Thursday, May 28, 2009


As I mentioned recently, our family is learning moviemaking this summer. We've been on this journey for awhile, but want to get more serious.

We were excited to discover the movie Pendragon recently. You may have noticed the banner on the sidebar. What's cool about Pendragon is that it is an epic movie made by a family. Everyone contributed, including the cousins.

It's a clean movie (hard to find those anymore) with a theme that honors God. There's a lot of action with some spiffy special effects for the young male members of your family. You might want to check it out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dying to Live by Clive Calver

I know Christians who were drawn to their commitment by promises of blessings or a better life or great surprises. Now they feel empty and discouraged. Their faith began with a exhilarating thrill ride of Spirit and emotion but now seems dry and dead.

Clive Calver addresses this problem squarely in his book, Dying to Live. He plainly acknowledges the problem, because he went through it as well. Where's the great adventure that we expect in our Christian walk?

He recounts the powerful realizations that led him back to a genuine and full faith in Christ that is richer than ever before. Calver gives some wonderful insight on what it means to “re-start” a stale Christianity in favor of a walk with God that is marked by true power and abundant life. This power and abundance, according to Calver, can only be attained through death.

Through many illustrations and clear explanation, Calver reveals the path of the disciple. Dying to Live deals with the epic themes of crucifixion, surrender, sacrifice, giving, and exchange in a way that points believers to give up their own efforts in light of the completed efforts of Christ. Calver calls on the power of death to bring the thrill and spark back to the Christian life.

Jesus said the same thing: whoever will gain his life must lose it. Calver's book is a good one. Read it after taking in Jesus' message to his disciples in the gospels.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Matt 16:25-26


Dying to Live by Clive Calver

Authentic Publishing March 2009

ISBN: 978-1-934068-80-9/154 pages/softcover/$16.99

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Summer plans

I've been thinking about a family mission statement lately. Where is our family going? What are we trying to teach our children and why are we making the decisions we make?

I found some ideas to guide what we should be learning as a family - and as individuals. See what you think of my list:

  • Learn wisdom
  • Accept instruction
  • Understand words of insight
  • Learn to deal wisely, justly, and righteously with equity
  • Teach knowledge and prudence
  • Acquire skills

But the one I consider most important is this overarching idea: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

How do we as a family grow in our fear/respect of God? As we do that, it appears that we are at the trail head of knowledge.

These ideas come from Proverbs 1.

Our family's summer plans include the start of a moviemaking company as we learn more video and screenwriting skills. The goal is to make movie shorts (and maybe full-length someday) that will honor God.

Keep your eyes open for samples here. And hold us accountable for God's mission statement as laid out in Proverbs

Monday, May 25, 2009

Update on The Deliverer

I promised an update on The Deliverer after I'd read it. I haven't read Linda Rios Brook's first book, Lucifer's Flood, yet but her premise, that of the discovery of a diary from a reluctant demon, allows her to re-tell the story of the Israelites from a new viewpoint.

Brooks uses this reluctant demon, who relates events in a modern breezy manner, to examine Moses' encounter with Pharaoh and the following adventures of the Israelites, in a unusual light.

However, I didn't find cautions in the book. It sometimes shows familiar accounts with a new insight. For example, it's easy to forget that the Pharaoh and Moses had grown up together. Moses was familiar with the customs of the Pharaoh. That helps make his obedience to God even clearer, for many of us might have been tempted to craft our own strategy in an area we felt reasonably competent. Not Moses.

And our reluctant demon notices these things, pointing them out - sometimes in anguish and sometimes in curiosity. So we read Israel's history in a new way.

In any case, consider The Deliverer for your summer reading program.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Captured in Iran

Maryam Rostampour (27) and Marzieh Esmaeilabad (30) are active members of Iran's Christian community. After being arrested by Ministry of Intelligence officers on March 5, they faced a hearing in a Revolutionary Court on March 18.

Accused of "acting against state security" and "taking part in illegal gatherings," they were imprisoned without charge in the notorious Evin Prison. There they shared an overcrowded cell with 27 other women. They are both very ill and are not receiving adequate medical attention.

With its hard-line stance against dissidents, advocacy for Iran seems hopeless, but we can enter the courts of the Lord, and "with God nothing will be impossible," (Luke 1:37 NKJV). (Source: Assist News Service)

Please pray for the lives of Maryam and Marzieh and for the healing of their bodies and minds. Pray for their protection from mistreatment and torture.

Pray the efforts of advocacy groups on the women's behalf do not go unnoticed or ignored by the Iranian government, but that they would be moved to release these sisters in Christ.

Information is from Voice of the Martyrs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Don't you love how God made the male mind? Here's an example:

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my 13-year-old son had never heard of daisy chains. After I described one to him, he perked up.

“I heard about somebody who weaved some kind of flower chain that ended up to be three football fields long,” he informed us. “He had to spray water on it all day to keep the flowers from dying.”

I visualized this huge project, a field of flowers with a chain curling delicately across it. Not my cup of tea. And where did he get those stories, anyway?

“Some people would find that quaint,” I mused. “And others would find it a huge waste of time.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “And you couldn’t even tow anything with that chain either.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In what we trust?

The man who cannot believe his senses and the man who cannot believe anything else are both insane.
-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Deliverer by LInda Rios Brook

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Please note: I have not read this book yet so cannot recommend or caution. However, I did read a caution from another reviewer so hopefully I can respond soon one way or the other.

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Deliverer

Realms (May 5, 2009)


Linda Rios Brook is the author of numerous books including the popular novel Lucifer’s Flood. The president of the RiosBrook Foundation, she is a sought after speaker and teacher on matters relevant to cultural restoration. She is an ordained minister, serves on the WLI faculty and has served as a guest lecturer at the University of Minnesota.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 291 pages
Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599794764
ISBN-13: 978-1599794761


Save me, Samantha. I didn't mean to do it."

The disembodied spirit called out to her, begging her for help. She blinked hard and peered into what seemed like an endless sea of putrid fog.

The eerie voice cried out again.

This time she had to find him. If this was a prank, it had to stop. If it wasn't, well, she was less sure what she would do if it turned out to be real.

"Stay where you are," she cried. "Don't run away again." Her voice shook with fear.

"You know I'm innocent, Samantha. I don't deserve to be in hell. Hurry! You must help me while there's still time."

Her heart pounded so hard it seemed to catch in her throat and she couldn't breathe. Fear welled up within her. But fear of what or whom?

It didn't matter; she must pursue the desperate cries for help.

The ghostly voice cried out in anguish again as she groped her way through the gloomy maze that she already knew led to nowhere. She'd been this far before. It was always the same: a mournful voice pleading for her help, and each time the voice faded before she could reach its source. This time she wouldn't stop until she found the one calling out to her.

The foul-smelling fog thickened and concealed the path beneath her feet, and like the times before, she knew she was descending lower and lower with each erratic step forward. How far did she dare to go? She opened her mouth to call out, but her own voice failed her. An invisible hand tightened around her throat, holding her words captive.

This isn't real. I won't be stopped by something that isn't real. I must keep going.

"Where are you?" she screamed, surprised with the force of the words as they broke free.

Stumbling on through a darkness that grew denser with every step, a cold, slithering tentacle tried to wrap itself around her feet. She screamed again, kicked it away, and ran faster.

"Who . . . who are you?" Her breathing was becoming more labored. "How can I help you if I can't see you?" Her voice was raspy, and her throat hurt. The thickening haze was hot, and a nauseating odor assaulted her nasal passages. She paused and gagged.

"Pray for me, Samantha." The voice drifted farther away.

Gasping for clean air but finding none, she wiped her mouth on her sleeve and pushed onward toward the black hole that swallowed every glimmer of light. How much deeper could she go? What if she couldn't find her way back? She swallowed her terror and pressed downward into the darkness. He must not get away again.

"Wait!" Her throat was tightening, and her cries faded into hoarse whispers. "I'll pray for you. I'll find a way." Desperation percolated through her body as she lunged forward, her arms grabbing for someone who wasn't there.

"Stop running," she pleaded, her words barely audible. "How can I pray for you? I don't know your name."

The slithering tentacle returned and tripped her. She gasped and fell to her hands and knees on a rippled surface that had once been a river of molten lava. It had cooled and hardened but was still active below the thin crust. The steam continued to rise from beneath, and it burned her hands as she struggled to stand.

It was becoming impossible to see. Disoriented from the fall and fearful of careening into an abyss, she spun in circles, unsure of which way to go. A night bird flew near her head, pulling out strands of hair and mocking her as it sped away.

"Run away, Samantha. Run away while you still can."

"Stop it! Leave me alone!" She tried to cover her hair with her blistered hands.

"Pray for me, Samantha. Pray before it's too late." The voice faded even more.

"Wait! I don't know your name." Her desperation gave way to panic as if she were about to fail a critical mission. "Why won't you tell me your name?"

"Pray for yourself, Samantha."

"Please, don't go."

"Good-bye, Samantha."

She dropped to her knees, wailed in defeat, and sobbed.

A terrified scream.

A ringing telephone.

Samantha wasn't sure whether her own cry or the ringing BlackBerry had startled her awake, but she bolted upright, escaping the nightmare that had plagued her for weeks.

The cell phone rang again.

Still groggy, she blinked hard, sat up straight, and glanced about the room, trying to remember where she was. She rubbed her eyes and blinked again. Of course she was in her office at the University of Jerusalem. Alone.

The phone was still ringing amid the stacks of paper on her desk.

"Don't hang up." Her hands trembled as she groped for it, knocking over a cup of forgotten tea from the day before. "Just don't hang up."

Still disoriented, she fumbled with the BlackBerry as she pushed a strand of hair away from her ear with one hand.

"Yes, hello," she managed.

"Dr. Yale?" The unsteady voice on the phone was unmistakable.

Samantha Yale slumped down behind her antique desk, ignoring the spilled tea dripping onto the floor. Carefully, she cupped the telephone with both hands, afraid she might drop it and lose the connection she had been anxiously awaiting. She breathed in deeply and measured her words lest she startle her nervous caller.

"Yes, this is Samantha Yale."

"Dr. Yale, it's . . . "

"Yes, Wonk, I know who you are. Where are you?"


It had been six months since the mysterious Wonk Eman, the nervous little man with no address, no telephone number, and no e-mail, had visited her and delivered the ancient scrolls to her office. His silence told her she was moving too fast. She took a deep breath, slumped back in her chair, and tried again.

"All right. You don't have to tell me where you are. Are you safe?"

"Why do you ask that?"

Before she could answer, he blurted out, "Am I in danger? I'll call back."

"Stop it, Wonk." She took another deep breath and lowered her voice. "You're in no danger."

"Then why did you ask me if I was safe?"

"No reason." She rose from her desk and walked over to the window where the Dome of the Rock could be seen in the distance against the blue Jerusalem skyline. Maybe a shift in position would make her sound less tense. "It's just that when we last talked, you were concerned about safety. Remember? You were worried someone else might try to contact me about the scrolls."

"Has anyone contacted you?"

"No, no one at all." She heard him slowly exhale.

"Have you told anyone else?"

"No one, just as you directed me."

She restrained herself from asking questions too soon. Slowly she began a silent count from one to ten. If he didn't speak again in ten seconds, she would prompt him. She only got to five.

"I have more scrolls."

"Good. When will you bring them to me?"

Another of his interminable pauses. She ran her fingers through her rumpled hair and tried to control her exasperation at how long it took him to say anything. Her ring caught the edge of the newly formed scab just above her right ear. A drop of blood smeared on her fingertip. Now what have I done? She turned to the wall mirror to examine the injury but gave up when she couldn't make her eyes shift far enough to see it. OK, that's long enough.

"Wonk?" she said, attempting to prod him back into the conversation.

"Yes. How long will it take you to translate them?" Impatience, anxiety, or both had crept into his voice.

"You know that's almost impossible to say. It's a difficult task to translate cuneiform."

"But you're an expert."

"Even for an expert, it requires a thought-for-thought translation, as opposed to a word-for-word technique. Besides, you haven't told me how many more scrolls you have."

He ignored the bait.

"Tomorrow, then," he said.

"Will you bring them yourself?"

A thud told her he had dropped the phone. She could hear him scrambling to retrieve it.

"Hello?" His fumbling sent piercing beeps into her ear. "Sorry. No, no, I . . . very risky . . . not wise at all." His voice had become shriller as he floundered to answer her question.

"That's OK." Take a breath. "Don't worry." Pause; let him calm down. "How will they be delivered?"

"By messenger; same as before. Good-bye, Dr. Yale."

"Wait—" She stopped him before he could hang up. Did she dare go any further? He was so high-strung he might flee at the slightest provocation. Maybe she should wait until she had the scrolls safely in her possession. Too late. She had to say something.

"Can I ask you something else?"

"What is it, Dr. Yale?"

"When we last talked . . . " She hesitated. Do I really want to go down this road?

"Dr. Yale?"

"Yes, sorry. When you were in my office and we talked about the Torah and other relics of antiquity, you brought up Noah's ark. Do you remember the conversation?"


"You were concerned about someone who might have survived Noah's flood—besides Noah's family."

"Og," he whispered.

"Yes, that's it. Og, the Nephilim king." She waited for his reaction.

There was none. She ran her fingers through her hair again. Afraid he might hang up, she preempted her ten-second rule and pressed in.

"What did you mean?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"No reason except it seemed important to you. Suppose such a thing had actually happened. Why would the idea distress you so?"


I shouldn't have said "distress."

"Then he has contacted you." His voice was distressed. "You said no one . . . "

"What? No, of course not. Don't be ridiculous."

Seeing her reflection in the mirror on the wall, she began a silent exchange with herself.

You're having a conversation with a deeply disturbed man about someone who's been dead for five thousand years—if he ever existed at all. No wonder you can't sleep. Wonk doesn't seem capable of playing mind games, but what else can he be doing?

"I was only curious to know what you meant," she continued gently. "It's hard to understand why you would care about something that might have happened so long ago."


One second, two seconds, three . . . 

"He must not get the scrolls, Dr. Yale. You must promise me that will not happen. You have no idea the consequences if . . . "

"No, it's OK. I'm sure I can keep them safe." She glanced at her reflection again to see if she looked sincere.

"Tomorrow, Dr. Yale. Wait for them. Remember your promise." The dial tone signaled the end of the conversation.

Samantha clicked the end button on her phone, sighed with relief that the conversation was over, and sat down on the window seat as she lingered at her personal portal of the world.


"Sign here, Dr. Yale." The burly man in the brown delivery uniform handed her the electronic notebook to register her signature as the authorized recipient of a carefully packed crate. She scrawled her name in silence, not wanting to engage him in any conversation that might delay his leaving. The man was barely out the door before she found a sturdy letter opener in the desk drawer and began prying open the container. At last the lid slid off, and Styrofoam peanuts went flying as her hands carefully reached inside the box. Just as she had done with the first scrolls, she gently removed each of the twelve and laid them out in what she guessed would be a somewhat chronological order on her conference table. Her only hope was that Wonk, or whoever packed them, had some appreciation for sequence.

Selecting the first scroll, she carried it to her desk and gently unrolled it. To an untrained eye it would have looked exactly like any one of the others she had already examined and locked away. Only an expert would recognize the difference in the markings of the ancient written language of the Phoenicians, cuneiform, which predated hieroglyphics by who knew how many centuries.

"I wish I knew what this material is," Samantha said, talking to herself as she fingered the scroll kept her from rushing through the delicate process.

With magnifying glass in hand, she peered intently at the first line.

"Are you in there?" She spoke aloud as if the scroll was listening. "A fallen angel with no name; what do you want to tell me? How can I help you if I don't know your name?"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The perfect business Part 2

Jesus used stories to make his point over and over again. As we wrestle with those parables, we gain understanding into the ways of God.

Yesterday, we looked at the parable of the vineyard from Mark 12. We came to the point of the vineyard, which had to do with paying what we owe.

Do we pay God what we owe him?

The renters in the story felt they could get out of paying their rent by rejecting God’s messengers. At one level, that’s a picture of Israel rejecting the prophets of the Old Testament. And the Pharisees and scribes rejecting Jesus, the son.

Which lets us off the hook.

But this story doesn’t let us off the hook.

What do we owe God?

Interestingly, Mark 12 ends with another story that’s probably familiar to you.

In that story, Jesus watches a poor widow drop in two small copper coins – all she had. He praises her generosity.

In comparison to the huge offerings of the rich, her portion was nothing. But she gave what she felt she owed.

By giving up what she had to live on, she was trusting God to provide for her. She didn’t need to hoard two small copper coins because she had access to landlord himself.

We asked yesterday, what do we owe God?

It kinda looks to me like Jesus was saying, “you owe it all.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The perfect business

It was the perfect turnkey business, already prepared for success. The landowner had planted the vineyard already, knowing it’d take several years before the fruit appeared. Meanwhile, he built a wall around the field and installed a winepress for when the grapes were juicy and ripe.

He even constructed a watchtower, because plenty of predators – winged and walking – would try to steal the crop before it was ready.

So when he rented the field out, those in line knew this would be a successful business.

But a problem arose. The first harvest was lush and full but the renters didn’t want to pay their rent.

After the renters had abused the landlord’s representatives – and even the collection agency – the landlord decided to send his own son. The son knew the business well and was very good in communicating.

The renters killed the son, assuming that they’d get the field because the landlord now had no heirs.

They assumed wrongly, for the landlord destroyed the renters and gave the field instead to others.

What are we to make of this story? It is a parable of Jesus, told in Mark 12, and seems simply to condemn the religious leaders of the day. And there are parallels to them.

But there are parallels to us as well.

The bottom line in the story is that the renters, although given a field in perfect condition, refused to give the landlord what they owed him. And eventually the landlord destroyed them in their rebellion and gave the field to another.

Let’s make the parallel with what God has provided: a world that is well able to provide for all our needs. We live in a place of beauty and abundance. We can get gritchy, complaining about what we don’t have, but we’re not seeing that we have all we need for life abundantly.

How do we respond to that? Do we pay God what we owe him?

Tomorrow: what do we owe?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A sweet hunt

I'm not very traditional about Mother's Day but I want to tell you about a tradition that's developing in our family.

A few years ago, my husband and youngest children brought home a bag of Hershey Kisses and proceeded to hide them around the house for me to find in the coming days. This year, my 18-year-old daughter decided this was a tradition worthy continuing. She's calling it the Kisses Scavenger Hunt.

So, I've found Kisses in my mug and on top my toothpaste tube. There was a Kiss in my box of tea bags and one in my slipper. I found a Kiss in my sock drawer and another in my pencil holder. I've had to laugh at how well my daughter knows my morning routine. Everywhere I turn, there's another Kiss.

Isn't it great to be known and loved? I'm probably going to get a chocolate buzz today as I uncover these little gems. (Well, you gotta eat them or they go bad, right?)

I want to keep my eyes open, too, because God has a sweet scavenger hunt going all the time. There are sweet kisses scattered throughout my day, left by my Father in heaven who knows me and loves me. Keep your eyes open, too!

"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with loving-kindness....
Again you will take up your tambourines
and go out to dance with the joyful.

Jer 31:3-4

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Through whose eyes?

I’ve been thinking about worldviews lately.

I recently read an insight regarding the Left Behind series of books that I had not thought of before. You probably know the story line, where Christians disappear from the earth in the Rapture.

The critic commented on how little difference it made to that world when the Christians vanished. Family members missed loved ones but society hardly noticed, except in curiosity.

Wouldn’t you think that if all the Christians disappeared, society would suffer? There’d be no more Salvation Army. Prison Fellowship would vanish. I know many who have given up their summer vacation to build a house for the poor in Mexico or dig a water well in Haiti.

I think that when we, as followers of Jesus, reach out sacrificially, it’s because of our worldview. And it matters to the world, even if they don’t want to admit it.

Today some see our passion as fanaticism: dangerous and listing toward terrorism. Humanism is the common religion today where we assume that belief in ourselves is the key to unlimited dreams and success. It’s supposed to be about what we know and do.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” according to Proverbs 1:7.

Paul endorses that approach: “In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.” (Col 2:3)

We are in an age where it’s understood that, if we only educate properly, we will cure the world’s woes. That’s a humanistic worldview, trusting in our own potential.

That’s not my worldview. I want my eyes to be marinated in God’s Word. My responses and plans can’t be based on my faith in my own potential, but faith in the Creator of the universe.

Have you thought about your worldview lately?
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but in the end it leads to death.
Prov 16:25

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

As this world seems to be turning upside down, we as followers of Jesus need to example our own presuppositions. What do we believe that may not be backed by biblical truth? What have we embraced because we like the idea or because a favorite speaker endorsed it? We need to examine our ideas in the light of scriptures.

Larry Osborne tackles the subject of wrong thinking among Christians in this book. It's a thoughtful reminder to walk not by our opinions but by biblical truths.

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe

Multnomah Books (April 14, 2009)


Larry Osborne is senior pastor of the multi-campus, 7,000-member North Coast Church in Vista, California, recognized as one of the ten most influential churches in America. A pioneer in the sermon-based small group movement, Larry also founded the North Coast Training Network and is a highly sought-after consultant for business and ministry leaders worldwide. A frequent contributor to Leadership Journal, Larry’s books on genuine spirituality and leadership are designed to reach a wide audience. He lives in Vista with his wife and family.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Multnomah Books (April 14, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1601421508
ISBN-13: 978-1601421500





I’ll never forget the day my wife and I stopped by the local hospital for what we knew would be our last visit with her friend Susan.

For three years, Susan had put up a valiant fight against a disease that was now in its last stages. Her labored breathing, gaunt figure, and deep-set eyes made it painfully obvious that she would not be around much longer.

As we sat by her bed, wondering what to say and how to pray, I was stumped. (I’m a pastor and I’m supposed to know what to say in these situations.) But before I could say anything profound—or even trite—our awkward silence was broken by the entrance of Susan’s husband, John, into the room.

We exchanged hugs and a quick greeting. Then John began to talk. He spoke of the plans he and Susan had for the future. Not in a regretful reflection of what could have been, but with a powerful conviction of what was yet to be.

It was weird.

Susan lay there barely cognizant, struggling for each breath, seemingly hours from death. Yet her husband stood inches away talking about future vacations, a kitchen remodel, and their retirement years as if the four of us were hanging out at a backyard barbeque.

While John and Susan had often spoken of their confidence in God’s ability to heal, this was different. He wasn’t talking about an assurance that she could be healed. He was describing his absolute certainty that she would be healed. He didn’t have an ounce of doubt. It was already a done deal.

Then he told us what had happened. That morning, while in prayer for Susan’s healing, he’d been overcome with a powerful sense of God’s presence and a deep conviction that God had answered his prayer. As he continued to pray, biblical passages proclaiming God’s protection and care flooded his mind. He felt as if God had physically reached down and touched him, whispering in his ear, “I’ve heard you. She’ll be okay.”

Brimming with confidence, he figured he’d arrived at the epitome of faith because he had absolute assurance of what he hoped for and complete certainty of what he had not yet seen.1He was as giddy as a prospector who’d just tapped into the mother lode.

I didn’t know what to say. Could it be that God was up to something big? Were we about to witness a miracle? Was John’s faith going to pull her back from the jaws of death?

I wasn’t so sure.

He was absolutely certain.

That night she breathed her last breath.

John was devastated. For years after Susan’s death, he limped along spiritually, disillusioned with God, prayer, and the impotence of faith.

But his spiritual meltdown had nothing to do with God letting him down. It had nothing to do with the promises of the Bible being hollow. It was the predictable result of having placed his trust in the fool’s gold of faith’s best known and most widely believed spiritual urban legend: the myth that if we have enough faith, we can do or fix anything.

Unfortunately, John’s concept of faith (what it was and how it worked) didn’t come from the Word of God; it came from the word on the street. He had banked on a set of assumptions and beliefs that simply weren’t true. And they had let him down.

The Word on the Street

The word on the street is that faith is a potent mixture of intellectual and emotional self-control that when properly harnessed can literally change outcomes through positive thinking and clear visualization.

It’s what successful people tout as the key to their achievements, survivors of great tragedies cite as the source of their endurance, televangelists credit with healing power, and motivational speakers make a sweet living espousing.

It’s why, when our team is five runs down with two outs in the ninth inning, we’re not supposed to think negatively. Instead, we’re supposed to hang tough, visualize a big inning. Because as long as we really believe we can win, there is a good chance we will.

This kind of hopeful thinking is more about

faith in faith than faith in God. Yet it’s what

many of us have been taught to believe God

wants from us when we’re confronted with

insurmountable odds.

Same with a medical crisis. Did the tests come back showing the cancer has metastasized? Don’t panic. It can be beat. Just think positively.

Or perhaps your son is a five-foot, two-inch freshman with dreams of playing in the NBA. Whatever you do, don’t discourage him. Who knows? It could happen. After all, nothing is impossible as long as he pursues his dreams with hard work and unwavering faith.

Unfortunately, this kind of hopeful thinking has nothing in common with what the Bible calls faith. It’s more about faith in faith than faith in God. Yet it’s what many of us have been taught to believe God wants from us when we’re confronted with insurmountable odds.

We’ve been told that for those who can muster it up, an all doubts-removed, count-it-as-done faith has the power to fix anything. It’s God’s great cure-all, a magic potion.

In fact, in some Christian circles, this kind of faith is said to have the power to actually manipulate the hand of God. I recently heard a TV preacher claim that God has to answer prayers of unwavering faith no matter what we ask for. As long as we have no doubt, he has no choice. It’s a law of the universe. Apparently it even trumps God’s sovereignty.

Though I’d hate to be the one to tell him so.

How the English Language Mucks Things Up

While faith is a concept deeply rooted in the Christian Scriptures, most of our modern ideas about it aren’t. Much of the blame can be placed on the way the original manuscripts of the New Testament have been translated into English.

It’s not that the translators are unskilled or deceptive. It’s simply that translating anything from one language to another is a difficult task, burdened by all the ancillary meanings and uses found in one language but not another.

A quick comparison of how we use the words faith, belief, and trust in modern-day English with how they were originally used in the Greek language of the New Testament can be eye opening. Let’s take a look to see what I mean.


For most of us, the word faith conjures up an image of confidence. It’s the opposite of fear and doubt. It’s often defined by our feelings as much as by anything else. That’s why most teaching on faith tends to focus on eradicating all fear, doubt, and negative thoughts. It’s also why “You gotta have faith” has come to mean “Think positively.”


On the other hand, the word belief usually conjures up an image of intellectual assent. We say we believe in something as long as we think that it’s probably true. And since our beliefs are thought to exist primarily between our ears, we’re not particularly puzzled when people claim to believe in something—say UFOs, Bigfoot, Darwinian evolution, creationism, even Jesus—but live as if they don’t. For most of us, beliefs are intellectual. Acting upon them is optional.

You can see this definition of belief in the way many of us approach evangelism. We tell the Jesus story to people and then ask them if they believe it. Those who say yes are immediately assured that they’re headed for heaven. After all, they’re “believers.” It doesn’t seem to matter that the Bible adds quite a few qualifiers beyond mere mental assent.2


In contrast to our use of faith and belief, when we use the word trust it almost always carries an assumption that there will be some sort of corresponding action. If we trust a person, it’s supposed to show up in our response. For instance, if the parent of a teenage girl says, “I trust you,” but won’t let her out of the house, we’d think that parent was speaking nonsense. There’s no question the daughter would.

Clearly, each of these three words carries a distinctly different meaning in the English language. But to the surprise of most Christians, almost every time we find one of these three words in our English New Testaments, each is a translation of the exact same Greek root word.3

That means that the Bible knows nothing of the sharp distinctions we make between faith, belief, and trust. Biblically, they not only overlap, but they are practically synonymous. To the writers of Scripture, our modern distinctions between faith, belief, and trust would seem quite strange and forced.

So, What Kind of Faith Does God Want?

The kind of faith the Bible advocates and God wants from us has far more to do with our actions than our feelings. In fact, biblical faith is so closely tied to actions of obedience that the Bible ridicules the very idea of someone claiming to have faith without acting upon it.4

God doesn’t care if we’ve mastered the art of positive thinking. He’s not impressed by the mental gymnastics of visualization. He doesn’t even insist that we eradicate all doubts and fears. In fact, more than once, he’s answered the prayers of people whose “faith” was so weak that when God said yes, they didn’t believe it.5

When the first response to an answered prayer is shock and amazement, the people who offered that prayer certainly don’t fit the standard definition of having faith. Yet God answered anyway because their prayers fit his definition of faith. Their simple act of praying was an act of faith—they trusted God enough to do what he commanded, even though they were certain it wouldn’t work.

To better understand what biblical faith is and how it works, let’s take a look at the most famous faith passage in the Bible: Hebrews 11. Often called God’s Hall of Fame, it offers a lengthy list of examples, each one showing what God-pleasing faith looks like and what it produced.

The writer of Hebrews starts with Adam’s son Abel, then moves on to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, laying out a series of vignettes that describe their steps of faith and the great victories that followed.

Then, almost as if he is running out of steam (or his audience is running out of attention), the writer adds twelve more examples. But this time he offers only a name or a cryptic reference to the great victories their faith accomplished.

It’s an inspiring list. At first glance it seems to support the popular notion that faith rightly applied can conquer anything. It tells of kingdoms won, lions muzzled, flames quenched, weaknesses turned to strength, enemies routed, the dead raised. All in all, a pretty impressive résumé.

But the writer doesn’t stop there. He goes on.

But I warn you. What he said might mess with your head. It certainly messed with mine. After reciting a litany of victories, he suddenly switches gears and changes direction. Now he speaks of people whose faith led them down a different path—folks who were tortured, jeered, flogged, imprisoned, stoned, sawed in two, and put to death by the sword. He ends with a reminder that still others were rewarded with financial destitution, persecution, and mistreatment.

Then he writes these words: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.”6 In other words, these weren’t the faith rejects, the losers, the ones who couldn’t get it right. These were men and women whose faith was applauded by God. Yet their faith didn’t fix anything.

In some cases it made matters worse.


I guarantee you that no one taught my kids this side of faith in Sunday school. Imagine if they did. “Okay, children, today we’re going to learn how trusting and obeying God might get you torn in two, thrown into jail, hated by your friends, and force you to drive an old beater the rest of your life.”

That would thin the herd.

It would certainly rile a few parents.

But it’s essentially what the Bible says that faith (at least the kind of faith that God commends) might do. It may lead us to victory. It may lead us to prison. Which it will be is his call—not ours.

Why Bother?

That raises an important question. If faith is primarily about trusting God enough to do what he says, and yet it won’t fix everything and sometimes will make matters worse, why bother?

One reason stands out above all others. It’s what God wants from us. He says so himself: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”7

Now, it seems to me that if God is really God, and not just some sort of mystical force, cosmic consultant, or favorite uncle in the sky, then knowing what he wants and doing it is a pretty important thing to pay attention to. Few of us would mess with our boss’s stated preferences. What kind of fool messes with God’s?

A thousand years from now, all the things we

try so hard to fix with our positive thinking,

visualization, and drive-out-all-doubt prayers

won’t matter. The only thing that will matter

is our awesome future and our face-to-face

relationship with God.

Another reason to live by faith (even if it can’t fix all the problems we face) is that it does promise to fix our biggest problem and our biggest dilemma. What do we say and do when we stand before a holy and perfect God who knows every one of our secrets and all of our sins?

Honest now—what’s to keep us from becoming toast?

Frankly, nothing.

But that’s where the real fix-it power of biblical faith kicks in. Jesus promised that all who believe in him (remember that includes trusting him enough to actually follow and do what he says) will receive forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.8 A thousand years from now, all the things we try so hard to fix with our positive thinking, visualization, and drive-out-all-doubt prayers won’t matter. They’ll be but a distant memory, if they can be remembered at all. The only thing that will matter is our awesome future and our face-to-face relationship with God.

God’s GPS System

There’s one more benefit to a proper understanding of biblical faith. Biblical faith gives us something that all the positive thinking and visualization in the world can’t provide. It gives us a life map, something we can depend on to always take us exactly where God wants us to go.

Admittedly, it’s not always an easy map to follow. It takes time, experience, and an occasional leap into the dark to master. It can be frustrating—and scary at times. But in the end, for those who are led by it, it’s a trusty guide, guaranteed to always take us where we need to be.

In many ways the adventure of learning to live by biblical faith is a lot like my love/hate relationship with the mapping software on my GPS unit. Let me explain.

I’m a geographical moron. My wife has no idea how I get home after traveling to speak somewhere. She’s always surprised to see me walk through the front door.

My problem is twofold. First, I’m often in two places at once, mentally. I call it multitasking. My family and friends call it something else. But the end result is that I can be completely oblivious to my surroundings. And when that happens, I literally don’t know where I am. I may think I do, but I don’t, mainly because I haven’t been paying attention.

My second problem is an absolute lack of an internal sense of direction. Without the Pacific Ocean and the mountains as bench-marks, I have no idea which direction is north, south, east, or west. That means that along with not knowing where I am, I often don’t know where I’m heading.

Put those two together and you have a recipe for search-and-rescue. But fortunately (or so you would think), I live in a day when GPS is within reach of the common man.

Yet, despite the promise that an affordable GPS unit has to offer, there is one frustrating problem. The pesky voice in my Garmin often tells me to turn the wrong way.

My first response is always a quick flash of annoyance at the company that makes the mapping software. I wonder why they can’t get it right. I know there are lots of streets they have to include, but come on. That’s what I paid for. And I’m not talking about thinking I should turn left when it says to turn right. I’m talking about those times when I know I should turn left.

To make matters worse, as I make the turn that I know I should make, the little lady in the box starts nagging me. In a mildly disgusted tone, she repeats over and over, “Recalculating. Recalculating.”

Faith is not a skill we master. It’s not an

impenetrable shield that protects us from

life’s hardships and trials. It’s not a magic

potion that removes every mess. It’s a map

we follow.

It’s enough to make me reach over to hit the Off button. But before I do, I’m usually struck with a haunting realization. I’ve been certain I was right before—but somehow ended up wrong. And despite the fact that my GPS sometimes seems unaware of a street or two and occasionally takes me on a circuitous route, it’s always found a way to get me where I want to go.

But doggone it, this time I know I’m right. I’m absolutely certain. I don’t care how many times she spouts off, “Recalculating.” She’s wrong.

So, what do I do?

This is, in essence, a crisis of faith. I have a choice to make. Will I place my trust in my own sense of direction, knowing that this time my not-so-trusty GPS has gotten it all wrong? Or will I place my faith in the little box and turn right, despite my certainty that it’s directing me far from where I want to go?

You probably know the answer. Based on my past experiences, I’ve learned to shrug my shoulders and do what the unit says. So I reluctantly make a turn that makes no sense tome. As I do, my pulse quickens and my stomach churns. My mind fills with images of speaking engagements lost and flights missed.

I turn anyway.

And that’s the reason that I always surprise my wife when I walk in the front door. Somehow east magically turns into west and the “wrong” route gets me there anyway.

Go figure.

Once I arrive at my destination, it really doesn’t matter what doubts or concerns I had along the way. As long as I follow the directions or quickly get back on track after a little “recalculating,” I always end up where I need to be.

That’s exactly how biblical faith works. When rightly understood and applied, it doesn’t matter how many doubts we have. It doesn’t even matter if we’re convinced that all is lost. Ultimately all that matters is whether we have enough faith (maybe just a mustard seed’s worth) to follow God’s instructions. Those who do, get where they’re supposed to go. Those who don’t, end up lost somewhere far from home.

Faith is not a skill we master. It’s not an impenetrable shield that protects us from life’s hardships and trials. It’s not a magic potion that removes every mess. It’s a map we follow.

It’s designed to guide us on a path called righteousness. Along the way, it doesn’t promise to fix every flat tire. It won’t reroute us around every traffic jam. It won’t even stop the road rage of the crazy guy we cut off at the merge.

But it will take us exactly where God wants us to go. And isn’t that where we want to be?



They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put

to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins

and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the

world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts

and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none

of them received what had been promised. God had

planned something better for us so that only together

with us would they be made perfect.

HEBREWS 11:37–40

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Titus: Finally

Thanks for joining me on this journey through Paul’s letter to Crete. The church was struggling because it wanted to look a lot like the world around it.

Today, we’d call that tolerance. And we should be gracious to other points of view and other cultures and traditions.

But not all ideas are equal.

Paul made that clear in his letters. Although some people were trying to convince the church people that the ways of the world were more educated, more thoughtful, more pleasurable, Paul said there was death in returning to the world.

We have the same temptations today. You may know people who followed Jesus for a while but then decided the world’s ways looked pretty good.

You may know people who didn’t want to have self-control but wanted to do what they wanted to do. You may be that person.

Following Jesus isn’t easy, because we have to say “no” to the ways of the world and say “yes” to Jesus. That may mean we give up some things.

Even though those things aren’t good for us, they seem good for us in the beginning. And we find ourselves addicted and pulled away from Jesus.

When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we remember his love and gentleness.

We live in upside-down world today, where naughtiness gets a pat on the back while the virgin is mocked. But, oddly, it entices. We can lose our bearing quickly.

The key is the way of wisdom, holding firm to God’s Word. No matter what the world offers us, following the way of Jesus leads us to the nature of God, where we find kindness, love, mercy, generosity, and eternity with the Creator of the universe. That's worth resisting today's culture for.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Humility is the blossom of which
death to self is the perfect fruit.
-Andrew Murray

Friday, May 1, 2009

Unique vacations

I have an article on family vacations with a unique flair featured in the May/June "Inspired Moms" magazine. You can check it out here.