Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Five: Morning

Morning: the new beginning

  • In obedience: Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. Gen 22:3
  • In commitment: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
  • In thankfulness: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
  • In justice: Morning by morning he dispenses his justice, and every new day he does not fail, yet the unrighteous know no shame. Zeph 3:5

  • In hope: I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." Rev 22:16

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We have a winner!

Congratulations to ellinghouse who has won a copy of my book, Sumballo! Ellinghouse, please e-mail me your mailing address and I’ll get this book right out to you.

I used a random number generator at Thank you to all of you who entered. I appreciate your encouragement and comments.

Remember that you can pick up a copy of Sumballo from this link (which includes the wonderful original painting on the cover) or download a copy from this link.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Coffee shop moms

They were using our words. Encouragement flowed, love and support gushed from each message.

“We’re glad you’re back, sister! We love you!” wrote one excited mom. Another added, “We need you. You’re like the light in the darkness. Ignore those who hate.”

But there was a twist to all this.

These words buoyed a mom who had exited a message board in anger because some self-described Christians attacked her spiritual views. Well, her lack of spiritual views, to be precise.

What we’ve been reading are buttressing comments among atheist mothers.

Once I would have closed Firefox before reading any further. But I was curious. I read page upon page of encouragement and love, a veritable fountain of camaraderie and sisterhood.

Weren’t atheists supposed to be growling curmudgeons, viewing relationships with suspicion and spending hours pouring over dusty ledgers of philosophy? Weren’t they supposed to prefer Plato to toddlers?

I learned that these atheist mothers loved their families and their friends. I learned that they considered themselves the protectors of all things logical and scientific, viewing with anger any challenges to their viewpoint. I also learned that some Christians like to do airstrikes, dropping a quick bomb and then retreating to watch the fireworks.

At least one post suggested that this sisterhood should examine its own hatefulness and sin. That, of course, earned eternal scorn and more rallying of the troops.

So how does a follower of Jesus respond? We have often pidgeon-holed atheists into a neat little bundle that we assume is condemned to the place of eternal brimstone and fire. But if ours is a walk of relationship, we owe relationship to those with different views. Jesus didn’t pidgeon-hole.

These atheist moms obviously craved loving relationships – and hadn’t found much among the Christians on the message board. They weren’t drawn to the condemnation but found traction among their own sisterhood.

Jesus extended his hand to a woman caught in adultery, offering her connection over condemnation. Can we do the same?

"Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

John 8:7

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The book

If you'd like to purchase a copy of Sumballo, follow this link. You can order your own copy there. You can also click the logo for the book on the right hand side of this blog, which will take you to the same site. And remember to sign up for the drawing but hurry, because tomorrow at midnight is the deadline (Nov. 28th).

Soldiers and the body

When I’m standing in the trenches with mortars flying over my head, I’d like to know the state of those standing beside me. The previous article tries to group Christians by their belief system. Why should we care?

One of the reasons is this spiritual battle. We strap on our armor but we don’t stand alone. Even the angels didn’t know about the mystery of the body of Christ, but now we stand together as one body, toes and feet linking with livers and lungs.

I don’t want to be a judge but it helps me to know that, for example, a cultural Christian stands beside me. I won’t expect what this person isn’t ready to deliver.

Another reason to be aware of Christian groups is that sometimes the mission field is in our own pews. For those who enter a church because of reasons other than Christ crucified, I have an opportunity to point them to Jesus.

Chambers argues for the centrality of the cross: “We lose power if we do not concentrate on the right thing. The effect of the Cross is salvation, sanctification, healing, etc., but we are not to preach any of these, we are to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

This walk of faith is not about traditions or worship practices or comfort but about following him who gave up all for our freedom. So the grouping by Christianity Today is useful: to re-focus our attention on Jesus.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kinds of Christians

Can you call yourself a Yankees fan and never watch baseball? Can you consider yourself an avid skier and never strap on heavy ski boots? Can you describe yourself as a reader but never open a book?

How do you define a Christian?

Christianity Today has identified five kinds of Christians. Here’s the link.

Their pool contains only self-described Christians. The five categories, with their characteristics, are:

Active Christians 19%

  • · Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ
  • · Committed churchgoers
  • · Bible readers
  • · Accept leadership positions
  • · Invest in personal faith development through the church
  • · Feel obligated to share faith; 79% do so.

Professing Christians 20%

  • · Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ
  • · Focus on personal relationship with God and Jesus
  • · Similar beliefs to Active Christians, different actions
  • · Less involved in church, both attending and serving
  • · Less commitment to Bible reading or sharing faith

Liturgical Christians 16%

  • · Predominantly Catholic and Lutheran
  • · Regular churchgoers
  • · High level of spiritual activity, mostly expressed by serving in church and/or community
  • · Recognize authority of the church

Private Christians 24%

  • 1. Largest and youngest segment
  • 2. Believe in God and doing good things
  • 3. Own a Bible, but don't read it
  • 4. Spiritual interest, but not within church context
  • 5. Only about a third attend church at all
  • 6. Almost none are church leaders

Cultural Christians 21%

  • · Little outward religious behavior or attitudes
  • · God aware, but little personal involvement with God
  • · Do not view Jesus as essential to salvation
  • · Affirm many ways to God
  • · Favor universality theology

The term “Christian” has lost some of its first-century flavor. Now we need to know what a person means when he takes on this label. Nearly 2/3 of those who identify themselves as Christians do not acknowledge Christ as central to their faith.

How do you define a Christian? What do you see as essential to your faith?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Five: Glory!

“Glory” is great importance and shining majesty. “To give glory” is to recognize the importance of another. In giving glory to God, we recognize and announce his nature. The Greek calls it “doxa” (we know it in the word doxology). In doxa, we praise the divine power and majesty of God.

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

"Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. "

Neh 9:5

They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and I will meditate on your wonderful works

Psalms 145:5

May they sing of the ways of the LORD,
for the glory of the LORD is great.

Psalms 138:5

O LORD , our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

Psalms 8:1

(Note: photo by my teenage daughter. Thanks, Becky.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving thanks!

Spread for me a banquet of praise, serve High God a feast of kept promises!
Psalms 50:14

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The holiday glut

When the house was lit with a glowing arrangement of sparkle a few weeks ago, I assumed somebody had gotten the jump on their Christmas decorations. Curious (it’s a trait that gets me in trouble every so often), I turned down the street to see.

Nope. This house was illuminated with Halloween lights. A haunted house, a witch outline in lights, lots of jack-o-lanterns - these people had laid out some big bucks for a light show in October.

They weren’t alone. I saw another light-bill-budget-busting house a few blocks over, and another just down the road from our house.

You’ve probably noticed it, too. Halloween is now big business. We laughed at how quickly the Halloween d├ęcor was swept off the shelves on November 1, shoved aside by the Christmas stuff.

“So why aren’t there light shows for Thanksgiving?” my son asked me. A search of Walmart revealed very little that was Thanksgiving-themed.

That intrigues me.

There’s no room for Thanksgiving between the glut of candy at Halloween and the glut of gifts of Christmas. (Isn’t it funny, by the way, that we tend to be gluttons of food at Thanksgiving? What's with the glut thing?)

But no follower of Jesus needs to follow the marketing trends. Merchandisers are in business to make a profit but that doesn’t need to form my decisions. I can follow my heart and I want to make room to give thanks. I want to celebrate God’s graciousness and remember his provision. I hope you’ll join me!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free giveaway!

Exciting news! The best of the Sumballo articles are now available in a paperback book with a gorgeous, original painting on the cover (by Ann Iungerich).

Check it out at

But the best part is that I’m going to give away a copy of the book.

I’ll select the winner from the comments to this post. Or email me at if you'd like in that way. Let your friends know. Get your entries logged by Nov. 28th and I’ll let you know on the 29th who won.

New project

If you survived a miscarriage, would you be willing to be interviewed for a new project I’m working on? I’d like to hear your story and how you moved on with your live. What did people do that helped, or didn’t help? What resources do you think would have eased your walk through grief?

Please e-mail me if you’d like to participate. You will have full control over the level of confidentiality you’d prefer. My e-mail is

Thanks in advance!

Monday, November 19, 2007


Her tone was calm and steady but her words chilled my heart. “Mom,” said my newly-pregnant daughter in South Carolina, “I’ve been having cramps all afternoon. Do you think that’s a problem?”

And my heart began to race. I know the agony of miscarriage and the hollow of waiting out the days, hoping for healing and restoration.

We talked. She was already resting and I had little advice. Wait. We’ll all know soon if this is a problem.

When the phone rang the next morning, I saw her name on the caller ID. “How’s it going?” I whispered.

“We called the doctor,” she said quietly. “The pain got worse. He thinks it’s either an ectopic pregnancy or a cyst, but not likely to be a cyst.”

My role changed in an instant to a comforter. We talked about the glimmer of hope but moved to the more-likely scenario. “Do you ever miss the babies you lost?” she asked. “Does it bother you to talk about this?”

Yes. No. I’m here to listen and to share the hurt.

This was the daughter who once wanted me to move away. At age 8, she had lost her mother in a car accident. I was only a smoky substitute, not able to fill her heart. She drifted through her teen years angrily and only after she left for college were we able to begin to repair the rift.

But now…. But now, we shared our hearts as mothers consumed with anxiety over children. “Thanks for listening,” she said finally. “I love you.”

The call came a few hours later. They had opted to go to the emergency room, tired of the hours of anxiety and wanting final answers. An ultrasound revealed her condition.

“The baby’s fine! It was a cyst. We got to see the heartbeat and I have a definite due date now.” Together we rejoiced over God’s grace.

She and her husband will be home at Christmas and I will give her hugs of joy then. We’ll celebrate that God restored children – hers and mine.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Friday Five: Beginnings

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Gen. 1:1

He has made everything beautiful in its time…

yet they cannot fathom what God has done

from beginning to end. Ecc 3:11

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God

and the Word was God. John 1:1

That which was from the beginning…this we proclaim

concerning the Word of Life. 1 John 1:1

I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last,

the Beginning and the End. Rev 22:13

(Note: painting from Genesis project. Thank you, Ann!)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Poured out

Apparently Jack has toppled the giant. Or maybe the giant only stumbled. We’re not yet sure but what’s clear is that Bill Hybels has apologized.

If you haven’t heard yet what the head of Willow Creek had to say, check out this article from Christianity Today.

But the essence is that this multi-million dollar facility, with enough staff to run a town, and lots of church programs didn’t produce spiritual growth. Willow Creek is one of the leading megachurches in this country with innovative programs and great energy for impacting the culture.

I don’t fault their motivation. Their church model drew thousands of people hungry for a Christianity relevant to their lives.

The only problem was that these people were not growing spiritually. They came to be fed but didn’t grow. Willow Creek discovered, to its chagrin, that the model grew numbers but not disciples.

It may be tempting, to those sitting on the outside, to withdraw into the good old church of our childhood, to walk away from innovation and church models.

Spiritual growth does happen the old-fashioned way, but that way is not the model of the 1950’s but of the first century. Growth happens with prayer, Bible reading, fellowship. It’s hard work and it’s not glamorous.

Jesus was the broken bread and the poured-out wine. His work was inconvenient and unattractive at times. How does a follower of Jesus grow? Willow Creek found out it wasn’t by racing after programs that pour in but by that which causes us to pour out.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I gripped the steering wheel fiercely for one doesn’t arrive efficiently in the city if one hesitates. “You drive different in Denver,” my kids tell me.

I do. She who hesitates misses the exit.

Looking ahead, I can see a gap in traffic that will let me move toward the exit. My goal is not to dart to and fro, but to get to my destination as simply as possible. I’m making the straightest line I can make for my target.

There’s a walking path down by the river that meanders through the trees and breaks free to view the flowing water. The path forks often, with the new little lanes wandering haphazardly through the countryside. Any path will get me back to the parking lot eventually but some take longer than others. There isn’t a straight line anywhere.

My son tells me that God doesn’t make straight lines. That's the domain of people: straight lines.

I had jury duty this week. I was caught in jury traffic for 3 hours, sitting in the courtroom with nothing to do, waiting on lawyers. I wanted to get to my exit but there was no moving. I had to look ahead. Would I get to the afternoon spa session with my daughter? Would I make the quiz practice?

I slid appointments here and there, not knowing when we’d be sent out of the courthouse. It’s hard to plan for exits when the traffic isn’t moving.

I find my heart longs for less of the four-lane highway and more of the river path. Where once I conquered and planned and scheduled, now I want to meander and contemplate and compare.

Oswald Chambers wrote about the haphazard being part of God’s order. I yearn for God’s haphazard, the walking on his path even when it’s the long way around and I can’t see the exits. Jesus didn’t carry a Daytimer and he didn’t refuse to spend three days in Samaria because he had an appointment in Caesarea.

Our world is different from his, but my soul longs for God’s haphazard today.

How does a follower of Jesus handle the four-lane highway of our age? I’m guessing it has to do with recognizing God’s hand in every moment and relishing each as a gift from him.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Draw-Four syndrome

I first noticed it during a game Uno. You know Uno, right? That card game where you match colors or numbers. Its specialty is the “Draw Four” cards that, when played, load up an opponent’s hands with new cards. There’s a newer version now where a electronic device can spit out one-to-a-bunch of cards to the forlorn opponent.

It’s great fun with friends and family.

But one day many years ago, I sat down to play it with friends and found no great relish in slamming down the “Draw Four” card. It made me sort of… well, squeamish. I held it til the end of the game.

That was when I realized that something had happened inside of me, for I had never before hesitated to do what it took to win.

How has the Spirit changed you?

Once as a child, I had organized a little circus for our parents. The backstage area was my bedroom and so my siblings and I rushed in and out of the doorway to present our various acts to our audience. In doing so, my youngest brother and I met in the doorway. As we crashed through, I banged his head against the jamb. In my next rush past, I found him sitting on the floor in tears.

My response? The show must go on! I was disgusted with his weakness and tried to prod him to get his act going.

The Spirit had some work to do.

That’s why the Uno game so surprised me. A tenderness rose like a thin tendril of smoke from my heart, something new to me.

Last night, at a church Thanksgiving feast, God sat me down beside a developmentally-challenged woman who, at age 55, is hoping to find a job at McDonald’s while fighting her sister’s charge that she is retarded. “I am not!” she insists. She loves her son but hasn’t seen him in years. She can’t drive and hurt her hip recently, so walking is a challenge.

Last night, I listened. This from the self-willed girl who believed you won by grabbing life by the horns and bulldogging it to the ground, no matter who got slammed in the process.

This was the Spirit in me. I am amazed every day. I couldn’t manufacture this compassion and once didn’t see why I should want to. I am changed.

So, it’s your turn. How has the Spirit changed you? How are you amazed?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Friday Five: Refuge

He is a shield
for all who take refuge in him.

2 Sam 22:31

How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalms 36:7

The LORD delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Psalms 147:11

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

John 11:25-26

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

Romans 1:16

(This painting and similar ones can be viewed at The Genesis Project.)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The path of truth

The conversation, like the midday sun, was as warm and sunny while we stood outside my front door chatting. She had brought a Bible and a pamphlet, wondering if I'd like to read articles about how the Bible was true and the foundation for our lives.

I told her that I read the Bible daily and depended on it for life. "But I think we're on different spiritual walks," I said. "I believe Jesus is my savior and that he is God. I don't think you do."

She gently shook her head. She put the pamphlet away as I said, "I love Jesus and I don't think your booklet would do me much good."

"I am so glad you read the Bible," she said. "I know many don't and I don't know how they get along."

So for another five minutes, a follower of Jesus and a Jehovah's Witness discussed the value of God in a cold and dark world. We agreed that a life denying God is an empty, purposeless existence.

As she drove away, I thought of plenty more to say. I would have asked her how I could pray for her. I would have asked how her relationship with God strengthened her and where she found comfort in the Bible during those frightening night hours. I would have asked her how her spiritual choices had changed her life. And eventually I would have asked how she found salvation without Jesus.

Once I was afraid to have a Jehovah's Witness at my door, for fear they'd stump me. Actually, for fear they knew more about the Bible than I did. In my next stage, I thought I had to win the debate with them. After that, I was sure I was to convert them in one quick conversation.

But that day, as two women enjoyed the warm fall sunshine and discussed the value of God's Word, what I wanted to do was love her and hear her heart. She was a person, not an icon for a religious philosophy.

Jesus sat in mid-day at a well and chatted about religious ideas with a Samaritan woman. He wasn't afraid of her misinterpretation of the law. He showed her kindness and a path to truth.

These days, that's what I'd like to do when a Jehovah's Witness stops by. Love, listen, and show them truth.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Words of the will

The moments when I truly live are the moments when I act with my whole will....Never allow a truth of God that is brought home to your soul to pass without acting on it, not necessarily physically, but in will.

—My Utmost For His Highest

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sweet or sweaty

I can make a silk turn from green to red and I can restore a paper heart shredded to pieces. But they are all gimmicks, tricks that look stunning at the start. But I could teach them to you in moments and you could shortly do them, too. Practice is short and sweet.

I know an illusionist who spends hours every day spinning cards. He can snap a card the length of a football field and hide it in mind-boggling places.

He could show me in a moment his secret but it would take years of hard work to duplicate what he does. Practice is tedious and sweaty.

Lately, I’ve had a few encounters with atheists who, although polite, think of God as a hobby. One explained, “I don’t collect coins so why would I go to a coin collector’s meeting? They might be nice people, and really interested in what they’re doing, but it’s just not my thing. That’s how it is with God. I am just not into God.”

I’m still contemplating my response. I want to rush to the attention-grabbers of our church culture. We’ll hold a barbecue and you can come to see how nice we are. We’ll have a daycare for your kids in the park and you can come to see how nice we are. We’ll bring in games and food for the whole block so you can see how nice we are. It’s short and sweet.

That works sometimes, like my silk tricks. Other times, not so much.

Do I know God like the illusionist knows his cards? Do I walk in Jesus’ steps like the illusionist manipulates his cards, with fervor?

Jesus walked among the skeptics and the lowly and the unclean out of love and mercy. He heard their words and he knew their needs. It was tedious and sweaty.

When someone reduces God to a hobby, he has missed the very essence of God’s nature.

We have work to do. We aren’t doing well communicating God’s character – maybe because it’s easier to show the world how nice we are than to do the years of sweaty work. I think people were changed by Jesus’ passion and I think they’ll be changed when we, too, are zealous. Not zealous for niceness but for sacrifice and love. Gimmicks work sometimes but I need passion for our Savior to learn his nature.

Like that illusionist knows his cards.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Heb 12:2

Monday, November 5, 2007


The family had a car wreck on the day she was born, but we forgave her and moved on. She was a skinny little red baby when I expected a cooing round-cheeked cherub but we moved on.

Later, stealing the football from the middle of a game got her plenty of attention. As the thundering players drew near, she’d fling the ball high in the air. The decision was whether to maul the fleeing thief or retrieve the ball. The ball always won. And we moved on.

We once drew a line down the middle of our room so that her messy side didn’t touch my less-messy side. And one night, we argued over who would turn off the light. We both stubbornly refused to get out of bed but she won: she fell asleep. We moved on.

Once, in the middle of an argument, I said, “You’re silly” and she responded, “Don’t call me names, you big ape!” It’s become one of our rallying cries. We moved on.

I taught her the mystery of f-stops and shutter speeds; now she has far outdistanced me with a camera. Yep, we moved on.

We’re typical sisters: we’ve had our scrapes and tussles but we talk nearly every day. When I want an honest opinion, I ask her. I know that she can be honest because our history is long. Family stands with family. At least, that’s our motto (after “don’t call me names….”).

When I read Paul’s words about our adoption into the family of God, it is meaningful to me.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:17

Thanks to my sister, I understand something of sharing in suffering and sharing in glory. Our family tussles and forgives. We tease and trust. Nobody can kick us out of the family.

No family is perfect and many are shattered. If our earthly family isn't warm and loving, our heavenly family is. The picture in Romans 8 is of our adoption into God’s family, an image of mercy and forgiveness. We relax in that context.

Today is my sister’s birthday. In celebrating with her, I get to reflect on our place as children of God. We’re all family and it’s pretty special.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday Five: the Breath of Life

God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!

Gen 2:7

And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

Acts 17:25

The Spirit of God made me what I am, the breath of God Almighty gave me life!

Job 33:4

The skies were made by God's command; he breathed the word and the stars popped out.

Psalms 33:6

Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

John 3:6

("Hovering" is part of the Genesis project, an artist's contemplation of creation. Check out the display of paintings there.)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

So why signs?

The music was upbeat and the images bouncy, but I just didn’t get it. What were they trying to sell in that ad? Style drowned out the image for me. That’s because I’m an outsider to the cool world branded by the marketers.

Fortunately, that’s not the case with John’s writings. In his book, he tells us exactly why he wrote.

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:31

This week we’ve discussed the link between knowledge and belief. In a variety of settings, John showed us people who thought they knew because they have seen miracles. But their belief didn’t stick.

Today, we don’t get to see Jesus walking into Cana and bring a dying son back to life. But we do get to read about it. For the nobleman who had to choose between sight and Jesus’ words, the decision was agonizing. But in taking Jesus at his word, the father saw the gift of life.

It’s more important to believe Jesus’ word than to see his miracles.

Miracles happen today, bringing encouragement to those who follow the King. But don’t we long for more – to see the miracles from Jesus’ hand?

We don’t get to see those signs firsthand, but that didn’t produce enduring belief for the first-century observer anyway. The privilege of reading God’s Word is ours and by believing we have life in his name.