Presence Practice

There was once a man named Nicholas Herman, who worked in the food service industry and made quite a name for himself. He never owned a restaurant, never wrote a cookbook or shared a recipe on Pinterest, and never had a show on the Food Network. But he was somewhat of a big deal nonetheless. 

Herman was what you might call a short-order cook and bottle washer. In time, he became deeply dissatisfied with his life, and was a chronic worrier. One day he was looking at a tree, and after a while he came to the same conclusion that the psalmist did in Psalm 1: that the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other than and deeper than itself. He decided from then on to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.”

He is known today by the nickname given to him by his friends at the monastery where he worked in the kitchen: Brother Lawrence. He never gained fame or any semblance of “success” in his lifetime. He stayed in the background, usually working in the kitchen, doing his work behind the scenes while carrying out his experiment. 

The people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did. ” The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.”

After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God, and is one of my all time favorite books. It is thought to be, apart from the Bible, the most widely read book of the last four centuries.  This monastic cook and dish washer likely out-sold novelists J.K. Rowling, John Grisham and Tom Clancy put together. 

The thesis of Brother Lawrence’s experiment that made its way into his letters and eventually became a best-seller was simple: you can experience the presence of God anywhere at any time. You can turn the mundane tasks of your day into expressions of joy and worship of the Almighty by simply making the conscious choice to practice His presence all the day long.

I am doing my best, as I seek to “go deeper” in 2019, to give the good brother’s experiment a try, and I recommend you do the same. Ask the Lord to make His presence real to you, and allow Him to turn whatever you’re doing into an opportunity of glorious service for Him. It may not come easy, in the midst of our busy world full of distractions, but I promise you’ll get better at it–and experience Him more fully–if you’ll just “practice.”

I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.
–Pastor Ken

Going Deeper…in the Word

This past Sunday we began a new sermon mini-series on a subject that will be a major focus for our church for the whole year ahead– going deeper in our relationship with the Lord. I was encouraged with how many in our church recognized their need for spiritual renewal and revival and committed personally to seek the Lord in a deeper way in 2019.

The question is, what will that look like? Does that mean we have to have some kind of exceptional experience week to week, with each week getting a little “deeper” than the one before? Are we to expect to feel more spiritual every day? Should we make out a checklist that will map our way to greater spiritual depth?

Most of what we are seeking as we move from ankle deep water to knee deep to waist deep to in-over-our-head (Ezekiel 47) is spiritual growth and maturity into Christ-likeness. The ten cent Bible word for that is sanctification. It literally means to be made holy, and speaks of life change, transformation, taking on the character and heart of Jesus. And that does involve a process, an incremental “walk” of putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes we are sincere when we say we want to be more committed to Christ, but then when it comes to walking that out in real life we really don’t know where to start. Or when we do start that walk and get tripped up, we are prone to quit because the road is hard. 

The reality is that the process of our personal relationship with the Lord that takes us deeper in spiritual maturity is often a two steps forward, one step back process. There will be ups and downs. There will be roller-coaster rides of highs and lows. But if we are going to allow the Lord to effect genuine change in our hearts and minds, and in our actions, it will be through submitting ourselves to His lordship daily and committing ourselves to certain spiritual disciplines.

And nothing is more important in that process that spending time daily in God’s word. Earlier this week I got an email devotional from pastor James MacDonald that summed up the what and the why of the spiritual discipline of feeding on the truth of Scripture daily. Here’s what he said:

Ultimately we want to saturate our minds with God’s word so it can be increasingly true of us that our “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law we meditate day and night.” The goal is saturation, meditation, immersion, growth and ultimately love–not legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, compulsion or guilt. The disciplines of a sincere faith are not intended to be an intimidating obstacle between you and God but a way of deepening intimacy with the One who has called you His child and wants the best for you. 

 That’s a pretty good starting place. Accordingly, I am asking you to set aside some time every day to read and mediate on God’s word. The intent is not just checking off the box of religious duty. That can quickly turn into an intimidating obstacle between you and God that brings only legalism, self-righteousness and guilt, as MacDonald reminds us. Instead, we do it out of seeking the heart of God, and saturating our minds with His truth, knowing that ultimately it will be His truth that sets us free. 

One of the greatest prayers in all the Bible is recorded in John 17, when Jesus prays on behalf of His disciples, and those who would believe on Him through their message. That would be you and me, followers of Christ some twenty centuries later. In His prayer, Jesus prayed for, among other things, sanctification for those who follow Him.  “Sanctify them by the truth,” He prayed in v. 17. “Your word is truth.”

There is no more simple and direct way in all of Scripture that describes how God transforms our lives…by the truth, which is His word. So, if you want to go deeper, if you want the Lord to change your life in 2019, it will happen through your immersion into His word on a consistent basis.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

‘Ten Times Better’

“Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” –Psalm 34:8

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is from the opening chapter of the Old Testament book of Daniel. It’s the account of when Judah was taken captive by the Babylonians, and their King Nebuchadnezzar decided to take some of the young Israelites and train them up as his servants. That included Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (later known by their Babylonian names Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego).

Anyway, the king ordered the chief of his court officials to handpick some the cream of the crop from among the young captives–“young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians, and feed them the best diet from the king’s table. 

However, Daniel and his friends decided not to defile themselves with the royal food and wine, and they refused to eat of the king’s food. This caused the chief official great concern, because he knew that by doing so, these young men wouldn’t be as strong and prepared as their peers, and the king would have his head, as well as theirs.

Daniel’s reply was polite, and yet straightforward: “Please test your servants for ten days. Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” The Scripture says that God caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, so he reluctantly agreed.

Here’s where the story gets really good. At the end of ten days Daniel and his friends looked healthier and better nourished than any of their counterparts who ate the royal food. And that wasn’t all. To those four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. I love the way verse 20 describes it: “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” 

So what is my point? Am I suggesting we all go on a diet of vegetables and water, and resist any other food? Nope, though for some of us that probably wouldn’t be such a bad deal. What I am suggesting is that if you will commit yourself to living your life God’s way instead of the world’s way, I am confident that your life will show the results.

I have never yet met someone who decided to fully follow Christ and regretted it. Whether your life will be quantifably “ten times better” I can’t say, but I can say without hesitation that if you submit your life completely to God and love Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength you will find more peace and joy and soul satisfaction than you ever imagined.

So here’s a “test” for the new year not unlike what Daniel offered his captors: Make the choice to fully invest your life into your relationship with Christ. Feed your mind and soul with the truth of His word every day; meditate on it and memorize it. Spend time daily in prayer, communicating with the God of the universe who knows you by name and loves you infinitely. Faithfully gather with fellow believers in worship and in small groups where you’ll hear truth and find support and encouragement to make it when times are tough. And then see, if after all that, God does not bless your life.

I am not saying that the difficult circumstances of your life will go away, or that God is going to give you health and wealth. I am saying that He will bless your life, and it will be worth it. In fact, it’s not worth the chance not to accept the challenge.

I am excited to see what the Lord has in store for us in this new year ahead. I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

One Bite at a Time

You have probably heard the old adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” 

Of course, I’ve never met anyone who ate an elephant, but I do know many people who have successfully navigated this path ahead of me. And many of them have provided great examples of what it looks like to live by Biblical priorities and convictions, with discipline, making daily decisions that form together to make godly character. And sprinkled throughout their lives are the regularly “do-overs” afforded by God’s grace, that are “new every morning,” not just at the beginning of the calendar year.

Having said that, the New Year is almost upon us. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost 2019, but it is, and the year ahead has great possibility for all of us. Whether you are one to make resolutions or not, I hope you are resolved to make this year all that God wants it to be in your life, and in the life of your family. 

I saw a report the other day that said that people only follow through on 8% of their resolutions. That’s not very encouraging, and you’d think we would learn to not get in over our head with our commitments. But there’s something about a fresh start, when we turn the page on our calendars, that gives us a sense of a “do-over”– and this time we want to get it right. Still, unrealistic resolutions are not the answer; they often lead us down the same disappointing path as the year before. 

If that sounds familiar, you might want to consider this option that I came across a few years back, which is almost guaranteed to succeed. If your resolutions usually come up empty, you might want to try a few of these:

~Gain weight. At least 30 pounds.

~Stop exercising. Waste of time.

~Read less. Makes you think.

~Watch more TV. I’ve been missing some good stuff.

~Procrastinate more. Starting tomorrow.

~Spend more time at work, surfing the Internet.

~Get further in debt.

~Spend less time with my family.

~Focus on the faults of others.

~Wait for opportunity to knock.

~Get in a whole NEW rut! 

There is, of course, another solution.  Most importantly, we can focus less on what we’re resolved to do for a whole year, and more on the individual choices we make on individual days that accumulate and make up a year.

So, take heart, those whose resolutions fall among the 92% that won’t make it till February.  You can start over again tomorrow–and the next day, and the next–and allow God to daily shape you into who He has called you to be, for His honor, one bite at a time.

I’m praying for you, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us in 2019 as we serve Him together. Happy New Year!      –Pastor Ken

Give Peace a Chance

If you’ve read much history, you’ve probably heard of one of the strangest events ever in the history of war, which took place in World War I, in December, 1914. German and British troops were engaged off and on in battle and were stationed only a few hundred yards from one another on the Western Front. Both sides needed some relief from the fierce fighting.

On Christmas Eve, German soldiers lit candles on their Christmas trees–not a very wise move during wartime, since the enemy could easily spot their position. British soldiers responded, however, by shooting off rockets and building bonfires of their own.

Soon, the Germans began singing Christmas carols, and from afar, invited the British to join in. One British soldier cried out, “We would rather die than sing in German!” A German soldier responded, “If we had to listen to you sing in German, it would kill us too!” Throughout the night, each camp listened to the other sing.

The next morning, hundreds of soldiers from both sides left their trenches to meet the enemy in no-man’s land, where they shook hands and exchanged gifts of food, candy and tobacco. Some traded names and addresses. Meanwhile, a soccer game was played between the shell holes and barbed wire.

Both German and British generals spoke out against the truce, fearing that such fraternization would sap the troops’ will to fight. Of course, it didn’t. Fighting resumed the following day, and eventually ten million people would lose their lives in World War I. But on that single Christmas Day, two enemies put aside their differences long enough to practice peace.

There’s certainly a lesson in there for us this Christmas season. Even in the midst of the stress and pressure of this season, we all get tired of the battle sometimes. What if we called a truce, at least for this season?

Imagine if husbands and wives would just “give peace a chance.”  And brothers and sisters. And in-laws. And neighbors, and co-workers. And church members. What if we who claim to follow the Prince of Peace made a determined effort to live in peace with one another, even the most contentious among us? We just might begin to experience long-term what those embattled soldiers experienced for one day.   Maybe the angelic message proclaimed to those simple shepherds on that first Christmas night can still apply today:  “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” 

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! I look forward to seeing you on Sunday as we celebrate our Savior together.
  –Pastor Ken