Monday, November 26, 2018


“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses only results.”

  A young man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted to have the picture duplicated. This involved removing it from the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph:
  “My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity.”
  It was signed Helen and contained this P.S.: “If we ever break up, I want this picture back.” Apparently, Helen wasn’t completely committed to that relationship and had already planned for the back door. 
  Certain characteristics are so intrinsic to Christianity that to neglect them is to be a walking oxymoron, a Christian without commitment is an aberration. Much of what’s considered committed today in the Church is not what we find in the Bible. Being committed is much more than just showing up for a worship service, giving a few bucks and going home. So, what does it really mean to be committed follower of Christ?
  Several passages in the Bible define commitment. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31: “I die daily.” You’ll never meet a committed Christ-follower who doesn’t die daily to a host of things that would seek to have a grip on him or her—personal ambition, worldly pleasures, people’s applause, greed. This culture ferociously maintains that “you can have it all” but such thinking is foreign to the mind and teaching of Christ. Even though we live in the midst of a very different culture than that of the New Testament, our Lord’s call to commitment hasn’t changed. There are things that we must die to, walk away from, and give up. Jesus’ repeat of the Jewish Shema in Luke 10:27 to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” means that we need to obey God’s Word and order our lives in such a way that we can live in the constant awareness of His presence.
  Included is to love others (our neighbor). The Apostle John connects the dots with this question: “How can you say you love God yet hate your brother?” (1 John 4:20). Today hate is “normal.” Too frequently, a hateful attitude spills over into the Church. But the Bible makes it clear that devotion to Christ includes being loving and at peace with others, particularly brothers and sisters in Christ. As Christians, we must take Matthew 5:23-24 (the need to be reconciled with our fellow believers before coming to God) very seriously. Relational integrity is to be a priority. It demands that we pro-actively seek reconciliation whenever a problem arises and obediently follow the steps of Matthew 18:15-20.
  Commitment means adhering to Jesus’ teaching on the use of time, talents and treasure. God wants first place not after someone has spent forty plus years devoting their time and talents to the marketplace. Scripture says, “Seek first the kingdom of God” “Always abound in the work of the Lord,” or “What does it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your soul?” It takes a lifetime to develop personal spiritual disciplines—Bible study, prayer, giving and serving. Commitment requires us to invest the time in fellowship and community. It means seeking to advance the Kingdom in practical service and sharing the gospel with family and friends. Those commitments are yardsticks evaluating our devotion to Christ.
  The Christian life is about death to self and allowing the Spirit to live through you. The greatest fulfillment never comes from getting but from giving. There is an immeasurable joy that comes from giving yourself to Christ and sharing your life with others. There’s something about seeing a younger brother or sister grow in grace that gives an un-matchless pleasure but you’ll never discover this apart from commitment.
  I learned commitment by watching my adopted parents (Dave & Mary Cummins) care for his aging mother in their home. I’ve seen it when a family provides hospice for a cancer victim. It’s a custom often forgotten today, when such care is frequently subcontracted out.
  Our world knows very little of commitment. Even the Church has often jettisoned commitment. Yet, by abandoning commitment, our narcissistic culture has lost the one thing it desperately seeks: joy. Without commitment, our lives are barren and sterile. Without commitment they lack meaning and purpose. Because if nothing is worth dying for (the anthem of the ‘60s anti-war protesters), then ultimately, nothing is worth living for. With commitment comes fulfillment and flourishing—of a personal calling, of marriage, of the Church—and our very hearts. It's the paradox Jesus so frequently shared when He urged us to come and die so that we might truly live. 
  James Calvert was a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands. When he and his fellow missionaries landed on the island, the captain of the ship that brought them attempted to get them to turn back. “You will die, the men with you will die, if you stay here.” he cried. And after a moment Calvert replied simply, “We died before we came here.”
  Our world wrongly says that life comes from living it up and living for self. The evidence of such flawed reasoning surrounds us. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Jesus urges us to trust Him and come, and die. It’s only as we take up our cross and die to self that we begin to live in His resurrection power. It’s total commitment. It’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). It’s only by first dying with Christ that we live in that “gain” of the fulfillment of His resurrected life now. Commitment is the first step to real life.   

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"There's no place like home."

“There’s no place like home…”

  For some very blessed people, Dorothy was right. I hope my now adult children always feel that way about coming “home.” Jane and I work at it. We seek to have low expectations and respect their adulthood, yet not lose who we are. It’s a tension…and I’m not sure we always do it well.
  For the past several weeks our home has been abuzz because Aaron and Jiayu are home with us from Taiwan! Excited? Anticipating? Planning? Working? Even a little nervous? Yes, all of the above and so much more.
  We’ve never really interacted with Aaron and Jiayu as a married couple. Add to that, though we continually stay in contact with them via Skype, emails and texts – it’s not like being there or having them here. Then, though we’d love to have them here, they’re adults and need to make those choices for themselves. More importantly, they need to be sensitive to God’s plan for their lives, not ours. But we greatly miss them and are so thankful that they worked it out to come and be with us. This week, too, we’re are making Jiayu’s first ever American Thanksgiving! So, we’ve got just a little bit of pressure.
  Did you know there are several homecomings in Scripture? Jacob went home to Canaan. Naomi returned to Bethlehem. Absalom went home. The Prodigal finally went home to Dad. The Jews returned to the land after the Babylonian captivity. Like today, all of them were fraught with emotion.
  One of my favorites is when Joseph sent wagons back to famine devastated Canaan to bring his father, Jacob, to what was going to be his final home – Egypt. What a scene it must have been! A son that was thought dead was alive and now the second ruler of Egypt.
  During this time of year some of us will be going home or we’ll have now adult children returning home. The holidays are approaching — it's the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? During this season nostalgia and sentimental memories are all around us. At times those memories buoy us, bringing joy as we recollect times gone by. Sometimes a fertile imagination can sabotage us, as we attempt to make them like something out of a Hallmark movie or Norman Rockwell painting. For most, the holidays are an assortment of emotions. So, how can we keep the joy in the season?
  Remember, first that they are “holy days” not just holidays. At Thanksgiving who do we really thank? God. At Christmas, who’s birth are we celebrating? When New Year’s rolls around…Who is it that gave us another year? It’s not, “what do I want out of the holidays?” It’s “who does God want me to be?” Or, “How can I best honor the Lord during this season?” If I truly believe that God has given me the greatest gift already, His Son and my salvation, then I should be the most thankful and joyful person because of what I’ve already received.
  Some sadness is normal. In every home, there’s an empty chair. For some, it’s still warm with a recent loss of a spouse, parent, or another loved one. Others will work through the empty chair of a broken relationship of a divorce, wayward child or divided family.
  If you're dealing with loss, take time to reflect on the gifts, even in loss your Heavenly Father has for you. Remember, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
  Lower your expectations and idealism. Nothing says Merry Christmas like having a meltdown or biting someone’s head off. Hopefully, that won’t happen. While the season will hold many beautiful moments, it also includes cranky kids hyped up on sugar; tired parents who stay up too late assembling toys and stockings. It probably will include a few ornery relatives who find some sadistic thrill from stirring up trouble, whether its politics, or how last year’s pumpkin pie was better, or just a little black raincloud of negativity.
  So, plan for a disaster or two to invade the season, yet determine to not create or encourage an environment that accepts it as normal or makes it worse. A snide comment is usually best ignored. Only do triage if there’s a need to do triage. Seek to keep the vital and maybe favorite traditions while releasing the rest. After all, too much doing leaves little room for enjoying.
  Focus on the greatest gift and the joy of giving. As a believer, I’ve already received the greatest gift I’ll ever receive, what Paul called “the inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). This year’s must-have toy is next year’s rummage sale item. Teach your children to value what money can’t buy. Get creative with those ever-growing Christmas lists. Perhaps agree to draw names or to give to a charity of choice.
  One of my greatest gifts that always nearly causes me to spring a leak each year is when Jane hands me an envelope letting me know that she has donated to help someone or some organization in my name. I’d much rather have that than one more sweater.
  Celebrate and Connect. Laugh loud and hard, grin from ear to ear. Relish every blessing. Take a holiday from any pressures, problems or worries. Join with others celebrating God’s many gifts and even the simple wonders of life. Fill your time so full that there’s no time to complain or criticize.
  Care about others. One of the most fulfilling things we’ve done as a family is to go and carol a shut-in or someone we know will be alone during the holidays. The memories you make by caring for others will be greater than any gift you’ll receive.
  Reconnect. Use this time to reconnect with those you may have lost touch with through the year. Personally, I love those Christmas letters that are included with a card. It’s an opportunity to update friends and loved ones on your family. I love it when it includes a photo showing how the kids have grown or a new grandchild. Share blessings that bring hope, not bragging to somehow show how much better your kids are than their peers.
  Stop and spend some quiet time. As your recuperating from too much turkey, use that quiet time to draw you closer to the Lord in a new way so you might experience anew what the angels announced a couple of thousand years ago, “Peace on earth and good will to men!”

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Helping without Hurting

“Understand the difference between helping and enabling. 
Don’t participate in someone else’s misbehavior.”

  It’s a lot easier to discuss the difference between helping and enabling, than it is to define or do it. Like many of you, I love to give! I love to help people. Scripture is clear that giving and generosity are the DNA of what it means to be a Christian. A professing Christian who is a Scrooge either isn’t truly a Christian or has hardened their heart to the Spirit and Scripture.
  If you’re like me then, when someone approaches you for money, it’s very hard to turn them down. Yet, while I want to help and be generous, at the same time, I don’t want to enable a detrimental or sinful lifestyle. But I’m not always sure where the lines are…Are you?
  Recently, I was at a Starbucks in Milwaukee. A couple was standing outside. As I walked in, the man asked me if I could help them out. I turned him down. He then went in and asked the manager for financial help. It really bothered me that I’d turned him down and then the thought occurred to me that I could at least buy them coffee or a sandwich. As this was her store, I quietly asked the manager if I should help them. She was very kind about it, but resoundingly told me, “No, they’re lying to people.”
  Are you like me? I feel guilty either way. Jane and I have some neighbors who perpetually seem to be in need financially, and we’ve helped them. Finally, we had to draw a line with one and told her it was a loan for “gas money,” but we wanted to see a receipt for the gas. It’s been several weeks and she still hasn’t returned with the receipt or for more money.
  Recently, I was discussing with a friend this dilemma of giving money to someone who may use it to feed an addiction, He suggested that instead of money, give a panhandler a granola bar. It’s something that’s nutritious and won’t be as easily swapped for something illicit. They can also store it in a backpack…so I now have a bunch of granola bars in my car.
  The Bible speaks to both issues – helping the poor yet not enabling. Effective ministry among the needy begins with understanding the Bible’s definition of poverty. Poverty is first a fallen world issue. It’s produced by various factors and includes everything from disability, mental illness or economic downturns, to discrimination or injustice, unwise choices or addictions and personal sins like indolence.
  Americans tend to be simplistic to an issue that’s frequently very complicated. We love quick fixes with minimum involvement. Many times we criticize government programs that merely help the poor manage their poverty, rather than escape it. Yet, many church programs virtually do the same thing. It takes more than a band-aid to cure poverty. It requires involvement and major “surgery.” Yet, before doing surgery, a doctor asks a lot of questions. We must do the same with those who are in “poverty.”
  For example, recently a homeless man asked me for help (he was living in his truck). When I suggested a place where he could rent a room by the week, he responded that the place was “too dirty.” To which I responded, “I think it’s cleaner than your truck.” He was homeless by choice.
  What many consider poverty in America is inconvenience. Food is a necessity. Adequate and warm clothing is a necessity. Other things, like cigarettes and WiFi are not. The Census Bureau reports that over 30 million Americans live in “poverty.” Yet, a poor household, as defined by the government, often has a car, air conditioning, two color TVs, cable or satellite TV, and a DVD player. Rarely, are they hungry or are unable to obtain medical care when needed. In fact, the typical poor American has more living space in his home than an average (non-poor) European. Compared to much of the world, we know little of true poverty in America.
  The biblical pattern and focus in both the Old and New Testaments is to assist the working poor. The book of Ruth is a powerful example of this. In 2 Thessalonians 3 it says, “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness…If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”  
  Enabling can be a barrier to the gospel or God working in someone’s life. Most of us can look back in our lives and see how God used tough times (sometimes financial but not necessarily) to bring us to Himself. It’s noteworthy that where Socialism is the dominant political system, it’s often a gospel resistant culture. Rather than turning to God for rescue, government has been deified, but government is always a poor savior. As Vance Havner said of enabling, using the Prodigal Son as an example, that today “somebody would have given him a bed and a sandwich and he never would have gone home.”
  What does all this mean for us? First, we must ask questions rather than jump in with solutions. Second, we must realize that our first responsibility is to our own biological family. That means too that the first ones who should intervene for the needy are the biological family (1 Tim. 5:4, 8), not the government or church. Third, we must minister to fellow believers and those in our spiritual family before those on the outside (Gal. 6:10).
  Christianity is relational. It’s far easier to help the poor than to invest in getting to really know them. Many church ministries to the poor focus on commodities, i.e., giving food, clothing or money. The greater need is a relationship. Help should spring from relationships, not be a substitute for them. Moving from commodity-based benevolence to relational ministry is a process. God, though, has called us to be about people, not about programs. We have a relationship with Him. He commands us to be relational with others. In other words, He’d rather us have someone in for a meal than to hand them a food basket. 
  There are no easy answers or magic wands when it comes to poverty. And grace is messy! God sent His Son into the mess of this world for us. He’s called us to go out into a messy world for Him. When possible, the best place to begin helping the poor is to personally know them and then introduce them to the One who can meet their greatest need.

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Don't Vote!

“Don’t Vote…”

  One of the first stories I remember from childhood was the story of a boy who cried, “Wolf!” Remember it? Originally, it was one of Aesop’s Fables.
  Essentially, there was a shepherd boy who was either bored or scared as he watched the village sheep. To keep from being alone, he cried out, “Wolf! Wolf! The Wolf is chasing the sheep!” People came running to drive the wolf away, but there was no wolf. The boy did this several times. Finally, when there was a real wolf and he sounded the alarm, no one came. He’d falsely sounded the alarm too many times.  
  It seems like nearly every election cycle, someone proclaims, “This is the most important election in our lifetime.” The problem is that they said that last time and the time before that and the time before that. A thinking person will conclude, “something smells.” The alarm has been sounded so many times, it’s ultimately tuned out.
  Then, well-meaning Christian leaders will say something to the effect of,  “It’s a Christian’s duty to vote.” Some will go so far as to say that to not vote is a sin.
  The Bible never even says that. A free society such as we know was unknown in the days of the Bible. Personally, I believe that it’s a responsibility as a citizen of a free society to vote, yet it is not a moral right or wrong. It’s definitely not a sin to not vote. But it is…
  It is a sin to fail to pray for our government leaders, whether we agree with them or not. Paul urges us with: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  
  Please note that it’s a prayer for our greatest need, “God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved.” It’s a gospel prayer, not a politically expedient one. While God is concerned with moral, social and fiscal issues, the greatest need is a gospel one. That’s why the gospel and the Church can’t and must not be identified with partisan political posturing.
  Yes, I believe that you should vote BUT long before you enter the voting booth, the believer must habitually enter the prayer closet. Read the pages of Scripture and you’ll find that God intervened over and over again when His people prayed.
  We’ve substituted programs and political rhetoric for true power, the power of prayer. We complain when we should petition our Heavenly Father. The reason our country is in such a mess is not because of the government or media. It’s because God’s people have neglected to pray.
  An evidence of that is the anger and even hatred among Christians for governmental leaders. It’s difficult to hate someone if you’ve been praying for them to the Savior who said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It’s hard to hate when you follow the example of Stephen, who as they dashed him to death with rocks, prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). I don’t know how a Christian can be full of anger and venom and still be obedient to Romans 12:14-21.  
  Thank them! After you pray for them, thank them. Government leaders are “God’s servants for good” (Romans 13:4). Your first contact with an elected official shouldn’t be a complaint or something you’re upset about. It should be a “Thank You” note, whether you agree with them politically or not. Thank them for serving. Thank them for being willing to be criticized and maligned because they desired to make a difference.
  If you want to make a difference, start small. It isn’t likely that your vote will change the outcome of the next national election, but it could make a difference in the next School Board election. The most important people for you to know, encourage and pray for are part of your City Council, Village Board, Township or County Board. Your State Senator or State Assembly Representative are fairly accessible. If you call them, they’ll usually personally call you back.
  Personally, I try to visit Madison at least once a year to drop by my representative’s offices and let them know that I appreciate them and I’m praying for them. I don’t have an agenda. I’m truly grateful for them and for their staff (who often are unsung heroes and do a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes). You could make it a field trip for your family.
  When you actually know them, when you can ask questions and know what they believe and their worldview, then you can vote more wisely.
  Please, though, don’t get caught up with a few political red herrings. Personally, I believe that we’re foolish if we believe that we can count on our elected officials to stand with us on moral and social issues. Politics is the world of expediency. If it’s the difference between potentially being elected or not being elected, all the supportive rhetoric will usually be jettisoned for victory in the next election cycle.
  Since we’re citizens of heaven, our first concerns must be the real world. Before we vote, a believer must ask, “Who is going to be best for the advancement of God’s Kingdom?” You won’t know that if you don’t take the time to pray and do some research. If you’re basing your vote on the political party, the latest commercial or even some slick postcard you received in the mail – you’re vote may be little more than the boy who cried wolf. It has little to do with reality and nothing to do with God’s Kingdom. For us, it’s not America First, it must always be King Jesus First!  

Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.