All Posts in Devotions

April 21, 2010 - 2 comments

The Nest

Shortly after moving into our current home five years ago, I began to recognize certain critters that would frequent our address. Of these creatures, my favorite was Mordecai.

Mordecai is a dove.

Mordecai had hard working parents that tried to provide for him a suitable life. They left several summers ago and left him to fend for himself. He struggled for a while, but presumably urged by the pangs of spring hunger, he finally flew the nest. I saw a few of his early attempts and they were not the icon of grace and triumph one would hope for.

These days, Mordecai has grown up a bit. He's seen stuff. He's learned things an upstanding dove needs to know in order to survive in the 89503.

Last year he found a mate and they built a nest in the exact same location as his parents did in years previously, my ornamental cherry tree. That seemed to work well for them. Sturdy branches. Protected from predators.

This year however, was different. Despite the experience of last year they landed on a new location, the young pine tree in my lawn.

I took the picture above 2 days ago. 2 snowy eggs lay nestled along side each other.

Then this one below was taken yesterday after the typical gale-force wind gusts that frequent Reno in the spring:

The wind knocked the nest clean out of the tree. Eggs. Gone. Doves. Gone.

I remember when I was a new Christian someone was speaking on why we aren't taken up to Heaven the moment we trust Jesus. The speaker phrased it as if this was a question that had plagued everyone, burning us alive, robbing us of peace, and wreaking havoc on our faith. He was going to solve the mystery so we could all sleep better.

The question had never crossed my mind.

What had crossed my mind, was that even though you trust Jesus once and that salvation has a starting point, learning to trust everyday was for more difficult; making tiny decisions that reflect that trust a much taller task. In fact, I saw in my friends and in my own heart the ability to completely forget what I had learned yesterday and choose self, choose me, choose sin.

Even though God had shown me the futility of my own plans, and the cracks in my own foundation, I was quick to return to those old tattered construction plans. I was and still am very capable and even willing at times to build my life on things that will not last. Some of those things are revealed by the slightest breeze, and others require a potent storm to be pried out of my heart. Sometimes things have to come crashing down for us to even realize what we are doing. It's in these moments of clarity that we can make incredible headway in our relationship with Jesus.

Learning what a firm foundation is can not alone save you from the storm. You actually have to build your life on it. Brick by brick, choice by choice, moment by moment. The good news is that Christ gives himself as strength and power to do just that.

I hope Mordecai comes back. I think he could make another run at life here and make it.

December 28, 2009 - 1 comment.

3 Guys I Don’t Wanna Be

When you are a music pastor for a while, you start to wonder if God secretly slipped magnets into your pockets that attract very specific kinds of people.

I've been thinking recently about the commonalities that many of these folks share, and how Jesus conversed with these kinds of people. I'm not usually one for putting people into boxes or categories but the trends have been so strong I decided to pen them out as a reference for myself down the road.

I should preface this all by saying that I see these three people in my heart sometimes, and it freaks me out. It is a frequent and needed reminder that ministry has its pitfalls and snares that will leave you bleeding if you are not aware and cautious.

Every church has at least a few of these. This guy will gladly chat with you after services about how the typo in the slides ruined his worship experience, or how his parking spot was taken when he arrived. The sermon was too long and the music was too loud. If three dead theologians are not referenced during the sermon you are labeled a seeker-church with a watered-down gospel.

He is critical to the core, and can find faults in others without even trying. The amount of critique will typically be inverse to the amount of courage; to help, to serve, to ever be a part of the solution (assuming he saw something that was indeed not right). They have no follow-through and if you challenge this guy enough times they usually leave in a huff, exasperated that no one is listening to their wisdom and guidance. If their ideas aren't honored, then the clock is ticking before they leave permanently.

This guy is a staple of any church, and my observation is that healthy churches challenge them and unhealthy ones fear them and in some cases appoint them as leaders.

COMES DRESSED IN: Collared shirt, tucked in, and a shiny watch.

DANGERS: giving them authority, fearing them, basing decisions off their opinions, and confusing them with godly folks that want to help and move the ministry forward.

This next guy is really nice, and most people like him. He will have a MySpace page with some songs he recorded on his laptop using an internal microphone. He wants to help with the music but he has no formal training or experience of any kind, outside of his jam sessions with his dorm-mate. He has strong opinions about how the heart is the only thing that matters in ministry. If you approach the subject of calling or gifting then things will get ugly fast. He commonly questions the need for the use of technology in corporate worship and will invite you over to his house to jam if he likes you. If you politely decline those invites you can count on a CD finding its way to your desk/mailbox/guitar case within 1-2 weeks.

COMES DRESSED IN: Socks with sandals and Christian rip-off tee (ya know, like "A-bread-crumb and Fish," or "Get Outta Hell Free Card."

DANGERS: Putting them on stage before testing them, going over to their house to jam (this will end in hurt feelings 9 times out of 10).

Music ministry is a natural landing pad for this last guy. You will often hear about this guy 2nd hand from his friends or a mutual acquaintance. He can fly through a guitar solo almost as fast as his allowance from his parents. Jobs don't appeal to him because it cuts into his online gaming schedule. He's 21, living at home and goes to a lot of concerts that his parents pay for.

Deeply talented and seldom timely, this guy is late to everything. If this guy had a pet fish, it died years ago and is likely still decaying in the bowl. He doesn't know the color of the carpet in his bedroom and the only budgeting skills he has is figuring how much food you can get at Taco Bell for $10.

Again, he is really good at guitar.

COMES DRESSED IN: Overpriced graphic tees, skinny jeans, and slip-on loafers.

DANGERS: Styling your hair like them. They can pull it off. You can not. Letting them slip through the cracks (challenge them to step up!)

And so there you have it. Three guys that I most certainly see at church and in my own heart.
In fact, it is most certainly the presence of these character issues in my heart that allowsme to spot them so readily in others. Isn't that how it usually works?

I want to never criticize the church if I am unwilling to be her champion. I want to make sure my heart is repentant and focused on the works of Christ before I lead others in worship. I want to be known for following through on my word and my service to others.

Jesus help me.


September 17, 2009 - 1 comment.

The Crop: Bearing Fruit

I have what's called an ornamental fruit tree in my front yard. That means, in layman's terms, that it pumps out fruit that can't be eaten, baked, or canned. The rabbits used to come in at night and try them but now they've moved on to fruit that is meant for consumption I'm sure. It's only purpose as best I can tell is to litter my yard with orange grenades of acidic dye. It's some kind of cherry variety although I'm not sure what kind specifically. The picture above was taken yesterday morning in my yard so if you are knowledgeable in the area of fruit trees or perhaps you were raised on a cherry farm, please let me know.

I have a weekly ritual of getting on my hands and knees and picking as many cherries as I can off of the ground and tossing them in the trash. Pounds and pounds of cherries are shed every fall. I think of all the water, sunlight, and nutrients required to grow this purposeless fruit, that rots in the landfills of northern Nevada.

It seems to me that one of the hardest evidences for the supremacy of Christ is that you can objectively see what happens to the enemies and friends of God. If we assume that God is indeed the source of life, and everything that is good, then it makes sense that the happiest, most content, and most loving people I know, are people who have surrendered to Christ. I can look at the results of their relationship with Jesus, and see evidence that they do actually love God, and that God is a keeper of His promises. They are bearing good fruit.

Because working at a church puts you in relationship with a wide variety of people, I also see an alarmingly large number of people that if taking a standardized test would check the Christian box, but it's near impossible to see the results of their faith. In fact their lives are full of what I would call bad fruit; envy, quarrels, jealousy, lust, pride etc...

What has recently shifted in my perspective is this: the absence of good fruit is not the same as bearing bad fruit. Avoiding sin and "bad things" isn't the same as being filled with the Spirit. A lot of religious people find comfort that they haven't robbed a bank or cheated on their spouse...but God says this isn't the point. The point is that we receive mercy and grace and so in turn give to, bless, serve, and love others and God.

No one is bearing no fruit...we are all bearing fruit of some kind. God has hard-wired us in His image to do so; to produce. Some will produce hope, love, selflessness, and kindness. Producing good things are only made possible by the saving work of Christ on the Cross. Therefore, a Christian bearing fruit is not "better" than someone who does not know God, but they are intended to be a better reflection of Christ's supreme love and hope, because they have received the power to do so.

Others will reject His offer and relationship, and bear  fruit of loneliness, of insecurity. One thing is clear: we are not saved by our works, but saved for good works...good fruit. Those of us that call ourselves Christian and are unable to point to specific good fruit in our lives should not sleep in false confidence that God is as apathetic to their rebellion, laziness, or excuses as we are.

"The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
John the Baptist - The Gospel of Matthew

September 3, 2009 - 1 comment.

The Bloom: Finding God in My Garden

Something most people don't know about me is that I spend a fair amount of time in the yard. I take pride that I have the greenest lawn on my block, and that I do the work as homeowner. This has actually been a very progressive year for yard-work. I finally finished the back patio which was something on my honey-do list with a deadline of "pre-baby". I'm not really a 'flower guy', as much as a 'get your hands dirty and grow stuff' guy.

My pepper garden is doing well this year, especially after I dealt with the neighborhood pepper thief. He won't be coming back to say the least. I normally like to leave ecosystems intact and undisturbed. Last month I was washing my hands at the sink and saw this thief going at it on my peppers. My "normal" went out the window and my pellet gun went out the back door.

This has been a weird year of weather for Reno, and so the vegetation has responded accordingly. We have a lot more flowers in the back than we ever have had before. In the early summer however, we had a weird combination of heat and moisture that left some plants exposed to molds and diseases that would normally not be an issue. Seeing your once healthy flower-boxes ravaged by death and disease is disconcerting. It affects you as gardener because you paid for them, and they reflect you in a way.

For much of the summer I've been trying to nurse these affected plants back to health. Watering. Weeding. Spraying (organic, don't worry). Dead-heading. Typical plant care. Recently one of the flowers that had caught some rust, a pretty vicious fungus, started bouncing back and actually bloomed a single flower.

The phrase "bring glory to God" has troubled me for a long time. I feel like a clear and practical definition has long escaped me, even though I understand the basic concept. It's a phrase that is overused, diluted, and used rather carelessly most of the time.

As I stood there soaking the soil, hose in hand and listening to the backyard ambient noises, I felt something. Maybe a more accurate description would be, I "heard" something. A voice inside.

"It's gonna make it."

I felt for a brief second a sense of accomplishment...that the care I had offered had served a purpose. It felt like, for a fleeting moment, that I had played a role in the flower doing what it was supposed to do in the universe. It was blooming. It was being a flower. And not only that, but it was being restored from a broken picture of what it once was. The feeling of restoring something was subtle and potent.

That feeling has got to be, although imperfect and minuscule, a lot like what God feels when He redeems us. His redemption is far greater, far costlier, and far grander than my stupid yard. But I feel like I understand His glory a bit more.

August 24, 2009 - 2 comments

The Glasses: A Few Thoughts on Greed

I recently read a disturbing article on what kind of damage can happen to your eyes when you spend a lot of time outdoors and don't protect your them from sunlight, both direct and reflected light. I spend time outdoors regularly so I had a vested interest in the information.

Last week my wife and I went to the mall in hopes I could find a pair of shorts to replace the pair I ripped furiously recently (from the end of the pant seam to the crotch. don't ask how). After finding some shorts, I was reminded that I haven't owned a pair of sunglasses in quite a while, so with the article bouncing around my head, we stopped in a hip clothing place to see if I could spot some shades I liked.

The tricky thing is this: I have a "connection" for discounted sunglasses through a friend, so shopping for sunglasses always feels a little weird, because I have no interest in making an actual purchase, just finding a style I like.

The guy behind the corner immediately spotted us eyeballing the locked plastic case of sunglasses and hurriedly bee-lined over. Upon unlocking the case, he confessed that he liked the brand I preferred, in fact, he "had that one in every color, and a few pairs of that one too. I have a few of those down there, and I hardly ever wear this one". This would bring his personal inventory to somewhere around 15.

In that moment, I thought 3 things:

  1. Wow. What in the world do you do with 15 pairs of sunglasses? Storage alone would be a nightmare.
  2. This guy's personal sunglass warehouse is diminishing what little desire I had to own a pair of sunglasses. He probably meant the opposite effect, by luring me in with his confident purchases.
  3. I should ask to have one of his, or sneak in his house to help him with his greed problem, but maybe he alsocollects guns or rottweilers.

I quickly sorted through the display models and found one that got the thumbs-up from my wife. We made a mental note and left.

On the way out to the car I found myself doing a personal inventory of all the things I had in multiples: pants, shoes, cereal bowls, televisions, vehicles. Then a list of questions came streaming through my mind:

What do I have that I really need?
Who do I know that needs something I have plenty of?
Do I see what I have as belonging to God?
Is anything I have that I want keeping me from having what I really need?

What do you collect that you don't need?

June 23, 2009 - No Comments!

The Lid: My Problems Are Small

So I've been fishing the Truckee River quite a bit recently. I was wading down there last week trying to navigate a deeper pool of water. I decided that getting out of the water was necessary, so I found a tree root that hung above the pool and sat down.

After a few casts of my trusted lure and little response I decided to change my approach. I broke out the ol' jar of salmon eggs. My hands were numb from being in and out of the water the past hour. As I began to remove the lid from the little jar, it fell down, through my legs, through the roots and into the fast-moving river.

I should have cut my losses here. I didn't.

As a means of protection, I always keep my Blackberry in the pocket on my fishing vest that is furthest from the water. As I reached down into the stream to try and retrieve my lid, it became quickly evident that the length of my arm and fishing net was not long enough to accomplish the task.

In the following 10 minutes of struggle and pseudo-strategy, I managed to lose some more things from my pockets, an additional lid (don't ask) and soak the top pocket of my vest.

Once I realized I had endangered the phone, I pulled the battery to prevent any further damage. It was the first time this summer I was going home having not caught anything, and losing $20 of tackle.

When I got home I was pretty bummed. I looked online and saw the best remedy for my predicament was placing the phone in a bowl of uncooked rice. I also noticed a flurry of information on Twitter about Iran and someone named Neda. I spent the next hour learning about the election and the rioting. I found the video of Neda, (which I recommend for mature audiences only) a young woman and innocent bystander of a riot in Iran. I began to feel empathy...and shamefully selfish for caring about such a trivial loss in light of watching a father cry out his daughter's name as her life slipped away, taken by a stray bullet.

My phone suddenly didn't matter anymore.

I once again had lost perspective, and instead of bemoaning my stupid phone, I spent sometime praying for another country that is in desperate need of peace.

How quickly we lose sight of where we truly stand.  Pray for Iran.

P.S. When I finally surrendered my rescue effort on the river and packed up my things to leave, I began the hike out in my soaked vest. Just before I crested the hill and regained view of my truck, I looked down on the ground. There, covered in dirt, was a salmon egg lid, dropped by some other angler. The irony made me laugh out loud. Oh, and the rice thing worked.

June 9, 2009 - 1 comment.

the Quail

I was driving home from work this week, when I noticed there was a quail who I will call Dan, flying parallel with my vehicle on the other side of the street, roughly the same speed. Quail are about as common here in Northern NV as sagebrush (in other words, really common). There was a large SUV about 2 car lengths ahead of me in the lane between Dan and I. Suddenly, the quail gained speed and began to gradually veer across the lanes of traffic going the opposite direction, and then suddenly...he sharply turned.

If for only a moment, he must have thought he could split the gap between the SUV and I. He banked hard and began his path to certain collision with the back of the SUV. In 2 seconds, (which for Dan must have felt like an eternity, if Dan knows what an eternity is) he threw his brakes on, coming to a hovering halt missing the SUV by inches, then pausing, then trying to cross again, all in mid-air. In that 2 seconds, my vehicle had then closed the gap, and Dan's brakes were surely worn down from his first attempt only moments before.

Dan flew and hit the side of my truck, making a sound comparable to a neighborhood hooligan throwing a tennis ball at my vehicle. I thought to myself, "He's a goner".

Moments later, grey feathers erupted from the side of my vehicle blowing past my windshield. Dan was done. Surely the impact or my all-weather tires had finished him.

Then without warning, like a sandy-colored rocket of victory and hope, Dan arose from the concrete graveyard. He was trying to gain altitude as quickly as possible, although it was clear that he had not escaped unscathed. You don't know how a bird is supposed to fly until you see one flying injured. It's a peculiar but clear observation. He made it back across the street as best i could tell, but who knows what happened after that.

Maybe he found cover in the shade of a shrub and breathed his last. Perhaps his buddies watched the whole event and had a round of beers recounting the tale. Maybe he got captured by a neighborhood cat because his normal response time had been affected by the ordeal.

I found myself wondering, "why did he try again what so clearly hurt him the first time?" Before I hit the next traffic light, my mind had wandered. I thought," I do that too".

Isn't it funny how we will often return to the places and people who have hurt or ensnared us, even though we promised we wouldn't? We willingly walk into environments that have eased us into sin, relationships that have robbed us, and situations that set us up for failure but often aren't willing to make a change...

In Hebrews 12, the author says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." I'll be spending some time reflecting on the things that stir my affection towards God, and the things that rob me of it. I would invite you to do the same.

"As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."
Proverbs 26:11

June 2, 2009 - 1 comment.

Design Matters: Even in Churches

This one hit too close to home.  Papyrus is the Nickelback of fonts.  Or maybe the other way around.

A word on Papyrus from David Sivo:

"This particular Font face was designed in 1982 by Chris Costello, (who himself admits that Papyrus is overused). It was designed to mix the distinctive characteristics of Roman Characters with the drawn look of beautiful calligraphy. And it does both of those things rather well.

But while it might be a well designed font, it is not a good font at all. And if anything it’s almost as overused as Comic Sans. It has this attraction to churches and yoga/women’s health clubs as well as Hippy and Health Stores. Please people, consign this font to the bin of life, we don’t need to see more of it in use."

I'm with him.

Those of us that design in churches have so many legal and helpful resources available to us now, it's just embarrassing when we reach for something like Papyrus.  It's lazy.  And no one with internet has an excuse.  For you designers, reflect on these verses about effort in ministry/work:


Colossians 3:23 ESV /
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,

Proverbs 13:4 ESV /
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Philippians 4:13 ESV /
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 ESV /
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Proverbs 14:23 ESV /
In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

Philippians 2:14-15 ESV /
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV /
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Most churches don't have a design team.  But we all have the opportunity to offer God our best in the effort and beauty we put into the materials that our church will see and absorb.

June 1, 2009 - 2 comments

The Stereo: Who Do We Sing To?

About a month ago, I got ready to head into the office and locked my front door on my way to the driveway. As I approached my 1996 Toyota Tacoma, I noticed the door was unlocked, which was highly unusual. As I opened the car door, I saw all of the miscellaneous items that were normally stored in my dashboard nooks were strewn about the bench seat. Then I saw it...

My stereo was gone. Kind of.

The face of my stereo had been stolen. Probably a neighborhood thug who wasn't very bright, as he left behind my CDs, a nice mag-light, brand new jumper cables, and a variety of other resell-able goods.

For the next few weeks, I kept an eye on Craigslist to make sure no one was selling my stereo face. I imagined bringing a police officer from my small group along to render payment for the stereo face I found online, posted by the thief.

It's too bad the guy didn't get my whole stereo, for a couple reasons:
1. The face won't do him much good.
2. The faceless stereo won't do me much good.
3. My vocal warm-up CD was in the stereo. That would have been a great moment for the thief.

The hardest thing about losing the stereo is not having music in my car to listen to and sing along with.

I think that (prepare yourself for the segue) sometimes we view corporate worship like singing in the car. We aren't really singing TO anyone, just going along with what's happening around us. It can be about as mindless as watching TV (save the Office and Ultimate Fighter) and you can usually do at least 2 other tasks drive and text. I do not recommend this trifecta combination.

At a birthday party, you never sing the birthday song to yourself. At a birthday you gather to celebrate someone you care about, usually with others that feel the same. You light the candles and hit the lights. Then you sing. You sing TO a person.

Some songs at church are directed at God the Father, others to Jesus Himself, and yet others are sung amongst the congregation. All of these have a purpose, but the truth that we sing is certainly good to remind our souls who we are and what God has done.

It seems that God wants our worship to be more like a birthday party than a ride with your favorite radio DJ. Let us be always mindful of who we are singing our songs of praise to.