Posts Tagged ‘letters to my sheep’

Letters to My Sheep: Cancer Letter #1

[Context:  I was diagnosed with colon cancer on Feb 28 and had surgery on March 8th to remove the cancerous part of my colon.  This was read at our worship service this past Sunday, March 17]


            I wish I could be there to worship with you, but the time is not quite right.  I look forward to that time, more than you can know.  My recovery is slow, though most days we can see areas of improvement.  Sometimes my patience is tried by my desire to not be dependent upon others or just to feel normal.  This, I know, is part of the trial.  We will go to see the surgeon for post-op appointment this Thursday and we will have referrals to an oncologist and a radiation oncologist.   And here is yet another aspect of this trial – that we can’t plan out life the way we want or accustom to doing so, but have to live with the unknowns of what lays ahead. 

            And yet, our (and by that I mean you and me) mission remains the same at North Hills.  We want to make the grace of Jesus known inside and outside of our church.  Sometimes we will do this in small and seemingly unnoticeable ways.   Let me give you two quick examples, one personal and one corporate. 

            Toward the end of my hospital stay, one of the physical therapists came into give me a walk,  Her name was Joy.  Those PT’s are always pushing you to move!  But when she came I had actually just gotten back in bed after a short walk and a longer sit in the chair.  I was tuckered!  Joy understood and as she was leaving she mentioned that she was just glad to be able to meet the patient that everyone said had such a good spirit.  I was surprised by her words, but I have never wanted to use my medical condition as an excuse to be mean or rude.  I tried to learn the names of every nurse, orderly, etc… (and there are so many people that come to do various things – especially about 3am!).  I simply tried to treat them with respect.  That spirit, has to be attributed to the Holy Spirit and the Fruit of the Spirit that we have.  In some small way, I hope, while I was there I left some folks at Crestwood with the grace of God. 

            And now back to you.  Sometimes we make God’s grace known in small, personal interactions.  And sometimes it is written with big letters in the sky.  I think that is what y’all have been doing for us.  Demonstrating God’s grace so that it becomes part of the story – not just the suffering.    It is impossible to put into words the depth of our gratitude for how you have stood with us during this season of suffering.  We have been overwhelmed in the best possible way by your love.  That has come in multitude of ways: prayers upon prayers, thoughts, notes & cards, emails, facebook messages, gifts – small and large, practical help, meals, visits, calls, and on and on.  We are blessed beyond measure.  Thank you for being the instruments of God’s grace to us. 

            And so we will learn, grow, and belong together in new and unexpected ways, so that we can proclaim the wonders of our God who saved & redeems, heals & restores.  Until I can be with you again, I pray and seek God’s best for us all.



Letters to My Sheep: Open Eyes & Willing Hands

This Sunday, you’ll show up (I hope) to church and we’ll partake of the Lord’s Supper together, as we do on the first Sunday of the month.  Unless you have “open eyes”, it is possible that you will not notice the hands who serve us all by preparing the Lord’s Supper.  It will just be there.  And that, in itself, is a good thing.  But beyond the pastor’s and elder’s hands who administer & distribute the Sacrament, there will were “willing hands” behind the scenes serving you and me.  This scene is repeated week after week and month after month in our and any congregation in a variety of ways.  Unless you have open eyes, you may just show up and find the church decorated for Christmas or for a special event.  Unless you have open eyes, you might just look past the person serving in the nursery.  Oh, they are there and you see them, but how easy it is for us to look past those who serve with willing hands.  Unless you have open eyes, we might not see church members serving on a preschool board, or visiting someone, or even speaking a word of encouragement to another member.  By its very nature, much of this kind of service to the body of Christ, is behind the scenes.  And that is okay.  But, I hope you will consider two things:  first, ask the Lord to give you open eyes to see those who serve our Church and maybe offer a word of thanks or encouragement.  Secondly, if you haven’t found a way to serve the church, pray that the Lord might give you willing hands.  I am sure we could find a way to put them to work!  

“Lord, help me see those who serve your Church and your people.  And help me to know how to use what you have given to be a blessing to others. Amen”

Thank you to those of you who do serve with willing hands in a variety of ways, often in unseen ways.  I thank the Lord for you.  

Next week:  Unseen Prayers (Not all service to the church is done physically!)

Letters to My Sheep: Early thoughts on reading the Bible in 90 Days

I told you on Sunday, well some of you, that I started a new Bible reading plan – reading the Bible in 90 Days.  I’m only 6 days in, but I am finding this both challenging and a blessing.  I had to read the Bible in that amount of time for a class while in Seminary and it was one of the best things I did in Seminary.  I have long desired to do it again.  I wanted to share with you some of the things that are helping me in this venture, with the desire to encourage you in your own Bible reading.  Here is what is helping me currently:

  • First, I was encouraged to see a friend from high school post about his own use of this Bible Reading Plan.  Too often we approach spiritual disciplines as solitary activities.  And while we are not reading together (he’s a day or so ahead of me), knowing that he is doing this plan is a tremendous encouragement.  That’s really what got me started again.  And another friend saw a post from me yesterday and is thinking about doing this plan, as well.   I plan on asking him if he has gotten started.  Who encourages you?  Who can you encourage?
  • Another big help to me is leveraging the use of technology.  I have been reading using the YouVersion Bible App on my iPad (a Christmas gift).  Using this app, I can choose between multiple translations, set reminders, and easily keep track of where I am and what I have read.  Through this service or others you can have daily readings emailed to you.  And on and on.  We have the unprecedented access to God’s Word and yet we may be the most undernourished generation of Christians.    How are you using technology to help you?  
  •  Speaking of translations, because I am reading large chunks of Scripture each day, I have decided to read The Message.  The Message is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase and after I switched over from the ESV (an essentially literal translation), I am finding this helps the flow of reading greatly.  Part of that has to do with the occupational hazard of trying to parse every verse.  I don’t recommend paraphrases for close study, but for big picture reading, I think it fits the bill.   The point being, find what works for you and be willing to try new translations depending on your purpose for reading.
  • I am reading for the “big picture”.  I am trying to get a feel for themes, rather than trying to remember every detail.  For example, after reading Genesis over the course of five days, I was struck by the magnitude of God’s electing grace – his choice of Abraham & the patriarchs.  Genesis is full of sordid tales and lots of foolishness, and yet this is how God choose to start the nation of Israel and bless the world.  It certainly wasn’t because they were good or deserved anything.  And the same is true of me.  
  • I am not trying to read all at once (each day is the range of 10-15 chapters), but I am trying to read in several big chunks. 
  • Plans really help.  Without a plan, I am prone to entropy.  
  • Finally, I am not beating myself up if I don’t get everything done in one day.  The first several days I was actually behind, but then caught back up over the weekend.  I expect that will happen many more times.  

That leads me to some reminders for you, whatever your Bible reading plan or lack thereof:

  • My doing this doesn’t make God love me more.  I might love him more, but He won’t love me more – how could He when He has already given us His Son?
  • My doing this doesn’t make me more spiritual or a better Christian than you.  It might make me a better pastor, but it won’t advance me to a higher rank of saint. 
  • My doing this shouldn’t become a task for merely checking off boxes (something I get to on the app and that appeals to the “doer” in me) or slavishly holding myself to this schedule.  I hope I will complete it, but even if I were to stop tomorrow, I have already benefitted from getting into God’s Word. 

What are you doing to get into God’s Word?  Did you start a new reading plan?  Are you continuing one you started sometime in the past?   How can I help encourage you?

Letters to My Sheep: A Thanksgiving Blessing

A quick blessing for Thanksgiving I wrote for my Congregation:

May you know the joy of family and the fellowship of the body of Christ this week.
May you be satisfied, full even, with the Lord’s gracious provision.
May you be filled with thanksgiving to the Lord and to those whom the Lord uses in our lives.
May you know the hope of our Savior, even if you find yourself troubled by the storms of life.
And may you also long for the greater feast that is to Come.


Letters To My Sheep: I Need Sunday

~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t have weeks you would rather forget.  Like last week for me. It’s not that anything was awful, but maybe the accumulation of struggles, disappointments, frustrations, etc…
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t deal with illness or illness your family.  Last week, Ethan & Kara both stayed home from school during because they had some type of  stomach bug.  Though I never came down with it, I suspect I was dealing with something as I felt bad most of the week from Wednesday – Sunday.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t wrestle with the sometime difficult dynamics of personal relationships.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t have professional disappointments.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t find yourself getting cranky, or irritated, or mildly depressed, as I realized I was becoming as the week wore on, even though there isn’t any particular big reason for it.  I really started to feel it when my installation of some quarter-round in Ethan’s room took a frustrating turn on Saturday afternoon.  It wasn’t that big a deal and I was trying to do something productive – even though I didn’t feel great – but I realized I just needed to stop.
~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t lose perspective by letting small things become big things.

~And maybe you’re not like me and don’t need Sunday Worship as much as I do.  Sunday’s are obviously a big part of my job – while much happens behind the scenes, Sunday is when most of you see me being a pastor.  And so Sundays, in some ways, are just something I do.  That is one of the hazards of ministry – letting what we do become who we are (that’s true for anyone really).  I didn’t realize how much I needed to worship until after I got home from church on Sunday afternoon.  Usually, I am emotionally, physcially, and spiritually drained after teaching, preaching, and pastoring on Sunday afternoon.  That’s another thing that comes with the territory.   But Sunday was different.  I felt energized and felt that my countenance had been lifted – I felt different than I had all week.  But more than mere feelings, as important as those may be, something else was going on.   Here are five things I think about why I needed last Sunday’s Worship and every Sunday (whether I realize it or not).

  • I was doing what I was made to do.  I don’t mean my job/vocation.  I mean giving glory & praise to our Lord (makes me think of this – Q. Why did God make you and all things?  For His own glory).
  • Worship gives and restores perspective – through our songs, our prayers, the Preached Word (even and especially if it’s coming from my mouth!), the Sacrament of Communion, our fellowship, etc…
  • Worship isn’t about forgetting our troubles, but about our being transformed from the inside by our Sovereign Lord.
  • Worship, when we recognize that it is corporate, also helps to see that we are not alone in our challenges & struggles.
  • Worship places our focus squarely where it belongs.

~Maybe you’re not like me and don’t need Sunday Worship as much as I do, but I think you probably are.  Even if you don’t want to admit it.

Letters to My Sheep: Halloween Discernment

Monday’s Thought…

A thought on Monday?  Tuesday and Wednesday, sure, but Monday?  Yep, for this week, at least.

I have been thinking a lot about Halloween this year, maybe a little more than usual, for a couple of reasons.  First, with Halloween falling on a Wednesday this year, we had to make a decsion about whether to have our normal Wednesday activities or not (we’re not).  And, Halloween is increasingly becoming big business in our country – with increasing amounts of money on merchandise related to Halloween.  Finally, every year Halloween seems to be a relatively big topic of discussions among Christians  – for and against, if you will.  And increasingly churches are offering alternatives to Halloween: Reformation Festivals, Fall Festivals, or Trunk or Treats (lots of these this year).  My intent here is not to wade into the waters of debate, but instead to dip my toes in the waters of discernment.  To ask some questions and encourage your thoughtfulness, not necessarily a change in your practices.  I am sure in our congregation, we have a diversity of views and levels of participation, and I hope whatever we do is done in a thoughtful way and with a desire to honor Christ. So, here are some thoughts/questions to think about:

  • Are our practices, either to participate or not, a result of what we were raised with (or even against what we were raised with)?  For example, because I was raised in a non-Christian home, we never asked spiritual questions about the holidays.  That makes it easy to just do what I grew up with, but not necessarily with Christian discernment.  The opposite could also be true.
  • If we are participating, how much are we just getting sucked into the materialism and consumerism of the whole thing?  Does our child have to have the best costume (or maybe ourselves)?  Have we bought candy 2 or 3 times already, because we’ve already consumed all of the candy long before October 31st?
  • Speaking of candy…how does this holiday play into our natural proclivities for more and more?  What about gluttony and greed?  I know it’s just candy and I like it as much as any kid, but how much do we really need?  And is there a way to develop generosity and attitude that counters that lust for more?
  • If we are not participating, what is our level of non-participation?  Will we turn off the lights, close the blinds, and allow our homes to be dark, rather than a source of light in the darkness?
  • Are we giving into darkness and evil, allow it a foothold, or otherwise fail to take seriously spiritual realities?
  • What does it mean to love our neighbors?  Does that command have any impact on what we do or don’t do?
  • Along the lines of last Sunday’s sermon, what does it mean to be “in the world, but not of the world” when it comes to Halloween?

These are just a few questions that come to mind.  Regardless of where we fall, I hope that we will be gracious towards brothers & sisters with whom we disagree, desire to honor Christ, and love our neighbors well.

If you wanted to read more/better thoughts, you might try these: Al Mohler (more to the against participation side); a PCA pastor (very much in favor), Tim Challies (somewhere in between?) and one from David Mathis on being missional on Halloween.  These are provided for your discernment.  I may agree or disagree with them in part, but they do provdie good thoughts.

What other questions might we ask?  (Not looking for a debate here)

Letters to my Sheep: Church Membership

Wrote this about a year ago:

 I’ve been thinking a lot about church membership over the past month, as we had a New Members Evening in September and new members have joined the church.  This Sunday, during the Morning Worship Service, we will publicly receive these members and hear them give assent to the membership vows (which they have already done before the Session when they joined).  This is always a time of encouragement for the church and this Sunday will be no different.  Additionally, I will also be baptizing one of these new members – another reason for us to rejoice together as a congregation. 
            One of my primary thoughts regarding membership has been on the thing that all of us need to hear from time to time:  that we are valued for who we are, not what we do.  Usually, when we celebrate someone, it is because of something they have accomplished, an achievement they have earned, or how they have served us in some way.  This is good and right, but we go through periods of our lives where there isn’t much to celebrate or no one notices what we have done.  The one exception to this is our birthday.  Birthdays are the one time during a year (I hope) that you are made much of, not because of what you have done, but because of who you are.  This is one reason that birthdays continue to matter to us, even after we have outgrown the desire for fancy presents or parties.  We all need to be affirmed in who we are, not just whether we have done something (or not).
            Let me make the connection to church membership now.  Yes, there are times that we recognize those who labor for the church, particularly those who are volunteers (sunday school teachers, greeters, ushers, nursery workers, garbage crew, lightbulb changers <it’s not as easy as you might think>, musicians & singers, and on and on).  That said, there is and should be a part of becoming and being a member of Christ’s Church where we are celebrating who someone is. In particular, we are celebrating who Christ has made and remade each member to be.  That gracious work of Christ in our salvation (which is the most important requirement of church membership) can never be accomplished or achieved, only received and lived in.  Jesus said we must be born again (John 3).  So, like a birthday, we should continually be rejoicing with each over the new birth we receive by God’s Spirit.  This should be a part of membership – not what we do, but who we are in Christ.  And in that, every member is important and their very presence (even if some are not able to be physically present as much as they may like) is worth celebrating!  All, in Christ, matter:  young and old, introverted and extroverted, able-bodied and physically-hindered, spiritually mature and those young in faith.  All, in Christ, matter.


Letters to my Sheep

I thought about starting a new blog and writing it anonymously.  But I decided against that. Instead, I’ll use my, of late, defunct blog for my purposes.  

For the past year, most every week, I have written an email to the congregation.  In that email I usually start with a mediation, a devotional, a thought (that’s what I call it).  Then I share more “newsy”stuff – announcements and updates.  I’ll spare you that (whoever you are).  Instead, I’ll post my “thoughts”.  Such that they are. 

Today’s thought is the post below.  

Loving Our Enemies

One of our “Prayer Goals” this Ministry Year is to grow in our Love for our Enemies.  I thought this was important for a couple of reasons:  it is something that Jesus teaches but is easily ignored and it is something we may need to apply especially during the political season of a presidential election.

This came into view last night in one particular way as I was watching the debate and following reaction on Twitter & Facebook.  A friend of mine reacted very strongly to something one of the candidates said and posted his thoughts on Facebook. Then came the chorus of amens.

I heard the candidate in a slightly different way and threw my assessment into the ring, to which he graciously responded and provided some more context for his reaction – which was helpful in understanding it.  That said, and I told him this in a slightly different way, is that our reactions must be governed by the command that we have to love.  Even enemies.  I think this can particularly come into view when we enter into political debates.

This is what I’m thinking and it is in process, but I think that love requires that we graciously characterize the comments and words of others, if possible.  I don’t mean we ignore words.  Nor do we just simply grin and bear hurtful statements.  But we don’t twist them or use them to score points.  We don’t take someone’s logical meaning and misrepresent it.  And even when someone misspeaks, as we all do, we aren’t standing nearby ready to pounce.

This is obviously very different than we will ever see during Presidential debates.  But it’s probably not likely any of us is running for President any time soon.    And even if someone uses their words to intentionally hurt us, we are still commanded to love our enemies.  One thing that was helpful in thinking about love for enemies was someting I just read on Monday in the book we are using in Sunday School (Love Walked Among Us, Paul Miller):  an enemy doesn’t have to be a permanent category for people in our lives.  Think about that and the command to love, especially if your are politically inclined and find yourself disagreeing with friends, co-workers, or even the candidates themselves.  May the Lord grow us in the kind of enemy loving that He has shown to us (Romans 5:8).