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Thursday, July 18, 2024





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Sometimes I think that my best messages are the ones I preach in the car on the way home from church! So my blog gives me the opportunity to follow up with some afterthoughts. It’s all the things I wish I would have said on Saturday evening. Other times, it’s just things I’m still processing that have nothing to do with my last message.

So thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope you get something from them!
Wayne Okamoto

Blog Archive

July 26, 2011: Being Radical

Lately I’ve been feeling a little discontented. I think it’s a holy discontent.


As I look at these passages where Jesus talks about following Him, and I look at how the first disciples lived out his teachings in the book of Acts, I’m struck by how radical they were.


They lived with a single-minded mentality focusing on following Jesus and being expended for His kingdom. Paul states in 2 Timothy 2:4 “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, that he may please the one he serves.” The picture here is of a soldier who is not bogged down by duties of civilian life, but streamlines his lifestyle in order to serve without distractions.


When I look at my to do list, it is filled with things of everyday life- our cars have maintenance issues that need to be addressed, our fence needs to be repaired, I need to catch up with our finances, etc. I can’t just ignore these issues and hope they will go away. Yet I need to take serious Jesus’ call to follow Him wholeheartedly. There is one side of me that is tempted to write it off thinking, that’s just the way it is living in suburbia America. But is it?


If Jesus were here in my shoes, living here in the suburbs of Chicago, would His life still look very radical? If so, what does that say to me, His follower? How can I live with a radical focus on Him and His kingdom, while at the same time fulfilling my calling in His kingdom as a husband and dad?


There are no easy answers to these questions, but I believe we need to wrestle with them. Rather than just giving you my current thoughts, let me encourage you to join us on Sunday mornings for this series on following Jesus. I hope it will challenge you as much as it is challenging me!

July 20, 2011: Living for Eternity

This past weekend, as I spoke at my father’s funeral, I was reminded of what really counts in life.


As my siblings and I reflected on my Dad’s life, the things that revolved around God, family, love, sacrifice, and friends were the things which were significant. On the other hand, things such as possessions, status, and career accomplishments seemed to pale in comparison.


It seems that the things which seem very important to us in the moment, are not that significant when looking back on our lives. On the other hand, the things we may not think are significant in the moment, are the things which often are so important in the end.


Jesus admonished us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)


One of the great challenges in life is living with an eternal perspective. It’s so easy to get caught up in this world, that we forget what really counts. True worth can only be measured from the perspective of eternity.


I am challenged with these thoughts this morning. How much of my attention and even preoccupation is given to things which in the end will not matter? On the other hand, what are the things that are on God’s heart that are just passing thoughts to me? I find it all too easy to want to put off these questions. Maybe it’s because they make me uncomfortable. Or perhaps it’s because I too easily fall to prey to the tyranny of the urgent.


But after my father’s funeral, I’m reminded that now is the time to ponder those questions. Now is the time to reflect on eternity. I can’t afford to let the voices of the immediate and urgent, drown out the voice of Him who quietly whispers from the eternal and important.

July 13, 2011: No Power

Yesterday afternoon, we finally got our power back. I heard that 186,000 were still without power as of this morning, so if you are reading this today, consider yourself fortunate!


Needless to say, it was a hassle to go without power. On Monday, we stopped off at Arby’s for dinner only to find that there was a 28 minute wait as they had to cook more roast beef because they were deluged with people eating out because of the power loss. Thankfully, I was fortunate to stop by Wal-Mart when they still had ice. They had already run out earlier, but then got restocked only to be almost cleaned out again. I thought I was going to have to wrestle for a few bags before they ran out! Then around 10:30 pm, I joined a half dozen people in McDonalds in Antioch using their laptops to go online. By Tuesday morning our cell phones were dying so we packed up and left for my sisters’. I know you have your own stories to tell. I feel for those who are still without power.


It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to go without power for a long period, but many do day after day, month after month, year after year. I’m not talking about electricity, but rather spiritual power.


Scripture is very clear that we can do nothing on our own. Jesus Himself, when talking about bearing spiritual fruit, said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” At the same time, He promised us supernatural power to live the Christian life and to touch the lives of others. In Acts 1:8, He said, “And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the uttermost parts of the world.”


Jesus promised us power- supernatural power to touch lives with the life-changing gospel. He also promised His Spirit’s supernatural power to transform us and bear the supernatural fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In addition, He promised His Spirit would supernaturally lead us so that we might keep in step with Him.


But for many Christians, they live powerlessly- like people living in the dark, even though electricity is as close to them as a flip of the switch. Some live in defeat because they are trying to live the Christian life in their own power. Others are powerless because they have failed to surrender an area of their life to the lordship of Christ. Still others are simply uninformed about the power of the Spirit, so they don’t know how to walk in the Spirit.


In short, to summarize how to be filled with the Spirit, just remember 4 words:

a) Confess- Confess all known sin and experience His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Sin hinders our fellowship with God and short circuits His power. Remember confession involves sincere repentance. 

b) Surrender- Surrender every area of your life to God (Romans 12:1).

c) Ask- Simply ask God to fill you, i.e.- to direct and empower you with His Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Ask Him to live through you, to speak through you, to make decision through you.

d) Faith- Finally trust God that He has filled you with His Spirit and will live His life through you as you remain yielded to Him. If you want to know more about how to be filled with the Spirit, pick up the free booklet entailed “Satisfied” on our resource table.


Don’t live with the lights out. It’s not only discouraging and defeating, it’s a hassle to live without power!

July 9, 2011: The Rest of the Story…

(This is actually a continuation of my previous blog, written on 7/3/11.) 


God was not finished with my dad.


Dad is not a keeper. He likes to keep things clean. However, my dad kept that little booklet on his bedside table until the sun bleached it out completely white. I knew God was at work, but there seemed to be no evidence of it.


Then years later, my dad lost his job. He was working as a chemical engineer for a company that was bought out and his position was eliminated. Because the country was experiencing a recession, jobs were hard to find, especially for someone who was in his mid-fifties. Companies did not want to pay his higher salary, nor train him knowing he was close to retirement. That’s when Dad really began to search.


Dad was always a church goer, but now he was taking spiritual things seriously. He and my mother started to attend a small group Bible study and began attending adult Sunday School.


I’ll never forget talking with my dad one day. He recounted to me his experience of buying a Bible. Here’s basically what he told me-


He went to a Christian bookstore and asked for a Bible.


“What translation would you like?” the woman asked.


“I’d like it in English of course,” my dad replied. The woman then explained that there are various English translations and she began to recommend a few. My dad heard of the NIV, so he said, “Give me one of those.”


“Would you like a red letter edition?” she then asked.


“What’s a red letter edition?” He asked, beginning to feel a little impatient. The woman explained it to him. He again replied, “Sure. Give me one of those.”


“Well, would you like that in hardback, softback, or leather?”


With that my dad lost it. “For crying out loud, I just want a @#*% Bible!!!!” Now, I not sure if the @#*% was actually what he said, or if it was just in his account to me, but either way, he was definitely thinking it!


I laughed and laughed when he told me. But deep inside, I knew God was at work. As time went on, periodically dad would call me with a Bible question. He began to seriously study the Bible, accumulating Bible reference books. Like an engineer, trying to troubleshoot the solution to a problem, so Dad set out on his journey of faith. He would not be disappointed.


I don’t know what was the final turning point for Dad. Nicky Gumble has said that evangelism is more a process than an event. If so, for many people, coming to faith in Christ is also a process. But somewhere along the journey, Dad crossed the line and placed his faith in Christ.


By the way, God, like always, showed Himself faithful. Dad landed a job with RCA, which was later bought out by GE, a company where he had been previously employed for many years in their missile and defense department. But I am so thankful that Dad did not fade in his faith. He continued his spiritual journey.


Last Easter Dad read my blog. He heard of the book, “Heaven is Real,” and desired to read it. Then, my brother later gave him a copy. He read it twice and it really ministered to him.


Well, it’s 9:15pm- over 1 ½ hrs. past our original departure time. They said we should board soon, so I’ll wrap up here. I guess I’ll tell the rest of the story as it unfolds.


Addendum: Saturday, July 9: I just got word that Dad past away around 9:45am EST. He’s home now! We are sad, but rejoicing!

July 3, 2011: Headed to see my dad

It’s Sunday evening and I’m waiting here at the Milwaukee airport. My flight to Philly has been delayed. I’m flying out to see my father who is not doing well physically. Last week his heart and kidney doctor both gave him 1-2 weeks. We’re praying for more. So I am headed out for a short visit with him, returning on Friday in time for the Evening of Worship and Prayer at the Greens.


I’m thankful that my dad knows the Lord. He has everything to look forward to. How different this trip would be were that not the case! How many people lose loved ones everyday who do not know the Lord. The pain and sorrow is so heavy.


Dad was not always open to spiritual things. In fact, I remember the first time I shared the gospel with Dad. I was actually prompted by a dream.


I was a college student at home either on break or during a vacation. One night I had a vivid dream- I dreamt that my father and brother were in a serious car accident. I went to the emergency ward, only to learn that both of them were killed. Knowing that my father was not a believer at the time, I cried out and wept. I realized that I had not taken the opportunity to share the gospel with him. With remorse, regret, and grief, I found myself crying out loud to the Lord in the ER, asking God to bring my dad back. I remember asking God, “Give me another chance. Just bring him back- please give me another chance.”


That’s when I woke up.


I didn’t know whether to be relieved or completely freaked out. I really felt the dream was from God, giving me another chance to talk with my Dad about Jesus Christ.


Now, you need to know what a huge hurdle that was for me. Dad never talked about his religious beliefs. In fact, Dad was hesitant to talk to anyone about more personal issues. But how can I turn down God’s prompting and his second chance for me? I determined to respond that very day.


So I mustered up my courage, walked by my father’s open bedroom door where my father was lying in bed reading- and then kept right on walking down the hall. I chickened out. I tried a second time, and again I kept on walking. Some say that sharing Christ with strangers is harder than sharing Christ with people you know- I think they are fooling themselves! I believe the closer you are with someone, the harder it is to talk to them about Christ.


I tried a third time- same results. I almost quit, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the dream. What if something happened before I talked with Dad?- I would always regret it. So I tried again, and again. My Dad must have thought I was pacing the hallway- either that or I was having a severe case of indigestion causing me to run to the bathroom every few minutes!


Finally, after about the sixth time, I walked in. It was an awkward moment for me. I said something like, “Dad, you know I’m involved with a Christian group at Penn State. Well, I just wanted you to know why I am so involved with it. There’s a little booklet (the 4 Spiritual Laws) that explains some things, so can I get your opinion on it?” My Dad said, “OK.” And so off we went.


At the end of the booklet I asked him, what he thought. He said in no uncertain terms, “Well, politics and religion are two things I don’t talk about.” End of conversation.


I was disappointed in the response, but I know I was obedient to God’s leading. I trusted that God was not finished with Dad.


He wasn’t. (This blog will be continued later this week….)


June 22, 2011: Why doesn’t God speak more audibly today?


Did you ever wonder why God seems to speak more audibly in the Old Testament than in the New Testament and today?


It seems to me that God spoke audibly with more and longer conversations in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. In the New Testament, the conversations are shorter and, in fact, they seem often to be mediated through an angel or through a vision or dream. Why is this?


Scripture does not tell us, but let me propose a personal theory.


In the Old Testament, it may seem God spoke more often audibly, but it also seems evident that He spoke to fewer people. Because the Spirit of God had not yet been poured out on all believers, communication with God was limited. In fact, even prayer and worship itself centered more around the temple and the Levitical priesthood.


At Pentecost, the Spirit of God was poured out on all the believers in Jerusalem. The New Testament is clear in teaching us that it is God’s desire that all of us be led and empowered by His Spirit. So why does He often lead through His still small voice rather than an audible voice?


Imagine for a moment what life would be like if all of us consistently heard the audible voice of God.


First, I think our tendency would be to not spend time in His Word, but rather depend on the audible voice of God. Truth would then become very subjective and we would lose the objective safeguard of the Word of God.


Secondly, would we be tempted to reduce the Christian life to living with a heavenly GPS? God’s ultimate goal is not just to lead us, but to commune with us. He wants an intimate relationship with us. I personally find that there is a difference between only pursuing the voice of God, and pursuing God Himself. The ideal for us is to do both, because in pursuing intimacy with God, we long to hear His voice. On the other hand, I think it is possible to pursue God’s voice and leading, without truly pursuing God Himself.


Thirdly, we need to keep in mind that the deceiver is present within the world. Even today, the enemy counterfeits the still small voice of God by speaking lies into people’s hearts and minds. The enemy could also counterfeit God’s audible voice. In fact, he may try to flood the airwaves with his lies. Imagine what life would be like if we were to constantly hear audible voices vying for out attention!


Finally, I believe that God also purposefully allows His still small voice to be over-powered by other noise within our lives. This is so we would need to consciously seek Him with surrendered and obedient hearts. If God were to speak loudly to us, and if we were to disobey, I believe our hearts would quickly grow callous towards Him and His Spirit’s conviction. We would actually get used to ignoring His leading. So instead, He gently leads us. This does not mean that God wants to give us greater license to disobey Him, but rather He speaks gently and softly so as to give us time to respond. The more we obey Him in what we know is His will, the more we hear His voice. Instead of growing callous, we become more sensitive to His leading. So, bottom-line, it is God’s grace in speaking to us in His still small voice to give us that time to respond.


However, that’s not to say that God can’t speak audibly to us. Some believers have experienced His audible voice. But I think that is more the exception than the norm.

Just my opinion….

June 22, 2011: The storm, flights, and my dog Maddie


Last night, I found myself scrambling on my computer. 


My sister Joan had called from the Milwaukee airport. She was flying out to spend the week with my father and mother, and to help take care of my dad, including taking him on a number of doctor’s appointments. But due to the storms last night, her flight was cancelled at the last minute. By the time she reached the ticket counter, the next available flight out to Philadelphia was on Thursday. That’s when she called me.


Because I was already on my computer, I immediately started to look into other flights. I began looking to see if anything was available through Midway or O’Hare. Or could she fly to a secondary city further south and then fly out to Philly from there? Or the flight from Milwaukee to Washington DC later that night had not yet been cancelled- could she take that flight and get to Philadelphia? How about a one-way car rental? DC is only a 4 hour drive from my folks….


Did you catch anything missing?


I never stopped to pray and ask God for His leading. I just jumped in. I went right into problem-solving mode.


Now, swift action is sometimes needed. Even in this situation, since O’Hare was also shut down, flights were being gobbled up as quickly as my dog Maddie wolfs down meat scraps from our dinner. But after all I’ve mentioned about seeking the Lord and His voice, did I even pause for 30 seconds to ask for His leading? Unfortunately, I did not.


I think amidst my scrambling, I did fire up a few SOS prayers, especially after we were having problems finalizing anything. We even brought my sister Barb in the picture who was trying to find a way to use her frequent flyer miles to book something- how about driving to Indy and catch a flight from there?


Well, after about 45 minutes of trying to find options, we did finally pray over the phone asking God to lead. The thought crossed my mind as I prayed- why didn’t we pray and seek the Lord earlier in this process?


In the end, God was gracious in his leading. Another passenger suggested flying into Newark, NJ. We were able to find out she could get a train from Newark to Philadelphia. But then a friend of Joan’s said she could pick her up in Trenton-- an even better option. So she booked an afternoon flight for today, but was able to get on a flight early this morning flying standby. Even as I type, she is on the train to Trenton.


So once again, I am reminded- Seek the Lord. Pray in your time of need. Ask for His leading and for His voice to speak to you. Sometimes He will speak to you in that still small voice. Other times He may lead through others. Still other times, He may choose to lead you through your problem solving efforts. But first, seek the Lord. Don’t be like your dog in front of his dog bowl!


June 14, 2011: On Hearing God & Obedience


I’ve still been thinking about the relationship between our commitment to obedience and hearing God. I really wonder if the two are much more related than we think.


When we respond obediently to the voice of God, it increases our sensitivity to hearing His voice. On the other hand, if God prompts us to do or to not do something, and we do not listen to Him, our hearts can be desensitized to His voice. Over time, we can become callous to His leading. So, in order to prevent us from having hard hearts, perhaps God only speaks to us to the degree which He knows we are willing to respond. Or, perhaps God is always speaking, but our ability  to hear His voice is related to how much we have obeyed His leading. The more we obey, the greater the sensitivity and vice versa.


Either way, there are two repercussions of this. The more we obey God, the more we will hear His voice and sense His leading. However, the opposite is also true. The more we disobey or ignore His prompting, the more we will become desensitized to His voice and leading so we hear Him less.


You may ask, “But how do I know if it is God speaking to me?” We’ll address this in future messages. But let me just encourage you to start with what you know is God’s voice. For instance, if I’m in an argument with my wife and I sense the Spirit of God telling me to not respond in anger or selfishness, I can know that the prompting is the Spirit of God. Or if I sense God wanting me to serve my spouse by doing the dishes, yet I want just to veg in front of the TV, it is most likely the Spirit of God. Or if I am tempted to tell an off-color joke or to compromise on the truth… you get the picture.


I’m not saying that God only speaks to us when He wants to prompt us not to sin. However, I personally find that those are the times which are most easily discernable as to whether or not God is speaking. As we begin to both hear His voice and respond, God can then speak to us and lead us in regards to other things as well.


So bottom-line, if you want to increase your capacity to hear the voice of God, increase your obedience quotient. You will find God speaking to you far more than you had previously experienced!

May 24, 2011: 2 Extremes in hearing God

This past Sunday I addressed 2 extremes for us to avoid- the “message-a-minute” mindset and the “It’s all in the Bible, so I don’t need to hear from God” mindset. I think both extremes can hinder our walk with the Lord.


As I sit and reflect, I realize that at times I have unknowingly drifted towards both of those extremes at different times in my life.


There have been a few times in my life that I wanted God to speak to me about everything. In fact, I can remember on specific occasions, being paralyzed because I needed to make a decision about something, but not sensing God’s leading. Sometimes, we need to trust that God has given us His Spirit and He will direct us through our decisions. Proverbs 16:9 says “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”


On the other hand, there have been many times when I have drifted toward the opposite extreme of not thinking I needed to wait on the Lord to see if He wanted to speak to me. In fact, when I reflect back, this has been a far greater tendency for me. Perhaps it is because I tend to think of myself as being fairly strong at reasoning and problem solving. This was particularly true when it came to issues of ministry. I would throw up a quick prayer and then jump into strategic planning- planning out what I thought best for the Kingdom of God! Then I would ask God to bless my well-thought through plans!


As I mentioned last Sunday, when it comes to hearing God, I don’t think there is a single norm for all people. In fact, what is normal for us individually, may even change over time. There are many factors that might influence this including how God has wired us, how we respond, our maturity in Christ, our giftings from the Spirit, where we are in God’s call on our life, and our specific situation that we are experiencing.


So how do we know what is normative for us right now? Perhaps that’s the wrong question to ask. Perhaps we simply need to pursue intimacy with the Lord and keep pursuing hearing His voice, while at the same time realizing that faith may entail trusting that God will sovereignly lead us even at times when we do not hear His voice.


In fact, perhaps part of learning to hear God’s voice is really learning what it means for each of us to relate to God in an ever increasingly close, intimate way. Isn’t that what life is all about- to know God, to love Him, to follow Him and to glorify Him?

May 17, 2011: Spiritual jogging shoes

I’ve been battling this sinus/flu thing for 19 days now. Thankfully I’m not bedridden, but I can tell I am not 100%. Periodically, I will feel really tired (usually in the mid to late afternoon). Other times, I will feel like I am about to come down with something new- it’s that “I feel like I’m beginning to get sick” feeling.


One of the things that this has altered is my running. I usually run fairly regularly. In fact, I’ve been running with David Green. We were training for a half marathon race that was held on the first Saturday in May. Needless to say, I had to bag the race. Disappointing.


I’ve not only lost a lot of physical endurance, but I have lost my rhythm of the discipline of running. What was part of my routine during the week, has now become non-existent. At first I did not notice the repercussions. But now I can sense how it has affected my sleep. Without the physical exercise, my sleep is not as deep and is often interrupted. In addition, I just miss being able to go out and run. Believe it or not, when you establish the discipline of running, it doesn’t become a chore. Rather it becomes something you look forward to.


This has made me think about spiritual disciplines in the same manner.


When we spend consistent time with the Lord, we get into a rhythm. Although I never want my walk with the Lord to be just perfunctory, yet spending time with God at a consistent time every day can really be advantageous. The discipline of regularly meeting with God exercises our spiritual muscles and we feel like the communication lines with God are much more established.


However, when I get out of that rhythm, I begin to lose my spiritual edge. At first I don’t feel the repercussions. But as time goes on, it begins to affect other aspects of my life. I am less patient. I pray less during the day. I think about God less. Before I know it, my communion with God is not very deep. And it becomes harder and harder to spend time with Him without my mind being interrupted but the noisy call of all my to dos.


So when you find yourself in that place, commit to once again spending consistent time with the Lord. Don’t ramp up suddenly and commit to spend huge amounts of time with the God. Rather, begin slowly, but make it every day. Reestablish that rhythm and regularity. Establish a routine that you can keep. Make spending time with God a daily disciple. Daily. Every day. As in 7 days a week.


As you do, God will slowly ramp you up to spending more time with Him. Before you know it, you’ll be able to spend a longer time with God every day without feeling like it is work. In fact, you’ll look forward to it. Spending time with God will refresh you. The time will energize you. You will find your spiritual muscles free to connect and commune with God throughout the day. Soon you will be doing half marathons with God, and enjoying it. So if you’re out of shape spiritually, begin today. Put on your spiritually jogging shoes and run with God just down the block. Then tomorrow, do the same. Establish the discipline. Every day. Daily.


I think I’ll try to go for a run now….


May 10, 2011: Do I really believe that God wants to speak to me today?


I think that one of the greatest challenges to hearing God, is first being convinced that He really does want to speak to you. On Sunday, I mentioned that if you are not thoroughly convinced that God wants to speak to you, you will never hear His voice. I am convinced of that.


Imagine this- Imagine that you grew up with absolutely no religious exposure. No church. No Christian friends. You’ve never read a Christian book, never heard a Christian speaker. You don’t know what other people have experienced or not experienced in their Christian life.


Then imagine you go on an extended vacation. On that vacation, you pick up the Bible for the first time in your life. You begin to read it to find out how God desires to relate and to communicate with us. So you read through the entire Bible, asking the one question, “How does God relate and communicate with us?” What conclusions would you draw? What would your expectations be if you decided to begin a relationship with God?


I would propose that you would be convinced that God desires to speak to us today. It has been His pattern of interaction ever since Adam and Eve. And since the pouring out of His Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus even more so desires for us to sense His presence, power, and leading in our lives as He walks with us and through us through His Spirit. In light of these truths, I would also propose that you would have a great expectation of God communicating with you in your daily life.


Certainly, we cannot make God speak to us on our timetable nor can we demand He answer our questions in the way we desire. However, God desires to communicate with us because He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. He wants us to experience a daily relationship with Him where we really do sense Him walking with us and living through us through the power and presence of His Spirit.


So are you convinced? If not, take time to read through the Scriptures. Ask yourself, how did God communicate with those He loved? What was it like for those individuals? What do you think other people thought as they heard these individuals share their experience with them? Asking those questions as you read His Word could change the way you relate to God every day!


May 4, 2011: Who really is our public enemy #1?


Like everyone else, I was glued to the TV on Sunday night when President Obama delivered the message that Osama Bin Laden had been killed.


ABC news later ran a special news coverage entitled “The death of public enemy #1.” But I could not help but wonder, from God’s perspective, was Bin Laden really our public enemy #1? Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that that he was found and killed. I do believe the world will be safer because he no longer can inspire and plot terrorism throughout the world. However, what really is our nations’ most dangerous enemy?


I would propose that our greatest national threat is our failure to recognize that our nation’s prosperity and worldwide influence is due to God’s hand of blessing.


As a nation, we are so prone to drift into self-sufficiency. Political speeches are full of accolades that attribute our nation’s greatness to our abilities, our innovation, our determination, our hard work, our perseverance... We hear our leaders say that Americans can do anything they put their mind to. Deep down inside, we believe that we deserve our prosperity because we have earned it. Yet we fail to recognize that we are reaping the blessings that God granted our forefathers as they established a nation which they envisioned would live by the motto, “In God we trust.”


As part of my times with the Lord, I have been reading through Jeremiah. If God judged the nation of Israel for turning its back on the Lord, I believe He will do the same to us. Yet I was also struck by these verses in Jeremiah 18:7-12:


“If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.’”


The exhortation is simple. As a nation, we must turn back to the Lord. We cannot afford to ignore this dire warning from the Lord and continue with our own plans. The future of our nation depends on it.


Please join us on Thursday, as we gather on the National Day of Prayer to turn to the Lord and to pray for our nation (May 5th, Falling Waters Clubhouse on rt. 45 in Lindenhurst at 7-9pm).


April 26, 2011: Heaven through the eyes of a 4-year old


For those of you who were not here with us on Easter Sunday, I highly recommended a little book called “Heaven is For Real” by Todd Burpo. It’s about a 3 yr. old boy (close to 4) named Colton who almost died from a ruptured appendix. During that time, he apparently had an experience of being taken up to heaven. 


When I first heard about it, I was a little skeptical. But after reading the book, I believe his experience was very genuine. After all, he was only about 4 yrs. old at the time, so he did not have a lot of preconceived ideas of heaven floating around his subconscious. In addition, the way Colton tells of his experience was how one would imagine a 4-year old would tell it. First, He did not tell his parents immediately, because to him the experience was not necessarily astonishing. Secondly, Colton did not recount everything all at once. It was only was as certain things triggered his mind that we would bring up various things that he experienced in his heavenly journey. Thirdly, the recounting of details are in the language and perspective appropriate to a very young child (like when he seemed to chide his father for not knowing that in heaven, people don’t wear glasses!). Lastly, Colton told his parents things he could not possibly know- like his experience of meeting the child that Colton’s mother miscarried years before he was born. (One of the fascinating details was when Colton’s mother asked him what her name was. He said the girl didn’t have a name, because they had not named her yet- which was true! The miscarriage took place so early in the pregnancy that they did not even know it was a girl, so they never named her.)


But the book also presented to me some theological questions. For instance, the Bible clearly says that we do not receive our new physical bodies until Christ comes again at His second coming. So how could Colton actually see people in heaven?


There are numerous possibilities. One is that God could have allowed those specific people to have physical bodies during that time. When Moses and Elijah were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, they obviously appeared to have physical bodies. In fact, Peter, James, and John apparently recognized them. God could have done the same with Colton. Another possibility is that God simply allowed Colton to see people as they will be in their glorified state.


There was another question I had in reading the book. Colton mentioned that everyone had wings. Will we have literal, physical wings in the new heaven and new earth or were the wings symbolic of how free we will be to travel to places (e.g.- will we be able to fly and to visit other planets)? Or were the wings symbolic of the total spiritual and emotional freedom we will experience in Christ? When you read through John’s vision in the book of Revelation, everything he saw was real, but it obviously has significant symbolism throughout his vision. In addition, Jesus’ resurrected body seemed to have freedoms that our bodies do not currently possess. When you read through the resurrection accounts of Jesus, He had a physical body which He proved by eating and inviting the disciples to touch him (Luke 24:36-43), yet He also seemed free to pass through locked doors (John 20:19, Luke 24:31). Were these unique characteristics of Jesus body, or will our bodies have similar characteristics (Philippians 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58)?


On the other hand, it could be that we all will have literal wings with our new physical bodies just as Colton saw it. By the way, we can sometimes think it is silly or simplistic to imagine that God would give us wings to fly like birds. But did it ever occur to us, that the wings of angelic beings like cherubim may not have been patterned after birds, but rather the wings of birds may have been patterned after these angelic beings? If so, could it be that these angelic wings may have been patterned after what will be our new physical bodies? Perhaps the true archetypes of wings are neither angelic beings nor birds, but rather us in our glorified bodies! We cannot know for sure, but it is fascinating to think about!


Bottom-line, after reading the book, I find myself being more heavenly minded. Earth is not our home. Scripture clearly tells us that we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21) and that we are simply passing through this world. So God’s desire is that our hearts will be set on heaven, while living with an eternal perspective here on earth. Perhaps the reason why we struggle to live that way is that for us, heaven is just a theoretical place in the distant future.


Perhaps, we need to heed the words of Colton- we need to know that heaven really is for real!


April 20, 2011: Preparing for Good Friday & Easter


Ollie & I missed being with everyone this past Sunday. We were down in Charleston, South Carolina helping in the wedding of Ollie’s niece. I had the privilege of helping to officiate the wedding along with her pastor. He did a great job and at the request of the bride and groom, included the gospel in the ceremony. The most moving part to me was singing Amazing Grace/My Chains Fell Off after the unity candle ceremony. My niece and her husband spontaneously and unashamedly raised their hands in worship, lost in their own world while focusing on God. At that point, the wedding ceremony seemed to be more of a worship service than a wedding. But then it struck me- shouldn’t that be the way weddings should be?


We returned late Monday night. Even though Cheryl, Jim, and I have been planning the Good Friday service and Easter for a couple of weeks now, it still did not seem like Easter week. I don’t know about you, but Easter always seems to rush upon me faster than Christmas. I must confess than in my heart, I was not anticipating with great expectation this most significant holiday in the Christian calendar.


So this morning I skipped ahead in Luke and began to read from chapter 22 about the Passion week. It was great heart preparation as I was reminded of what Jesus went through in order to rescue us from sin and death.


The thing that struck me this time was how there is such a sense of God’s sovereignty throughout the account. Luke describes the events of the injustice that Jesus was experiencing at the hands of unrighteousness men, but in the backdrop there is a sense that God is still in control. Jesus was a victim, but never outside the sovereign control of the Father.


Whether you are reading through the New Testament with us or not, I encourage you to also skip ahead to Luke 22 and read through the Passion week as you prepare your hearts for this weekend. Let God speak to you and touch you as you focus on Him. I know my heart was warmed as I read and reflected again all that God did to win us back to Himself. I’m really looking forward to this Friday.


May this weekend not be just another 3-day holiday filled with chocolate eggs and jelly beans, but a sincere time of reflection, of thanksgiving, and of true celebration and worship.


April 12, 2011: God’s Mercies in Disguise


The song we played on Sunday as the pre-service video was a song that Ollie heard on the way down to Champaign on Friday. The words are very powerful. Laura Story wrote many of the songs from her album “Blessings” after her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here are the words from the song “Blessings”:


We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things


Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear

We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near

We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love

As if every promise from Your Word is not enough

All the while, You hear each desperate plea

And long that we’d have faith to believe


When friends betray us

When darkness seems to win

We know that pain reminds this heart

That this is not our home


What if my greatest disappointments

Or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy

What if trials of this life

The rain, the storms, the hardest nights

Are your mercies in disguise


I encourage you to listen to Laura Story talk about her album “Blessings.” She proposes a profound question when times get difficult, “Are we going to judge God based on our circumstances that we do not understand, or are we going to judge our circumstances based on what we know to be true about God?” I encourage you to log on to her website, listen to the first video, and then listen to the second video which is the full recording of her song, “Blessings.” I think you will be blessed!


March 5, 2011: A radical mark of a Christian


Radical. Different. Counter-cultural. I think these adjectives would be among the descriptions that on-lookers would have characterized those first century believers.


So much of the Bible’s teaching is radically different from the world’s values. For instance, Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for them. He also said in order to find our life, we must lose it. I believe another radical mark of a believer is God’s command to give thanks in all things, even amidst hardship and difficulties. As we saw on Sunday, Job was one who lived out this command. Many, including his own wife, did not understand why he would do such a thing. But Job’s faith in God remained steadfast. He worshipped God.


In the recent decades, some have promoted what we know today as the power of positive thinking. But there is a huge difference between positive thinking and God’s command to give thanks amidst difficulties.


Positive thinking promotes the view that the power of the thinking itself will help things to go better. The reasoning is that if we think things will go well, they will. Or at least we will try to make the best of the situation. So for positive thinkers, their faith is in their thinking.


On the other hand, for us as Christ-followers, our faith is not in our thinking, but rather in God who is in control of all things. We trust that God is all-good and all-wise. He can take even the worst of situations, and somehow bring good out of it. And so we can not only trust God, but also give thanks and even worship Him. This perspective is radical, but it really is a mark of the normal Christian life. In fact, it really may be an indication of true saving faith versus a mere intellectual faith.


As I mentioned on Sunday, this does not mean we give thanks for the pain and suffering we are experiencing, but rather we can give thanks that God is sovereign and in His infinite wisdom and power, He can even bring good from our trials. I think that is why the video of Rhema Marvanne was so moving. Even at the tender age of 8 yrs. old, she seems already to have embraced this great Biblical truth.


So today, choose to be radical, different, and counter-cultural. Choose to bear the marks of a true Christ-follower. When things go wrong, instead of cursing and using God’s name in vain, stop and give thanks. Worship Him. Let that become your natural response to trials and difficulties. It will change your life!


PS- Many of you commented about the video we saw on Rhema. If you want to watch the video and download a free copy of her song, visit this website: http://rhemamarvanne.com/notetogod/

March 29, 2011: Joseph’s Discovery

When I was younger, I used to enjoy playing chess. I remember playing with my uncle. Once in a while he would make a move that would leave one or more of his pieces vulnerable. Capitalizing on the opportunity, I would take those chess pieces. Things would seem to be going well for me; in fact I would even think I was actually winning. But a few moves later, would prove the opposite. My uncle would have me in checkmate.


I think the battle against evil and suffering is similar. We can be tempted to think that darkness is winning in our lives, but if we truly surrender to the Lord and walk in His ways, in the end, God always brings evil and suffering into check. In the end, God always wins over evil and suffering. His purposes will always stand.


Last week, in preparation for this past Sunday’s message, I read through the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50). Even though I have read it numerous times, I was once again encouraged by the timeless truths of this story. Let me encourage you to also read through it yourself.


The story of Joseph is a real life example of the truth in Romans 8:28 where Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”


Note that it says “all things”- not just some things, not just the good things, but even the bad things, even the unjust things that happen to us. God is so sovereign that He can take that which is evil, and use it for our good. It does not mean God approves of evil, but rather He is so wise and in control, that not even sin and evil can thwart His good purpose in our lives. But also note the stipulation- “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This promise is not made to everyone. It’s only given to those who have entrusted their lives to Christ, to those who love God and have chosen to surrender their will to His in order to fulfill His calling by submitting to His purpose.


God used the betrayal of Joseph’s brothers, the heartlessness of the Midianite nomads, the unfaithfulness and lying of Potphar’s wife, and the forgetfulness of Pharaoh’s cupbearer all to bring Joseph to the place of fulfilling God’s calling and purpose. It did not happen overnight. Joseph was 17 when his brother betrayed him, he was 30 when he entered Pharaoh’s courts, and was almost 40 when he was finally reunited with his father. In all those years, I can’t help but think that at times, Joseph felt like sin, injustice, and darkness were winning in his life, only to be surprised by God’s sudden checkmate move. 


To Joseph’s credit, he never lost his faith. He could have abandoned his trust in God. He could have blamed God and rebelled against Him for treating him so harshly. But he didn’t. Instead, he learned obedience through the things that he suffered. And in the end, God entrusted him with not only the future of Egypt, not only the future of the lives in neighboring nations, not only the future of his own family, but also the future of the promise of redemption for all of mankind for eternity.


So if you feel like darkness is winning in your life, read the story of Joseph again. God’s checkmate may be just around the corner.


March 22, 2011: Original sin & belly buttons


After talking with Ollie & Christin on Sunday, I thought it might be helpful to clarify what I was saying about original sin. I don’t think I was as clear as I should have been. 


Many of us, including myself, have at one time or another questioned the “fairness” of original sin. We wonder to ourselves, “Should I be held accountable and suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin? Why wasn’t I given the same choice that Adam was given? Why did his decision affect the whole human race?”


The Bible tells us that there is a relationship between the guilt that Adam brought on us and the forgiveness that Jesus Christ offers. Listen to what Romans 5:18-19 says: “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”


Let’s consider what the consequences would be if God created us all in the same method He created Adam and Eve. Let’s say He created each of us from dust, so that no one had parents, no one had children, there would be no reproduction of human beings, and therefore sin and guilt would not be passed from one person to another. In essence, there would not be just one human race, but billions of individuals who would each constitute their own individual race since they would not be related to one another. (Anatomically we might seem related, but in reality, there would not be a relational connection. Similarly, if we found humanoids in a distant galaxy, even if anatomically they were like us, they would not be part of our race). Morally, this might seem more “fair” since each of us would then bear the guilt and consequences of our own individual choices without being affected by what Adam and Eve chose to do.


However, what would happen if we did sin? Just as Adam’s guilt could not be passed down to us, neither could Christ’s righteousness be passed on to us. In other words, in order for Christ to pay the penalty for our sin, He not only had to be fully God, He also had to be fully human- He had to be part of the human race with a relational connection to us. One of the early heresies that arose in the early church was that Jesus was not really human, He only seemed human. In other words, some believed that anatomically, Jesus looked human, but He was really only God made up to look human-like. The problem with this belief is that not only was it contrary to Scripture, but it ignored the fact that Jesus really had to be one of us- He had to have that human relational connection with us in order to be able to take on our guilt and die for our sins and then pass on His righteousness to us. That is why the virgin birth of Christ is so crucial. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, if He was not truly a human being, then He could not pay for our sins.


In addition, could it be that God knew that if He did create us all individually from dust with no parents and if He did give each of us the same choice that He gave Adam and Eve, could it be that God knew that each of us would ultimately make the same decision that Adam and Eve made? If that was the case, then each of us would stand condemned for our own sin for eternity, but there would be no recourse since there would not be a way for a Savior to be born “unto us”- a Savior who would be related to us in order for us to pass on our guilt to Him.


So in God’s sovereignty and wisdom, He created one human race in which we are all related to each other. Yes, we are all related to Adam and therefore bear the consequences of his sin. But, however, we are also related to Jesus, and can experience the consequences of His sacrifice. We have the incredibly privilege of trusting in Christ, and thereby transferring our guilt to Him in exchange for His righteousness.


And that is why your belly button is a reminder of God’s wisdom and grace!


March 15, 2011: Q & A about God, evil & suffering


Since I did not get chance to address all of the questions that were raised on Sunday, someone suggested I address them in my blog. A great idea! There were some very thoughtful questions brought up. So, here’s a little Q & A from some of the questions that were sent to me:


Q: If God created us knowing that we would fall and that this was part of His master plan of redemption, then why are Christians hesitant to acknowledge that God created a situation that produced evil and suffering?


A: I believe that for many Christians, the issue is not that they don’t trust God’s wisdom and sovereignty, but rather that there are potential contradictions in the back of their minds. How can evil exist if God is all-powerful, infinitely loving, and totally good? This may not be a conscious contradiction, but rather a sub-conscious contradiction that has been put aside in their “unanswered questions” category. Some unanswered questions we can live with. However, there are others that can cause us to question God’s character. Is God like a dictator (or an unrighteous parent) who basically creates rules for those he dictates while at the same time violates those rules himself? Does God really care about me or is God like a CEO of a huge corporation who is concerned about the overall plan and direction of the company, but not very concerned nor sympathetic to the individual employees? It’s important that we address our questions since some of them can cause us deep inside to question God’s character. By the way, it is not as important for us to be able to actually verbalize the logical reasoning behind the answers to these questions, as much as it important for us to know deep in our hearts that there are answers and that God really is who He says He is. However, because we will all meet both Christians and seekers who also have these questions, it would be good to keep your notes on file for future reference!


Q: I agree that evil is the absence of good and therefore not an ontological entity. This does not negate the culpability question, correct?


A: Correct. Just because we can safely say that God did not create evil, it does not negate culpability. That is why we spent so much time addressing that issue.


Q: “Culpability” may not be the right word since it denotes guilt. God is not guilty of sin, but He assumes responsibility for the guilt of our sin. So, in His abundant mercy, God assumes the responsibility for evil, correct?


A: I think the issue really is culpability or guilt or blame. If we assume that God is all-powerful and all-loving, then we need to answer the question, “Did God commit evil by allowing evil to exist?” If by “assuming responsibility for the guilt of our sin” it is meant that God did not just leave us alone after the fall, but provided a way for redemption, I would agree. However, if it means that God assumes responsibility for our guilt by the mere fact that He created us therefore He is to blame for our sin, then I would say that God does not assume that responsibility. On the cross, God paid the penalty for our sin. That is different than assuming responsibility for our sin. If my child gets a traffic ticket for speeding, I may choose to pay the penalty, but that does not mean I assume the responsibility for his speeding. Because of the possibility for misinterpretation, I personally would not feel comfortable with the statement that God “assumes responsibility for the guilt of our sin.” 


Q: Genesis 1:26 says “Lets US make man in our image…”   Is the “us” the trinity?


A: Yes. Some would say it was a literary device denoting royalty (the real royal “we”). However, I agree with many evangelical scholars who would say it is a reflection of the Trinity. Even in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God, who is the third person of the trinity, is mentioned. To be made in the image of God is to be a relational being. Even before creation existed, God was not lonely, but rather in perfect relationship within the triune Godhead of Himself- Let that blow your mind!


Q: Many believe that angels were created with free will and yet were not created in the image of God.


A: I agree. I think this may have been made in reference to when I proposed if could God have created a 4th scenario where man was created in the image of God, but that there would be no potential for evil and suffering. I mentioned that to be made in the image of God necessitated that Adam and Eve have free will. I said that God can do all things, but He cannot do things that are mutually exclusive (like make the music stand exist and not exist at the same time).   I think I misused the used the words “mutually exclusive” when referring to being made in the image of God and free will. Being made in the image of God and having free will are not mutually exclusive (Satan and his demons once were angels who did have free will). However, being made in the image of God and NOT having free will are contradictory propositions (technically they are exclusive, but not MUTUALLY exclusive). In other words, it is possible for God to make a being with free will and not be in His image (e.g.- angels), however, it is not possible for God to make a being in His image and NOT give him free will. Thanks for the person who sent in that correction!


Q: I assume in the case you are building, that you will address God’s clear use of evil and even sin in accomplishing his purpose (discipline, justice, even redemption). I agree with you that God is not “guilty,” but in his great sovereignty uses even sin to His purposes.


A; You assume correctly! We will address how God can use evil for good when we talk about the personal problem of evil. However, it is important for us to address the culpability problem first lest someone assumes that God operates off of the principle that the ends justify the means. Righteous ends do not justify unrighteous means. However, God is righteous in both the ends and the means.


March 8, 2011: Will all of our questions be answered in heaven?


On Sunday we launched into our new series, “How Could God Allow Evil & Suffering?” Although we are tackling a very thorny subject, I’m excited as we unpack this issue. As I mentioned on Sunday, there are some questions that we will be able to answer. On the hand, there are many questions that we won’t be able to answer.


Someone reminded me that the issue is not that there are no answers to those questions, but rather that we do not know the answers. I totally agree. God does know all answers to all questions.


I used to think that those unanswerable questions will be answered in heaven. But will they?


When we get to heaven, we will still be finite creatures. Yes, we will have glorified bodies, and I imagine our minds will also be renewed to a glorified state. But we will still be finite.


I wonder if some of the answers to the questions we have require intellectual powers that are far beyond us, not only now, but even in heaven. For instance, even here on earth, I can imagine if Albert Einstein were to try to explain to me the intricacies of the theory of relativity, it would not be very long before he would completely lose me. It’s not that his reasoning would be faulty or that he could not answer my questions, rather it is because my intellect, being much more limited than his, could not fully comprehend the concepts that come very easy for him to grasp.


We see this even when our children were very young. Did you ever try to explain the concept of the difference between matter and energy to a toddler? Or even explain how air, even though it is invisible, is really matter made of atoms, the same basic building blocks that solid, visible things are made of? Their little minds cannot grasp these abstract concepts.


I think in heaven, the same will be true of us. We tend to underestimate the vast, infinite wisdom and knowledge of God, while also over-estimating our human ability to grasp concepts. When I read in Genesis 11 about the tower of Babel and how men thought they could actually reach heaven by building a tower and “make a name for ourselves,” it seems so silly and “primitive,” but does God sometimes look at us in the same way as we rant and rave about how God must have messed up by creating this world the way He did?


I think in heaven, we will know more and understand more than we do here on earth. But I also think we will have a greater understanding of our limitations and of God’s limitless wisdom. So I predict there will be many answers to questions we have that God still may not answer for us, not because there are no answers, but rather because our finite minds will still not be able to comprehend them.


At the same time, God does not chide us for honestly seeking answers. In fact, I think God delights in our desire to understand our world and understand Him better. But there is a seeking that is motivated by the glory of God, and another seeking that is motivated by a desire to justify our sin and rebellion. The Spirit’s wisdom is needed to know the difference.


So let’s seek to understand God and His ways. But let us also never forget this:


“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”

-      Isaiah 55:8-9

March 1, 2011: A small piece of metal?

I really appreciated Steve Jone’s message to us this past Sunday. It is so easy to get caught up in comparison that we fail to appreciate the wonder of God’s creation in us. It’s all too easy to forget that God has made us unique, and designed us for a holy purpose.


Last night I was talking with my sister Joan. She was planning a chapel for the students at Christian Heritage Academy in Northbrook. We talked about a skit she is considering doing. The basic gist of the skit is this- Each person opens up a gift they have been given. Some receive tires, another receives an engine, a couple others receive bumpers, another receives a steering wheel, etc. They decide to do something with their gifts, so they put a car together.


However, the last person to open his gift is hesitant to do so. His gift is in a very small box- smaller than any others. He finally opens it up, only to find that his gift is a simple, small piece of flat metal no bigger than his thumb. He is tempted to throw it away thinking that it is relatively useless compared to the gifts the others received.


But then everyone discovers that the small piece of metal is a key. They realize that all their gifts would be useless without this person’s small, but crucial gift.


Isn’t that how we view our gifts and talents from God? We look out at others who have gifts which seem obviously needed in God’s kingdom- teaching gifts, leading gifts, worshipping gifts, or healing gifts. Or we look at others whose talents or personalities seem to stand out in a crowd- maybe they have a very winsome personality, or they are very talented musically or athletically, or perhaps they are natural leaders. We can be so tempted to think, “God wants to use them in a significant way, but I’m just an insignificant piece of metal in this vast machinery of the kingdom.”


Yet God has great plans for all of us! We may think our gifts and talents are small and insignificant, but God sees incredibly great purpose in the way He created us. We may be the small key that ignites a whole movement of God in His kingdom!


This is not just the power of positive thinking. This is the power of God’s truth from His authoritative and inerrant Word!

13 For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
   when I was made in the secret place,
   when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
   all the days ordained for me were written in your book
   before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
   How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
   they would outnumber the grains of sand—
   when I awake, I am still with you.

-      Psalm 139:13-18


Do you really believe it? How would your day be different today, if every moment, you walked in this truth?

February 22, 2011: What if…

It was a moving scene on Sunday morning, seeing our sons and daughters standing up front with the adults surrounding them to pray for them. I can’t help but wonder what God has in store for them.


Let me encourage all of you adults to continue to get to know our children and teens. As I mentioned before, they are incredible significant to God and to us as a church. Who knows what God will do through them?


What if God were to transport us back into time so we were now living in the previous generation? And let’s say that we find in our elementary Sunday School class a few children- one is named George Bush, another Barak Obama, another Billy Graham, another JoniEareckson, and still another Bill Bright.


Would we treat them any differently? Would we make an effort to get to know them better? Would we take the initiative to minister to them more intentionally?


God has already told us that every one of our sons and daughters who knows Jesus Christ, is destined for an incredible calling. They are sons and daughters of the Most High God, destined to rule over angels. Jesus, talking about John the Baptist, said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” That is an amazing statement! Jesus is saying that because of HHHis death and resurrection, because of the promise of His Spirit, and because of the position we have in Christ when we received Him, we who have placed our faith in Christ are now members of the new Kingdom of God- which is a position of honor far above any position that was bestowed on any person prior to Christ.


So our children (as well as all of us) who know Jesus, have a position which is greater than John the Baptist, greater than Daniel and Isaiah, greater than David , Moses, and Abraham. And we who are their spiritual caretakers are commanded to invest in their lives as children of destiny.


May we be faithful to fulfill out calling to them so that they will in turn, be faithful to fulfill theirs!

February 15, 2011: The Blessing

Last night Ollie and I watched the movie Iron Man 2. It’s a superhero movie (btw- it was ok, but not great). Because of a life-threatening medical condition that Iron Man cannot solve, he becomes despondent and even self-destructive. He later meets someone who knew his father who has since passed away. The person speaks well of his father, but Iron Man pushes back, recalling how his father was too busy and too preoccupied with his work to spend time with him. The person gives Iron Man some personal possessions belonging to his father, including an old movie of his father. Later, while he is alone, Iron Man watches the movie. Surprised, he watches a brief clip of his father addressing him in the future. His father tells him how much he believes in him- that he would bring great good into the world. It’s the turning point of the movie.


Why did the screen writer purposefully write that in the script? It’s because he knew that every man longs to hear the voice of approval from his own father, and to hear his father verbalize that he has a destiny and significant future. Every person, whether he is a young boy, a growing teenager, or a grown adult, longs to hear his father affirm him and believe in him. This is not an original story line. In fact, many movies capitalize on this, because they know it stirs something in every man’s heart.


Years ago, I read a book entitled “The Blessing” by Gary Smalley and John Trent. They look at some of the stories of the Old Testament patriarchs blessing their sons. They write, “No matter your age, the approval of your parents affects how you view yourself and your ability to pass that approval along to your children, spouse, and friends. Many people spend a lifetime looking for this acceptance the Bible calls ‘The Blessing.’”


They go on to expound at length 5 basic parts of the blessing: 1) Meaningful touch, 2) A spoken message, 3) Attaching ‘high value’ to the one being blessed, 4) Picturing a special future for the one being blessed, 5) An active commitment to the one being blessed to help him/her fulfill the blessing.


As a parent, will your sons and daughter leave home having received your blessing? Or will they leave home, searching for that blessing from other things or other people?


You might ask, “What if I never received that blessing from my parents? How can I give something which I never received myself?”


Thankfully, God can make up for that which we did not receive from our parents. In fact, when you read the New Testament, God provides all 5 parts of the blessing. God blesses us with His spoken Word. He attaches high value to us by reminding us who we are in Christ. He shares with us the special future we each have by reminding us of our destiny as His ambassadors in His kingdom here on earth. He actively commits Himself through His Spirit to be with us, to transform us, and to empower us to fulfill that blessing. (Even when it comes to meaningful touch, in 1 Corinthians 16:20, Paul commands the Corinthians to greet one another with a holy kiss. The specific action is not as important as the principle of not being afraid to express appropriate physical affection towards one another. God grants us meaningful touch through others. BTW- Thank you, Jean, for your hugs on Sunday morning- you are part of God’s blessing to us!)


So whether your children are young or whether they are adults, they long for your blessing. Will you give it to them?


February 8, 2011: “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman


A number of you commented on the song we played at Hope on Sunday, “Cinderella,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. In lieu of my blog this morning, I encourage you to log on to 2 websites: The first website below is an interview by ABC’s Good Morning America in August of 2008 with the Chapman family, just 3 months after Maria’s death. The second is to Chapman’s website. It has the video of him singing “Cinderella” (the song should begin to play immediately after you log on). After he sings the song, he tells the story of how he wrote the song. Both are very moving. My only suggestion is to have a box of Kleenex by your side as you watch them!


February 1, 2011: Smoked Turkeys and You


Have you ever smoked a turkey? I mean, on a grill?


I’ve only done it a few times, but I have smoked turkey breasts and beef roasts on a Weber grill, and the taste is phenomenal! It takes hours (you cook it with indirect heat), and you need to periodically put more coals in the grill, but the results are worth it. The smoke slowly penetrates the meat so that every tender bite carries the taste of smoked hickory. My mouth waters even as I think about it!


In some ways, we are like that turkey. We all carry the aroma of what we have been steeped in. For some of us, we have been steeped in the smoke of the lies of our past. For others, we have been steeped in the values and thinking of our culture. They have penetrated our being and affected all of our thinking.


God desires that His Word becomes the new aroma that infiltrates every aspect of our life. Or to switch analogies, He wants His Word to be the gird through which we look at our circumstances and our world, filtering out the lies and falsehoods in order to discern and embrace His truth.


But in order for that to happen, it means that we take the time to allow our minds to be saturated with His Word. And just as there are no shortcuts in smoking a turkey, so too there are no shortcuts in allowing our minds to be transformed by His Word. So stoke up the grill every day and allow your heart and mind to be steeped in His Word. If you’re gonna be a smoked turkey, make sure you’re smoked with the right stuffed!


“These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you.


“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

January 25, 2011: It’s Never Too Late

Years ago, at a men’s conference, I heard Chuck Swindoll speak about building relationships with his children. One of his regrets was allowing himself to get too busy in ministry and not spending enough time with his son. Even though his son was an adult, Swindoll still took the initiative to reach out to him.


His son liked motorcycles, so Swindoll bought himself a motorcycle and began biking with his son. It became a great connection time for them. I’m sure many people thought, “Here’s another pastor going through mid-life crises!” But that did not deter Swindoll. He was determined to build a relationship with his adult son.


There are 2 things that strike me about Swindoll’s efforts. First, it is never too late to seek to build a relationship with your child. Your child may have children of his or her own, but it is never too late to reach out to them. By the way, don’t be fooled into thinking that they don’t need or they don’t want a relationship with you. Even as adults, we still long to have a relationship with our parents that we may have missed as a child. Yes, you may need to work through some difficult issues and hurts that can cause them to shy away from you, but don’t let that deter you. Ask God for wisdom and then gently take the initiative. Then after you get rejected (which often happens), keep taking the initiative with sensitivity. Don’t just think, “Well, they know where I stand. I’ll just wait now for them to initiate towards me.” Keep initiating towards them. You’re still the parent!


Secondly, I am struck that Swindoll met his son on his turf, doing what he liked. It’s always harder to enter into our children’s world, but it is always worth it. This past Christmas, my sister in Cleveland took my family out skiing (if you are reading this- thanks, Barb! You are an incredibly generous sister- in fact, you are one of the most giving persons I know!). Justin brought his snowboard and he was thrilled to be out there in the fresh powder. I’m not much of a skier; I ski about once every 2 years. I think I fell getting off the ski lift as many times as I fell on the slopes! But it was a great time! I especially enjoyed skiing with Justin, because there are not a lot of things we do together that he is really excited about. Justin and I even took on the black diamond hill a few times (remember, this is Ohio, not Colorado!) and it was a rush for both of us.


I find it easier to connect with our girls because they are more verbal and they enjoy doing some things that I enjoy, like running. But I need to keep finding ways to do things my son enjoys. Perhaps you can relate. When was the last time you did something that your child really enjoys? It may be uncomfortable and a little awkward at first. But it will be worth it. So what are you waiting for?

January 18, 2011: Sizing Up Perceptions

When I was growing up, my family moved when I was 5 years old. I didn’t remember much of our former home, but for many years I carried memories of a large backyard with a long sloping hill. 


Many years later when I was in high school or college, I revisited that home. To my surprise, the house had shrunk dramatically! And the back yard?- it was tiny! And the sloping hill?- it was probably just enough of a grade to cause the water to run away from the back of the house!


Our perception of reality can be very relative. When we were younger, everything seemed so much bigger relative to our own small size. As our size grew, the relative size of objects around us grew smaller.


I think it is similar to how we perceive the challenges which we face compared to our perception of how big God is. Small God, big problems. Big God, small problems.


Recently I have been reading through the book of Isaiah in my daily times with God. This morning I read Isaiah 40. It is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible on the awesome “bigness” of God. Here are a few excerpts:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
   or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
   or weighed the mountains on the scales
   and the hills in a balance….

 “Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
   Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
   and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
   and spreads them out like a tent to live in….

 “’To whom will you compare me?
   Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
   Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
   and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
   not one of them is missing.”

If every day, I viewed God as big as He really is, then every problem I face would be infinitely small. Our mountains are only as large as they compare to our view of God’s greatness. When we see God for who He really is, those mountains really do seem like molehills. That is why it is so important to saturate our minds with God’s Word in order that He can remind us of who He really is.


Small God, big problems. Big God, small problems.


January 11, 2011: Going Through the Motions


Yesterday I put on a CD while I was paying bills. A song jumped out at me. The words capture what I have been thinking and feeling lately- the desire to not let the culture around me turn me into a nice domesticated suburban Christian, but rather to be a radical follower of Jesus.


The song is by Matthew West. This morning I found a music video made with the song. Matthew West had vocal surgery. I’m not sure if the surgery was the motivation for the song, but I know it was a time of reflection and searching for West.


So instead of reading a blog, take a few minutes and log on to this website. You may need to sit through an initial advertisement before the video pops up (you may be able to click to skip it).

Here’s the YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUg9qE_KjLg&feature=BF&list=MLGxdCwVVULXeOEyjkgS42wl4txKg_99E6&index=1.
Enjoy and be challenged by the words!
January 4, 2011: Asking and Receiving

My family spent the holidays in Cleveland. One afternoon, we returned to my sister’s home. I open the door, and proceed to input my code into her home security system. The alarm continues to beep. I try a second time. The beeping continues. My mind races back to the restaurant where my sister had given me an alternative code- what was that number? My mind goes blank. Now the alarm system begins to screech and blast out, “Alert! Security breach! Alert! Security breach!”


I yell to my brother who begins to call my sister on his cell phone. Then the home phone rings. Thinking it is the security people, I answer the phone, but the alarm is so loud I cannot hear anything. I go over to the garage but then the cordless phone drops the call. Meanwhile, my dad is helping my mother enter the house. I pause long enough to help them, and then yell out to my brother who is on the driveway still trying to get through to my sister.


Finally my brother connects with my sister, but the call keeps breaking up. She tries to give a number which my brother yells out to me. I input the number into the pad. Wrong number. A second number. Still nothing. Then my sister tells us to call the alarm company.


She walks us through directions to where she keeps the information. We find it and call the alarm company and give them the account number. However, they still want the security code. My brother tries again to call my sister, but this time he cannot get through. Finally, the alarm person tells us that someone else called in and that everything is now fine.  Feeling relieved, I hang up the phone. Another minute passes. Then there is a knock on the door. The police arrive.


After my sister comes home, we recount everything that happened. Finally my dad pipes in, “I know the security code.” “What?!” we exclaim, “You know the security code? Why didn’t you tell us?” My dad simply replies, “You never asked me.”


That will go down in the Okamoto memory books! We all laughed and howled! 


Soon after we all regained composure, a verse from James continued to go through my mind, “You do not have because you do not ask.” How many times have I rushed around, trying to solve a problem or accomplish a task, when all the time, God holds the code which I need? But amidst the flurry of activity, I fail to stop and ask Him, so He patiently allows me to pursue things in my own strength.


I was reminded of that truth yesterday. Earlier in December, the Erlandsons showed us a Christmas light tester that we could really use. Since it was $26, we hoped to find it on a post-Christmas sale. However, by the time we started to shop for it, all the stores had already sold out of them. Yesterday, I thought I would try one last store. As I was dialing the number, my daughter Christin prayed aloud that they would have one. Sure enough, they had 3 in stock at 50% off! Why didn’t I pray before the phone call? Is it because I pray about the big things, but fail to pray about the little things? Is it reflect of the attitude, “I’ll go to God when things get way over my head, but the rest of the stuff, I can handle without Him”?


God does not promise He will answer all our prayers with the affirmative. But I can’t help believe that there are many simple needs that go unmet, simply because we do not ask. God loves it when we look to Him in dependency and expectancy. He does not get tired of us asking Him, but rather He loves it when we come to Him.

So ask Him. Ask Him often. Ask Him expectantly.