Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mending the great rift

The nation of Judah had plunged into the sticky-sweet pool of idolatry by the time the prophet Isaiah was sent to speak for God. The people were trusting in gold statues and accumulated wealth, giving their ear to foreign philosophies and seeking out formula superstitions.

Isaiah brought a correction: God will judge and he will settle disputes.

“Then they will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.”

Isaiah 2:4

Suddenly an unbidden refrain came to mind: “All we are asking is give peace a chance….”

John Lennon, by the time he wrote, “Give Peace a Chance,” was on his way out of the Beatles and into his eastern religion phase. His words were considered prophetic, with meat to chew on. Celebrities clung to every proclamation and the list of famous people at the unveiling of “Give Peace a Chance” was a Who’s Who of the late ‘60’s liberal camp.

We hear the same refrain today: if presidents and prime ministers and chairmen would only put down their missiles, we’d have peace. Quit fighting and peace will come. A simple formula.

Isaiah presents a different picture. He was addressing a people who were trusting philosophies and formulas. God was filing charges, through Isaiah’s words, against Judah: he had protected and provided for the people, but they had rebelled against him and sought out other measures.

We are foolish to think peace comes through determination or philosophy. Lennon was right to say that all the “isms” won’t uncover peace. There is no pat formula for peace.

God was asking Judah to keep their part of the bargain. He had promised to protect and provide, asking for their love and commitment in return. Our human nature, selfish and indulgent, provide the ultimate ripping of relationship. By banking on our own point of view, we lost the unity with God.

Only when God reconciles the great rift between himself and us will we see peace. It won’t come as a result of wishing or gritting one’s teeth or “giving peace a chance.” It comes when we stop the philosophies and seek out the Person.

If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.

Isaiah 1:19-20

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Just enough

By the time we saw him, the man had already pushed his car up the driveway of the gas station. First, all the pumps were occupied so he guided the old car to the curb and waited. He leaned on an old tank of a car, faded and bent. Finally a spot cleared and he bowed hard into the front bumper. The car rolled silently up to the pump.

By this time, we were pretty sympathetic for this man who obviously had a touch of bad timing, running out of gas so close to the station. And then we got a laugh as he pumped $5 worth of gas into the car and drove away.

I’ve never lived that close to the end of the paycheck, but I do remember paying all the bills for the month and having $20 left. What I found interesting was how we had enough. It didn’t seem to matter if the heating bill was up or we used more electricity. I paid the bills and we’d have $20 left over. We bought $75 worth of groceries every month (this was 20 years ago) based on a menu plan, and never ran out of food. We took walks for entertainment and played board games. I cancelled the cable TV and we had time to tend our garden.

I wrote a tithe check every month, right along with the other obligations. The car never broke down that year and the shoes didn’t wear out.

“Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty.

We weren’t looking for riches that year, just survival. God stretched my paycheck. I couldn’t tell you exactly how, but we always had enough. We knew we were being cared for even though we couldn’t exactly see how.

After that year of squeezing, I don’t doubt God’s ability to care for my finances. I could have pumped $5 worth of gas, knowing that when I needed more, it would be there. God proved to be able and willing.

See if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.

Mal 3:10

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

7 things you don't need to know

OK, here's the way this works:

Each player starts with 7 random facts/habits about themselves.
People who are tagged need to write on their own blog about their seven things, as well as these rules.
At the end of your blog, you need to choose 7 people to get tagged and list their names.
Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them that they have been tagged and to read your blog!

Here's my list:

1. My son and I raise and show Holland Lop rabbits. You may not be able to imagine WHY anyone would do that, but we are having fun with it.

2. Although my BA is in English, my jobs have included work as a newspaper reporter (OK, that makes some sense), analyzing livestock feed and selling tractor parts and Apple computers.

3. I have not read all the “Left Behind” series.

4. I enjoy photography and can explain depth of field, f-stops and the temperature of color.

5. One of my all-time favorite movies is “Babette’s Feast.”

6. I have 50 first cousins.

7. I am living proof that you can take the girl out of the farm but you can’t get the farm out of the girl.

Just a mess of weed(s)

Poor Charlie got a ticket from the mess of weeds in his back yard. His town officials didn’t look kindly on the need for some mowing and hoeing. In small towns, those kinds of tickets always show up in the newspaper’s report of the police activities. So Charlie braced himself for the embarrassing account of his ticket.

But the cub reporter writing up the police news was perhaps a little too fresh out of college, for he saw “weed” and wrote “marijuana.” So the news announced that Charlie had been ticketed for raising a bunch of marijuana out back.

Assumptions are amazing things, aren’t they? Eve assumed she knew what God meant about the tree in the garden. Jonah assumed God couldn’t leave the country. The rich young ruler assumed keeping most of the laws, making him better than most, would get him into God’s kingdom.

Assumptions happen when we react rather than investigate. A few well-placed questions can point out a clearer path. Going to the source, clarifying the issue, questioning your viewpoint – these are the tools to fight back assumptions. Think what would have happened if the reporter has asked the police department secretary, “what kind of weed?” Think what would have happened if Eve had asked Adam, “God said not to eat this fruit, right?”

We can't assume our viewpoint is 20:20. Ask.

'Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'

Jer 33:3

Monday, May 28, 2007


Today we remember what was done for us. We celebrate the sacrifice of others who died to bring us freedom and wholeness. We honor the courage of those who relinquished their right to life, liberty and happiness so that we might have it.

Yesterday we were served bread and juice. “Take this in remembrance of me….” The overlapping of the two events was stirring. We honor our soldiers who fought for our physical freedom. We honor our Savior who died for our eternal freedom.

Life is worth sacrifice. Remember.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Eating sins

In the movie, The Last Sin Eater,” 10 year-old Cadi painfully begs the village sin eater to take away her awful pain now. “I can’t wait until I die. I can’t live this way.”

The sin eater is a man selected to absorb the sins. As folks die, the sin eater performs a simple but provoking ceremony at the funeral. He eats an offering of bread and wine that is symbolically imbued with the sins of the dead person. In doing so, he takes their sin on himself. His is the agony of hell, however, for he has no way to shed those sins. Although the legends paint him as a red-eyed demon who must be avoided at any cost – no one is allowed to touch, or even look at, him- Cadi dares do both, driven by her own internal agony over her own sin.

The freedom that Cadi craves doesn’t come from the sin eater, who compassionately tried to help but finds his ceremony holds no healing for Cadi. When a missionary visits the area, he grasps the folklore of the sin eater and explains things to Cadi: she need not be in agony until death, for there was an Ancient Sin Eater who has already taken her sin on himself.

This man of God grasped two things. First, he explained Jesus’ redemptive work in terms that Cadi understood. She knew the sin eater notion and she rejoiced to know that there was a perfect, one-time-only sin eater who was not destroyed by the sins he absorbed. He had already eaten her sins. The work was done.

Second, the missionary understood that change only happens when the pain of staying the same is too great. For Cadi, the agony of her secret (I don’t want to give away too much) drove her to desperate means. The pain of staying the same pushed her to a new exploration and, eventually, understanding.

Cadi found freedom. This Perfect Sin Eater was also the Truth in her life.

Those who carry the story of the Ancient Sin Eater as well. We need to remember, as the missionary did, that we must tell the story relevantly and we must be alert for those in such pain that they are frantic for Truth.

“Jesus said, ‘…Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’"

John 8:31-32

Friday, May 25, 2007

E-mail updates

I have added a new feature to this blog. You can now subscribe via e-mail so that the new posts would go directly to your e-mail. At the right of this blog is a window with a subscription form. This is a double-opt-in system, so you'll sign up and then get a verification e-mail later. The verification can come as much as 24 hours later so patience is helpful.

Friday Five: God's love

Today I’m starting a new feature entitled “Friday Five,” where I will give a list of five things on one topic. You’re welcome to add to my list or come up with your own list.

Although today’s topic may seem familiar, read each item anew. I went looking for Old Testament verses regarding God’s love. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. (Psalms 63:3)

  1. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. (Psalms 103:11)

  1. "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer 31:3)

  1. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you… (Deut 7:8)

  1. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. (Deut 10:18)

Now share some of yours.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A message from jail

I know a man who fell asleep at the wheel of his car. The resulting crash was a fender bender and no one was hurt, but he was horrified. He would lose his job if he lost his driver’s license. He spent the night of the accident at his kitchen table agonizing over the scenarios, which grew darker and darker as he brooded.

Do not be anxious about anything. (Phil 4:6)

I know another man who did lose his job. His company laid off the non-essential employees, which stung by itself. Then he spent a year searching for a job in his field before branching out to other job possibilities. He spent many nights hunkered over his desk trying to balance a checkbook and battle the looming depression.

Rejoice in the Lord always. (Phil 4:4)

I know a woman who knowingly delivered a dying baby girl and then, in the complications of the birth, also lost any chance to ever bear another child. Her grief was magnified by the double loss.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Phil 4:5)

Sometimes these words in Philippians seem like empty platitudes. Surely Paul wrote those words from some cushy place as an honored high official in the early church. What did he know about pain and worry?

For starters, Paul wrote those words while sitting in a Roman prison. I don’t imagine they had air conditioning and indoor plumbing in the first century. Paul recounts his adventures in his letters. He was stoned, flogged, arrested, shipwrecked, left for dead, mocked, threatened with death.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. (2 Cor 1:8)

Imagine the loneliness of the jail cell, abandoned by most of your friends. Imagine the fear of wearing chains on a storm-battered ship. Imagine the pain of a flogging, the agony of friends hating your very words.

Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. (2Cor 1:9)

Paul’s words of encouragement didn’t come from the ivory tower. He knew danger and grief and fear.

I am in chains for Christ. (Phil 1:13)

Notice his focus. It was not on himself but on Jesus. He feared nothing. He even understood the reason for his difficulties.

But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:9)

The agonies of this life will either drive us to our own resources or drive us to God’s resources. Difficulties reveal where we have made our stand. Challenges show what we rely on.

"Worrying means we do not believe that God can look after the practical details of our lives, and it is never anything but those details that worry us. Have you ever noticed what Jesus said would choke the Word He puts in us? "The cares of this world" …We say, "I will not trust when I cannot see"— and that is where unbelief begins."

Oswald Chambers

My Utmost for His Highest

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

First century bad guys

It’s easy to dismiss the Pharisees as the bad guys of the first century, the religious hypocrites who were destroying God’s truth for their own gain.

Did you know the Pharisees were the ones who determined the final contents of the Hebrew Bible, which we call the Old Testament? After Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, only the Pharisees emerged somewhat intact. The Sadducees and Essenes were scattered but the Pharisees remained together. They met in 90 AD in Jamnia to canonize the Old Testament.

So the Pharisees are a mixed bag for us. Often we hear “Pharisee” and think “hypocrite.” They were often pretenders, men who seemed to hold the secrets of God’s Word. They postured as the experts on righteousness and God’s Word, furious when Jesus exposed their pretense while he showed his own greater wisdom and authority.

The Pharisees were fiercely separatists, refusing loyalty to Rome. You can imagine how popular that made them with the Jews. They were intensely loyal to God and absolutely dedicated to restoring Israel. They were drawn to the many debates with Jesus because of their zeal

Jesus deftly revealed that, although they shared knowledge with Jesus, they didn’t understand what they had learned. Their pride had blinded their eyes. Ultimately, it was those religious zealots who brought about Jesus’ death.

They thought they were experts on the law, but Jesus labeled them “whitewashed tombs,” which looked good on the outside but dead on the inside. Their zeal had drifted from the heart to the skin, there to impress others. They lost their first love.

I’ve wondered often what we would do with Pharisees today. Could we see past the fanaticism to discern their motivations? Would we follow their separatist zeal for the law? Their formulas and external motivation are a lot easier to follow than the way of brokenness and humility.

They tried to elevate themselves in their pride but, when they were whipped and exiled, God used them to preserve his Old Testament Word.

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Luke 23:34

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The amazing exchange

The key clicked in the lock. Heavy chains were cold on his wrists and the light paled as the jailer closed the heavy prison door. The air was as stale as the future. Guilty. Caught in the act of robbery. Condemned for murder.

The man slid along the cool wall to sit on the ground. Guilty. Caught in the act. There had been no hope in the judge’s monotone sentencing. What could he expect?

All the excuses hung like shredded rags now, because the soldiers had looked him in the eye as he held the goods in his hand. The knife, just wiped clean, was in his belt. What defense had he had? He was drop-dead guilty.

He deserved to die. The dark hopelessness of isolation settled over him for ages.

Outside, the sun was shining. There wasn’t even a glimpse of rain in the sky. But the heat in the air was nothing compared to the argument between the government man and the angry assembly.

Their evidence was worthless. It was easy to see the accused had done nothing wrong, except really tick them off.

But the government man was wilting under the pressure. Really, why should he care? He could keep the crowd happy. The accused man would fade from everyone’s memory soon.

That was how a minor government official gave the order to substitute an innocent man for another who was absolutely, no-questions-asked guilty. That was how the swap happened, that a man who didn’t deserve to die trudged to an execution in the place of the one who did. It was the beginning of the amazing exchange.

The official turned to his assistant: “This stinks but it isn’t my fault. I have other business to attend to. Go release Barabbas.”

Because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

Isaiah 61:1

Monday, May 21, 2007


Many women at 21 are thinking about careers, boyfriends, clothing styles, and music. Sophie Scholl was thinking about opposing madness.

If you haven’t seen the movie Sophie Scholl, it’s worth a thoughtful look. Don’t be looking for a lot of action, although the final scene is very gripping and dramatic. Based on a true story, it takes place in 1942 during the second World War.

The self-righteous totalitarianism of Nazi Germany is seen in raw contrast to Sophie’s commitment to freedom, truth, and compassion. The terse anger of Sophie’s prosecutor stands as a harsh backdrop to Sophie’s calm faithfulness.

Throughout the movie, Sophie is drawn to light. When she can throw back the shutter in her jail cell, she soaks in the sunlight. Her walk across a gray courtyard to her trial gives her opportunity to see the beauty of the sky with white clouds dancing. The sun illuminates her prayer time.

Sophie dissects the maneuvering of the Nazis. How could they bring freedom when they stifle dissension? How could they bring fulfillment when they destroyed “sub-humans” (anyone not meeting their arbitrary standards)? How could they deliver perfection through barbarism? She stands simply and fully on her convictions, impervious to their insults and their rantings.

Although the movie is a tribute to a modern-day hero, it also triggers discomfort for followers of Jesus. Where is our strength in opposition? Would we stand for truth and freedom if it meant such stark hostility? Could we raise our faces to the sun when evil was sucking the color out of our world? When evil bowed our backs, could we trust God’s beauty and grace?

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

John 17:15

Sunday, May 20, 2007

How not to witness

Our work

Moods never go by praying , moods go by kicking.
Oswald Chambers,
My Utmost For His Highest


I heard about a man who, on his deathbed at 80-some years old, spent four days in a vision of sorts. His family is at loss to explain but this outspoken agnostic, who had energetically rejected all talk of God all his life, spent days alone inside a prison cell with no way out.

The phrase echoed repeatedly: there is no way out.

Until at the end when a new word was heard: there IS a way out. He grabbed hold. The last two days of his life were spent in joyful celebration of a newfound relationship with the great Rescuer, who flung open the prison door of eternity. This man had rebuffed ideas of escape for a lifetime. In the last moment, God gave him yet another chance.

In Jesus’ last week on earth, he confronted the Pharisees many times and he also challenged Judas’ decision to betray him. Why? Not to prove them wrong.

He was giving them yet another chance to recognize God’s hand at work.

I often underestimate God’s grace. God offered escape to Cain before he murdered his brother. “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it. (Gen 4:7) Cain got yet another chance.

The prophet Jonah delivered an incredible message of redemption to heathen Nineveh. Jonah described God: I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. (Jonah 4:2) Nineveh got yet another chance.

Me? I can give up on people. How many times do they need to hear? When can I shake the dust off my feet and move on to more fertile ground? For some reason, seventy times seven keeps popping in my head.

Jesus came to seek and to save those who were lost. (Luke 19:10) When we truly see ourselves in the prison with no way out, when only our own breath breaks the silence, grace becomes precious. We grab hold with an iron grip. And we don’t give up on those who still have a chance left.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Luke 4:18-19

Friday, May 18, 2007


Hot and cold. Mars and Venus. Reason and emotion. From the time Tommy in the third grade slugged us because he liked us, we have been trying to understand men and women.

I’m reading Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, the Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. (Why do authors need to reveal their whole book in the title?)

The idea is that women desire love while men need respect. Women give love because they value it so much, while men long for respect. Ephesians 5:33 suggests the same concept and Eggerichs claims we have gone a long way in nurturing love in marriages but not respect.

Women withhold respect when they’re not feeling love while men withhold love when they don’t feel respected. Eggerichs calls this the Crazy Cycle and suggests that the one most mature in the relationship needs to break the cycle and give what they are not yet receiving, trusting that eventually they will receive what they need.

This book is a fast read. Eggerichs repeats his concept in many different ways. I was torn, as I read, between telling him (do you ever talk to books and authors?) that I GOT IT and wondering if I would ever get it.

He has a website (of course). Ignore the froth and dig into the meat.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Closing a door

The unthinkable impossibility happened in 70 AD when the Romans, tired of the Jews’ revolt, annihilated Jerusalem. Their impatience showed. They burned the city and utterly destroyed the temple. You can read more about that horrible siege at this link.

If we remember that this was the temple restored by Herod to grandeur, the fury of the Romans is even more startling. But they’d had it. The Jews had been rumbling ever since the Romans settled in Palestine. This was using a cannon to swat a fly, but the Romans angrily settled the uprising once and for all.

What did this mean for the early Christian church?

The early Christians wrestled with a question: could the new church go on without the temple? Now the temple was gone. There was no returning to it for Jewish festivals or sacrifices. Were they a Jewish sect or a new religion?

Jesus had explained to his followers some 40 years earlier that the destruction of the temple would usher in the age of the Gentile (Luke 21:24). The first Christians had struggled with the question of whether the non-Jew had first to become a Jew and then become a Christian.

Peter’s powerful words at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) underlined the message of Christianity: we are saved by grace, not by Jewish traditions.

The temple was the center of those Jewish traditions. You offered the Passover sacrifice at the temple. In fact, all the offerings came to the temple and now it was gone.

For Christians, 70 AD was a door closing. They finally understood they were not Jewish but something new: followers of Jesus. They had been taking the gospel out to non-Jews before 70 AD, but now there was no question. One didn’t have to meet certain criteria before coming to Jesus. One did not need to embrace Jewish traditions before following Jesus.

That’s good news today because we do not need to embrace any churchy traditions before following Jesus. We come freely and directly.

The temple is gone but the grace continues.

No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved

Acts 15:11

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


And all the Almighty God is ours in the Lord Jesus! And He will tax the last grain of sand and the remotest star to bless us if we will obey Him. What does it matter if external circumstances are hard?

Oswald Chambers

My Utmost For His Highest

Guest book

I finally tacked on a guest book so now you can leave your footprints here. It's at the bottom of the page.

Our sinking stones

Her eyes suddenly glazed with tears. “I love Jesus,” she whispered roughly, “but I can’t feel him now. It doesn’t feel like he’s with me here.” And she cried softly.

Ugh. I have felt the same way. In the horrible storms of life, it seems like God is sleeping in the boat. We think he has left us in our moment of need, alone as we face the foaming ugly waves that threaten to wash us off the ship.

We need to go back to the basics. Who is God? What do I believe is true about God? I have decisions to make. Either I believe God is who he says he is, or I don’t. I can’t waffle on this one.

But sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s near. I can feel the spray of the waves and the roar of the wind. The boat is shaking and so am I. How could God let this storm threaten my boat? Will he let me sink?

If I believe God is present, as he says he is, then I have to determine what in me is blocking my perception of his presence.

That is usually about bondage in my life. It can be bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, jealousy, greed, self-sufficiency, pride. These are black roots sinking deep into my heart and they deaden my ability to feel God’s presence. He is near but I can’t feel him when I’m nurturing such oppression.

We have choices to make. Oddly, we often grab hold of our bondages like the life jacket in the boat. We think the pride and self-sufficiency will keep us afloat in a storm. We think unforgiveness will protect us from the looming hurricane. We think greed and holding onto possessions will keep us out of the ugly waves. We are foolish.

What did the disciples discover in their storm? Jesus was sleeping in their boat and when they awakened him, he rebuked the waves and the storm stopped. And then he turned to them and said, ‘where is your faith?” They had enough sense to ask him to calm the storm, but they didn’t have enough sense to remember his words before they started across the lake. He had said, “let’s go to the other side of the lake.” (Mark 4:35-40)

So, as the storm rises, our precious life jackets – those things we trust to get us through the waves – are the very things that block of us from feeling his presence. What we think will preserve us in the storm are really the rocks that are weighing us down. We’ll sink if we keep clinging to those things. No wonder God feels distant! We’re not even hanging onto him but our own sinking stone.

He says to us, “let’s go over to the other side.” Are we ready to go?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Safeway evangelism

The checker at Safeway was stricken. The $50 bill she had assumed was payment from the man at the counter was actually the change back to the previous customer. The man at the counter was clear: the $20 was his, not the $50. In the end, the previous customer got his money back and all ended well.

Nobody talked about Jesus, though.

That was once the rich ground of my evangelism system. I figured that if ever I had a chance to show just how honest I really was, someone would instantly ask me why and I could share my faith as they clung to my every word, so impressed with my integrity. I would have looked so good to those around me that they’d ask.

But nobody did that at Safeway. They all said, whew and thanks.

So much for my evangelism plan. The emperor had no clothes. Honesty is not the sign of a follower of Jesus. Total pagans are often honest. It’s a cultural standard.

Jesus didn’t lay such a model before his disciples. I searched but there’s no command to be honest so they will come to the Lord. He sent his disciples out to act with compassion and point the way to him.

Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you’. (Luke 10:9)

I was curious as to what Jesus told his disciples to watch out for. Today, we’d tell them to watch out for immoral living (gotta stay pure as a witness) and to flee dishonesty (they’ll ask why we are so decent and pure).

He told his disciples to beware of the following: hypocrisy, greed, apple-polishing the crowd, being led astray.

The most common warning? Beware the religious leaders.

We don’t draw people to Jesus with our honesty but with our concern, our brokenness, our sacrifice, our steadfastness. We draw people when we look like Jesus and point them to him.
Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He touched the impure. He went into Samaria. He was filled with love and compassion for the people.

His criticism was for the hypocritical, those preening for the crowd, making themselves look good to those around them. So much for correct-change evangelism.

"Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."

Luke 20:46-47

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rock solid

He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out."

Luke 19:40

Jesus’ disciples were still in the blush of adrenaline, probably still waving the palm branches and slapping each other on the back, when the Pharisees scolded Jesus: tell your disciples to stop this!

Religious leaders then didn’t care for fanaticism then any more than we do today – at least in reference to Jesus.

However, I digress. I want to focus on Jesus’ response. He defended the joyous display: if these followers were quiet, the stones would shout out. I have assumed that Jesus was saying, if people didn’t praise me, creation will.

Jesus had a bigger message than that for the Pharisees. Stones have an interesting heritage in ancient Hebrew writings. From Abraham to Jacob to Joshua, stones were raised up in remembrance of God’s great work. Responding to God’s covenant of protection and offspring, Abraham set up stones at Bethel. (Gen. 12:7) Jacob set up a stone – the pillow where he’d laid his head – after pledging that the Lord was his God. (Also at Bethel. See Gen 28:21-22).

After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, they pledged their loyalty to God. Joshua erected a stone to mark that decision. (Joshua 24:27) In each case, God had initiated the promise; he had come to his people with his provisions and protection.

In Habakkuk 2:11, we learn that stones of the wall testify against evil. One of the roles of stones was as a memorial, a testimony of a past decision.

So Jesus was telling the Pharisees that if his followers didn’t celebrate his coming, the memorials of the past would testify. God had planned the incarnation of Jesus from the beginning. God’s interaction with his people was consistent and his covenant clear: I will be your God and you will be my people. My part of the covenant is to protect and provide. Your part is to love and obey me.

If followers didn’t shout the celebration of the covenant, the stones served as a testimony. Israel’s very history celebrated the work of God and his great plan of redemption through the Messiah.

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees were compassionate. He reminded them of their own history. They could know the joy and freedom of the Messiah if they only looked at the testimony of their own stones. God had reached out in his covenant of love many times before. The stones cried out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Back soon

I am going to a Beth Moore conference this weekend. I haven't been to one in several years and I am looking forward to the time with my daughters. I'll report in when I get back in a couple of days.

The tasty tidbit

A treat given is a treat earned. At least according to my mustang mare, who always greets me at the gate hoping for something tasty to eat.

Sometimes when I join her in her pen, I share a treat. I probably look like a large feed dispenser to her and we do come at cross-purposes on that. I want to spend time with her. She likes to spend time with me, too, especially if I hand over some yummies.

The reason she gets treats sporadically is because I don’t want her to expect goodies every time I come. I want her to welcome me every time I come rather than pawing for treats. I want her to enjoy our time to together.

Those days when she wants the treat more than she wants me are disappointing.

I wonder if Jesus felt something like that. He came to the people, like I come to my mare, wanting to spend time together. Jesus was all about relationship, calling people to himself and directing them to the Father. He healed and did other treats out of love and compassion.

Yet people often came looking for the treats rather than being drawn to the relationship. He wanted to spend time with them; they wanted treats. When the tidbits weren’t like the people wanted, they rejected him to look for another.

I’d rather my mare loved the soft brush and the interesting workouts rather than crowding me to get another treat. I think Jesus wanted people to come, not for the benefits, but for the relationships.

He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

John 1:11-12

Not so worthy

Kids’ songs can get their hooks in our brains. Ever accidentally heard an old song and it sticks to your thoughts like white bread to the roof of your mouth?

Every time I read the story about Zacchaeus, the same thing happens. I start singing, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he….” I had to sit on my hands so I didn’t make the hand gestures to go with the words. (Here’s a link if the words are a little hazy for you.)

Having a children’s verse repeating in my head is a definite shortcoming when trying to read about our wee little man. But I gritted my teeth: there’s got to be more to this story than silly old song. Pushing ahead, I began asking questions.

Like, why did our author, Luke, want us to know that Zacchaeus was short? Is it necessary to know he had to climb a tree to see Jesus?

Well, the crowd wouldn’t let him through. He was too short to see over everyone and the crowd was not helpful. I’m not re-visiting the crowd theme (see yesterday’s article for that) but it does continue in this story.

However, Luke also listed Zacchaeus’ other shortcomings as well: he was a tax collector, not popular with the crowd, rich and a sinner to boot.

Zacchaeus, like the blind beggar in the story immediately before this one in Luke, passionately sought out Jesus. He climbed a tree to see the passing Jesus. He didn’t ask anything of Jesus but wanted to see him. Both Zacchaeus and the blind beggar (from yesterday’s article) sought a connection with Jesus – even it was simply a glimpse.

When two adjoining stories share similar points, we can know those are some of the things to learn from the stories. Zacchaeus and the blind beggar were imperfect men with a shameful past, definitely not worthy of Jesus’ time according to the religious crowd around them. Jesus didn’t agree.

Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’ home, heard Zacchaeus’ plan to restore what he had taken from others, and declared, “Today salvation has come to this house. (Luke 19:9)

Zacchaeus, like many others, could have thought his shortcomings would keep him away from Jesus. (Yes, I think Luke was making a pun by being sure we knew he was height-challenged.) But Zacchaeus overcame. He only wanted to see Jesus and found himself embraced by the compassion of the Son of Man.

Jesus’ ministry was not to seek out the religiously pious or the zealous nationalists…

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.

Luke 19:10

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

There's sight and there's sight

The blind beggar sat in the shadow of riches, trying to grab the falling crumbs from the pious pilgrims. Jericho, where he had set up shop, was the rendezvous for Jews on their way to Jerusalem for Passover. They had bypassed the detested Samaria, going the long way round to avoid that hated soil and people.

Sitting at the side of the road, he heard a commotion and was told that Jesus the Nazarene was walking by. He wasted no time. At the top of his lungs, he called out for mercy from Jesus, son of David. He knew who Jesus was. He didn’t identify him as the Nazarene, but as the son of David. Did he also tie that title to an understanding of Jesus as Messiah?

The crowd didn’t. The people sternly ordered his silence. The beggar was not swayed. After the second call, he had Jesus’ attention. I find it interesting that Jesus did not assume what the beggar wanted. He asked. While the beggar had asked for mercy twice, now he asks for sight.

His word choice is interesting. He asked for anablepo. That can mean either to recover sight or to look up. Jesus gave him anablepo and informed him that his faith had saved him. Not only were his eyes healed, but the beggar had spiritual vision as well.

His next choice: he followed Jesus, praising God. He understood his healing had come from God and, interestingly enough, even the cynical crowd now praised God as well.

Context is always vital. The beggar was surrounded by a crowd that had religious formulas. They were on their way to the Passover in Jerusalem, only slightly inconvenienced by their shunning of the Samaritans. Filled with righteous hatred and religious narrowness, they tried to keep the beggar away from Jesus, even though they did not acknowledge Jesus’ heritage.

The beggar had a choice: follow the crowd or his own faith. He didn’t hesitate. The crowd was doing little for him, while he had hope that Jesus offered sight. He had more perception (dare I say sight?) than the crowd. And he wanted to see - not just physically but spiritually as well.

We may feel the same choice. Our crowd may even be religious, shouting down our heart’s desire. Can we, like the beggar, keep shouting? Are we desperate to have our sight renewed? Can we keep our focus?

The beggar knew Jesus was the key to his future. He defied the crowd. He wanted to look up and it made all the difference.

Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God.

Luke 18:43

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Spidey's choice

Toward the end of the new Spiderman 3 movie, there’s a jarring scene where a young man is set free from the evil parasite but returns – just in time to be destroyed.

Critics have called Spiderman 3 “dark” because it wrestles, in classic comic book style, with questions of good and evil. Several characters struggle with their own choices.

Some, as our young villain, revel in the evil and see it as empowering. Others are drawn to evil and then repulsed by evil's demands. In each case, characters were tempted by revenge: they hadn’t gotten what was due them. They deserved better and so they’d take out the one who had offended them.

Cain faced similar issues. He was offended that his brother’s offering was accepted while his was not. God laid his choices clearly before him:

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Gen 4:7)

Eve had already learned that evil could masquerade as power, invigorating and indulgent. Not only do I deserve this pleasure, but I can get it myself!

Sin offers power on the front end but annihilates in the end. It always appeals to our own logic and our own appetite.

Peter addresses the problem: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6)

And he tackles the danger as well: Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Spiderman 3 suggests that we have choices to make in our lives.

Peter suggests we choose God’s mighty hand:

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

(1 Peter 5:7)

Monday, May 7, 2007

The tools of deliverance

Jael invited a killer into her home and delivered a nation from his terror. The story is an odd one. Take a look at Judges 4 for the complete text.

Sisnera was a powerful army commander, ruthless in his attacks on the nation of Israel and equally brutal in his misuse of women. He was fleeing from a battle gone bad (which speaks of his courage in battle, by the way), when Jael invites him into her home. He eagerly responds.

Although Sisnera generally used women for his own pleasure, this time he intends to use this woman for his own rest. He asks for water to drink and a place to sleep. She gives him milk, covers him with a blanket, comforts him like a mother might tuck in her child.

While he sleeps like a baby, Jael takes up the tools of the home – a hammer and tent peg – and drives the peg through his temple, killing him instantly. The image is horribly jarring. The Judges text lulls us with the nurturing images and then turns it into a shocking death. Jael is praised by Israel as blessed, honored as one of the mothers of the nation for her courageous act.

Who would think the tools of the home and the care of a mother would destroy the oppression of a nation?

And yet…. Perhaps it is so yet today. We watch the breakdown of the traditional family today. We know something of the statistics. Broken families are the norm. Divorce is common. Unmarried parents are familiar. Where once children were raised by their family – parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles – today they are raised by their peers.

We know the consequences: depression, drug use, anger, alcoholism.

The women of Jael’s day were responsible for their tent-homes. It was the women who tore down the tent and put it back up. They used the hammer and tent pegs all the time. Jael didn’t use anything unfamiliar in defeating Sisnera.

She identified Sisnera as the oppressor of her nation and she used what she knew to defeat him. Her home and her bravery were the keys to freeing a nation.

What is the Sisnera of our day, dominating our people? How can we show the courage of Jael to spring our people free? The pieces are in place. We must be on the alert. A simple mother delivered a nation. Hope springs from tyranny.

Most blessed of women be Jael,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.

Judges 5:24

Sunday, May 6, 2007


Suffering is always the odd uncle of our faith. We acknowledge Uncle Charlie but don’t want to welcome him in. He’s the unspoken member of our family gatherings, the fear of pain and embarrassment. We often hope he’ll forget to come to our house.

Such is suffering.

Paul spoke of the privilege of suffering. (Phil 1:29) Jesus left the comforts of the Kingdom to slog around the earth in a human body. He knew the pain of a headache, the twangs of hunger, the fatigue of a midnight prayer vigil. He left paradise behind to suffer.

I know people who have suffered unspeakable agonies. Some blame God and hate him. Others cling to God with a refined faith.

Paul makes an unfathomable proclamation later in his letter to Philippi: Rejoice always! I want to add, except during suffering, of course.

But it is in the fire where the gold is refined. It is by pressure that a diamond is formed.

In the suffering, we face our own frailties. There is a ragged transparency in pain.

I found a song this week by Natalie Grant, entitled Held. We rage against the reasons for suffering, but we can turn to the who in suffering. Here’s the chorus:

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.
The wise hand opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.

If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?

Saturday, May 5, 2007


It was sixteen years ago when they laid a skinny little stranger on my stomach and we first met eye to eye. We had some skirmishes before that day and we’ve had a few since.

She once stood with her toes on the line, knowing she couldn’t cross but not willing to bend her heart. She danced naked in a mud puddle. She dunked cats in the water tank and flooded the back yard. She left crayon masterpieces on the walls. She unraveled all the cassette tapes left on the bottom shelf

But the day came when her heart turned and she raised her hands to her Savior. Today, she creates images to reflect her praise. She writes letters to the jail, embraces the lost and loves the struggling.

We still meet eye to eye but she is no stranger. She is a gift to me and others in her wake.

Happy birthday, Becky!

The requirements

Judaizers had gained traction in Jerusalem, which gave them the audacity to travel all the way to Antioch to spread their falseness. We’re talking first century here, the early believers some 15-20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

Whether tradition still held a death grip or whether power beckoned, some early Jewish believers were already adding onto the teaching of the apostles. They proclaimed, “Unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)

Peter, in his first speech at Pentecost, hadn’t mentioned the Jewish rituals. Stephen, in his final speech, hadn’t brought up Jewish rituals. But these new believers were Pharisee-izing the gospel: there’s more, folks. You have to be a Jew before you become a believer. We’ll add a few helpful clauses to make it clearer.

The issue was now huge because Paul and Barnabas had been planting churches among non-Jews. Did these new believers have to first go through Jewish rites before they could be saved? Was there really a pre-salvation preparation that was required? Did they need a pre-salvation class or ritual?

Peter stood before the council in Jerusalem to proclaim loud and clear: “No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." (Acts 15:11)

Ah, but don’t they need to be washed and smell good before they enter the church doors? Don’t they need to quit smoking? Quit swearing? Quit gambling?

What if they spill/stain/shout/tear something in our building? Do they respect our holy of holies? Do they know about offering envelopes and silent prayer requests?

“No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."

Acts 15:11

Friday, May 4, 2007

Broccoli and Ice Cream

When our son was a wise fourth grader, he developed a major sweet tooth. He wanted to eat ice cream, cake, cookies. When his complaints about balanced meals got out of hand, we invited him to a week of cookies only.

He picked out his own cookies from the grocery store aisle and settled in for 7 days of bliss. For breakfast, he balanced an Oreo in each hand. He carried his lunch to school: a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Supper was chocolate mints and marshmallow wafers.

By the third day, he had flunked his swimming test and was swimming in tears at school. He couldn’t concentrate in class and forgot to do his homework. We ended the bliss early.

I think churches sometimes long for the week of cookies as well. When we’ve been injured or stressed, isn’t it our nature to seek out healing and rest? Somehow, rest means indulgence.

We want ice cream when we need broccoli. We need the means to grow, the veggies of healing. Today, nurses don’t let surgery patients lie in bed for two weeks. The medical world has discovered light exercise from the start aids healing. A walk down the hall is worth a week’s worth of bedrest.

I met a pastor recently, new at his church, which was seeing tremendous growth and outreach. I asked him what the church had done in the two years they were waiting on a pastor. He said they stayed faithful to what God had given them to do. They kept on the broccoli and exercise.

Now think about a church that has endured a painful trauma. What is its instinct? To rest, to heal, to go into hibernation. What would the nurse have them do?

Take a walk down the hallway.

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

Luke 9:62

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Refiner's Fire

Persecution is that squeamish underbelly of our faith. Ever read Fox’s Book of Martyrs? I have a mixed response to that classic. On one hand, I am in awe of the courage of the martyrs. On the other hand, I am nervous that I might have to do the same.

Try to read Fox’s Book of Martyrs, though. It is an amazing account of faith under fire. In fact, the first century martyrs are one of the most powerful arguments for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. These were largely eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were willing to die for what they saw.

Although the Jews of Jerusalem were pretty hard on the early Christians (they stoned Stephen and ran most of the believers out of Jerusalem), the Romans were worse when they finally began their harassments. Herod Agrippa I, who was a Roman governor in Jerusalem, found such great approval from the Jews when he had James killed that he went after Peter. The story of Peter’s miraculous escape is recorded in Acts 12.

But the Romans really got rocking and rolling when Nero decided to blame the Christians for the devastating fire in Rome in 64 AD. They made an easy scapegoat: they were a small group without much political power. That’s usually the pattern.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Nero came up with some disgusting ways to entertain the people as he cut down Christians. The believers were sometimes sewn into the skins of wild animals and then left with a pack of dogs. Some were coated with wax, killed, and then used to illuminate the emperor’s gardens.

Persecution was not just a first century game. The Romans intended to absolutely extinguish Christianity in the 4th century, right before Constantine miraculously met Jesus and became a believer.

I mention this because of a recent news report. Persecution of Christians has become normal in many parts of the world, although it is seldom reported in the major media markets. In Turkey, Christian men were arrested and hideously murdered in mid-April. Here’s the link.

Believers facing persecution, whether in the first century or today, have to be absolutely convinced of what they see and believe. Persecution is the refiner’s fire.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." (Acts 7:59-60)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:14-15)

What’s wrong with the Mook and Midriff? Why can’t our young people have some fun?

Some might say that it’s because the lifestyles lead to immoral behavior. Sometimes, but not always. Not every Midriff sleeps around and not every Mook spends the weekend stoned.

Marketers’ motivation comes into play here. Why do merchandisers try to brainwash young people? For sales. They create an alternate reality for youth for one reason: to use teens to create affluence for themselves.

Jesus made the point clear: what we prize is often an abomination to God. God is concerned for the widows, the orphans, the weak, the poor, the vulnerable. We prize the rich and famous. We’ll exploit others to become rich and famous.

Manipulating others for our own gain is detestable to the Lord. Our young people are being misused. They are slaves to an empty image in a marketing plan. The lions of merchandise are on the prowl.

If you see a Mook this week, offer him a cookie and a soft drink. Let our youth know that they, and not their lifestyle, have value to us.

Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth?
Why then has he become plunder?
Lions have roared;
they have growled at him.
They have laid waste his land;
his towns are burned and deserted.

Jer 2:14-15

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

"I am a friend of God"

I had a chance to hear Michael Gungor in concert last weekend. He co-wrote "I am a Friend of God," a energetic praise song that I enjoy. Check out his website. You can hear several cuts off his newest album and download some songs as well. He's just moved to Denver and is holding monthly praise sessions. I hope to find out more details about that opportunity as well. Hope you enjoy!


When you think Midriff, think Britney Spears. Think Beyonce. Frontline describes the Mook as the perpetual adolescent and the Midriff as the premature adult.

The marketers are training our girls to strut their bodies even when they don’t understand what they’re doing. Bare that skin. Shorten that skirt. Tighten that t-shirt. They’re told a woman’s worth is in her sexuality.

It sells make-up, shoes, entire lines of clothing. That’s the purpose: to sell not only an item, but an entire lifestyle. Here’s the look; here’s what you buy to get it.

Do these marketers care that a girl wants to be an artist? A teacher? A poet? A mommy? Only if it sells. Do they care that she’s intrigued by fireflies or wants to rescue baby birds? She may love the smell of bubble gum or the touch of velvet. She may love lying under the stars drawing pictures in the night sky.

It doesn’t matter unless the marketers can bring out a new line of merchandise.

This is slavery and we have a generation of captives.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor

Luke 4:18-19