A Month on Family at PFM

We’re working on a November series at pfm called Family.  

I’ve enjoyed the challenge and opportunity of continuing on the Revised Common Lectionary while picking out certain threads.

Week 1 will be about how the writers of the New Testament give us helpful guidelines for healthy families.  The Church functions like a family, with God as Father and fellow Christ-followers as brothers and sisters.  What can we learn from all the family talk in the bible?  What can we apply in our own family dynamic?  How does this ancient message jive with the growing diversity of family types today?  What does God want from husbands and wives?

Week 2 will be about legacy and the choice that each generation of family has to choose to serve the Lord.  We all have a family legacy.  We all leave a family legacy.  What difference does this make, and how does it all get pointed in the right direction?  How does this kind of thinking affect our families today?

Week 3 will be about how the family encourages one another.  If God the Father calls his children to encourage one another, how might that work in our homes?  What are we encouraging now?  How can a family build one another up?  In a culture that can be overwhelming, our homes should be the place where God’s love and encouragement should freely flow.  By God’s grace, any home can function like this.

Week 4 will conclude the series with a look at how God functions like a Father and models parenthood for us in the 21st century.  One particular aspect we’ll look at will be the life cycle of parenthood.  We are 1) Children to our parents 2) Parents to our children 3) Parents to our parents 4) Children to our children.  In other words, someone is always parenting, and someone is always being parented.  God the Father is the only perfect parent.  By His power, we too can be equal to the task as parents today.

I’m praying for a great month of families being strengthened.  The risk with a series like this is someone saying “well, I don’t have kids…” or “I’m not married, so…”.  This is so much more than just parenting/marriage classes.  We will be living in the story of God’s salvation, which includes the redemption of families as the Kingdom expands in our homes.  That’s church talk for “God wants to help us have healthy family relationships”, which is therapeutic talk for the gospel, which is “I’m messed up, which means I’m an imperfect spouse/parent/son/daughter, and only Jesus can heal me”.

Adios, October.  Welcome, November.

Worth The Look

Look at this.  Psalm 105:4.   

It says “Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”

Look is a powerful word.   

Zac says “Daddy, look!”  I suddenly notice that my son is a caped superhero.

Emily says “Look” when we are discussing something important and it’s just not getting through my thick skull.  “Look” gets my attention and underlines every word that follows.

Malachi is taught to Look both ways for oncoming cars.  Look for yourself.  Look for them; they may not be.

“Look”.  Change focus.  Pay attention.  Beware. 

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.

Look.  Stop looking at that problem, issue, distraction. Look to the Lord.

Look. Stop looking at only your point of view and cover story.  Look to the Lord.

Look. Stop looking at your feet while you walk.  Look up, pay attention, be careful.  Look to the Lord.

What do we need? We need someone to be in charge (the Lord).  We need power to live (His strength).  We need to know God and be known by Him (seek HIs face always).

When it comes to our issues, attention doesn’t do much to change things (aka worry).  Here’s the best part: paying attention to God will change everything about our issues.

We do ourselves a great disservice by giving attention to the wrong things.

The Psalmist simply says “Look”.

Give Praise (Psalm 105:1a)

Psalm 105:1a - Give praise to the LORD…

I cannot give what is not mine.  If I have a tin of Altoids, I will certainly offer you one.   “Altoid?  They’re curiously strong, ya know…”  

I cannot give what is not mine.  I can give what is mine.  You have an Altoid, and now we both have a better kind of curiously strong breath.

David, a songwriter, poet, musician, and get ‘er done kinda guy, wrote a lyric about giving something away — praise.  Or, if you will, praize.  You will not?  Fair enough.  Praise it is.

We have oodles and oodles of noodles praise.

have praise?  Pardon my French, but Qu’est-ce que cela veut dire?

Here’s how I see it: nah, we don’t carry praise around like an Altoid, but we do carry the capacity to praise.  This ability becomes apparent every time we offer a compliment to someone:

The meatloaf you made was delicious.  

I like how you duct taped your shoes together. 

I thoroughly enjoyed your monologue about George Foreman. 

I don’t care what they say — Canada really is for lovers.  

All peoples — Atheist, Religious, and in-between — have praise to give.  Genuine praise comes from the heart and is motivated by gratitude — a recognition that someone has done something for me.  Their actions have impacted us.  We are changed because of their contribution to our experience.

When we give praise, we serve the other person who has served us.  We give a glimpse of our affected selves to the benefactor.  What you did changed me.  Thank you.


Atheist, Religious, and in-between have praise to give.  This is part of our human condition.  There is something in every human being that wants to show gratitude to God.  Not everyone has found the path yet.  This is why we keep talking about Jesus.  He really is the only way.

 Genuine praise comes from the heart and is motivated by gratitude.  An emotional synapse must be made. Impression without expression leads to depression.  We feel thankful in our hearts and just gotta tell ‘em — for the sake of their heart.  We compelled to say “thanks” because we recognize that another has gone the extra mile for me.  The Christian view is that God has done something for me that I am genuinely thankful for — he has made me new.

We are changed because of their contribution to our experience.  Their actions have impacted us for the better.  God has done a great thing for us, you know?  Calling God a “contributor to our experience” is like calling air “occasionally refreshing”, as if we don’t need it every second of every day.  God sustains us (praise).  God rescues us through Christ (super praise).

Praise is a response, not a reaction.  A reaction comes without thought.  A response requires intentionality.  If anything, our reaction is guided by self-preservation.   Our response, requiring  a consideration of how things are, is an intentional move on our part to express gratitude.  To put it another way…

You don’t give until you let go.  I choose to send praise your way, God.  I realize just how good you are, and I simply must express my heartfelt gratitude.

Recognizing Jesus as the King of Givers will stir gratitude in us.  Jesus doesn’t take, take, take.  He gives, gives, gives.  And when we give, give, give, He receives, receives, receives AND keeps giving and giving and giving.  This cycle will somehow never end.  This is certainly to our benefit and ultimately to His glory.

So we respond like this:

Thank you, Lord.  I give you praise.  From all the way down to all the way up.  I hold nothing back.

To quote Bono: I can’t live… can’t live without you.

To quote Rend: Praise… like fireworks.

To quote Mary Mary: just wanna praize ‘ya.


Lectionary Landmark:  Year A, 7th Sunday after Pentecost








Proof God Cares

Psalm 8 stuff: You made every star, yet you pay attention to human beings enough to crown them with glory and honor and put them in charge of the earth. 

God made it all and runs the heavenly noise, but earth has been put under our feet, which means that we have been entrusted to care for something that’s not ours.  All flocks and herds (I have none of these, though I think they’re delicious), all the birds (they don’t listen to me but they poop on my car), the fish in the sea (Tilapia, especially) and all the sea creatures (stay down there, you gross betentacled beasts).

When someone notices you they like you.  When someone takes care of you, they love you.  When someone puts you in charge, they like/love/trust you.  Our authority over creation comes from God.  Think about that the next time you summon your mutt or visit a zoo,  and feel liked/loved/trusted.

Why We Need Multigenerational Churches

your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams…

Pentecost Sunday is all about the Holy Spirit pouring into the church, followed by the church pouring into the streets.  Some were confused, others thought that it was too much booze.  Peter quoted the prophet Joel to explain what was happening.   He also mentioned that it wasn’t wine, since it was only 9am.  I love that.

Here’s my point: the church needs generations, not just a generation.  The Spirit brings about the forward momentum of the Church through people.  The young ones see what is ahead (vision).  The old ones remember what happened like it was yesterday and dream about the future.

Vision sees what is not yet there.  Younger church leaders (I’m talking about the people in the pews — the church, not just the clergy) need to see God’s preferred future for the church and faithfully join Him in that work.  Without that forward energy, the Kingdom is limited in how wide it can expand through a local congregation.

Dreamers recall what once was, which is what got us to this point in the first place.  This is critically important because wisdom stops us from doing something stupid.  Older church leaders (again – the people, not just the clergy) need to remember how God brought a church to its current state.  At the same time, these ol’ dreamers can imagine an amazing future predicated on what is already there.  Without roots, a local congregation is likely to topple over upon itself.

Pentecost is about the birth of the church.  The church is given the Holy Spirit so that it might carry out the mission of God and bring about the Kingdom as young, old, and in-between work together, united by the Spirit.  That’s when real life change takes place in a community.  Kids,  Teens,  College Students, Family-Keepers, Career-ites, Silver watch wearers, Gold watch wearers, and the Living Saints — we need each other.  Most of all, we need the Holy Spirit.



Jesus Descended…?

for the ears:


for the eyes:

On Sunday, May 25th, the Revised Common Lectionary took us to 1 Peter 3:13-22 — a wide conglomeration of verses, kind of like those variety cheesecakes that actually have 3 or 4 different flavored slices divided up in the package, which fulfills the chocoaholic and the strawberryaholic at the party.   This particular text is kinda like that.  You’ve got your straightforward admonishments about doing good, guidelines about interacting with a culture that is hostile toward the things of God, and a powerful reminder of the centrality of Christ’s suffering and victory in our lives.   And then you’ve got the cheesecake slice that’s just… strange.  Not bad.  Just… strange.  Hmm.

Here’s our section:

After being made alive, [Jesus] went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits — to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.  In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also…

Huh?  The risen Jesus went and talked to the people who died in the flood?  If you’re familiar with the resurrection account, then this might stand out to you.  How many Easter Pageants include Jesus heading down to hades post-resurrection to preach a sermon?

We don’t talk much about the time Jesus “made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits”.  Understanding what this means is like untying a knot of many wires when upgrading your home theater — you could spend hours tracing just one wire, let alone getting anything connected again.   On top of the sheer perplexity of Jesus descending, you’ve also got Peter’s mention of Noah and the ark — a familiar story in suddenly unfamiliar territory.  These are what the theologians call “problem verses” — 1 Peter 3:19-21.

On Sunday, May 25th, at Portage Free Methodist, I had the privilege and challenge of preaching through this text, which included said problem verses.  Already pressed for time and never quite studied to the point of effective clarity, I had to skip over them.  I only offered two quick observations.  One, Jesus has the authority to do whatever he wants.  If Jesus wants to go and preach to imprisoned spirits, it’s His prerogative.  He certainly has the keys, and He certainly has the message.  Two, Noah and the ark prefigures Christ as the only way to be saved.  There was no other boat.  There was no figure out your own way to float — whatever is true floating for you — as long as you feel like you’re floating, who am I to judge?  Like the Ark, Jesus is the only way to be saved.

My passing commentary didn’t even scratch the surface of what’s going on.  By the way, this blog post won’t, either — there is so very very very much here, and I’m just an intrigued pastor.  I’ll summarize what I’ve encountered in a few commentaries and then wrap up by quoting Martin Luther.

Scot McKnight, in his fantastic NIV Application Commentary — 1 Peter, writes about three primary interpretations of Jesus going and making proclamation to the imprisoned spirits. I remind you that these are my own notes and paraphrases in which I run the risk of misunderstanding what McKnight has said.  Nevertheless, for the sake of a good wrestling match between me and Randy “Macho Man” Tough Verse, here goes…

The first view: Jesus truly descended into Hell and preached a sermon.  The audience was comprised of either victims of the Noah floodor possibly fallen angels (“spirits”).  The prison is the underworld.  The sermon was an invitation to salvation, since they had never heard the gospel.

The second view: Peter is describing the preexistent Christ, where Noah “played” or “acted as” Christ in the flood.  Just as Noah had to explain why he was building the ark to the people around him (preaching), Jesus preached repentance before the coming Kingdom.

The third view: Peter is describing an event where Jesus made a proclamation of his victory before an audience of sinners — that Jesus made His victory “official” in the spiritual places, perhaps just to the fallen angels who believed that they were right and that God was wrong.

In her excellent commentary on 1 Peter, Karen H. Jobes  (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testamentgives a behind the scenes view of what it’s like for a scholar to work through the verses.  “This intriguing passage is fraught with problems that obscure its interpretation — text-critical problems, grammatical ambiguities, lexical uncertainties, theological issues, as well as the question of what literary and theological background the author is assuming.”  The reality (to borrow more from Jobes) is that we don’t know exactly where Jesus went, when He went, who He talked to, and what exactly He said.  Nonetheless, Christians should be encouraged by its content because oppressed powers are eventually thwarted by the victory of Christ.

In reference to the spirits in prison, John Wesley says:

“The unholy men before the flood, who were then reserved by the justice of God, as in a prison, till he executed the sentence upon them all; and are now also reserved to the judgment of the great day.”  

I like John Wesley.  He just gets right down to it and moves on.  Maybe that’s what I should do.

Then, of course, there’s the view that Peter is referring to Enoch, not Jesus, which is (kinda) substantiated by 1 Enoch.  You don’t, by the way, find 1 Enoch in the protestant Canon, though we should still include this view because of its historical significance. I don’t really favor this perspective, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s always been about Jesus, not Enoch.  Peter — the person and the letter both — are undeniably Christocentric.

Christians love the easy ones that fit on oven mitts, like John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11, but tough passages like these deserve our attention, too.  In fact, when you’ve finally untangled the knot, or, at least made some progress, you have a better appreciation for the things that are truly beyond us.  Why are these things included in the bible, and why doesn’t God make it easier to understand?  Seems like a bad Public Relations move, if you ask me.  If God had better PR, He would’ve kept this confusing passage out, right??  But it’s not about PR — it’s about Truth, and Truth can’t let audience perception factor content.  If it did, we would no longer  consider that truth to be true.

Jobes et. al. quote Martin Luther’s take.  Confident, intelligent, and solid Luther, who, when writing about this particular verse, threw up his Lutheran hands and said (though, I like to think he shouted): “This is a strange text and certainly a more obscure passage than any other passage in the New Testament.  I still do not know what the apostle meant.”

Now that’s a commentary I can resonate with.



Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven (1 Peter 1:17-23)

Remember bumper stickers?  You’ve seen it.  Perhaps it’s on your bumper, next to Single ‘n’ Sassy.  Maybe Calvin is there, relieving himself on something… (remember those?)

But we’re not here to talk about comic characters named after John Calvin (why did “Wesley the Cat” never make it?)  We’re here to talk about bumper stickers that say things like Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven.

While it is true that Christians are forgiven through Christ, and that Christians aren’t immediately made perfect in their behavior, I must say that I’m glad that this bumper sticker has mostly disappeared from the lexicon of our subculture.  I don’t think it accomplishes what we thought it did.

Its presence on our bumper was intended to proclaim something like “listen — I know I’m not perfect, but I do know that I’m forgiven — ask me for more information!”

What it actually says is something like “Yeah, I cut you off and flipped you the bird, but at least I’m going to heaven.  You, on the other hand, are headed to H -E – double hockey sticks!” (because we don’t say words like hell).  No one meant it this way, but the interpretation of culture in general probably sways more toward this side of the equation.

Now I know that, like the Prayer of Jabez™, the intention is good.  Bumper Sticker theology, I’m afraid, has equipped us to think that what we do doesn’t matter once we’re forgiven.

That’s where this Sunday’s reading in 1st Peter really gets into our faces and challenges our assumptions that we’re forgiven and it doesn’t matter.  As I’ve worked through this passage, I felt pretty convicted.  I look forward to tomorrow with great fear.  And, if you have this sticker on your car, don’t worry.  Mine says Expedition, and I haven’t even gone on one.




Good Friday Communion

We’re doing a three-station, self guided, Communion-centered Good Friday come-n-go service in the Sanctuary of Portage Free Methodist.

This is what we came up with as the walking liturgy, in case you’d like to get a sneak-peek:

Good Friday

Good Friday is the day we remember the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  He hung on a cross to die a sinners death — pierced hands, pierced feet, pierced side.  It was most certainly not a good day in the sense of what took place, but it is good because of what follows on Resurrection Sunday: the defeat of sin and the end of death for those who put their faith in Christ.  Good Friday walks us through the story of Jesus’ death and prepares us to celebrate His victory on Easter Sunday.

The Sanctuary is set up as a self-guided tour which will take you through three stations.  The instructions for each station are below.  Don’t be in a rush; take time to work your way through each step at a worshipful pace.  Following each reading, take time to pray, then follow the instructions and head to the next station.  On your way out, there is a box to submit any prayer requests/comments.

Station 1: Jesus, the Light of the World

Isaiah 9:2, John 1:4, John 12:44-46

The Prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of Jesus, the Light: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.  John writes that in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  We are born into the darkness of sin and of a broken world, but God doesn’t leave us in darkness.  He sends Jesus, whose light is the only thing that will get us out of this mess. Jesus said Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.


Light a candle — consider light, which pierces the darkness.  Jesus is the Light of the World, given for us.

Carry your candle to Station 2: The Table

Station 2: The Table of Grace

Luke 22:14-20, John 16:16-22, 33

The Light of the world gathered His disciples together for one last meal before His crucifixion.  He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.  He took the cup, saying This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  The first disciples shared in the same meal that we share in today.  Though they didn’t understand it, Jesus was giving Himself entirely to us, which would cost Him His very life.  That night, Jesus prayed for His disciples and foreshadowed His crucifixion, saying In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.  This confused the disciples.  Jesus spoke truth and comfort as He continued, saying Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.


When we participate in Communion at this Table, we identify with the sacrifice of Jesus and remember that He gave Himself for us that we might feed on Him.  Jesus reminds us that the journey won’t be easy, saying I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.  


Take Communion – consider sacrifice, which is given for the benefit of another.

Carry your candle to Station 3: The Darkness


Station 3: The Darkness

Isaiah 53:4-5, Psalm 22, John 19:17-18, Luke 24:46, John 19:38-42

After the Last Supper, Jesus was arrested, charged, and crucified.

Isaiah describes what Jesus would endure on the cross, saying He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Jesus didn’t pay for His sin.  He paid for ours.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

On this cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22 as He cries My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?  Jesus experienced all the pain of the crucifixion, all the weight of our sin, and, perhaps worst of all, the sense that God the Father had abandoned Him.  The price Jesus paid was higher than we could ever imagine.   Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.)  There they crucified him, and with him two others — one on each side and Jesus in the middle.  After hours of excruciating pain, Jesus knew that everything had been fulfilled according to the Scripture.  Darkness came over the land.  Jesus called out with a loud voice Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

The Light of the world.  Extinguished.

Extinguish your candle – consider the Light of Christ, extinguished by His death.  The world dwells in darkness.


In quietness we leave, for Jesus has been placed in the tomb.

(Remember — the story doesn’t end on Good Friday…)

Lent, Year A, Week 1 – Genesis

Lent, Year A, Week 1

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

Listen to the passage here:

I inherited a few tools from  my Grandpa’s garage that still make absolutely no sense to me.  The pliers with the weird hook.  The wrench you squeeze to make two points jut out from the side.  The weird turkey baster.    I’m not sure if Grandpa was  a mechanic or a turn-of-the-century dentist.

Yeah, I know what a screwdriver and a wrench are for, but to this day I’m still baffled by these weird upper-echelon tools.  What they are meant to do is beyond me.  I don’t use them per se.   I just… look at them, shrug my shoulders, and move on to familiar and less handy territory.  These brilliant tools are lost on my blissful ignorance, which I’m fine with.

If we don’t know what something is for, we miss out on brilliance and function.  That’s what makes this passage from Genesis so important: by remembering our history from the beginning, we get a better understanding of just how brilliant the Gospel is.  Until we know the problem, the solution seems out of place.  Unless we come to grips with the sin of humanity, the Gospel has no context.

Think about this in relation to Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7.  What, exactly, is the “problem” that the Gospel “fixes”?

2:15 – The Lord places us and purposes us.  God, perhaps using his finger and thumb in a little pinching motion, puts Adam in the garden.  Adam’s purpose is to work the garden and to take care of it.   Back then, as now, people are designed to get things done.  My hunch is that we’ve all had enough of the snow shoveling and would like a break, thank you, but most people have a really hard time doing absolutely nothing for long periods of time.  Before and After pictures inspire us for a reason.  As odd as it sounds, God  has created us for the joyful maintenance of His creation.  How often do you see the word “joyful” next to the word “maintenance”?   To our fallen world ears, this sounds like laborious busywork, but in God’s perfect world, this was the essence of our existence: fellowship and co-creation/co-management with Him.  

2:16 – God has created a perfect world, which includes human beings created in His image.  God has free will; humans have free will.  God gives us free will but also provides guard rails: enjoy the garden, but do not eat from the tree of good and evil.  If you do, you’re toast.   There’s no doubt that Adam knew the rules.  In his free will, he was able to choose between obedience and disobedience. God has not created robots that are programmed to say yes.  He has created humans who are able to choose the yes or the no.  This is important.

3:1 – Here comes the serpent.  The serpent is made by God.  In fact, the serpent is a crafty beast, able to really pull a fast one on Adam & Eve merely by  asking a few  questions.  “Did God really say…?”  Note that Satan did not ask “what did God say?”  Satan the snake knows the Word of God and will even quote it as a way of getting in.

3:2-3 – Eve tells the Serpent (as if he doesn’t know) the two sides of God’s command: enjoy all of it… except for this one.  Eve quotes the consequence given by God: touch this and die.   The claim of ignorance — “I didn’t know!” — simply won’t work in this scenario.

3:4 – The serpent twists the Word.

3:5 – The serpent speaks for God and makes Him sound like He’s holding back.  The line of thinking goes like this: “Why would God do this to us?   Is it because He doesn’t want us to have it as good as Him?  Is it because He’s keeping secrets from us?  I thought He was on my side!”  From this Genesis 3 day on, we have been trying to attain equality with God.  (Even Jesus didn’t do that— see Philippians 2:5-11).

3:6 – The woman saw.  Her eyes were already opening.  She could’ve run, but she saw what could be gained.  Nutrition?  Pleasure?  Wisdom?  Doesn’t God want these things for us?  Adam took the bait, too.  in their free will, they brought sin into the bloodline and into the world.

3:7 – Their eyes were opened.  You would think that they would look around and see another dimension in God’s creation.  You’d think that it would be like the Matrix, where Neo sees the DOS screen.  You’d think that the heavens would open up and they would be able to jump from planet to planet in some kind of surreal adventure that couldn’t be experienced because God was holding back.


Indeed their eyes were opened… to their exposure.  They felt the first twinge of shame and guilt, two elements that were never meant to exist on this earth.  Their eyes were opened, and the first thing Adam and Eve did was make coverings for themselves.

Hear the fall of humanity as creation is fractured.

Remember: this is not how the story ends.