Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Is God in our mistakes?

Some thoughts on recent current events:

Umpqua Community College Shootings

Much has been said about this tragedy. I was struck by President Obama's obvious frustration when he spoke publicly just a few hours after the shootings, in regards to finding a solution to yet another mass killing.

The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights includes the 'right to bear arms.' The 2nd Amendment became part of the Constitution in 1791. That was less than 20 years after the Revolutionary War. The concern over the 'right to bear arms' was borne during this nation's infancy and was directly related to the grassroots effort that fueled the birth of the United States.

While  the widespread 'right to bear arms' among ordinary citizens may have been necessary in 1791 to protect our fledgling nation, that is no longer the case. We have several branches of the armed forces, and the Department of Defense receives one of the highest portions of our entire national budget. Thankfully, we no longer need individual citizens stocking up firearms to protect our country.

The mother of the person who killed 12 students at Umpqua Community College was fully aware of the mental-emotional status of her suffering son. It has been widely reported that she also encouraged his interest in guns, and kept several loaded weapons in their home. Including an AK-47 and AR-15. These are semi-automatic rifles. She also kept a Glock handgun.

No family needs such a stockpile of weapons, and certainly no one needs to be holding an AK-47 or AR-15 in their home. It's pointless to argue the need for these sorts of weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens.They are accidents waiting to happen. Take a look at the occurrence of death by gun in other countries and the percentage of gun ownership among citizens and you'll quickly see that the United States is towards the top of the list in both categories.

My heart goes out to the family members of the slain students. My heart goes out to the Umpqua Community College family as well. They have suffered a loss that will affect them for the rest of their lives. They and the other victims of mass shootings deserve a better response than platitudes extolling the right to bear arms.

The Bombing of a Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Last week a U.S. air strike knocked out a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. 22 people were killed in the airstrike. 

The U.S. military has been reluctant to say much about it. Or to formally apologize. The U.S. Military Commander in Afghanistan initially said that it was the Afghans who asked for the airstrike. Three days later the same Military Commander admitted the strike could have been the result of faulty communication among the chain of command. Meanwhile Doctors Without Borders has repeatedly stated that there was no reason for the attack and they have called for an investigation. There were no significant military operations happening near the hospital. More than three days after the airstrike, President Obama called the chief of Doctors Without Borders to apologize. Although the President promised a thorough investigation, to be held by US affiliated/supported organizations. Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent inquiry.

The irony of this situation is that functioning hospitals in Afghanistan are few and far between. The Afghans are already seriously deprived after years of war. They don't need their remaining hospitals taken out.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

I recently wrote a post about the Syrian refugee crisis. A few days ago one of the candidates for U.S. President stopped in my home town and gave a speech. During the speech he said it would be "crazy" for the U.S. to bring in more Syrian refugees. (Our country has taken in about 1,500 people, and President Obama is calling to bring in up to 10,000 more).

The candidate said: "What President Obama is proposing to do, bring tens of thousands of Syrian Muslims to America, is nothing short of crazy." The candidate made this statement, despite the U.S. National Intelligence Director saying that the U.S. had an "aggressive" program for vetting refugees.

This presidential candidate didn't speak about the fact that a good portion of the most recent Syrian refugees are well-educated and held professional jobs until their cities were mostly destroyed. The point being, Syrian refugees are leaving their country because there is no support system left. They are desperate to get to Western Europe and America because they no longer have homes.

Their lives are in ruins. They need our active compassion and support, not judgment. If we need a spiritual standard for how to handle this sort of situation, I'm reminded of what Jesus said about taking in strangers among us. 

I'm also reminded that historically, almost all of us living in the United States, with the notable exception of Native Americans, come from families who were once immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants.

So, where is God in all this? 

One lesson we can hopefully learn from these events is that no nation is perfect. 

No nation is correct 100% of the time. 

If we catch ourselves feeling reluctant to admit our mistakes, that's a sure sign that we are headed in the wrong direction.

The Bible teaches that when we make a mistake, it's a good idea to admit it. In fact, true healing doesn't happen without confessing, either as individuals, or as a nation. Repentance can't happen without admitting we did something wrong. It's really that simple. I'll be the first to say that I don't especially enjoy admitting I'm wrong, or that I've sinned. But when I take that first step towards repentance, I've found that God is always there to offer forgiveness and restoration.

It's not a popular teaching, but it's what God wants for us in order to grow in relationship with each other and with God.

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Continuing to Give Thanks: Ann Voskamp & One Thousand Gifts

Back in early September I wrote a blogpost about Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts. In the post, I mentioned that I had taken Voskamp's example and began to write down things I was thankful for.

The whole idea was to nurture a deeper sense of thanks in the middle of everyday life. An appreciation for the simple (and significant) things, and for God's hand in them.

As this post is being written, I've recorded 1567 things to be thankful for in my thanks journal.

Here's an update of some of the more recent entries:

No, 1410 Great TED talk by Jeremy Courtney. (He and his wife run an organization called Preemptive Love that provides life-saving surgeries for kids in Iraq). You can view Jeremy's TED talk here

No. 1425. Weeding flower beds around the house. It's amazing how far a little weeding will go in bringing out natural beauty. A handy metaphor for life.

No. 1431. Having lunch with 3 friends who spontaneously called me up to say there were in town attending a car show. There's nothing like the sheer joy of unplanned fellowship!

No. 1443. Enjoyed a movie, A Simple Story about a Chinese filmmaker who took care of his childhood caretaker when her health became increasingly frail.

No. 1447. Great Kids' Church class today! If you want to remain hopeful and emotionally/mentally limber, spend time with a bunch of kids!

No. 1462. Supper with one of my sisters and her husband who were up from Florida. It's fun to get together with family, especially when out-of-state siblings are involved. Such times help me not take them for granted.

No. 1463 Peace House is back up for the school year! (It's a place on the east side of town where two married couples with kids have joined together to minister to other kids in this fragile neighborhood.) 

No, 1488. Three of my 4 sister siblings got together to go through our Mom's memorabilia (mostly clothing items). Mom passed away 20 months ago, and it was time to sort through her belongings to pass them along to other siblings and grandchildren. I was very grateful to be part of honoring Mom's memory this way.

No. 1503 Started the day feeling highly anxious but was grateful for God's mercy in alleviating that feeling once I acknowledged it and gave it to God.

No. 1534 Found free parking for the Art Prize in Grand Rapids, MI.  This is a major art show, with hundreds of pieces exhibited throughout the city, drawing in thousands of people each day. So getting a parking space gratis was no small accomplishment!

No, 1540 Got to be part of an alumni-student event at Olivet College. About 15 students were given a chance to chat with alumni about career options and plans. I hadn't been back on campus in over two decades so this was a real treat! Even nicer to have an opportunity to meet with current students who were so optimistic about their future.

No. 1542 Made a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich featuring a juicy-ripe tomato from my brother's garden! It was the best tomato I'd had all year! And there is nothing like that combination!!!

None of the above events are earth-shatteringly significant.

But, as Voskamp suggests, it's good practice to acknowledge them and remind ourselves where these moments of grace come from.

There's a scripture that states, "God is the author and perfecter of our faith."

Somehow, I think the simple act of giving thanks is a huge part of that process.

Thanks again, Ann Voskamp for opening my eyes to this practice!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

There's All Kinds of Intelligence!

A friend posted something on Facebook yesterday about the downside of mentioning membership in MENSA on a resume. Turns out, there's more to be gained by not including that tidbit than by including it, as far as potential employment goes.

(For those who many not know, MENSA is a society made up of extremely intelligent people, based solely on IQ - academic measures.)

But, there are other types of intelligence.

For instance, social intelligence, being defined as the ability to get along with others. The ability to care about the common good and be other-centered. Socially intelligent people are good at interacting with others and caring for them. They readily understand the benefit of deferring their own rights to the common good.

There's also relational intelligence, which flows from social intelligence, but is specific to focusing on human communication. People who are relationally intelligent know how to listen and when to clearly speak what's on their mind without offending. If they don't understand what another person has said, they'll politely ask for an explanation rather than assume. They know the difference between a fact, an inference and a judgment. They are the peacemakers among us.

There's business intelligence. The people with this type of intelligence are geniuses at setting up and running companies. They are right at home with profit-and-loss statements, budgets and business plans. They know organizational flow and understand management. We need people with business intelligence to make sure that our economy remains strong and creative.

How about emotional intelligence? That's the ability to remain emotionally healthy. Not relying on others to validate your worth. Understanding that who you are isn't defined by your bank statement or social status. Being aware of the signs of stress and avoiding burnout. Striking a balance between work and play. It's having the ability to see the good, to go through the day with a positive outlook. Avoiding cynicism and sarcasm.

And there's spiritual intelligence. At its most basic, this includes realizing that you are made up of spirit, mind and body. That your spirit is where your essential, most unique self resides. That to ignore the spiritual is to bring a slow death to your soul.

Spiritually intelligent people recognize God in the face of others. They understand the need for worship and the significance of praise. (It doesn't necessarily mean they have to attend a church service to receive this, but it helps). They are able to cut across ethnic, religious and political lines to be true citizens of the world. They see diversity as a healthy sign rather than a threat. In general, spiritually intelligent people know that each person's soul is sacred and has value. 

Paying attention to only one kind of intelligence is like channeling all your IRA funds into one stock and thinking that your financial future is secure. If a friend told us they did this, we would intrinsically know that they were headed for disaster.

The same holds true when we look at someone only from one standpoint, or type of intelligence.

We all tend to value certain types of intelligence above others. But the truth is, God made each of them and we need them all! To have a healthy society we need well-rounded, healthy people, and healthy people have enough of several of the above-mentioned kinds of intelligence.

What do you think? What kind(s) of intelligence do you have?

Photo Credit:

Friday, October 2, 2015

God is with us in all things

God is with us in all things.

That means every single thing. 

That includes the significant as well as the ordinary.

It includes our family, friends, work, our finances, our spiritual life and our health. 


There is no aspect of our life that God's not willing to cover.

There is no season of our soul where God's not fully present.

Before God's son left his disciples to return to heaven, he reassured them that he would be with them always, even to the end of the world. He was speaking to all of his followers, including us.

God's son also promised that he would send God's spirit to them. That Spirit would dwell with them and instruct them and help them understand what God's son had told them. God's Spirit would guide them, even giving them the words to speak when they didn't have them.

God's son was faithful to speak what God had given him. He was the perfect embodiment of God's word and God's Spirit. So, when God said: “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” God's son was the perfect fulfillment of that promise.

So take heart. God is with us! (Emmanuel, the name we recognize especially during Christmas season, can be translated, "God is with us.")

God's son said he came to us so that his followers would have life, in abundance.

Since God's son was speaking the Eternal One's word, he was also speaking out a promise of reassurance to all who would receive it. He not only promised that God would never leave us or forsake us, but that we would be given life, both on earth and beyond it. And that life, both on earth and afterwards, would be marked with abundance.

Abundance in the sense of foundational, unfaltering faithfulness. Abundance of mercy and grace enough to wash away any sin. Abundance of wisdom. In fact the apostle James encouraged everyone to ask God if they needed wisdom, and God would generously give it to them. Abundance of understanding of spiritual principles, by way of God's spirit dwelling within it. That means a rich inheritance for our soul! Abundance of healing, in fact, through the example of God's son, we know that it is God's desire to heal all diseases.

Abundance of strength, having it renewed to the point of rising up on eagle’s wings when we wait on God. Abundance of emotional stability, founded in God's unchanging, never-ending, unconditional love for us.

All of these things are found in abundance in God.

There is no lack in God's kingdom. And the kingdom is happening now.

When God's son responded to his followers’ request to teach them how to pray, he told them: "Pray your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

God's son was encouraging them, reminding them that we can actually pray for the fruit of God's kingdom to be evident in our life. 


At this moment. 

Because God's will is to be with us in all things.

Photo Credit:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What should church look like?

Recently Brian Dodd wrote an interesting piece @MinistryToday.

The title of the post was "30 Things People Want from a Church Service."

Dodd interviewed hundreds of church goers and tracked what they said they wanted from a service.

The list is challenging, affirming and downright interesting.

Dodd didn't indicate if his list was in any sort of order, but assuming that it was, of the top 10 things people want, seven of them had to do with emotions. We want to experience awe, joy; be inspired, surprised, challenged, motivated and in general, want to be moved emotionally.

Church goers are looking for an encounter on Sunday.

We also want to be inspired and challenged and go home "with a sense of hope." Church goers are looking for something positive, uplifting, inspirational and challenging "something that makes me think."

We're also looking for community. a chance to meet people, and hands-on opportunities to serve. People "want to feel like I'm part of a movement."

Dodd doesn't indicate the types of churches he visited, or the ages of the people he spoke with, but, as far as worship goes, it's about being "engaging, powerful and Christ-centered." No "plug and play" type services. Mix it up, "make it surprising."

It's also important that the worship team on the stage be authentic as well as energetic.

As far as the actual make-up of the congregation, church goers mentioned they "want to see people of different ethnicities and ages."

If church leaders would like to take a cue from their members, according to Dodd's list, their congregations are looking for messages that challenge them, are to the point, Bible-based, and contain practical ideas that members can remember and apply during the week.

For me, the biggest take-away from Dodd's list was that many who attend church are looking for engagement. Be it through worship that inspires and transforms us, or a message that is remembered and can be applied during the week ahead. 

Most surprising, to me, was the mention of the importance of community. Both within the walls of the church (desiring to meet people who are also part of a diverse community), and going beyond the physical building. Church goers want opportunities for friendships to develop outside of the sanctuary.

I've read many articles that point to a decline in church attendance among North Americans. There have been numerous articles written about how to improve attendance from a theoretical standpoint. But Dodd's is the first that I've come across that actually offers the congregation's take on what church should look like.

How about you? What do you think are the ingredients for a good church service? A solid church community?

If you're curious to see Dodd's list you can check in out here.  

Photo Credit:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We don't have to act as if we have life all figured out

I recently read a blogpost by Addie Zierman. It's about looking back on the faith you might have had as a teenager and finding it's not the easy romp in the sunshine as some folks make it out to be.

I love Addie's honesty.

And it motivated me to write about this subject of faith and how we grow in it, especially when it might not add up to our expectations.

It's undeniable that there's something in the human spirit that longs for something deeper. Voltaire, who was razor sharp in his criticism of intolerance and dogma, once said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

If a guy like Voltaire admitted an inherent need for God, I think he'd be o.k. with us spending a few minutes taking a look at faith, which is required to believe in God in the first place.

Faith is a gift. 

Sometimes we forget that simple premise, upon which everything else about faith rests. We don't find God, as much as God opens us up to the possibility of relationship. Spiritual heavy-weights like Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament) and Martin Luther (who, like Voltaire, challenged the religious establishment of his day) pointed this out. 

Faith is an expression of God's mercy towards us. 

On a bad day, when things don't make sense, I need to remember this. In the middle of a torrential downpour of pain, I need to grab hold of this. During times of long-suffering, I need to cling to this faith to help anchor me.

God loves me. 

That means I should take God's love personally. If I believe that God loves me, because God has given me faith, then it must mean that God is after relationship with me. 

My relationship with God isn't based on feelings, or what is/isn't happening at this moment. 

In fact, my relationship with God isn't the sum total of feelings, at all. It's based on commitment and faith in God's nature. It's this aspect of relationship with God, remembering who God is, that helps keep that foundation of hope and trust alive, no matter what else may or may not be happening around me.

God never promises a stress-free life. 

There are scriptures that point to this reality. Faith in God isn't a spiritual tranquilizer. It doesn't numb us from life's disappointments and pain. But it is a buffer that reminds us that after the storm, we will be stronger. 

Our faith in God should cause us to grow spiritually.

As we experience tough times, as we hold on to our faith, it should cause our faith to be strengthened. The apostle James wrote: "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow." We're being cautioned to expect trials, so that we won't be upended by them. James goes on to say that the goal is completeness. And if we don't understand how this works, we can ask God for wisdom, "who will give it to you and will not rebuke you for asking." 

Having doubts doesn't mean God has failed us. 

We don't have to act as if we have life all figured out. When we experience doubt, we can take those doubts to God because God doesn't condemn us for having them. God will ultimately use those doubts to strengthen us. Believing, having faith in God doesn't mean we will never fall. But it does mean God will always be there to pick us up. 

Here's the link to Addie's post: Addie's PostAddie, thanks, so much, for having the courage to write it! 

So, readers, now it's your turn! Please feel free to leave a reply, what does faith mean to you?

Photo Credit:

Monday, September 28, 2015

Where we see failure, God sees hope!

Have you ever bitten off more than you can chew?

Yesterday evening I wrote an email to an organization where I was taking volunteer training towards the goal of being a mentor. The training consisted of two weeks, four days each day, four hours a day.

It was detailed. Very, very detailed; because the audience for the tutoring were kids who have dyslexia or ADHD. The goal of the organization is to help them learn how to read.

After sitting through four days of the training the feeling was confirmed that it was, at this moment in life, too much to absorb. I was already scheduled to start a new part-time job in a few weeks and the training was severely testing my brain's ability to store and retrieve information.

Our homework assignment over the weekend was to write up our first lesson plan, assuming that we were going to tutor a child. I simply couldn't do it. I found myself staring at the notebook, and at the blank lesson plan outline. 

It became painfully obvious that I needed to notify the organization's trainer (who is amazingly upbeat, knowledgeable and gracious) that I had to bow out because I wasn't learning fast enough.

I wasn't getting it fast enough because there was already too much on my plate. My gut instinct told me after the first day that I shouldn't continue the training. It wasn't a matter of brain power. It was a matter of timing. I'm a fairly intelligent person and over the years I'd learned to multi-task with the best of them. But in this case, I simply should have followed my instinct and said "no" to the training earlier in the week.

Why didn't I?

Because of pride - I hate to give up. I hate to say no. I hate to disappoint people. And, most of all, I hate to admit when I've made a mistake! 

So, it was somewhat embarrassing for me to send off an email last night to the tutoring instructor. Her response was gracious and actually encouraging.  She understood and was extremely kind about my bowing out.

We live in a culture that doesn't abide admitting when we've made mistakes. Under normal circumstances, we equate mistake with failure. (If you don't believe me, try saying the word "mistake" out loud a few times and let me know what feeling immediately comes to you). 

Why is this so?

We don't like making mistakes because they are opportunities for others to see where we might need help or practice. We don't want to appear vulnerable. But how else do we learn? Does anyone obtain perfection the first time we attempt something? Isn't the point of practice to allow time for mistakes? But somehow, in real life, we sometimes seem to pull the plug on making mistakes after setting up an arbitrary timeline.

But the truth is, this side of heaven, there is no such thing as perfection. We are all beings in training. Even Paul cautioned us to work out our salvation "with fear and trembling." 

What was the lesson I learned in all of this?

It was two-fold. First, I need to trust my gut instincts more often. Specifically around the issue of putting too much on my plate, to the point of where there is actually no more room. If a plate is already too full, you're only going to cause something to fall off if you attempt to put something else on it.. The first time I felt like I had made a mistake in the timing of signing on for the training, I should have acknowledged it and saved myself a week's worth of discomfort. 

Secondly, I should have spent more time in prayer about signing up. I signed up on an impulse to do good. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but as the saying goes "timing is everything," and knowing that I was about to start a new job, I should have held back and concentrated on gearing up for what was already ahead of me.

If you are in a similar place right now, I'd like to encourage you. It's not too late to bring God into your decision making! It's always a good time to do that! God's plate is never full and God will help you through it! 

And most of all, God doesn't consider a mistake a failure! God sees our mistakes as opportunities to grow!

Photo Credit: