Come Close

I read these verses this morning in my devotions. They come from Deuteronomy 32:18-19. NLT

“You neglected the Rock who had fathered you;
you forgot the God who had given you birth.

The Lord saw this and drew back,
provoked to anger by his own sons and daughters.”

I was struck by them because I sometimes feel that God draws back from me when I neglect Him or struggle with sin. You too? Be assured God never leaves you or abandons you. But sometimes He may draw back a bit. Part of His amazing grace is the freedom He gives us to either be close to Him or distant. To walk with Him or to go our own way. Today let’s choose to walk with Him. To be close. Pray with me. Father, today I wish to walk with You, to be close to You. Draw close to me. I love you, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Go Boldly

This morning in my readings I read what was a prophetic word about the future of the church in our country. One thing that struck me was that the church will make a radical turn from being “all about me” to being a mission outpost. People in the church will gather to be equipped and inspired to go out into their daily lives as missionaries. I’m not sure it is true, but it is a powerful vision. So much of our lives tend to be self-centered. Even our church life. Especially our church life. “I’m looking for a church that meets my needs,” we say. “I am church shopping.”

Jesus calls us to lay down our lives and go forth to share God’s love and grace with others. What if we went to a church that best challenged and equipped us to impact the lives of others by loving as Jesus loved and sharing the gospel. As you go about your day today remember that if you are a follower of Jesus, God will bring people into your path with the plan that you will share a word and deed reflecting His love. You may never know the difference it will make in their life.

Now here’s the interesting thing. Our lives are most blessed when we give them away. You want to find a church that meets your needs and helps you grow? Find one that challenges you to give it all away and point others to Jesus. Then you will find your life. Go boldly my friend.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Dear Mom, Andrew and Sarah

Mom, I’ve wanted to write some reflections ever since the day you went to be with Jesus, four weeks ago today. The words haven’t been there until now. I’ve included my son and daughter in these reflections as I hope that they can learn from me…and from you mom.

Mom, you loved your Lord. You lived for Him and longed for us to do the same. You moved to Fargo in the midst of my own struggles and felt right away that perhaps you shouldn’t be here. You thought you complicated things. Truth is, it is always easier to walk through the darkness when you know mom is close by. For many days I didn’t believe God was close by, but I knew you were. Your unconditional love and care helped me move through the darkness into the light. Over the last couple of years you will never know what our phone calls meant to me, or what it meant to me to be able to stop in and say hi. I still see you in the hallway watching me walk down to your apartment. I’ve missed you very much these last four weeks.

Andrew and Sarah, I’ve included you in these reflections. I know you love it when I do such things:) Over these last few years you’ve seen your dad struggle now and then. You’ve seen him in a dark place and spent time worrying and praying for him. In many ways I regret that you have had to see my journey and I am sorry. I know you never thought I was super-dad, but you want to hide some things from your kids. Truth be told, I now am at a stage in my journey and recovery that I am thankful that you have seen my vulnerability. I’m glad you know that I understand what it means to walk through the darkness and to come out on the other side. I want you to know that I get it. That I understand. I didn’t see my mom’s vulnerability until recently. She hid it. Because she did, it was hard for me to talk to her about my own struggles. My prayer is that you will always know that you can talk to your dad.

Yep, you’ve learned over the years that when I share something personal with you kids, I tend to share it with the whole world. So it is today. Truth is, others can learn from us. I’m so proud of you both. You were good to your grandma and it warmed my heart. She was proud of you too. She is bragging to Jesus about the young man and young woman you have become. She rejoiced that you too know Jesus as your savior and friend. And perhaps now, after four weeks of “welcome to heaven” orientation she understands that her kids and grandkids are human beings too. The ground is level before the cross of Christ. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness and redemption. Don’t you ever forget it. You are no better or worse than anyone else. You are a masterpiece of God in need of His grace.

So Mom. Thank you. Thank you for your love and grace. Thank you for adopting four children and giving us every opportunity in the world to become ourselves. Thank you for your unconditional love and for being there when I needed you. Thank you for guiding me in my faith and showing me that “one life, it will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Say hi to dad. Tell him I look forward to biscuits and gravy at the buffet table in heaven. You are now free of all the worry and things that bound you in this life. Free! You are free indeed.

And to you, Andrew and Sarah. Thank you too for hanging in there with your dad. I wish I could protect you from the struggles that come in life. I know I can’t. All I can do is live today to bring glory to God and to tell you that your old man understands. My arms are big and warm and my love is unconditional and never ending.

Your Loving Son and Devoted Father,

Dale

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The Spirit of Christmas

I told the Lighthouse on Sunday that I once heard someone say that they were taught by their father that “Christmas is real, its the rest of the year that’s pretend.” I’ve been thinking lately about the “spirit of Christmas.” Its an interesting concept isn’t it. God has a Spirit. Many say that people have a spirit. We are warned of evil spirits. We pray for spirits or angels to protect us. A team has spirit, we say. Or, they lacked spirit. Maybe things have spirits. Visit the ocean. The mountains. A North Dakota prairie sunset. But things like Christmas?

There certainly must be a “spirit of Christmas”, or why else would I be sure that that package under the tree that looks a lot like a vacuum cleaner is something else. What else would explain my pure joy and excitement once again at socks and underwear as my gift from Santa. How else would we put on a smiley face for sister Joan’s family and her 4 nasty, obnoxious, evil and demonic kids invading the house again this year? How else would kids believe in Santa and nag their parents to leave a glass of milk and cookies out, even though they don’t even have a chimney. What else would explain all of this rampant generosity as people push and run over each other on Black Friday to lovingly and graciously buy presents for their dear children. The spirit of Christmas!

There must be a spirit of Christmas, because if so there would be opposing spiritual forces. That’s how it works. And there are. We talk about the “holiday blues” and Season Affective Disorder, depression and addiction triggers: while often forgetting satan and the demonic oppose anything that has to do with Christ Jesus and God’s redeeming grace. And that is what this is about you know. Its about Jesus, Immanuel, God incarnate, here to reveal God’s love for you and me. And here’s the good news. Satan winces. Grinds his teeth. Clenches his fists. For he knows that though he is able to cause distractions, he will loose again this year. Oh ya, his interference matters, these things that throw a monkey wrench in a God redeemed Christmas. They matter. The trimmings and trappings, they often distract us from grace, pure unadulterated grace. But they will not win! God will be victorious, Jesus will come again this Christmas and the spirit of Christmas will live on!

Enjoy it my friends. It doesn’t get more real that this. In another week or two the pretend part will start all over again.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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What Matters?

What really matters? Its an interesting question if you think about it. Might I suggest we spend a lot of time on things that really don’t matter that much. I just finished a weekend where I watched a few hours of football. I enjoy it, but its football. A game. In the busyness of life we do a lot of things that need to be done, but do they matter. I’ve been trying to take some time off today, so I’ve gone through some stacks of things piling up, did a little laundry, re-organized a couple of shelves and cleaned out others. Needed to be done! Feels good that I did them. But do they matter? Not very much, I think.

So what does matter? The answers may vary. What matters to you may not matter to me, and vice verse. On the other hand, perhaps we can agree on some things. People matter. Yes indeed. Life matters. Today we received the news of the death of a loved one who succumbed to the horrible disease of alcoholism. He matters. God created him. Jesus died for him. His death matters. So did his life.

As I reflect on things I realize that the most important things in life, the things that truly matter aren’t the things we often focus on. Nope, we’re out there trying to make more money, buying bigger things, getting ahead or keeping up in life. Or we indulge ourselves in the things of this world, sometimes because we can and often because they temporarily mask our pain, our loneliness, our shame, our insecurities, our disappointments. But in some moments, on some days God, through His grace, brings clarity to life. Once in a while God reveals those things that truly matter. In my reflections, I’ve had such a day. Now, our lists may still be different. What matters is that we give it some thought and some time and some effort.

So, what matters?

A phone call from my kids.
Time with my grandson
A hug, a smile, an I love you from my wife.
Quiet time with God.
Reading a book.
A short, easy walk.
Giving someone encouragement and hope.
Giving of myself to another or to a cause.
Resting in God’s grace.
Breathing in the cool, fresh, fall air.
Time with friends.
Being able to be there for my family and friends.
God’s word. God’s grace. God’s forgiveness.

Well, the list isn’t all-encompassing, but its a start. This morning I stopped at Churches United for the Homeless to drop off a check from the Lighthouse. There were lots of people in the lobby with many needs. I dropped the check off quickly so the worker could get back to work. I stopped and said good morning to a few folks. They smiled. I smiled. God’s wonderful creations, I thought. Facing a bit of bad luck. But for the grace of God go I, I said. But for the grace of God go I. They matter.

I left. Said a prayer. And thought to myself, that really mattered. That really mattered. Thank you, Lord.

So, take a moment to think, reflect and maybe make a list today. And for those of you, my brothers and sisters in life who are battling the diseases of addiction and mental illness, this post is dedicated to you. The valleys are deep and the darkness is blinding. The struggles can seem never ending and life can be filled with despair. You may doubt it today but I want you to know so hear me clearly: You matter. You matter to God. You matter to me. Your life matters. Your struggles matter. Your tears matter. You hopes matter. Your recovery matters. Never, never, never give up. You matter.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Questioning God’s Creation

Have you ever wondered about the incredible wisdom of God’s creation and wished He had done some things differently? Maybe He could have added something here, taken something off there. Love handles? Were they really necessary?

Sometimes I have wished that I had eyes in the back of my head. Like when I had kids. They would have served me well. When I’m preaching I sometimes wish I had better eyes. Have you ever had trouble getting your bifocals to match up? This week I got a pair of new glasses. My eye doctor asked if I had considered having surgery to fix them? Then I would only have to wear reading glasses. Oh ya, that makes sense, I thought! Trade one pair for another? I’m pretty okay with glasses. I read a lot. I have worn glasses my whole adult life. When they are off it still feels like I’m wearing them. And when I’m preaching I can take them off to avoid seeing people sleeping.

I mowed my lawn one morning this week. It was a beautiful morning. Afterwards I grabbed my Round-Up and sprayed some weeds. I was moving along the back of the house looking for weeds and spraying like crazy. I was focused! Focused enough to walk right into the corner of the deck that was strategically positioned at the height of the top of my head. “Shoot!” I said. It hurt bad. It hurt really bad! I could have said something else but I’m a pastor. So it was shoot!

I rubbed the top of my head. That always makes it feel better. Nope, it didn’t. Blood. Oh great. Just what I needed. On the way in to the house I had a conversation with God. “Just what I needed,” I said. “Why couldn’t you warn me?”

Then I wondered. Why didn’t you put eyes on the top of my head? Just one would do. I could part my hair in the middle so I could see. Then I heard God say, “Why don’t you just wear a helmet when you are spraying weeds?” Cute. My conclusion…God has a warped sense of humor! I hope it gave Him a good chuckle because it only gave me a headache and a big scab on my head.

Remember Popeye? “I am what I am,” he would say. Pretty profound words when you think about it. I am what I am. Capable, intelligent, fun, loving; yet broken, sometimes kind of dumb, easily upset and angered and at times even unlovable.

The apostle Paul says we have the treasure of God’s love and grace in “jars of clay.” Beautiful jars, created in God’s image are you and me. But still made of clay. So we are easily chipped and broken. Fragile. We even bleed. But beautiful. That’s how God made us. It is how He made you. And after He did, He called you good.

Today I give God thanks for making me just as I am and for loving and accepting me just as I am. Two eyes are enough. Love handles…okay. Forgiven, redeemed on the cross and given new life every morning…priceless! Only by grace.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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Shocked? Sadly, No.

I have been away for a few days and waited until I returned home to comment on the sad and tragic death of Robin Williams. Suicide is becoming all too common these days and when someone of Robin’s stature takes his own life it makes us all sit up and take notice.

I was a big fan. I loved his comedy. Yes, I go all the way back to Mork and Mindy and Happy Days:) That said, Williams greatest contribution to humankind may not have been that he made us laugh. He was quite open about his battle with addiction and depression. In doing so he helped others to a degree that most of us will never know. His openness conveyed to others that they were not alone. It gave hope to many, that someone with the same struggles could make such a difference in this world. He made everyone laugh, but for those with a similar disease, a smile could not help but emerge and ones posture could not help but straiten up when listening to one who also knew the darkness and sadness that is ever present in a battle with addiction and depression. And this man who understands, can make us laugh and can transport us into a story that stands outside our pain. It’s pure magic.

The world has been shocked by his sudden death. For those of us who have battled addiction and depression, we are not shocked. Saddened yes. Disappointed that one of us who made such a difference in this world and who brought positive attention to the ravages of these diseases has succumbed to it? Indeed. But shocked? No. For many, it is an all too familiar story.

I’m often asked why such terrible things such as addiction and depression exist in this life. Why indeed? What I know is that they are not God’s intention. It is part of the brokenness of this world. We followers of Jesus say it is part of the fall. It is part of our sinful world…death, decay, disease and pain. The hope is that one day it will be no more. No more death, and no more suffering. No more disease. No more tears.

My concern right now is for those of you who think you now see an easy way out. As the world mourns you see it is not an easy out. In no way is it easy. Nor is it the right way. It is not God’s way. I understand, believe me, I understand. Many of you do too. If you battle addiction and/or depression you understand the words of the psalmist, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” What I also want you to understand are the next words, “I will fear no evil.” Why? Because God is with you! God is with you. God is with you!

Shocked? No. Saddened? Yes. Hopeful! Absolutely!!!

There is help out there. It may not seem like it. It may be hard to ask. But there is help. There is a God who loves you so much and people who stand ready to respond. The Lighthouse shines the hope that there is safety and security in Christ Jesus. Follow the Light. God is with you. So are we.

See you at the Lighthouse,

Dale

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