Preaching After A Mass Shooting

On April 20, 1999, two high school boys put Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado on the map.  In the worst school shooting in US history up to that time, twelve students and one teacher were killed in cold blood.  The shooters committed suicide after doing as much damage as they could.  The church I pastored at that time was just over 3 miles away from the school.  The shooting took place on a Tuesday, we held two prayer services at our church on Wednesday, and on Friday we held the first funeral at the church for one of the victims, 16 year old John Tomlin.  Two days later, on Sunday, we had two Sunday morning services as usual.  But it was anything but preaching as usual for me.

Ever since I heard about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, of course, I have been praying for the families of the victims and the survivors.  There is a very long and grievous road ahead of them.  I've also been praying for the pastors in Las Vegas.   They are undoubtedly busy ministering to grieving families, and also, planning both funerals and church services.  They are facing a big challenge.  While grieving themselves, they will stand before their congregations as spokesmen for God expected to comfort and strengthen a grieving community.  This is not a time for platitudes.  It's not a time for giving false hope.  It's a time for them to fall on their faces before God and ask Him to speak to them so that they might speak to His people. 

I'm up late tonight praying for these pastors.  I've been there.  Their two main resources are the Word of God and prayer.  In addition, they are fortified by the Holy Spirit as they prepare to engage with their flocks as good shepherds.  In my case, the Lord laid on my heart the text in Genesis 50:20.  In the story of Joseph's fall and rise to power, he makes one of the most powerful statements in the Bible - "you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."  Joseph identifies that his brothers had a plan, but apparently, so did God.  I titled my sermon - "Two Sets of Plans." (A link to it is available on the home page of my blog.)  That was what God laid on my heart.  I will continue to pray that God will do the same for the pastors in the wounded Las Vegas community.

In addition, I have 8 suggestions for my fellow pastors, based on my experience 18 years ago:

  1. Recognize that grieving people need your presence more than your answers or explanations.  It's very tempting to think you have to explain or provide answers about where God was in all of this.  Don't bother.  Admit that you don't know.  What people need more than anything else is to know you are there for them.  They need hugs, tender words, and prayers.  Just be there.  There will be time for longer discussions.  The ministry of presence is huge in these early days.    
  2. Don't allow yourself to be sidetracked into political issues like gun control.  The media and political leaders are all over this and will be for months.  Don't get bogged down in the battles for increased gun control.  You are certainly entitled to an opinion, but this isn't your role. Keep focused on shepherding.
  3. You don't know why the shooter did it, so don't try to explain why.  In the Columbine shooting, the speculation about the two teenaged shooters was rampant in the early hours and days after the massacre.  Motive, motive, motive...everyone wants to know the motive!  I get it.  I do too.  But again, that's not your role.  Don't try to analyze something you know nothing about.  Crime analysts are working around the clock to sort this out.  
  4. Remind people that we don't overcome evil with evil, but with good.  Anger is a normal part of the grieving process.  There is a collective rage about the extent of the massacre of innocent people.  We want payback.  The shooter's family and friends are not targets for our rage.  Evil was unleashed from the Mandalay Bay Hotel room that night, but it will not be overcome by more evil.  Evil is overcome by good. (Romans 12:17)
  5. Make some reference to all the good you've seen in the aftermath of this horrific evil. (First responders, police, firemen, EMTs, other concert-goers, doctors, nurses, grief counselors, government leaders including the President, and churches and pastors.)
  6. Don't forget that Satan is the author of this evil and don't hesitate to mention it.  Don't give him too much air time, but don't shy away from pointing out that Satan is the author of events like this.  He had a "set of plans."  God permits Satan to operate in our fallen world, but don't leave people confused about who the author of evil is.  Satan is a liar, murderer, thief, and the dark designer of mayhem like what took place at the concert that night in Las Vegas.
  7. Don't treat Sunday services like "business as usual."  To fail to address what happened in your community and to not focus on it during your church services would be a big mistake.  It's what everyone has on their minds.  They will be coming to church on Sunday - probably more than normally attend your church - to hear from God.  I once heard Haddon Robinson say that the best preaching is "situational."  This horrific situation requires a change in your plans for Sunday.  Devote the whole morning to offering a biblical response to the tragedy in your community.
  8. Point people to the comfort and hope that is found in Jesus and the Gospel.  This should be obvious but I was criticized for doing it so I want to encourage you not to shy away from it.  This Sunday may be a time for many to turn to the hope and salvation found only in Christ.  Don't be afraid to offer an invitation for people to put their trust in Jesus.  Don't play on emotions.  You don't have to.  Emotions are already raw.  Gently and tenderly proclaim that in a world so full of evil and fear, there is only one solution - turn to Jesus!

I don't know if any Las Vegas pastors will see this list, but I offer it in faith. I believe God will use it as He sees fit.  Rest assured that pastors around the country are praying for you.  I am just one of many.  May God use you to speak the truth in love during these difficult days.  One more thing - be sure to take time to care for yourself and your family as well.

Hope for Divine Deliverance

God doesn't promise trouble-free living for His children. 

Anyone who says He does doesn't know their Bible, and more importantly, doesn't understand God.  Trouble, tests, and trials are normal in the Christian life.  God uses them to shape us into the people He wants us to be.  Contemporary prosperity preachers will tell you how you can escape these things.  They provide a "formula" (typically in a book you can purchase) for living with God's favor - which they subtly assert, is a life without trouble and suffering.  Just follow their advice, use their principles, and go with their plan and you will experience your best life now.  They imply that trouble, tests, and trials are your fault and if you get with it, you can eliminate them.  Reminds me of Job's friends.  "Job, it must be something you did!"

I love how the Apostle Paul opens his second letter to the Corinthians.  After warmly reminding them in vv. 3-7 that God is "the God of all comfort," he shares an experience from his missionary trip to Asia.  It starts in II Corinthians 1:8.  In just four verses (8-11) he opens the window of his soul, and shares how difficult it has been to serve the Lord.  

8 - For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.  For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.

9 - Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.

10 - He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

11 - You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

As I read these verses late tonight, they resonated deeply with the experience Jan and I have had in the past 15 months.  They may resonate with you as well.  Paul's testimony is not sugar-coated.  One of God's strongest voices for spreading the Gospel in the early church admits that affliction nearly did him in.  In this episode, Paul shares a perspective that exposes the depth of his pain to help us know what to expect as we serve God.

  1. Expect Difficulty

Paul didn't want the Corinthians "unaware" of the extreme difficulty he faced in Asia.  It was so heavy he was "burdened beyond his (our) strength." Affliction nearly did him in.  Someone has to be thinking, "Why would God allow thatWouldn't you think God would protect his number one guy?"  Paul's affliction isn't quantified but we probably don't need it to be, since most of us can relate.  Even been in a place where you think, "I can't take this anymore?" (I think I just heard a chorus of Amens!)

Candidly, during the past 15 months, Jan and I have cried out to God repeatedly - "Please Lord, this is too much!"  Just over a week ago when I was in the ER ready to have a heart cardioversion because I was in atrial fibrillation for 15 hours, I silently asked God, "How much more do I have to endure?"  Many of you know our story so I will spare all the details.  But if you know, you know this - the past year and a half has been filled with affliction.  It's not your affliction. It's not the affliction of hurricane or earthquake survivors.  It's our affliction and the weight of it has burdened us beyond our strength.

       2. Admit Despair

I'm so thankful for Paul's self-disclosure in v. 8b.  "We despaired of life itself."  Paul admits despair.  Many of God's servants reach a place of despair.  Both biblical servants and well-known servants in church history.  Moses hit bottom.  So did David.  Elijah is legendary for it.  Oswald Chambers describes it as a "dark night of the soul."  William Cowper (author of "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood") attempted suicide multiple times. Charles Spurgeon expressed the hope that no one would ever experience the depths of despair he did.  Waves of despair and depression are not unusual in those God uses greatly.

Paul figured he was going to die - he says it - "we felt we had received the sentence of death."  The despair was smothering.  It crept up on them.  The same guy who is cheered for singing hymns with Silas while in the Philippian jail (Acts 16), was now depressed and figured his life was over.  

I know a bit about despair.  My physical battles created all kinds of despair. But at a deeper level, the despair related to the loss of my role as pastor is much tougher.  Every Saturday in the past year, I felt the waves of despair lapping on my shore.  Saturday was normally my final preparation day to preach on Sunday.  On Sundays, the despair is full force.  After preaching for 40 years, I don't know how to handle the emptiness of no-preaching Sundays.  I listen to sermons on TV, podcasts, and sometimes, in person, and most often that makes it worse.  Then, on Mondays, the despair blankets my heart as I search for purpose and meaning in the week ahead.  Jan and I have talked enough about this for me to know, she feels pretty much the same way.

       3.  Make a Decision

In the middle of v. 9, Paul inserts the word, "But," and shifts into some insight he's obviously gained through this affliction.  He realized that his affliction and accompanying despair forced him into a decision-making mode.  He presents two choices in v. 9b: 1) Rely on ourselves.  2) Rely on God who raises the dead.

When you are hit with affliction and descend into despair, you have a choice to make:  1) You can rely on yourself.  I've learned that depending on myself to get through the affliction is an exercise in futility.  I can't do it.  I falter.  I freeze up.  I fail.  I just get caught up in an endless cycle of trying to understand, to figure things out, to make sense of things.  Guess what?  None of that works.  I imagine some of you are relying on yourself to cope with your affliction and despair, as well.   Escapism.  Self-medication.  Suppression.  Self-help books.  Nothing lasts.  You find yourself right back at square one.

I like Paul's second option - 2 )"rely on God who raises the dead."  Please don't miss this.  I've been living this for over a year.  When I turn things over to the Lord, even though the affliction is still there, something amazing happens.  I have peace that I didn't have before.  I can engage in praise music and truly worship the God who is allowing me to suffer.  I can write in our prayer journal and pray for others who are going through their own afflictions.  I can get on YouTube and play music videos of the Gaither Vocal Band (may not work for you, but works for me!) and feel the presence of the Lord gently comforting and soothing my soul.  Paul is making a point about God - "he raises the dead!"  His power transcends anything else we know or experience in our lives.  If anyone can address the affliction and accompanying despair in your life, He can!  

But you have to decide.  No one else will decide for you.  Rely on yourself or rely on God!  Make the decision!

       4.  Wait for Deliverance

In v. 10, Paul repeats the word "deliver" three times.  Check it out:  1) He delivered us.  2) He will deliver us. 3) He will deliver us again.  One of the most glorious truths of the Bible is that God can and will deliver us from affliction.  Paul said he did deliver them.  He will deliver them.  And he had hope that God would deliver them again.  I love the flow of this short text.  Paul moves from affliction and despair to confidence in the power of God to deliver.  The Corinthians needed this message.  So do you.  So do I.

An old hymn just popped into my head: "He is Able to Deliver Thee."  God is able to deliver you from anything you are facing right now.  I don't know the IF or the WHEN.  But I know the WHO!  God is in the deliverance business.

Jan and I have been praying for deliverance.  We feel stuck and sidelined.  We ask God every day for life direction and ask for guidance to what is next for us.  We don't want to sit around in despair.  We'd love to be delivered from despair to purpose and fulfillment.  With Paul's words as my inspiration, I affirm that I am waiting for God to deliver me.  I know He can.  

If you are in an affliction right now, I want to encourage you to wait for deliverance.  Let me remind you that God is mysterious and sovereign.  It probably won't happen when you want it to happen.  You may have to wait longer.  And "the deliverance" may not look like you were hoping.  But do yourself a favor and choose to rely on God and trust that He has a plan for your deliverance.  As it says in v. 11, I'm praying for your deliverance, and trusting that you will pray for ours.  I can't wait to hear the stories of deliverance God authors in the year ahead.



Easily Persuaded People

Jan and I alternate between reading devotional books and the Bible.  The classic devotional, "Streams in the Desert," by L. B. Cowman is one of our favorites.  But reading the Bible always brings deeper encouragement.  We've been reading through Acts in large chunks recently.  An episode in Chapter 14 gripped me days ago and I can't stop thinking about it.  Let me share it with you.

Many of you know that in Acts 13 Paul and Barnabas were commissioned on their first "missionary journey."  Sent by the Holy Spirit, they sail to Cyprus.  They aren't on the island to sit in the sun and sip margaritas.  They are there to preach the Gospel - that's what missionaries do!  Its a wild journey.  Sermons are preached.  Miracles are performed.  Demons are confronted.  And people are saved.  (Good place for an "amen!") Large crowds show up to hear what these two guys have to say.  And it all makes the Jews jealous.  Paul and Barnabas become public enemy #1 and #2.  The Jewish religious establishment wants these guys dead.

In Acts 14, the missionary team heads to Iconium.  Same as in Cyprus, they preach and people are spiritually transformed.  But, the Jews will not relent.  Their new goal is to stone the two missionaries to shut down this evangelistic effort.  But, Paul and Barnabas catch wind of the plot and head to Lystra, and this is where the plot thickens.

When they arrive in Lystra, the first thing they see is a man crippled from birth who had never walked.  Paul saw faith in him and said in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet."  The man springs up and starts walking and the crowds go crazy!  The people conclude that these guys must be gods and even start referring to them as Zeus and Hermes.  The people are so moved by the miraculous healing that they bring sacrifices and are fully intent on worshipping these guys as gods.  Paul and Barnabas object and say, "We are only men like you."  But the crowd has bestowed super hero status on these guys.  They could barely restrain the people from offering sacrifices to them...UNTIL the Jews from Antioch and Iconium show up.

What happens next is shocking.  Remember, the people thought Paul and Barnabas were gods?  But the Jews come in and turn the whole situation around in a few hours - notice the words in Acts 14:19  - "having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead." Wait.  From super hero status to stoning victim?  What were these people thinking?  What a dramatic swing of emotion!  From love to hate.  From elevation to demotion.  From gods to goats.  From worship to stoning.  And it appears all of this happened in less than a day.

Paul miraculously survived the stoning.  The people left him for dead, but the rest of Acts 14 reports that God raised him up to even greater success in evangelism.  They weren't deterred by their persecutors and neither was the Gospel.

But, back to the people. If I could speak to that crowd, I would ask one question - "How were you so easily persuaded?"  They thought they were gods.  Yet, they stoned them hours later.  What happened?  Since we can't get answers from them, I 'm going to offer my ideas on how this could have happened.  As you read this list, I hope you will check yourself and ask, "Am I easily persuaded?"

1. The Jewish leaders intimidated them.

v. 19 says they "persuaded the crowds."  The leaders probably appealed to Old Testament proof texts, they made up stories about what Paul and Barnabas did in Cyprus, and they appealed to the authority of their positions in Judaism.  Religious leaders can be very intimidating, particularly if people think they have the power to influence their spiritual status.

2. Jealousy is a powerful motivator.

We know from the text (13:45) that jealousy was the main motivation.  This is undebatable.  

3. Everyone went along with it.

Crowd dynamics entail an entire field of study.  Suffice it to say that apparently no one stood up to object.  No one took a stand and said, "We can't stone them.  They healed a man and are preaching a true message.  We must defend them.  I'm not going along with this scheme!"  Imagine the crowd resisting the Jews from out of town and saying, "Go back to where you came from!  These are good men and we will not let you harm them!"  It's much easier to go with the crowd. Resisting would have taken uncommon courage.

4. People have short memories.

Paul and Barnabas simply entered the city, healed a man crippled from birth, and then preached a sermon.  It was the people who cheered and lifted them up.  Did they forget this?  The two men did nothing but good.  But, somehow the Jews convinced them these guys deserved death.  Short memories!

5. Satan blinds people's eyes to the truth.

Clearly, Satan wanted to put Paul and Barnabas out of business.  He has uncanny ability to blind people's eyes to the truth.  To keep them from seeing what's right and to convince them to feel totally justified in doing what is wrong.  This is exactly what happened in this episode.  The missionaries survived and lived to preach another day.  But Satan's opposition didn't stop that day.  He  kept it up.  The rest of Acts leaves no doubt that Satan will always resist the advance of the Gospel.  He still does.

Be alert my friends, lest you be easily persuaded and wander from the truth and from godly conduct.  We're all only a few bad decisions away from making the same mistake made that day in Lystra.



The Last Year - Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually

365 days ago today, I went through the worst physical pain of my life.  It was a Tuesday afternoon.  Out of the blue, with no warning, I had an attack of acute colonic diverticulitis along with an abscess and perforation in the colon.  As I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, I experienced such pain I thought I would die.  I nearly did.  I recall very little about the first few days in the hospital.  I later learned that the doctors administered major antibiotics in an attempt to fight off my fever and to keep the infection from reaching my blood stream.  I spent 9 days in the hospital, and by God's grace, I lived through the ordeal.  After another flare-up of diverticulitis 3 months later, the doctor recommended colon re-section surgery.  The surgery occurred 4 months after the initial episode and my recovery was complete earlier this year.

I didn't plan for any of this to happen.  I didn't want any of this to happen.  The doctors have assured me that there is nothing I could have done to keep any of this from happening.  They don't know what caused it.  Yet, it was a consuming physical battle that took quite a toll on my aging body.  I don't think I can expect to operate at the pace I did before.  It is a whole new life season.

In addition to the physical ordeal, I've experienced a roller coaster of emotions over the past year.  It's frightening to experience pain that could take your life.  Additionally, it's worrisome to wonder if you are ever going to feel OK again.  I've had some amazing emotional highs as I've experienced relief from pain and healing after surgery.  But, I've also had some deep lows.  I'll spare the details but at the same time I was going through my physical challenges, major decisions were made regarding my role at the church where I pastored for 32 years.  It was one thing to deal with what was happening physically.  But I also struggled with what was happening regarding my calling to shepherd the flock entrusted to my care.  Through tears and deep anguish of soul I tried to cope with all that was happening around me.  Some days, I handled it well.  Other days, it handled me.  My body wasn't the only thing that needed healing.  So did my heart.

The combination of the physical and emotional challenges led to spiritual challenges as well.  As I wrote on my blog earlier, I was never mad at God.  But I wondered what He was doing.  I also wondered what His people were doing.  As a shepherd of souls for so long, my soul needed shepherding.  Yet, it was elusive.  Thank God, I have a deeply devoted and spiritually vibrant wife who kept pointing me back to the Word and prayer.  Good friends did the same.  Yet, as we cried out to God, there were long periods of silence.  You know how that is.  There's just a breath between the experience of God's silence and the assumption of His absence.  I confess that it was difficult to pray and read the Bible, but God did break in through music.  We listened to the song - "I've Been Through Enough to Know He's Enough" - hundreds of times.  Same for the song, "He is Here."  I want to be clear.  I know God was present with us through everything.  However, I struggled to wait and trust that He was going to make something good out of all of this.  I know He will.  I just can't see it yet.

It's been quite a year...physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Like all of you, I'm still growing, learning, and waiting on God.  I'm grateful for all that I've learned in the past year. I'd like to thank some people on this one year anniversary.

1) Almighty God - Thank you for sparing my life and for healing me.  Thank you for reminding me that my life is completely in your hands.  You have all my days numbered!

2) My dear wife, Jan - Thank you honey, for standing at my side, and my bedside, every day during the past year (and the past 44).  You are the great wife I prayed for so long ago.

3) Family - Throughout the last year I've said this over and over - "Friends are great but family is best!"  I can't imagine what the last year would have been like without you.

4) Friends - God blessed us with a tremendous community of friends within FBC and also outside of the church.  Thanks to social media and word of mouth, we have experienced love and support from thousands we have known and loved through the years.  Your prayers and kindnesses carried us through.

I have no idea what is ahead in the next year.  I've adopted a couple of Twitter hashtags to express my hope for this next chapter in my life...physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Here they are: #NotDoneYet #NotHomeYet


After 24 days in Michigan it feels amazing to be home.  My own bed.  My own shower.  My own towels.  My own car.  My own drawers, closets, and easy chair.  It was wonderful to be in Michigan to care for Jan's mom, to visit our sisters, and to watch sunsets over Lake Michigan.  But, there's no place like home. (This would be a good place for an "amen!")

Being away from home can be refreshing and exciting.  It's fun to see different places, have different experiences, and eat in different restaurants.  Travel can be just what the doctor ordered.  But after a certain period of time, I find myself longing to get home.  I think that is one of the benefits of travel - it makes you long for home.  Home is where you feel safe, comfortable, and at ease.  You don't have to be up or get ready for just get to be home.

I've been relishing being home all day today, and then out of the blue it struck me that I'm actually not home yet.  Yep, here comes the sermonette!  The great theologian Carrie Underwood refers to this as our "Temporary Home."  There's a praise song with this lyric - "All I know is that I'm not home yet."  The old Gospel song put it this way - "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through."  For the Christian, our earthly homes are temporary dwellings.  This is not our final home.  In many ways, we're just camping here.

My mind flooded with thoughts about what we call our "heavenly home" today.  Fresh feelings of being home in Colorado made me ponder some things.  First, I thought about the fact that in John 17:24, Jesus prays to His Father and asks that those who God has given Him may be "with Him where He is."  That sounds like the final home of each Christian - with Jesus, wherever He is.  We normally think heaven.  But heaven is such a difficult concept to grasp.  Most people have no idea or wrong ideas about what heaven is going to be like.  It's not harps and angel wings, I'm pretty sure.  But what is our final home going to be like?  What will it be like to be "finally home," as the songwriter put it?

I have some thoughts:

1) Being in our heavenly home will feel better than any experience we've every had.  I kept saying last night, "It's so good to be home."  But in heaven, we will say it in the way God intended when we were created - "It feels so good to be home."  It will be as C.S. Lewis puts it, "It feels like the place I was made for."  We will be more comfortable, more at ease, safer, and more relaxed than we have ever been before.  No fear.  No anxiety.  No pain.  No sickness.  No worry.  No politics.  Our bodies will be glorified, so that will play into it as well.  But I still think there will be a visceral human experience when we get to heaven that makes us wonder why anything else could ever have felt like home to us.  This is it!  I'm finally home.

2) Being in our heavenly home we will be consumed by the presence of Jesus.  He prays for it in John 17.  Jesus wants us with Him.  All of us have experienced rejection of people who don't want us, or don't want us any more.  In some cases, that happened to you recently. We navigate relationships cautiously wondering if people are going to turn on us or betray us.  Maybe we thought people wanted us...but eventually the truth comes out - they don't.  That hurts.  But try to wrap your brain around this concept - Jesus wants you with Him. In our final home, we will be with the One who died to save us and who loved us with a love unlike anything we've ever experienced from any other being.  I imagine a huge sign on the gate of heaven - WELCOME HOME - WE WANT YOU HERE!  Signed by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  That's home!

3) Being in our heavenly home will feel like a gift all the time!  One, because it is a gift.  Two, because we know that we don't deserve to live like this.  Three, because we never have had, nor will we ever have anything better - we will know that!  Jan and I have been blessed with our home.  She actually thanks God and me nearly every day for making it possible to live in our home.  We both feel graced by God to live in such a comfortable and beautiful place.  But in heaven, we won't have to dust, vacuum, wash windows, stain decks, paint rooms, scrub bathrooms, do laundry, or mow the lawn.  Talk about worry-free living!  

4) Being in our heavenly home will make what we did for the Lord here seem worth every effort.  Yes, I'm thinking of the hymn, "It Will Be Worth It All When We See Jesus."  We will not regret serving God, or giving to God, or witnessing about our faith, or reading the Bible, or praying, or serving others.  If anything, we will wish we did more.  I imagine waves of emotion when I'm living in heaven when I see someone who came to Christ through our ministry.  Or someone whose marriage was restored. Or a missionary who we supported.  Home will feel good because we will be rewarded for our deeds...and then, be given the opportunity to lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus.

5) Being in our heavenly home will be a blessing because we will be there with our believing family.  I mean our bothers and sisters of faith.  All of us who shared a common commitment to faith in Jesus will unite in perfect unity.  We'll be changed in a moment, and we will be united for eternity.  Our heavenly home will be a place where everyone knows our name.  We'll all get along.  There will be no tension in relationships.  We will relate perfectly as God intended before the fall.  None of us knows what that is like.  But just the idea of it sounds fantastic.  There will be so much joy, we will probably feel like singing.  Songs like "Worthy is the Lamb," will echo through the streets when we finally get home.

I admit it.  Right now I am very glad to be home in Colorado.  But I look forward to my final home.  I'm not there yet, but I'm 100% sure that it's going to be inexpressibly better than Colorado.

Honor Your Father and Mother

I've always been intrigued by the 5th Commandment - " Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (KJV) It is repeated in Ephesians 6:2 -3 - "Honor your father and mother - which is the first commandment with a promise; that it may go well with you and you will live a long life on earth." There seems to be a clear link between honoring parents and long life.  Fascinating! The culture seems to have ignored this promise as few seem willing to make an effort to care for aging parents.

This is fresh in my mind because for the past two weeks Jan and I have been in Michigan spending time with Jan's 89 year old mother, Margie.  She fell while in Boston for a granddaughter's wedding and broke her hip.  She didn't make it to the wedding as her hip repair surgery was the same day as the wedding.  Needless to say this was a huge disappointment for her and for the whole family.  We all tried to divide our time between the hospital and the wedding ceremony.


After the wedding was wrapped up, we were challenged to find a rehab center in Boston, as we were all from out of state.  Jan's sister and husband, and Margie, are from Michigan.  And of course, we are from Colorado.  Some day I will tell you how the Lord directed us to the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, MA.  It is an internationally known center that specializes in aggressive rehab and innovative elder care.  After a couple of weeks there, Margie made such great progress, she was transported to a facility here in Michigan, where we have been for the past two weeks.

Jan and I really wanted to be here to assist with her Mom's transition from independent living to living in an assisted living facility.  Why?  To honor her.  I've been thinking about "honor" every day for the past two weeks.  As I walk down the hallways and see all the residents, most using walkers or wheelchairs, I have been moved to recognize the dignity of these dear aged people who never imagined their lives would take a turn like this.  I'm sure they all wanted to live independently as long as they  could.  But now, they are dependent and tied to this facility.  Every day, I ponder - "How do I honor them?"  I want to honor Jan's Mom first and foremost, but I also want to honor these lonely struggling elderly souls.  I have some preliminary ideas about what honoring these dear people looks like.  Here are some thoughts about what honoring your father and mother looks like at a minimum:


Giving time to people sends a message - "you matter to me!" In the two weeks we have been here, we have tried to spend as much time as possible with Margie.  She is fun to be around and has a very positive attitude, so we look forward to every day.  But several residents never seem to have visitors.  I don't know their schedules, but every time I see one of them sitting alone in a wheel chair in the lobby or hallway, I get a little choked up.  They look so lonely.  Yes, they eat in a dining room at tables with four to a table, but some sit alone.  This breaks my heart.  

Tonight, a trio from a local church came to sing for the residents and the number one thought I had was, "Thanks for taking to time to show these dear ones that you care."  By spending time with them.  They were only here for 30 minutes, but the joy they brought was priceless.  Main gift they gave?  TIME! I think you get my point. 


It's tempting to walk by people without saying anything as I walk into the facility at various time of the day.  I've been reminded that a simple "hello" can be a gift.  By looking at a person and greeting them, you honor them.  Of course, we talk to Jan's Mom.  She isn't a shy person!  She talks to us, too! But, ignoring people in the hallway or just walking by sends a message - "I don't have time for you."  We have had some very enlightening conversations with several dear people here.  I've learned about a mother whose daughter died of cancer, a farm wife who lived on a beautiful farm in Marshall, a doctor of optometry who got her degreee when she went back to college when she was 48, a woman whose son is a local sheriff, and we actually met the mayor's mother during a visit when the mayor accompanied her to visit Margie.  People matter.  Communication is a two way street.  Ask a question around here and it isn't unusual to get a long answer.  Today, I told a woman wearing a pink striped shirt and pink slacks that she looked good in pink.  She made it clear to me that she was sure it was orange!  At least we talked!


This one caught me a little off guard.  Think about it.  Who touches these dear souls?  Nursing assistants who bathe and care for them, of's their job.  But who shakes a hand, gives a gentle hug, or pats a person on the back.  I haven't asked anyone, but I am quite sure that one of the great losses these people feel is the loss of gentle, kind, and appropriate touch.  Some of you have read Gary Chapman's "love languages" book, and you probably recall that for some people the main love language is "meaningful touch."  Like babies who are not picked up in orphanages fail to thrive, I believe elderly people need to experience being gently touched.  Jan excels at this.  I love watching her spread love and light around here.


Elderly people need help with the most simply tasks.  At least, the tasks seem simple to us.  Get a glass of water, hang a picture, get a tissue, empty a trash can, make a bed, open a bed, do some laundry, get the mail, replace a light bulb, hang a calendar, open a bag of popcorn, cook a meal, and on and on it goes.  We take for granted the simplest of tasks, but for these dear people, the tasks can seem overwhelming.  Once again, it doesn't take much to help.  It may seem so basic to us.  But you can give support and care by being willing to help.  Realize that you were once in a situation where you needed help with pretty much everything...when you were born!  Remember?  Guess who did all of that for you?  The same person who needs a little help from you now.  Think about it this way - what a privilege to honor your father or mother by helping them in their time of need.  It's fulfilling, and even more importantly, it's biblical.  


We love our dear Margie Salena Nicholson! More than anything, we want to honor her and bless her for all the years she has been a blessing to us.  I want to honor her for providing me with such an amazing wife.  But so much more, we both want to honor her because in doing so, we honor the Lord.

I'm not 100% certain about the "length of days" part of the promise, but I like the mystery in it.  Who knows how healthy it is for us to honor our parents and the elderly?  It's not only good for them, it's apparently good for us.  I close with a challenge - if you are slipping in the "honoring your parents" category, make a commitment to renew your passion to honor them.  If you're in the middle of an "honoring parents season," stick with will be rewarded.  And if you need to apologize for failure to honor, take the first step and let God surprise you with His blessing.  Start with time, talks, touch and tasks...and start today!

I'm Not Mad At God

In the course of 40 years of pastoral shepherding I've met many people who are mad at God.  They usually aren't willing to admit it.  But after you get them talking, it bubbles to the surface.  They can't believe that God let this thing happen to them.  They assumed that loving God would insulate them from all suffering and harm.  They are shocked to learn that regular church attendance and giving did nothing to prevent calamity in their lives.  Like I said, they won't admit it, but they are ticked off at their heavenly Father.

Several side effects usually accompany anger with God.  Prayer stops.  Giving dries up.  Worship wanes.  Church attendance becomes sporadic.  Bibles get dusty from non-use.  What was once a warm and close relationship with God becomes a silent cold war.  Angry people know better than to reject the Gospel.  But they quietly harbor resentment towards God and they keep their distance.

These people remind me of the contrast between Job and his wife.  You know his story.  God blessed him abundantly and singles him out when Satan tells about his surveillance of believers on earth.  "Have you seen my servant Job?  There's nobody like him. He not only talks the talk, he walks the walk."  Satan smugly points out that this is only because Job has experienced health and prosperity.  "Take it away," says Satan, "and he will curse you to your face."  God says, "OK, test him, but don't take his life."

Job loses everything in a matter of days.  10 children, his business, his wealth, and eventually his own health - all gone.  Job's wife is mad at God.  She keeps it simple - Honey, "Curse God and die."  She invites Job to get good and mad at she is.  She had it.  She couldn't stand to see her husband suffer like this, especially after seeing his devotion to God.  I've met many "Job's wife" Christians.  They just want to be done with the suffering and die.

Job refuses his wife's advice.  He calls her a "foolish woman!"  Listen to what he says in Job 2:10 - "Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?"  And then, in one of the strongest affirmations of faith in the Bible Job says: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him!"  Job is not mad at God.  He has questions for God.  But He isn't mad at him.

For the past year, I've experienced things I never imagined God would allow in my life.  I'm not Job, but my losses surprised me, as I'm sure his surprised him.  It started with a colon perforation and abscess that put my life at risk and hospitalized me for 9 days.  After a month of heavy duty antibiotic treatments, I came down with C. Diff - a highly infectious diarrhea.  I experienced a second colon flare up a month later and went back on antibiotics.  Eventually, my surgeon recommended colon re-section surgery.  Thankfully, the surgery was successful.  But at the same time as all of this, I was dealing with the potential of losing my position of Senior Pastor at a church I served for 32 years.  8 months after my initial hospitalization, I lost my position at the church and faced the challenge of setting up a "retirement" even though I wasn't retiring and didn't plan to at this time.  Since then, both Jan and I have had heart symptoms, including troubling chest pain, and been assessed with nuclear stress tests and other diagnostic exams.  Loss after loss after loss.

Yet through it all, I have not been mad at God.  I've been mad at God in the past, but not this time.  This time I've trusted God, even though I have been disappointed in people at times, I've never doubted that God is in this with me.  It feels good to say, "I'm not mad at God."  Here are some of the reasons why:

1) I've felt God's presence in the midst of my suffering on so many occasions, at home and in the hospital, that I could not doubt that He was working.

2)  God raised up hundreds of prayer warriors to join us.  Jan and I have felt it and repeatedly say, "Someone must be praying for us right now."

3) Nearly every time we read the Bible for devotions, we feel as though the Lord is speaking directly to our situation.  What amazing spiritual nourishment He provides.

4) The medical care we've received from doctors, nurses, and technicians has been stellar.  Some of them have even become friends.  God sent us who He wanted us to meet.

5) Peace.  Yes, the "peace of God that passes understanding" has been incredibly real in the midst of several crises.  The problems often remained, but peace filled our hearts.

6) God sent some amazing encouragers to us.  A card, a phone call, a text, a home visit, a meal, or just praying with us in our home - encouragement is alive and well in the family of God.

7) I don't blame God for our circumstances.  Yes, like Job, I believe He permitted them.  But we live in a fallen world.  Sickness and disease and relational disruption are all the result of the Fall, not some devious plan of God to target us for attack.

If you're mad at God, I get it.  But I hope and pray that my list will inspire you to eventually feel and say, "I'm not mad at God."


Father's Day stirs all kinds of emotions. Endure it or embrace it, though not all men are fathers, we all have fathers. None perfect. Some absent. Most cherished. One day a year, we cheer our dads and wish them well. God put it this way, "Honor your father..." (and your mother, of course.). So what does honoring dad look like? Some, in heaven, we honor with old photos and social media memories. Some, still with us, we shower with cards, gifts, and hopefully, some grilled meat. God established a role for a man, not only in biology, but also in shaping and guiding his family. Honor your dad today, if you can. And if you can't (I know the pain in some of your hearts), then at least pray for the faithful fathers you know and ask God to give them the courage and strength to be the kind of dads God wants them to be! Happy Father's Day, dads!

Father's Day


For nearly one year, I have been sitting on the bench.  God, the Sovereign Coach, decided to place me on the sidelines after 40 years of preaching and teaching.  

I preached my last sermon at my previous church on the final Sunday of June 2016.  Since then, I've experienced three hospitalizations, two ambulance rides, a couple of serious illnesses, major weight loss, atrial fibrillation, multiple antiobiotic regimens, home health care from visiting nurses, colon re-section surgery, prescription pain medications, CT scans, X-rays, IV lines, a PICC line, blood tests, nuclear stress test, cardiac ultrasound, and more doctor visits than I can number.  I've visited thousands of people in hospitals during four decades as pastor.  This time, I was the patient.

My health challenges were accompanied by vocational challenges related to my calling as pastor in a church I served for nearly 32 years.  The church leaders and I agreed to separate after months of anguished attempts to reach agreement on the future direction of the church.  In the end, we couldn't agree.  

So, I have been sitting on the ministry bench.  Uncomfortably.  I want to be in the game.  I want to fulfill my calling.  I love preaching and pastoring.  But if the Coach says, "PB, take a seat," you sit down whether you like it or not.  

Looking at ministry from the bench has been intriguing.  I've been observing the game without playing.  I have a few observations that might relate to some of you who are benched right now:

  1. Coach has the final word about who plays and who sits.
  2. We are surprised to find ourselves on the bench, but Coach isn't surprised at all.
  3. Coach loves all His players, even the benched ones.
  4. Being benched isn't necessarily punitive.
  5. Coach has a game plan that nobody else understands.
  6. I trust the Coach.

I'm hoping to get off the bench soon.  But that isn't my decision.  I ask the Coach every day whether I can go back into the game.  He sees me sitting on the bench, leaning forward, and itching to get back in the action.  But only when He says, "Hey PB, you're up," will I jump off the bench and get back to my calling.  I'd appreciate your prayers for wisdom and patience. #NotDoneYet


Back to Blogging

Six years ago, I discontinued my blog, after six years of trying to keep up with regular blogging.  One thing I know about blogging is that if it's not fresh, it's not read.  Life circumstances and church responsibilities were making it nearly impossible to keep up.  Additionally, I felt that keeping up with a blog was one pressure I didn't need in my life.  So, I stopped.  

During the six years of blogging (2005-2011), I received incredible support.  Regular readers provided regular encouragement and interaction.  I enjoyed the process.

I know the world has changed.  It's now a Twitter and Facebook world.  140 Twitter characters seems to be all people have time to read.  If a Facebook post goes much beyond that, it is skipped over.  Social media is fast-moving and noisy.  Yet something stirs in me whenever I recall my years of blogging.  I wrote with others in mind, to be sure.  But I also wrote for me.  It was a creative outlet.  It gave me time to process my own thoughts.  It slowed me down.  It made me more thoughtful and still.  I miss it.

So, with some hesitation, I'm going to dive in again.  After 32 years of ministry in Colorado, I'm no longer in the pastoral position at my former church.  It's not retirement, it's realignment.  I'm waiting for God to show me what's next.  And right now, since I have the time, I'm going to try to resurrect the discipline of writing in my life.  I'll see how it goes, and welcome any of my former or new readers to come along on the journey.