Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hearts Alive and Free in Chicago!

We are conducting a series of workshops based on our Michigan Men's Bootcamp each Fall called Hearts Alive and Free. We'll take each of the sessions and make it a night, over nine weeks on Tuesday nights from 7-9 beginning Jan. 8, at Christ Community Church in St. Charles. Here's the promo blurb:

"Are you a man whose life feels sort of…boring?...empty?...routine? Have you ever wondered if you are meant to be more than you've become? Or have you even moved into despair, hopelessness, and depression, wondering if Christianity makes any difference? If you've ever sensed there has to be more to being a Christian man than just being a really nice guy, but you've struggled to put your finger on what that might be— we welcome you to Hearts Alive & Free.

This will be a lively presentation each night fille
d with movie clips and music, all aimed at helping you get your heart back and find healing for your wounds. Jesus promised us an abundant life in John 10:10, and He's either a liar, or we're missing something. Which is it?

There is a resource materials fee of $10 per person."


We really really pray that you'll pray and ask God if He wants you there. The enemy does NOT want you there, so really pray about the reasons you come up against that tell you not to go. Everything we've been looking for in this life, that it simply CANNOT provide, is an intimacy with God that no one told us we could have. Most of us default into duty and obedience and then shame when we fail, or we just go find something else to do that floats our boat.

Join us, you will NOT be disappointed.
Register at

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Walking Sunny Beaches, Looking For My Son

Endless sand sparkles before me

Waves gently pounding at my feet

People playing on la playa

Birds and bands crying out their musics

While I'm walking sunny beaches

Looking for my son.

I know this is Paradise

It's been called that many times

And I know my son's in Paradise

So I've come to find him

I'm walking sunny beaches

Looking for my son.

I scan the faces facing the water

Through wind swept tears

Hoping that one more mile

Will reveal his smile and he'll be there

I'm walking sunny beaches

Looking for my son.

And then I hear a whisper

Deep within my heart

"You've come to Paradise on Earth

He's in Paradise not on Earth."

He's walking sunny beaches

Living with my Son.

And while I know it's true

I've come to the wrong place

My heart refuses to accept it

And my spirit keeps crying out

I just can't stop walking sunny beaches

Looking for my son.

Friday, October 19, 2012


At Hearts Alive and Free  camp in Lake City, MI two weeks ago, I saw a movie clip that really hit me hard. It's from the movie, Slumdog Millionaire. Jamal, his brother, and a friend, Latika, grew up together in the slums. Jamal and Latika fell in love, but got separated. They had a secret pact, though—he would be at the train station every day at a certain time, so that if she could get there, he'd be waiting. Finally, the day comes. Here's the scene:

When that day finally comes that they can be together, an enemy intervenes, kidnapping Latika, and slashing her face with a knife. She's now damaged goods, and has the scar to prove it.

Use your God-goggles and see Jamal as Jesus and you as Latika. He's been waiting for the time when you would be united in a Sacred Romance (great book, by the way, John Eldredge and Brent Curtis). But the enemy has a different idea, and we get snatched away, wounded, and marked forever. The scars can be physical, from abuse, suicide attempts, or illness, or emotional scars from abuse, depression, loss, and despair. They're hidden away and no one sees them. But we're all marked. None of us gets through this life without scars. And the enemy thinks he owns us.

What hit me so hard was realizing that I'm now marked by our son, Ben's death, and I have the scars to prove it. That clip put words to the feelings that I often hide. And God let me sit in that agony for awhile. Just like He might allow you to. We're damaged goods. We're not what we were supposed to be, damaged by the Garden, damaged by our own failures, damaged by others' sins, damaged by just living in this fallen world. And we need to feel it and know it so that we cry out for help. Masks and hiddenness just don't work very well, and keep us from the healing that God wants to do in us.

And then God showed me something else: Jesus is damaged goods, too. And He has the scars to prove it. Isaiah 53:4-5:  Surely he has borne our griefs  and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (ESV) My scars now identify me not with the enemy who scarred me, but with Jesus! He has healed my wounds. And while my scars remain, they are His now, and I don't have to be ashamed.

Here's the last scene. Put your God-goggles back on and see this for what it really is: Your savior unveiling your scar, tenderly holding you, seeing you not as scarred, but as perfect again. And now entering into that Sacred Romance which we barely understand.


We all yearn to be loved like this, to be sought after. He's been pursuing, and like Latika, we need to stop and allow Him to come to us, be willing to be unveiled, and healed.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


We decided to take a trip to Napa/Sonoma for our 29th anniversary. Kind of a last minute idea, tho' we'd talked about going there for awhile. Since our 28th and Jill's 50th were awfully dark, we figured it was time to give it another go. That's what Visa is for! Some folks want to take their last breath as they spend their last dollar. Me, I want to breathe my last just as the bankruptcy papers are being filed.

We had a very nice time visiting the wine (and champagne!) country, and one day into San Francisco and over to Sausalito by ferry. We checked in at nearly every winery since that's how you get discounted tastings and tours. Makes it look like you had more than you did! And we smiled for pictures!

None of that removes the shadow, though. We hope that one day the shadow lightens.
On our way to SF on the ferry from Vallejo, which was close by so we didn't have to drive, there was a boy about 10 who looked a little like Ben did at that age, explaining something to his dad. He was smart, decisive, and knew something that he had to let his dad know. And I just thought, that was Ben. Just like him. Smart, knew what he was doing, decisive...and I wonder how much of that I shut down in him since I also am decisive and know the right things to do and sometimes don't hear others who disagree with me.

Where did that smart and tender heart go? Why did that young man make such a horribly wrong decision at the end?

We feel so inadequate, so tired, so fragile. We need God so desperately every day. Despite the smiles, there's a shadow underneath.

Thanks for prayers, we still need them, our bucket still leaks. We just need enough to get through today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Losses. And Victories.

No, this isn't about the Packers or the Bears. It's about the losses and victories which are much bigger that are piling up all around us. The past few weeks, the devastating news just kept coming. Sunday at church, it was from a dear friend who has helped us in so many ways, who told me he lost his son two weeks ago. It turns out to be one year to the very day we lost our own Ben. I'd prayed for his son many times as he'd struggled with addiction most of his life...the good news is that he got clean, but another medical problem killed him.

The day before, as we walked for Ben on behalf of Suicide Prevention Services, hundreds of others walked with us. Hundreds. This isn't something you do on a beautiful Saturday morning because you have nothing else to do. Those hundreds have survived a suicide. Several folks had two names or pictures on their shirts. One gal I walked with talked about her brother who took his own life a few years back, and the whole family was still trying to process it, and she'd not really spoken of it until recently. The guilt and shame are nearly unbearable.

Then I get home to find a message from a long time friend telling me, for the first time, that her dad had taken his own life 40 years ago, when she was 20. Many times this past year she'd mentioned she'd been crying and praying for us. Now I know the tears are for more than just us...she's still carrying that pain from 40 years ago.

The week of Ben's anniversary, I learned of another man whose 19 year old son took his life, so grief on grief for me as I reached out to comfort him. Then, this past Friday I learned his dad had passed away Thursday night. Two weeks and two days after losing his do you bear it?

What do we say to all this? The beloved Fr. Bob (Ret.) from St. John Neumann in St. Charles, at a funeral for dear friends' daughter who died on New Years Eve, told the story that I'd not heard before, of folks on shore watching a ship sail over the horizon and exclaiming, "There she goes..." while on the other shore, folks were watching the horizon for the ship to arrive, and exclaiming, "There she is!"

In all but one or two of these cases above, I know that their ship made it to the other shore where they were greeted with great joy, and where they wait for us to appear. The loss on this shore is great. The gain on the other is immeasurable.

While the losses mount, so do the victories for God's people. He snatches victory literally from the jaws of defeat. Yet, for us remaining here, it's nearly insufferable waiting for that day when we reunite. Perhaps it just gets our eyes off of the delights of this world, and creates a yearning for Paradise. And a determination to help others find it, and encourage each other with the comfort with which we've been comforted. Only Jesus matters now.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The End of the Story? Not!

This is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Ben's story, or ours. Or God's. Just as Jesus' death was not the end of His story. It's hard to imagine that it's not, though. It's actually easy to believe that life is pretty much over now, that there's nothing left to live for or look forward to. A year later, Ben's death still shakes us and affects everything, everyday. Our life is different now, our faith is different, our love, joy, minds, peace, awareness, sensitivity, plans, hopes, dreams...all different. We see people differently, we go through each day differently, our brains (when they work), work differently. Our hearts are different. We are more fragile, more tender. We see God differently, too. Before, we believed the lie that if we believed and did all the right things that He would just bless us and keep us from harm, giving us a happy little life. The truth is that if He did not prevent His own Son from suffering, how can we expect anything different? And not to get theological, but if people are free to make wrong choices, and if there's an enemy who's free to unleash evil, and once you realize that you're caught in that battle, how can we not expect pain?  

God redeems it, though. He has the last word. He causes all things to work together for good, for those who love Him and for those who are called according to His purposes. We rest in that. And we rest in the truth that Ben's rock at the grave is not the end of his story, merely the end of his story here. Yet his story here even continues in us. We have been changed by his death, and in that way, he lives on here in us as we reflect more of a different kind of life.  

More importantly, his story has only begun in Paradise. Yes, even with a sinful choice at the end, he gets Paradise. Jesus' payment for sin either pays for all sin, or leaves the payment unpaid! And if some part of it is unpaid, we are all doomed. But Jesus did pay it all, so that any of us who become a part of Him are rescued from sin and death. It's not fair. That's perhaps the hardest part. For Ben, whatever pain he was experiencing is gone forever, and he enters into the joy of his Master's rest. While we who are left behind, now suffer in pain here. We will suffer until that day when we get to Heaven and leave this part of our story behind, and begin the next chapter.  

We now live a split life. We live a life of sorrow and immense sadness over what's been lost, and at the same time, a life of joy and hope over God's redemption and what is yet to come. So when we seem to be unstable, well, we are! When you hear us talk of the hope and Paradise and our thankfulness that this is not the end of the story, don't think that we've "over it". We're not, and never will be. Moments later we can be cast into utter darkness, fighting off all the why's and the shame that comes at us from the arrows of the enemy. We often just get paralyzed, unable to move or think. But when you find us sad, don't think that we've lost hope, for we have not. Indeed, it's that hope that keeps us and makes us determined to live differently, intentionally, and transparently. We're in recovery, and will be the rest of our lives here. The prayers, hugs, and encouragement from so many of you have made a real impact on us. You  help us through each day as you become the tangible expression of God's love to us, His faithfulness, His promise to never leave us or forsake us. You are His embrace.  

This is not the end of the story.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cinderella, Stepsisters, and a Prince!

Women have always been captivated by the story of Cinderella, written by Charles Perrault and made famous by Disney. As our men's group met last night, it was clear that there's something compelling here for all of us.

Cinderella represents that hidden beauty or glory that is somehow locked away and enslaved by an enemy, and we are incapable of escape. Every one of has felt that way, even if some may have let the feeling go and can no longer remember. In the story, her situation is hopeless, she has these evil stepsisters who belong to the evil stepmother who ensure that she will remain forever hidden away in darkness, covered in ashes and shame. 

When the Prince announces a ball to seek out his wife, they all of course, assume that they will be the chosen ones.

And this poor servant girl would have no chance until a fairy godmother intercedes. I cannot help but notice that she is much like the Holy Spirit who comes to us and does what we are unable to do on our own. With a wave of a magic wand, Cinderella's situation changes immediately from utter hopelessness and despair to overwhelming beauty and possibility.

At the ball, the Prince is captivated! And so begins the relentless pursuit as he will let nothing deter him from his true bride. We long to be pursued like that...for someone, anyone, to come into our dark basements of hiddenness and shame and to turn on the lights, see us for who we really can be, and take us away. It is the height of ecstasy. Which is why so often, we fall for false lovers just because they pursue us, promising things they cannot deliver.

We have felt like Cinderella. Perhaps you've not yet felt the ecstasy of being pursued and found, and if you've missed it already, Jesus is the Prince who comes for us. Nothing will deter Him until He has you. You. You are worth (to Him) literally turning the kingdom upside down for, and Hell itself will not prevail against Him.

He will have His bride, whatever the cost.

And what does He bring? A glass slipper of grace. Once that slipper is in place, we are forever changed. Not by anything we've done, but by what He's done, and His 'Fairy Spirit' (dare I call it?) that has invited us and provided for us.

Before we leave the story, we need to see something else. We've played other roles in this story. We've been cast as the evil stepsisters at times, holding others captive, telling them they're ugly and unfit. Maybe not out loud, but with a look, or a word, or a gesture, or dismissal. "Stay in the basement, you're not worthy to come up here..." Our hearts have betrayed us. Perhaps towards our children who have disappointed us, or our parents who we hold captive with anger and disdain. Or our spouse who has soooo failed to sweep us off our feet and into glory as we imagined would happen. Or perhaps even God, who did not act in a way that we expected, and left us seemingly alone and confused. We need to change roles, there are enough stepsisters!

The role God has given each of us, once we've 'come out' and His glory is revealed in us, is to become The Prince to others. Who are the Cinderellas held captive in your life? Truth is, most people are. Some are totally unaware, having made a fine home in the dark, ash-strewn, and filthy basement. It's all they've known. Others stand at the stairway and cry out for help, but are held captive by an enemy they can't see. Some have even made it into the kitchen upstairs, and were frightened by the feeling. Freedom? Beauty? Light? It was too much, and so they've run and hid, feeling so unworthy and ashamed. And now are ashamed at even aspiring to a better life. For coming out means being exposed, and it is unsettling. There are stepsisters everywhere who will spurn us and tell us we have no business being beautiful. Some of them are in the church, sad to say, a tool of the enemy.

Who can you relentlessly pursue? Who is waiting for you, their 'prince', to come and rescue them? We stand in the shoes of Jesus, authorized by Him, given this mission, and the ability to do for Him what He wants to do: bring the captives to His wedding feast. We are the ones carrying the glass slipper of grace. Your Cinderellas await.

Inspired from Chapter 8 of Sacred Romance by John Eldredge and Brent Curtis (thanks, Brian, for the "relentless pursuit").

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Greatest Divide—Ezekiel 36:25-27 Part 3

So here we are, God's kids by faith, rescued by this great ship alone, nothing we had to do with it other than being lost and needing rescue! And nothing we can do to stay rescued, either. Once rescued, we are rescued! Once your kid, always your kid.

Doesn't performance matter at all, then? Do we have a responsibility?

Let's first fully understand who we are. This is the most important thing of all and affects every other aspect of our lives. If you believe that you must continue to earn God's favor, it becomes a burden that one day you will not be able to carry, and your failures will finally lead you to conclude that you must not even be saved. If, on the other hand, you accept that He loves you just because He loves you, and that your failures don't count against you now, it frees you to rest.

Here's one of the purest forms of the gospels, from the OLD Testament! Ezekiel 36:25-27: I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Notice here who is doing all the work. Is it you? Or God? And also note that we get a NEW heart to replace our old and defiled one. Finally, how is it that we begin to obey His commands? It is because HE MOVES IN! It's HIM living in us that now causes us to obey His rules. It's not about us. It's never about us. It's Him working in us to accomplish His own  purposes. And I know, your first question is, "How do I do that?" Which is the point. You don't do. There is no do. We merely let Him live. We stop fighting it and letting Him drive where He wants to, cooperating with Him.

We have been changed, and are continually being changed. And what He's begun in you will grow up, no matter what. You can slow it down or speed it up, but it's going to happen. Now, we have a responsibility. Let's talk about our kids again. Do we really want them worried that one day they won't be our kids? That we won't love them? Of course not. So once they fully understand that we love them, what should they do? How should they act? Does that give them the right to abuse our relationship knowing that no matter what, we love them and they can come home? Or does it free them to become all that they can be and live with joy and peace knowing that we're there directing their path? They can only really be fully themselves, when they know that we love them all the way and in every way.

Of course some will choose to abuse the relationship. But those living by works can do the same by practicing evil and wearing the mask of righteousness. So it's a false argument to suggest that freedom gives permission for sin.

God does have a job for you, something prepared from way before. And He calls us into the fight with Him against all the spiritual dark forces arrayed against us and the rest of our world. Think of it as Father & Sons (and Daughters!), you're already in the family business, for good. Stop trying to earn your way in.

This may sum it up better than I can:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Greatest Divide—Galatians 3:2-11 Part 2

We need to break from the thinking that Paul condemns in Chapter 1. And it takes him a while to get there, but finally, in chapter 3 of Galatians, Paul asks some questions to help clarify our thinking.

v. 2-5: Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? (ESV)

The trouble is that performance matters in every other aspect of life. We learn from birth that if we coo and smile, we'll get tickles and laughter. A bit later, if we do well, we'll get toys and ice cream from mom and dad. If we don't, we'll get grounded, spanked, or put in time out. We learn in school that unless we're Einstein, we'll have to study, do our work and turn it in to get good grades. In sports or the arts, excellence doesn't come by accident, but by paying the price with endless practice. When we get to work, we quickly discover that if we're going to get raises and promotions, we need to work hard and smart. So our effort, our performance, is a big deal in every aspect of our lives!!

Except with God.

v. 7-11: Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons. . .So then, those who are of faith are blessed. . .For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse. . .Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

And in Hebrews it says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. God has removed performance from the equation. (Works means self-effort, trying to please God and earn His favor and love by doing our best and being obedient.)

Consider this: Do you only love your kids when they're doing well? (Really...!) Your love for your kids is not dependent on them. It's because they are your kids that you love them. And you will love them no matter what. (Which will often cause us great pain...) But if we, who often suck as parents, if we can be honest about it, and can yet love like that, how much more can God? Once we're His, nothing we do will make Him love us more, or make Him love us less. Crazy, isn't it? But that's exactly Paul's point: Jesus has already done what needed to be done. That part is over, finished. Forever. We're His kids now and no matter what, He loves us. We became His kids by faith, by His grace, and by nothing we did. Now that we are His kids, do we remain His kids by working our tails off? Of course not, but that's the message we seem to hear from church. You got saved by faith, yes, but you better work your butt off now or you're doomed.No soup for you!

But any sort of self-effort is so reprehensible to God that Paul condemns such thinking and those who teach it. That you think that you can solve your problems, or work hard enough to earn His favor, is such an affront for what He's already done and dismisses the work of Christ. If we could perform well enough, then we wouldn't need a savior at all, right? But we fail, and we do need a savior. Imagine that you're lost at sea, floating around in a raft, when a ship pulls along side to rescue you. And you start trying to paddle to get to the ship and tearing your clothes in order to make a ladder... It's ridiculous! The ship will do the rescuing, thank you very much. So it is with God. Our paltry efforts are merely ridiculous and betray our failure to understand how lost we really are without Him.

So Paul here makes the clear point that it is the same faith that first saved us that continues to save us. That we don't first come to God by faith, and then better start working our tails off in order to please Him and now earn that salvation that He already gave us. We just can't do it.

So what does this all mean, then, if we've already received what we're so desperately trying to achieve? We'll need one more part....which is the best news of all. Next time.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Greatest Divide—Galatians 1:6-9 Part 1

No, it's not Republican or Democrat, though that is a great divide. It's not white or black, though that sadly remains a great divide. It's not even Packers or Bears since we can both agree to despise Vikings.

It's in the church. And it's not Protestant or Catholic, Reformed or Weslyan, Charismatic or not.

It's about grace or self-effort. There's a book in the New Testament written by the Apostle Paul where he gets so angry that he actually says, in our language today, "They can go to Hell!" Galatians 1:6-9. Why would Paul, who traveled the whole middle East sharing the gospel wherever he could, enduring shipwreck, arrest, and ultimately death, be willing to condemn someone to Hell? For preaching a 'different gospel' which is no gospel, or good news, at all.

There were those who were teaching that the good news of Jesus had to be united with obedience. And as you read that, most are probably agreeing and saying, "Well, of course." It make sense that if we believe in Jesus we better clean up our act and do the dance of what Christians should look like. And there's the problem: it's an act, a dance, a look-alike. We put on the mask of religiosity to hide our failures and inadequacy. We cannot live up to the standards, so we pretend to, even though inside, we're anxious, afraid, depressed, and eventually, hopeless. We know that we cannot do the dance well enough, that we fall far short. We hide behind masks, trying to convince others and ourselves that we're doing okay. Our pains and failures leak out, though, and we begin to doubt our salvation as the enemy whispers to us that we alone are the ones who cannot get it right. If we were Christians, we'd get it together and we wouldn't be such a mess.

And so often what we hear from our churches doesn't help. Our modern message, summed up? God is good, You're not, Try harder. Isn't that the message we've learned, intended or not? We know God is good, so He cannot be the problem. We know we're not good, so we are the problem. And when it's not working, we're not trying hard enough. We need to work harder, buck up and suck up, commit more, give more, do more, pray harder, get to church more. And stop doing all the wrong things. End 'those' thoughts, stop drinking and smoking, stop wasting money, stop yelling at the kids and the drivers around us.

And Paul says, No, you've missed it. That's not any Good News, that's not a Gospel at all.

And he sends the teachers of that message to Hell.

Where does that leave us? What is the good news, then? If you're tired of trying and failing, there is Good News, a real Gospel. And it's so revolutionary that we still can't believe it. Next time, in Part 2...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Do you want to Argue or Heal? John 9

We usually don't get to know all the causes of what befalls us. Is it God? Was it us? Was it just the world and other people? Was it the enemy? Or some combination of all? We rarely have clarity on those answers. Sometimes storms just come. Sometimes God is driving and using that storm for a purpose. Often, we're partially at fault and if we could peek behind the scenes, the enemy is pulling levers, too.

While we cannot know the reasons, we are responsible for what comes next. How we react is entirely on us, and it matters. I think that Jesus' comments in John 9 are compelling. This is where His disciples ask whether it's this man's sins, or the sins of his parents, that caused him to be born blind? Jesus heals him and says that it's neither! This again is a passage where we completely miss His point, and usually wonder how the Pharisees can be so blind when Jesus can heal the blind? We resign ourselves to just saying, "Well, this is so that God can display His glory..." as Jesus explained about the man, figuring that's as much as we can know, and since Jesus said it, that's the point. That's not His point!

His point is that no one knows the cause of the man's blindness! And even though we don't know the cause, (in this case He merely tells us it wasn't sin!), we're called to bring hope and healing to each wounded heart. We're called to STOP trying to figure out what went wrong, and why, and bring God's compassion and tenderness and love to the broken. There are broken people all around us, many of their own making, many of someone else's making, some, perhaps, under God's condemnation where we need to help them find repentance and forgiveness (gently!), some just trapped in a bad economy or with a sick body. And some are the victims of pure evil. In any event, we have one job: bring Jesus to them, heal them, cast out evil, and give them love and hope again. And that's how God is indeed glorified!

Remembering our son, Ben Jan 22, 1992 to Aug 26, 2011.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Doldrums—A Poem

Written a couple years back, but still describes my life at times:

The Doldrums

Sailing, full on,
Fair winds, making way,
The tiller sure and solid.

And then...the wind is gone,
The sails hang limp,
The tiller is dead and lifeless...

Oh, how I remember,
Oh, how I yearn for fresh wind!
For the wind on my face.

All that I can do is wait.........
There is no way to move,
And no where else to go.

I must stay alert, ready, expectant.
Wind will come again,
And I must not abandon ship.

Come, fresh wind...
Fill my sails again...
Fill me again.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Real Commission—John 20:21,22,23

This is the Real Commission. The Great Commission, as it's been tagged, is in Matt. 28:18-19, where Jesus gives His authority to His disciples to, as they are going, literally, teaching others and baptizing them. Everyone agrees that even though these words were spoken directly to only His disciples, they apply to all of us as the church.

In Matt. 10:1, Jesus uses the same language, and speaks to the same disciples, giving them His authority over the enemy, to cast out demons and heal the sick. Somehow, we don't agree that these words apply to us, even though, again, same words and same audience. We pick and choose and excuse away things that make us uncomfortable or that we don't know what to do.

And then we come to John 20: 21,22,23 (and I write it out like that for easy remembering! 20 21 22 23). Jesus appears after the resurrection in the room where the disciples have locked themselves into out of fear, and surprisingly says, "Peace be with you." That alone should be a shock if we hadn't already read the story. These are the guys who slept while He prayed, stood by while He was under arrest and trial, and abandoned Him out of fear, now locked away. We should expect anything but "Peace" from Jesus' lips. At best, rather peeved! At worst, ready to destroy these men who He'd counted on. But in the very same breath, He says something startling, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

What did the Father send Jesus to do? There can be a lot of answers, but can we sum it up as: to rescue us? Jesus was sent to redeem us out of slavery, in His own words, to set prisoners free, give sight to the blind, heal the sick, to be the sacrifice which pays the death penalty for us. It's a rescue mission. So what is He sending us to do? A rescue mission. A mission from God. The highest possible mission, the very one that Jesus Himself is on! He hands to US! Well, He hands to His disciples, the same one in Matt. 28 and Matt. 10 (without Judas, of course.). So if you receive Matt. 28 as belonging to everyone, you must receive John 20 as belonging to us as well. We have been sent on a mission from God. The mission from God. To rescue the world. As crazy as that sounds.

Now, we come to verse 22. He breathes on them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." What do we get with the Holy Spirit? Most everyone I've asked answers immediately, Power. So He's sent us on The Mission from God, and has now given us power to carry it out. We are able to do the mission He's sent us on.

It gets weird now. Verse 23 is one that most of us have ignored or explained away. Bible scholars in every footnote that I've seen say that this doesn't apply to us, that it merely reflects the truth of what God says that we can explain to others. "If you forgive sins, they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness, they are withheld." Now the reason we've dodged this is that we know that we cannot possibly forgive sins, since even the Pharisees noted that 'only God can forgive sins'. So it must mean something else, right?

John called Jesus The Word in the first chapter. The Very One Who Speaks God. Who wrote The Word. Is it fair to assume that He knows how to say what He wants to say? That He is capable with words, vocabulary, figures of speech? You better say yes. Then isn't it fairly easy to suggest that Jesus is able to say what He means? And mean what He says? When He wants to be obscure, He explains Himself later. So what can He possibly mean that we can forgive sins? Authority. Remember back in Matt. 28 and Matt. 10? He gave His authority, to His disciples and to us. What is the greatest mark of that authority? To heal? To cast out demons? No, even Jesus Himself said it was the power to forgive.

He has given us that authority. Rest on that a moment. It's unsettling, isn't it?

Let's review: He's sent us on The Mission of God, He's given us power with the Holy Spirit, and now gives us His authority...effectively to act on His behalf, to be God to the world around us. What do we do with that? What would you do if you could be God for a day? A week? The rest of your lifetime?

I'm sad to think that we've minimized ourselves, that we've chosen to live in small worlds of eating and drinking and sex and tv and work and a vacation now and then, when we've been given what Jesus had, and so must surely we should be doing what Jesus did. We've settled for the easy path, allowed the scholars to convince us that it's true, and the enemy keeps us blinded.

The next verses with Thomas clearly are right where we are, right now, even as we read this: His mission, power, and authority given to us run headlong into doubt, unbelief, disbelief. We are confused, convicted, challenged, and we tend to just shut down, it's too much to take. We need to fight for the truth.

Jesus knows exactly what He's saying. Do we?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

God as a Father in the Earthly Sense

Any parent either smiles or grimaces at the question, "Are we there yet?" It is so frustrating as a parent to know what lies ahead, but the kids cannot comprehend it no matter what. They are impatient, time is completely different for them, their life experiences just aren't adequate to give them reference points, and besides that, they've never been to Florida before! While we have. So they just don't know, and cannot know, while we parents do.

I imagine God as our Father feels the same frustration. "If you could only hold on for a bit longer...oh, this is going to be so worth it once you see's just a little while me..." while we impatiently cry out, "I'm tired, I'm hungry, I'm thirsty, she's touching me, I have to go to the bathroom, I don't want to go, and ARE WE THERE YET?" And our Father pounds the steering wheel, figuratively speaking.

Even we parents can grow frustrated though as we travel to a favorite place, but the journey and challenges along the way are so frustrating. For Jilll and me, heading to Mexico would be one of those trips. Every little bit of joy that might have been in air travel decades ago has been stripped away (for some quite literally!) as endure lines, screenings, shoe removals, other clueless travelers, shipping our pocket knives back to ourselves for outrageous fees while 16" knitting needles pass through, sitting in way too-small seats with other grumpy passengers on airlines who see us as mere tickets and not real people, only to land in a foreign country and wonder where all the travel docs went that we just had, will we get the 'green light' thru customs or have to emtpy our baggage in front of the world?, then endure an hour and a half ride to the resort dodging all the policia along the way.

But then, as we stand in the lobby sipping cold champagne and rubbing warm, moist handtowels over our faces and engage in "Welcome back" banter and see the lobby in our earthly paradise full of colors, sounds, and beach's all worth it. We melt. We're 'home', for this is indeed where we belong, where we left our hearts the last time.

Heaven is going to be 1000 times (at least) better than that. For one thing, we won't leave! But we're growing impatient now. Our son, Ben, has been there for six months, and now, more than ever, we want to go. I said now. Like now, now. Oddly, it wasn't enough that Jesus was there, that freedom from sin and death and pain was there. Life here was pretty darned good.

But when the suffering comes in this life, there's not enough champagne or beaches to make our stay here very satisfying. Ben is our seed planted in that other Paradise that draws us, and makes us cry out with everything inside us, "Are we there yet?"

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Was Satan Thinking? Luke 4:3-13

When Satan rebelled against God, in Heaven!, who he saw every moment, desiring to be worshipped himself, how did he think he could ever win? Surely he saw what we long to—the perfect essence of God, His absolute power, knowledge, and love. God was revealed, and no one could possibly think that He could be overthrown. Right? And yet Satan must have thought there was a way. So I just pulled on that thread a bit....

Remember our story. We know it by the opening scenes. God creates Heaven, and then fills it with warriors—terrifyingly powerful angels. This is no date movie, no kids' cartoon. It's a war movie, from the start. Why is God's first creation warrior and a barracks for them (Heaven)? What implications did these created angels take from that? What role did they figure they had? Who was their enemy they were made to war after? What does their "Bible" say, if they have one?

I first wonder what God had revealed about events, about Earth, and people, that it would come under evil control and require rescue? Was there some reason that Satan believed that he could become that evil controller of Earth and its people?

I wonder these things because of Luke 4 when Jesus goes into the wilderness to be tested and to fast, and near the end, Satan appears in order to tempt Him. "The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

 And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

    And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time."

How could Satan possibly have imagined that Jesus might yield and worship him? Something had to be at stake. For Satan to have had any hope that this plan could work, something had to hang in the balance, something at risk, a deal to be made. What could make it work? What would be so valuable that Jesus might give in and worship Satan, His own creation?

Satan had been given authority over the Earth and its people, and he held them captive, in bondage, enslaved to darkness and separated from God (which he caused!). So here it is: Would Jesus trade the freedom of His beloved people by worshipping the betrayer? That had to be the deal that Satan hoped to strike, to trade the freedom of people for worship. We parents know that we would trade anything to secure the safety of our kids, even ourselves. So of course, Satan knew that Jesus would trade to rescue His people.

What Satan couldn't see was that God had another plan! And the enemy's defeat began right there, in that moment when Jesus walked away. And indeed, Jesus did do what any parent would do, traded His own life to rescue His kids.

This gives me pause, for if even a little bit of this is true, then Satan is far smarter and more crafty than we'd ever imagined. The sheer audacity and brilliance of this plan cannot go unnoticed, even though it failed. It's much like watching a movie where the evil mastermind (who is indeed both evil incarnate and a mastermind of masterminds!) is a formidable foe with many resources, intent on setting off a nuclear device to destroy the Earth. Only at the last possible moment does the Hero manage to deter the plan and defeat the evil mastermind. In a way that the mastermind never sheer willpower, goodness, and a knowledge beyond anything the mastermind could know, and sometimes even a willingness for self-sacrifice that the mastermind would never expect.

That's our story. We've been rescued, redeemed, from the hand of an evil mastermind by One who is ever greater. Of course, the mastermind still roams, seeking to devour all of us who claim to be Jesus' offspring. And He is dangerous, make no mistake. But our savior is even more dangerous! And on our side. And He sacrificed Himself for us, to set us free.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Of God and Grapefruit—Isaiah 55:8

Every morning I cut open a grapefruit for breakfast, and nearly every morning, our dog, Reggie watches carefully. One day I realized that he has no clue what I'm doing. He doesn't, in fact, know anything of what I know, in even this simplest of things.

He doesn't know that the juiciest grapefruits seem to come from Florida, or that I first enjoyed one when my mom picked one off a tree in her yard. Or remembering that my Dad was alive then. And that soon after, I was buying them by the case and having them shipped from Florida. Or that the dish I use each morning for them is one of the last two things I have that belonged to my dear Granny, who I miss still. That I spent some wonderful weeks with her in Indy before she got moved to Florida to be with mom. That there's the one knife I use that works best, or that I learned how to prepare them by seeing how it was done as I had breakfast with George, my first small group leader. And he doesn't remember the conversation and all that that led to. Oh, and that I eat them! They nourish me and give me vitamins. And I'll just stop there, though I could fill pages with all the trails of knowledge of things that run off of just cutting a grapefruit for breakfast. How many days could my dog watch me and even begin to understand any of this? Even if I tried to explain it? It just isn't possible. And my life has a lot more going on that just cutting a grapefruit each morning!

And to think that we could ever understand the mind of God.

My ways are not your ways. (Isaiah 55:8)....No kidding. We haven't a clue.
The past few days we've spent with dear friends who lost their 22 year old daughter. We now walk this same lonely, dark, and sorrowful road with them. No one saw these chapters in our stories coming. We surely do not understand why God has written these chapters. But He has. We do not want to be here. We've not healed from our own August 26, much less help someone else heal from their Dec. 31. We have grief upon griefs. Yet we must know that God knew about our Aug. 26, He knew that we would draw upon these dear friends in November and December, and that their Dec. 31 was coming. And that we'd be there now. So all our hearts break together as we weep and pray and seek hope in the midst of our losses.

What's the next chapter in our stories? I might as well stare at a grapefruit through the eyes of a dog as try to understand that. He calls us to trust Him, and so we walk the path with Him, and comfort each other along the way.