Jesus is the Key Ingredient to Summer

Key ingredients make all the difference.

Yesterday I almost threw away some extra flowers we didn’t use to decorate our front steps. They looked dead; shriveled and droopy. Instead, I added some water as a last ditch effort. This morning they were beautiful.

Water, sunlight, and some attention made all the difference. Key ingredients.

Our two-year old twins both have moments when they seem to be focused on doing everything wrong. Jaren will dump his water on the floor, flip over the back of the couch, and then manage to summit the kitchen counter American Ninja Warrior style. Is he being a brat? Maybe, but there’s more to it.

If I’m honest with myself, he’s missing key ingredients. He needs some attention; to read a book, toss the ball, play chase…and probably take a nap. If he gets the things that make him feel loved, he’s an entirely different little boy. My daughter is the same way. Key ingredients

Maddie and I both admit that our marriage is stronger when particular key ingredients are added. She needs me to help with chores and she feels loved. I need to be told thank you and I feel loved. We are honest about those things with each other and it helps the love we have for one another grow.

Key ingredients make all the difference when life isn’t going as we think it needs to go and relationships are strained.

This summer, don’t stray from the ingredients that keep you in love with God.

  • Worship is vital. We need that time in our Christian community to praise, pray, and be encouraged.
  • Keep reading scripture. Summer has distractions, but when fall comes we don’t want to have limped through the summer spiritually malnourished.
  • Pray. Summer has a different rhythm than the others seasons. Be sure that conversation with our God is a part of your summer rhythm and doesn’t take a summer break.

The key ingredients in this life can’t be purchased and can’t be earned. It begins with letting the love of Christ into our daily lives. Then we can be ready to let the Holy Spirit help us provide the key ingredients in the lives of others.

Jesus is the key ingredient. Without him we wither. With him we thrive.


Places and Memories

I’ve never been very attached to places. I prefer people. But sometimes places and people are tied together.

I walked into my grandma’s house this weekend and was a little blindsided by the memories. You see, it’s hard for me to call it grandma’s because it’s always been grandma and grandpa’s house. This was the first time I’d been there since grandpa died.

I walked right in like always and looked at his chair as if he’d be sitting there. It was empty. It felt weird and I immediately went to my memory bank for comfort.

-The times as kids when we colored his face and arms in markers. He was kind.

-The way he’d shake his head in amazement at my latest story. He thought I was    always on a new adventure.

-The time he gave my brother and me the birds and the bees talk in a way only grandpa could.

-And homemade ice cream.

The house brought back memories. It was the place that made me miss him. You see, places and people are often tied together and that’s okay.

But let’s remember that places aren’t what we hold on to. Places are part of this world where we encounter people and the Holy Spirit. Places have a purpose.

Problems arise when we forget something’s purpose. We hang on to possessions because we think they define us. Wrong purpose. We over-indulge in food because more is always better. Wrong purpose. My kids use their crayons on the wall. Wrong purpose.

The purpose of a place is to create memories and discover the Spirit at work. Places hold memories and that’s a good purpose.

This Sunday is Ascension Sunday. We will celebrate that Jesus ascended from this earth to heaven and will return to make things right. This earth, all the beauty we see, has a purpose. It’s where we wait for Jesus. And while we wait we can remember his death and resurrection and share that story and love with the world.

People and places are tied together. I’m glad our Lord came to this earth so we can link the beauty we see with Jesus. What a purpose for this place!

Be Perfectly One

22 I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. 23 I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me. –John 17:22-23

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 almost seems like it has a misprint. We might think that Jesus would pray that we would be perfectly complete as OURSELVES standing alone. Yet, Jesus prayed that we would be perfectly ONE.

And as I type that my mouth drops open. I’m convicted. And yet I’m set free.

Why did my mouth drop open? Amazement and shock. It seems we’ve been told the opposite. Be YOU. Get YOURS. Shake everyone else off and stand out however you want.

Friends, be perfectly ONE.

Why am I convicted? I have often desired to stand out at the cost of being ONE. It is hard to make decisions that help lift others up. We prefer to shine ourselves. Are we okay with not getting credit if God is glorified and others are filled with hope? This life isn’t about us. It’s about the beauty of the body of Christ functioning together.

Friends, be perfectly ONE.

And yet I’m set free in the midst of this revelation. There is nothing more restrictive than being a slave to the spotlight. In that quest for approval we end each day empty and exhausted, zapped by our life-stealing personal agendas.

Being ONE is how we live into the freedom that Jesus Christ gave us on the cross. Life is no longer about providing for ourselves. Our Lord took care of that. We are free from sin and death and the thirst for selfish gain.

The irony? Being ONE/the Church  is so unique that you will stand out in the world.

In a world full of individuals, being ONE is the most beautiful thing we can see and be a part of.

Christians and Kindness

I don’t bake very often, but when I do I make chickpea & black bean bars. Sounds gross, right? They aren’t. There’s a lot more to them than beans.

I don’t really measure ingredients. I make it an adventure. I toss in the chickpeas, black beans, bananas, peanut butter, maple syrup, flax seed and others things. They always come out tasting wonderful, but never the same.

Whereas measuring isn’t my focus, including all the ingredients is vital. The bananas give them a soft texture. The chickpeas, black beans, and flax gives them substance and nutrition. The maple syrup, well, covers that up. And peanut butter makes everything better.

I’ve learned that if you leave out a key ingredient you won’t like the results.

It’s the same with our spiritual lives. Galatians 5:22-23 tells us those key ingredients we need to have in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.”

If we leave one out I don’t think we will be as happy with the results.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness. I believe it holds the fruits of the spirit together. We know we need to be patient, but without kindness we sneak in a jab to those who made us wait. Sure we need to be gentle, but our hands can be restrained while our eyes throw daggers.

Don’t forget to be kind. It covers up for a lot of our mistakes. Eventually we will be the ones who are late or have a bad moment. The kindness we’ve shown will often be the kindness returned.

Kindness is the first step in sharing God’s love. Even when someone deserves an “I told you so,” we can show kindness and reveal God’s grace. It just might insert the key ingredient into their lives that turns their hearts toward Christ.

The greatest kindness we’ve known was Jesus on the cross, and it is a gift God has given for us to share. We don’t create kindness. We share the kindness God has granted us, and the supply is unlimited.

Trust me, you don’t want a chickpea & black bean bar without peanut butter. It’s a key ingredient. We can say the same about a Christian without kindness.

Jesus and Moms: The People Who Show Us How to Serve Others

There is only so much room on the frontlines. Never grow weary in being the supply lines.

Mother’s Day is fast approaching, and I have a new appreciation for what the day means. I have always loved my mother and grandmothers. They are strong women who show me unconditional love. Yet, it wasn’t until I watched my wife become a mother that I understood the self-sacrifice of the title.

I’ve watched my wife…

-get up earlier than she wants so that she can be ready for the day when the twins hit the ground running.

-eat cold suppers because she was busy making sure the twins got theirs.

-spend all day teaching and playing, just to clean the house when they take a nap.

-fall asleep on the couch out of sheer exhaustion while the twins battle for    her lap before bed. (My lap often sits empty because I’m not mom, even though I constantly request some cuddles!)

-manage to make sure I am doing okay and feel supported and loved.

Oh, there’s more but you get the picture. None of those things I listed will make the evening news. The tasks of a mother don’t get awards and can easily go unnoticed. A mother never grows weary in being the supply line to her children, as they take the frontlines of their dreams.

Mothers set the tone for what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We are to become servants in this world, willing to give ourselves for others the way Christ gave himself for us.

Sometimes we are called to the frontlines of a conflict or cause. We must listen to the Holy Spirit for that moment. And when we are there, we will realize how vital the supply lines really are.

This system of support is why God has called us into community, the Church. Often the church is meant to be a supply line to those who are on the frontlines of a battle or situation they can’t ignore. Are we okay being the supply lines? It isn’t going to make a Facebook post, but it is the work of Christ.

This has been a tragic and sad week at College Community School District in Cedar Rapids. Three young boys were killed in a car accident, leaving families in ruins and an entire district in mourning and disbelief. We can’t survive without God’s grace and comfort leading those on the frontlines and the supply lines.

The school counselors and those who have come from Grant Wood AEA, along with teachers and administrators are on the frontlines. They are checking on young people each day, listening to their stories, and holding hands as students cry. We are all grateful for their work.

Friends, do not grow weary in being the supply lines. Pastor Mike Jones walked into my office and asked if the counselors needed lunch on Tuesday. We were able to send food. Supply lines.

Many have been praying for energy, grace, hope, and comfort for the teachers and counselors. Supply lines.

There has been money raised to support the families of the boys who have passed away. Supply lines.

And so much more.

If we push our way to the frontlines, we don’t allow those God has placed there to do their jobs. Your time on the frontlines is coming and you will need to be rested for that moment.

In the meantime, let us never grow weary in being the supply lines. Moms do it every day and they change the world.

We all learn how to support others from Jesus who gave himself for us, as we live with the hope of eternity on the frontlines of what we face today.

Church As An Aid Station

Last Sunday a marathon passed by our church. A handful of volunteers from our church staffed an aid station where we cheered the runners and had the necessary supplies for their journey. They were happy to see us after 17 miles with 9 to go!

One thing we offered them was Gu, a supplement that distance athletes use to keep providing fuel to their bodies during races and long training days. They come in little foil packets for easy storage and access. In a quick second they are into your system and providing carbohydrates and electrolytes to your body.

A google search will reveal a lot about nutrition and distance training. If your body isn’t getting the right amount of carbohydrates and sodium, it simply won’t continue to function. Without the right fuel, the journey will be cut short.

As the marathon runners approached the church, we had signs set out to encourage them. We used parts from Romans 5, and the signs read, “Trouble/a marathon produces endurance. Endurance produces character. Character produces hope. Hope never fails.”

Whether they were leading the race or the last finisher, they surely encountered moments of trouble; a cramp, the voice in your head telling you to quit, a blister, who knows. Enduring those troubles creates character that never gives up. That character is one that always has hope.

But if we simply turn from every trouble, we will see the world as hopeless.

Sometimes being a Christian can seem like we are enduring one trouble after another. And we wonder if we will hang on long enough for it to shape our character and make us hopeful. (Insert your long struggle here.)

Don’t forget proper nutrition! Just like marathoners need carbohydrates, we need faith as we build endurance. Faith is what keeps us believing that a better day is coming.

Jesus endured the cross to save us all. That’s where our faith comes from. If we think our faith was built on easy street, we are sorely mistaken. It is built on death… and RESURRECTION. Yes, it is built on struggle and the resulting HOPE.

Don’t simply try your best to hang on. Under our own power we might come up short. Stop at the aid station, keep your faith in full supply, and endure with integrity.

Maybe we should think about church as an aid station on the race of life. If we try to survive ourselves, we are doomed to fail. But because of Jesus and his church, we have what we need for the journey.

Don’t forget faith. It’s how we endure.


Summer Slumps? No, We Keep Growing!

Praise the Lord! He is good.
God’s love never fails.
Praise the God of all gods.
God’s love never fails.
Praise the Lord of lords.
God’s love never fails.   –Psalm 136:1-3

The best way to get out of a slump is to never get in one in the first place.

No matter how good of a baseball or softball player you were, you had a slump. At some point it felt like you were never going to get another hit. Maybe it was six or eight plate appearances until you broke out…or maybe it was more.

Chris Davis, of the Baltimore Orioles, just set the Major League Baseball record for most at bats without a hit; 49. That’s a long slump! Let’s not pile on Mr. Davis, as the closest most of us have gotten to a MLB batter’s box was a guided tour of the stadium or our seats down the first baseline.

Can you imagine what 49 at bats without a hit would do to your confidence, self-esteem, and your sleep?

Maybe you haven’t had a hitless streak but you’ve probably found yourself in a slump in other ways: days without exercise, weeks without a solid night’s rest, or years since you felt peace and happiness.

Slumps can feel impossible to climb out of, but they do make for great comeback stories when we give them to God.

If you find yourself in a slump in your faith, now is the time to break out. How? Well, you can’t just try harder. The harder we try, the more frustrated we get when we fail. And most of us would have broken our “faith” slump long ago if it was as easy as trying.

Instead, we should start turning our lives over to God; one choice at a time, and one day at a time. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Today is where we live into our call to be followers of Jesus. Don’t try harder. Trust God more.

Soon enough we will find ourselves stringing some faithful choices together and the love of God will lift us up and out of the slump. God’s love never fails us. We simply try to provide for ourselves instead of trusting God more.

When I started this journey of being a pastor I made a promise to myself. I would listen to the advice that I heard repeated by people who had lived faithful lives. I’ve heard a lot and learned a lot. I’m trying to keep my promise to myself. Here are some of the repeated advice from people who have impacted my life.

“Don’t chose work over being present with your children. You’ll wish you hadn’t missed those years.”

“Don’t forget to keep your marriage strong when your children are taking all your energy and attention. Eventually, the kids leave and you don’t want to be rooming with a stranger.”

“Linger at the dinner table and share conversation.”

My opening sentence about slumps is another word of advice. We don’t need to purposefully allow ourselves to fall into slumps just because we trust God will lift us out. The sneaky slumps will always try to pull us in, but “the best way to get out of a slump is to never get in one in the first place.”

Summer weather is arriving and that means our summer schedules are beginning. Friends, don’t fall into a spiritual slump! God will lift you out this fall when the lakes get colder and the boats are put away, but you don’t have to slump this summer.

Keep reading scripture. Keep coming to worship. It isn’t a matter of trying harder to be faithful. It’s about allowing room to continue to grow in faith.

So, if you foresee a summer slump, talk to your pastor. Ask for a mid-week worship service. Figure out what daily scripture to read and how to stay connected.

If I could talk to Chris Davis today, this would be my advice. (And don’t be confused, he’s not asking this .325 high school hitter many questions.) The harder you try, the worse the slump gets. Trust God and if 0-49 turns into 0-50, you aren’t loved any less. And after the slump ends, and it will, the best way to get out of the next one is to never start a slump in the first place.

Church, we don’t have summer slumps. We keep growing! To God be the glory.