The Phil Files

Musings & messages on everyday worship, Jesus, and the stuff of life.

Archive for the ‘Sunday Leftovers’ Category

Bridges of Grace

without comments

Here’s a fun fact that you verify: there are around 50,000 public bridges in the state of Texas — and that is not counting private bridges. There are over 600,000 public bridges in the United States.

Don’t believe it, take a little trip of about 150 miles and try to count them. Bridges cross culverts and canyons, railroads and rivers, inlets and dry creek beds, dips in the terrain and swamps along the coast, underpasses and undulations. Bridges are everywhere. Yet, bridges are often unnoticed, under-appreciated, and often under-maintained.

Bottom line: Bridges take us from where we are to where we need to go! Thankfully, they are nearly everywhere and nearly always work for us.

What got me thinking about bridges is Samuel. Samuel, like most of our bridges, often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated. He is one of the greatest leaders in the Bible. He bridges the distance from the chaos of the Judges to the glory of King David’s reign. Without him there would have been no King David … and no Jesus!

But Samuel is simply one of many of God’s bridges between his grace and the people who need. Of course Jesus is the greatest bridge between us God — a bridge we celebrate in communion and share in when we confess Christ and are baptized.

But not all of the bridges between God’s grace and people who need it are huge bridges, like Samuel or Jesus. On most of our road trips, we cross very few huge bridges. Yet, without all the small bridges, the road would impassible, or at least much more difficult to travel. That’s where we come into the picture in God’s story. God has called us — you and me — to be bridges, too! There are people all around us that need the Father’s grace. And God is asking us to be that bridge for those people He has placed in our lives who need to experience his grace.

So take a day this week, or least part of the day, and keep track of all the people God brings into you life and realize that — just like all the bridges on all those road trips that you never noticed but know are vital — you are vital to that person’s journey to the grace of God!


We often cross ’em without noticing them.


We become one because we notice the people in our lives and choose to bring God’s grace by what we say, by how we act, and by who we are.

Bridges of grace.

Written by phil

November 4th, 2012 at 7:22 am

Playing it safe?

with 2 comments

This week’s article, “The Power to Risk,” furnishes the background for this post. I would encourage you to read the article and please, I’d love to get your input into this discussion.

So frequently, our first reaction to anything that calls for risk in churchland is to pull out the old and often repeated maxim: “I’d rather be safe than sorry.” This maxim — or more accurately, this excuse — places anything new into the spiritually questionable category. Little by little, this mentality can so pervade a group that it gets to the point that it are afraid of doing anything for fear it might mess something up. The group gets so afraid of messing up, that it ends up doing nothing and thinking that it should be should be rewarded for simply existing. The Master, however, in Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30, makes clear that the those who use this “play it safe” mentality with what God’s has entrusted to them are “evil and lazy.”

I love this Frances Chan piece on this principle that dramatically brings home the foolishness of the “play it safe” mentality:

So what are you called by Jesus to risk for the Kingdom? Have you thought about it? I would love for you to put down some specific things for you to risk for the Lord. (There are questions that follow the very end of this post to help you consider these things.

And as you try to discover that one calling Jesus is challenging you to embrace, view this sarcastic piece written to make us laugh and maybe get a little bit angry as we peer into a community called  Bubble Creek Canyon. We would probably feel spiritually protected here, but I am not sure how much good we would be able to do for the Kingdom.

LIFE Questions to Consider:

Why do you think so many Bible-believing followers of Jesus approach life and their discipleship with the idea, “I would rather be safe than sorry.”

Read the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 and discuss the following questions:

  • Is the theme of this parable using our talents?
  • Look at verses 18 and verses 24-30: what was the problem with this servant?

  • How did his view of God effect his decision to just bury his “bag of gold” (his talent)?

  • How did this servant practice the “better safe than sorry” principle in his use of what the master entrusted to him?

  • What was the verdict of the master on this servant and why?

Jesus called His followers to be His witnesses – to tell all that He had done in their lives and in His ministry – to the whole world (Acts 1:8).

  • Why do you think it is so hard for folks to “witness” to what Christ has done in their lives today?

  • When is the last time you heard a follower of Jesus say, “We cannot help but speak of what we have seen and heard”? (cf. Acts 4:18-20)

Do you think that most of Jesus’ modern followers’ inability to witness to Him is tied to their unwillingness to risk for Him and need His presence in their lives?

What promises about Jesus’ presence in our lives can you remember and what are they tied to in our lives? (Here are so examples to get you started:)

  • Matthew 28:18-20
  • Hebrews 13:5-6
  • Romans 8:32-39
  • Matthew 25:31-46

Written by phil

April 19th, 2009 at 11:48 pm

Broken Dirt

with 3 comments

You study and prepare, thinking you have done all you can do and think all that you can think, and then you are surprised! It can be a question at a presentation or a question during a test or a question in the doc’s office. Or, you can get up each week and try to speak God’s message to folks seeking to be God’s people and you get surprised by what comes out of your own mouth – stuff that isn’t in your notes.

Sometimes, unfortunately, you think, “Ouch! I wish I hadn’t said that, somebody is going to pulverize me over lunch for it!”

Other times, with great joy and surprise, you think, “Wow! I wish I had thought of what I just said. That’s so good I’d like to stop and take notes.”

This past Sunday, I had a bit of both. It would be stupid (yes, I know I am not supposed to use that word around kids, but sometimes is the perfect sounding word) to repeat any of the “Ouch!” comments. But I’d like to share — if with no one but myself — the “Wow!” comments. These latter comments are not things I’m not smart enough to think up. I hope they were the product of trying to deliver God’s message, listening to the Spirit, faithful preparation, and the hearts of the people hearing that message and helping shape it as it is delivered.

While the first statement felt like an “Ouch!” when I said it, the more I thought about it, the more true I believe it is. I said something like, “I know a lot of folks are very nervous about all of this post-modern stuff, but I would like to confess, as one who has grown up a modernist, that our era killed God. We bought into the scientific method, we depended upon what we called ‘rational thought’ and we broke the tie between the earthly and the spiritual. You younger folks, you post-modern folks, have reminded us that we have to account for the spiritual world.”

I know some folks probably didn’t agree with that, or even like it, but the more I’ve pondered it, the more I believe it’s true. Our modernism has split the world into secular and sacred, flesh and spirit. Heresies among followers of Jesus repeatedly have tried to do it. But a whole wave of human culture, now firmly entrenched since the 18th century, has enforced it and chosen the rational over mystery, proof over prayer, and lived in the world of the secular because we felt we could manage it better – because, we claimed, the secular world is tangible, empirical, touchable, solvable, provable, demonstratable, and real.

Bottom line reality is this: we are right earthy folks. We’re made of dirt. One of these days – and I’m not being insensitive here, just honest – all of us are going to be the main attraction at a funeral. People will hopefully say nice things about us. Then they will haul us out to a pretty place with grass, flowers, and trees, drop us in the ground, throw some dirt in our face, and go back to the church house and eat chicken. Some of those folks will hurt like crazy, but the world will go on and part of us will go back to dirt.

But, every part of the living, dying, crying, eating, and all that goes with this earthy existence is spiritual – even the dirt. It is a reminder that God made us out of this stuff and our rebellion broke our world – it’s all broken dirt. And just as we cry out for deliverance, so does the broken creation (read Romans 8:18-25). So every time we are sick or someone dies or there is a natural disaster we are reminded that everything, everything around us is part of the spiritual world in which we live. All of it begs us to seek after God and find Him in our earthiness (Acts 17:24-28).

The amazing thing is that God chose to live in a house of dirt, to wear skin, just like us. That is who Jesus is! And no matter how much folks want to separate the earthy from the spiritual, the secular from the sacred, the matter-of-fact from the mystery, Jesus is the great reminder it goes together. He spoke peace to the winds and the waves and to the woman with an uncontrollable menstrual flow. He made mud out of dirt and spit and put it on a blind guys eyes. He lived in the world of fish, storms, green grass, leprous skin, dry deserts, and rugged mountains. He got hungry, tired, thirsty, and cried – cried real tears for Lazarus, Jerusalem, and the impending Cross. And He did as God – the One who is Spirit!

Which brings me to the other “Wow!” – the other thing I wish I was smart enough to think up before I preached.We prayed the Lord’s prayer and were reminded that the way we deal with our brokenness is to be dependent upon and love God with all that we are and love our neighbor enough to be reconciled through forgiveness. Just as the Lord’s prayer anchors us to God and to our neighbor (Matthew 6:9-13), and just as Jesus taught us the two great commands are loving God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39) , Paul taught the same thing. He said that God was at work in every circumstance to bring about His good in our lives if we love Him and are called according to His purpose – loving others for him (Romans 8:28-29).

I think we all live between the “Ouch!” and the “Wow!” I am so thankful that Jesus came as a God’s great gift of grace and grit, the divine in dirt, to show us the way of grace is not an escape from earthiness, but through it.

Written by phil

March 24th, 2009 at 10:11 am

Posted in BLOGSTUFF,Sunday Leftovers

Tagged with ,


with 3 comments

Okay. Ricky (one of my ministry teammates) challenged a bunch on our leadership team to pray and fast either Monday or Tuesday. So, during my appointed “lunch time” today, I was munching on leadership principles from Numbers. I know, the Old Testament book of Numbers doesn’t sound exotic or life-changing — more like walking through a bunch of sand. But when you dig a little deeper (sorry about the bad pun), there is a lot there to be found.

From good ol’ Moses, the greatest leader ever before Jesus, came some interesting insights.

  • I got a good dose of raising holy hands (wave offering) in relationship to leadership — the laying on of hands and the raising of hands was a key part of placing new leaders before God!
  • I got a large dose of falling on my face before the Lord interceding for the people of God.
  • I got a reprimand on not listening for the voice of God and not being more passionate to live out His clearly stated will.
  • I got a reminder that leaders are going to have to deal with a lot of whining and blaming and complaining and questioning — even from those closest to us.
  • I was blown away by the importance of obeying and responding to the call of God when given the opportunity, or it may not come again in our generation.
  • I saw how negative voices are much more easily heard in a crowd and nay-saying can swamp the vision of God’s people and drown out the promises of God from their hearts even if the clear word of God is declared.

But the one thing that haunts me most, especially as we deal with learning how to communicate God’s truth to post-mod adults and how we help them experience the presence of God in their lives is this:

“‘You said your children would be carried off as plunder.’ Well, I will bring them safely into the land, and they will enjoy what you have despised. But as for you, you will drop dead in this wilderness. And your children will be like shepherds, wandering in the wilderness for forty years. In this way, they will pay for your faithlessness, until the last of you lies dead in the wilderness.” (Numbers 14:31-33 NLT)

I am a boomer. Not proud of it, but it was when God chose for me to be birthed. So as we sit around and complain about the church’s past and we moan about the present and we navel gaze about what pleases us … I fear we do not demonstrate that Jesus is found in action and emotion and service and challenge and …

Enough said. Only 15% of the leadership had the vision in God to act … so the 85%, with the support of the “led,” missed the opportunity and cost their children 40 years of experiencing God’s power and grace! They had to wander around in the sand until all their parent’s fears and faithlessness were buried.

That being said, who suffered most? I say it was the parental generation who never got to see their children experience God for real. Of course those children did experience God for real, it’s just that their parents were buried and gone … under the sand.

Please, dear God, may it not be so of us … of me!

Written by phil

February 10th, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Community Again

with 2 comments

As we have been discussing the homebound, community, and experiencing Jesus, Sharon White sent this poem to me. I appreciate very much her tracking down the author and getting permission for us to share it with you. I believe it’s worth a good look (or listen) since it fits our ongoing discussion so well!

Please Hear What I Am Not Saying
Charles C. Finn

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I’m afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
but don’t be fooled,
for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm and I’m in command
and that I need no one,
but don’t believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance,
if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It’s the only thing that will assure me
of what I can’t assure myself,
that I’m really worth something.
But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
and nothing of what’s everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.

Charles C. Finn
September 1966

Written by phil

January 24th, 2009 at 6:26 pm

Knowing God

with 6 comments

Each of us has a hunger in our soul — sometimes called a “God-shaped” hole — that can only be filled by God Himself. Two now classic books speak to this hunger, Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God and J.I. Packer’s Knowing God.

In my post this week, Drawing Nearer, I begin a several week look at the different ways we can “know” God. Of course, Jesus made the clear the importance of knowing God in the following statement He shared with His closest friends shortly before the agony of the Passion:

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

We will use what I call “Immanuel sayings” from the gospel of Matthew because they tell us four ways for God to reveal Himself to us in Jesus:

Through the story of Scripture with Jesus as a focus (Matthew 1:22-23)
Through radical forgiveness, accountability, fellowship, and worship (Matthew 18:20)
Through loving service to those in need (Matthew 25:40)
Through reaching past barriers and helping others know and live for Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

I would like to challenge you to think through some things and get your comments, especially if you have read the post, to the following questions:

Do you think addictions spring from folks yearning to know God, but trying false ways of doing that and getting trapped by Satan?

What is the biggest difference between knowing about God and actually knowing God?

The term “knowing” is a very intimate term in biblical language (see Genesis 4:1, 17, 25 and Luke 1:34 where the term refers to the intimacy of a husband and wife: modern translations do not keep the metaphorical “knew” but look at the KJV.). Why would the Holy Spirit choose that term to talk about our relationship with God?

How does eternal life hinge on knowing God? (John 17:3)

Written by phil

January 5th, 2009 at 6:09 am