A number of years ago there was a young man helping around the church.  He was quite handy.  He enjoyed fixing little projects.  He was not a skilled carpenter by any means however he was useful.  Oftentimes, he was given a wide leash in order to tackle projects.  Therefore, he would be in some part of the building without direct supervision.  There was never a major concern as he had proven trustworthy.  Until one day I was walking through the church boiler room.  I was looking for some supplies.  I noticed something tucked away behind some boards.  I dug a little deeper and noticed that someone had hidden a hookah as well as its accompanying supplies.  Immediately, I suspected it belonged to this young man.  Yet, I had no proof.  Rather than confront him directly, I thought I would try a different tactic.  I took the hookah and stored it in my office.  I figured that whoever owned it would come looking for it.  Once they discovered it missing they would panic and begin to ask about it.  My prayer was that they would feel guilty about it and fess up.  The only catch was that it needed to happen quickly.  I certainly could not store it in my office for too long.  Can you imagine the janitor, an elder, or someone else finding it in my office?  It would be hard to explain when they asked, “Why does pastor have a hookah?”

One day turned into two days.  On the afternoon of the second day, my secretary buzzed me to say that someone wanted to see me.  It was this young man.  He came sheepishly into my office.  He asked if I found something in the church basement.  I told him I had.  He then confessed to placing it in the building.  He felt remorseful.  He shared how he could barely sleep the night before due to the guilt.  He decided in the middle of the night to come clean.  This led to a long conversation about integrity, accountability, stewardship of the church, and yes forgiveness.

Guilt can be a very good thing.  It is the means by which God prompts us to respond to His desires for us.  It serves as a reminder that we fall short of God’s standards.  It reinforces in our hearts His standard of right and wrong.

Why then do we run from guilt?  We downplay it.  We hate how it makes us feel.  It stirs in us regret and sometimes depression as we think about disappointing those around us.  Because of these feelings, we resist it.  At times, it can lead to a numbing of our consciences in order to protect us from those feelings of discouragement.  It also impacts how we parent our kids.  We don’t want our kids to feel bad.  We are afraid that negative feedback can harm a child’s self-esteem.  We are concerned our kids won’t like us.  I have talked to numerous parents that oftentimes withhold punishment because of these reasons.  Redirect them.  Lift them up.  Teach them.  But one should never punish them because we don’t want them to feel the weight of guilt.  Interestingly I read a study this past week where researchers found the exact opposite occurs.  They documented how children with a robust view of guilt led to them not only having a healthier self-esteem but also making better moral decisions.  It seems guilt helped a person internalize right and wrong.  It reinforced a moral compass in their lives.  As a result, it helped them make better decisions because they weighed consequences more heavily.  And, most surprisingly, they felt better about themselves by responding positively to the guilt.  In other words, it nurtured strength.

Paul states in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11, “Yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led to repentance….See what this godly sorrow had produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”  Does this sound like a person that has low self-esteem?  Granted we should not layer guilt upon guilt towards people or our children.  Yet, we should definitely not run from it because of the short-term feeling it produces in us.  It is that very feeling that nurtures in us growth and strength and moral convictions.


A Reality Check on this Holiday Weekend

My heart is wrenching from this article.

I read a lot.  But, the following piece is the most powerful thing I have read this year.  It takes about 5 minutes to get through but it will completely change your perspective on life, hopefully not just for a day.  You know it impacts you when you keep thinking about it the next day.  I encourage you to take a few minutes and let the author’s words sink in.

I would like to share a few thoughts on it.

First, it makes me deeply appreciate the freedom we enjoy in America.  On Monday, many people will be sitting back relaxing, doing a project, or having a barbeque.  We forgot this day is not simply a holiday but a reminder of those that sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy peace and safety.  Men and women gave their lives so that the atrocities mentioned in this article do not occur in our backyard.

Second, human trafficking is a serious issue.  It should upset us.  It should anger us.  It should make us jump out of our seat and say this is wrong.  I preached a sermon on human trafficking a couple of years ago.  One of the resources that I provided was a website  They rate companies based on their responsiveness to human trafficking.  Therefore, if their product is made by children in China, they will let you know.  One of the problems with an article such as this is that you feel helpless in doing anything about it.  This website gives you the tools to stop giving our money towards companies that turn a blind eye to the plight of young children around the world.  Cheaper products don’t mean better products especially from a moral perspective.

Third, we should take a moment and remember what is important in life.  It really is not whether the line at the store is too long, my hair is thinning, or there is rain in the forecast on the day of my barbeque.  There are far more important matters than the trivialities that annoy us.  Oh, these are the things we should be praying about.  These are the things the church should be addressing.  Put simply, life is just too comfortable for us sometimes.  Lord, forgive us for our shallow concerns and selfish prayers.  God, give us a heavy heart for the oppressed and a mind that passionately prays for global concerns.

What I Learned about God from M51

My son loves space.  His room is decked out with posters of constellations and planets.  He has glow-in-the-dark star stickers plastered all over the ceiling so that the night sky lights up when the room is dark.  We have the plastic planets hanging from the ceiling in the right order as they appear in our galaxy.  Last year we bought him a nice telescope for his birthday so that he can see the moon and some planets with greater detail.  It gave us great joy when he went nuts over seeing a couple of Jupiter’s moons one evening.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to take our sky-viewing to the next step.  Wheaton College has open observatory nights.  Anyone from the public can come in for free and look at the planets or constellations.  We were very excited.  We knew we would see some amazing things.  When we arrived they had several telescopes set up.  My son exclaimed “oh my goodness” on numerous occasions as he saw the moon (it seemed like it was 2 feet away), some stars, and planets (we saw 4 of Jupiter’s moons).  If this was not amazing enough, the helpers mentioned that a professor was opening up the big telescope.   This would allow you to see some distant galaxies.  So, we waited around for a little while.  Then, they opened it up.  They have a camera hooked up so that the images can be sent to a computer screen.  He showed us the dome opening up and how the telescope rotates.  Then we sat affixed at a computer screen waiting to see some galaxies.  We saw not one but three:  the Orion Nebula, M51, and M81.  In order to capture the pictures, you have to stand still in the room as the data is collected.  Any movement (even a small step) can distort the picture.  My son stood there holding his breath so that a good picture could be taken.  His eyes were captivated.  You can see the joy leaping from his face.  Here is one of the pictures of M51:


My son now has some real posters in his room!

I am amazed as I think how close yet how far the galaxies were to us.   The M51 Galaxy is 23,160,000 light years from earth.  23 million light years!   Yet, the pictures made them look so near to us!   It seemed like thousands of miles away not millions.  When we looked at the moon, it was so vivid that I thought I could reach around the telescope and grab a chunk of it.  Yet, it is so far away.

This tension makes me think of God on many levels.  He created these galaxies that are millions of light years away.  And these are the galaxies that we can see!  The universe is so huge.  It is expansive.  And if the universe is this massive, how much larger is the One who created it.  Scripture tells us that God holds the stars in place.  I liken it to a person picking up a grain of sand.  The dichotomy of size is noticeable.  Looking at these galaxies made me feel so small when compared to God.  (This is actually a good place to be).  Yet, the bible also tells me that God knows my every thought.  He has the hair on my head numbered.  He has perfect clarity as to my future.  God is so massively large yet He knows me so intimately.  I am humbled by this reality.  God knows me intimately.  Over the years I have heard numerous people get frustrated at God because of something that has happened in their lives.  They get frustrated at Him.  They accuse Him.  The irony is that these emotions are only possible because He has drawn near to us.  He has made himself known in such an intimate way (the incarnation of Jesus) that we take His greatness for granted.  Yes, I am struck afresh that God’s largeness and nearness are not opposites but beautiful truths that affirm how worthy of worship He is!

Baltimore: A Bottle of Water

I am still thinking about the powerful photo of the boy handing out water to police officers in Baltimore.  In the midst of the rioting, accusations, and bloodshed, this photo symbolized the goodness that can be found in humanity.  The racial tensions prompted most people in that city to spew venom towards various groups.  At some level, it is understandable.  There is a lot of injustice to go around.  Yet, in the midst of the hatred we see a photo of hope.


It is quite striking that the gesture comes from a boy.  Possibly he has yet to be jaded by the hatred in the world; therefore, we still find innocence, a gesture of grace.  As adults, we are layered with baggage (much of it bad) from years of pain and hurt.  Pundits said as much when they described the decades of poverty and oppression in Baltimore.  It was eventually going to come to a head.  It did.  And it does with us.  We can stuff pain and hurt for a while but when it is not dealt with it eventually explodes.  (Note to self:  unresolved hurt never ends well).  Thus, it is not surprising that grace comes from a young boy still young enough to see the goodness of life.

I think we need more of this.  We need to stop presuming guilt in other people and begin to listen.  We need to stop erecting defensive walls and open up our hearts.  We need to look at another person and see ourselves in different circumstances.  We need to remember that peace is stronger than the sword (or in this case tear gas or molotov cocktails).  I don’t see how burning down a CVS or engaging in a rough ride accomplishes anything.  I do see how the offer of water does.  One divides; the other unites.  One fosters bitterness; the other reconciliation.

I tried to find out some facts about this boy.  Did he have good parents?  What prompted his actions?  Clearly, he has had some excellent role models in his life.  He learned kindness from someone.  It definitely took courage as he would have had no idea the response he would receive.  In some respects, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that he chose to be different.  Rather than be sucked into a mob mentality of anger, he extended love.

Oh, I think we all need a little more of this.  We need love that displays itself in simply ways.  Imagine the ripple effect if everyone chose to turn the other cheek.  Imagine the goodness that would be nurtured in humanity if we became like this little boy and offered an olive branch in the form of water.  What if we smiled instead of scorned the next time we see the person who hurt us.

It reminds me of the words of Christ in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”   There is something beautiful about a child who can inspire others.  There is innocence.  There is spontaneous kindness.  There is immediate forgiveness.  There is a trusting faith.

When you hear about the problem of race in America, there is a lot of talk about education.  We need to grow up.  We need to mature.  We need to be enlightened.  We need to get together and talk about our differences.  Yes, I agree with all of this.  Yet, maybe we also need to grow down by becoming more like a young boy full of hope and love.