Another Snow Day…Kind of

I’m home again due to the weather.  This was going to be the storm of all storms.  Almost everything shut down for the day.  Decisions were made yesterday.  Stay off the streets!  No buses, no city services, no school!  So I cancelled all activities at the Lighthouse today only to wake up and see no snow!  What?  What happened?  The wind is howling, but all I see falling is a few flakes.  The snow banks aren’t rising, but disappointment that I cancelled everything is.

It reminded me that sometimes we try and do the right thing, or we have good intentions, but it leads to disappointment and regret.  I find it to be true sometimes when I’m trying to help someone.  My intentions are good, but they don’t want or even need my help.  Sometimes I have to go back and question my own motives.  What makes me think I know what’s best for them?  Am I trying to play God?  Might I even be depriving them of the opportunity for true growth in needing to decide and act on their own?

On a deeper level, even in my own struggles with sin and my fallen state as a human being I have the intention of doing good, getting better or changing; but for some reason I can’t.  Not on my own.  Paul writes about this in Romans 7:19, “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” NLT.  I remember this well in my struggle with addiction.  This may surprise you, but I never intended to make a mess of my life.  I wanted to be a person of integrity.  I wanted to make good decisions and make things right.  Sometime we even have the intention of doing the next right thing, we may even try, but the result is disappointment once again.  That’s when guilt begins to become shame and we find ourselves even in a bigger storm than what we expected.  Know what I mean?

In Romans 7 Paul finally asks, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Parts of verses 24-25 NLT.  I’ve learned I will make bad decisions, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.  So will you.  But by the grace of God I know that I am forgiven and loved unconditionally.  And free!  Free to live in confidence and hope.  In Jesus you are too!  If you don’t know Him in this way, stop right now and ask Him to give you forgiveness, unconditional love, confidence and hope.  He will.  I promise.  Thank you, Jesus!

Should we have cancelled stuff today?  You make the best decision you can and you move on.  Frankly, I remember the times this week when I prayed that God would not bring us more snow or precipitation.  We don’t need it right now.  Maybe today is God’s way of slowing us down enough to hear Him answer our prayers.  Hmmmmm.  I’m listening!

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A Snow Day When You Work One Day a Week

It’s Sunday, March 10 in Fargo, ND.  Usually on a Sunday I am at the Lighthouse worshiping God, sharing a message and hanging with my peeps.  Not today.  That’s what nearly 10 inches of snow in several hours does, especially when your church has no parking lot and you are dependent on the city plows to clear your parking.  So, here I am at home on my couch listening to a Chris Tomlin CD and thinking about how I don’t really like snow days considering I only work one day a week.  You’ve heard the joke, pastors just work one day a week.  Ya, me too.  A million times.  I find no humor in it.  So there, I said it.  Get better jokes, people.  They are out there.  I tell one every week for heavens sake.

I feel better now 🙂  So what do I do on a snow day on my one day I work?  I got up early, found out the streets around the church had not been plowed, cancelled church, let people know, and went back to bed.  Truth be told the sleep was nice.  We sprung forward last night.

It’s odd.  I feel a little off without worship.  It runs deep in my soul.  Singing praises to God is necessary nourishment for the soul of a Christ follower.  So is hearing the gospel and finding encouragement in community.  I missed it this morning.  Yes, I can worship God personally, privately in my home.  I can read and pray.  But it’s not the same.  Today I feel that.  I’m reminded of Acts 2:46 where it says, “the believers worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper and shared their meals with great joy and generosity.”  NLT.  They were on to something, those first Christ followers.  They understood the importance of community.  They knew that to be faithful they needed each other.   Our faith is not only a personal thing.  It is a shared, communal faith.  I need you.  You decide if you need me, but if you do remember I only work one day a week so the window of contact is small.  Ha!

I was thinking, I am glad God doesn’t need or take snow days, and I’m glad He works more than one day a week.  Read carefully:

Psalm 139:7-12 New Living Translation (NLT)
7   I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8   If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
9   If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10   even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11   I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12   but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

No snow days.  Just days of love and grace.  Never ending.  Never failing.  God’s Son forever shining.  No wonder I want to worship Him.  No wonder I want you to know that same love and grace and never ending presence.  In fact I feel it right now.  I pray you do to.

Sun is shining.  Roads are getting cleared.  We will still have our recovery meetings at 5:30 today.  At 6:30 we are going to have a worship time at the Lighthouse.  I’m thinking there are a few people who are feeling the same way I am.  I’ve called it Claustrophobic Worship!  Creative, huh?  I’ve had a few people already ask, what is that?  Oh good grief!  It’s just a creative reference to the fact we have all been shut in and had to cancel worship this morning.  My Lighthouse family over-thinks everything 🙂

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Another Year…and Baffling Grace

Happy New Year!  2019.  Is it just me or are the years flying by faster and faster?  I’ve never been big on New Year celebrations.  Often staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve was the big accomplishment!  When my drinking  started to  become a problem I would strive to hide it.  New Years Eve was a sober night because I was around people.  Now I hang out with my crazy Lighthouse family.  We have a lot of great, sober fun until 12:01…then its home to bed.  I’m getting old.  Is it just me or are the years flying by faster and faster?  Oh, I already asked that.  Hmmmm.  See.  Senility?

I’m writing in the early afternoon of New Year’s Day.  Usually I would be watching a college bowl game.  That’s usually how I spend this day.  But today I’ve taken a little time with God.  I’m very grateful to Him.  I’m grateful for so much:  Faith, sobriety, recovery, Beth, family, friends.  I’m grateful for a life with purpose and a ministry that gives me one crazy adventure after another and a front row seat to see God change lives.  I’m also grateful for ice cream, but that’s a problem I may need to address in this new year, 2019.  Maybe.

Mostly I’m grateful that God never, never gives up on us.  On you.  Never.  God’s grace is amazing, transforming, baffling and yet recognizable.  I see it all the time.  In moments when there is struggle inside me or a desire to return to the old ways of coping and dealing with life.  In moments when someone I love is hurting and I can’t do anything but pray.  Recognizable, even when the broken, the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, the drunk and the user come on their knees and ask, “am I beyond help and love?”  Maybe that’s when I recognize God’s baffling, but incredible, shocking and radical grace the most.  Why?  Because I was there once, and I’m not today.  Thank you, Jesus!

God’s grace!  Baffling?  Indeed!  Amazing?  Yes!  Certain and available to you?  Absolutely!  That’s what I want you to know.  God’s grace is available to you today and in this new year.  His mercies are new every day and He loves you more than you will ever know or understand.  Baffling, huh?

Happy New Year.  I pray that you will be confused, shocked, and blown away this year by God’s unconditional love and grace.  And maybe even experience some moments of rest in His presence and goodness, like I am today.  God is good.  Hmmm.  I think its time for some ice cream.  Yes, it’s going to be a good year!

See you at the Lighthouse.

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Conversion and the spiritual life

This week I’ve been working on a Sunday message focusing on the conversion of Paul in Acts 9.  I’m taking time out to be a little reflective with you.  I’ve been thinking about the church formula many grew up with: (1) before Christ my life was a mess, (2) I met Jesus, and (3) now life is great!  If that is your story, God bless ya.  One thing I have learned from my recovery friends is that even after we deal with our coping mechanisms, life is still in session.  Now we have to feel and deal with emotions.  No wonder so many of us go back to what used to work, even if it doesn’t work any more.

I spend my vocational life these days with people whose spiritual life doesn’t fit into our church formulas.  Oh, if it was that simple.  Life in God’s grace is not always predictable.  The bondage of sin does not cease to exist after one accepts Jesus.  Through the glass of the visitation booth in the jail I meet very repentant hearts.  When released there is that tug to go back to what is familiar.  When I sought recovery I lived that tension.  I had known Jesus my whole life and yet Jesus didn’t take away the desires or temptations.  Honestly, I still feel that tension every time my heart judges or my words cut into others. Someone tell me you know what I mean.  Sin is always “crouching at the door.”  (see Genesis 4:7).

“The sinful  nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants.  And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires.  These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”  Galatians 5:17 NLT.  Funny, we don’t often quote this verse.  Somehow it  doesn’t seem to fit on an inspirational plaque.  It helps me remember that often the call and conversion to faith might be as messy as life itself.  Two steps forward, and sometimes one, or two, or even more steps back.

I don’t have anything brilliant to share.  Just an observation.  Oh…and this.  Thank you God for your unconditional grace and patience with me.  With my friends.  And to my church friends; let’s stop trying to fit everyone else into our church box.  God’s grace, forgiveness and love has captured my heart and changed me.  Sometimes a lot.  Sometimes a little.  And often I go backwards.  But not God.  He is always there to pick me… and you up.  To dust us off and say “My grace is sufficient.”  In others words, its enough for today.  It is God’s grace and love, often demonstrated by Jesus’ followers, that changes a life.  It continues to change mine.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

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Easter Saturday

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 NLT.

Sometimes is hard, but I try and look at the bright side of things. I look our my window this morning, the last day of March, the day before Easter and I see a fresh blanket of snow. Its not the springtime that I hope for on Easter weekend. But it is what it is. God has not yet put me in charge of the weather. But I am in charge of how I look at things. So today, the day between Good Friday and Easter, I choose to see a message of grace and forgiveness in the somewhat disappointing weather of this Saturday morning.

I often wonder what this day was like for Jesus’ disciples and followers. The day in between Good Friday and Easter had to be cold, lonely, depressing, full of fear. Not for me. All I have to deal with is a little snow. And today the snow reminds me of a cross and empty tomb, and the grace and forgiveness that I know in Jesus. My sins which seem to weigh me down and color my life are as white as snow because of what Jesus has done for me. And for you.

I am so excited to share an Easter message tomorrow with my Lighthouse family. I hope you can join us at 9:00 or 10:45. It will be a special day. Invite a friend. Tomorrow I plan to share a message on the heart of what Easter is about. I can’t wait.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Sowing Seeds

My mind is fixed on a question facing my Lighthouse family.  It’s a tough question.  For some months now we have been shuttling men and women  from Centre to Celebrate Recovery (CR) and Sunday morning worship.  Centre is a transitional housing unit between jail or prison and our community.  It is incarceration with a growing freedom to get life back on track.  On Thursday evenings we could have as many as 30-40 people.  On Sundays 20-30.  In many ways our new friends have brought change to the Lighthouse family.

Some of our new friends see Lighthouse as an opportunity to grow spiritually and to find a “life community” of support, acceptance and fellowship.  For others, it’s a night or morning out of Centre.  Some participate fully.  Many are in and out, up and down; and frankly a little distracting to others.  There are those who hang on the fringe.  They stay just outside of the sanctuary.  It’s all foreign to them.  A little awkward.  Uncomfortable.

I meet some who have never been to church before.  For many they have, but long ago.  Sometimes their last experiences in church were not so good.  Often, I suspect, the “light” is unfamiliar and a little blinding when you have been traveling in “darkness” for a while.  I can tell they aren’t used to being welcomed.  No judgement is weird to those who have stood before judges and jailers.  I’ve wondered how Jesus would engage and interact at the Lighthouse on Thursday night or Sunday morning?  Would He sit in the sanctuary or be on a couch in the entryway?  Would he sit to respectfully  hear the end of my message or get up with others when they sneak out early for a smoke?

It’s a tough thing.  Part of getting life back on track is learning things like respect, manners and proper behavior in a community of others.  Part of ministering in the trenches and on the front lines of the mission field is to learn to be uncomfortable and to take the time to come alongside others and teach them.  I always tell people, if you’re not comfortable with “messy,” Lighthouse may not be the place for you.

I’ve begun to think about Jesus’ parable of the sower in different ways.  You remember.  “A farmer went out to plant some seed.”  (Mark 4:3 and following).  Some fell on a path, some on shallow soil and rocks, some amongst thorns and finally some on good soil.  Sowing seed itself, I have come to understand, can be messy.  Jesus says, “keep sowing!  Just keep sowing!!!  I will take care of the rest.”

It takes a special people and a special community to sow in the darkness and the messes of life.  I think the Lighthouse, this faith community experiment I started and I love is such a place.

If you are from Centre and are reading this, thank you for stretching and challenging us.  Be patient with us. There are few roadmaps for this territory.  We are moving forward by faith.

If the Lighthouse is your family, thank you for stretching and striving to love people like Jesus did.  It gives me a sense of awe and wonder for His amazing grace.  “God, how did You ever put up with me in my darkness and in my messes of life?”

So the sower?  (I love that sentence!)  So the sower, he just keeps sowing seed.  God makes it grow.  That’s His business.  The hope and the promise?  If you keep sowing, some will grow and “produce a crop thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.”  Wow.  “Then Jesus said, ‘Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.'”  (Mark 4:9 NLT).

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

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Earthly Politics and the King

So it comes to an end.  In a few short hours, if we are lucky, this year’s election will be over.  None too soon for me.  Not that I don’t get a kick out of it.  I’ve seen House of Cards.  This would have been even more entertaining if it wasn’t real life.

I’ve watched the news these last months more than I would like to admit.  I’m a political junky.  I tell myself to turn away.  Don’t watch!  It doesn’t work.  It’s like driving by a car wreck and telling yourself not to look.  I can’t help it.

I do not take public positions on political issues or candidates, though I will at times speak on what are moral issues.  My voice on who to vote for isn’t helpful and rarely furthers the gospel, to which I have devoted my life to sharing.  Frankly, God gave you reason, common sense, and the ability to think for yourself.  He has placed in your hands His word.  Let your faith and prayer guide you.  I trust you can make your own judgement.

What we forget as followers of Jesus is no matter who is elected president, we have a King who is in charge!  We should care deeply about our country and who is leading it.  Whoever wins, we should pray for him or her.   Paul himself wrote, “all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” Romans 13:1 NLT.  But even if this election ushers in the end times (which I suspect it will not), we can be assured of who is ultimately in charge.  God is God.  He’s got this.  He’s got our back.  And if it is His judgement that the direction of our country should not be what I want or you want…well, I suspect He knows best.  I know He has listened to and heard my prayers.  But the last I’ve checked my cel phone and email, He still has not asked for my advice.  What He does ask is that I strive today to love Him and love others.  To do so is to engage in the earthly politics, no matter how unseemly.  And, though I’m in this world, to remember that the one we worship is the King.  The King of kings (and presidents) and the Lord of lords.

All this said, let’s pray for our country and world tonight.  Things are unsettled. Then, let’s get up tomorrow morning and work to make it a little bit of a better place.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

 

 

 

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