4 Threads

A few weeks ago, a class here at church posed some questions about Heaven, the biblical idea of the new creation and how everything “fits” together. I took four (of the many) connected themes in Scripture and traced them from beginning to end. Though this is far from being an exhaustive treatment of the subject, and people far more intelligent than I am have written volumes on such things, it serves as a basic outline for a few concepts that are helpful in providing an overall context.

“The holy space, the realm of life, is where God’s presence dwells with his people and his glory is seen.”

Creation / Eden 

·         Holy space

Genesis 2:1-4 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

(Though God is infinite and omnipresent, the expression of his presence is seen in a special, localized way in creation and in a more personal way in the garden of Eden. The creation is seen as God’s “temple” with Eden being the immediate, “face-to-face place” of God’s presence – The Most Holy Place upon the holy, cosmic temple-mountain. cf. Ezekiel 28:13–14)

·         Realm of life

Genesis 1:20-25 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

(God forms, then fills. He spends the first few days of creation forming the universe, then fills it with life. So too, God first forms man, then fills him with life.)

Genesis 2:7-9 …Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

·         God’s presence

Genesis 2:8, 15 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed…15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Genesis 3:8a And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…

(Not only is God’s presence in the garden, but the image of God dwells in the garden in humanity as humans are made in his image.) 

·         God’s glory

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 148:3-4 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! 4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

God’s original intent for humanity: To be image-bearing royal priests of the one, true God…

The mandate to spread God’s glory by spreading God’s image across creation – Genesis 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Isaiah 43:6-7 “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

(This mandate involves both “forming and filling” creation (subdue and be fruitful), just as God himself has formed and filled creation in the first 7 days. This covenant of creation found in Genesis 1:26-28 highlights the blessing, the land and the offspring/seed. This pattern is found in the covenants with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and Noah (Genesis 9:1-7) as well.)

The responsibility to tend and keep the Garden, the holy space where God dwells – Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

(Same terminology of serving and tending is used later in the Bible for the duties of priests in the tabernacle/temple. cf. Exodus 27:21) 

Genesis 2:25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Sin brought…

· Separation from the holy space.

Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

(Humanity has been driven from the holy space. They have been removed from the temple of God because of sin. All humanity has been exiled from God’s presence through Adam.)

Romans 8:19-22 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

· Separation from the realm of life.

Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned–

· Fear of God’s presence.

Genesis 3:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. … 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Exodus 33:20-23 “But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

· Shame upon those made in the image of God for his glory.

Genesis 3:7-8, 10 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. … 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

(Shame exists both before other humans and before God – Our horizontal and vertical relationships are damaged.)

Mount Sinai

·         Holy space

Exodus 19:5-6 “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

(God is reclaiming the role of humanity as royal priests for himself. Exodus 25-31 gives the specific instructions for the building of the tabernacle and how God must be approached in worship. There, on Mount Sinai, God is establishing a way that the holy space might be reentered by humanity though a mediator. From the immediate presence of God in Eden to the mediated presence of God.)

·         The realm of life is found with God, but Sinai highlights the continued separation due to sin.

Exodus 19:12-13 “And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”

Exodus 19:10-14 The LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments.

Though the law holds out the promise of life, for sinful humanity it brings only the knowledge of sin and the penalty of death for the failure to keep God’s absolute demands perfectly. – Leviticus 18:5 You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.

Deuteronomy 5:33 You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.

Deuteronomy 30:20 “Loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

Galatians 3:12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”

Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Galatians 3:21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

·         Like the response of Adam and Eve in the garden, so too the people of Israel recoil at the holiness of God’s presence.

Exodus 20:18-21 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

(Yet Moses drew near to God’s presence as the mediator / intercessor / representative for the people. His very name, Moses, means “drawn out.” God used the “drawn out” one to draw out his people from bondage; God used the “drawn out” one to “draw near.”) 

 ·         God’s glory is seen in his frightening presence.

Exodus 19:16-20 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Exodus 24:16-17 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel.

Hebrews 12:18-29 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

The Land / Tabernacle / Temple

·         Holy space

The land of Canaan itself graciously given by God as a means to experience him personally. –Genesis 12:7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (see also Deuteronomy 9:4-6)

Exodus 15:13, 17 “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. … 17 You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established.”

(Every exile from the land experienced by the nation of Israel is a callback to the original exile of humanity from Eden, and every return to the land points toward the ultimate, final restoration at the time of the new creation. Also, moving eastward is movement from the presence of God: Cain – Genesis 4:16, Lot – Genesis 13:11, Tower of Babel – Genesis 11, Glory of God leaves Temple – Ezekiel 10:18-19, Son of Man returns from east – Matthew 24:27.)

The camp of Israel – Deuteronomy 23:14 Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.

The Tabernacle and Temple – Numbers 18:7 “And you and your sons with you shall guard your priesthood for all that concerns the altar and that is within the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood as a gift, and any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Priests tended and served: see also Leviticus 8:5; Numbers 3:7-8;4:23-26. cf. Genesis 2:15 for same idea in the garden.)

(Temples were consecrated over a 7-day period: Leviticus 8:33-35; 1 Kings 8:2, 8:65Ezekiel 43:25-27.)

The Most Holy Place (perfectly cubic) – 1 Kings 6:20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar.

Veil leading to The Most Holy Place was woven with images of cherubim – Exodus 26:1 (cf. 26:31) “Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them.”

The Most Holy Place in the Temple contained two massive carved cherubim – 2 Chronicles 3:10-13 In the Most Holy Place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid them with gold. 11 The wings of the cherubim together extended twenty cubits: one wing of the one, of five cubits, touched the wall of the house, and its other wing, of five cubits, touched the wing of the other cherub; 12 and of this cherub, one wing, of five cubits, touched the wall of the house, and the other wing, also of five cubits, was joined to the wing of the first cherub. 13 The wings of these cherubim extended twenty cubits. The cherubim stood on their feet, facing the nave.

The lid of the Ark of the Covenant had cherubim of gold atop it – Exodus 25:18-20 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end. Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.

(Exodus 26:33; Leviticus 16:2. The cherubim guarded the entrance into the presence of God – just as the cherubim stood guard at the entrance to Eden on the east.) 

The entrance to The Most Holy Place faced east – Exodus 27:13 The breadth of the court on the front to the east shall be fifty cubits. (cf. Genesis 3:24)

(When the priest entered The Most Holy Place, he was acting as the mediator / intercessor/ representative for the people of God as he reentered the earthly throne room of God / reentering Eden. Also, moving eastward is movement from the provision, protection and presence of God. Cain – Genesis 4:16, Lot – Genesis 13:11, Tower of Babel – Genesis 11, Glory of God leaves Temple and departs for the east – Ezekiel 10:18-19, Son of Man returns from east – Matthew 24:27, Mount of Olives is to the east of the Temple – Zechariah 14:4)

·         Realm of life

Words of life (in the law) were in the Ark – Deuteronomy 32:46-47 He said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.”

Tree of life represented by the lampstand in The Holy Place – Exodus 25:31-40 “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it…”

(The area outside the camp was seen as the realm of death as it was removed from the presence of God. Again, a callback to being exiled from Eden…)

Remainders of sacrifices were taken outside the tabernacle and the camp – Leviticus 4:12 All the rest of the bull–he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.

The ceremonially unclean were placed outside the camp – Numbers 5:1-4 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the people of Israel that they put out of the camp everyone who is leprous or has a discharge and everyone who is unclean through contact with the dead. 3 You shall put out both male and female, putting them outside the camp, that they may not defile their camp, in the midst of which I dwell.” 4 And the people of Israel did so, and put them outside the camp; as the LORD said to Moses, so the people of Israel did.

Capital punishment took place outside the camp – Numbers 15:32-36 While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. 34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. 35 And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.

The scapegoat was taken outside the camp and left – Leviticus 16:10, 26 …But the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…26 And he who lets the goat go to Azazel shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp.

·         God’s presence

Leviticus 26:11-12 “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”

Exodus 25:8 “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.”

Exodus 29:45 “I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.”

1 Kings 6:13 “And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”

·         God’s glory

Visible manifestation of the glory of God (the glory cloud) filled the tabernacle – Exodus 40:34-35 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Visible manifestation of the glory of God (the glory cloud) filled the temple – 1 Kings 8:10-11And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.

Psalm 26:8 O LORD, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.


·         The holy “space” in human form

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt [lit. “tabernacled”] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 2:18-22 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

·         The only entrance to the realm of life, as Jesus is life

John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 5:21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5)

1 Corinthians 15:45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

(The temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4) is a callback to the temptation in the garden. Whereas the first Adam failed in the garden, the last Adam succeeds in the wilderness in resisting Satan. Luke places the temptation immediately following the genealogy of Jesus and the mention of Adam. See “son of God” usage in Luke 3:38-4:1-3)

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”

1 John 5:11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

·         God’s presence in the Incarnation

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt[lit. “tabernacled”] among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Jesus is fully God and fully human. (cf. Colossians 1:19, 2:9; John 8:58, 10:30)

John 1:33 “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (Visible manifestation of the coming of the Holy Spirit; compare to the glory cloud in the tabernacle/temple.)

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

·         God’s glory both concealed and revealed

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Was concealed willingly while Jesus was in the flesh – Philippians 2:5-7 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Revealed on the Mountain of Transfiguration – Luke 9:28-36 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

2 Peter 1:16-18 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Hebrews 1:3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…

On the Cross…

·         The Holy One became accursed.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Galatians 3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

(John 20:12 – Possible callback to the cherubim on the veil/over the Ark.)

·         The realm of life gave way to the realm of death.

Philippians 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Hebrews 13:11-13 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (cf. Leviticus 4:12)

John 10:18 “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

·         His presence was rejected by the people, and his fellowship with the Father was broken.

John 1:10-11 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.

Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

At the death of Jesus, the temple veil (with the cherubim woven into it) was torn – believers given access to the Most Holy Place as well as God “having access” to his people. – Matthew 27:50-51 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

·         God’s glory was displayed through the shame and humiliation.

Isaiah 53:2-3 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Hebrews 12:2 Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Galatians 6:14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

The Church

·         Holy space

Jesus prays that his followers would be set apart from the world by truth – John 17:14-19 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

1 Peter 2:5,9 You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (cf. Exodus 19:5-6; Romans 15:16; Revelation 1:6; 5:10)

Ephesians 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Galatians 6:15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

God begins his work of universal restoration in his people – 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (cf. James 1:18, Romans 8:19-23)

·         Realm of life

The Church proclaims the Gospel which brings eternal life – Acts 5:20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

Life in Christ requires death to self – 2 Corinthians 4:11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Christ lives his life through his disciples – Romans 6:4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Colossians 3:3-4 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Mortality will be consumed by eternal life – 2 Corinthians 5:4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

1 Corinthians 15:21-24 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power…

·         God’s presence

Ephesians 1:22-23 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

John 14:23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

Believers are filled with the Holy Spirit just as the tabernacle and temple were filled with the presence of God – Acts 2:1-4 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Hebrews 10:19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…

1 Corinthians 3:1 6-17 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Ephesians 3:17a So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…

Romans 8:23-25 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

·         God’s glory

The Church is given the mandate to go and spread the image of Christ though redeemed humanity as well as establishing “outposts of Eden” across creation – Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

John 17:10 “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.”

John 17:22 “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…”

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Ephesians 3:21 To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

New Creation

·         Holy space

(In the Millennium, there will be a temple – Ezekiel 40:6; Revelation 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 15:5-8, 15 – but at the arrival of the New Jerusalem, there is no physical structure of a temple.) 

Revelation 21:22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.

Isaiah 52:1 Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.

All things will be holy to the LORD – Zechariah14:20-21 And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. 21 And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day.

Isaiah 65:17-18 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.”

Revelation 21:27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

The new Jerusalem itself is The Most Holy Place – Revelation 21:15-17 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. (Perfectly cubic, just as The Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle/Temple.)

·         Realm of life

Revelation 2:7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ‘To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’”

Revelation 7:17 “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The river flowing from the eastern side of Temple will give life to the land downstream – Ezekiel 47:1-9 Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. 2 Then he brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side. 3 Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep. 4 Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was waist-deep. 5 Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. 6 And he said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. 9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.”

Revelation 22:1-3 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

Revelation 21:4-6 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

·         God’s presence

Zechariah 2:10-11 “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. 11 And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.”

Leviticus 26:11-12 “I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.”

Ezekiel 37:27 “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place [lit. the tabernacle] of God is with man. He will dwell [lit. tabernacle] with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” (“Dwell” in 21:3 is the same verb used in John 1:14 – “to pitch a tent / to tabernacle”)

Ezekiel 43:1-6 Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. 2 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. 3 And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. 4 As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, 5 the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. 6 While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple,

Revelation 22:1-4 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

Continual, immediate access to God – (contrast with one entrance to The Most Holy Place in the physical Temple) – Revelation 21:12-14 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed– 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Revelation 21:25 …And its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.

Revelation 22:1-5 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Ezekiel 48:35b And the name of the city from that time on shall be, “The LORD Is There.”

1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

·         God’s glory

Revelation 4:9 And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever…

Revelation 7:12 …Saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

God displays his glory through both his saving work… – Revelation 5:11-12 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

…And his judging work – Revelation 14:17 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

Psalm 76:10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.

Revelation 19:1-3 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, 2 for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” 3 Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” (cf. Isaiah 24-26)

Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Revelation 21:26-27 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Numbers 14:21 “But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD…”

Habakkuk 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Throwing the Game

The sinking sun had just begun to lay the first, faint brushstrokes of what would be a rose-hued masterpiece across the sky when I crossed the lawn and settled down in an Adirondack chair while waiting for the ringing of the triangle dinner bell. A few months earlier, an invitation was extended to a number of ministry leaders whose churches support Compassion International. The offer was to visit a ranch in Wyoming operated by the Refuge Foundation. The purpose of the trip was simple: to relax, recharge, recalibrate and reconnect with God. We spent days wading trout streams, riding horses along mountain ridges and enjoying prayer times, long walks and deep conversations that stretched well into the night around the firepit. In 17 years of full-time ministry, I can say that time was the most needed and the most valuable week I spent anywhere doing anything. One of our members said to me, “We should send you out there every year. You came back more alive than I have ever seen you.” My wife agreed.

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Hope Below the Surface


They are called “hunger stones.”

Lying in certain Central European riverbeds, large stones bear messages chiseled upon them hundreds of years ago…

“If you see me, weep.”

“If you will again see this stone, so you will weep, so shallow was the water in the year 1417.”

“We cried – We cry – And you will cry.” Continue reading

Muddy Water and Changed Hearts

We often miss what we need most because we refuse to see past the surface concerns of our lives. God will orchestrate events and allow pressures to come in order to expose the deeper issues and give us a clearer view of ourselves and our greatest need. Take the Old Testament character Naaman for instance (2 Kings 5:1-14).

Naaman was a great warrior and was held in high esteem, yet he suffered from leprosy. Hearing that a healing by the prophet Elisha might be possible, Naaman made a trip laden with riches to pay for a miracle. Upon arriving, Elisha sent a servant out with the message that Naaman should go wash seven times in the Jordan River, often-muddy and creek-like, for his healing. Continue reading

The 33 Most-Valuable Leadership Lessons I Have Learned (Thus Far)

I sat in a room with a group of other leaders at a pastors’ conference. Some carried the unseen scars of many years of ministry; a few still showed a bit of the shine of idealism. The speaker for the breakout session we attended addressed the things we needed to remember in order to make it in the “marathon, not the sprint, of ministry.”

He spoke warmly, sincerely and wisely. His years of ministry experience were on clear display. He encouraged, challenged and comforted us. As I looked around the room, I saw what I have seen so many times in gatherings of pastors: that worn-out facial expression. I couldn’t help but wonder if I looked as tired as the rest of them did.

Later that night in my bed, I stared at the ceiling and thought about what I have learned about being a lead pastor. A recently read article circulated in my mind; it had given a very direct list of things a pastor should know. (You can read the article here.)  A list of my own began to form in my head. 

Having held various church-related ministries at different churches for over a dozen years (and being involved with multiple other ministries for a decade more), there have been many lessons, but if I had to summarize things and convey them concisely to a person stepping into a pastoral or other ministry role, what would I say?

Though I know that the list would grow exponentially if I thought about it for any longer (because I already know many more things I could add), for now, I would give these thoughts as a primer I have gathered from moments in my own life and from watching other leaders in ministry. Some of those leaders showed great leadership, deep wisdom and God-centered motives, and others lived through mistakes that have served as cautionary reminders of our frailty and fallibility.   

So, in no particular order, and as they come to mind, I humbly offer these hard-won lessons. Many times, the people “in the pews” never see “behind the curtain” of church leadership. I know that some of what follows will sound very plain-spoken, and perhaps even overwhelming (or unbelievable) but I have attempted to be as prayerfully transparent as possible in relating the weight of these ideas. Continue reading

An Old Dog, Malibu and the Nobel Prize

She named the dog “Mercedes.”

It’s an unlikely name, given the way he looked and where he was found. But I suppose that the name itself reflects the nature of the gift given. True mercy often runs contrary to the expected, and the greatest acts of grace always smell of scandal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading

Christmas By the Book

“What do you have planned for Christmas?”

Perhaps others have asked you the same question, and maybe your traditions or your schedule have already determined which relatives’ homes will be visited, what meals will be eaten and when gifts will be opened.

Christmas usually is a season of loading the calendar to the brim with activities and logistics. During this past year, plans have been changed and shuffled so much that it is hard to see few “normal” activities at hand. But whether considering a well-defined course of action or a growing uncertainty, we must not forget that God has plans too. In fact, the first Christmas was his perfect plan played out on a cosmic stage. He knew what he was doing then…and he still does now.

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Few, True Disciples

Luke 14:25-27 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

As word of the miracles, the healings and the teachings of Jesus spread, the masses gathered and followed him. The crowds surrounding him grew, and just at the point where most ministry leaders would have been putting structures in place to keep as many followers as possible, we find Jesus repeatedly made statements to separate the “dinner and a show” crowd from the “dying to self” disciples, the entourage from the army and the God-chasers from the cross-bearers.

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Ranch Life

The conversation flowed warmly, until the potential church member looked at me and said rather gravely, “The pastor of the church I attended for many years would visit me at least once every couple of weeks. We would just sit for two or three hours at a time and catch up on what was going on in our lives and what was going on in the life of the church. I really hope that I can expect the same from you.”

Though surprised at the sudden turn, I knew I needed to steer the conversation toward reality.

“Let me ask you a couple of questions,” I said. “How many members attended the church you were a part of?”

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The In-Between

Blind Willie Johnson seemed to know early on that his future lay at the crossroads of two vocations. He built a cigar box guitar for himself when he was only five and told his father that proclaiming the things of God to the masses was his desire. He grew to become a preacher, and yes, a bluesman too. The story goes that, when he was seven, his father beat Willie’s unfaithful stepmother; she took bitter revenge by throwing lye in the young boy’s face, permanently blinding him. Throughout the rest of his life, locked in a darkness fashioned by the fury of others, Willie sang songs of God, redemption and a much better future.

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The Hopes and Fears

You likely have those things that, when they come along, you know that Christmas has arrived. Maybe it is a decoration, a specific food, a particular song, or a certain smell in the air—whatever it may be, when it is present, Christmas is here.

For my brother and me, when we were children, it was “The Wish Book.” My mother would bring home that thick catalog full of nothing but toys. My brother and I would sit on the couch together with the book between us. (Legs touching, mind you. None of the usual “He’s on my side!” or “He’s touching me!” The Wish Book Peace Accord brought a temporary cease-fire to the usual sibling rivalry.) And for hours, we would look, page by page, at all the offerings. Dreaming. Wishing. Anticipating. Christmas is a time of anticipation. It is a time of waiting. It is a time of hope.

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Seasons Change

I have seen more loss, grief and death over the last year than any previous year of ministry. With that in mind, consider what follows as an open letter to all of you I have walked with during these last months and also encouragement to those of you whom I may or may not know personally, but still, my heart is with you…

It’s safe to say that there was time when you did not consider you would feel this way at this moment. You didn’t expect to be grieving. You didn’t expect to feel such loss.

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A Cold Rain and a Killin’ Frost

A frost lay heavy on the ground here this morning. After a longer-than-normal season of blooming plants, short sleeves and green grass, a sudden cold snap arrived. My grandfather would call it a “killin’ frost.” It will likely bring an end to many of the weeds that we combat regularly; ice will clear a field as surely as fire.

Though the seasonal temperatures have begun to drop to the lower ranges, the American church has seen a period of spiritual “hard freezes.” Estimates vary, but the sobering statistics as a whole should not be ignored. 1 in 5 churches may close their doors permanently due to the hardships of COVID-19. 20-30% of those who stopped attending church during the pandemic might not return when in-person services become the norm again. Add to these stressors the heightened negativity and decreasing involvement of some members, and you have a volatile mix at best. Spiritual complacency is more dangerous than a physical virus.

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The Parable of the (Other) Sower

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”  – Matthew 13:3-9

But another sower watched the annual cycle of sowing and reaping with a sense of disappointment and despair. He saw the patches and stretches of soil where the seed would not grow and concluded that something must be done to ensure growth could take place in every place a seed might land. After gathering a team of other innovation-minded sowers, they began to implement targeted solutions to the perceived problem.

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How the Pandemic Panned Out

As the first stay-at-home mandates spread to our little town, I stood in the living room and looked through the blinds at the neighbor’s lawn across the street. On a pole in the yard a new American flag waved slowly in the spring breeze. Sipping my morning coffee (which mere days earlier would have been enjoyed at the office, but now at home), I stared at that flag and thought about how we were all seeing our nation in that way – through slatted sunlight from our couches as we watched a flattened version of reality on our various screens.

Over the passing weeks, our family did the things that became the norm for many of us… 

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A Paper Wasp, a Stoned Messenger and a Redeeming God

Sweet Pea, one of my mom’s horses, looked on with a placid stare as I growled, hissed and spat in the moments after a large, mahogany-colored paper wasp rammed its stinger into my lower eyelid. I was cleaning out the horse’s trough so I could feed her when the dive-bomb attack occurred. It was sudden, unprovoked and, all things considered, a dirty, sucker punch orchestrated in a brain the size of a pinhead. Continue reading

Lost Dogs, Wrecked Trucks and Hidden Stitches 

The massive dust cloud billowed across the highway as the eighteen-wheeler a short distance ahead of me left the road, plowed through the dry dirt and withered grass, crossed the ditch and buried itself in a pile of recently-cut pine trees.

This changed the tone of the Saturday drive.

Looking back, I am thankful for lost dogs who aren’t really lost.

I’ll explain what I mean soon, but back to the wreck… Continue reading

Two Words

By most standards, he blew it.

He seems to have been a bold one — charging ahead, seemingly without concern, the proverbial bull-in-the-china-shop with his own foot firmly in his mouth. Misspeaking was common, his overstepping of bounds was likely expected, and if one knew him, it seems that his generally-brash demeanor would come as no big surprise. Peter was quick to say exactly what was on his mind at any given moment. But then he went too far, even for himself. Continue reading

The Foreword for the Chapters to Come

Over the course of three months, we have seen major changes and upheavals in our world that continue to influence daily life. One thing I keep hearing is the repeated message: “Things can never go back to the way they were before.” Usually, when that statement is made, it is spoken as a negative commentary on all the situations that are filling our feeds and screens currently.

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Justice and Mercy

A writer once compared God to a judge who is sitting on the bench with a condemned sinner before him. As the illustration goes, God looks at this person before him who is lost and says, “I have no choice but to pass sentence upon you. I wish that I could change my mind, but I am bound to my Word.” The sentence is proclaimed, and God tearfully bangs the gavel. The writer related that in situations such as that, God is torn because justice won’t allow him to do what he wants to do; people perish because God holds himself to a standard that he wishes he could change. The only problem with that illustration? It is not a biblical view. God is not at war with himself. God does not regret his standard. God’s mercy and justice are linked without any contradiction.

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Settling Down

Have you noticed how many products you must “shake well” before using? Whether it’s orange juice or stove cleaner, paint or salad dressing, many of our most-common solutions need to be shaken. The reason is simple: the contents settle. When the container is at rest, gravity takes over and the heavier parts of the solution collect on the bottom. A good shaking is needed before use.    

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Just a Scratch

One of my high school biology teachers once took a trip to Australia and told us about a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. Her group went snorkeling and diving around some shelves of coral near the beach. When the group gathered at the end of the afternoon, one of the lifeguards asked, “Did any of you get scratched or scraped by the coral?”

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Righteousness and Justice

God made us in his image. That’s clear from the Bible. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Now because of that special creation, it is understood that we are to live in a way that “images” God himself; we are not God, but we are to represent him as unique image bearers. As one writer put it, “We are more like God than the rest of creation.”

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Beyond Limits

Since God has put his work into your weak hands, look not for long ease here: You must feel the full weight of your calling: a weak man with a strong God.

– Lady Culross to John Livingston

It was a typical, hot, muggy day when my third-grade class held its annual “Olympics.” For an entire week, during the P.E. period, we competed with one another in various events and, for some reason still unclear to me, I signed up for the high jump.

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Divine Alignment

“You know…that vibration isn’t good. When are you going to do something about it?”

I heard that phrase once from someone riding with me in my vehicle. At highway speeds there was a vibration from the right front of my vehicle that annoyed me (and, yes, anyone riding with me), plus the tires were wearing unevenly. I knew that I needed to have the alignment checked and get new tires.

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Breaking with Reality

A friend once told me of an incident near the end of a road trip when returning from Wyoming. He was the only one awake in the car, and he was driving. Somewhere out in the middle of America, in the dead of night, he had an encounter. He told me that as he topped a hill and began the descent, his headlights fell upon (in his words) “a 30-foot tall Grimace.” The resulting conversation went like this:

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Finger Traps and the Ways of God

The first time I laid eyes on one was at a fall carnival when I was six. It was a little, multicolored woven tube in a gift bag I received after a carnival game. My mom showed me how to place my index fingers into the ends of the tube and pull slightly, thus locking them in place. Any effort to extricate my digits by the most-logical means, like pulling them apart, only drew the strips more tightly around my fingers; this is the way the dreaded bamboo finger trap works. I remember trying in vain to free myself as my mother watched bemusedly. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn’t get loose. 

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Playing Hardball

I saw one for the first time when I was in 4th grade. It was a hardball. I know that we usually use the term “hardball” to differentiate a baseball from a softball, but this was no baseball; it was a true hardball. A kid named Chris brought it to school; he was a guy with crew-cut hair and hands permanently stained from playing in red-clay dirt. A group of us were playing tag when Chris showed up with this thing in his hand. “Who wants to play?” he asked. If I remember correctly, we tried to run away; after all, it was a hardball.

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Before Anyone Else

We jockey for position. We desire to be first in line, take first place and sit in the first chair. We do whatever it takes to get ahead of the next person and make ourselves the priority. But then we read Jesus’ words: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). All things necessary for life and every provision will come from him, but to see those needs met by him, we must put him first.

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Give Up Your Ones

A few years ago, during Wednesday night Children’s Ministry activities at a church where I served, I found one of the children sitting in the back of the room away from all the others. Her knees were drawn up tightly to her chest, and tears streaked her face. I walked over to her, got down on my knees and asked her what was wrong. She gave no response except to cry even harder, sobbing with shoulders heaving. I asked her to take a little walk with me. We left the room, went to the water fountain, and in a bit, she calmed enough to speak.

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Shuffling Toward Glory

Australia’s “Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon” was a grueling 544-mile test of endurance. In 1983, as the participants gathered and awaited the starting gun, one runner seemed conspicuously out of place. At 61 years old and dressed in overalls and Wellington rubber boots, the potato farmer named Cliff Young bore little resemblance to his highly athletic, properly dressed and corporately sponsored competitors. Other than rounding up sheep on foot, he had no training in long-distance running. Spectators, officials and other participants laughed at the very idea that this man would even consider facing off against an elite group nearing the boundary of superhuman abilities.   

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Only a Test

During my years of teaching, I gave numerous tests. Some of these tests checked basic understanding: listing verb tenses for a particular word, matching definitions to literary terms and labeling cellular structures on a diagram. But most of the tests pushed the students deeper. During any given unit, I would hammer the application of the knowledge in an effort to show the students how to use the information. Knowing the facts is necessary, but applying those ideas is the source of great power. “We teach you to think better,” I would say. It’s a noble idea, but one met often with yawns and rolled eyes.

Until test time…

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Bush Pilots and Stray Cows

Some of the airstrips we fly into are short, sloped, slippery, wet, grass runways at altitude carved out of the side of mountains towering well above 5000 feet above sea level. Many of them are one-way airstrips; which means that there is an abort point beyond which the only way to avoid becoming a statistic is to somehow get the aircraft onto the prepared surface. Many that are not built on slopes are surrounded by tall trees of the dense jungle and are soft, wet and muddy due to frequent heavy rains.

                                                 -Randy Smyth (bush pilot in Papua New Guinea)

Bush pilots who fly into remote locations to deliver supplies and transport missionaries to the field risk life and limb on a daily basis. The pilots relate that the landing is the hardest part. Not only must the pilot set the plane down upon the rough, sometimes rocky terrain of a primitive airstrip, but there are other factors involved. Most-commonly, the problem is an obstacle on the landing strip. In parts of remote Africa, these obstacles tend to be livestock.

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If you have ever repotted a plant, sometimes you will find that when you pull it from the pot, the entire plant will slip out easily. The roots may be tangled and matted together into a dense, tightly-woven mass. In many cases, the plant will be rootbound. How can you tell if a plant is suffering from this condition? One indication is stunted growth. A secondary indication is if the plant’s container will not give when pressed because the roots have filled up the container completely. A rootbound plant has roots that do not spread out for nutrients but circle the interior of the container until they conform to the shape of the pot.

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Remote Control

Have you ever stopped to count how many remote controls you have in your home? We may not think about them until we can’t find one, and then our reactions my border on panic. We want the remotes out of the way until we need them, but when we want them, we want them immediately. There is something about that semblance of power in wielding a device that allows one to manipulate another device from a distance without wires. We long for control. It doesn’t stop with electronics though. We can sometimes believe that if we can control something or someone, then any potential threat to us will be lessened. All we need is the right “remote” for the person or situation; the power will be harnessed, and all will be well.

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Into the Shallows

I read an account recently about a number of killer whales that mysteriously beached themselves and died. When the marine biologists investigated, they found that the whales were not seeking the larger fish found in the deeper waters but were chasing smaller fish in the shallows. Specifically, they were chasing minnows. They gave their lives running after something small.

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Where’s My Stuff?

World War II ended many years of geographic isolation for some of the inhabitants of certain South Pacific islands. The Allied forces used some of these islands as supply depots; planes would drop cargo from the air via parachute or unload the supplies after landing on temporary airstrips. Natives living on the islands beheld such wonders as Zippo lighters that produced flames from one’s hand, Jeeps roving over the landscape, power tools and machinery leveling trees and moving earth and preserved foods eaten from cans.

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Leaps of Faith

The leaping ability of the African impala is impressive. It can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover distances of greater than 30 feet. Despite these impressive statistics, an impala can be kept easily in any zoo. It doesn’t take a high fence or a wide moat to hold them captive. They can be kept from jumping with a 3-foot wall. This is due to a particular quirk of this animal: an impala will not jump if it cannot see where its feet will fall.

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Hammer Swings and Enduring Faith

“There are some spiritual conditions that cannot be accomplished in a moment. The breaking up of the fallow ground takes time. The frosts of winter are necessary as the rains of spring to prepare the soil for fertility. God has to break our hearts to pieces by the slow process of his discipline, and grind every particle to powder, and then to mellow us and saturate us with his blessed Spirit until we are open for the blessing he has to give us.”

A. B. Simpson

When I was a teacher, one of our students was required to complete a community service project. He chose to repair a broken section of a sidewalk on campus. To pour the fresh cement would require breaking up the old, uneven section. When I showed up to help the team, they handed me a sledgehammer to begin breaking the concrete.

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Leaving Marks

One of the things that I heard often when growing up was the phrase: “That’s going to leave a mark.” I tripped and scraped my knee; “That’s going to leave a mark.” I ran into the barbed-wire fence; “That’s going to leave a mark.” I fell from the top of a tree I had climbed; “That’s going to leave a mark.” And those situations did, in fact, leave their marks. We all have scars from accidents and incidents. We all have marks. But it’s easier to focus on the marks made upon us than it is to focus on the marks we make.

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Knowing God’s Will

A few years, a friend of mine was trying to discover God’s will for her life in a particular area. She asked me to pray that God would give her wisdom and direction. As we talked, I casually asked her, “So, are there any things you are doing in particular to discover his will for you?”

She said, “I’m praying but also just waiting. It seems like God is not answering me at all.” 

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A biosphere is a group of systems found in nature functioning together as one larger system. Just as the human body contains the circulatory, nervous, skeletal and digestive systems, the earth has geological systems, wind systems and water systems that make up the various parts of the biosphere. Since the earth is the original biosphere, Biosphere 2 was the name given to the attempt to replicate earth’s interlaced systems on a small scale.

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Forgetful Falcons

“But right at the beginning there is something you should know, even if it breaks your heart. For all your long hours, and the physical effort, and the expense, and even your genuine affection for this creature you have come to love…if you leave the cage door open, it will walk out of the door…Because this is the way of all wildlife.”
                  -Katherine McKeever on the keeping of falcons in Quality of Life
A few years ago, I went to an Eagle Scout ceremony for one of my former students. All his hard work and outdoor skills culminated in that high honor being conferred upon him. Since it was an Eagle Scout ceremony, another former student, who works for an organization that rescues birds of prey, brought a bald eagle as a special guest.

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Lessons from the Pit

A few years ago, 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday found a couple of buddies and me standing in a hole in the middle of a field with shovels in our hands. The plan was to slow-cook some slabs of pork in the pit for a bar-b-que party that afternoon, but to be ready in time, we had to start early. We lit the fire, spread coals by the light of the moon and the glow of a lantern and placed the meat on the grate. A remote, digital thermometer probe was inserted into the largest piece of meat with an alarm set to sound when the pork reached the target internal temperature.

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Cathedral Builders

Over the last two months, I’ve thought back on some of my favorite stories and touchstone moments. It’s amazing to me how the right example or illustration sticks with you long after the lesson ends. Though it has been retold many times with each teller adding or omitting details and though the original tale is lost to history, this is how I heard it many years ago…

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Horsehair and Hearts

Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. – Hebrews 10:22

A close walk with Jesus requires a true heart. The word “true” indicates that the heart is matched in both appearance and reality; it is undivided by the competing loyalties which stand against full devotion to God. We might regard the Pharisees in the New Testament as the poster children for a divided heart. Jesus characterized them by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13).

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Soil Problems

“Keep your milk cartons,” said my fifth-grade teacher one morning before lunch. “Don’t leave any milk in them. Don’t crush them. Don’t poke holes in them with your forks. Just bring them back to the room with you.” After rinsing the inside clean, labeling the side with my name on a piece of masking tape and cutting the top from the carton with my blunt-tipped scissors, my teacher took us outside.

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Essential Unity

Many people are tired during this season. There is potential weariness and potential frustration in any time of waiting. The regulations and standards have disrupted some moments of everyday life, and many states are resuming more normalized activities while others wait for orders to expire or change. Watching and listening to many of the voices in our society reminds me of the moments after a plane lands. Passengers leap to their feet, grab their bags and pack the aisles…only to wait. You can discover much about a person’s heart near the end of a long flight, and you can discover much about a person’s heart near the end of a long struggle. That is why endurance is so important. 

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Victory in Surrender

“Following Jesus is about a relationship, not rules.”

That was the statement made to me years ago when I was teaching on obedience to Christ. When I spoke of humble surrender and spiritual discipline, the knee-jerk response of one person was to label my remarks as being legalistic because he “operated from a place of freedom.”

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Bitterness Below the Surface

Centralia is a town in Eastern Pennsylvania. In the early 1900’s, millions of tons of coal were mined from the region leaving behind an extensive web of excavated mine shafts, some more than 500 feet below the surface. In May 1962, on the outskirts of town, a garbage fire was burning in one of the old strip mine pits. This fire ignited one of the exposed coal seams which, in turn, made its way to the network of mine shafts. Over time, it spread underground until the ground began to seep smoke and fissures opened in roadways.

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Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Whether it’s thick-papered, glossy ads for various products, roadside signs or social media advertisements, products and services promise that we can become (or seem to be) more hip, smarter, of the socially elite, happier, and fulfilled. The question must be asked, “If ‘stuff’ can meet our deepest needs, why do we still want more?”

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Perfect Fit

When Spanish conquistadors marched into Peru in the 1500’s, the land was ruled by the Incas. The Spaniards found Inca walls and foundations built of stones fitted together without the benefit of any mortar. Many of these walls still stand today. Some of the stones used in the construction weigh in at over 100 tons and took hours upon hours of painstaking labor to shape using smaller “hammer” stones to chip away the excess rock on the faces. The edges of a block were shaped so they would match exactly with the contours of an adjoining block. The stones were fitted so carefully that even now it is impossible to insert a razor blade between many of them.

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Divine Appointments

I tend to collect stories. I’ll read or hear accounts that lodge somewhere in my mind, and they resurface at odd moments (those of you who have heard me preach for any length of time know this truth all too well). One of my favorites comes from Gary LaFerla’s book Finding Your Way. In WWII, Elgin Staples was aboard the USS Astoria when it was attacked in the battle for Savo Island in the Pacific. This is the story as LaFerla recounts it:

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Find Your Center

A brief history lesson, if you will…
For many years, people held the basic idea that Earth, not the Sun, was at the center of our universe. Ptolemy, a Greek mathematician living in the 2nd century A.D., was the first person to offer a detailed explanation of this theory. His work was accepted as truth; after all, why wouldn’t Earth be the center of all things? This proposed arrangement of the universe is known as the Ptolemaic model: Earth was thought to be in the center, and every other thing (the Sun, the planets, the stars, etc.) moved in orbits around it.

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Cramping Sin’s Style

My father raised bulls at times on our farm when I was young. One in particular hated being confined to a pen, or a pasture, or multiple pastures, for that matter. When he decided that it was time to take a little walk through the fence (and I do mean through the fence), he would do so and then casually stroll wherever he might want to go. Any barrier, whether perceived or real, was seen as a threat to his freedom and would be dealt with accordingly. 

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Limping with Grace

I know I have said it before, but this season has been revealing in many ways. Crisis has a way of showing what we depend upon, where our thoughts go in the midst of struggle and the underlining nature of our fears. After reading a truly great article yesterday (read it here), I was reminded how one thing is being revealed again and again: the lack of grace we often show each other. It surfaces in our world because it lurks within our hearts. We can talk a good talk about grace, mercy and forgiveness, but if we are not careful, gracelessness will creep into our lives and color everything we touch. If we allow the gospel of grace to work fully, it will enlighten every corner of our lives.

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The Best Things I’ve Read on COVID-19 and Church Leadership (so far)

If you are like me, you have likely noticed how everyone has become “armchair epidemiologists” during this season. I have heard church leaders across the nation state that this crisis is “unprecedented,” but then in the next breath declare that they have the perfect response to these new difficulties. No one is a complete expert on this crisis, and the conflicting information and emotional debates will likely continue for years to come.

I am often asked for information on leadership. It’s a topic that I research, write about (click here) and speak on often.

With that in mind, these two articles have been the most helpful to me personally during this season:


Church, Don’t Let Coronavirus Divide You

I hope you might find them to be helpful as well.


The Battle on Your Knees

Engaging in prayer is engaging in battle. Like any powerful weapon, to treat prayer carelessly only increases the danger of the given situation. I might think that I have done all I can because I have prayed, but if I am not praying with power, the words I utter on my knees may give a false sense of assurance that I have truly asked something from God in faith. Over the years, I have discovered some subtle ways that I can become careless with my prayers. 

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Hands on the Truth

According to government statistics, authorities discover counterfeit American bills totaling between $70 million and $200 million every year. With home-production of illegal funds posing such a growing problem with the arrival of advanced copiers and better computer printers, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing works to continually upgrade the security features of some of the most commonly-counterfeited bills, thus making it much harder for would-be crooks to produce “funny money.” Color-shifting inks, watermarks, raised impressions, micro-printing and security strips increase the uniqueness of American currency. According to the Secret Service, even the paper that bills are printed on cannot be produced legally by an individual. It is of a special composition pressed to a specific thickness and contains tiny red and blue silk fibers (you can see them if you look closely enough).

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White Elephants

“A man is not what he thinks he is, but what he thinks, he is.”
– M.R. Hickerson

The human brain is the most complex biological organ in existence. Containing 100 billion nerve cells, with each one potentially linking with 10,000 other nerve cells, the brain’s capacity for calculations and the speed at which these functions occur is staggering. It is estimated with such a high degree of connectivity, the human brain is capable of 1 quintillion (1 followed by 18 zeros) calculations per second.

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In June 1744, members of the Iroquois “Six Nations” and the Lenape tribes met with early American colonial leaders to negotiate the terms of a treaty regarding land. These meetings shaped not only the growth of the colonies, but the suggestions for governmental structure offered by some of the Native Americans influenced the development of our Constitution as well.

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Tear Down That Wall

It was Christmas day, just before I graduated from high school, when I opened a gift from my parents and found inside a small chunk of concrete. Yes, it was concrete (not coal, so I must have been a really bad kid). Alongside the jagged shard was a certificate of authenticity indicating that I was holding a piece of the Berlin Wall.
Let’s revisit history for a moment…

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The Unreal Temptation

I once read about a scientific experiment with butterflies. A male butterfly was introduced to an environment with two options present. Option #1 was a living, healthy female butterfly. Option #2 was a huge, cardboard cutout butterfly painted with the same colors as a real female. Enter the male. In repeated tests, the males tended to ignore the real female and try everything in their power to attract the attention of the most obvious, but the most unreal, mate.

I read this and thought, “How easily deceived those insects are. Run after a cardboard butterfly? They must really lack discernment; can’t they tell it’s a fake?!”

And then I thought about myself…What things have I pursued thinking they would bring me fulfillment? What have been the “fakes” in my life? What do I focus upon that draws my attention away from Christ? What’s my cardboard butterfly?

We find the same problem in Israel’s past. When Israel turned from the one, true God to pursue idol worship, God said, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns–broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Israel left the one source of sustenance to run after what seemed better in their eyes and minds. The idols would not satisfy because they could not compare to the “living waters” of God. In fact, the idols couldn’t even “hold water.” Israel came up dry.

There are times when we abandon God’s plan for our own. Our way seems better. “Better” usually means “more comfortable.” But he doesn’t call us to comfort, but to combat (Ephesians 6:10-17). The life that Christ commands us to live is difficult (Matthew 7:14). He calls us to the follow the best way, and usually, it isn’t the most obvious way. It’s seldom the flashiest, the showiest, or even the quickest. But it is real, and it is the only way that we will ever find true fulfillment. God wants us to see past the fakes that pose as a means to peace, joy and fulfillment and set our minds “on the things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).

What’s your cardboard butterfly?

Pray that…

We will place nothing before God. – Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me.”

We will cling to God’s steadfast love and forsake all idols. – Jonah 2:8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.

We would be quick to dethrone any idols within our hearts. – Ezekiel 14:3 “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces.”

Desert Lands and Ivy Roots

“What day is it?” I have heard (and asked) that question repeatedly over the last few weeks. Without normal routines and pat schedules, this season of disruption warps our perception of time. Days blend into other days, and weeks pass without a predictable ebb and flow.

We look at the cancelled events and passing days on the calendar and wonder, “How long?” When time seems to stretch out and creep along at a snail’s pace, we can grow frustrated at our perceived lack of forward movement. But there may be deep work in progress where there is otherwise a lack of obvious activity.

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Rejection and Acceptance

“Is that…a diary?”

The words carried an unmistakable mix of disgust and amusement. I glanced to my right at two of my sixth-grade classmates. My mother, knowing my enjoyment of writing, had given me a journal a month earlier for Christmas, and there in study hall, I was about to share my heart on that first, blank page when the question surfaced with sneers. 

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Boat Trips, Dodged Obedience and the Edge of the World

Last November, a group of us took a trip to Israel. Later, through a series of sermons, I elaborated on many of the places we visited and the lessons we learned (even though there is no way that I could convey every detail with the richness of being in-country). The sights and landscapes helped put many biblical references into context. Early in our trip, we visited the ancient port city of Joppa where I had a perspective-giving moment.

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“What would you like to drink?” That is a question we hear often whether at a restaurant, when sitting down for dinner at home or while visiting a hospitable friend. But I have never heard God ask that question.

When God sets a cup before me, he expects me to drink. It may be that he pours a cup of wonderful circumstances, memorable moments or sunny days. But sometimes it is a cup of loss, a cup of sickness or a cup of disappointment. No matter what I may see when I peer over the rim, that cup with my name on it is mean to be drained, whether with a heart swelled with joy unspeakable or through tears unstoppable.

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Season of Sowing

Over the last few weeks of our shelter-in-place / safer-at-home restrictions, I have heard from a number of people who have shared how they are spending their time. Some have gone into a cleaning frenzy that has left no corner untouched. Others have decided to redeem the time by learning a new craft or hobby. Some have gone into exercise mode to avoid gaining the “quarantine fifteen,” and others have resorted to lying on the couch and consuming way too many snack foods. A few people have told me that they have been busy planting during this time. After the frosts passed, they put seeds into the ground and now look forward to the harvest.

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Up by Your Bootstraps

“Sometimes you must ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.’”

That phrase lingers in our vocabulary as a testament to rugged self-reliance and dependence upon no outside force to bring rescue. The idea is that in the midst of the greatest difficulty, the deepest need or the hottest battle, we can lift ourselves from the chaos and plant our feet on solid ground by nothing more than a sheer act of will, gut-level tenacity and good old “know-how.” That is how we use the phrase, “pull oneself up by the bootstraps.” You reach down, take hold of the straps or loops atop your boots and lift yourself up by them.

The problem is that is not what the phrase originally meant. The earliest meaning of this common phrase is “trying to accomplish something despite a lack of power to do so.” You can’t lift yourself off the ground by pulling your own bootstraps. To try and do so would be an exercise in absurdity.

We like to think we are completely self-sufficient, both on an individual basis and as a nation, but all our power is derived power: it comes from outside ourselves. We are utterly dependent upon God, and any strength, power or ability ultimately comes from him.

Even if we affirm our own lack of strength, often we try wrongly to split the division of power between ourselves and God in an attempt to create a false sense of checks-and-balances. We think, “God can handle the 50% of my life that I cannot or that I don’t know that is coming, and I will handle the other 50%. It’s an equal partnership.” A supreme king does not exercise 50% of the power while relying upon his subjects to fill in the gap. An omnipotent God can’t be said to be all-powerful if half his power rests firmly in our hands.

Take prayer, for example. The very reason we pray arises from a clear understanding of our limits. The author Jared Wilson states the idea well: “Prayer is expressed helplessness. When we’re not engaged in prayer, it’s because we feel like ‘we got this.’ The extent to which you are not engaged in prayer is the extent to which you are relying on your own strength.” We don’t pray for our own power to rescue us, but for help to come by way of God’s power. We also must not turn prayer into a plea for partnership that only says, “I have my plans for my life God; bless my efforts so that I may succeed.” When you know your place in God’s plan, you won’t begin with “God, bless my work with success,” but will turn to “God, thank you for your mercy in giving me breath to do your will.”

Life with God begins with a recognition of our utter helplessness, not our inner strength. Reliance upon God alone can be frightening for those who desire to avoid vulnerability and maintain rigid control. It has been said that grace is both a relief and a terror. It’s a relief in that you don’t have to do it all yourself, and it is a terror in that you can’t do it all yourself. This fact is at the very heart of the words of Jesus: “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The word “nothing” is not a broad-brush exaggeration by Jesus; it is the hard reality of existence.

You will only value God’s faithfulness when you understand your helplessness.

There are no spiritual bootstraps.

Pray that…

We will remember that the purpose of God overrules any of our plans. – Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

No matter how strong we consider ourselves to be, we will rest in God’s eternal strength. – Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

We will give God thanks for providing us with all things. – Acts 17:25 …Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

We will embrace the “relief and terror” of God’s grace. – Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Death and the Dairy Cooler

Throughout history, people have used tangible items as reminders of the brevity of life. These are  known as memento mori

The name comes from a practice of the Romans. A slave would accompany a victorious general in his chariot as he rode along in the triumphal celebration. As the crowds cheered the warrior’s return, the slave would stand behind him and whisper, “Memento mori.” The phrase means, “Remember that you must die.” It was a reality check intended to relax the grip of dangerous pride and point toward the passing nature of human glory. It also clearly stated that life is short.

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All About the Timing

“This could not have happened at a worse time!”

That was the phrase I heard from someone recently regarding the COVID-19 crisis. Spring vacations, Easter services, senior proms, high school and college graduations, leadership conferences, business expos, sporting events, family get-togethers – all plans and schedules have fallen under the shadow of this season. We have cancelled, rescheduled, shuffled or postponed events again and again to accommodate ever-shifting requirements and needs. It is very likely that we will face more weeks of much of the same, and we will assess and adapt as many times as necessary.

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Hurting for Christ

For years now, every April, I have participated in Secret Church. This event was created by Dr. David Platt when he was the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills outside Birmingham, Alabama. Platt had visited house churches all over the globe in areas where following Christ was dangerous and, in some cases, deadly. He would meet in secret with leaders of house churches, and together they would study the Bible for hours as Platt taught them principles and truths that they would then take back and share with their small congregations and family units.

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Shake Well Before Use

Before a ship is put into commission, the crew takes it out for its shakedown cruise. They attempt to emulate the worst of all possible circumstances the vessel may face. In short, the crew pushes the ship to its absolute limit to prove it can endure the highest seas, the hottest battle and the grimmest conditions. Not only does this voyage prove the ship, it conditions the crew to function as a unit under stress. Any weaknesses exposed in vessel or crew are corrected. Only then is the ship labelled seaworthy, and more importantly, storm-worthy.

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He Loves You in Silence

It is one of the loudest things you will ever hear. The silence of God. The battle-torn heart-cry rasps your voice, your cheeks grow red, salt-burned with tears, and you raise your face hoping to hear a word — hoping to hear anything at all. But there is only the sound of the blood pulsing in your ears and the rise and fall of your breath marking out the moments of no answers. You likely wrestle at times with God’s silence just many of us who pray to him do. 

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Holy Lingering

In this time of online-only services and virtual small groups, it is easy to have moments of frustration due to slow connections, buffering videos and extra steps to engage with others. No matter the time it might take, it is well worth all extra effort to build community and continue to grow together in Christ.

In a few weeks, things will likely begin to shift toward more face-to-face meetings and a return to gathering in-person. Though we all look forward to that time, I have tried to think about the positives of the last few weeks. Despite the sometimes-negative impact of putting society on hold for the greater good, I have discovered some things that will probably be harder to maintain easily after this season passes. For me, the one that stands out above all is being able to linger in God’s presence without interruption. In the flurry of everyday life, unbroken time to be still before God is more and more of a rarity.

I was sharing this with a pastor friend of mine the other day. He said, “Preaching online is great in some ways because you don’t have to contend with yawns, blank stares and the distraction of people talking during the sermon.”

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Live Big

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” – December 1901

As the legend goes, that was the advertisement placed in the Times of London in promotion of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic at the turn of the 20th century. Numerous men showed up to join him spurred by the promise of risk and the faint possibility of success. On the third expedition, his ship The Endurance was trapped by the sea ice. For 22 months the crew found themselves braving the elements and clinging to meager hopes. This is where the love of honor took them; it carried them to an unexplored land. The chances of survival were small, but their lives were not “small.” They lived “big.” All the men survived.

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Golden Patches and Glorious Wounds

The ancient Japanese art of kintsugi (golden joinery”) is the process of repairing pottery using powdered gold or silver mixed with lacquer to glue the broken pieces back together. A cheap, common bowl becomes a masterpiece when mended with gleaming ribbons of precious metal. As you admire such a piece, you are reminded that the beauty comes at a price: being shattered.

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From High to High

In the area where I grew up, there is a isolated back road that serves as an alternate, straight-line route connecting two counties. I would take this road daily when I was a day commuter at one of the local colleges. At one point along this route, there is a series of rolling hills that climb over a high ridge. The road rises to the crest of the ridge before taking a steep plunge from the highest point called King Hill into a long stretch of bottomland.

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Faithful in Little


The Westminster Clock Tower in London was built in the 1800’s, and has become an international, instantly-recognizable landmark. The tower is often referred to (mistakenly) as “Big Ben,” the name given to the bell within the tower. The faces of the clock stand 180 feet above ground, and each one is 23 feet across. Housed within the structure is a massive pendulum that regulates the clockwork mechanism and maintains the timing and consistency of the movement. This pendulum weighs in at over 660 pounds yet sitting on the top of this weight is a small collection of old English pennies. The small mass added by each penny might seem to be negligible amount, but for each penny removed or added, two-fifths of a second are gained or lost per day.

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Waiting Still

As a child growing up on a farm, there were plenty of opportunities to fix fence, split wood and find lost cows. At times the cattle proved too adept at breaking through or jumping over the fences, so we lengthened posts and installed more levels of rails. One day as my father and I worked on the fence, he came alongside me and showed me what he needed me to do. He measured a section of fencepost, marked it with the point of a 40 penny nail and lifted the heavy end of a plank while pushing it up to the mark on the post.

“All I’m asking you to do is hold it to this mark,” he said. “After I level out the other end and nail it, I’ll come back down here and nail this end.” So I stood there, with my back to his work, staring out into the pasture, holding the plank.

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The Living Among the Dead

The women who arrived at the tomb of Jesus early that Sunday found it empty.

Well, almost empty.

Two angels were waiting for them. Preceding the announcement of the Resurrection of Christ, they asked the women the question, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).

The question is not just a question for Easter, but it is one to be asked every time we run to anything less than eternal to bring lasting meaning. Too often, the “dead” things of the world are the focus of our pursuits instead of the “living” things offered to us by God.

We seek comfort from the things that shift too soon and too much. We seek to build our private world with thoughts and dreams that are bent on tearing us down. We seek anything other than God to set life right again.

We run to all manner of tomb-worthy endeavors…

Dead works incapable of bringing change.

Dead relationships stealing our peace and leading us astray.

Dead purposes keeping us occupied with less noble activities and choking our irretrievable time by the minute.

These things promise joy, contentment or love, but they can only bring temporary solace. Their end is not life-giving but life-taking. We fail to see how much of ourselves these decisions will demand from us. Remaining in the tomb will cost, but then, so will living a resurrected life.

In John’s biblical account, Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead, and more people became convinced of the claims of Christ and began to follow him (John 11). When the crowds to see Jesus and Lazarus grew even larger (and more people believed in the teachings of Jesus) the religious leaders plotted to kill them both (John 12:9-11). In their eyes, the crime of Jesus was claiming to be equal with God himself. Lazarus, on the other hand, was guilty by association. The risen man was a living testimony of the power of the Messiah. Whether through other people or by our own hands, somebody will always try to put the work of Jesus back into the grave.

Everything we allow or bring into our lives will either lead us farther from the tomb or deeper into it.

Where are you seeking the living among the dead?

Pray that…

We who follow Christ will embrace that we are new creations in him. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

We will live by the power of Christ in us and access that power through living by faith. – Galatian 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

We will seek the holy, worthy and eternal things as we follow Jesus. – Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Cruel and Common

What’s so good about Good Friday? Click here.

All human history and the balance of the entire universe shifted some two thousand years ago through one cruel and common act on the outskirts of a dusty town in a corner of the Roman Empire.

A crucifixion.

This was a common practice. In 40 BC, two thousand people were executed by the cross in one day. Some historians estimate, in AD 70 alone, two hundred people were killed each day throughout the year by crucifixion. On the surface, one more day of executions did not stand out as anything particularly special.

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He Set His Face

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51.

Through times of difficulty, the pursuit of our purpose gives us both the direction and the endurance to continue moving forward. This truth is seen clearly in the movement of Jesus toward his death in Jerusalem. His crucifixion, ordained from eternity past, did not come about as a contingency plan, for God never has an emergency. The death of Christ was agreed upon before creation, long before guilty humanity and a sinful world limped along in a universe gone wrong. Jesus was born for this; the cradle pointed to the cross, and the cross pointed to the tomb.

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The Power of the Air

His name was John Romulus Brinkley, but he called himself “Doctor.” Attending a school that taught non-traditional medicine and receiving a certificate valid in only eight states gave him the supposed right to confer such a title upon himself to lend reputability to his “practice.” In 1923, he began selling his cure-alls via a radio show broadcast beamed from a 1000-watt tower in Milford, Kansas.

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Suspended Faith

I once portrayed Jesus in a Christmas production. I grew my hair out for nearly a year, added extensions and slathered on a fake tan. By the time of the December rehearsals, the look was complete. The show dramatized the teachings and miracles of Jesus as well as his death and resurrection. Onstage, everything was smooth and flowing; backstage was a flurry of activity from propmasters, stage crews, lighting and sound technicians, and a host of makeup and wardrobe volunteers. Near the end of the production, there was one scene requiring a specialized technical team.

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Which is Better?

I was in fifth grade when I first got glasses. Sitting in the optometrist’s chair with the phoropter (the big swing arm device with all the lenses and focus wheels on it) against my face the doctor would ask, “Which is better: one or two?” As he flipped through the lens options, I always felt like I was taking a test that I was going to fail.

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Melt Me, God

“A butterfly comes from a chrysalis; a moth comes from a cocoon.” I remember that from Science class as a kid. But I have discovered the teachers didn’t tell us everything about this topic. A caterpillar encases itself in a chrysalis to become a butterfly, but to go from ground-dwelling to airborne takes some doing. Until recently, I thought it had to be a simple process. Caterpillar goes to sleep, wings sprout, chrysalis pops open, butterfly stretches for a while, then one flap, two, and it takes to the breeze. That’s what I was taught.

Turns out, a caterpillar, well…melts.

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Light Through the Cracks

The Instagram account of one of my friends revealed the downward spiral. She and her husband have been at home with their children for the last three weeks. At first, she was posting creative activities that she had given her children. Smiles abounded. Shots of the kids playing on the lawn came often. Family bonds were strengthened.

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Two Feet from Comfort

At the time, it was the highest and fastest roller coaster in the Southeastern United States. Rising above the city like a giant, green silly straw, The Kumba reached 65 miles per hour in the initial drop and continued into a maze of track wrapped and woven through the trees and walkways in the amusement park. It was the first roller coaster I had ever ridden. I rode it once, went back through the line again, then again. On the third trip, like the previous two, I sat in the same car, but I sat in a seat that had been vacant on the other trips.

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God Honest

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

                                                                                        –George Eliot

When was the last time that you talked to somebody else?  Really talked?  About the hard, rough, and bothersome parts of your life? 

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The Possible Impossible

“An impossibility, with God, becomes a glorious impossibility.” -Larry Watson

I remember helping my father set a corner post for a fence once. My brother and I were just little kids, and the post was a section cut from a heavy electrical pole. To sink this post, the required hole was deep and wide. To make matters even more difficult, the section was lying on a flatbed trailer and needed to be moved to the hole and dropped in place.

I looked at the hole, then the giant-sized post, then at my brother and then at my own hands. “This is will not happen,” I thought. My father looked at the pole, then at the hole, then at us. Lowering himself into a crouch beside the trailer, he said, “Roll it off on my back.”

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Dropping Weight

I read an article recently about a man who started on a seven-month, 7000-mile hike. He began along the Pacific Crest Trail (running from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington State) before connecting with the Continental Divide Trail (running along the backbone of the Rockies from Canada to Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico to the Mexican border). The hiker explained how he prepared the supplies that he carried with him in order to reduce overall weight.

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Take Up Your Cross

“Sometimes we must experience a death to our own vision before we can catch a glimpse of God’s perfect plan.”  –Dr. Don Rauniker

“If you knew you that today was your last day on earth, what would you do differently?” I’ve been asked that question at times, and I always tell people that I would want to live the day as well as I try to live out every other day. But I suppose that we would all live differently if we knew with certainty that today was our final day of life. 

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Big Cats and Great Fear

Not all things that make noise beside the path come down the path.
-Traditional African proverb

My grandfather loved to talk the Wampus Cat. We would listen wide-eyed as he wove tales of the massive, mythical, predatory cat. I learned that it’s big: “Once, I heard about a Wampus Cat carrying off an adult cow.” It’s fast: “He can outrun cars, so you can’t get away in one.” And it has some kind of special power over its prey: “If you look at his eyes, he will hypnotize you, your feet will stick to the ground, and you won’t be able to call for help.” As a small child, I had a healthy fear of the Wampus Cat because of the powers it was said to possess, but that wasn’t the most terrifying aspect.

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True Hope

Biblical hope is not wishful thinking, like “hoping” that it doesn’t rain during a baseball game, nor is it the power of positive thought: “think good thoughts and good will come to you.” To say that Biblical hope is either of those things is to make it less than it is. Biblical hope is a confident and favorable expectation of a future reality.

That sounds like a solid definition, but how does that play out in our everyday lives? Glad you asked.

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Hard Reset

A common reality of our digital age is that at certain times a device will require resetting. The problem can lie within the hardware of the device (the actual physical components) or the software (the programs and systems installed on the device). Sometimes the reset requires removing excess data or reinstalling a newer operating system. Often it is as simple as pressing a single button, and other times, an increasingly complex procedure must take place in order to restore the normal operation of the device. A reset may take time and may be disruptive, but when it is needed, nothing else will restore everything to its correct state.

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Tested Hearts

Proverbs 17:3 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.

1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

A man watched a silversmith sitting quietly while he gazed at the molten metal in a crucible. As the flame steadily burned underneath the container, the smith would periodically skim the silver and remove the impurities that floated to the surface.

“When do you know that it is pure?” the man asked the silversmith.

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As COVID-19 spreads across our country, people are social-distancing more and more out of commonsense caution. Because of this, many families are finding that they are spending more time together, and with that comes more opportunities for families to invest in quality time with each other. And, if you are like most people in the modern age, time is at a premium.

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It’s Not Persecution

A few months ago, one of the pastors on our staff and I were talking about the church culture in America. He said, “I think too many times we look at the church as one of multiple options we can engage in on any given Sunday morning. There are plenty of other things people could be doing during that time. Often, we operate as though “the church will always be there,” so we can falsely think that we can occupy that time with other things, knowing that, if we ever have a “real need” to go to church, it’s still there.”

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Who We Are, Not Where We Go

Many years ago, a man had grown upset with some things within his church. As a result, he made a choice to disconnect from other members and refused to be a part of any of the church’s gatherings. After a while, on a cold evening, one of the man’s friends knocked on his door. The disgruntled church member eyed him suspiciously and growled, “If you plan to try and convince me to come back, you are wasting your time.”

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Still Moments

Last Sunday, I arrived at our church’s campus a little earlier than I normally do. The parking lot was nearly vacant since we were hosting our service online, and as I stepped out of the car, I was struck by the stillness of the moment. I stood there for a long while, and just thought about everything that has happened in our nation over these weeks. We have seen both concern and panic, legitimate information and unhelpful rumors, public cooperation and partisan bickering. It has been a study of contrasts.

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A Culture of Disconnection

Of all the points of discussion among church leaders in America, one currently tops the list: declining attendance among members. Books and articles explore the various reasons and potential solutions, podcast hosts ask leading experts on church growth about the most-recent statistics and conferences, research firms as well as denominational teams attempt to discover what the future might hold for churches across the nation. This is not an isolated occurrence; it is being felt in the largest of metropolitan churches as well as smaller, rural congregations, and the trend is happening across denominational lines. People attend church less frequently than ever before.

The temptation is to single out one factor and claim that it is the sole reason for the decline, but leading research shows that the problem has multiple roots. Continue reading


I have not only been praying for our church that we would become a people of genuine prayer, but I have been asking God to teach me how to pray more intimately and effectively. Many churches and quite a few people are known for prayer that is ceremonial, polished and safe, but what I am referring to is something much more than that; I am speaking of direct and honest communication with the God of all creation.

After reflecting upon it, there are some things that I have learned about prayer that have shaped the way I approach God…

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A Lifetime in Babylon

A friend of mine held a good job and was able to freely make a difference for God in her position, but she was terminated for no apparent reason. The subsequent positions she has held have been less than what she desires and full of difficulty. She knows that she took the original job after much prayer and careful consideration, but the loss has caused her a great deal of pain and confusion. Continue reading

On Crane Flies and Creation

A few days ago, I was leaving the church late in the evening. The temperature had dropped and the rains had passed, leaving a dense, cool fog hanging in the night air. As I walked to the doors leading outside, I noticed multiple crane flies dancing on the glass, trying to get in. The lights inside the building coupled with the warmth coming off the door attracted them, and they were flying about with spindly legs and delicate wings swaying. Continue reading

Supper Club

Last night, my brother, his girlfriend and I had a little meal together. Dubbed “Supper Club,” we enjoyed fresh Maine lobster courtesy of Huckberry (for winning their caption contest on Instagram), bacon-wrapped shrimp, steamed asparagus and homemade mac and cheese. And, of course, plenty of sweet tea.

I retrieved my grandparents’ old kitchen table from storage and set it out in the field where my brother and I played often as kids. That worn table has been host to countless breakfasts of cinnamon toast, biscuits and grits, lunches of fried chicken and black-eyed peas, and now, I suppose we can add lobster to the long list of meals that have graced that simple wood surface.

The meal was one to remember: full of laughter, reminders from our childhood to “sit up straight,” and nature’s own light show. The crickets chimed along as the sky lit up like county fair cotton-candy as summer slipped away once again.

As the darkness fell, and the last plate was brought back inside, my brother looked at me, smiled and said, “Hey, let’s do this again.”
And we will.

The Preeminent Ordinary One 

Head of Christ – Warner Sallman (1940)

I once saw a mural of Jesus in the classic “sitting-on-a-rock-looking-over-Jerusalem-at-night” pose. The first thing I noticed was the way the painter had depicted the face of Christ: he was not attractive at all. In fact, the face was quite unremarkable in every way and quite unlike the “expected” image of Jesus.

Had someone taken the context of the painting away, shown me only the face and asked me to guess who it might be, Jesus would have been low on my list. In all honesty, there was a part of me that felt slightly offended by the way he looked.

There were no chiseled features.

No perfect beard.

No piercing, yet warm, eyes.

He just looked so…regular.

My view of Jesus can be too glamorous.

Certainly he is the King of the universe.

Yes, he is the unique God-man.

And all creation hinges upon him.

But then, I tend to forget about a passage in Isaiah…

For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not (53:2-3).

Jesus, in his humanity, “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.

In his appearance, he was unremarkable.



There was nothing attractive about him.

Why does that unsettle us?

Maybe it is because we have seen so many depictions of Jesus as a beautiful human, and a plain-looking Savior clashes with the artistic precedent in our minds. The expectation of a carefully-tended Messiah was popularized largely by the mass spread of religious artwork in the mid-1900’s and standardized by Warner Sallman’s work, “Head of Christ.” The painting even looks like a celebrity headshot from the 1940’s. But a not-so-handsome Jesus? That idea pushes back against our collective, media-influenced preconception.

Maybe we forget that a God who came as a baby, was born in humble surroundings and labored as a common workman is the same God who would move among the masses for years, unknown and without fanfare, until beginning his redemptive work. And even then, his own family members did not see him as being a candidate for Messiah (Mark 3:21, John 7:5).

But perhaps the deeper reason for the distaste toward an average-looking Jesus lies in Isaiah 53:3…

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…

Do I want my Jesus to be a regal human?

Yes, I want the human Jesus to be attractive to and accepted by society because he calls me to live as he did, and I don’t want to follow in the footsteps of rejection.

One does not aspire to rise to the example of Jesus, but must die to self and stoop to his example.

Would I have followed Jesus back then?

Would I have dismissed him?

Would I have been put off by his appearance instead of receiving the beauty of his message?

But a more pressing question is this…

Do I avoid following Jesus as closely as I should because I know rejection follows that kind of faithfulness?

BBC computer-generated depiction of Jesus based upon common characteristics of the time

An Honest Review: The Chick-fil-A Rap

“The Chick-fil-A Rap,” the latest offering in the video pantheon of Emily Powell, sings the praises of the humble yardbird and elevates the ubiquitous food to a near-divine pedestal of ambrosial satisfaction. The understated opening begins with a tracking shot of the rapper Diggle-Wiggle walking across the parking lot of a popular Chick-fil-A (a specific location, I might add, that has been the source of a couple of deeply meaningful meals for this reviewer). As he enters, the revelatory shift comes: he is no mere customer, but a poultry evangelist. With the confident swagger and pleading earnestness of a tent revivalist, Wiggle warms to his theme of the desire for, or more accurately, the necessity of, menu item #7 (the biblical number of perfection). As his testimony builds, a robe-clad choir punctuates and encapsulates the message with the refrain: “Ain’t got nothing if I ain’t got Chick-fil-A.” Clearly, this is serious, life-or-death business. Only great providence meets the most desperate of needs.

The mood takes a somber and contemplative turn as P-Nasty makes her entrance. Stealing in under the cover of darkness, she confesses to falling away from the way of the Baptist bird. We are left to draw our own conclusions as to where her wayward path might have taken her. She may have succumbed to burgers sold by a clown, been lured by border foods wrapped in border foods held together with cheese, or perhaps she listened to the siren’s song of a purveyor of promised 11 secret herbs and spices (a number symbolizing disorder, something far from perfection). Whatever her transgressions, she knows that no other eatery offers the fellowship and membership under the beacon of the red-lettered sign. But to receive the invitation, she must make the journey; she must cross the road.

As she enters, the darkness dissipates as choir members welcome P-Nasty back to the flock. She spreads her arms in wing-like fashion as her hard-core street attire is enrobed in the dress of the faithful. Her sins are covered, and she is lifted up.

The prodigal has returned.

The party begins.

The fatted calf is feasted upon. (Or in this case, sweet tea is lavishly poured out as a drink offering.)

Ultimately, “The Chick-fil-A Rap” is not about chicken at all, but the grand themes of life. Wherever you may have fallen, mercy is available under the caring wings. The call goes out for all. Celebration follows reconciliation. Straying, redemption and returning home–it’s all there, distilled into 3 minutes and 21 seconds (3 being the number of divine unity and 21 being a multiple of 7 and 3…make of it what you will).

This work of art demonstrates definitively that P-Nasty’s words ring true: “I’m not finished; I’m just beginning.”

Click here for video.

With Him, Beside You

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:4-7

I forget.

I forget all too easily.

I am His kid. In His presence. Before His throne.

Not only that, He has other children.

People I forget to see that way at times.
People I forget are standing in His light just as I am.
People He calls His beloved.
People in His very presence, vessels of His Spirit.
My seat mates in the heavenly places.

And when I forget that…

I stop acting like His child.
I forget I am His son,
Step away from the light and into my own darkness.
And I treat others like people they are not.

I needed to be reminded of the throne room.

And who I am.

And who others are.

And Who He is.



How To Pray for Your Future Wife – Part 2

(Click here for “How To Pray for Your Future Wife – Part 1”)

(Or here for “How To Pray for Your Future Husband”)

A while ago, I wrote the post “How To Pray for Your Future Wife” here on my blog. What started as my own prayer list turned into something more. The response was overwhelming at the time, and it still stands as the most-viewed and most-shared post on the site. Since the original posting, I have received emails from numerous countries and have partnered in prayer with others across the globe who connected with me because of how God used that single post. I am deeply humbled by the encouragement, the stories and the prayers that you, the readers, have shared with me.

In my original post, I encouraged men to remain sensitive to God’s leading when He gave new prayer topics personally applicable to each individual situation. Taking my own advice, I began praying in new ways in addition to those mentioned in the first “How To Pray for Your Future Wife” post. Most of these 31 “new” prayer points were the result of the prompting of God during reading the Bible, some came from listening to the struggles and concerns voiced by women I know, and some arose during my own prayer times. So, in the same vein as the post that started this journey with the readers, I invite you to step into the deeper waters of prayer for your own “Miss Pending.”

But before we begin, can I ask you a personal question? It is a question that has been pressed upon my heart as of late… Continue reading

Heart to Heart


Do you find yourself single on this Valentine’s Day?

Kinda’ stinks in some ways, doesn’t it?

The overblown marketing began at the local mega-mart sometime around New Year’s Day, so you have been living with the reminder of your solo journey for a month and a half already.

Your Instagram feed is rolling along, a saccharine visual river of flowers, gifts and romantic dinners. Continue reading


I don’t know what You have for me Lord.

But You have my yes.

I have fought long to view my circumstances through a safe and constricted window with a too-small view of Your eternal grandeur…

Handed my yes over to a thousand other lesser things while holding back my sacrifice at Your altar…

Attempted to fit surrender into my life instead of fitting my life to surrender…


Forgive me.

And accept my yes.


Whatever You want.

Wherever You want it.

However You want to accomplish Your plan.

Place me in the middle of Your will so that I will be out of Your way.

You have my yes.


You say,

“Give me your needs, dreams and hopes. Your well-worn desires and uncertain days in the unknown future. Trust that I see and know.”


You say,

“Turn over the painful mistakes, the guilt-riddled, sleepless nights and the weight of past regret. Let My grace be more than enough for you.”


You say,

“Surrender every moment, every breath, every heartbeat to Me–the One who gave them all to you.”






To all I know and all I know not with a whole heart and without reservation.

You have my yes.

I will say what You want me to say.

Go where You send me.

Live and love and lead as You desire and direct and empower.

Your will alone.

You have my yes.


As Creator, You made me.

As Redeemer, You bought me.

As Lord, You own me.

As Father, You love me.


Being fashioned of clay,

Purchased by blood,

Designed for Your service,

And adopted as Your child,


You have my eternal yes.