“For You, You Only, Know the Hearts…”

Bible with candleRan into this during today’s reading (wise words from Solomon): “…for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind” (2 Ch 6:30, ESV, in part). The “you,” of course, being God. As I’ve often said, including to employees at work, you can comment on what you observe and how it affects you, but you cannot judge what is behind it (the intent). Solomon appears to agree…he thought of it first. 🙂

I Do Not Remember…

Mark JensenMark, I do not remember how it was to live with you the first five years of my life…

But I do remember you spanking me—not as cruel torture by a decade older brother—but as a kind sibling helping his frequently-disciplined younger brother no longer feel pain when he got spanked by his parents.

Mark, I do not remember why mom and dad kicked you out of the house when you were fifteen…

But I do remember you coming to visit, sick as a dog, and me selfishly pushing you (successfully) to give me your coin collection (which you kept in one of mom’s thread and needle containers).

Mark, I do not remember the next time I saw you…

But I do remember excitedly visiting a Mark Jensen mom found listed at a nearby hospital, only to walk in and see it wasn’t you.

Mark, I do not remember the exact year I got to visit you in Seattle during one of my business trips…

But I do remember taking your picture at the top of the Space Needle. We were brothers again.

Mark, I do not remember what I did to have you insist I be out of your life again…

But I do remember during the Seattle visit how you told me that when you were kicked out of house none of your friend’s parents would allow you to stay. You didn’t say it, but you were so alone. My heart broke. So, if me being out of your life meant less pain for you, I cared enough to accept it. You had more sorrow before becoming an adult than anyone should have their whole life.

Mark, I do not remember our last interaction…

But, it doesn’t matter. You are gone. You were alone. Nobody even knows exactly when you died.

Well, Somebody remembers how we spent our first five years together, why you were kicked out of the house, when I next got to see you, the year we were atop the Space Needle together, why you last insisted we lead separate lives, our last interaction, and the exact moment you entered eternity.

Surely a God who knows whenever a sparrow falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29), knows all of that and more. All your pain and all your smiles. All your sorrows and all your joys. All your demons and all your angels. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”1 You may have never realized it, but you always have been of more value.

Mark, God will show you the love you refused to receive from your family and me. Will you be in heaven? I do not know. However, I do know the God who cares for sparrows cares for you and that your demons will torture you no more.

Mark, I do not remember the last time I told you, “I love you.”

But I do.


1 Matthew 10:31, English Standard Version.

UPDATE: With info from a sibling, corrected a couple of ages in the post.

Not One Word…Had Failed…All Came to Pass

Map of IsraelAlthough it’s been a while since I read these words while going through all 66 this year, they have stuck with me:

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:45, English Standard Version).

This could not be any more true in my life and that of my family. It doesn’t mean that we (or I) have gotten everything we (or I) wanted. Instead, our Lord has always provided exactly what He has promised.

When we think otherwise it is just proof that we have misunderstood (often fundamentally) His guarantees.

May God give you what He promised instead of what you want. May you recognize your need so that when, in eternity, you get what you desire…it shows you have chosen wisely.  Your choice, thanks to the Most High’s promises, will come to pass.

Eye-Service and the Fear of the Lord

Tired employee with a bad bossPaul Gets Practical

We are now most of the way through our “walk about” in Colossians. This is talk number nine of eleven in the series, “Dear Least Important Church…”

And after reading today’s section, Colossians 3:18-4:1, I thought to myself, “Finally Paul is getting practical.” Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m not suggesting that everything that preceded this section wasn’t useful. However, when I read these verses they seemed pretty simple “dos” and “don’ts”…without being wrapped in deep theological thoughts. Let’s see if you agree as we review them together. Please turn with me to Colossians 3:18 and we’ll read through the first verse of chapter 4: [Read more…]

To See or Not to See

God holding lightning In the first chapter of today’s Bible reading I ran into this interesting section:

9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank (Exodus 24:9-11, English Standard Version, emphasis mine).

The reason I found it interesting is because it brought this other verse to mind:

18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

And…if that isn’t enough…also check out Exodus 33:20, John 6:46, Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17, 1 Timothy 6:16, 1 John 4:12.

What gives? Nobody has seen God but Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel” and “beheld God”?

The answer is simple. We should take the Bible literally…but we also should take it literarily. That is, when we read any other literature we have no difficulty understanding how language works, including levels of meaning for the same word.  Those seventy-four men saw God in that they saw His effects and how He chose to reveal Himself. It is applying the words “saw” and “beheld” too literally to insist it is the same as you and I sitting across from each other at a booth at a diner.

Having said all this, if you long to see God you can…and I’m not talking about waiting until you are on the other side of eternity (assuming you are saved).

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:1-3, emphasis mine).

Or, more simply (from the mouth of Jesus)…

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9, in part).

And whoever sees me sees him who sent me (John 12:45).

Remembering the Bow

Noah's ark and a rainbowThis year I am reading the entire Bible again (you should too), and yesterday the flood subsided. Afterward, our Lord tells Noah:

14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth (Genesis 9:14-16, English Standard Version).

Considering God is an omniscient and omnipotent being, doesn’t it seem odd that He would need a rainbow to be reminded that he promised not to drown all of us again? We could say that this is a case where humans, naturally being human-centric, are using anthropomorphic language to describe God…but here the Most High is being directly quoted.

So, does God have to, like His creatures, tie a string around His finger to not forget things?

[Read more…]

Is it Okay to Test God?

Man with bullhornA new Twitter friend posted an article which showed that prayer had no effect on the success of heart bypass surgery (and that, actually, those who knew they were prayed for fared worse). For her consideration I shared my article, "A God that Does Not Want to Be Measured Will Not Be Measured."

Although she saw some weaknesses in it, at least she said it was okay. 🙂

Another Twitter friend of mine said that the study was testing God…and testing God is blasphemous. Luckily they didn’t get into fisticuffs :-), but they also never agreed if it was testing or not. (I lean toward yes…but not necessarily intentional.)

Now, the Bible does include people testing God in some respect or another. For instance, Gideon and the wet/dry fleece (Numbers 6:36-40) and Hezekiah and the backward-moving shadow (2 Kings 20:8-11). God doesn’t condemn either, so what gives? [Read more…]

Yeah, Well, Consider the Source

Complimenting mom

Bad Compliments

What is the worst compliment you've ever gotten?

Does that seem like a strange question? Doesn't it seem like I should be asking, "What is the best compliment you've ever received?"

Well, before I did some quick research on compliments I didn't realize just how many categories of bad compliments there are. For instance, I knew of "damned by faint praise." An example of that would be at the end of this sermon I ask you how I did and all you say is, "I liked your tie." 🙂

Thanks mainly to a site called TV Tropes I learned there were many more types of negative compliments. For example, there is one similar to "damned by faint praise" called "overly narrow superlative." You may have kiddingly used this one yourself…for instance, if you said to your only aunt, "You are my favorite aunt!" TV Tropes' myriad examples included "This Buzzfeed article about UHF: 29 Reasons 'UHF' Is The Greatest Weird Al Movie About A Fake TV Station Ever."1

Just how many movies do you think fit in "Weird All movies about a fake TV station?" 🙂

Or perhaps you've heard of (or provided or received) a backhanded compliment? On Askville by Amazon, these were a few of my favorites:

[Read more…]

God Will

Jesus on the cross

“Man Will” Versus “God Will”

We’ll start off this sermon with a disconcerting set of verses from James…James 4:13-16 to be specific:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

Anyone listening right now have great plans? You know exactly what you are going do today…tomorrow…and maybe years down the road?

In those verses, an inspired James reminds us that no matter what we think we are going to accomplish, we are at the mercy of our mortality. You and I may not even be alive at the end of this talk.

Well, I suppose…with me…if the Lord calls me home…then that is the end of the talk. 🙂

[Read more…]

If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck…

Depressed man who lost at slots

Ray Charles

Preaching back in Antrim, New Hampshire I was famous for quoting songs in my sermons…and sometimes having them be the actual inspiration for the talk.

Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say I was infamous for it 🙂

In either case, don’t worry…I’m not going to start singing up here. I already like all of you too much to do that. 🙂

However, I am going to quote the late Ray Charles, who famously…and quite soulfully…sang:

If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.1

Do you ever feel that way? That nothing…at least nothing major…ever goes right for you?

  • That if you get mail it’s going to be a bill?
  • That if you are going to hear from your boss it is because he or she is mad at you…and you didn’t do anything wrong?
  • That if you get a call from long distance family it’s going to be to tell you someone has died, has cancer, or some other awful news?
  • That the one time you don’t watch the speedometer closely you are guaranteed to see flashing lights in your review mirror?

What else would you add to the list? How long is your list?

I suspect there are some sitting here before me who aren’t being unreasonable to feel that way. The last half-decade has been especially hard on many of us, and it seems tragedy is striking closer to home…and more often. As a church family we still mourn the recent loss of Tyler…who should be in our pews instead of in our memories. I’m sure there are others of us who are fighting a disease whose outcome isn’t yet sure. Still others may not know how they are going to pay their upcoming rent or mortgage.

In our sin-scarred world there seems to be one thing that is as sure as death and taxes:

We will suffer.

[Read more…]

Not the Same…

Graphic depicting that Christianity and Islam are not the same thingOne of the web pages I check on pretty much daily is The Corner at National Review Online. A couple weeks back I ran into the article "You're a Good Man, Cardinal Dolan." Michael Potemra's piece starts off with:

The highly mediagenic archbishop of New York, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, visited a mosque on Staten Island and encouraged the worshipers there to hold on to their faith.

Regardless of whether Islam is a "religion of peace" or not, if you are a Christian who holds on to traditional faith, you probably reacted to that sentence the same way I did.

Not so well…

Although I am an inclusivist (see also here), I cannot reconcile Potemra's opening statement with John 14:6:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6, English Standard Version, emphasis mine).

Now, before I judge someone's words I try to read (or hear) them in context, and I clicked through to the news report that was the genesis of Potemra's entry. I could not find the cardinal specificaly encouraging Muslims to hold on to their faith, but in some respects this was even more disturbing:

The cardinal asked questions about the Muslim faith and emphasized throughout his visit how much the two religions and their members have in common.

"You love God, we love God and he is the same God," the cardinal said of the Muslim and Roman Catholic faiths.

Ack! [Read more…]

A God that Does Not Want to Be Measured Will Not Be Measured

Measuring tapeOne of the (many) shortcomings of Christian religion to atheists is that God remains unmeasurable.  Here is a being that purportedly has often interfered in the natural realm (including its very creation), yet no scientific instrument, photograph, video, or so on has captured a single one of His miracles (although I'm sure some Christians would argue otherwise).

Yet, as much as it might be claimed a cop-out, reality is that…

A God that does not want to be measured will not be measured.

Now, that is actually slightly inaccurate in that it implies God has hidden Himself, whereas Christians believe that He has actually gone through great efforts to reveal Himself, finally providing the ultimate form of communication: [Read more…]

We Become Like The God We Worship

I want to add a new part to the adage "We become like the god we worship."

We are most likely to emulate our god’s bad attributes.

JJ Heller’s “Who You Are”

I think it came out yesterday or the day before…but here is JJ (and Dave) Heller's new video, "Who You Are":

A great couple who I wish all the success of the world without any of its trappings…

Oops There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant

Alan Fahrner preaching

Clouds on a sunny day

I’ll admit I’ve been feeling guilty lately. It seems to me that most of my recent bulletin articles and sermons have been less-than-positive. For instance, after a recent talk a young man’s mother told me that it scared him.

And although she said afterward it was good to be scared…I suspect that the frightening present conditions in this world are leading me to focus on the negative…which isn’t optimal given that the gospel…and the God it speaks of…are so overwhelmingly positive.

That is, my messages have been clouds on a sunny day.

But not today…

But not today. Instead, I promise two things…

First, to have you leave feeling better than when you arrived. Well, I’ll do my darndest… 🙂

Second, to keep this sermon short.

Now, see? You are already feeling better than when you arrived, aren’t you? 🙂

You are not alone…

However, before we go positive. Am I alone in being worried about how things are going in our nation and in the world? Do you look around you…on the TV…on the Internet…and wonder if the inmates have taken over the asylum?

Or if Satan has gotten the upper hand and hell on earth has been spawned?

Do you feel like you are bustin’ a hump to live a godly life…only to see those who do exactly the opposite do far, far better than you?

Does it seem like all your efforts are in vain?

Does me bringing up all this bring your spirit down?

Then remember I promised to keep this sermon short! 🙂

[Read more…]