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Jeff's Blog

assorted thoughts on faith and life

The Glory of Lists - 1/31/2018

I make a lot of lists. Usually I label them, so when I find them later I know what they were for and when they are from. Occasionally I find an old list that has no date or title, which usually leads to the thought, “What was I thinking?”

If you’ve spent much time reading the Bible (and I hope you have), you might have noticed that it contains lists. There are genealogies, there are land allotments, there is census information. These lists pose a great challenge for the reader and for the teacher. There is a lot of detail about which we don’t have any more information than the list provides. As a result, some people just skip over them.

At times, we have additional information from history, archeology or the Bible itself that help us to see interesting things or make exciting connections within the context of these lists. But often we don’t. As I was reading through the list of defeated kings in Joshua 12 I had a mini-epiphany. I realized that the reported people or events each represents its own whole story. We aren’t given the details of the story but there is a story present nonetheless. And in these lists of untold stories I find a message: God is actively at work.

Some of the untold stories may have amazingly miraculous elements which God didn’t think we needed to know about, but I suspect many of the stories are like mine, pretty ordinary. People just trying to follow God as best they can in faith and failure, and there they are, a name in Scripture at a pivotal moment in history. I take a measure of encouragement from this. It reminds me that I don’t have to be Abraham or David or Peter or Paul at a pivotal moment in the movement of God to be in the story of God in our world. It keeps me aware of the great host of once named or unnamed faithful to which I have been invited. This actually inspires me to remain faithful even though (or maybe, especially because) life seems ordinary.

Let me suggest that when you see a list of names in Scripture, you stop and remind yourself that behind every name is unique story. A story of the invitation of God to faith, of the activity of God to provide grace and blessing, of the purpose of God being fulfilled for His people and through His people, of God walking in relationship with individuals and communities and leaving a witness of His presence. Lists truly can be glorious.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Hail on a Sunny Day - 1/24/2018

Every once and a while we get a day here in Western Washington where the sun is shining brightly in a blue sky, but the trailing edge of a storm is also depositing the last of its moisture. I call it sunny rain. If you can get to the right location, the reward is often a glorious rainbow, but even when I don’t get to see the bow in the sky, sunny rain is about my favorite weather.

I was reading over the account of the “relief of Gibeon” and it struck me, for the first time, the sun is shining and there are hailstones – no report of clouds. That takes sunny rain to a whole new level. If you are not familiar with the account: Israel chooses to honor a hasty covenant they had made with Gibeon (they didn’t check with God first), and when Gibeon is attacked by a five-city coalition, they march to break the siege. The story is an amazing account of God’s action to fulfill His purposes. During the running battle, hailstones fall from the sky and kill more enemies than the Israelite army.

I’ve seen some hail, but in my experience, it is usually not bigger than a lima bean – it might sting a bit on the bare skin, but there’s no fear of death (unless you're driving in it and spin out). These had to be some hailstones! The biblical account doesn’t say how the Israelites soldiers avoided the hail, but I can easily picture the hail starting on that sunny day and Joshua and company just stopping to watch in wonder. Again, Scripture doesn’t tell us what happened, so I’m just speculating. But given my delight in sunny rain, I sure would have stopped to look around if hail started falling on a sunny day.

God does some surprising things. He regularly seems to interact in our experience in ways that disrupt our expectations. Sometimes these moments produce awestruck wonder and sometimes they seem more designed to invite desperate dependence. But in either case, we are reminded that God is under absolutely no obligation to fit into our patterns or expectations.

I do sometimes think that part of the struggle that we Western Christians have with our own personal faith as well as with sharing our faith is that as a culture (both inside and outside the Church) we have accepted a “small” or “tame” view of God. We quietly view God as a bigger version of ourselves. Hail on a sunny day reminds me that God is transcendent – I can’t fathom Him or understand Him fully.

I think it’s okay not to have all “the answers” about God, He’s too big, too amazing, too excellent. Living with some mystery is good for the soul. There is a sense of wonder about this infinite Creator who loves us that I think we need to reclaim.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Getting Ahead - 1/17/2018

When I was in elementary and junior high school, I participated in a program called Christian Service Brigade. One of the highlights of Boys Brigade was the hikes and backpacking trips all over the Cascades. I have some great memories from these trips.

On one of these trips, a hike from Rainy Pass into Stehekin, there was a point I got ahead of the rest of my troop. Trudging along the alpine trail on a bright summer morning was glorious. I could hear my friends behind me, I could hear the hum of cicada and then I heard an unfamiliar sound. It was like a small maraca that seemed totally out of place. I looked down and to right of my boot a few inches was a snake – not very big, but shaking its tail vigorously.

My one and only experience with a rattle-snake in the wild. I froze. It apparently was as frightened as I was as it turned and shot off the road with a few quick undulations of its body. The whole episode was one of those “time slowed” moments. What was mere seconds felt like ages. When my friends caught up with me, I was apparently white-as-a-sheet and had to explain the whole experience, while they all lamented that they had missed seeing the snake.

I got ahead of the pack. Usually we Americans use the phrase “getting ahead” as a positive, but there are circumstances when it is not – like when dangerous wildlife is about (I could tell another story about moose, too). And its never wise when we are talking about getting “ahead” of God, when we press forward without seeking His counsel, direction or guidance.

We live in a society that celebrates speed and honors the packed-out calendar. But in spiritual things, patience, prayerfulness and waiting are essential ingredients to a successful recipe. Without these disciplines, the good can sabotage the best, the reasonable can undermine the wonderful and hurry can overwhelm insight.

To be people of faith, we must trust that God is the God of time as well as circumstance. We need to plan and strategize to be sure, God has given us intellect after all, but we must not make the mistake of leaving God out of the decision-making equation. When we make decisions, do we consider the implications for advancing God’s Kingdom? Do we think about the biblical principles that pertain not just to specific actions, but the heart with which and the process through which these actions are done? Do we ask for counsel from others who think carefully and prayerfully, and actually plan to listen when they do offer a word of advice or perspective? Do we take time to pray with a listening ear, and not just in a mechanical or perfunctory way, believing that God desires to guide us?

The words of Jesus are pretty clear on the point of “getting ahead” aren’t they? He calls himself the Good Shepherd who leads us. He invites us to follow him. Then we don’t get ambushed by snakes on the path.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Another Cat Story - 1/10-2018

I’m afraid everyone is going to get sick of me sharing about our cats, but they just make such good examples! So here goes another story about our new cat, Cleo. I mentioned how she doesn’t really trust the people in the house, but that’s not exactly accurate. It’s more that she’s uncertain about the people in the house, with one really significant exception – our son.

Its like she knows that he’s the reason she gets to sit inside a warm and dry house with two square meals a day and a soft bed, instead of out in the weather under a barn, near a road, fending for herself with racoons, ’possums, and coyotes about.

She doesn’t always come when he calls her (after all she is a cat, and a calico to boot!). She often runs away when he tries to pick her up. But, when he does catch her, she settles into him like he’s her security blanket and starts purring when he rubs her chin. More amazing is when she knows its bed-time. She will chirp at our son and run upstairs to his bedroom, waiting for him to get settled. She likes to cuddle in close to his head under the covers. The cutest part of it all is that will stretch out her paw and put it on his cheek or chin and just rest it there. Cleo is his cat, and he is her person.

For me, the whole situation is a picture of loyalty. I can’t get inside the cat’s head, but in some way, she seems to “know” our son is her protector and is safe. She doesn’t ascribe that same sense to me – that’s for sure.

I don’t want to oversimplify the human virtue of loyalty by saying it’s the same that a cat or dog gives us when we care for it. I do, however, want to invite consideration of the virtue of loyalty. We don’t talk a lot about loyalty anymore, and often when we do its more negative than positive, like not being “blindly loyal” to someone. The assumption seems to be that loyalty is still a common virtue in our experience. I don’t think the evidence supports that conclusion, even among Christ followers. In fact, I see an increasing tendency for the only form of loyalty to be to oneself.

Scripture calls us to care for one another, to fellowship with one another, to forgive and to forebear with one another, to rejoice when others rejoice and mourn when others mourn. These are not synonymous with loyalty, but they seem to be the attitudes and actions I would expect of a person demonstrating loyalty toward others.

What’s more, God’s kindness to us in so many ways, but most profoundly in the offer of salvation and new life through invites, no cries out for, our loyalty to Him. Would we describe our pattern of life as demonstrating genuine enduring loyalty to God? Do we delight in the privilege of knowing Him? Do we stick with faith even when it doesn’t seem to “work” (whatever that means)? Do we obey the Word, or just cherry-pick the parts that we like? I believe loyalty is still a virtue and I believe that God deserves our sincere and grateful loyalty.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Renewed Life - 1/3/2018

We’ve got a new cat in the house (well, new-ish). Our son rescued it from under a barn in October (it was about eight weeks old). He calls her Cleopatra – Cleo for short. She is a tabby calico, with long back legs and a short tail. Its kind of fun to have a young cat in the house. She doesn’t really trust us people too much (well, except David…more about that later), but she is really fascinated with the other cats, especially our old man, Peace.

Being a kitten, Cleo likes to play. She loves chasing the laser pointer. She likes “hunting” the toy mice. She happily attacks feather toys. But her favorite pastime by far is to bat at the other cats and see what they do in response. Joy is conflicted about the whole thing, she sometimes seems to play along, but never appears very happy about it. Peace, well, he reminds me of a lion – either aloof or all in. Sometimes Cleo will bat at him and he just sits there like she doesn’t exist. Other times, though, he gets her pinned in a corner and jabs at her mercilessly, or climbs up on a chair so he can bat her head when she “stands up” to reach him.

Where’s all this going, you say. Well to bring it to a point: Peace has experienced a transformation. He seems younger. He will play more now than he did a few months ago. He sleeps less. He also seems a bit more…I dunno…like he’s the head of a pride.

Something about having the kitten in the house brings out the “young” in this fourteen year old cat. It reminds me of the need to be re-energized in life generally, but in spiritual life specifically. We have just come out of (well, actually we still are in) the season of Christmas. We look forward to Resurrection Sunday. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. We attend a corporate worship service weekly. These practices or rhythms all offer moments for re-energizing.

We sometimes use the term “remembering” at these sacred moments, but we mean something different than simply calling to mind a previous experience or truth. Remembering, in this context, is really being re-energized in faith - in the conviction of the truth of who Jesus is, of the inheritance that is ours, of the commission we have been given. Another way to put this is our remembering is really an act of recommitment or rededication to God and His purposes in and through us.

We won’t suddenly feel younger – physically or spiritually. But we can experience renewed joy. We can see our purpose come back into clearer focus. We can have a more profound sense of wonder, greater humility, deeper faith, and stronger courage. The world that we inhabit really tries to shift our line of sight and wear us down with many extraneous things. I find these moments of rededication both essential and invigorating. I hope you do to.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Getting Ready for Christmas - 12/13/2017

Its Christmas-time. We are in the second week of Advent, today is Saint Lucy’s day (for Scandinavians, in particular, this is a tradition). In our house the traditions associated with Christmas begin with cutting down our Christmas tree. This is actually a rather involved tradition that unfolds in the following way:

1. The weekend following Thanksgiving, we go tree hunting (and always bring home swags of greenery and usually some moss as well).

2. The appointed tree is ceremonially cut down, carefully loaded on the top of our van and deposited in a water source (our front yard pond).

3. About a week later the tree is brought inside, usually with some trauma to our ceiling because I mis-measured it, and we begin to dress it with lights (after any appropriate trimming).

4. The dressing process always takes more than one day.

When I line it all out like this, we don’t “go get a tree,” we have a tree procession. Our Christmas tree is the subject of a multi-stage journey. The result has always been worth it (and we keep the tree up and decorated until Epiphany – January 6th), but it must be arduous for the tree.

In a way, though, it is an appropriate process. We don’t get the tree quickly, the whole thing takes time, and in my better moments I realize this can be a form of preparation. The process of getting ready to host family or friends, the “re-decorating,” the extra cooking and baking sometimes feels like a burden. It can be a source of stress, even panic, as we add many tasks and events to our already busy schedules. It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, what would happen if we took the time we prepare for the festivities as a space to also prepare our hearts for worship?

The season of Advent is really just that, a season of preparation. In the early days of the Church, Advent included taking time to confess and repent, not just celebrate. The vision was to prepare one’s heart for the arrival of Christ. God even uses this pattern for our good. He sent prophet after prophet to communicate that the Messiah was coming, then He appointed John the Baptizer to announce the way. All this was in play before Jesus was born. God wanted to prepare people for the Good News.

Of course, they still didn’t get it. But we aren’t any different, are we? We get busy trying to fulfill our “Christmas expectations” and don’t make worshipping the King a priority. We invest more energy in family and food than in prayer and praise. We spend generously on others but don’t give our lives generously to God.

Christmas isn’t about the traditions, its about the grace of God in Jesus. Over time, for some, the traditions have replaced the purpose. Let’s reclaim that. Let’s allow the traditions to be intentional pointers to Jesus. So today, when I get home to finish putting lights on the tree, I promise myself (and you) that I will think about what it means that the Light of the world has shined in the darkness and that Jesus lived to provide evergreen – I mean everlasting – life to us.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Houses and Hearts - 10/26/2017

Well, it’s done. After months of preparation, the house I spent most of my “growing up” years in has been sold. There have been 41 years of Christmases in that house and a whole lot of other memories. The change has been a challenge for our family as it keeps the sense of loss and transition at the forefront of our experience and prevents us from settling in to a “new normal.”

Even as I write the words “new normal” I must pause for a moment, because I’m uncertain what that means. Usually, if I’m honest, normal is an assessment I make after the fact. I call something normal only after a set routine has been disrupted. Driving my children to high school at 5:30 in the morning seems normal (we did this for six years) now that I’m not doing it. While I’m certainly relieved (more sleep is better!), I nevertheless feel a small sense of loss in the face of adapting to this change.

Perhaps I’m unique in this, but I really long for a sense of “settled-ness.” The problem is that this sense remains elusive. I can’t ultimately tie it to a place because we move. I can’t ultimately tie it to a job, we retire (or get retired!). I can’t tie it to a role, those are changing all the time. I want to tie it to relationships, but those change too – even those closest to us. I can’t even tie it to myself, because if I’m honest, I am growing (old) and changing as well.

Enter God. In this unsettled world as things change around me and within me, God offers me the opportunity to relate to Him. This one who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” invites me to know Him and to center my sense of place, my stability, my identity in Him. Certainly, this relationship grows and matures, but underneath this change is the confidence that God is faithful; His purposes do not change, His nature does not change, what He says He will do, He does.

When the Bible talks about rest, I think it has this kind of “settled-ness” ultimately in mind. When we are promised “peace that passes understanding” it is grounded in the accomplished work of God on the Cross and His enduring faithfulness. Even our joy is the “joy of our salvation,” a promise given by and kept by God who fulfills His Word.

The key to settled-ness, then, is to be found in our faith in Jesus Christ and the opportunity this gives us to know God as our perfectly loving Father. It is no wonder that the writer of Hebrews can refer to our hope as an anchor (that’s “settled-ness”). Our sense of stability comes from a heart surrendered to God, seeking to know Him more and more, delighting in Him. My family’s home may be gone, but the God my parents introduced me to and who has walked with through all these years is still here inviting me to know and enjoy His companionship.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Walking Through Water - 10/18/2017

This summer, my family had the truly memorable experience of hiking a couple of miles up the Virgin River (and by up, I mean not alongside, but actually in) on the Narrows hike in Zion National Park. The adventure of seeing what might be around the next corner inside the canyon with walls hundreds of feet tall on either side was heightened by the fact that we were wading through the water for most of the walk. This will be a highlight memory of mine.

Another experience of walking through water...

A number of years ago, a friend and I went backpacking around Sol Duc Falls on the Olympic Peninsula. We planned to be gone a couple of days. The weather was good, the bugs were out in force, the company was excellent, the views stunning. It shaped up to be a great trip. We set up camp high up on the Ridge the evening of our first day. About 3:00 in the morning we awoke to the sound of drumming rain. A small stream had materialized underneath our tent, soaking our sleeping bags and a lot of our equipment. We thought about waiting it out, but decided to pack everything up and head down the mountain. Our packs were about twice as heavy as when we started out and we found ourselves hiking in water as the trail became a small river bed. I think I have gotten less wet swimming in the ocean than I did on that particular hike.

I may be slightly more obsessed with walking through water than most. But it brings me to this verse in Isaiah (43:2) that talks about passing through the waters and the rivers. I’m not sure if, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah is reflecting on the experience of the Israelites in the Exodus (first the Red Sea, then the Jordan River), but it is more than a remote possibility. In Isaiah, as well as in the Exodus and Joshua, passing through the water was an opportunity to see God’s faithfulness. The image isn’t one of a casual stroll on a family outing or even a necessary challenge on a backpacking trip. The image is one of threat, of an obstacle that is insurmountable and promises to overwhelm. For the people of Israel, crossing the Jordan River (like crossing the Red Sea before it) was a wonder of God designed to confirm His faithfulness while at the same time evoking both praise and obedience.

I don’t think that I will be walking through the Snohomish River on dry ground with the river waters piled up on either side of me any time soon. But I do think that God continues to show His faithfulness to us in our most challenging circumstances, not by eliminating the need to trust (say by finding a convenient bridge), but by providing His presence with us through the waters themselves. Every step will require our faith in God (who wouldn’t be a bit nervous with great heaps of water on either side of them), but every step will also bear witness to God’s faithfulness.

I’m not trying to diminish the scariness or even painfulness of our hard experiences. I’m not trying to gloss over our grief at true loss or even our rage at true injustice. I’m also not trying to suggest that all our questions get answered satisfactorily or that everything works out to our advantage. What I am saying is that the consistent faithfulness of God should inspire eyes of faith in us; eyes that try to see the ways God is present with us and not focus on the apparent absences; eyes that look for the moments of strength and encouragement and fruitfulness, not focusing on the fear or hurt or the hardship. This, I think, represents the intersection of faith and hope.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Nuthatches and Rahab - 10/11/2017

On Monday, Joanie and I noticed a different bird at our backyard bird feeder. I didn’t know what it was so had to look it up. Unquestionably a red breasted nuthatch. Tuesday, I was putting out peanuts for “my” Steller’s jays and one of these little birds landed on a post about 18 inches from head and watched me. I was curious, so I stood there for a while (about two minutes) and watched it watching me. After a bit it got bored and flew to the feeder – still only about 18 inches from me – to happily peck at the seed. It was joined by a second nuthatch – I think one was a male and one a female. I was a bit taken aback by their boldness. Even the much larger Steller’s jays who know I feed them won’t let themselves be that vulnerable.

I got to thinking about the biblical character Rahab (by character, I refer to her place in the narrative I don’t mean to imply that she is not a historical person). She is a fascinating character to me. I would not hold her up as an example of virtue. Her lie to save the Israelite spies sent to Jericho by Joshua has been used as a test case for entire formulations of Christian ethics (though this misses both the point of the narrative and the point of the references to her in the New Testament). What is so interesting to me about Rahab is her response to “grapevine” about the Israelites. She admits openly to the spies that everyone is afraid of the God of Israel. She seems aware that leadership of Jericho is trying to hunt the spies down presumably to kill or imprison them. Yet her response is not to flee or shut herself up behind great walls. Her response is to offer protection and counsel to the agents of Israel.

The text doesn’t “psychologize” for us; it doesn’t tell us what is going on inside of Rahab’s heart and mind. But Rahab’s response to fear is to embrace the source of the fear – the God of Israel. She aligns herself with Him. I wonder if Rahab was a bit of thrill seeker; someone who ran toward the object of fear rather than away from it? Whatever her reason, like the little nuthatches, Rahab showed a kind of courage; a kind of courage that moved toward what was bigger than her. While everyone else is panicking and hiding, Rahab is curious and courageous.

The New Testament will go on to describe her actions as the actions of faith – behavior that showed allegiance to God and His people, fully aware that this allegiance comes with a price. In this way Rahab is a powerful example to us of a life of faith to which God responds with favor. We could much worse, I think, than showing our faith in the same courage and curiosity toward the God who loves us and has given His Son for our redemption.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Legacy - 10/4/2017

Before I dive in this week with what was on my heart, let me pause for a moment and simply express my personal horror and sorrow at the events that unfolded in Las Vegas this past Sunday night. Know that this event has consumed the attention of a lot of people, and I have a lot of thoughts running through my own mind, but I don’t feel prompted to write about them just now. Instead, I just pray that God will heal the individuals and communities connected with event, but more than that, that He will help us heal from the hatred and desperation that seems to cloud the minds of so many today. On with this week’s original reflection:

It’s a bit hard to imagine that we are fully into autumn now. The sun is shining brightly and I actually hand watered plants this week (how odd is that for October in Washington?). The kids are back to school, the Fall routine has begun, but it doesn’t feel very routine yet.

Part of the oddness of it all is that a fair amount of time was spent this summer helping my mom move into a new home and cleaning items out of the home my parents lived in for 41 years. The moving process is a challenge under most circumstances, but all that history can be overwhelming. Going through tools and other items that belonged to my dad was a curious experience. In the process I was reminded of the loss our family has experienced. I was reminded of how central Dad was to our family’s sense of identity. I also was reminded that there were parts of my dad’s life I didn’t know much about (why did he have five different dial calipers and twelve identical compasses?).

The whole process, like getting ready for Dad’s memorial, created an opportunity for reflection. Dad was by no means perfect; he had his weaknesses and struggles just like everyone, and I got a front row seat to some (but only some) of them. Nevertheless, Dad remains a hero to me. Whatever his struggles and weaknesses, he left a legacy of faith. Dad had a buoyant spirit and, in my experience, always exhibited confidence that things would work out. Some might say he was optimistic, but I don’t think so. In the conversations that I had with him in the last years of his life what he communicated over and over was, “God is good and will see this through.” It’s possible that Dad was an “eternal optimist” in temperament, but you’d have to ask Mom or his brother about that. What I know is that my father believed, with enduring conviction, that his heavenly Father was faithful to His promises.

I have recently begun preaching through the book of Joshua. One key theme of the book of Joshua is: faith in God because He is faithful. Dad liked Joshua; I think I can see why.

Here’s the interesting bit about all this: God has demonstrated His faithful to me in my dad’s faith. God has provided me and my children a legacy of living faith. Of the many things that I received from my dad, this is most important. In the seasons of feeling grief and loss, in the challenge of adapting to a new “normal,” there is another more uplifting thread. It’s the thread of faith and God’s faithfulness.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Apocalypse Not Quite Now - 9/13/2017

It’s hard to believe that summer is effectively over. And what a summer it’s been. I’ve taken to calling it the apocalyptic summer. We started the summer taking a road trip to the Utah National Parks and the Grand Canyon. While in Utah, the Brian’s Head fire produced a hazy experience that turned the sun red. We return home to the Puget Sound and a few weeks later fires in our region produced the same experience – blood red moon at night, red sun during the day. We had ash fall on our cars and yard which immediately had people talking about their experiences in 1980 when Mount Saint Helens erupted. The summer ends with many of us watching the news amazed and horrified by the destruction of hurricanes Harvey and Irma and just waiting to see what happens with Jose.

There have been other events as well. Things to celebrate that are harbingers of change – our youngest graduating from High School. Challenges to face – moving my mother to a new home and preparing the family home for sale this fall (there’s 41 years of history in that house and a lot of memories). Early in the summer we experienced the loss of two friends, Leta and Billie. Late in the summer we are processing the challenge of family members dealing with cancer. It’s been a strange and deeply unsettling summer.

In the midst of it, the Holy Spirit impressed on me the importance of living expectantly. A timely message to be sure. Timely because of my personal need to grow in trust and reliance on God as things change around me. Timely because the whole idea of “apocalyptic” invites me to hope in the return of Jesus and come to terms with how temporary the experience is. The truth is life is rushing toward an end and on its own that is frightening. But that fact does not reflect the whole story. There is a second fact, God stands in authority over the process and has graciously offered to us eternal life.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

The Game of Honor - 8/30/2017

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at a sister church. I was asked to preach on the topic of brotherly affection, so I chose Romans 12 as my text. There is one phrase in the text that catches me every time I read it: “Outdo one another in showing honor” (verse 10).

My family likes to play games, but we are all a bit competitive so when my wife wins (and she wins a lot), we (okay, me) are not always the most gracious losers. Sometimes, when I’m honest, the loss overrides the fun of the game itself. This is not a virtue, but it is a reality – one I continue to work on.

In fact, the idea of being competitive enough that it harms relationships violates the picture of love that is painted for us in Romans 12. Competition itself is not condemned, but harming relationships is. In fact, there is this one competition Paul endorses, showing honor to each other. Now, I don’t ever think of showing honor as a competition. Sometimes it’s a joy and sometimes (if I’m honest) it’s an obligation, but never a competition. Yet this is the one competition (and the only one I can think of) that is commanded in Scripture. Certainly we can warp Paul’s idea here into being destructive (by thinking we are superior because of the quality or quantity of honor we show, etc.), but what an interesting “game” to play.

I think if we all joined in this friendly competition, we would see a tremendous change in the nature of our relationships and a general elevating of the relational maturity and wholeness of relationships in the church. Think about it, how would our conversations change if we are intentionally honoring one another? What impact would this honor have on sinful and destructive patterns like gossip? How would our impulse to criticize others change if we are seeking to honor them? Even the tone of our “confrontation” would change if the principle behind it was honor, wouldn’t it?

God shows us dignity by giving us choice. He honors us by seeking our heart rather than forcing our compliance. If God functions this way toward us, wayward, sinful, rebellious and undeserving as we are, then why would we not treat each other the same way?

Get in the game!

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Be Still - 7/12/2017

Psalm 14 invites us (well really commands us) to be still and know God. Stillness is an ongoing struggle for me, being a male in a productivity driven culture. But I haven’t yet given up the fight to learn the discipline of stillness. Let me share some words from a much wiser person than I on this topic:

Silence means quietness, freedom from sounds except natural ones like breathing, bird songs and wind and water moving. It also means not talking. Silence completes solitude, for without it you cannot be alone. You remain subject to the pulls and pushes of a world that exaust you and keep you in bondage, distracting you from God and your own soul. Far from being a mere absence, silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. It is like the wind of eternity blowing in your face. Not for nothing does the Psalmist say: "Be still and know that I am God." God does not ordinarily compete for our attention. In silence we come to attend.

When we stop talking we abandon ourselves to reality and to God. We position ourselves to attend rather than to adjust things with our words. We stop our shaping and negotiating, or "spinning." How much of our energy goes into that! We let things stand. We trust God with what others shall think.

Of course there is a time to talk, as there is a time to be with others. But we are not safe and rich in talk and companionship unless our souls are strong in solitude and silence. If we have heard the good news and have come to trust our Savior, He will meet with us through extensive solitude and silence to stabilize his love, joy and peace in us. His character will increasingly become ours--easily, thorougly. You rarely find any person who has made great progress in the spiritual life that did not have much time in solitude and silence.

Dallas Willard, The Great Omission

There is a challenge with a promise.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

The Stones Shall Cry Out... - 7/5/2017

We have just returned from a road trip to see the five National Parks in Utah (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion) and the Grand Canyon. The landscape we saw was amazing. Each park had unique elements. The colors of stone and earth were astounding – reds, greens, and browns of many different hues.

One fascinating thing was that the word “cathedral” kept running through my head. Whether it was the stone arches, or the spires of the hoodoos, or the shapes of some of the plateaus, there was a likeness between the cathedrals we saw in Europe and the formations of the stone in these desert places.

To say it was awe-inspiring would not be an overstatement. And like cathedrals, these unusual and amazing formations can inspire worship.

When Jesus said to the Pharisees that the stones would cry out, he was not referring to the wonder producing spires of Bryce Canyon or the majestic colors of the Grand Canyon at sunset. He was chastising them for their failure to see that worship was the appropriate response to his presence. But I can’t help thinking that Upheaval Dome, Delicate Arch and Angel’s Window do in fact “cry out” of the glory of God and His praiseworthiness.

We have been endowed with the capacity to speak of these wonder-inspiring things. Because of this endowment, we should be adept at speaking praise to the God who has demonstrated such creativity in the world He has made.

I want to hear the stones cry out, the mountains life their voices to sing, the trees clap their hands – literally – but not because I am silent. I want to be part of the great chorus of creation that sings the praise of our wonder-working, awe-inspiring God.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Just Breathe - 6/14/2017

My wife found a little banner with a tree on it that says “Just Breathe.” The phrase has become almost commonplace today. In my experience, however, it has become a meaningful phrase. It can mean many things; take a moment and pause, exhale out some emotion; concentrate on something simple to slow down your mind. More truly it means most of these things simultaneously.

Sometimes the issues of life come at us so thick and fast that we need to be reminded to breathe. More significance can be teased out of this phrase for us when we think theologically though. In Hebrew, the word for breath and spirit are the same. So when I see the words “just breathe” I’m choosing to see this as a reminder to stop and pray – to acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence and welcome his influence.

Scripture is clear that the benefits of the work of Christ are applied to us through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Scripture is equally clear that the Holy Spirit is present with us and in us once we are saved. In addition, the witness of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is transforming us, changing us to reflect the heart of God and the glory of Jesus more and more. All of this would suggest that we need to be aware of the ministry of the Spirit in our lives, and not just in a theoretical way.

Being aware of the ministry of the Spirit means that we need to stop and breathe, not just filling our lungs with air, but allowing the presence of the Spirit to fill up our spirit. This requires a discipline of quiet – which in our technologically saturated world is quite challenging. This also requires a discipline of stillness – which is different than quiet. Stillness requires bringing our active lives and our active minds to rest. I really struggle with this, my mind races all the time. I’m still learning these disciplines, you probably are too.

But the Holy Spirit is our source of spiritual life and in order for us to live in the fullness of God’s design we desperately need to attend to the teaching, comforting and guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. After all, he is God with us. If you ever hear me say “just breathe” to you, know that it means far more than taking a breath of air, it means inviting awareness of the Holy Spirit.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

'Possums and the Presence - 6/7/2017

The big adventure this week? We started an opossum hotel and had our first client. What actually happened is that we left the shed door open Sunday night and something rifled through the fertilizer and seed. So, Monday night at about ten I went out and checked the shed door. It was open, so I closed it. No problem – right?

Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that what appeared to be fertilizer spilling out through the tiny crack under the door. Curious, I opened the door and found stuff spilled everywhere. We had a visitor in the shed when I closed the door. I visitor I neither saw or heard. Sure enough I found a rather large ‘possum huddled in the back corner of the shed between the wall and lawn-mower. After a good laugh (and a few pictures) I encouraged our visitor to mosey on his way. Then I had a big mess to clean up and a shed to disinfect.

Sometimes what we don’t see can cause huge problems – a leak behind the walls, a ‘possum in the shed, rats in the crawl space, blood sugars that run consistently too high, destructive mutations in healthy cells. The evidence of these kinds of events can range from annoying to devastating. There is another silent influence, the spiritual realm. We have opponents to our faith that seek to disrupt our lives and draw us away from Christ.

But…there is one more unseen presence for those who follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, Jews put the Bread of Presence in the Tabernacle and the Temple. The Temple was a space consecrated to the Presence of God among His covenant people. In Christ (who called himself the Bread of Life) we don’t a physical reminder of the Presence of God like a building. Instead, we are given the gift of the enduring Presence of God in God, Himself. The Holy Spirit indwells us when we are saved, He “takes up residence” in us. God is always with us because He is present everywhere, not bound by time or space. But somehow, He becomes more present as the third person of Trinity becomes our inseparable companion.

Often we talk about the blessings or gifts we receive through salvation, but I think we underemphasize this gift. God doesn’t merely walk and talk with us as when Jesus was present with the disciples, God lives with and in us. It is no wonder that Paul can say with confidence “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit is the greatest (and most beneficial) unseen presence in our experience. Delight in him!

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

A "Hole" Different Perspective - 5/31/2017

I was digging a big hole in our yard this week, and by big I mean larger than your average hole for fence posts or plants. This hole involved moving dirt and using a pick-ax on hard gray clay (officially a form of hardpan – I looked it up). Besides creating a void in our yard it produced sore muscles, which was not really part of the plan. This process inspired some thinking about the subject of work (aided in no small part because I preached from 2 Thessalonians 3 this past Sunday).

I realize that I have some funny thoughts about work. I usually associate it with labor intensive activities that I do because they have to be done, not because I enjoy them. Or I think about my “employment” – the work that I do associated with making money to support my family. I don’t think I’m particularly unique in this. But I’m also not sure that is a very accurate way to think about work. Really work is an investment of time, energy and skill to accomplish a goal (I looked that up too!).

The Bible talks about our work in several different ways, but one of the keys is to be productive for the good of others. Sometimes the idea is generosity, sometimes the idea is specific to meeting the needs of those who cannot meet their own, and sometimes the context is not living in such a way that we create an obstacle to people responding to the Gospel. In each case, others benefit from what we invest our time and energy in.

Sometimes, however, we get it a bit wrong-headed. We either focus on work for our own sakes (how much can I make?) or we focus on the work itself (how much more can I get done?). In either case, things can get unbalanced and we fall into a pattern of working that is destructive. We even invented a word for it; we call these unbalanced people “workaholics.” Some people also focus on how to get out of doing work (what is the minimum I can do and get away with it?). Apparently, in Paul’s day, some people focused on how they should work in other people’s lives and became meddlers. They were busy, but busy doing things that were cumbersome or destructive to others, rather than productive. And in the process, they were manifesting what we would call an entitlement attitude.

Paul confronted entitlement, by modeling a different way. In this he followed Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality

with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing by taking the

very nature of a servant (Philp. 2:6-7; NIV)

Paul worked hard to support himself so as not to be a burden on others (others-centered focus) at the same time as he was ministering the Gospel to them (others-centered focus). So I need to think about work as the investment I am making to be a blessing to others. Sometimes it is labor intensive and even frustrating, sometimes it seems easy and enjoyable, but in the end I am serving others, so it is always worthwhile.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Taken for Granted - 5/25/2017

This morning I was awakened by a phone call and, without thinking, I answered it. It was a call related to ministry, but it could have waited until a slightly more reasonable time as it was not regarding an urgent matter. That phone call launched my day. Quickly I was dressed and working out the schedule for the day and reviewing the list of tasks to be accomplished. I got into the study at church and sat down to write reflecting briefly on the theme of God’s faithfulness from this past Sunday.

I was part way through my post (the consequence of which was starting over) when all of the sudden I was stopped short with the sudden realization of how much I take for granted every day. I assume many things, like the sun rising, my heart beating, and having air to breathe. I assume that things are going to work the way they are supposed to, like the car running (which is of particular note because both of the cars have been in the shop in the last two weeks dealing with significant issues) and the Internet being available (so I can post my musings). I assume a great deal. At one level, we have to do this because if we didn’t we would be paralyzed by inaction or a constant sense of dread. At another level, though, awareness of all that we take for granted offers us an opportunity.

The Psalmist entreats us to “bless the Lord” and “forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). In his context the Psalmist is focusing on the really big issues of life like forgiveness and redemption. But God is active in sustaining everything, all the time. So everything that I take for granted is actually a gift from God, sustained by God. He is at work blessing me, so it is only natural that I bless Him.

Everything that I take for granted – life, the loving people around me, reasonable health, beauty, rest – is all part of the benefit that God has given to me. It is all a testimony to His exceeding faithfulness. And I take this faithfulness for granted. I presume upon the faithfulness of God for life and eternal life without an appropriately thankful or awestruck heart.

It seems natural to talk about the faithfulness of God when He intervenes in a “big” way to solve a challenge that is overwhelming to us. But to be mindful of God’s ongoing faithfulness in the “daily grind” is much less familiar to us. Nevertheless, the faithfulness of God is proved precisely in the daily grind of ordinary existence. Indeed, the fact that there is any ordinary existence at all bears powerful testimony to God’s ongoing faithfulness to us, in spite of penchant for willfulness and rebellion.

The challenge, then, is to develop a discipline of blessing the Lord for the ordinariness as well as in the moments of extraordinariness. When we have a fine day, do we give thanks because we had a “routine” or “normal” experience recognizing that everything that goes into a “normal” day involved the sustaining will of God, and for us believers, the presence of the Holy Spirit and intercession of Jesus Christ?

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Back-Up - 5/17/2017

I came home from dropping our son off on Tuesday to my wife asking me to call the cat in. Our hunter – ironically named Peace – had been outside and had a fight with another cat in the green belt right next to our house.

Peace is not remotely afraid of defending his territory, and he’s a sizable cat. He’s also crafty. Tuesday morning, he started the sizing up part of a territorial dispute, the mewing and hissing and arching the back. But apparently he waited to actually launch the cat brawl until Joanie had come outside.

This is not the first-time Peace has waited for “back-up” before driving off the competition. There have been numerous occasions when he has been involved in the stare down and posturing, but the minute he knows one of “his people” is outside and nearby, he launches a serious attack. It’s almost as if he knows that he can trust us to help him out if things go badly.

Having a much bigger more powerful ally to back us up is a great source of security. For Peace, having us around is a confidence builder in a fight (apparently) – though to be honest, he’ll fight with or without us. The challenge is finding an ally who is faithful, capable and available. Humans and human systems (even good ones) can provide no final guarantee. The only sure source of security is the faithfulness of God and the work He has already done for us through Christ.

God’s faithfulness doesn’t mean that everything always goes right or happily. But it does mean that in the final analysis, we will be more glorious and there will be an eternal reward. When I stop and really think about it, that eternal reward far outweighs the small temporary things I often pursue.

Sometimes Peace picks a stupid fight – like when he attacks our house cat. Sometimes I pick stupid fights too. But I know that in the fight that really matters, the fight for my eternal soul, Jesus in not my back-up, he’s my champion and he’s already won.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Victory - 5/10/2017

This weekend we attended the memorial the teenage son of a family friend. The service was well done, but it was a hard one to attend. Sitting there in the congregation couldn’t help but evoke thoughts and feelings about Dad’s passing away just a bit over a year ago. But a stray thought ran through my head after the service, “Dad gets to meet Chaz now.” It was a hopeful thought in the midst of grief.

Such hopeful thoughts are an essential part of our faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus did more than simply die on a cross. He died and rose again to demonstrate his power over death and sin and to grant us salvation and eternal life. He won a masterful, and thoroughly complete, victory over the powers of darkness.

When confronted by the challenges of life, whether the seemingly small daily ones or the big life-sized ones, it is easy to become overwhelmed. There is always an additional element to the story though, one that gets easily overlooked because it doesn’t force its way into our experience. That is the victory which Jesus has won for his people.

We live in a world where the phrase, “all good things must come to an end” gets thrown around quite casually, as if it is an established fact. But it is not an established fact. Many good things are indeed temporary, but there great things, yet to come, that are eternal and will not end.

One of my favorite quotes from the “The Lord of the Rings” captures this contrasting attitude:

“It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” JRR Tolkien, The Two Towers

Darkness must pass. That’s a key element of the activity of God in our world, to bring about the end of “darkness” – evil, brokenness, selfishness, injustice. The glory of God is greater - exponentially greater – than the power of evil. Darkness cannot stand before His light. This is the end of the story, won by the victory of Jesus in the Cross and Resurrection. It was this truth that the Spirit whispered into my soul on Sunday afternoon in the face of sorrow and loss.

So we join with Paul and declare with both deep gratitude and powerful conviction:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Wonder - 5/3/2017

Last week I watched a seagull grab a fish out of a small lake, struggle to fly away with it, and drop it. An osprey swept in to grab the fish before it could swim away. As the osprey was taking off from the water, a bald eagle flew over and started to circle – I think waiting to see if the osprey could handle the fish. The osprey managed it. A few minutes later as the eagle flew away the seagull and a friend decided to warn it off by “dive bombing” it from above. The eagle was bothered and flipped over in mid-flight to brandish its talons at the descending gulls. It was a few moments of wonder in an otherwise routine morning.

The idea of wonder is an interesting one to me. We use the word “wonderful” to describe things that are pleasant or happy or good. But wonder isn’t synonymous with these terms. Wonder is when we are caught up in something that we find amazing or overwhelming (usually in a positive way). Wonder is what we experience when we encounter something that captures our imagination because of its beauty and mystery. Wonder occurs when we don’t really have an explanation for something, or when the explanation doesn’t really do justice to the experience.

Take rainbows as an example. They are just plain amazing. One would think that living in the Pacific Northwest, I would grow accustom to them, but I have not. Yes, I can explain the mechanics of refraction and the prism effect, but those mechanics don’t capture my experience of “wow” when I see a rainbow (especially a full double).

Sometimes in matters of faith I think we settle for the explanation, when we need to enjoy the wonder. Don’t misunderstand, I think careful thought and growing intellectual understanding are important for our faith, but they are not the only important thing.

Worship is aided by understanding. But worship is also aided by wonder. Are we captivated by the glory of Jesus? Do we have moments of “wow” when we reflect on the gift that God has given us in Jesus? When we experience these things, we need to enjoy them and not simply rush on to the next thing. I don’t think we can manufacture wonder, but I do think we can avoid it. But God inspires wonder, the Gospel is wonder-full, the Spirit brings wonder into our lives. Experience the wonder of our faith and worship.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Satisfaction - 4/19/2017

Isaiah 53 is a famous passage in the Old Testament because it prophesies about the ministry of the Messiah in bringing salvation to the world. Portions of the passage appear in Handel’s Messiah (which we could sing during the Resurrection season as well as at Christmas).

I have read through this passage many times over my Christian life, but this time through, the word “satisfied” stood out. The verse says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…” (verse 11). Isaiah is revealing to us that the Messiah’s desire is for the salvation of many people at the expense of his own ease. His heart is one with God’s in purpose and intent. While reflecting on these words, I couldn’t help think of the Creation account and the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” I imagine that we could apply this refrain to the Messiah – “He saw the outcome of his anguish and saw that it was good.”

We know that Jesus (the Son) aligned his heart with the will of the Father completely. He says as much several times, but perhaps it is most poignant in the Garden of Gethsemane where he declares, “your will be done” (Matthew 26:42) as he prepares to go to the Cross.

We are called to faith in Christ, to believe in him and trust in his work on the Cross and in the Resurrection. But we are also called to follow him, to imitate his example. The question then becomes: Are we most satisfied in that which satisfies God? That’s a hard question! And, when I’m honest, I recognize how often I have to repent because I chase after things, or think I want things, that are the things that satisfy God.

At this point I could ramble on about the issue, but let me just leave you with the question this Resurrection season: Are you asking the Lord to shape your heart so you are satisfied by what satisfies Him? “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

"Fitness" - 4/12/2017

We moved a Japanese maple this week. It wasn’t huge, but it has been in its same location for quite some time and the root ball was quite extensive. In other words, it wasn’t big, but it was heavy. A landscaper gave us a suggestion for the new location when we told him we might want to move the tree. If the tree survives the transplant it will look brilliant in its new location.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes things just seem to “fit” in a spot? Whether it’s a piece of furniture or a plant, whether it’s a person in just the right role or a pet that just suits a particular family, sometimes things just seem to fall together right.

We use the word “fit” to describe many things, for example when we are in peak physical condition or when a piece goes exactly into a hole in a puzzle. While the academic discussion around this idea of “fitness” is really intriguing, but for our purposes just go with me on the fact that fitness is connected to the big principles of goodness, truth and beauty.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t often think about “fitness” in a spiritual sense, but it clearly works in the context of thinking about our Christian lives. Our spiritual fitness lines up with the good, true and beautiful triad. We are to find our anchor in the Truth – Jesus himself – and live on the basis of God’s truth. We are to yield to the will of God and keep in step with the Holy Spirit and reflect the glory of God as we are transformed from “glory to glory” – 1 Corinthians 3:18 (think “beauty”). And we are called to love goodness and do good to others. Paul tells us not to grow weary in doing good and that we are to take every opportunity to do good to others especially other Christians. Goodness is one of the fruit of the Spirit.

When we live in the truth, clinging to that which is good and being transformed in glory, we are spiritually fit, both in the sense that we are growing in faith and in the sense that we fulfill our purpose. It’s as though a great crowd of spectators looks at us and says, “Oh, that just works.” We have a lot of ways of trying to describe this, but “fit” works just fine for me. I want to make sure that I am in the “spot” God wants me so it just seems natural.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Be Ready - 4/5/2017

We lost our washing machine a few weeks ago, and by lost I mean the spindle that turns the drum broke (the washer is dead – really dead). Trying to make an informed decision about washing machines is tough. Everyone has their own opinion and the consumer advocacy groups all use different standards to evaluate machines. Then add in the fact that machines, especially dryers keep getting larger. Our house doesn’t have a laundry room, it has a laundry closet, and many units are just a little too big to fit. The situation is more complicated than it has any right to be.

Part of the problem is that we weren’t planning for a washing machine failure (we were prepared for the refrigerator or furnace – or both – to go, but not the washing machine). So we have to deal with issues that weren’t on the trajectory. Life is a bit like that though, isn’t it? Not everything goes according to plan.

Being surprised is a part of life. It’s also a part of our spiritual life. God surprises us with blessings that we weren’t expecting. Life challenges us with unanticipated crisis, which we are called to respond to with grace and trust. Then there is this teaching about the Return of Jesus. Paul tells us that Jesus is coming back and that it will surprise the world, but that we don’t have to be surprised as Christ followers.

Growing up, whenever people talked about the Return of Jesus, the focus was on figuring out the “when.” Paul tells us the focus for getting ready needs to be on the “how.” If we are attentively to following Jesus then there will be need to suddenly “get ready” for his return. What Jesus wants to see in us when he comes back is faith demonstrated in righteousness and love. If we are pursuing this agenda it won’t matter when Jesus comes back, we’ll be ready.

Paul clearly intended this to be a source of encouragement, and in two different ways. First, it is an encouragement to us to be actively growing in faith, righteousness and love. Jesus’ desire is for our growth in these areas, and that is what he will be looking for when he returns. Second, it is an encouragement in that we are given a sure source for hope. We know we can be ready for the Return of Jesus, so we don’t have to be panicky or fearful.

We can’t guess everything that is going to happen in life. We can’t guess everything that is going to happen as history unfolds, but we don’t have to. We simply have to continually adjust to living by faith, love and righteousness, trusting in Christ and we will be ready to meet him whenever he comes.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Diamonds, Ice and an Empty Tomb - 3/29/2017

We live in a culture that, when it comes to death, would prefer avoid the subject. In fact, some people go to great pains to “beat” death’s inevitability. There was just recently a case in the UK where a court upheld the wishes of a 14-year-old girl who had died of cancer to be cryogenically frozen until a cure might be discovered. The procedure was supposed to cost about $70,000.00.

To some, I’m sure the idea of spending that amount of money for a chance at a longer life might seem worth it. Personally, if I’m going to the spend money, I’d rather spend $5,000.00 and have the carbon in my body turned into a diamond (okay, I’m kidding).

There is a very different way to approach death when we are followers of Jesus. Because of the historic fact of Jesus’ Resurrection, we have the privilege of looking forward to a resurrection of our own. I don’t need to be frozen in the hopes of being revived at some future date when science has found answers to our ailments. I know that there will come a day when I will be given a new and glorious body.

As a Christian, there is no compelling reason to avoid the reality of death. Death just becomes a doorway to the presence of Jesus. Nor is there a compelling reason to avoid the subject of death. Death should hold no fear, even though there is a real loss.

I do not suggest a morbid focus on death, but I do think we are better motivated by recognizing our mortality than by trying to avoid it. I’m not sure how we teach and model the strength of our hope in Jesus if we are forced to confront something that has the apparent finality of death. How do we demonstrate victory unless we face a threat as daunting as the grave?

When we encounter death, we respond with the confident hope of resurrection. Death is not the end of the story. Jesus has proved that, and has promised that if we follow Him in faith, we will one day experience this resurrection for ourselves.

Some may say that this is wishful thinking, or “pie in the sky.” I think it is much more substantial than hoping in cryogenics. I think it is significantly more plausible than mere cessation of existence. I believe in the Resurrection and so I lean into Paul’s words that we do not grieve without hope.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Living Out Love - 3/22/2017

When we visited the UK a couple of summers ago an interesting thing happened. First, we were told by some seasoned travelers not to start in London, so we didn’t. We landed in London and immediately hoofed it out to Bath. This was very good advice. But being away from the hustle and bustle of the big city attuned us to a more “British” pattern.

We weren’t in England a week before we started identifying American tourists. Sometimes it was the clothes that were worn but more often it was the volume of their voices. The Americans were just louder (and we probably were too, though we tried not to be). It reminded me of a “Live Out Loud” campaign I had seen (by the way, this slogan has been used to support all kinds of causes).

Here in the States, we put a lot of emphasis on self-determination, standing up for ourselves and making ourselves heard. Interestingly, that doesn’t line up really well with Jesus. Jesus, instead, calls us to deny ourselves, joyfully submit to the will of God and serve others.

When encouraging the young Thessalonian church, Paul uses such categories as holiness and love, in which he challenges us to love others in a way that reflects God’s best for them. Part of this call is to live quietly and deal with our own “stuff.” This does not mean congregating in Christian “ghettos” isolating ourselves from people who are not Christians – that would violate the call to share the Gospel in loving relationship with those who do not yet know Jesus. This also does not mean refusing to confront social ills because it might create controversy. But it does mean not living in such a way that we drive people away from Christ or create false obstacles to they’re becoming Christians.

Maybe we could say it this way: a lot less angry and fearful speech and a lot more gracious words (even when we are challenging someone); a lot less “us” v “them” and a lot more “can I pray for you;” a lot less asserting our rights and a lot more serving the needs of our communities. Many of us are on this path, and it’s the right one.

We may not need to become more British (or Welsh, or Scottish, or Irish), but we do need to remember that our cultural proclivities must be questioned in light of the truth of God’s word. And perhaps, we should be less concerned about living out loud and more concerned about living out love.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Beware the Ignoring of Holiness – 3/15/2017

Today is the Ides of March. For most people that has virtually no meaning. For a few it is full of dark portents of doom and gloom. Originally, however, the Ides of March (roughly the 15th of March) was the date for the first full moon of March and was actually celebrated as the Roman New Year.

The assassination of Julius Caesar fell on this day and Shakespeare famously had a soothsayer in his play Julius Caesar warn Caesar saying, “Beware the Ides of March.” Hence the association some of us have with the Ides being a day of bad things.

Okay, so that is the random historical thought for today and nothing whatever to do with my reflections on life and spiritual things. Wait…that’s not true either. I don’t want to be a purveyor of gloom and doom, but there are some hard things we need to come to terms with in our faith communities. One of these is the failure to discuss holiness. It was Bonhoeffer (as far as I know) who first used the phrase “cheap grace” to refer to receiving grace without any necessary sacrifice on our part in response.

Grace is a gift that cannot be earned, too be sure. But that does not mean that grace makes no demands on us. The joyous demand of grace is that Christ is formed in us; our heart (that is our convictions, agendas, motivating desires) becoming aligned with his heart so that we begin to reflect him.

I am personally concerned that we have produced a generation of Christians who view freedom in terms of what they no longer must avoid rather than in terms of being made capable (by the power of the Holy Spirit to be sure) to do that which is noble, pure, admirable, and beneficial to others. This idea of freedom certainly fits well with the zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) of modern America, but it doesn’t accord well with Paul or John or (and especially) Jesus.

The pursuit of holiness is not optional for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior. I’m not advocating a return to legalistic rule keeping as a way to impress God with our sincerity, but I am suggesting that without attention given to the pursuit of biblical holiness the Church runs the risk of losing any credibility we have as those who follow a God who judges as well as shows mercy. Don’t worry about the Ides of March, but do beware the Ignoring of Holiness.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

More From Fish - 3/8/2017

We are probably a bit too overprotective of the feeder goldfish that we purchase for our backyard water features. This year we built screens for the two whiskey barrel ponds so that we could prevent raccoons (and maybe the odd heron) from easily getting at the tasty fish morsels. We also bought a fish tank (from the thrift store) to put our survivors in to “winter over.” It’s a lot of effort for some 25 cent common gold fish.

When we buy the fish, we root for them to survive and we check on them virtually every day. On the one hand, it seems silly. On the other, though, I like to think that it reflects something about our love for life and living things.

As I was feeding the fish (who are living in Paige’s room for the time being) last night, I was reminded that we need to root for each other too. We should have an attitude of concern and investment in the lives of our fellow believers – not as beneficent overlords (like we are with the fish), but as players on the same team.

When we become part of the Church, we are brought into this large family who have all been given the same mission and values. We seem to forget this, a lot. Instead, we should work hard to support one another. We should hope for each other to endure and remain faithful. We should remember to pray for each other, especially that we would become more like Jesus.

In the words of the writer of Hebrews (10:24-25):

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love

and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is

the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all

the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Many Hands - 3/1/2017

Saturday I took two trips to the dump. The second was to dispose of the first new piece of furniture my wife and I bought when we moved to Snohomish – a sleeper-sofa. We loved that sofa. Those who have ever been to our house have sat in that sofa. It served us well. But 22 years of use had taken their toll. The fabric was thread bare, the sleeper mechanism was broken, and the cushion had lost their spring. Getting rid of the sofa produced a moment of grief.

Anyway, to the dump it needed to go. But try as I might, I could not move the sofa. In order to haul it away I had to have my son help me load it. When we got to the dump two other gentlemen volunteered to help us “toss” it is the dumpster. With four of us, the heavy sofa was easy to deal with. Four pairs of arms made the work light.

Sometimes we are a bit silly about our faith, acting like it is some private affair that we do ourselves. It’s not. God has designed our life of faith to be communal. Certainly, working together makes ministry and other elements of Christian life less burdensome. The truth is, though, that we cannot succeed in the fulfilling the mission of Christ and living out the way of Christ in isolation. Like I needed David’s help to even budge the sofa, we need each other to be faithful to the way of Jesus.

Let me pause here to add another important thought, though. It’s not enough to recognize our need for others. If we merely do this, we can quickly become critical of the “failure” of the church (that is other Christians) to fulfill their responsibility to love us. I have heard far too much of this kind of thing in the church – I don’t believe it pleases Christ.

Instead, we must adopt the same heart Christ had. He initiated relational, demonstrations of care, and even challenges about wrong-headed patterns as a part of his example of love. We need each other to “do faith.” But what Christ calls us to is to be initiators of togetherness, to set example in caring and loving.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

A Lesson from the Historic Society - 2/22/2017

Years ago, when we first landed in Snohomish, my wife and I joined the Snohomish Historical Society. The church is situated in the recognized Historic District of Snohomish and it seemed like a good way to get to know the neighbors around the church and maybe build some bridges to a segment of the Snohomish population.

On paper the plan made perfect sense. In practice, however, things were a different story. While there were opportunities that our membership afforded us, like putting the church on the annual Christmas parlor tour, we found very quickly that our priorities were not the same as most of the Historical Society members.

Most of the people we interacted with had one overriding passion – to restore and maintain their historic home. We watched these folks invest a large amount of money and almost all their “spare” time in pursuit of getting their house just right. They were committed! Energy, time, resources, enthusiasm, and focus were poured into these projects (and some of these homes looked beautiful). But there was a cost, some families ran into financial trouble, some folks had relationship problems, some were utterly distracted from their spiritual needs.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if this group of people had shown the same degree of ownership over a personal relationship with Jesus. What significant resources or amazing investments might come from such a commitment? This then reminds me not to be “hobbyist” in my faith. But instead, to bend my energy and focus, resources and time, to following Jesus, and to set aside other options as “distractions” (even when they are good) if they prevent me from doing what He calls me to.

The Historic Society of Snohomish may have changed a lot in the twenty or so years since we were members; my point is not to be critical of the people we met in the Society or to comment on what it might be like now. My point is to challenge those of us who follow Christ to think about what we are willing to invest in His service. Is Jesus our overriding commitment? Are we willing to set aside other distractions to serve Him? Do we invest in following Him even when it demands hard work or costs us dearly?

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

New Citizenship - 2/15/2017

For Christmas my wife got me a book to read. This particular book is about an American author who takes a trip around the U.K. and writes about his adventures. The book is funny, which is good because a dose of funny is important. This particular author writes about the trip from the unique perspective of just having become a British citizen.

You see, the author (Bill Bryson) was so enamored with England that he felt he should take the step of not only living in England, but entering in to the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship. Changing (or in this case, adding – the author retains his U.S. citizenship as well) a citizenship is a big deal. You are adopting a new allegiance, and with it a host of other “newness” as well: new traditions, new holidays, new currency, possibly new language, new customs, etc.

This is what we do when we become Christians as well. Among the many things that happen to us is that we become citizens of a new kingdom – God’s kingdom. Paul tells us that because our life is now hidden in Christ, anchored in heaven, we should focus our attention on the kinds of things that occupy the interest of heaven. The virtues of heaven are the virtues we should pursue; things like kindness, mercy, forgiveness, purity. The patterns that we will have in heaven should be the patterns we try to live by now, that is, patterns of holiness and genuine love.

There is one big difference between receiving citizenship in a new country and receiving citizenship in heaven. It is not a bureaucracy that accepts our membership; it is the king himself that accepts us. It isn’t a new country to which we owe allegiance, but a new leader. God is the focus of our new “citizenship.”

A major struggle with faith of many is that they want the benefits of being “kingdom of heaven” people without actually switching their loyalty. But it doesn’t work that way. Being “kingdom of heaven” people means loving God most, listening to God’s Word first, aligning with God’s heart (and re-aligning as necessary), and living out patterns consistent with God’s character. When we do these things we honor the King who extended our new citizenship to us.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Snow Day Reflection - 2/8/2017

Sunday night I drove my daughter back to college. When we left home there were snow flurries. By the time I headed back home it was late and very dark and I spent nearly an hour driving on a snow covered highway. It was pretty dicey. By Monday morning we had more than three inches of snow at our house and school was cancelled. We all enjoyed a snow day!

In the midst of this experience a thought drifted through my mind. A snowflake is an amazing thing. It’s a crystal formed out of water (okay technically H2O). It’s said that no two snowflakes are exactly alike – I’m not sure that can be proved, but there are hundreds of unique forms that snowflakes take. As amazing as a snowflake is, its true significance does not come from its solitary nature. Snowflakes have their biggest impact when they congregate together. While an individual snowflake may be beautiful, a landscape with a blanket of fresh snow is absolutely magically. While catching a snowflake on your tongue is fun, it doesn’t compare to crushing many snowflakes together to form a snow angel or build a snowperson or, better yet, shape a ball to throw at your friends. Truly, snowflakes are better together.

In our exceptionally individualistic Pacific Northwest culture we tend to place value on self-determination; we focus on the single person; we think in terms of “me.” This tendency has crept into the Church as well. We think about salvation, service, worship (and other things) is terms of Christ’s work for individuals. It is true that Jesus died to save individuals from sin and calls individuals to serve and worship him. But there is another side to the work of Christ. Jesus also creates for himself a people, a body made up of many parts. When we are saved, we are brought into fellowship with each other. The Holy Spirit distributes gifts in such a way that we need to serve together. We can’t even obey the commands of Jesus without doing some of life together (it’s hard to love someone without interacting with them).

On our own each of us is an amazing and unique creation (just like a snowflake), but together we are a yet greater display of God’s glory. Paul said it this way, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:10)

I think this corporate side of our faith needs to receive more emphasis in our discussion of faith. I think we would benefit from seeing ourselves as part of a snow storm, rather than just as an individual snowflake. I think Jesus loves each of us spectacularly. But I also am reminded that we are together the “bride of Christ.”

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Zechariah's Call - 2/1/2017

I grew up playing soccer. I enjoy the sport and pay attention to the World Cup and to the Sounders (and was delighted that they kept the name when they joined MLS). But I’m not sentimental about my time as a soccer player. I was never good enough to compete at the highest levels of the sport (no matter my age), practices could be grueling and team politics were not always nice either. I have fond memories (tripping in a three inch pond that “suddenly” appeared in the middle of our field during a rainy day game; catching more than one ball in the face; my only goal – I played defender almost my entire “career”). I also remember getting turned around in a couple of games early on and hearing the coach yell, “the other way, the OTHER way.” While it’s overly simple, it wouldn’t be a bad summary of the ministry of Zechariah.

God spoke through Zechariah to call the people of Jerusalem and the returned community to faithfulness, repentance, and revival. The opening invitation from the Lord is “Return to me, I will return to you” (1:3). I don’t think Zechariah looked anything like my Lake Hills Hotspurs coach, but I can imagine him on the field yelling at the Israelites – “the other way, the OTHER way” frantically waving his arms and pointing back toward God.

In fact, I kind of wish I knew what Zechariah looked like so I could picture him standing on the sidelines of my life (or better yet in the game as a player-coach) yelling the same thing at me sometimes. I find that I get turned around in life far too easily. It’s just too simple to get distracted from spending time with God by all the noise of life - the list of things that “need” to get accomplished, the need for “down-time” because we’re exhausted, the tendency to go through each day on auto-pilot, whatever.

With all the distractions and all the ways to experience discouragement, we need to be reminded to go the “other way.” We need to habitually return to God, to find our satisfaction in Him, be restored by Him, be reminded of His overwhelming love for us, and to joyfully follow the way He has laid out for us.

Years ago, one my leader-coaches said, “Our job is to jump up and down, wave our arms about and get people’s attention; then, when they look our way we duck so they can see Jesus.” I love that picture, but it requires that we are moving in the direction of Jesus ourselves. So remember and return.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

On Modern "Idols" - 1/25/2017

In Zechariah 13, God states unequivocally that He will eradicate idols from us one day (“on that day” – I look forward to it). In the meantime, we are challenged to engage in combat against those idols on a daily basis. Our pursuit of holiness and biblical purity demands it.

We often gloss over this challenge however, because we think of idols in terms of figurines made out of precious metal, wood or stone representing pretend deities with names like Zeus, Moloch, Artemis, or Ra. But this is wrong thinking. It is better to identify an idol the way some theologians do with our “ultimate concern,” what we put at the center of our lives. Even in Scripture, there is a clear acknowledgment that idols can be less obvious, and more insidious, than pagan false “gods.” The book of Ecclesiastes addresses these other type of idols with great clarity.

I really like the way Dan Allender and Tremper Longman identify the challenge for us in their book, Breaking the Idols of Your Heart. Let me quote them:

Christians today face tremendous temptations to

worship such idols of our heart. We go to church on

Sundays, but during the sermon we think about how

much better our life would be if we only had the money

to buy our dream waterfront house or take that well-

deserved island vacation. (p. 15)

Paul says that our struggle is not against flesh and blood – that is our enemies are not other people (even though they may feel like it sometimes). Indeed, our struggle includes struggling against those “idols” that become the dominate concern of our hearts, whether it is control, security, pleasure, relationship, whatever (for a good list, try reading Ecclesiastes!). As God refines us in this life, it is, in part I believe, to purify us from these idols and increase our faithfulness to Him and Him alone.

I look forward to the day when these “idols of the heart” are dealt with by God such that their “name is cut off from the land.” But until then, I need to guard my heart and I encourage you to guard yours also.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Rays of...Hope - 1/18/2017

Winter has returned to the Seattle area – and I mean our winter, gray and rain and not blistering cold (though I’m told this isn’t going to last long). I was driving in to Snohomish and caught of glimpse of a natural phenomenon that never wears out. The clouds were hanging across the sky, gray and white, but over the flood plain south of town the cloud cover was thin enough or broken enough that light came through, refracted in such a way that you see individual beams or rays of light filtering down. I love seeing those beams of light piercing through the clouds!

Seeing the light through the clouds reminded me of how God shows His faithfulness. Life is busy and sometimes more than a little cloudy. God doesn’t promise that we will always only have sunshine, but He does shoot rays of hope through the clouds at key points. I’m mindful of the truth that ours is a life of faith and that faith means “believing in what we don’t see.” But I also know that my faith is far from perfect and sometimes I need a little glimpse of the hope that’s in store. I think that is what God does when He surprises or encourages us with a visible reminder of our hope.

When God answers our “small” prayers – you know the things I’m talking about, finding a lost item, or helping us get someplace on time – these are little grace moments that show His goodness and care for us. When God brings a significant healing or a surprise gift that relieves serious financial pressure these are greater moments of grace. Think of them as the Kingdom of God invading our current experience for a moment. When we have a flash of spiritual insight or hear a message that really causes character growth, it’s another case of God moving into our experience to encourage us. Every one of these things is a ray of hope pointing to the goodness of God and the reality of our future in Christ.

I see the beams of light piercing the clouds and I think of hope. Then I think “rays of hope” piercing through the challenges of living out my faith and I find myself one with the father in Mark 9 who cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief.”

God promises good to us. He promises that there will be victory and vindication. He promises a future that outweighs the present in glory. He promises a deepening of our awareness of His presence. But not all now. So we wait. And we watch. We watch for those rays of hope that God uses to strengthen us for the journey.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Little Creatures, Great Gifts - 1/4/2017

I startled a bunny rabbit this evening as I was walking to the mail box. It was a small rabbit, you know the kind, the brown (with little black flecks) fur and white cotton tail. I was pleasantly surprised. We’ve had the paw prints of a large dog or coyote (probably a coyote) in snow on our greenbelt and I hadn’t seen a rabbit in a while. I just figured all the rabbits had been eaten or driven away. I don’t want to be overrun with rabbits, but I sure do enjoy seeing one or two hanging out under the cedar by our driveway munching on the grass.

In less time than it took to write this, the moment of joy passed and I was busy with the next item on the to-do list, when a compelling thought pushed itself into my mind. God cares for these little balls of fluff. It’s not that He guarantees their short lives or even makes life easy. But He exercised great care in designing them and He provides for their continued existence. I think He even knew when creating them that some of us would find them cute and want to keep them as pets. God has done the same things with a myriad of creatures; the hummingbirds that chase each other in our backyard, the Steller’s Jays that sit in our cedar tree and whistle (or bark depending on the circumstance) at me to feed them peanuts, the squirrel who looks pleadingly in the window of the house (and I mean “pleadingly” – he puts his little paws up on the sliding glass door and peers inside). God has designed each of these creatures with purpose and creativity. He declared them good upon creation (I think He smiled upon completion).

Then I think of the tremendous love that God shows us. Not only does He provide for our species to continue, but He provides a greater demonstration of His love. We rebelled (and continue to rebel) against Him and treat each other with great nastiness, but God provides – at great cost to Himself – the sacrifice necessary to cover the cost of our rebellion. This is love that I simply can’t fully understand. We are still in the twelve days of Christmas, and this love is worth wondering at all season long. To quote Paul (and this seems appropriate at Christmas), “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.”

You might think that I like bunnies enough to have one for a pet. I do. We tried. Couldn’t handle the allergic reaction. But I can be, and am, both fond of the little critters and be inspired to wonder at the kindness of God through them.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Humble King - 12/28/2016

“Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9

Those words are literally fulfilled during the Triumphal Entry a week before the Resurrection (see Matthew 21:1-11). But they are also an appropriate image for Christmas. The description of the king as humble and bringing peace (that’s the meaning behind the “riding the donkey” image) fits the Son of God taking on human life as a baby in a manger very appropriately. Jesus didn’t come with a military escort to forcibly usher in the Kingdom of God (though that is coming, see Revelation 19). Nor did he come displaying all the glory of his divine nature, compelling people to bow to him because of the awesomeness and “overwhelmingness” of his mere presence. He came quietly, humbly into our world.

Why did he come? He came to bring peace by providing the way for sinful us to be reconciled to Holy God. He came to bring freedom by ransoming us from bondage to sin and evil and the devil. He came to bring righteousness by offering his perfect righteousness to us instead of our own “filthy rags” righteousness. He came to bring us a future by facilitating our adoption as sons and daughters of God and so becoming co-inheritors of eternal life and glory.

All of these things required the King to be humiliated, and so the King came humbly into our world. After completing this work, our king returned to his heavenly throne, but he promised to return. That day, he will come not riding a donkey, but riding a great white warhorse. That day, he will come blazing in glory. That day, he will compel people to bow because we will all see the awesomeness and “overwhelmingness” of his presence. We look forward to that day, but in the meantime, we are grateful for and delighted in the humble entry of Jesus into our broken world to bring us peace.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Christmas Letter 2016

Dear Friends,

Last year I wrote about hope in my Christmas letter post; I had no idea how important that message would be for our family in 2016. This past year has been a year of change. Some changes we expected, like our daughter moving to college, and starting to plan for our son’s graduation. Some changes were not expected, like our son getting medically induced lupus (Praise the Lord it was reversible), no longer being “jazz parents,” and my father passing away unexpectedly in April. Other changes have involved profound sorrows and struggles dear friends (like the members of our small group) are enduring.

Through all the change and challenge, one consistent message from the Holy Spirit has been, “Trust me, there’s more to the story.” We don’t know the rest of the story behind some of the unexpected change yet, but we hang on to hope. Hope – a confident assurance that God will see us through and make right what needs to be made right at just the right time.

It’s hard to live in-between what is and we truly believe will be one day. But it is hope that sustains us in that journey. And, as we hope, we provide hope to others. This is one of God’s many gifts, hope that gives birth to more hope. We are grateful to God and to you for the ways you have encouraged us to hope. In the darkness, the light has shined! But the greatest Light is Jesus himself. He has given us an enduring, no eternal, hope that transcends the darkness.

Our hope for you this Christmas is that, no matter where you find yourself, you find the hope that Jesus offers and can experience peace and joy this season and in the new year.

With Love, The Sickles

In God We Trust - 12/21/2016

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people recently regarding the presidential elections. I’ve heard from people on all sides of the equation. As a result, I can honestly say I’m profoundly concerned about our country. This concern is not motivated by the outcome of the election, but by what I am sensing among “us,” the citizens of our country. There is so much anger, name-calling, fear and just plain mean-spiritedness. People are making accusations, not at the politicians or the political system, but at other voters, “the opponents.” Civil discourse about differences of opinions is just plain gone, swallowed up in spitefulness and gross (and offensive) over-generalizations. What's really sad to me is that this is happening between people who would say they are Christ-followers.

Frankly, I am more anxious than ever that Jesus would come back and sort the mess out. And this is the rub. At the end of the day, those of us who are Christians (even if we disagree on political policy), need to remember that God is sovereign. He is, in fact, completely in control of all things and is in no way threatened or surprised by any event or activity in our experience.

It’s ironic to me that we still have the phrase “In God We Trust” on our coins (though I know that’s under challenge), but we act as though He is on vacation. This is not a policy statement (though the saying does reflect my personal belief), it’s a challenge. For those who call ourselves Christians, politics will never be “the” answer. God is the answer. His Kingdom will, one day, be fully revealed and all the things that seem to get us anxious and upset will be sorted out. Until then, we are called to live as best we can in light of that Kingdom, which means living with love towards others, living in obedience to the revealed will of God in Scripture, living with hearts full of worship and gratitude toward our glorious and gracious God.

As we live and pray and serve, we need to rest in the power and presence of God. Even when circumstances (personal, national, global, whatever) don’t make any sense, anxiety is not the response of those who know God is on the throne of heaven and active in the affairs of earth. At the end of the day, I still believe that it is “In God We Trust” and no other.

Pursue Christ – He is Enough,

Pastor Jeff

Pursuing God's Presence - 12/14/2016

When Peace was a very young kitten he used to climb up chairs and jump up onto my shoulder while I was writing (papers for school, sermons, etc.). He would sit on my shoulder for long stretches of time, purring, rubbing on my ear or watching the letters appear on the screen. Apparently, he just wanted to be present with another living being.

Today, a much more mature cat, he will pounce on the bed first thing in the morning, sit on my chest and push his forehead into my face (this behavior was trained into him by our daughter). He is very persistent when he wants attention.

If we’ve been busy or away from the house a lot during the day, our other cat – Joy – has the habit of jumping into our laps (thought she seems to prefer mine) to just sit, purring. She doesn’t need to be rubbed or anything, she just wants to sit in a lap. It really is quite endearing.

One of the themes in the prophetic book of Zechariah is the presence of God with His people. God’s presence is established in Scripture as the well-spring for all other blessings, but is the paramount blessing itself. As I have been reflecting on this theme, I have been prompted to think about my thinking regarding the presence of God.

So often I think about the fact that God wants a relationship with me, about the image of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. I speak about this truth and I hear many other Christians refer to this truth as well. But I’ve been wondering lately if we are missing a significant part of the equation when we think primarily in these terms. I sometimes wonder if I should not take a cue from our family cats. They don’t wait for me to call them to have “people” time. They persist in hunting me down, no matter what I am doing. Is it possible that, by focusing on God’s desire for relationship with us, we are inadvertently encouraging ourselves to be passive?

This whole line of thought is little ironic, considering that I sign off with “pursue Christ – He is enough.” But the truth is that I fight daily with things that distract me from praying, meditating on Scripture or on the person Jesus, or thinking about faith issues. I believe that spiritual disciplines are important, but I can settle for the routine of a devotional time and miss the opportunities for encouragement that come with other spontaneous moments with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, I am just too busy trying to serve God to enjoy Him (okay, just call me Martha).

So, “Yes,” Jesus stands at the door and knocks, desiring to have relationship with us, but while that is an encouragement, it should also be a chastisement. Why is our door closed? Why is Jesus not already seated at the table? Why are we not running to the yard to call to Jesus and invite him in even before he is at the door? These are, of course, all just metaphors, but they point to a significant truth: God desires relationship with us, but we should desire (to the point of changing our lives) relationship with Him. And the privilege of such a relationship should make time with God our greatest priority.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Fish in a Barrel - 12/7/2016

With the cold weather finally arriving, we are getting ready to move the goldfish from our barrel water features in the back yard to a fish tank to winter over. Usually the fish die or get eaten (not by us), so this is a new process, but it did remind me of a surprise we got early in the spring last year. After the winter freezes had finished and the spring bloom was beginning, we decided it was time to clean the pond liners from the debris they accumulate over the winter and the algae we didn’t get out during the “winterizing” process.

As we were emptying the ponds we were shocked to find a gold fish that had successfully wintered over! Somehow, it had found a pocket of water that didn’t freeze, managed to find enough algae and plant matter to eat and lived in a half whiskey barrel pond all through the winter. We didn’t know the fish was there and were as surprised to see it as it was to see the water draining out of its little world. Persistent little critter!

It may seem a bit odd to take encouragement from a fish, but I do. That little gold fish did what it could to stay alive. Life can be hard, the different tasks and assignments challenging, and there are plenty of obstacles to discourage us along the way. Yet we are called to preserve. We have a whole series of wonderful words to refer to the art of seeing something through to its conclusion: persistence, perseverance, endurance, steadfastness, determination, indefatigability, resolution. This is a rich vocabulary, maybe because we need so much encouragement in this virtue.

This theme of enduring is found throughout the Bible. God encourages people to “be strong” in a variety of ways in the narratives of the Old Testament. The New Testament authors repeat this idea as they encourage us to endure. The message is common because it must be necessary to be reminded. The message is common because we must struggle regularly with wanting to give up.

I think that one of our Enemy’s favorite tactics is to discourage us. At the same time, God wants to grow us in faith and hope, both virtues that are based upon the unseen. Taken together, these two realities guarantee that we will need to “soldier on” at times without visible results to encourage us.

We live in a culture that is immediate and likes what is “value added” (which usually means, has results which can be seen). But the life of faith is not immediate and sometimes the “value” is hard to discern because it only yields fruit over the long haul. We need to persevere in doing good, in pursuing righteousness, in seeking justice, in forgiving, in prayer. Christ persevered, and to walk in His way means we do too.

That little fish made it all through the winter, in spite of the water freezing and his regular food supply being cut off. As Christians, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit, so we should be able to endure far greater things knowing there is a far greater future to look forward to.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Submission, Non-optional - 11/30/2016

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving Eve service, shared with Midnight Cry and with some guests from other community churches. It was a simple service intended to keep us mindful of the fact that our gratitude, as Christians, really centers on God’s great gift to us in Christ.

After service an individual approached me and took issue with something I said in the homily. Well, actually it wasn’t something I said, it was actually with the Bible story itself. This particular individual proposed that God had chosen the wrong course of action. The historical narrative in question is actually not important. I was a little taken aback by the comment. We had a spirited (but I hope gracious) interchange about the dangers of assuming that we can critique God and what it means that God is God and we are not. I would love to report that a moment of spiritual enlightenment occurred during the conversation, but it didn’t. Well that’s not quite true, I had one. I was reminded of the dangerous and constant tendency we finite and imperfect humans have of thinking we have any right or competence to pass judgment on God.

We may not be as bold as the person I spoke with on Thanksgiving Eve – “God made a mistake, there was another way” – but we pass judgment none-the-less. We pass judgment by deciding to ignore God’s commands and guidance, assuming we know better or at least can figure life out on our own. We pass judgment by functioning as though Jesus isn’t enough and we have to add stuff to the Gospel. We pass judgment by assuming that God needs our help, and so doing activity for God without waiting on God.

In Scripture, worship and obedience go hand-in-hand. We can’t worship truly if we deny God’s worth and character by ignoring His wisdom, authority and kindness. We can’t obey rightly if we are doing things to get something from God or to simply avoid adverse consequences. I guess I am suggesting that by definition both true worship and right obedience require a heart of submission. We surrender our claim to be autonomous (which we really aren’t anyway) and willingly and even joyfully accept God authority over us, and His goodness in exercising that authority.

When we seek to retain our autonomy, we fight against God’s best for us. We also suggest that we really believe that we are smarter or more capable than God to figure out what’s best for us. We might as well just say, “Nah, I got this, you don’t have anything to add to me.” But that makes us God’s enemies, not His friends and certainly not His worshippers.

When I find myself subtly passing this kind of judgment, I also find myself quickly declaring with Paul, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” It is only through the forgiveness I find in Christ that I don’t remain God’s enemy in the face of my own propensity to try and run the world myself.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

G.Q. - 11/23/2016

Sunday I shared a thought from G.K. Chesterton: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

This little statement is worthy of reflection. I can’t claim to know what Chesterton was thinking when he made this statement, but I can suggest some reasons his statement might in fact be true. The first thought that comes to mind is that words or thoughts of thankfulness are directed toward others. While we receive a benefit that inspires the thanks, the thankfulness itself acknowledges the giver (rather than focusing on the receiver).

A second thought, closely related to the first, is that thanksgiving reminds us of our dependence on others. Being thankful is a posture of humility, and thus thankfulness teaches us humility.

A third thought comes to mind as well; thankfulness is a positive frame of mind. There is so much negativity in the world. Truthfully, most of that negativity emerges out of our selfishness. Thanks direct us out of our selfishness to acknowledge the giver. In a sense, giving thanks elevates our happiness by including or involving others. Let’s call it “sharing the joy.” This means it is not wholly self-focused.

I am delighted by Chesterton’s definition of what stands behind thankfulness or gratitude (I see them as synonymous terms). The combination of our happiness at what is received or at the disposition of the giver to think to give us something (it can be either of these or, better, both) with wonder is a lovely and more than adequate description of gratitude. I realize that when I think of thankfulness, I usually only think about the “happy” element. But happiness is not synonymous with thankful. The addition of wonder to the equation – our sense of surprise at something unexpected and beautiful, noble or kind – is what makes the difference.

If wonder is part of gratitude, one of the things that inhibits our ability to enter into thankfulness is the sense of entitlement that says, “I expect you to give me something.” When we expect a gift, we lose the sense of wonder and it becomes easy to take both the gift and giver for granted, or worse to be disappointed with the gift or slight the giver. We slip from thanks to lower forms of thought.

If thanks are indeed the highest form of thought, we should nurture a thankful heart. This means we reflect on the kindness of any gift-giver so that we might celebrate them. This means we are attentive to the beauty behind each gift. This means that we recognize our selfish predisposition to assume we are worthy or deserving of gifts, and resist the temptation to dwell on these kinds of thoughts. This is what I call growing our G.Q. (our Gratitude Quotient).

Of all people, we who have received God’s indescribable gift in Jesus should be growing in G.Q. consistently as we see more and more of the glory of God’s grace.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

The Calypte and the Cross - 11/16/2016

I “reloaded” our hummingbird feeder the other day after taking down the hanging fuchsia on the deck. I hadn’t seen a hummingbird in a few weeks, but thought I ought to put it out just in case. The following morning I was in the kitchen and what should I see hovering next to the window at the feeder but a small shimmering body wings beating at a breakneck speed. It was the hummingbird (for those interested the Anna’s hummingbird is the species that winters over in Western Washington; scientific name: Calypte anna).

These little graces – moments of wonder – are a welcome blessing in midst of life’s challenges. As I age (and hopefully grow more mature), I find that I am moving more quickly from observation to adoration. Just like the hummingbird in late fall carries with it the promise of a brilliant spring, so small graces are a doorway to reflecting on the overwhelming grace of the Gospel.

Little moments of joy and beauty draw our memory to bigger gifts of grace. Big moments of joy and beauty open our hearts to the vistas of eternity. Many years ago, the descendants of Abraham were released from Exile. After returning home, they experienced disappointment and challenge. Instead of celebrating the grace that set them free, they got distracted or discouraged into chasing after the wrong things. Into this situation God has Zechariah speak words of hope about the coming of the Messiah who would set things right. The words contained a challenge to trust in God’s faithfulness and to persevere in the face of circumstance.

We live today on the “other side” of the promise (though not in its fullest expression). Jesus has come and lived a human life totally submitted to the Spirit in perfect holiness. He died a wholly sufficient and pure sacrifice for our sin and rebellion. He rose again, validating his sacrificial death and granting to us eternal life. He ascended to receive exaltation and to intercede for us. I live because of these great truths. But I also need to be constantly reminded of them in the face of the many shadowy and immediate distractions of my present experience.

A hummingbird in the late fall is a reminder of the new life of the spring, which in its turn is a reminder of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the transforming power he unleashes on the world. That’s a lot for the tiny shoulders of a hummingbird! But with God all things are possible.

Living after Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, I still look forward to his return and the revelation of his great glory. The hummingbird reminds me not only of Jesus’s past work, but also to continue trusting in God’s faithfulness and persevering in hope while I wait to see Jesus.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

The "We" - 11/9/2016

We’ve just passed the celebration of All Saints. This is one of those commemoration/festivals that is often overlooked by Christians, and yet is valuable in reminding us that we are part of a larger story of God’s work. As Western Christians we so often think of our faith journey as a solo affair. The truth is, though, that God has forged for Himself a new people (1 Peter 2:9). We are, well, a “we.”

A large portion of the New Testament deals with how we treat one another. Part of Jesus’ ministry in the Cross was to reconcile us not only to God but to each other. In the Bible, we see, time and time again, God opening the doors to invite people into His family. In this regard, the prophets paint a most amazing picture in which even the historic enemies of Israel are now part of God’s people (Isaiah 19:23).

All these realities remind us that we are part of this story that is bigger than us. When we reflect on our journey this should be relatively clear. My life of faith has been dependent on others. I have learned much of what I know at the feet of others who have spoken truth, lived faith, sacrificed, and delighted in the Lord providing for me both an example of faith and teaching me the content of faith. There are many people, some close and regular presences in my life and others who only showed up for a season or a moment, that God has used to nudge me toward Christian maturity.

Not only is this true, but I find that I get to be part of an amazing story, a storyline including people like Abraham, David, Daniel, Peter, Paul, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, C.S. Lewis and, of course, Jesus himself. This is my family tree. I may not be a luminary in this story, but I am more than an observer, I’m a participant. I may just be a weeper at the reading of the newly recovered Law under Josiah, or an unnamed member of the 500 on Pentecost, or a quiet prayer warrior paving the way for the Great Awakening, but I’m in the story. Oh – and my team wins!

A few weeks ago, on the way to church, our son made the following observation, “I know more people who live outside the United States than who live in other states besides Washington.” I thought to myself, “No way” and proceeded to say as much. Soon we were all thinking about that statement and realized quite quickly that he was, in fact, quite right. Many of these folks are fellow Christians. It’s amazing to me to think about the huge family that we are part of with members in places like Brazil, Germany, China, and South Africa.

God is truly creating for Himself a people from every nation, language and period of history. We are family, and together – when we do it right – we reflect the Trinity itself; God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit in perfect community.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Behind Prayer-God’s Active Rule – 11/2/2016

Recently I was talking with a friend of mine who had been convicted by a conversation with some Christian leaders he had interacted with. One of these Christian leaders had said during the conversation something to the effect that after having spent a lot of years working hard to bring about change, they were now learning the art of being change agents through prayer.

We are a busy people, a culture of “fixers.” It’s hard to sit still. It’s hard not to rely on ourselves and our own strengths, skills and resources. To talk about effecting change through prayer runs counter to that tendency. The idea is not revolutionary, or maybe it is. I think that we give lip-service to the idea that prayer is an actual part of the work of ministry, but I’m not sure that we believe it deeply enough.

Do we truly understand that God hears us? Do we recognize that He is King? Do we believe that He is active? These are the questions we must embrace in order to become those who seek change through prayer. We can’t manipulate God into acting, but we can ask Him to act. We can wait to see what He will do. We can listen for His direction regarding our part in the process.

God is actively ruling over the universe today. Jesus Christ is actively aligning the created order with the will of the Father. The Holy Spirit is actively touching and changing lives, communities and systems. God is not merely alive. God is not merely King. God is actively King over everything.

The prophetic literature of Scripture is a great reminder of this. In some cases, the prophets unpack world events (or local events) so that we can see God’s activity and purpose behind things. Sometimes we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to fulfill His promises in the past as an encouragement to trust His promises for the future. But in each case, we are reminded that God is in control, aware and working to accomplish His purposes


When we reach the challenging circumstances of life, whether an upcoming election, the death of a loved one, battling a life-threatening illness, we are invited to trust even when we don’t understand because God is, well, God.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Not Compliance - 10/26/2016

I have had more than my fair share of conversations with people who identify themselves as Christians but don’t bother themselves with trying to do as Jesus says (never mind doing as Jesus did). The conversations get really frustrating for me really fast.

Each person is different and the reasons they arrive at what I consider to be a strange view of being “Christian” are probably many. But sometimes I wonder if part of the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of obedience.

When I was in high school there was a Disney movie called “Flight of the Navigator.” It was, in my experience, a forgettable movie (sorry to anyone who remembers it well and with fondness). That is, except for one thing, the spaceship has an odd habit of saying “compliance” in response to commands. It was this word compliance that has stuck with me.

I wonder if we confuse biblical obedience with compliance. I can comply with a request without any emotional investment. I can comply with a request while still being defiant in my heart. But the biblical idea of obedience, it seems to me, has an element of heart investment in it. I obey because I desire to obey. I obey because I trust the One who is directing my path. I obey as a response of gratitude to a gift so vast I can’t truly fathom how wonderful it is. This is not mere compliance. It’s not doing something because “I have to” even though I don’t want to, or because I don’t want to get punished.

True, I don’t always feel like doing what is right, but feelings are momentary, fickle things. What I feel like now can be the opposite of what I feel in just moments – depending on my blood sugar, the news I receive, whether someone compliments me, or what song just played on the radio. Living life based on feelings seems a foolish thing to me. I differentiate this from what I desire. What I desire is the deeper longing, what I want consistently regardless of how I’m feeling in the moment.

The Psalmist says “delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.” If I truly delight in God, then what I want most is Him. Interestingly, when I am delighting in God I don’t have a lot of trouble giving my heart in obedience. I don’t merely comply with the commands of God; I willingly subject myself to them.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Matter of Perspective - 10/19/2016

Over the weekend the Lake Stevens School District opted to postpone the Homecoming Dance due to the storm that was projected to hit the Puget Sound area. They waited until close to the last minute to make the decision, but the feared storm did not materialize the Puget Sound in the way the evidence suggested that it would.

It didn’t take long for some students to begin complaining about the decision – even before the storm was scheduled to make an appearance. A lot of the student frustration was based on a failure to grasp the situation. Some complained about the choice to cancel because of the rain. But it wasn’t the rain that led to the decision to postpone (not cancel – the dance has since been rescheduled) it was the projected winds of 65+ miles an hour.

As a parent I was glad they postponed the dance, given the information we had at the time. I wasn’t interested in driving in the wind and I certainly wasn’t excited about high school students driving in it either. The risk of accidents, trees falling, power outages, and downed electrical lines was enough of a concern to justify the change in plan from my viewpoint. But many of the students were a different matter. They were thinking primarily about the plans they made, the fun they were anticipating and the annoyance of someone else “controlling” their options.

This is a great picture of a larger tendency within us all. We form judgments and opinions about situations, people and ideas without fully understanding all the information, and then solemnly declared our “rightness” about things. Sometimes we are just plain wrong. Sometimes our judgments are clouded by a lack of adequate knowledge or understanding. Sometimes they are clouded by emotional “noise” that prevents us from seeing things clearly. Sometimes we just choose to not accept other possibilities.

This is not merely a problem between humans, it is also a problem between us and God. We sometimes get frustrated with God or anxious about what He is up to, especially when things don’t seem to be going “well.” In Zechariah, when some of the remnant of Israel were complaining about the new Temple construction project, God gently rebukes them, “Don’t despise the day of small beginnings…” He sees and understands things we don’t because He is both omniscient and eternal. Our perspective or perception will never be complete, but God’s is. Perception cannot be reality for us, but what God perceives is reality. We are invited to humbly accept this situation and respond in attentiveness and trust. We trust that God is exercising His authority according to His glorious character. We attentively wait for what God will call us to (or call us away from) next.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Winterizing - 10/12/2016

Its October and we are supposed to have our first big storm of the season in the next couple of days. Last weekend I spent some time (well, a lot of time) “winterizing” the yard. Unfortunately, I’m not done. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sew up the most important things before the wind hits.

I enjoy winter, but I hate winterizing. For me winterizing usually includes putting away all the uncompleted summer projects so they don’t get ruined (along with the usual clean up and making sure plants and yard furniture is protected). This means I am confronted with all the things I planned to accomplish but didn’t. This is always a bit discouraging. In addition, it means I have to find places to store these incomplete projects. This is also discouraging, because it means storing things that I wasn’t intending to store and taking up precious real estate in our house, shed or garage – this always leads to greater chaos. Clearly I have issues associated with the process of winterizing!

It does put me in mind of a spiritual reality, though. Maybe you are like me (then again maybe not) in this. I want to follow Jesus well and walk in righteousness, but I don’t always succeed. And when I fail, there is always greater chaos as a result. I can’t clean up all that chaos, no matter how hard I try. My efforts are really more like moving piles of “stuff” around in my garage. The result is a profound sense of discouragement.

But this isn’t the whole story. Enter God. In the midst of the disorder of my internal world caused by sin and selfishness, God speaks. He declares me clean and while I don’t always live as a clean person as a result, I do find a balm for my discouragement when I goof things up. I also find hope that I am will one day find myself living in a way that perfectly reflects God’s declaration that I am clean. I truly look forward to that day!

It would be easy to stop at this point and feel encouraged, but I feel that I would be missing the point if I don’t remind everyone just how much it cost God to offer me this amazing gift. It cost the Son taking on humanity, dying (though completely innocent) and rising again. God offers to cleanse me through this great sacrifice of Christ, but the expectation is that if I understand this gift, I will give both my heart and energy to living in the gift.

So, I guess, I should keep winterizing the yard, because it reminds me of my desperate need for God to “winterize” my soul and, indeed, all of my life.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Glory in the Midst - 10/5/2016

I took a couple of personal days last week. I had these grand dreams of what these days would be like. Then I realized that my grand dreams contained mutually contradictory elements. I couldn’t get as much done as I wanted and simultaneously get the rest I was also hoping for. Most challenging was that I realized part way into the first day that I had not taken the time before the personal days to sit with God and ask Him what He wanted me to do with the time.

In the end the personal days were productive (but not in the ways I had originally envisioned), but not as restful as I really needed them to be. Often life is like that, isn’t it? What we plan is not what transpires. What we hope for and work toward doesn’t materialize the way we anticipated. This is, I believe, partly because we live in broken world and partly because we aren’t omniscient and so have damaged perspectives.

God, in His wisdom, has provided a number of promises to function as encouragements to Christ-followers when we find ourselves down-hearted. Sometimes God’s promises carry with them an implicit challenge and prove a bit disruptive to our normal patterns of thought, however. One such promise for me is truly encouraging and at the same has been more than a bit challenging. In Zechariah, God tells the relatively small band of returned that He will be the glory in the midst of Jerusalem. This was a good word for them, evoking the experience of their ancestors in the Exodus and the establishment of the Temple. It’s a good word for us, calling to mind the great promises of God’s self-revelation at the end of time.

At the same time there is an implicit challenge that has caught me up a bit short. That challenge is: Do I really find hope in this promise? Do I even now delight in the thought of encountering the glory of God? Or, do I just want God to “come through” for me in ways that make life more comfortable? When I think about my dreams and aspirations, do I long for the day when God will manifest His glory, when He will be my glory (and not me)? You can see the challenge can’t you? We talk about the glory of God, but sometimes I don’t think we have understood what it means that God is glorious.

So here’s the implicit challenge for me from God’s promise to Israel through Zechariah: Is my heart’s desire that God would be my glory, the glory in the midst of my life?

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Happy Endings - 9/22/2016

It’s been interesting over the years to watch how story-telling has changed in our culture. Whether its comic book authors killing off superheroes, or movies intentionally leaving a host of unanswered questions, or short stories and novels leaving the plot unresolved, there is some battle in our culture against the “happy ending.”

The problem for me is that I truly love a happy ending. I have no need to read stories or watch movies that leave things unresolved. Life feels unresolved enough. I don’t think I’m alone in this either. One of the sages of Israel said, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).

I think that’s why I like the prophetic literature of Scripture. It keeps my hope alive for the resolution at the end of my story. I’m in the middle of my story, it’s not ended yet and like it or not sometimes I wonder if there will be a happy ending. The words of the prophets remind me that indeed there will be. God has promised and He doesn’t forget. In fact, He sometimes sends us reminders that He has promised and is working even now to fulfill those promises.

When I watch the news at night (which I only do occasionally), it is a hard way to go to sleep. There is so much tough, heart-breaking or just plain evil stuff going on. But I want a happy ending. I can easily lose sight of the promised end when so many immediately negative messages are hurled at me day after day. But God promises that He will vindicate His people and His own name. When I say I get excited about this possibility, it’s not really my being vindictive towards those who have sought me harm. Really it’s about seeing God’s glory in a new way that is immediately recognizable to everyone, no matter how hostile they are. It’s not really that I want to say, “Ha – you got yours!” as it is that I want to say, “See, He really is!”

This is one of the reasons the Gospel is Good News. The ending involves great pain and suffering, but Jesus emerges victorious. His victory over sin in the Cross and death in the Resurrection reaffirm to me the capacity of God to fulfill His promises and His faithfulness to do so. My hope is real, not deferred, so my heart may be broken, but it’s not sick. I look forward to the great Happy Ending.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Turning Back - 9/14/2016

By now anyone who reads these odd thoughts of mine knows that we cats. One cat is an indoor only cat, by which I mean occasionally we let her out in the backyard when there is a human there to supervise (long story, not for now).

This cat, Joy, seems to have developed a “sense” that she is an indoor cat. She will often sit at the window and gaze longingly outside. She will “chirrup” at the birds on the deck as though she wants to chase the. Sometimes she will shoot out the back door when we open it, but she always stops on the deck. If she’s outside with us she might step off the deck onto a stone walkway and lay down. She seems perfectly content…until there is a loud noise, or a swift motion. At this point she bolts right back into the house. It is her safe zone.

A few days ago, I thought Joy had already gone into the house so I came in and closed the back door. When she heard the slider shut she ran to the door and mewed to come inside. The house is her “safe” zone. As I said, she seems to have a sense that for all her longing to be outside, it’s not the place for her.

As people we aren’t always as wise as our animal friends (if you will permit me to use that language). We forget where we belong. Unlike Joy, we don’t always seem to understand that there is a “safe” zone, a place of ultimate belonging. We chase after an adventure or distraction that draws us away from God, thinking that it will fulfill or bring satisfaction when all it is truly doing is lulling our soul into a dangerous sleep.

God calls to us, “Return, repent, return!” He knows that these other pursuits are dangerous for our souls. He also deeply loves us and enjoys our company – go figure. In so many ways God is really the perfect picture of the most excellent parent. We need to heed His call, because we really do belong in a close relationship with God. To repeat the oft quoted statement of Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.”

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

The Duality of Light - 9/7/2016

The Bible uses light a powerful metaphor for truth, for the glory of God, for the person of Jesus and to describe our presence as believers in the world. Light is a fascinating natural phenomenon. There are many things about how light works that I just accept without truly understanding. Deeper still, I don’t really understand the nature of light.

If you are my age of younger you probably learned in school that light functions like a wave and like a particle. In order to explain the way light works, neither form – wave or particle – is adequate in itself. This has led to the now pervasive idea of the “duality” of light as both wave and particle. I have not spent a lot of time exploring the history or science behind this duality of light. I’m a pastor, not a physicist (even an amateur one).

Our description of light as dual, though, applies to the metaphor as used by Scripture when it is applied to us as well (at least a little bit). I sometimes find myself trying to categorize things – behaviors, spiritual disciplines, attitudes, forms of service – and find that with the Christian life it’s not always neat and clean. Take, for example, the two big categories of worship and witness, what kind of things fit into the worship category and what kind of things fit into the witness category?

Well the metaphor of light helps us here. Perhaps when we think about “being light” in the world, we are fundamentally describing a duality. When we walk in obedience to the will of God, trying to align our convictions, thoughts, words and actions with Him are we “doing” worship? Yes, in fact we are. We are declaring our conviction that God is worthy of our conforming our lives to Him. This is, I think, what Paul is pointing toward when he says in Romans 12, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (emphasis added). At the same time, Jesus tells us that as we shine as light in the world, others see our good works and “give glory” to our Father. This sounds like leading others to worship, which, in my book, is witness. Worship and witness. Wave and particle. Once again nature (and science) provides us an illustration of a profound spiritual truth.

We are to live aligning our heart with God; it is a form of worship and a way of witness.

Worship and witness well!

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

In Praise of Poetry – 8/30/2016

I just brought a book of Robert Frost’s poetry and George Herbert’s The Temple into my study at church. They had been sitting on the bookshelf next to my bed for about two years. Over the last two years I have dipped into each on occasion.

As I decided to relocate these two volumes it caused me to reflect a bit. We have (I would say “I”, but I know that it is bigger than myself) become exceedingly pragmatic in orientation as a community of Christ followers. We are given to asking questions about how to get through life, or solve a problem, or accomplish a particular task or goal. This orientation has an impact on our spiritual lives. We begin to think only in practical terms (i.e. “Does this work?”) rather than in terms of beauty, fitness, truth and other terms that we sometimes associate with philosophers and poets.

I’m not about to disparage being pragmatic; we do need to solve problems and accomplish goals. But, when that is our primary focus, our sense of wonder, our ability to see the grander story and to get outside ourselves and have an eternal perspective shrivels up. Our soul shrinks.

A significant result of this is that our worship is shallow and self-focused. One of the reasons, I believe, that the Psalms continue to have their impact on people is that instead of shrink our soul, they expand our soul. Certainly numerous Psalms are very comforting in difficult circumstances. But even more are anything but comforting, they are dangerous and challenging. Why? Because their vision is of the greater story, full of glimpses of the spiritual realm intersecting with our experience, and reflecting on the terrible and wonderful glory of a God we cannot contain, control or even fully comprehend. This inspires deep and grand worship.

Perhaps we should view ourselves as poets in the making. Or maybe we should just read more poetry. Whatever we do, we need to nurture a perspective that sees beyond what is obvious and delights in what is eternally glorious.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Seeing God Behind Victory – 8/25/2016

We live in funny times – well, I guess funny is not really the word to use. It’s not even really odd when we take our theology of the Fall seriously. I digress. We live in funny times, I see in print and hear in conversations this almost predictable blaming of God when things are challenging or seem so terribly wrong. At the same there is an equally predictable failure to credit God when things go well or justice prevails.

I have no solution for this problem and often find myself holding my tongue when this happens, but for those of us to profess to believe in and worship the God of the Bible, we really should have a different approach to things. At the very least we should be quick to give credit to God for the ways He actively shows up and intervenes.

This is really a matter of perspective. Sometimes we only see the “agent” of God’s activity: the tax return check; the unexpected call from a dear friend; the right encouragement from the radio preacher or devotional writer; the body’s built in design to heal itself. We don’t regularly stop to remember and celebrate the source behind the agent; that is God himself.

Sometimes I feel like we are hesitant to “blame” God for good things. I’m not sure I understand this. If God is sovereign and active, then when good happens (no matter how it seems to come about) we should respond in gratitude and praise to God who stands behind the good.

This was the orientation of the writers in Scripture. I think it would be an excellent spiritual practice whenever something good occurs (even if it is very temporary) to pause and say “thank you” to God and think about what we see about His character in that moment.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

On Being Presumptuous - 8/17/2016

I got up this morning and immediately began thinking of the list of things that needed to be accomplished. It wasn’t long before I was “meditating” on a particularly thorny problem. Then I realized that I’d better “get a move on” if I was going to have any hope of achieving the items on my list.

Fast forward to midday. I found myself stopped short at the end of an important phone call because I had the thought, “I ought to pray with this person.” I did, but then I realized I had gone all day just assuming that everything was going to be fine. I didn’t think about the dangers of hurtling down a concrete pathway in a half-ton of steel. I didn’t think about the wonder of having either a breathable atmosphere or lungs that work even when I’m not telling myself to breathe. I didn’t think about the profound gift that my wife and children are to me. I didn’t celebrate the fact that I have gainful employment, or that I get to invest my time in something I both love and feel is significant. I just ploughed ahead.

This happens more regularly than I am comfortable with, and it’s a bit embarrassing to admit it. Often, though, a moment strikes or a comment is made or an event occurs that draws me back to the stark reality that none of these things would exist apart from the mercy of God. I can be very presumptuous. Not in the worst way, mind you; that way that says to everyone and everything, “You owe me.” But presumptuous nonetheless, simply assuming that life will function in a routine way (most of the time), following well-established patterns, without being mindful that God is active behind the scenes maintaining all of it in His mercy.

Every moment is a gift. Every person bears some element of the image of God. Every experience is an opportunity for gratitude. I know these statements sound like platitudes from an inspirational mug or poster, but the fact is they are correct. All that we see and experience is a gift from a loving God who showers us with His mercy – when He legitimately could punish or simply walk away, He continues to show kindness and compassion.

We are, all of us (even those who don’t want to admit it), utterly dependent on the mercy of God. When the early church prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner…” they got it right.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

The Active Shepherd - 8/10/2016

Years ago, while I was still in elementary school, on a Saturday morning I was out front of our house in North Seattle. Dad was doing some kind of yard work or house project (I don’t remember the details). We had those mushrooms (really puffball fungi) that explode when you step on them or throw them. A kid I had never seen before was riding down the street. When he saw me, he got off his bike, picked some puffballs and started throwing them at me. This seemed like good fun, so I threw a few back. Before I knew it, the kid was on top of me trying to scratch my face (at least that’s how I remember it). The tussle went on for a while until I was desperate enough to cry out for my Dad. He appeared – from wherever he had been – and that was enough for the kid to jump up, run to his bike, and ride away. I never saw him again.

At the time I remember being upset that Dad hadn’t stepped in sooner. I told him as much, and he calmly replied that he was waiting for me to ask (well, yell) for help. That was frustrating to me as an elementary school boy. Didn’t Dad know that I was the underdog and that this stranger was fighting unfair (boys aren’t supposed to scratch)? Wasn’t his job to have my back?

Thinking through the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) in preparation for this past Sunday, I realized that sometimes I picture God like my Dad in that instance – a passive presence waiting for me to get desperate. But Psalm 23 communicates a very different image. It reminds us that God is a vigilant shepherd, actively watchful over the sheep, protecting them even when they don’t know it and fiercely (think about that word for a moment – fiercely) defending the flock.

I’m not proposing a fully developed and complete theology of God’s interactions with us. Sometimes He does wait. Sometimes it feels like He is waiting when He is not. I don’t profess to understand His mysterious ways. I was deeply challenged by my own tendency to view God as present but passive. When I think in these terms, I tend to rely on myself first and only turn to God when I’ve exhausted all possibilities – by which time I am usually feeling both desperate and fearful. But David chose to not fear, because he understood God was actively present. This didn’t prevent David from experiencing desperation, but it did seem to prevent him from waiting until the last possible minute to call on God.

Sometimes (well really, always) we need to let Scripture challenge our experience. God is not a God far off. Nor is He a God who is just kind of waiting around. He is not merely present, but engaged with us in our journey and protecting us in many ways we do not yet understand.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Learning to Lament - 7/27/2016

I don’t process loss as well as I could. In this I am a victim of my culture (well, not a victim really so much as a willing participant). I didn’t grow up with a narrative that embraced pain, suffering and loss. Instead I was part of a generation that was fed a steady diet of “you can be whatever you set your heart on” and “work hard enough and things will only get better.” These messages came through movies, TV and books. Sometimes these messages came from the advice of well-meaning people.

A theological conundrum: How come that is not my experience? Am I somehow doing everything wrong? I tend to forget two very important things when I’m asking these questions. One, there is a lot of things that go wrong before the happy ending. And two, I haven’t reached the end yet.

In the midst of life, in a world that cannot – I repeat cannot – be perfect because of our sin, there is pain and suffering and loss. Some of it we bring on ourselves, some of it we don’t (and some is a little bit of both), but it is there nonetheless. Other times and other cultures have embraced this reality more profoundly than I have, and I need to learn from them.

One of the most significant lessons I need to continue to grow in is the ability to lament. A lament is an expression of grief over pain or loss. Expressing pain in a real and constructive way is challenging. It involves more than just rehearsing the details of the event or how I am truly feeling. But it requires both of these. I have turned to the Psalms over and over again to find words to help me express what I am feeling in response to the painful and challenging situations that I have experienced. The words of the psalmists have helped me to find a language of lament. But the Psalms have also pushed me to be constructive by reminding me that I am not alone in pain – God is there; He hears me and walks with me.

One other important part of a lament (at least a biblical one) is the undeniable quality of hope and faith that emerges through the process of expressing grief, confusion and even anger. As the psalmist shares with God, the psalmist is also reminded of who God is. I need to be reminded of who God is! This is especially true when He is not matching my expectations of His behavior (who am I, oh man, to place expectations on God!). The psalmists teach me that it is not only alright to express my deep feelings, but important. They also teach me to keep turning to what I know of God and to connect with God in the process. When I do, my laments become a thing of beauty (though nothing like the brilliance of the Psalms).

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

What’s in a Foundation? – 7/20/2016

Two interesting things happened this past week that connected directly with this past Sunday’s sermon. The first was that this morning at 8:15 a neighbor startled everyone in our house (and probably the whole neighborhood) by firing up a jackhammer. The second was trying to finish up a reconstruction project on our shed. One of the motives for the shed project (along with a door problem and a roof problem) was that one corner of the shed had settled and was no longer level (hence the door problem).

These two situations have one thing in common; dealing with a foundation. Foundations are important. I’m no builder, but I have learned from experience that a poor foundation leads to problems down the road. The problems can be a mere inconvenience, like doors that swing open on their own because the building isn’t level, or a serious problem, like walls separating and pulling the building apart or sliding down an embankment. Whatever the case is our foundation is really important.

While this is true in construction, it is equally true in living. The foundation on which we build our values and convictions, our patterns of thinking and feeling, our worldview, deeply impacts the way we live. Jesus tells us that ultimately those who build on the foundation of his words have stability when the world goes all shaky, while those who choose another foundation have no real confidence that anything will remain standing at the end (see Matthew 7:24-27).

As Christians, our foundation is to be Jesus Christ himself, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, the agent of Creation and Redemption. That seems like a pretty solid foundation. Jesus is the Word, so when he tells us to trust his words, we have every reason to do precisely that. In fact, to do otherwise is just foolish. Most Christians don’t struggle to accept and agree with this claim, but biblical illiteracy seems to be increasing, and not just in the culture at large. The Church (by which I mean the assembly of individual Christians, and not some institution) seems less aware of what the Bible actually says than when I was a kind. This is just an impression, but studies from groups like Barna and Gallup support the impression.

If we want to have a solid foundation in a rapidly changing and complex world, we need to stay close to the Lord Jesus and to God’s Word. This is a foundation that the jackhammer of living in a fallen world cannot break-up. This is a foundation that will stay true for all eternity. But by staying close to God’s Word I mean more than just reading it daily. I mean more than just memorizing it as a spiritual discipline. I mean more than studying it understand what it means. I mean that we actually, to use the psalmist’s word, delight in it. We can’t really do this apart from reading and memorizing and studying, but we can’t be satisfied with content. The Word is living, we need to appreciate its power and beauty. This can only be done by valuing what we are reading to the point of meditating on it (as Psalm 1 reminds us) and obeying it. When we let the words of God soak our souls through meditation and shape our lives through obedience, the wisdom of God will become apparent to us. We don’t worship the Bible, we worship the author of the Bible, but because of our worship of God, we should be thrilled with His speech to us.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Two Cats and a Dog - 7/13/2016

We had a house guest this past week. Her name is Lindy and she is a quite mature Jack Russell terrier. As house guests go, she’s about the easiest guest we could ever have. She eats, takes walks, likes to hang with her people, and she’s small. We enjoy having her around. The only real challenge is that Lindy is intimidated by our cats.

The flip side of the story is that our hunter cat has always been gentle with Lindy. He’s even climbed up on the couch and slept next to her on previous visits. Peace is bigger than Lindy, heavier than Lindy, and much more experienced as a fighter than Lindy. Reasonably she should be afraid of him, but he has always proven to be gentle and non-aggressive with her.

Our other cat is a different story. I think she’s as nervous about Lindy as Lindy is about her. She will often just avoid the dog, but occasionally will hiss at her. Unlike Peace, she’s about the same size as Lindy (she looks bigger because she’s so fluffy) and doesn’t weigh as much. It’s a study in contrasts. I suspect a veterinarian would probably say it has something to do with how threatened each cat feels and how they have been socialized. But that’s not the point.

The point is that Peace’s response to Lindy is the response of someone with a sense of security while Joy’s response is more like someone fearful or feeling entitled. It’s a great illustration of the way people often approach life. Some people are “grounded,” that is they are secure. As one friend of mine says, “Nothing to prove, nothing to lose.” Others, well, not so much.

As Christ followers, we need to embrace our identity in Christ. When we do, we find ourselves “grounded.” This is because our grounding doesn’t come from ourselves, our performance, or our circumstance, it comes from God. “If God is for us, how can be against us,” Paul asks rhetorically (Romans 8:31). The grounding or security in God should produce the requisite fruit: graciousness; humility; kindness; a forgiving spirit; hope; compassion to name a few.

I really believe that Christianity has lost a vibrant witness in our culture because Christians are not living in light of their identity in Christ – our lives are hidden with Him in God (Colossians 3:3). Many of us still live as children of the world, motivated by selfish desires, fearful, or anxious, or angry. To offer God’s great gift of grace to the world, we must live as those who are no longer part of this world and provide a picture of a more beautiful and noble way of doing life.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Bless You - 7/6/2016

Hearing “bless you” after sneezing may be the only experience that many ever having with receiving a blessing. Blessing is strange concept to modern ears. We tend to downplay the power of words to effect real outcomes. We also have linked the idea of blessing to financial prosperity and success. The word has become a sort of “throw away” word, only to be used when we are trying to describe a person who experiences extraordinary good.

Blessing in Scripture seems to mean a number of things. We bless God, which is unique in that we are expressing gratitude and appreciation for His character (which He has already revealed to us). Blessing is sometimes associated with the passing down of the inheritance (as with Jacob and Esau). It also refers to a father commenting on (and in Jacob’s case prophetically so) the character of his children looking to the future. It can refer to receiving special mercy from God. It can refer to receiving a special reward from God. It can refer to a strengthening from God and another person can be used by God as the agent of this strengthening. It may refer to receiving a gift that brings happiness.

One of the ways that Scripture departs from contemporary understanding (or rather, contemporary understanding has departed from Scripture) is that we tend to think of immediate benefits when talking about blessing. But Scripture has a different perspective. Blessings come not just in immediately tangible ways, but they may also be character transforming things (see the discussion of rejoicing in trials in James chapter one). A blessing can also be something that we don’t receive until the revealing of Jesus – which is a long view, rather than the immediate view. Think about the biblical idea of fruitfulness, it takes time for a plant to grow to the point of being fruitful, and even then it takes time for fruit to become ripe.

We would do well to adopt a more biblical stance and so actually broaden the definition of what is a “blessing.” Then we should adopt a more biblical behavior pattern and see ourselves as agents of God’s blessing in the lives of others, both in the words we speak to and over them and the deeds that we do toward them.

How can you provide a blessing today?

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

The Identity Issue – 6/29/2016

Parenting is hard work, there’s a lot to manage. One of the key areas of management with students is the whole educational environment. For those that don’t homeschool, keeping open communication about the schoolwork and the social environment is really important. With our youngest, keeping up on the social stuff isn’t so hard, because he loves to tell us stories about all the drama at school! His stories sometimes lead to great laughter (high schoolers can be pretty funny), sometimes to feeling deeply disturbed, sometimes to pride (when our children make good choices), sometimes to frustration, sometimes even to anger (like when someone treats our children unjustly).

But one of the common themes that runs through much of the social commentary is this idea of students trying to figure out who they are. I remember using that language in high school (I remember using that language much more recently, too!). In fact, couple of colleagues were recently teasing each other about figuring out what they want to do when they grow up. Oddly, I think, we have made this identity journey the defining element of teen-age years. In some ways it makes sense, but in other ways it is just plain bizarre. I could go into all the discussions of development psychology to make my point, but I’m not going to do that.

As Christians, I think God has actually given us a responsibility to guide this process, both as parents and as disciplers. Proverbs contains that oft used challenge, “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (22:6). Whatever else it means, I think it places a burden on parents to be engaged in the process of identity formation for their children. This idea of letting a child sort it out on their own is not wisdom, its foolishness – if we take Proverbs seriously.

I also think that when someone becomes a Christian, part of our role as teacher/trainers is to help them understand what is now different about them because of the work of Christ. Our patterns for helping young believers are severely when we ignore this reality. What does it mean that Jesus is now “Lord of your life?” We, rightly, talk about obedience, but is that all of it? (The answer is “no” – especially when we remember that the Bible goes further than this to say that Jesus is our life). What does it mean that we have been baptized into the burial of Christ and raised with Him? Do we actually take those metaphors seriously enough?

The whole point is that we have left people to figure themselves out on their own, but that is not what God intended. Identity is too important to be left to and individual to sort out on their own. Identity is too important to allow a bunch of confused (and not very wise) teen-agers to set the agenda for each other. Identity is, fundamentally, established in our relationship to God, either as part of the kingdom of His Son or as those still seeking what only He can provide. Augustine said our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Pascal said that we are all trying to fill this infinite abyss with things that are not infinite and it can only be filled with God (this is the origin of the common adage about a “God-shaped hole”). These are statements about our identity.

God is sovereign, this means that, in the end, He gets to tell us who we are. His perspective is the one that matters.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

The Challenge of Wise-walking - 6/15/2016

“Walk wisely toward outsiders” Paul says. This should sound like a stinging indictment for many of us as Christians. There are a lot of things that we can say about our walk of faith, but to say that we walk with wisdom toward those who do not believe is probably not the first thing that would leap to mind.

Most of us have been exposed to examples of people speaking (or yelling or printing on signs) words that are hurtful and hateful “in the name of Jesus.” And, by the way, I don’t think these words are in the name of Jesus – that is, in line with his will and glory. It gets tiresome watching the media and others parade these examples out as though they represent all Christians. However, the problem is a real one. We are called, nay, commanded, to speak with grace and gentleness, and too often we do not. The world is watching and listening – do we sound gracious? Of course, the issue of wise-walking extends to more than just words; it touches our deeds and the spirit in which we do them as well.

The flip side is also a challenge, though. Too often we fail to recognize that there is another side to living wisely. If graciousness is a part of wisdom, what is the greatest graciousness that can be offered? No this not a trick question, and yes, it is a Sunday school answer – in the Cross of Jesus Christ. That means we aren’t demonstrating all of grace until we share the Gospel. Did you catch that – we aren’t fully gracious until we extend the Gospel to others and we aren’t walking with wisdom until we extend the Gospel to others. Too often people want to restrict wisdom to the negative – that is, not offending. But wisdom is positive; it is the presence of “righteousness, justice and equity” (Proverbs1:3) and the outcome of the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 1:9). This means that to live wisely toward outsiders means to not only positively live so that others are drawn toward the Gospel, not driven from it but to speak the Gospel into people’s lives with enthusiasm and discernment.

It’s just my opinion, but I believe the American church lacks wisdom and further, it doesn’t value wisdom. The outcome is that we are not known for walking wisely toward anyone, never mind “outsiders.” We need to reclaim this call from Paul (and Jesus) and become “wise-walkers.”

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Ouch! - 6/8/2016

In 1944, the Mills Brothers released a song called, “You Always Hurt the Ones You Love.” It must have struck a chord (pun intended) because it stayed on the Billboard magazine best-seller list for twenty weeks and reached the #1 spot.

This is one of those songs that I think captures a pretty significant truth. It strikes me as odd, though I am just as guilty of the practice as anyone else, that we tend to show our selfishness, with its requisite anger and disappointment, more with those we say we love the most. On the one hand, it makes sense because we spend a lot of time with these folks and because they are supposed to be committed to us (which we assume means granting us grace and putting up with our failings). On the other, it seems count-intuitive to be more mean toward the people we have said we love than to the strangers we encounter on a regular basis.

As Christians, we are called to win the battle for Christlikeness at home. That’s right, we are not supposed to presume on our loved ones’ grace and forgiveness. Instead, we are actually to be especially vigilant regarding our sinful patterns with those we are closest to. It seems to me that the way we often behave, though, shows a deeper concern for our public image than it does for communicating love in our close relationships. I’m not suggesting that we show our mean selves in public and our loving selves at home, instead of the opposite. What I am suggesting is that the concern we have for our public image should challenge us to elevate our private character. This is what integrity really is all about, being the same person in private as in public – being integrated.

If this seem challenging to you, it does to me also. And, truly, it is. After a hard day of image management, we want to come home and just “be ourselves.” For many people that means expressing all the emotional responses that may have been held in check all day. The problem with this perspective is that in Christ, that is actually not “being ourselves.” Try this on for size, instead of justifying unkind or thoughtless response by saying we are just being ourselves or being “honest” call it what it is, a return to devil-ruled days. You see, being ourselves in Christ means being like Christ. And that’s a full-time job! We don’t get to go “on vacation” from being like Christ and truly who would want to? The relief or pleasure from a momentary lapse in Christlikeness is fleeting at best; the joy of being like Jesus, the anticipation of pleasing him, and the possibility of eternally significant action, are all far better.

The Mills Brothers struck a chord, we don’t have to live the song, we can chart a different course. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Filling In - 5/31/2016

We enjoy gardening in our house (well, at least the adults do). Over the years we been able to take a yard that was bare and populate it with all kinds of plants. In the process I’ve done a lot of digging. And I mean a lot! We’ve terraced a hillside, dug 160 feet of French drain (with a lot of help!) in our front yard, carved out drains and tracks for retaining stones in the back yard. And through it all I’ve observed something most interesting – holes don’t stay empty.

In our yard it doesn’t take weeks for a hole or ditch to start filling with debris. Whether its fir needles, leaves from alders and cottonwoods, dirt falling back into the hole, or plants beginning to grow (even in clay), holes just don’ stay empty. We’re all familiar with the saying “nature abhors a vacuum” credited to Aristotle. It may not be accurate as a scientific rule (I’m no physicist), but it certainly seems to reflect something about ordinary life experience. The thing is, I think it’s true when we are looking at spiritual life as well. Jesus more than hints at this when he talks about a cast out demon returning to a person with seven others in Matthew 12.

The truth is, when trying to change a bad habit, merely stopping isn’t usually enough. We have to replace the bad habit with a productive or beneficial one, or the same (or worse) habit will just creep back in - just like with my yard diggings. As Christ-followers we are called to a new life. That means getting rid of some old values. Paul, in his wisdom, strongly encourages us to replace old values with new heavenly values. This is what I call the “spiritual backfill” principle: get rid of the inferior values (like selfish ambition, control, escapism) by replacing them with superior values (like sacrificial love, service to others, humility). I’m sure there are other clever ways to talk about this idea, but I think the point is sufficiently clear.

Sometimes I think we spend too much time thinking about or focusing on the negative things and not enough focused on the positive. The book of Proverbs actually sets an example for us. We grow wise by reflecting on wisdom, thinking about wise sayings and doing wise actions – not by understanding foolishness better.

We are challenged to “dig out” the not Christ-like things in our lives, but we can’t just dig them out without filling in the holes with righteous, Christ-like values, attitudes, thoughts and behaviors.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Risky Business - 5/25/2016

A few days ago a funny thing happened. I had fed the Steller’s Jays, after picking up David from school and left the backdoor opened. David was in the kitchen and heard an unexpected sound, so he turned around to find one of the Jays hopping out of the house. He had actually come all the way into the house looking for more peanuts. I was profoundly amused by this.

The interesting thing about this situation is that both of our cats were outside on the deck a few feet from the bird. From a strategic perspective this was a bad call for the bird – going into an enclosed area with predators able to quickly block the opening – not a good way to stay alive. Fortunately for this bird, the cats seem to think these birds are pets or otherwise are “off limits.”

I got to thinking, how often do we put ourselves at risk in pursuit of something we think we want? The risk may not be physical, as in doing a dangerous activity. The risk may not even be particularly obvious. It may, instead, involve something more profound like the health of our soul, or the strength of our closest relationships, or the capacity of our church to do ministry.

When we accept patterns of thought and behavior that indulge our impulses – like anger, or doing “what feels good”, or pursuing pleasure to drown out pain or negativity – we wind up damaging our soul. It may seem a small thing but it adds up over time, causing us to be callous to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, deaf to the voice of Jesus, oblivious to the opportunities around us to be people of grace and truth.

The Enemy of our souls is savvy. He is more prone to distract us from our walk than to assault us directly. And he has used this strategy of misdirection effectively for generations, convincing Christians to fight about politics, worship styles, Bible translations (at the corporate level), and engage in personal conflict over church policy, perceived personal attacks, and who gets to make what decisions (at a more intimate level). While there may be times when discussions about such matters is necessary, we seem to waste far too much time investing in them. And so we play into the Enemy’s hand, or rather, walk right into his house. It calls to mind the story the sage tells in Proverbs 7 about the senseless young man who walks a little close to the “Red Light district.”

Being “in Christ” means remembering that this is not who we are anymore. Instead, we focus on the reality that Christ has made us new people and a new people and invites us into a rich life walking with him. All the while we remember that our life is hidden with Christ in God. While we don’t get to see this new life of ours in full, the fact that it is ours is a compelling motive to “live into it” -that is, to live as best we can in a way that reflects what we know we will one day be.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

A Person, Not a Force– 5/18/2016

A couple of weeks ago I moved a cedar tree from our yard into the green belt to replace another downed tree. The tree was doing great until we had some strong wind gusts. The wind blew the tree over. Fortunately, I had been checking on the tree every day, so I caught the problem and was able to dig the tree back into the ground. But the experience got me to thinking about how the wind is used as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit in Scripture.

The wind is powerful and can wreak havoc, it can also bring clear skies and cool a hot day. The power of the wind is one of the reasons that Bible authors used it to describe the Holy Spirit, but the bigger reason is the fact that the wind is uncontrollable. It cannot be contained and it cannot be managed. The freedom of the wind is what Jesus refers to in John 3:8. The Holy Spirit is free to do exactly what he wishes, and in that way is like the wind.

The challenge with the metaphor – even the name “Holy Spirit” – is that we can easily slip into thinking wrongly about the Spirit. There are many who seem to think about the Spirit as though he is like the Force in Star Wars, a kind of disembodied power we can tap in to. Now I enjoy Star Wars and am happy to suspend disbelief in order to accept (and even enjoy) the concept of the Force in that fantasy universe, but I cannot allow there to be any misconception between the Force of Star Wars and the real and glorious Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is person. We don’t “tap into him like a power source” or “use him.” The truth is he works through u, not the other way ‘round. He empowers us, but when he wants and in the ways he wants. The Spirit feels and responds and interacts in ways that we associate with being a person. He has individuality, a center of will at once independent of the Father and Son and yet in union with them. So Scripture (especially Jesus) invites us to relate to the Holy Spirit in personal ways – speaking to, listening to, following the advice of, learning from.

We need to be careful, as Christians, that we don’t ignore the Holy Spirit – he is God! But we also need to be careful that we think rightly about the Holy Spirit, so that we can relate to him in the way prescribed by Scripture, in love, worship and obedience.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

A Faithful Journey – 5/3/2016

I haven’t written for a couple of weeks because life took an interesting turn. Three weeks ago today, my father received news from a blood test that it was likely he had leukemia. Twelve days later (Sunday, April 24th) Dad went home to be with Jesus. It’s been a whirlwind of unusual activity and surreal at the same time.

Dad was in pain, but his passing seemed peaceful and the family was gathered around his bed when he breathed his last breath in this world. He had told me the night before that he was ready to see Jesus and that he was at peace. As painful as Dad passing away has been – and it is full of sorrow and feelings of loss and some shock - it was also full of grace. Dad isn’t in pain any more, and his suffering was mercifully short. We all got to have enough time with him, though, to share our thanks and appreciation with him. There was wonderful hospice staff who looked after him and tried to keep him comfortable. And this one – Joanie said it was just for me – the hospice chaplain on call the day Dad died was from Ireland (if you don’t get it, don’t worry, just trust me).

The next few months will be an interesting journey for my mother, myself and the rest of our family. I don’t know what each day will bring (though the truth is I actually never do), and everything still feels surreal. But as I walk out this new part of my journey, I am able to reflect on my Dad’s journey. His was a journey of focus. He was always trying in his quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) way to stay true to Jesus. His was a journey of courage. He was always learning and trying to face his shortcomings to live with more righteousness. His was a journey of service. He looked actively for ways he could contribute to the growth of God’s Kingdom. His journey was a journey of faithfulness; he finished well.

Whatever I experience in the upcoming months, this I can look back to with confidence and say, “Dad marked a course for me, a course of following Jesus.” And I can say that with confidence.

So here’s to you Dad! You fought the good fight, and ran the good race. Your rest is well deserved. And – may I follow in your footsteps.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

Focus of Attention - 4/13/2016

I watched a mother duck and her nine ducklings cross a busy road earlier this week. I was on the road driving and almost didn’t see them. I was profoundly relieved that I was able to avoid hitting them.

I set a goal this year to get ahead of the dandelions in our yard. It required an investment of time and energy and a vigilant eye, but I am satisfied that there will be no dandelion infestation in the Sickles yard this year.

I finished my taxes ahead of schedule this year. I feel very good about that.

Then I stop and think about how I respond to the world around me. My emotional state, when I am honest, is governed chiefly by my circumstances, by the things I can see and touch and hear. When I get a moment of clarity like this it can be powerful challenge. I have invested a significant portion of my life in the work of serving God and His people, yet I am often more attuned to what I am feeling in response to temporary things.

I don’t believe that I should submerge my feelings or ignore what is happening around me, but I do think that part of my journey of faith, and all of ours, is attuning to that which we cannot always see. In the process of attuning to the spiritual reality, to what is eternal, to God and His perspective, I sometimes am confronted with the fact that I have a tendency to slip into to living by the rules that the world has established, rather than those that God created. It is easier to pursue signs that our neighbors associate with success than to develop the character that Jesus modeled for us. It is easier to measure the things I can control or directly influence than to rest in the things only God can impact. It is easier to link my feelings of satisfaction with my own effort than to link my satisfaction to God’s pleasure. But I think the process of growing into an eternal perspective is exactly why we have to undertake a journey in this life, and precisely why we encounter so many situations that we are helpless to change.

Amid the yard-work, the completing taxes, the being a parent, doing the work of ministry and all the other stuff of life, my family received some very challenging news about a situation that impacts us and over which we have little control. It has made me stop again and remind myself that the focus of my attention, the attunement of my soul needs to be with God and His Kingdom, not primarily linked up to this world – which is passing away.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Who Are You? - 4/6/2016

As long as I can remember I’ve been intrigued with Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Part of the intrigue is that the stories are so fantastical, odd and yet full of connections. Part of the intrigue is that there are moments that probe our understanding of the world. One such moment is Alice’s conversation with the enigmatic Caterpillar:

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

I love Alice’s response to the Caterpillar’s question, “but I think I must have changed several times since then.” Of course, as the readers, we know about Alice’s experiences with the cordial and cake causing her to shrink and grow. But sometimes I feel that Alice’s answer captures my experience as well - do I really know who I am? This is especially true when faced with all the competing messages about who I am supposed to be offered by the world around me.

When I find myself wrestling with this question, I have a limited range of possible responses. I can choose to ignore the question as irrelevant. I can follow the common advice of the world and “try on” different “selfs” trying to “find” the authentic one. Or I can return to my foundation – faith in Jesus Christ – to understand what God says about me. This is truly the best option. God is the Creator who makes no mistakes. God is the Redeemer who re-creates me as a new person in Christ. God is Source of Truth whose words define reality. Consequently, when faced with the Caterpillar’s question, my answer should radiate around the fact that I am a new creation in Christ Jesus, made to worship and know God, to serve His purposes and to find delight in Him.

There are parts of me I am still discovering, and there are parts of me that are undergoing change, but the bedrock of my identity is stable. This is true because the bedrock of my identity is not grounded in changeable circumstance or my changeable moods and feelings, but in the unchanging and gracious God of the universe.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Resurrection Reminders - 3/30/2016

Its spring in Washington State. Spring in Washington is a glorious time! The weather can be wild, on Resurrection Sunday we had rain and sun and rain falling while the sun was shining simultaneously (which has to be my personal favorite weather of all time). In a matter of days we’ve had wind, rain, sun, frost, fog, even snow in the mountains (okay so it’s not as crazy as a March blizzard in Colorado – but it’s Seattle).

More fun is the popping of new life on the trees and bushes and the color of flowers springing from the ground. Then there’s the wildlife! The harmonies of the frogs as night, the birds singing in the morning, nature’s music. A couple of days ago the funniest thing happened. A squirrel was standing on our deck railing, looking at our back door to see if we might bring out some peanuts. As he stood sentinel still, a stellar jay, glossy black head and brilliant blue body, swooped down and whacked him with its feet. I mean it looked like a hawk trying to grab prey. The squirrel just stood there in shock like “what was that?” It was hilarious!

All of these things are, to me, sources of joy. They are also reminders of the best parts of life – new and energetic life. This is the season of Resurrection! I think we need reminders of the resurrection. Sometimes we get so focused on the challenges of life that we forget there are joys now, but they are only a foretaste of a joy we won’t be able to contain. It’s this awareness of and longing for overwhelming joy that can inspire us to nurture the hope that is ours in Christ.

Jesus is the Lord of life, He has defeated death. Jesus is the first-fruit of the Resurrection and the guarantor that the promise of resurrection will be fulfilled for us as well. In the face of woe and pain and suffering and death, we stand tall because this is only the beginning of the story for us. When we accept the saving work and ruling life of Jesus, we become people of the Resurrection. As people of the Resurrection, we need to celebrate life and seek to nurture life wherever we can. As people of the Resurrection, we need to celebrate hope and nurture hope wherever we can.

There is a beauty to each season, but the truth is in winter, I always long for spring. There is beauty in all the seasons of our life as well, but I still long for the Spring that will come when Jesus returns and all things are made new.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

In the Absence of Peace - 3/23/2016

I was struggling earlier in the week with what I should write about and then yesterday in Belgium happened and everything came into clear relief. We have friends who live in Brussels. We just sponsored a short-term international student who lives in Belgium. It makes the news all the more real when there is a personal connection to it.

We live in a time when there is clearly not peace. There is not peace internationally. In fact the terrorist and war-based tragedies are just staggering. There is not peace nationally. Divisions are deep, accusations common, language and discourse has become extreme and mean-spirited. There is not peace interpersonally. People show little regard for anyone’s agenda or concerns but their own. Violence (physical, verbal and emotional) is on the increase. Folks don’t listen but quickly make assumptions about motives and patterns.

How do we respond to all this rage, hatred and violence? Some panic, some retreat into despair, but Christ followers don’t really have these as options. Why? We don’t resort to panic or despair because the Bible repeatedly reminds us that God is the God of peace. Jesus, in particular, is called the Prince of Peace and is portrayed in terms of bringing peace to the world. His peace is more than the absence of war, or even turmoil. At the very least, God’s peace includes the settled conviction that He is in control and that He will right things in the end.

Our Prince of Peace initiates his peace crusade in the most foundational of places – peace with God. We are rebels with hearts set in opposition to God and His righteous rule apart from Jesus. But Jesus, through his perfect life, atoning death and victorious resurrection, reconciles us to God. This peace forms the basis for our being peaceable in the world. The Spirit comes to live in us and produce in us His fruit – one of which is peace. We are taught that true wisdom, wisdom that comes from God is peaceable, that is peaceful and peace pursuing. We are to be agents of peace in a world torn by rage, hatred and violence.

The rage, hatred and violence of the world should break our hearts. As we hear about the consequences of this rage, hatred and violence on real individuals, we should be stirred to both grief and compassion. But we should not panic or despair. God is still the Ruler of the universe. Instead, our experiences of the violence of this world should push us back to Jesus, who offers us peace which passes understanding and then inspire us to live as people of peace and to pray diligently for God’s peace to overwhelm the darkness.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Walking Perspective - 3/16/2016

I’ve gotten back into the habit of walking recently. Our family walked everywhere in the UK but when we got back to the States it was exceedingly easy to fall back into old patterns. Yet when I think back on our time, the walking we did has left a powerful mark. Memories were built and stories emerged. We laughed along the way, we got cranky (those moments provide some of the best stories now though), we got turned around (a euphemism for getting lost), we saw amazing things together.

These memories help me to understand the biblical metaphor of walking to describe our life of faith. The veteran Christian minister and educator Eddie Gibbs, now in his seventies, devotes an entire chapter of his book The Journey of Ministry to the way walking captures the essence of Christian life. He ends one portion of his chapter reflecting on that delightful passage from Isaiah 40:30-31:

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men

shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Eddie’s comment is simple and instructive, “we can’t expect to soar all the time.” We often read Isaiah’s words and focus on the soaring – I sure do. I love the image of soaring (even though I don’t like heights). Yet soaring is not the metaphor that the New Testament writers use to describe our life in this world; instead they use walking.

Walking as a metaphor is powerful because it communicates some very significant things. Walking threatens our cultural obsession with hurry. Walking reminds us that we have limits. Walking gives us time to observe our surroundings, indeed it requires us to observe our surroundings. I see value in all of these things. More significantly walking allows for conversation, for the development and maintenance of relationship, as our family found in the UK. This is perhaps the most pivotal point. We are invited into a relationship with Christ Jesus, the Lord of the universe, but we can become too agitated, too frenetic, too occupied to experience or nurture that relationship. But the essence of our faith is precisely to engage in relationship with Jesus, which is why walking is such an apt metaphor for our life with Christ.

Paul entreats us to walk in Christ, which is certainly a metaphor. But perhaps to understand the metaphor, or better yet, to live out the metaphor, we should literally walk – with Jesus. Walk and pray and see what comes of it.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Tomato-eating Wolves - 3/9/2016

We took a trip to the Woodland Park Zoo. One of the newest animals to have joined the zoo is the maned wolf. Lana and her son Vinny took up residence this last year. They kind of look like long legged foxes, but they’re not. What’s really interesting about these members of the canine family is that they are true omnivores. They eat small game, even fish, and eggs, but they also eat bananas, apples, avocado and a fruit related to the tomato called a lobeira (wolf-fruit or wolf apple). In fact, the lobeira could be as much as fifty percent of the maned wolf’s diet. When I hear the name “wolf” or even think of dogs, fruit salad is not what comes to mind!

The maned wolf (they are really cool, you should go visit them) is just a reminder to me that things don’t always match our expectations. That’s true in the Christian life as well. There is a somewhat persistent thought these days that life should be fixable, that every problem should have a solution. That thought seems to carry over into the Church as well. We often sound as though every problem needs to be fixed because, of course, every problem is fixable. Some people get angry at God when He doesn’t make everything “right” in their life. Some people go a step further and “quit” on God when He doesn’t fix things. There are others who, not wanting to be guilty of blaming God, suggest that the lack lies with us and the strength of our faith. The problem with all this is that it assumes everything in our lives and experiences should be fixed in the here and now.

God never promised that. The truth is quite the opposite. Jesus did promise we would face trials and tribulations. Paul, Peter and James all try to prepare us to deal with suffering well. We are reminded that God’s grace is shown to be sufficient for us in our times of trial (not our times of celebration). We are promised that we can receive peace that passes understanding (when everything goes well peace is understandable). We are even encouraged to remember that sometimes our struggles are God’s loving discipline to perfect our character.

I’m no masochist, delighting in suffering for suffering’s sake or seeking out trouble, but I do think we need to have a realistic and theologically accurate perspective on life. Suffering is inevitable in our experience. As much as we want everything to go swimmingly and all troubles to be fixed smoothly and quickly, those expectations are simply not accurate to the world (any more than thinking canines can’t be fruit-lovers).

Will everything be made new? Yes – eventually. The operative word is eventually, through a new creative work of God. But until then we followers of Jesus Christ need to let the truth of God’s Word critique and re-shape our expectations so that we can learn to rejoice even when things are overwhelming, or unfair, or really hard. Like tomato (well really, lobeira) eating wolves, we should challenge people’s perceptions. In so doing, we become conduits for others to encounter the grace and peace that God alone can give.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Lesson from Two Cats - 3/1/2016

We have two cats. One cat is an indoor-outdoor cat. He hunts and brawls with the best of them. The other is an indoor only cat. She broke her hip as a kitten and can’t jump and climb with the skill and agility of many cats. Living as we do on a greenbelt with ‘possum, raccoon and birds of prey, it’s not safe for her to be outside without supervision. She really wants to be outside and will run out the door often. But she tends to stay on our deck and isn’t quick to venture into the yard.

An interesting pattern has developed with these two cats. I’m not really sure what to ascribe the pattern too, but our hunter (ironically named Peace) will often watch the indoor cat (Joy) when she’s outside and if it looks like she is getting ready to jump off the deck he will prance over to her, grab her by the neck and push her down so she is laying flat and can’t really go anywhere. Protective instinct? I really don’t know. Sometimes Joy will hiss. Sometimes she will try to turn and bat at Peace. Sometimes she just submits (I could swear she sighs when she does it though).

We are a little like that with God. He knows what’s best for us, for those we love and for our world, but we want what we want. When He exerts His authority we hiss or bat or begrudgingly submit, among other responses. And that’s true of those of us who love Him and are trying to follow Him. Is it any wonder that the Bible talks about our need for reconciliation?

If those of us who love, serve and follow Christ occasionally try to wiggle our way out from under His loving authority or chaff at His direction, how much more might not that be true of us if we didn’t care to love, serve or follow Christ? One of the labels (but not the only one) the Holy Spirit gives this is alienation. We are cut off from God by our own choice and hostile toward Him and His authority. Enter Jesus. God initiates an opportunity for the hostility to be taken away and His righteous anger toward us and our hostility to be satisfied through the loving sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.

In Christ, then, we are reconciled to God. Peace is made (no pun intended) between us rebels and our rightful, glorious and compassionate Ruler. We desperately need that peace with God; peace which enables us to stop living in fear, stop trying to satisfying ourselves with things that ultimately can’t satisfy, stop trying to build castles for ourselves out of sand. We desperately need peace with God; peace which gives us access to His presence through Christ, which provides a robust hope for the future, which addresses the deepest longings of our hearts. God the Son, Jesus, makes that peace possible.

Peace and Joy always seem to get things worked out (I’ve heard, though don’t know for sure, that cats have less than excellent short-term memories). We don’t have that privilege; apart from the intervention of God Himself our hostility would be intractable. To quote Paul, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

I Like Jesus? - 2/24/2016

One of the phrases frequently highlighted by those trying to make a point about the state of Christianity in the U.S. today goes something like this, “Many people are saying, ‘I like Jesus, but….’” You fill in the dot, dot, dot. It’s an interesting phrase. At first my response was sympathetic, recognizing that people have been hurt in the context of “church” or by people that claim to be religious. But over time my thoughts about this phrase have changed.

Now when I hear the phrase, which truthfully is very rare except in books and articles, I am more prone to question what Jesus the person is referring to. Jesus is far more than just a good example or role model. Jesus is far more than a compelling moral teacher. Jesus is far more than a human who shows us how to love, or perfectly embodies God’s love.

The Jesus I know, the Jesus of the Bible, is at once a comforting and winsome figure and a challenging, even intimidating, figure. Jesus showed compassion to the diseased and offered forgiveness to sinners who sought spiritual truth. But Jesus also declared judgment on those who didn’t receive his message and directly challenged people about their behaviors and attitudes. And Jesus did things like still the wind and burst forth in a shinning display of his glory as God. It’s no wonder to me why the disciples might feel a little off balance with him.

When someone says, “I like Jesus” today, I’m curious if they are thinking about the “gentle” Jesus showing kindness, or the fierce Jesus overturning tables in the Temple, or the awesome Jesus who created the universe, or the broken Jesus hanging on a cross, or the triumphant Jesus declaring that he has all authority over heaven and earth and he will return one day to judge the entire world.

I think the average person’s view of Jesus is simply too small, and for most it’s far too easy a thing to say, “I like Jesus.” Personally, I can’t say “I like Jesus” without thinking, “and I love Jesus, and I revere Jesus and I serve Jesus.” Paul reminds us that Jesus is preeminent, which means of supreme honor and authority in creation and redemption. Jesus (God the Son) was active in the creation of the universe and is active in sustaining it. Jesus is responsible for achieving redemption for us, and is active in transforming us. He is supreme. The Bible image is King, not celebrity.

I don’t have a problem with the saying, “I like Jesus.” I just don’t think it means very much! I’m also not sure it’s a quite appropriate response to the One who deserves and rightly expects, not our pleasant affirmation, but our worship and obedience.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Lesson from a Glass Blower - 2/17/2016

We went on the Great Northwest Glass Quest Monday. While we go to hunt for decorative glass orbs, we also really like visiting with glass blower Mark Ellinger at his studio outside Stanwood. We can get up close and watch the artistry, and Mark will explain the process if you ask questions.

Mark’s son Marcus also works with him. In the studio there were some really cool pieces. Mark has these amazing starfish that he produces. In some cases he adheres the starfish to rocks and in some cases to glass clam shells or other glass pieces (they really are cool). Mark explained that when fusing the starfish and his glass orbs he couldn’t do it alone. He had to have Marcus working with the orb while he worked with the starfish, otherwise one might get to cold and the whole piece would be ruined.

This got me to thinking about how often I try to just do things myself instead of getting someone else to help me. Sometimes a partner would just make things easier or faster, but sometimes a partner is absolutely necessary – as in the case of the glass starfish fused to the glass orb. This is true in the case of projects at home and church. But it is much more the case when I am the project and the goal is spiritual growth.

In fact, the truth is that a very special partner is necessary all the time for spiritual growth – God Himself. Sometimes I make the mistake of thinking that I can do the Christian journey in my own power; I have the Word, and my mind and my self-discipline, what else is there? But my mind is finite and flawed. My self-discipline fades, and when it doesn’t it can lead me down the road of pride (which is the opposite direction of spiritual growth). I really do need the Holy Spirit to empower my journey and not just once, but over and over.

It amazes me how easy it is for Christians to slip into a soul-destroying kind of self-reliance. We’ve been redeemed from this world, delivered from its empty values and false assurances, yet we keep trying to hang on to them. Instead, we have been given a promise of a great and glorious future – one that will blow our minds. But this future requires the practice of faith, not in ourselves, but in Christ.

We need partners in the journey of faith. We need each other, and we definitely need God. He is the artist and we are His servants, but we are also the art pieces He is producing. As you journey on the road of faith, don’t forget to consistently acknowledge your need for God, Christ and the Spirit and don’t forget to consistently ask for their empowerment.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Orienteering - 2/10/2016

As we were getting ready for our big sabbatical trip this past year, our family learned about a new sporting event called orienteering. As we were trying to find a place to stay in Inverness, Scotland, we were told that most places were already full because the World Orienteering Championships were taking place while we were there.

Most people I talk with have never heard of Orienteering, just like we hadn’t. So what is orienteering? It’s a combination of racing and navigation. People compete in a timed cross-country race using special maps and a compass, navigating from point to point (called control sites). Competitors are constantly checking their bearings because getting off track means losing precious time.

Life is a little like orienteering. When we are taking it seriously, most of us are constantly checking our bearings, trying to make sure we are on track. The question then becomes: what are the bearings that we are checking? The kinds of “bearings” that people use vary widely. Things like personal satisfaction, contributing to society, success, security, or happiness are all measuring sticks that people use as bearings, and there are certainly many others.

For those of us who follow Jesus, those bearings should be pretty clear. The bearings are found in Jesus Christ himself. When, through faith in Jesus, we receive the Gospel with all its benefits, all the landmarks and control sites change. We now have the privilege of pursuing things not just of lasting significance, but eternal significance. We now have a responsibility to love others in a sacrificial way, growing more akin to the way God loves. We now have the freedom to entrust ourselves into the hands of God rather than trying to figure out life and its meaning on our own. We now can measure our moments in light of an eternal destiny and respond to our experiences in light of the sovereign justice and wisdom of God.

The set of questions that we ask ourselves now revolve around whether a choice or response honors God, or advances His Kingdom, or communicates His love, or aligns with His truth. Answers to these questions require discernment, but God in His wisdom provided Jesus as an example to follow (among other things!) and has given us the Holy Spirit to direct us. The Word of God is also a reliable guide (shall we say map – just for the sake of the metaphor?) on this journey.

Part of the challenge in the life of faith, just like in an orienteering competition, is to minimize (or eliminate) the distractions ad pay close attention to the sources of direction. We would do well as Christians to follow suit. Paul, after all, does call our lives a race, maybe we should view that race as an orienteering event and keep Jesus as the compass point.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Citizenship - 2/4/2016

We are back into that part of a four year cycle in the United States marked by political campaigns for the presidency. With the Iowa Caucuses behind us and New Hampshire ahead, there is a lot of air time being dedicated to analyzing who might be the next leader of this county.

The significance of citizenship is in view in two ways in this season. First, it is citizens who vote for the president. One of the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens is to help determine who our leaders will be. But the issue of citizenship is also highlighted in the issue of immigration and immigration reform; the question of who gets to become citizens, and how.

Interestingly, the idea of citizenship is used in Scripture as well. Paul declares that those who exercise faith in Christ are citizens of heaven and aliens in this world. Peter reminds Christ-followers that we are in exile; that this world is not our home. We are also called ambassadors of Christ. These are ways of reminding us that we live a different kind of life as a result of our faith.

The idea of citizenship involves rights, which is a very common thought in America, but it also involves responsibility. Both of these principles, however, stem from the deeper idea of allegiance, that is, to whom are we loyal. We can have multiple allegiances and usually do. But in the New Testament the idea of heavenly citizenship is a reminder that our primary, our most important, our first order allegiance is to God, with the requisite rights and responsibilities.

This season of elections is a good time to take stock of our allegiances and ask the question: Is God really my first allegiance, not just in sentiment, but in convictions, attitudes and actions? Sometimes I fear we spend so much time focused on this world and its immediate experience that while we claim first allegiance to God, we don’t live like God is our first allegiance.

So what are some ways to show allegiance to God and His Kingdom in your day-to-day living? Taking time to speak with and listen to God? Taking time to talk about God with others? Living generously with time, money and other resources for the goals that God has clearly established in His Word? Re-aligning your use of “leisure” time? These are a few simple practicable ways, but there are more.

The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t have elections (thankfully!), we don’t need them. God is the perfect leader. But the Kingdom of Heaven does bring with its right some responsibilities. Let’s not shirk those and become like so many Americans, who like to complain about politics but don’t lift a finger to change things. Let’s be known for our wise and gracious activity to represent a better kingdom, the Kingdom of God – our home.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Quiet Answer - 1/27/2016

Proverbs says “a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15:1). Being a proverb means that this is not the case 100% of the time, but it is generally true. And this general truth is regularly ignored.

Public discourse seems to be increasingly vehement. The language people use seems extreme to me and the level of disrespect is sometimes frightening. Just as one example, I got a phone call from national organization a few weeks ago. They said the call was a “survey,” it was really a cold call to see if I agreed with their position on a political issue so they could ask me for money. As it happens, I am sympathetic to this organization’s views. However, after hearing a recorded message from one of the organization’s leaders I told the caller that I would in no way support the organization financially because I found the comments about “the other side” so offensive and inflammatory that I wouldn’t be associated with them.

While this situation is distressing at the level of American culture, when it marks the Church of Jesus it is far more than distressing. The lack of care to our language and tone is a problem that shows up inside the Church and in interactions with those not in the Church. In both cases it betrays a tremendous lack of love – a violation of one of Jesus’ most basic commandments.

I find myself particularly exercised when I hear of (or occasionally experience first-hand) cases where people who call themselves Christians use condemning or hateful language when talking to those who don’t yet know Jesus. How does that represent the loving heart of God? Don’t misunderstand me. I firmly believe that we should take stands on moral issues and issues of religious freedom. I firmly believe that there is one way to God, which is through Jesus Christ and there are many people who need to hear this message. I firmly believe that people are not fundamentally good, but are marred by sin which God condemns and will judge. So I’m not suggesting a lack of strongly held convictions or courageous proclamation of truth. I am, however, just as firmly convinced that Peter meant it when he said that we should answer with “humility and reverence.” Certainly Peter meant humility before God and reverence toward God, but I think that he also meant that these attitudes would directly impact the manner in which we talk with others.

We need to pay attention to both our words and our tone. There is a kind of impulse (it’s not yet a movement) toward what is being called civil public discourse. I think that Christians should be on the front of this movement providing a model, not just supporting an idea. To quote Proverbs again, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (12:18).

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Twilight (not the movie!) - 1/20/2016

We had a friend with us Sunday to share about ministry and to teach the Word. Something he said triggered a series of thoughts in my mind. I wound up thinking about twilight. Well really, I wound up thinking about the “time between times.” I was first made aware of this concept by reading a trilogy based on Celtic mythology by Stephen Lawhead. In the first book of the trilogy Lawhead mentions the Celtic belief that the “time between times” is a special moment when the wall between the worlds is thin. In other words the old Celts felt that beings from the supernatural realm (the Sidhe) were more likely to cross into our world at this time. The “time between times” refers to dusk and dawn the two “twilight” times.

I don’t believe in the Sidhe (that’s the faerie folk to most of us) and I don’t believe that the “wall between the worlds” is particularly thin at twilight. But what fascinates me is the idea that there is a season or moment that is between two other “more real” or “more solid” seasons or moments.

What spurred the whole line of thought was a reference to the two Comings or Advents of Jesus. The Son took on humanity and came to Earth two thousand (ish) years ago to initiate the Kingdom of God with all that entails, including the opportunity for personal salvation. But, He didn’t intend to complete everything at that time. Indeed, He promises His followers that He will return again and finalize all the promises of God. This Second Coming is yet to be. We are, consequently, called to live between the two Advents – the “time between times.” Think about it, this season we currently live is the dusk of the world as we know it but the dawn of the coming world promised by the prophets of the Old Testament and pictured by the revelations of the New. In Eschatology (the study of the end of time), we talk about the “already” and the “not yet.” As Christians today we live in the already (what Jesus has initiated), but anticipate the not yet (what Jesus will bring to fulfillment).

I long for twilight to be over, to enter into the full light of a new day, to experience the promises of God in their completeness. But in the meantime, I know I am called to live as a person of light in a twilight world. Jesus specifically calls us to be light – to point toward what is eternal, what is good, what is beautiful, what is right. In all of this the bookends that are “more real” or “more solid” are Jesus Himself (I know the grammar doesn’t sound quite right, but it makes the point). So I guess that in this twilight time, this “time between times” we should simply:

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Stable Foundation – 1/13/2016

A few days ago I was walking across a parking lot in the morning. Well, really I was sliding across the parking lot. There was no frost on the cars, the driveway at our house hadn’t been slick, and there was no obvious ice on the ground. Nevertheless, the asphalt was covered with a thin layer of ice that made it very slick and it was safer to “skate” across the lot than to try and walk normally.

The experience reminded me of two things: 1. Life is sometimes surprisingly unstable; and 2. The foundation we stand on is really important.

Life is sometimes unstable. While things go often seem to move along in predictable patterns, there are things that disrupt those patterns. Sometimes the disruptions are glaring challenges – a cancer diagnosis, someone unexpectedly passing away, a job loss. Sometimes the disruptions are small – running out of gas on the way to an important appointment, a bill being past due because the statement never arrived in the mail, a child getting a cold that keeps them home from school –but still get us off track enough that it can frustrate us or make us anxious if for no other reason that our carefully planned day goes sideways. We can’t control these ice slicks, we simply have to adapt to them.

The foundation we stand on is really important. I’m a pretty decent walker. I don’t tend to trip over my feet as a rule (it does happen sometimes though!). I don’t typically fall down without some external force exerting itself. I can usually get from point “A” to point “B” with a minimum of challenge. But when on ice, it’s a whole different game. Not being able to see the ice the other day, I nearly took a tumble and probably looked ridiculous to observers as I flung my arms about and twisted my body trying to regain balance and not hit the ground.

Our foundation is important for the more significant parts of life like our emotions and spirituality too. We can pursue wholeness, we can seek peace, we can act for the good of others, but in face of life we need a foundation that is of greater substance and permanence than anything we can do. We need a foundation that is eternal and unshakeable. We need Jesus. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us clearly that Jesus is our hope for the future. The good news is that Jesus is eternal and Jesus is active on our behalf. If we place our hope in Jesus, no matter what the world throws at us we will know that at least our foundation is sure – no ice slicks here.

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

Waiting - 1/7/2016

This past Sunday we spent some time looking at a passage that is both familiar and comforting for many people, Isaiah 40:30-31. Instead of reflecting on the passage let me share a thought that the great preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote:

It may seem an easy thing to wait, but it is one of the postures that a Christian soldier cannot learn without years of teaching. Marching and quick-marching are much easier for God’s warriors than standing still. There are hours of perplexity when the most willing spirit, anxiously desiring to serve the Lord, does not know what role to play. Then what shall it do? Vex itself by despair? Retreat back in cowardice, turn to the right hand in fear, or rush forward in presumption? No, simply wait. Wait in prayer, however. Call upon God, and spread the matter before Him; tell Him your difficulty, and plead His promise of help. In dilemmas between one duty and another, it is best to be humble as a child and wait with simplicity of soul upon the Lords. It is sure to be well with us when we fell and know our own folly and are genuinely willing to be guided by the will of God. But wait in faith. Express your unstaggering confidence in Him; for unfaithful, untrusting waiting is just an insult to the Lord. Believe that if He keeps you waiting even until midnight, He will still come at the right time; the vision will come and not delay. Wait in quiet patience, not rebelling because things are difficult, but blessing your God for the privilege of affliction. Never grumble against the second cause, as the children of Israel did against Moses; never wish you could go back to the world again, but accept the circumstance as it is, and put it as it stands, simply and with your whole heart, without any selfish agenda, into the hand of your covenant God, saying, “Now, Lord, not my will, but Yours be done. I do not know what to do. I am at an end of myself, but I will wait until You part the floods or drive back my enemies. I will wait, even if You test me for a while, for my heart is fixed upon You alone, O God, and my spirit waits for You in the deep conviction that You will still be my joy and salvation, my refuge and my strong tower.”

(source: Morning and Evening, entry for August 30th - Morning)

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

New Year’s Resolutions – 1/3/2016

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap, I think. The fact that many people fail to keep their resolutions says more about us than it does about the idea of resolutions. We all need to build time into our life to pause, reflect, assess and re-orient. This is the idea behind the practice of taking or having a retreat. There are natural opportunities in our lives for taking this reflective and re-orienting time. New Year’s is one of these times. When we take the time to pause in this way and the outcome is a new way of thinking or being or doing - a change – and we resolve (or commit) to implementing the change, we have made a resolution.

I believe that making resolutions is a good thing, but we have to be both sincere and sober-minded about the resolutions we make (whether they are for the new year or not). Part of the problem is that we make a resolution but don’t have a thorough and reasonable plan to implement the resolution in place. Were we to have an action plan and some encouragers, I think we would find our success rate with “resolutions” would probably increase quite significantly.

As we have just begun 2016 (a brand new year), and as I believe we should be making resolutions, let me challenge each of you to make a couple of resolutions around your spiritual life and health, make a couple of commitments to Jesus about how you love Jesus. In order to help you, let me give some steps for building an implementation plan: 1. Take an honest assessment of where you are currently with regarding to spiritual thriving (click this link to see an assessment tool we “created” during ABF this past Sunday); 2. Prayerfully determine some realistic goals that line up with Scripture and what the Holy Spirit has been “nudging” you about; 3. Break larger goals down into achievable parts; 4. Figure out who you can and will invite to function as encouragers along the way (and be sure to actually share with them what you are doing so they can actually encourage you). These are just some basic steps by way of reminder for successful change. And remember, talk with God about the goals you are setting, about giving you strength, about redirecting you if you get off track and about the victories He is granting along the way.

So go to it – set some goals and let’s celebrate some growth at this time next year!

Pursue Christ – He is enough,

Pastor Jeff

A Lesson from the Floods – 12/9/2015

We’ve had a lot of rain in the last few days and it has warmed up, which means the rivers are running quite high. In fact, we’ve been on a flood watch. I have a tradition of walking the block to the Snohomish River to take pictures when the river is running high.

Today the river was running high and covered the park by the riverside. I took a few pictures with my phone. What was more interesting, however, was what I saw as I drove back and forth between Snohomish and Everett. The shoulder on the west-bound portion of the trestle was blocked off and crews were watching the river. They had heavy equipment available to try and redirect debris heading toward the bridge so that the bridge's integrity wasn’t compromised.

What struck me as I was observing all of this was the sense of our “small-ness.” Sometimes we delude ourselves into thinking that we have control over our lives, but when natural disasters occur we are reminded that we aren’t really in control of our lives or the world around us at all.

It is at points like this that I am grateful for the greatness of God. When confronted with my own “not greatness” in whatever form - weakness, incapacity, selfishness, fearfulness – it is easy to lose heart. But when I am reminded of who God is, I can regain my footing and recover hope.

The wisdom literature of Scripture (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) teaches us that humility is the door to wisdom. When confronted with my “smallness” it is a good opportunity to nurture a spirit of humility. It is also a good opportunity to remember how big God is. In the case of the flooding rivers, I am reminded that God separated the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River to allow His people to pass through. I am reminded of the words of Isaiah that God will be with us when we pass through the waters (Is. 43:2). I am reminded that Jesus stilled the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and taught that if we keep his word, we will have a solid foundation that will withstand rains and floods (Matthew 7:24-27).

After a good dose of reflection, remembering God’s greatness in the face of my inadequacy opens the door to genuine praise, that is, the honoring of God because He is God. I am of the opinion that humility and praise together form the heart of the “fear” that Proverbs calls us to as the beginning of wisdom. So in flood season, and every other season, let’s remember we are small and God is not and that God’s greatest deserves our praise. This is a pathway to wisdom and the sure foundation for resilient hope.

Pursue Christ – He is enough

Pastor Jeff

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