Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Alive Again

For all of you who sit in cubicles, work out of your car, or slave over a hot stove day after day, enjoy this picturesque reminder that God’s handiwork is all around us to quicken our spirits within.  If time and funds allow, try to spend at least a day on a beach yet this summer and be reminded that even the seas declare the glory of God.  I wrote this little poem for my wife’s birthday a few years back, since she grew up in Florida and the coast never failed to awaken her awareness of the One who made her.  Enjoy!

The Beach
by Tim Dommer

At first sight of the blue horizon, 
the smell of the ocean’s salty breezes 
and the sounds of lapping waves 
as they caress the coast:
I am alive again.

Left behind are dreamless days; 
I walk along the contoured sand 
while gritty pathways ‘neath my feet 
remind me of my Father’s love. 
His thoughts toward me 
outnumber every grain. 
I am alive again.

Here it is that I’m a child— 
shoeless on this holy ground. 
I think that nowhere else on earth 
can make me long for heaven’s shores 
quite like this beautiful display. 
I am alive again.          
Confronted by such evidence 
of my unique significance,
I join the symphony
of this vast sanctuary: 
“The seas have lifted up their voice…” 
I raise my hands in newborn wonder. 
I am alive again.  


Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Power of a Moment

Have you ever wondered what you’re going to be when you grow up?  Whether you’re an adult or not, many of us struggle with this question throughout our life.  Part of it is this: as fallen creatures, made in the image of God, we intuitively know we are in process.  But also contributing to our restlessness is an awareness that even while time is marching on, we are prone to devalue or even waste it.  Christian songwriter Chris Rice expressed it this way:

What am I gonna be when I grow up?
How am I gonna make my mark in history?
And what are they gonna write about me when I’m gone?
These are the questions that shape the way I think about what matters
But I have no guarantee of my next heartbeat
And my world’s too big to make a name for myself
And what if no one wants to read about me when I’m gone?
Seems to me that right now’s the only moment that matters.

The chorus of this song, “The Power of a Moment,” went like this:                                                                                                                                                                
You know the number of my days
So come paint Your pictures on the canvas in my head
And come write Your wisdom on my heart
Teach me the power of a moment.

These words suggest that we don’t naturally default to placing a high value on time.  The One who has ordained the number of our days has to teach us to live in the moment.  Left to ourselves, we tend to live as if time will never run out.  Much like the makeup opportunities we have for everything from missed piano lessons to college entrance exams, we assume that we can always do just about anything later.

The prophet Isaiah warned: “Seek the Lord while He may found; call on Him while He is near.” The apostle Paul reiterates this in 2 Corinthians 6:2 “In the time of my favor, I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”  I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor; now is the day of salvation.”  If none of us can really control how much time we have left, then what we can choose to do is make the most of what we have—namely, this moment!  Honestly, we don’t even have the rest of today, tomorrow, or next week guaranteed to us.  I think about a friend I had, in the earlier days of my ministry, who was picnicking with his wife and two young children, suffered an aneurism, and died before he hit the grass under the table.  My point is not to be maudlin or to scare you into action.  It’s to encourage you to maximize each moment God gives you.

Think back to your childhood.  For a moment, don’t reflect on periods of time (your first summer camp experience, your favorite Christmas, the year your parents split up, etc.).  Instead, let your mind lock in to certain specific moments that have really had an impact on you.  For many, if not all, of you, it might be the day you received Christ as your Savior and Lord.  Maybe it was the birth of your first child, or the day you left home.  For others, it could be a historic event, such as the day JFK or Martin Luther King were assassinated, or the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded before our very eyes. 

But what about those moments which seemingly came out of nowhere which not only impacted you but also really shaped who you are today or how you look at life?  I still remember my Aunt Millie cupping my face in her hands and telling me I had “smiling eyes.”  I think I was nine.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.  And yet there was an even more powerful moment in my childhood which left an indelible print on my mind and heart.  It involved my mother and me.  It was not planned.  It was not pretty.  But it was profound. 

Our family of eight lived in a small parsonage (preacher’s home owned by the church) in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  The smallest room in the house, other than the one bathroom, was the kitchen.  It was separated from the dining room by a swinging door.  On one special occasion when we were preparing to have company for dinner, I was helping set the table (don’t think too highly of this action—I’m sure it was conscripted service).  I remember being in a bit of a hurry, and as I rushed into the kitchen for more tableware, I swung the door into my mother, who was standing on the other side holding a bowl of beans.  Like I said, it was not pretty.  Nor was her reaction.  She screamed at me, and I, being the young stud that I was, ran screaming up the stairs to my bedroom.  Soon after, I was summoned back to the kitchen to my mom’s waiting arms for a big hug and an apology for her tirade.  She admitted that it was obvious I was only trying to help.

In truth, I believe that moment was so powerful mainly because her physical gesture of approval was so rare. She had a very difficult time expressing those kinds of tender emotions, having grown up in the home of an abusive, alcoholic father.   And yet in a moment, she decided to swallow her pride and dial into my pain.  In a moment, she modeled the need for even big people to admit their faults to little people.  And she chose to kneel down, make a physical connection, and reassure me of her love, even when time was running out before our guests arrived. 

Are moments powerful? Chris concludes his song with these words:

I get so distracted by my bigger schemes
Show me the importance of the simple things
Like a word, a seed, a thorn, a nail
And a cup of cold water.

Who in your sphere of influence needs an encouraging word from you today?  Who needs a cup of cold water?  Who needs to hear that thorns and nails were endured on their behalf by a loving Savior?  Look around.  Don’t miss…better yet, take full advantage of the power of a moment.            


Monday, July 13, 2015

Even Bert

As a worship pastor who spends much of my time seeking ways to help others discover and express intimacy with God, I have had no shortage of personal experiences from which to draw my own beliefs about such matters.  That He has left me His Word as the compass and authority for my life would be gift enough. But He is not limited to its pages.  At times, He meets me through the words of a hymn or poem, viewing a stunning work of art, or listening to a symphony. Often, He pulls back the curtain and shows off some of His amazing handiwork in nature when I am not even looking for it.  But the revelations of greatest impact that have made me want to know Him more have actually been in listening to His still small voice.  No, I’m not talking about “voices”, lest you begin worrying that the porch light’s on but nobody’s home.  I am referring to those quiet, inner spirit kind of nudgings that God give us through His Spirit, that actually comfort, exhort, and in some cases direct us.  Jesus himself said in John 10: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow Me.”

If God desires intimacy with me, surely it is a living, active, and current thing.  Much, if not most, of my knowledge of Him comes from His Word, and all subsequent “leadings” must agree with that revelation. But His ability to communicate with me is not limited to that collection of dogma, family history, and love letters.  In other words, He still wants to connect with me moment by moment…by His Spirit.  But this form of intimacy takes time to develop.  Like any other close relationship, time is of the essence. 

Describing what he calls “The Cycle of Intimacy,” Wayne Gordon, a pastor of an outreach ministry in urban Chicago says this:  “Knowing God is a process that can no more be exhausted than the exploration of the universe.  There is always another blazing aspect to discover in God.”  He speaks of the cycle of intimacy with God as outlined in John 14:23: ‘If anyone loves me, He will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”

Here, then, is the cycle:

1. The more we get to know God personally, scripturally, as He really is, the more we will fall in love with Him.

2. The more we fall in love with Him, the more we will want to hear His voice, to please Him with our lives, and surrender more of ourselves to His love and power.

3. The more we walk in obedience, the more God will make Himself known to us and manifest His presence in our lives.

Notice I didn’t say, the more we obey, the more He will love us.  That is simply not possible, for God is love.  But with listening and obeying will come intimacy…intimacy with the living God.

While I could share vast numbers of examples in my life where my response to God’s voice was all too passive and impotent, I do recall learning a valuable lesson from God about this cycle of intimacy when I encountered a man named Bert.  Bert was a crusty old curmudgeon I happened to be visiting in the hospital several years ago in Chicago.  I was serving a church there as the pastor’s assistant, and as luck would have it, when the pastor left town things often happened that I was not equipped to handle.  Not in the flesh, anyway. On one such occasion,  I was called to Bert’s bedside by his daughter, who, knowing he was near death, asked that I come pray for him.

Bert was not a believer, mind you, at least not to my knowledge.  He wasn’t a church goer—not of our church or any other.  He wasn’t even a nice man.  He had few friends, his family had all but disowned him, and on a previous visit, he had told me he wanted to kill the doctors who he blamed for his wife’s recent death.  As I walked into his room that afternoon, I was struck by my utter lack of qualifications to help this situation or bring any comfort to anyone.  I was also struck by the fact that there was no one there to comfort, for there lay Bert…alone, in a coma, the death rattle from his advanced emphysema growing increasingly slower and weaker. 

And then it happened.  As clearly as anything has ever been communicated to me, God revealed to me that Bert was not beyond redemption, that before he slipped into eternity he needed to experience God’s unconditional favor, and that he had sent me to be the messenger.  But I would not get off with merely reading aloud a few scriptures.  No, the Lord wanted me to literally get up on Bert’s bed and hold him in my arms and just say over and over, ‘God loves you, Bert, He will forgive you, Bert.  Trust Jesus, Bert.’

Of course, then the dialogue began, “God!  What if someone walks in?  Or worse yet, what if Bert wakes up?!”  Despite the protests, I knew what I had to do.  As I lay there hugging and loving this crusty, rattling old man, I learned a new depth of God’s unconditional love for me, for all of mankind. If His pursuit of me, of us is that strong, that He will send someone to our deathbed so that we might know and experience His embrace to the end, what manner of love is this? 

In my experience with Bert, loving God merely meant taking the risk of looking a little silly.  But when I laid him to rest three days later before a grand total of six mourners, I longed for more opportunities to experience this wonderful God.  Through His Spirit, God had revealed Himself to me in a way that caused me to love Him more and want to go deeper with Him. 

Our God wants to come close, and not just to hug, but to heal. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” The offer is to the whole world.  Even folks like Bert.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

True Freedom—Nothing but the Truth!

Without question, Americans are never more dialed into the subject of freedom than on the Fourth of July.  We talk about it, sing about it, consume mass quantities of food to commemorate it, and, as a nation, hit the collective pause button to celebrate one of our greatest attributes.  We are free…and we want the whole world to know it.  Accompanied with fireworks, parades, big concert events, and as much noise as we can generate, we pound our national chest, so to speak, and declare to the global community that we are different.

Most of us can tick off rather quickly a laundry list of freedoms we enjoy, including speech, religion, assembly, the right to keep and bear arms, a free press, etc.  Not a bad starter kit for any nation. Ours is the land of opportunity, we say.  And once again we affirm our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  But what is it that makes us free, and more importantly, what will keep us free?  Many would argue that the foundational tenets that helped construct such a nation are no longer commonly shared. They would contend that the gap grows greater between the original vision of our forefathers and what we have become: an emerging society of individualists with an ever—increasing demand for personal rights. We the people has become Me the person.  

Many of the statesmen who were “in on the ground floor” believed freedom to be 
God-given and that an acknowledgement of this fact was critical to our nation’s survival. Those “voices” are now being drowned out by cries for personal liberty at any cost, devoid of any absolute moorings.

Listen to just a few of those early patriots:

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.

Patrick Henry

God who gave us life gave us liberty.  And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure 
when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?  That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.

Thomas Jefferson

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity… to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” 

James Madison

God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.

Benjamin Franklin

The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained.

George Washington

We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.

 Samuel Adams (at the signing of the Declaration of Independence)

We recognize no Sovereign but God, and no King but Jesus!

 John Adams and John Hancock, Founding Fathers

The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth.

George Mason

The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effective means of limiting Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.

Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

For all their careful engineering of a lasting union, it is clear that these architects, at least, could not conceive of such liberty apart from that nation being under God.  For anyone wishing to challenge this, merely consider the inscriptions on many public buildings and government institutions dating back to the country’s beginnings.  References to the Bible—Old and New Testament—abound.  And yet some examples of such scripture usage are taken clearly out of context.  It reminds me of a church in the Midwest which posted scripture quotations above the entrances to its many departments.  I’m sure with tongue planted firmly in cheek, they had chosen this verse for over the doors of the nursery: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”  1 Corinthians 15:51

I remember a Bible quote from the gospel of John on the main building of the University of Texas years ago while attending college in Austin.  It said simply, “YE SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH AND THE TRUTH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.”  My initial reaction was, “cool, a Bible passage on a state university building.”  But it only took me a moment to realize that it had been lifted significantly out of context to imply that knowledge, learning, education—that kind of truth—was the key to freedom.  In fact, the verse that was quoted was from John 8:32. 

In certain translations, that passage actually begins with the word thenThen ye shall know the truth…  Dropping the word then was not a small detail.  Usually, a phrase beginning with the word then is preceded by a condition, starting with a word like if or when.  And in this case the if is a biggie.  Verse 31 of John reads: “If you continue in my Word (or hold to my teaching), you are my disciples indeed.  It is followed by the famous [then] “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

Four verses later, Jesus makes another audacious statement. “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”  Free indeed?  This would suggest a type of freedom which isn’t real freedom. How can He make such a statement?  The answer is simple. He is not just a truth-talker. He is truth.  Later in John’s gospel, Jesus made this claim: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  What is He saying?  Jesus=Truth=True Freedom.  We have two choices:

Receive Him.  Trust Him.  Follow Him.  Know freedom. 
Reject Him.  Trust yourself.  Follow anyone else.  No freedom.

Those responsible for inscribing a verse from John’s gospel over the entrance of a public university chose to omit other key verses which would make its meaning clear.  Maybe they had a limited budget and could only afford so many letters.  Maybe there wasn’t enough space for more verses. Or maybe they chose to take advantage of a respected holy book to add weight to their own ideology, and purposefully left out what the one being quoted really meant to say?  Think about it.  What is more audacious than to selectively choose what part of a particular quote we will use simply to perpetuate our own philosophy?  If we are to be a free people, free to think and free to choose, shouldn’t we at least start with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

This fourth of July, let us gratefully acknowledge once again the rare privileges and freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  Let us resolve to leave this great country a better place upon our departing. But let us resist any movement to rewrite our history to make it more closely resemble our current definition of freedom.  The Truth, indeed, will make us free.” Nothing but the Truth. And you know His name.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Monday, June 29, 2015

A failure to communicate…

It was one of the most memorable lines from a classic Hollywood movie called, Cool Hand Luke, starring the legendary Paul Newman.  “What we have here, gentlemen, is a failure to communicate.”  The irony is that the line was delivered by a cruel, stubborn prison guard who didn’t lack for communication at all, but for basic human empathy and compassion. 
Sometimes our inability to communicate can take on almost comic overtones. Consider these poorly worded signs in
various locations, attempting to be helpful:

In a Laundromat:

In an office:

In an office:   

Outside a secondhand shop:

Spotted in a safari park:
ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR. (a little punctuation wouldn’t have hurt)

Seen during a conference:

Notice in a farmer's field:

Message on a leaflet:

On a repair shop door:

These actual miscommunications remind me of the time I was serving a church in Dallas which posted a large (huge, really) banner outside on a busy highway announcing our upcoming Christmas Eve services.  Included on the advertisement was the enticing but unfortunately misspelled byline: Special Children’s Massage.  Imagine my horror when I drove past the church shortly after it was posted and realized our mistake.  That can happen in one-way communication, especially when one fails to proofread!

Unlike one-way communication, two-way communication actually involves listening as well as voicing our ideas and values. And not just listening with our auditory sensors to another’s words.  It’s reading a person’s body language, listening for voice inflection, observing facial expressions, watching for heightened emotion or passion.  This is why so many current forms of communication fall short of really connecting with another person and their points of view.  Think of just a few: 

  • a text message
  • a voice mail message
  • a posted announcement on Facebook, twitter, or on a public bulletin board,
  • an email blast,
  • a zealous “prophet” booming TURN OR BURN” into his bullhorn on a crowded street or from a moving vehicle),
  • a letter to the editor of a local newspaper

I find it almost sad that people can often boast of hundreds of friends on Facebook or twitter and yet lack even one true friend of the heart.  Maybe it’s because we have come to rely too heavily on technology to feel connected, and have lost some of the basic elements required for true communication. 

I try to imagine how much Jesus would rely on technology today if we were physically among us.  I think he was really big on connection.  Lots of listening, touching, eye contact, making time for others.  I’m not sure his personal brand of ministry would have allowed for substituting non-stop tweeting or texting for genuine one-on-one conversation.  Not to say it never happens in these newer forms.  Just proposing that we not neglect the precious gift of “in-person” human interaction in favor of merely growing a network of contacts.

Who in your life today needs you to be literally present with them, listening to them and caring about them just as they are?  You can ‘like’ them on facebook, or love them in person. Your choice.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Caution:  Possible Memories Just Ahead (reprinted)

Ah, the family vacation.  Take any set of humans out of their normal habitat for an extended period of time, drop them into a strange, foreign land, and, well, stuff happens.  On the way there, on the way back, and everywhere in between, stuff happens.  You know, stuff like leaving one of the kids back at a gas station, because you forgot to count all six of them before departing.  Or having to shorten an extended camping trip because one of the little guys gets the mumps.  But in truth, these special times, these “parentheses” in our lives often become some of the richest treasures in our memory bank.

For me, it was my first trip to Six Flags over Texas, which, as a ten year old, seemed like another universe from my normal life.  Talk about sensory overload.  Terrifying roller coasters and log rides, pulsating music, scenic boat excursions, spending the day on a constant sugar high—what’s not to like? But in looking back, what really made it extraordinary was that my mom and dad actually seemed relaxed and, as a family, we were all focused on just having fun.  Removed from all the usual stress and routine of life, their personalities seemed to morph before my very eyes.  Who were these people, and what had they done with my parents?

In a way, it’s kind of sad that as a culture we are so reliant on “getting away” to slow down, to relax, and to focus on the things and people that really mean the most to us.  Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the ability to savor our surroundings and treasure our loved ones in the moment. We say things like “where did the time go?” and “they grow up so fast.”  Truth is, we get so distracted with the urgent that we miss the important.  And before we know it, the kids are grown and gone, and we wonder where did the time go?  Well, in fact, no one stole it.  We gave it away.  To other things… lesser things.  And other people...from someone else’s family.

One of my favorite modern song writers, Chris Rice penned a commentary on this issue a few years back, entitled “Life Means So Much.”

“Life Means So Much”

Every day is a journal page
Every man holds a quill and ink 
And there's plenty of room for writing in 
All we do is believe and think 

So will you compose a curse
Or will today bring the blessing 
Fill the page with rhyming verse 
Or some random sketching

Teach us to count the days 
Teach us to make the days count 
Lead us in better ways
That somehow our souls forgot 
Life means so much 

Every day is a bank account 
And time is our currency
So nobody's rich, nobody's poor 
We get 24 hours each

So how are you gonna spend 
Will you invest, or squander  
Try to get ahead  
Or help someone who's under

Has anybody ever lived who knew the value of a life 
And don't you think giving is all 
What proves the worth of yours and mine

Every day is a gift you've been given
Make the most of the time every minute you're living

I was introduced to this song in a most remarkable way.  A few years ago, my kids surprised my wife and me with a wonderful sampling of photos they had collected or taken over several years.  The video began with our own wedding picture, then each of theirs, and then pictures (for several minutes with accompanying songs) highlighting the early stages of our grandchildren’s lives.  Not posed pictures with hands folded.  These were the true stuff of life.  Swinging in the park.  Blowing bubbles.  Bedtime stories.  Opening Christmas presents.  The last song on this original video was Life Means So Much, and both my wife and I ended up in an emotional puddle!  We were so thankful for the incredible blessing each of our children and grandchildren had and have been in our lives and that these moments had actually been captured on film! 

In truth, every day is a gift we've been given. It takes intentionality to make the most of the time every minute we're living.  It takes making good choices.  Saying yes to some things and no to others.  I think one reason we so freely give our time away to lesser things is pretty simple.  For most of us, our natural default is not to place a high value on time…on now...on today.  Moses prayed in Psalm 90 for God to “teach us to number our days and to apply our hearts to wisdom.”  Chris Rice simply paraphrased it in the modern vernacular:  “Teach us to count the days; teach us to make the days count .”       

The One who has ordained the number of our days has to teach us to live in the moment.  Left to ourselves, we tend to live as if time will never run out.  Much like the makeup opportunities we have for everything from missed piano lessons to college entrance exams, we assume that we can always do just about anything later.

As you hopefully look forward to a slower pace in the coming weeks and spending time with those ones most dear to you, also begin now to anticipate creating special memories.  Make these moments less about random sketching as Rice calls it, and more about a kind of rhyming verse, intentionally finding more opportunities for beauty and harmony in your own little world.  Believe me, those whom you love the most will not soon forget it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

PONDERISMS (adapted)

If you agree that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, why not ruminate on a few of these for a while.  You may find yourself using brain cells you didn’t even know you had.  On the other hand, I hope nothing seizes up on you…

I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned that most people die of natural causes.

Gardening Rule:  When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.

The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.

Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.

All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, 
but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out?"

If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?

Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!

If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that Acme stuff, 
why didn't he just buy dinner?

If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, 
then what is baby oil made from?

Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

Does pushing the elevator button more than once make it arrive faster?

Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, 
but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

Now you have to admit, if you spend a lot of time pondering these things, you either are taking life way too seriously or you are just of a superior intellect, and most of us can’t relate on your level. But either way, because this ministry is trying to be a “safe place” for all types, we’re going to keep you.  Now that’s something to really ponder.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             tad