of the names on the docket for this conference were ones that I recognized, but there were a few that I had never heard of before.  And suprisingly it was some of those that impacted me the most.

One of my favorite sessions happened to be an interview with Terri Kelly, the CEO of W.L. Gore & Associates (Gore-Tex).   I actually ran out of space trying to taking notes from some of the points she was making.  The interesting thing is that she was not coming at this from a church leadership viewpoint, but rather from one that was purely business.  But so much of what she was saying fits with the church as well.

For instance, she pointed out that a good leader doesn’t simply tell people what to do, but rather provides influence about what is important.   That is so true of my job as pastor and the leadership of the church.  We need to provide influence about what is important.  We need to be listening to the Lord and seeing where He is at work and what He wants us to do, and bring that to the church so that we can follow the Lord together.  In order for that to happen we need to have a common foundation, which is the Lord, and a common set of values.  We talk often about our vision and purpose and the reason is because we all need to be on the same page so that we have a framework for making decisions about what we are going to do and not do.

Another great presentation was an interview with Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric and author of the book, “Winning.”  He said that it is the leaders’ job to energize people, not through cheerleading or hyping something up, but by getting them to feel the vision. 

What a great concept that is.  Do you feel the vision?  I hope so.  We, at The River, believe we are called to “be the church.”  That is who we are.  We are committed to bringing maximum glory to God through knowing Christ and making Him known to every man, woman and child in the community of Chaska and to the regions beyond.  We will do that through authentic community, intentional discipleship, Spirit-filled worship, Kingdom praying, and missional living.  I hope you feel the vision.  Let’s be the church!

Another great presentation was with Blake Mykoskie, the founder of Tom’s Shoes Inc.  He made a great point about asking people to do audacious things.  I really liked that.  Tom’s Shoes gives away a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes that is bought.  That is pretty audacious.  I want us, as a church, to step up and do audacious things.  Obviously, it needs to be in line with what God is calling us to do, but I believe we sometimes miss out on big things because we are afraid to step out of the boat and trust God to help us walk on water. 

All in all, this was a great conference.  I am really glad that I had an opportunity to be there.  I pray that God will help me to be the leader He has called me to be and that He will use me to lead the church in becoming the church that He is calling us to be.

Join us at River City Days

Come and visit us at Chaska’s River City Days this weekend, July 23-24.  River City Days is Chaska’s annual community celebration.  It is sponsored by several local community organizations and businesses and features food, games, and arts and Crafts booths.  The festival is held downtown in the Chaska City Square.  You can check out the River City Days website at http://www.chaskarivercitydays.com/.

The River will have a booth this year with clowns making balloon animals, prize drawings for Dunn Bros. gift cards, and opportunities to talk with people from our church family and with Pastor Rob.  Our booth will be located just off of 41 and 3rd Street.  Come on by and visit with us.

Also, on Sunday, July 25 our worship time, which regularly meets at The Rex Cinema, will be moving out to the City Square at 9:30 a.m.  Love INC will be having a fundraising Pancake Breakfast and we will be kicking off a time of worship music with 6 different churches from the surrounding area.  Come on out and join us for this time of worship and breakfast.

Open Wide Your Mouth

Today in my devotions I came across Psalm 81:10, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  That is a beautiful and powerful verse.  When I think of it, I get the picture of a nest of baby birds with their mouths wide open toward the sky waiting for their mother to feed them.  They have their mouths so wide open that you can’t even see their face.  They are hungry and they know that food is coming.  So they are straining with every ounce of muscle they have to be ready to receive that food.

Today I had a conversation with a woman whose husband has been out of work for several months and they are not able to pay for this month’s rent.  She has been trusting God and knowing that He has a plan, but she is tired.  She is ready for this to be over.  She is ready for God to come swooping in and give them what they need.  She is waiting and wondering where God is in the midst of this.

And I don’t blame her.  I understand how she feels.  How do those two pictures go together?  God says “open wide your mouth and I will fill it.”  So what’s the deal?  Is her mouth not wide open enough?  Where is the filling?

Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever wondered where God is in the midst of what you are going through?  Have you ever wondered what God is doing and when He is going to come along and provide what you are hungry for and in need of?  Those are tough times, are they not?  So how do we wait for feeding time?  How do we hang on for God?

Let’s consider this verse from Psalm 81 a little closer.  Notice that first we see a reminder of who God is.  That God is faithful and more than capable of providing for our every need.  We have seen God at work over and over again and we can know that He is able to care for our needs today just like He did for the Israelites so many years ago.

So the first place we need to start is with trust.  We need to trust God.  He knows our needs and actually knows even better than we do what is best for us.  And He is fully capable of meeting those needs.  He has proved Himself faithful time and again and we can trust in Him.  But I believe the second part of that verse carries this concept to a whole new level.  Opening wide our mouths is an action for us to take.  It is us saying that we know that God is powerful, and faithful, and that He will provide, and us actively putting ourselves in the position for God to pour out whatever we need from Him.

Now along with that goes an understanding that we are vulnerable in that position.  Think of the birds for a moment.  They opened their mouths so wide that they couldn’t possibly see what was coming.  They trusted their mother to not only feed them, but to give them what would be good for them.  The mother bird could put anything into their mouths at that moment and they wouldn’t be able to do anything about it.  Opening our mouths wide in expectation puts us in a position of vulnerability before the Lord.  And I believe that vulnerability is key.

When we are in that position we are saying to God, fill me Lord, I trust in you to give me whatever you choose to give me.  When we get to that position we are abandoning our plans and putting ourselves completely in His hands, trusting that whatever He gives us will be exactly what we need. 

Many times we want God to feed us or help us, but only as long as His plan comes into line with what we want for ourselves.  We want Him to feed us, but we want to choose the menu.  But God wants us in this position we see in Psalm 81:10, with our mouths so far wide open that we are completely trusting Him to give us what we need.

I know some of you out there are hurting and hungry.  I want to invite you to open wide your mouths to the Lord.  Remember His faithfulness and power, and trust Him to give you exactly what you need.  Open wide your mouth to the Lord and let Him fill it.

Noah’s Ark?

You may have heard the reports that  a group, called Noah’s Ark Ministries International, are claiming that they have found Noah’s Ark.  This combined Turkish/Chinese group have stated that they believe with 99.9% accuracy, that they have found the remnants of the ark encased in a glacier on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey.  They claim to have carbon dated some of the wood at 4,800 years old. 

If you are interested in finding out more about this story, you can check out the news article from the perspective of ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/finding-noahs-ark-filmmaker-found-pieces-biblical-treausure/story?id=10495740

I don’t know if what they found is really the ark that we read about in the Bible, or not, but when it comes right down to it, it really doesn’t matter.  Our faith does not rest on what is found or not found by archaeologists, geologists, anthropologists, and other scientists.  Our faith is not based on what we can and can’t prove.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  That doesn’t mean that as Christians we have to turn our brains off, but ultimately our faith is not based on what scientists prove, it is based on God as He reveals Himself to us in His Word.

There are some great scientists out there who are pursuing their fields of study from a Biblical perspective and I greatly appreciate their work.  One of my favorite museums is The Creation Museum, which is located just outside of Cincinatti. A good portion of the museum is dedicated to the great flood and Noah’s ark and how the impact of a worldwide cataclysmic event, like the flood, would have changed the earth’s landscape and could account for the reason scientists claim that the earth is billions of years old.  You can find out more about The Creation Museum at, http://creationmuseum.org/

I enjoy The Creation Museum, I have taken several classes in geology and physical geography, I even had a subscription to Biblical Archaeology for awhile, so I enjoy the intellectual pursuit of answers about how this earth came to be and how we can understand it better.  But ultimately I begin with the Bible and everything else must be interpreted by what I read there.  And what is found or not found by archaeologists over the years is not going to dictate what I believe.  Hebrews 11 goes on to say in verse 3, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” 

As we walk through this world and examine the universe around us we need to start with faith.

Tebow or not Tebow, That Is The Question!

So this weekend was the NFL Draft.  I am a Redskins fan and I also root for the Colts and the Vikings (based on where I used to live and where I live now).  So I followed all three of those teams along with some of my favorite college players to see what happened.

If you are unfamliar with the NFL Draft, here is how it works.  Each NFL team gets assigned a draft number based on how they did in the previous season.  The worst teams pick first and the better teams pick later.  Then the draft is divided into rounds and each team, one at a time, selects a player from the college ranks to join their team. 

The teams make their picks based on a number of criteria.  Obviously, they have watched how those players did in their college careers.  They also have an event, called the NFL Combine, each year before the draft where the players get measured and weighed and then perform a number of drills that are meant to measure their speed and strength and other physical factors.  There are also other criteria like IQ tests and personal interviews that go into the mix and eventually each team ranks the players available based on how they have interpreted all those criteria.

Going into the draft the player that caused the most debate was QB Tim Tebow from Florida.  First of all let me just say that I have always liked Tebow.  He is a strong Christian man with excellent character.  There was a phenomenal interview with him in ESPN the magazine back in the fall of 2009, where he basically shared the plan of salvation and they included it in the article.  

The reason there was so much debate about Tebow before the draft was because although he is considered one of the greatest college football players to have ever played the game, some question whether or not he will be able to transfer that success into the NFL.  His detractors question his size, his physical ability, his throwing style, and the offense that he played in during college.

The highlight of the NFL Draft this weekend was the selection of Tim Tebow by the Denver Broncos with the 25th pick of the first round.  Immediately the debate raged on by the announcers who said that he didn’t have what it takes to be a great NFL quarterback.  But the Broncos chose not to focus on his physical qualities, and his throwing motion and instead focused on his leadership ability, his strong work ethic, his character, and his passion and commitment for the game.  And for that reason, they chose him earlier than most experts had him going.

It remains to be seen as to whether Tebow ends up having a great NFL career or not, but this got me thinking about something the Bible tells us about how God looks at man.  In the book of I Samuel, chapter 16, we see that God has told Samuel to go and annoint a new king for Israel.  He sends him to Bethlehem to the home of Jesse.  When Samuel arrives Jesse has his sons parade in front of him one at a time.  The first son comes up and he is a great physical specimen, and Samuel assumes that this is who the Lord wants him to anoint, but God tells Samuel this in verse 7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

God then leads Samuel to pass on all of Jesse’s sons until he arrives at David, who is the youngest brother and God chooses him to be the king of Israel.  And of course David turns out to be, “a man after God’s own heart” and a great king of Israel. 

I am not saying that the Broncos measured Tebow the way that God measured David, but I do appreciate they way they focused more on his heart and character, than on his physical characteristics.  Maybe if we had more teams focusing on heart and character when drafting players we might have less issues like what we see happening with Ben Roethlisburger, and so many other professional athletes these days.

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