Cultural Awareness

GarbageCanWMWe just moved.

Three blocks down and one street over.

About a quarter mile as the crow flies.

And yet, I soon discovered a cultural difference taking place in the exact same neighborhood.

On my old street, almost everyone rolls their garbage containers out into the street.

At our new house, virtually everyone places the bin on the grass.

Which left me with a dilemma. Do I do things as I always have, or do I adapt to my new location?

When it comes to serving as a representative of Jesus, there are some things we cannot change.

We can never alter the message of the Gospel.

Our practice should match what is prescribed in God’s Word.

And we ought not employ sin to draw others to Christ. (sadly this happens more than we may think.)

Yet, in spite of the restrictions, we are given a lot of room to adapt to the culture that surrounds us.

Paul wrote these words to describe his practice of evangelism:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV)

Cultural awareness is why missionaries learn the language and customs of the people they want to reach.

The reason? To make relationships happen more smoothly.

When we adapt to the culture around us, we show respect for the practices of others.

Hudson Taylor was a British missionary to China. He was known as the the first foreign missionary to dress in the manner of the community in which he lived. Prior to his arrival, missionaries insisted hanging onto their own customs rather than participate in the practice of the Chinese.

And guess what? Hudson Taylor made inroads like no one who had come before him.

When we enter into a new culture, the customs and practice may not always make sense to us, but if there is no sin involved, there is no reason why we can’t join in with what is the cultural norm.

I don’t know why all my neighbors park their garbage containers on the lawn rather than the asphalt.

But I do know that if I insist on setting the container on the asphalt, I may draw negative attention toward myself.

Since its not a matter of morality, I’ll go with the flow of my new neighbors. No need to upset the apple cart or draw unwanted attention to myself.

So, from here on, my trash canister will find itself parked on the grass.

 

 

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A Lesson from the Eclipse

Well it came and then it was gone. Eclipse 2017 is history.

I must admit I wasn’t as into it as much as some. But I’m old enough to have seen a few eclipses in the past.

Here in North Idaho we had a 90 % coverage of the sun. Strange how things seemed to quiet as the light subsided.

But, as the eclipse passed, a thought came to mind relating this event to our relationship with God.

This thought was generated by the fact that there were so many warnings about people not staring into the sun lest they damage their retinas.

It made me think about the fact that God is completely holy, and thus is unable to look on sin. It also made me think what a powerful thing it is to gaze upon the holiness of God.

In one instance described in the Bible, the prophet Isaiah caught a glimpse of God’s glory.

Here’s how it was described in Isaiah 6:

It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
    The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

Now we might think that such of vision would have made Isaiah say, “Wow!” But instead he said something more akin to “Whoa!”

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

When Isaiah saw God’s glory and holiness, it caused him to recognize his sinfulness.

Essentially, Isaiah thought he was toast!

Just like staring into the sun can damage a person’s eyes, staring into the holiness of God can blow out anyone’s feelings of self-sufficiency and superiority. We can go from feeling smug to feeling small in a flash.

And yet, because of Jesus, we don’t have do go around skulking around due to our sinful state.

In fact, through Christ our relationship with God changes. The Bible tells us that we can approach God with confidence because of Christ.

One of my favorite passages of the Bible is found in Romans 5. Here, Paul writes about the benefits that come from being in relationship with God through Jesus:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. ~ Romans 5:1-2 (NLT)

Knowing Christ brings peace.

Knowing Christ brings privilege.

And knowing Christ brings joy.

Today, millions of people stated into the sun. But hopefully none of them experienced any damage to their precious eyes. Why? Because they were likely wearing special sunglasses that allowed them to start into the eclipse without fear of harm.

In a way, that’s what Jesus does for us. He is the only reason we can ever approach God without fear.

 

 

 

 

Embrace the Change

“Change always starts in your mind. The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel influences the way you act.” – Rick Warren

wolf lodge creekA few days ago I went fishing on a creek that I hadn’t visited since last summer.

This creek is close to home, so it’s super easy to get to. Yet it is rarely fished.

Over the years I’ve been able to figure out many of the spots where the bigger fish like to hang out.

In fact, a couple of years ago I found a deep, rocky spot where I caught a two-pound brook trout. Which for a stream of such small stature was pretty surprising.

Even if the fish weren’t biting elsewhere on the creek, I could always return to this favored spot and expect to catch at least one sizable fish.

But last winter provided our area with record snow. And the early spring was marked by record rains. Which meant that a lot of water flowed through this drainage during the months of April and May.

So, when I recently arrived to fish my favorite spots, I discovered that the creek had completely changed.

Its banks had been rearranged.

Fallen trees were commonplace, making the trek more challenging.

And my favorite fishing hole had been filled in with a ton of loose rock. 

As I trudged upstream, I found the places where I typically stopped to fish were no longer worth the time.

At first this bummed me out, because I enjoyed a high level of familiarity with this stream. Before, I could quickly move from spot to spot without having to think a whole lot. Now I had a new challenge of figuring out how to fish a creek I once knew so well.

But then another thought struck me. Even though most of my old fishing spots had been decimated, perhaps some new spots had been created.

So I began to walk the creek with new eyes, searching for newly formed pools, troughs and riffles created by the rushing waters of the spring runoff.

And sure enough, there were plenty of brand new spots for the fish to find cover.

Rather than mourn the loss of the familiar, I embraced the idea that change could create some new opportunities and possibilities.

brookieSo I fished on.

And I caught fish.

Six of them in about an hour’s time.

Nothing huge, mind you. Just an assortment of 8-9 inch cutthroats and brookies.

So now I have a new challenge of figuring out where the larger fish are lurking.

About the inevitability of change, John Henry Newman wrote:

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

Yet for many of us, change is something we try to avoid at all costs. And when change does come (you can count on it) we spend more of our time complaining about the need to change rather than adapting to it.

The late motivational speaker Zig Ziglar offered this opinion:

“Little men with little minds and little imaginations go through life in little ruts, smugly resisting all changes which would jar their little worlds.”

I have to admit that sometimes I’m one of those little men. I see change and wonder what it will cost me, rather than consider what it might afford me.

Can you relate?

Our Model for Serving: Jesus

The measure of a man’s greatness is not the number of servants he has, but the number of people he serves.

In Matthew 20:28, Jesus declared that He did not come to earth to be served, but to serve.

Not long after, Jesus came through on that promise.

Jesus Himself would soon serve as the ultimate example of service and sacrifice.

Jesus didn’t just talk about serving others, He exemplified it!

And we are called to follow Jesus example as well.

Take a look at what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Note the challenge at the very beginning of verse 5:

“Have this mind among yourselves…”

This is our calling!

This is to be our identity!

But is this our mindset? Do we really picture and position ourselves for service to the Lord?

In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, there is a description of God’s calling of Samuel to serve Him as a minister and a prophet.

This calling happened in the middle of night, and at first Samuel the temple priest Eli was calling out his name.

So Samuel kept waking Eli up, who kept telling Samuel it wasn’t him.

Finally, Eli wised up and realized what was going on…that the Lord was reaching out for Samuel.

Here’s how the interchange played out according to 1 Samuel 3:9-10

And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Then the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

Allow me to ask a question that may help us evaluate our posture toward God when it comes to serving Him:

Are we like Samuel, ready to hear the Lord’s instruction and obey Him?

The reason I ask is because our service for God will always begin in our mind.

An attitude of service will usually work its way out through actions of service.

Do we think like a servant?

Do we see ourselves as a servant?

If not, we should…because servanthood is inseparable from the Christian life.

And if Jesus chose to serve, how can we choose anything less?

See, after the choice to follow Jesus, the choice to serve Him is the most important choice you will make.

So let me get painfully practical when it comes to thinking service by asking a few key questions:

  • In what ways do you find yourself expending yourself in service to Jesus by serving others?
  • In what ways are you helping carry the load by shouldering some type of kingdom responsibility?
  • When was the last time you offered yourself to others, intentionally deciding not to be served, but to serve?

 

A Sure Fire Path to Christian Growth

treeMany followers of Jesus say they want to grow.

In reality, some of them aren’t really that interested in spiritual maturity.

But there are others who sincerely want to grow. The problem for them is they aren’t quite sure how to go about it.

When it comes growing a garden, it really comes down to three basic components:

  • Adequate sunlight
  • Fertile soil
  • Lots of water

Take one of these out of the equation and we will soon find ourselves with dead or dying plants.

When it comes to experiencing true spiritual growth, I believe there are three things that will accelerate our development:

SPEND TIME IN THE WORD

Simply put, it’s really hard to know how to please and obey God when we don’t know his instructions. And his instructions are found in the Bible.

If you ever want to get a sense of the value and usefulness of the Bible, just read through Psalm 119. Here’s an example of what it says in verses 9-11:

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (NIV)

We not only digest the Bible by reading, but also by hearing. That’s why I recommend that a person find a church where the Bible is taught fully, simply and clearly.

Here’s the second thing to add to your spiritual growth regimen:

SPEND TIME WITH GOD’S PEOPLE

In other words, get involved in the life of a local church.

Attend services. Check out Bible studies. Find ways to serve. Engage in worship.

It’s God’s plan to use other people to help shape and form your spiritual development.

Proverbs 27:17 says:

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (NIV)

Here’s the truth: it’s really hard to grow alone.

We need others to challenge us, encourage us, counsel us and guide us.

The writer of Hebrews seemed to have it in his mind that solitude is not beneficial for the believer when he wrote these words:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV)

Bottom line, being part of a church provides us with much-needed accountability.

Last (but certainly not least), we must include the following:

SPEND TIME LISTENING AND LEARNING FROM THE SPIRIT

This may be the most mysterious and misunderstood aspect of the growing Christian life.

But the Bible makes it clear that when a person puts their trust in Jesus. Jesus puts the Holy Spirit in them.

The Holy Spirit is God living inside of us. We can’t see Him, but we can certainly experience His presence.

One of the Spirit’s primary tasks is to guide us toward holiness.

Often times the Spirit will convict our hearts when we disobey God’s will. Attitudes and actions that never bothered us before are brought to mind as unhelpful for the follower of Jesus.

And there is so much more the Spirit does on our behalf, such as:

  • Help bolster our prayer life
  • Gifts us to serve others, and in turn build up the church
  • Opens our eyes to truth
  • Gives us comfort in difficult times
  • Provides us with wisdom and power to live as God prescribes

The Word, the church and the Spirit.

When we wholeheartedly and consistently apply ourselves to these three things, we can anticipate measurable spiritual growth.

Quite often I come across people who talk about wanting to grow as a Christian, but when presented with God’s primary tools for growth, they move on, never experiencing the maturity God intends for them.

At these times, the words of G.K. Chesterton come to mind:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. it has been found difficult, and left untried.”

 

Life Skill: Giving an Appropriate Apology

FCASome of you might remember 70’s musician/guitarist Peter Frampton.

At one time he held the record for the best-selling live album with Frampton Come Alive!

After the high-flying 70’s, Frampton quickly lost momentum and came crashing down to earth. But he persevered and continued making records and performing concerts. (He even went on to win a Grammy for a an instrumental album.) He still writes, records and tours. And it seems he’s having a good time.

At least most of the time.

A week or so ago, Peter Frampton performed a concert in Minnesota, playing before an adoring crowd filled with nostalgia for days gone by.

All was fine and dandy…until Frampton became aware the images being shown on the video screen were not of him and his band, but of the audience.

Which caused him to become a bit undone.

Here’s how one news story reported the incident:

Peter-Frampton-in-concertAccording to reports and social media, Frampton was in the middle of an extended guitar solo when the video screen cut to a fan holding up a copy of the Frampton Comes Alive album, drawing applause from the audience.

Apparently Frampton would have preferred the cameraman did not cut away from the stage because he got upset when a second fan, holding up a copy of I’m With You, was displayed on the screen.

After the song ended, he reportedly tried to wrestle the camera from its operator before marching off the stage. After a brief break the guitarist returned to the stage and finished his set with the video screens turned off.

Obviously, things went a bit awry in Minnesota.

Hey, I am the first to say that everyone is going to have a bad day now and then.

Sometimes in the course of the daily grind. we can become too focused…or too tired…or we try to do too many things. The result? The wheels begin to come off. And sometimes we crash and burn. Right in front of everybody.

For most of us, we usually make our mistakes before one or two people.

When a celebrity blunders, its often before a crowd of hundreds or thousands. So, the embarrassment is greatly compounded.

But hey, no worries. A couple of days later Frampton apologized. Which should have put the whole issue to bed.

I must say, though, (in my humble opinion) the apology Mr. Frampton sought to extend left a bit to be desired.

In a Facebook post, Frampton wrote multiple paragraphs explaining why he acted the way he did.

In a nutshell, he expressed his passionate desire to present really good shows, and when things disrupt his performance, he gets thrown off and upset.

After a whole lot of explaining, he finally chose the last sentence of his lengthy post to offer a word of apology. Which I’m glad he did.

But to be honest, it felt to me that Frampton had front loaded his apology with words of justification for his bad behavior. It seemed to me like he was trying to express he had some good reasons to behave so badly.

Now, I imagine if asked about it, he would say otherwise. His heart may have been in the right place.

And in the interest of full disclosure, how many times have I done something similar? I know there are plenty of times when my apology proved to be weak and self-serving. For some reason, giving a straight and sincere apology can be quite difficult.

A few years ago I led a DVD-driven class called Resolving Everyday Conflict. One lesson was called “Accepting Responsibility: Making an Effective Apology.”

Here, in bullet point form, are the seven key principles we learned:

  • Address everyone involved
  • Avoid “ifs” and “buts”
  • Admit specifically, not generally
  • Acknowledge any hurt
  • Accept consequence for your actions
  • Alter your behavior
  • Ask for forgiveness

Included in the DVD lesson was a clip of Olympic athlete Marion Jones giving an apology after it was revealed she had made false statements to federal agents. It’s amazing how many of the above bullet points she hits as she offers a worthy apology:

Here’s the deal. A bad apology only makes things worse – sometimes worse than the offending action.

An apology is not about escaping consequences or moving on. Instead, an apology is all about taking responsibility, while at the same time, seeking to heal any hurts.

The ultimate goal is to restore any relationship that has been broken.

And once last thought: its never to late to make a good apology. Even after you’ve made a poor one.

As a fan of Peter Frampton’s music, I’m glad to give him some grace; the same grace I’d hope you would extend to me.

 

 

 

 

Jesus on Service: A New Way of Thinking

When it came to the teachings of Jesus, he often left his listeners scratching their heads.

But more than that, Jesus wanted those who heard his words to examine their hearts.

When it comes to the topic of service, Matthew 20:20-28 reveals how Jesus took an opportunity to teach his disciples who different things are in the kingdom of God as compared to the culture they lived in.

Here’s the set up for this passage:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)

So, what’s going on here?

Essentially, an ambitious mom is asking Jesus to place her sons, identified as James and John, in the positions of power and authority.

Hey, what mom doesn’t want the best for her sons?

Now, when it comes to many of His conversations, Jesus is known for asking thought-provoking questions. And here in verse 22, Jesus turns his attention toward the two men and offers this:

Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 

What an expression! “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”

What does Jesus mean by this?

Simply put, Jesus is asking them if they are willing to follow Him on the path that leads to suffering and death.

When I think about their response, I really have to wonder if they had any idea what Jesus was talking about!

Notice what Jesus says next in verse 23:

He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

Each of the disciples, except for John would go on to die a martyr’s death.

John would eventually live in exile on an Greek Island called Patmos.

Jesus knew this, and thus He was able to affirm that these two disciples would follow in his footsteps.

Now, verse 24 reveals that the word about this power grab was getting out among the other disciples:

And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.

This scene reminded me of how growing up my sisters always remembered to call out “Shotgun!” when the family loaded into the car. For some reason, I always forgot.

The other ten disciples were upset because James and John, by way of their mother, were essentially calling “shotgun” in Jesus’ kingdom.

And rather than say, “Good for you,” they instead cried out, “Not fair!”

Here’s a takeaway from all this commotion: selfishness will only lead to dissension and division.

No wonder one of Jesus’ highest values for his disciples was unity.

Well, this uproar among His men led Jesus to offer one His most important teaching sessions among his disciples:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (Matthew 20:25)

Essentially, Jesus was affirming the fact that “out there” in the normal course of life, people pursue power and prominence because it means they get to call the shots and be in charge.

It’s pretty typical to want to be the one who has other people doing our bidding.

But then Jesus utters seven eye-opening words at the beginning of verse 26 that were meant to bring the disagreement among the disciples to an end:

“It shall not be so among you.”

Boom!

In a matter of a few words, Jesus essentially tells his guys that when it comes to the operations of His kingdom, things are going to look a lot different from the kingdoms they have been used to observing!

And then Jesus offers the heart of his teaching in verses 26-28:

But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is revolutionary, isn’t it?

We might say that Jesus teaching here is upside-down and inside-out!

The question is this: will we embrace what Jesus is telling us about being part of His Kingdom?

Are we ready to think differently than the world around us?

What’s in a Name?

Kurt coke“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.” – W.C. Fields

For the most part, I’ve sworn off soda.

After a few years of weaning myself off pop, it’s come to the place where I really can’t stomach the idea of chugging carbonated sugar water.

Meaning, I’m no longer tempted to partake.

Every once in a while I’ll have some because it’s the only thing offered.

Otherwise, it’s usually just water for me.

Yet, a week or so ago while in a grocery store in Seward, Alaska, I saw a display for Coca-Cola loaded with special bottles emblazoned with people’s names.

(Perhaps you’ve seen this marketing ploy. May I just say I believe it is pure genius.)

One bottle was turned around so the name was concealed, so in an act of orderliness, I turned it around to face forward.

Lo and behold, this bottle of Cherry Coke proclaimed my name. What are the odds?

In a moment, I wondered to myself, “Should I buy it? I mean, that’s my name! How often do you find your name adorning a bottle of Coke?”

Funny, I was tempted to buy a product I don’t use simply because my was name on it.

This reveals to me that our names mean something to us. They are part of our identity. They affirm our existence. Sometimes our names even hold special meaning.

This got me thinking about the names God gives his people.

For starters, God calls us his sons and daughters. We are his kids by way of spiritual adoption. John 1:12 says:

But to all who have received him–those who believe in his name–he has given the right to become God’s children.

Which provides us with a sense of security. See, there’s a huge difference between being a fostered child and an adopted child. An adopted child gains all the rights of a child born into a family naturally.

God also refers to us as new creatures. The idea being that in Christ we are regenerated.

Paul wrote:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB)

Shame and guilt love to tell us we can’t change, that we will always be who we are. But the Gospel declares that God can cause new growth where death once ruled.

Here’s one more name given to the follower of Jesus: friend.

Jesus declared in John 15:15:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (ESV)

What a statement! Here Jesus tells his disciples that he considers them to be his friends, and as a proof of that friendship, he talks about how He fills them in on the things He has learned from his father.

When I think about these names that are applied to the believer, they seem to carry a lot more weight that a name on a soda bottle.

To be called a son or daughter of God gives me security.

To be described as a new creation offers me hope.

And to be named a a friend of Jesus provides me purpose and peace.

Ultimately, these are the names we will take into heaven.

They are the names that matter, more than any other name we might possess here on earth.

The nations will see your righteousness, And all kings your glory; And you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will designate. – Isaiah 62:2

 

 

 

Same Role, Different Plan

support shirt“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.”

Ever since last summer (2016) the plan was simple: My wife, Sara, and I would join our friend Corey as he attempted to complete the very first Alaskaman Extreme Traithlon.

Our job was to partner with Corey’s wife, Jen, as his support team. The reason Corey needed such a team is that, for the most part, Alaskaman athletes have very little support. It’s up to the competitor to supply his/her own support team to monitor nutrition and more.

So when July 13 2017 finally arrived, we all got up super early, lumbered onto a plane headed to Anchorage, and eventually took a rental car ride to the site of the race start in Seward.

The plan was in full motion. Until it wasn’t.

Two days before the event, Jen, (who has lived her entire life with Cystic Fibrosis) was attacked by an wicked infection. After checking in to the Seward ER, it was determined that the situation was of such concern that Jen needed to be transported ASAP to the hospital in Anchorage.

In a moment, our team goals switched from supporting Corey to doing all we could for Jen.

For Corey, it was obvious that his wife’s needs superseded his desire to compete. Once it was determined that Jen would have to spend a few days in Anchorage, he made the call to withdraw from the race.

For me and my wife, we had to simply say, “What do you guys need us to do? We were still a support crew, but we had a new focus.

(By the way, Jen stayed in the hospital for five days. She received great treatment and was released to continue her recovery at home in Idaho. She’s doing much better.)

I once heard someone say, “Do you want to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with laying out an agenda and having goals. But, if we cling to them too tightly, we may find ourselves in for a rough ride when they are altered.

The Bible says this:

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9 ESV)

I like the balance this verse provides. It’s normal to make plans for our day, our year or our life. But we would be wise to realize that God is not uninvolved in the trajectory of our existence.

To lay out our plans with no regard for God’s hand is to simply be prideful.

One of Jesus disciples, James, made this point when he wrote:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:13-17 ESV)

When we went to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward to register for the triathlon, they game me a blue armband and a support member T-shirt.

Yep, that’s my T-shirt in the photo above.

One might say that since I wasn’t officially involved in the race, it wouldn’t make much sense to wear the t-shirt.

But as I see it, we definitely attempted to fill our roles as a support team. It was just for a different event that, although not a part of our plans, was definitely rooted in the plan of God.

“Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.”

Memorial Message: Faith in Action

The following is the message I shared at a recent memorial service:

Jim was one of those “what you see is what you get” kind of guys.

He wasn’t about trying to be someone he was not.

The first time I talked with Jim at length was a year ago, at a church picnic.

Jim had heard that I had lived near Park City, UT, and being the avid skier that he was began to ask me if I skied.

Gladly for me, I was able to tell him that I did, and at that point I knew we had a small connection.

Obviously, the outdoors and recreation were big for Jim.

But there was more to Jim’s life beyond his pursuit of adventure.

One thing Jim’s family shared with me was that an event early in Jim’s life sent a spiritual ripple throughout his family:

When Jim was christened as a baby, the event had a huge impact upon his Grandfather, who decided to trust and pursue God.

Out of that initial moving of God upon Jim’s grandfather, the rest of the family including his children, aunts, uncles, nieces, grandchildren all followed into the faith.

Jim’s father, in fact, became a pastor.

Amazing how a small event could create such eternal impact!

It should make us think about the impact our life is having upon others…is our presence in the lives of others helping them become who they were created to be?

Jim had what I might call a “where the rubber meets the road” kind of faith.

He wasn’t a man of a lot of flowery words, but rather a man moved to action.

Jim’s family shared that if a need came across Jim’s path, he would very likely try and meet it.

He was very generous, often giving until it hurt.

It’s almost as if Jim had an internal code written upon his heart: faith means action.

Interesting the Bible tells us that to enter into a relationship with Jesus is not based on works, but on trust.

We aren’t called to earn salvation, but rather to simply receive it as a gift.

Yet, there is a passage in the Bible that I think matched Jim’s perspective of what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus. James 2:14-17 (ESV) says:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

For Jim, being a practical, no-nonsense guy, this teaching would make absolute sense.

Real faith will produce tangible actions.

So, that’s how Jim approached things.

Jim was the kind of guy where you could see his faith displayed through is actions.

To him, that’s what mattered. Not just talking about what you believe, but acting upon it.

In the Bible there is a story about how Jesus healed ten men who suffered from leprosy, a disease that caused people to become social outcasts.

Of course, once they were freed from the social prison of their illness, each one of them got excited and ran off to re-connect with friends and family.

But, out of the ten, only one stopped in his tracks and went back to offer a word of thanks to Jesus.

My hunch is that Jim would be that kind of guy.

He did things because they were the right thing to do.

As a result, many were blessed by Jim’s attention and generosity.

Once again, the core of the Christian faith isn’t earning God’s favor through good works.

Over and over in the Bible the message of salvation is described as being a gift that can only be received through belief.

But what we do with that belief says a lot about what we believe.

Maybe that’s the challenge we need.

Perhaps we need to grapple with the question of what we believe?

Or if we have faith, maybe we need to think about how that faith shows itself in our daily life?

One thing is for sure…Jim and his kind, playful, generous and adventurous ways will be missed.

He was a unique person who made an imprint upon those who got to know him.

We thank God for his life and the impression he left on all of us.

My question is: what type of impression we leave in our passing?