Why Some Christians Enjoy Safety, Health, and Peace

glasses-1004311_640God is never afraid.

He doesn’t fear Somalian warlords, the Zika virus, suicide bombers, desert assassins, inner-city riots, California wildfires, Louisiana floods, lone gunmen, or cancer. The presence of these varying forms of violence, whether manmade, natural, or biological, doesn’t prevent the God of the Universe from being present. It doesn’t chase Him out. He doesn’t exit the building. Even in places where every believer has been shot dead or raped into silence, God can enter in and He often does this on the incense of His people’s prayers. Continue Reading →

Discovering Freedom in All the Things You’re Not

frog-1274766_640Do you ever lose track of who you are?

It’s so easy to do. Pressure at work. Ministry demands. Family obligations. Creative urges. Financial concerns. And with summer here, we often connect with others who haven’t updated their vision of us in a long time, creating a whole new layer of dynamics.

It takes some of us years to understand the difference between laying down our lives and letting others yank them from us. We sometimes think being like Jesus means saying yes to every request for help or ministry, putting on patience and long-suffering like spiritual hospital scrubs, and meeting people’s expectations of what a Christian should be. We can be led to believe that losing ourselves in Christ means disappearing into other people’s needs, into other people’s ideas of what we are to be about in this life.

We forget that Jesus was a disappointment to many people. That’s right. Jesus wasn’t the Messiah many expected. To a lot of Israelites, He was a letdown. Still, that didn’t make Him change course. Jesus knew who He was and, just as vitally, who He was not. Continue Reading →

What Not to Say to an Angel

angel-1184180_640When God breaks in
it’s never convenient
and while it often means good news for the world
it doesn’t always mean good news for you
the bumbling human He’s chosen for a special task.
Like Zechariah.
Priest. Righteous follower of God. Observant Jew. Husband.
Old man.
Childless.
Unable to produce an heir.
Done.
Waiting for his call home.
So, one day, he’s at work.
Kneeling behind a heavy drapery inside the holy of holies making intercession for the people of Israel.
It’s a big deal this task.
Everyone else is waiting on the other side of the curtain.
It’s a holy thing, he’s doing. Burning incense. Mediating before God for the sinners on the other side of the curtain. For the sinner on the inside. And the incense is rising.
All at once, he’s not alone.
Not sure why modern people want to see angels. Anyone in the Bible who ever saw one was pretty freaked out by the sight. Scared. Overwhelmed. Shaking in their shoes.
Usually, the first words out an angels mouth are “Don’t be afraid.” That should tell you something.
Even more because people still seem pretty afraid even after the angels tells them not to be.
So, the good news this angel brings is that Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, is going to have a child.
Okay, pretty good news because they’ve waited a loooonnnnggggg time but pretty freaky, too, because, you know, they’re old. Picture the oldest couple you know finding out they’re going to have a baby. Weird, right?
So, the bad news is that Zechariah doesn’t react brilliantly when the angel delivers his news. He wants to know how he can be sure what he’s hearing is actually going to happen.
I’ve never seen an angel, okay, so I can’t really judge but I can tell you that if you’re alone behind a curtain kneeling before an altar burning incense and some amazing being appears at your side and gives you a message from God, the wrong thing to say next is “prove it, man.”
Zechariah ends up with a nine-month involuntary vow of silence which must have made the whole experience for Elizabeth a pretty darn strange adventure.
When God breaks in
it’s never convenient
and while it often means good news for the world
it doesn’t always mean good news for you
the bumbling human He’s chosen for a special task.
Zechariah and Elizabeth had lived righteous lives before God and in their old age, He took them on a sleigh ride.
Are you feeling as though too much life has passed for you to be chosen by God for adventure?
Not so.
Take a trip to the altar this advent season, loved one. Let your prayers rise like incense. Be ready for God to break in.
Just remember, if an angel appears with a message just nod and say, “Yes. I’m ready to follow. Let’s go.”
Funny thing is, Zechariah had probably stopped hoping something would happen – he might have stopped expecting anything new from God
But God hadn’t stopped planning new adventures for Zechariah – He’s not done with you, either, love one.
(Read this story for yourself in Luke 1: 5-25 NIV)
**Dear readers, in light of the busy upcoming season, I’ll be writing short posts meditating on different aspects of the Christmas story – all from my strange and unique perspective. Hope the brevity serves you well. God bless.

Questions from a Prison Cell

I thought that following Jesus would be like walking a straight line.

Not so much.

Sometimes there’s a straight path but then it’s a trail in the woods and you find yourself bushwacking as He seems to double back and then circle around a few times before leading you to a spot where suddenly there’s only mud or sand and the way is truly unclear.

Raise your hand if this has been your experience following our Lord.

I think this was His cousin’s experience.

John the Baptist was close to Jesus. Born only months apart, their parents knew from the womb these were men of destiny. There had to be a bond.

John led the way, preaching to all who would listen about the Lamb of God. He baptized Jesus and was present when the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove.

John, like every other faithful Jew of Israel in that time, welcomed the long-awaited Messiah and must have thought that the path to the throne and to deliverance for his people would be a straight one now that Jesus had arrived.

But, in Matthew 11, we find John in prison, locked up at the request of silly girl manipulated by an adulterous mother.

I wonder what John expected.

Probably not that he would end his life on the blade of Herod’s sword. Probably not that Jesus would not come and free him. Probably not to hear reports of Jesus teaching and preaching far from Jerusalem in little no-name fishing villages and small account towns where no one of power and influence lived.

John sent word to Jesus through his own followers and the word was this – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matthew 11: 3

I get that. John was saying something like “Hey, I was following you, Jesus. I was so sure you were the one. I’ve been your biggest supporter. I’ve made my life all about you,

but – this isn’t working out the way I expected it. So, now I’m wondering. Is it really you?”

The desperation of a follower in this state is captured beautifully in the song “Could We Start Again, Please?” by Andrew Lloyd Webber: “I’ve been living to see you, Dying to see you but it shouldn’t be like this. This was unexpected, what do I do now? Could we start again please?”

I believe there is a moment like that in the life of every follower of Christ. Sometimes there are several moments like that. When Jesus walks ahead and we’re standing, still wondering if we want to keep following across that terrain.

In the beginning, we know Jesus is the truth. He is all we want and we set out to follow Him, certain He will lead us on a straight path

But He doesn’t seem to care about straight paths. Or our comfort. Or our fears. Or our expectations. Or our desire to camp out by the side of the path to build shelters along the way.

He’s heading somewhere and if we want to travel with him, we need to let go of all that. And as we follow and drop it all, we begin to appreciate traveling light – when we’re not terrified, that is.

Others who’ve followed him leave hints that they, too, have known what we know.

Like J.R.R. Tolkien, “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.”

He visited that prison cell. Probably sat next to John’s ghost, heard his voice in the wind.

I’ve sat beside them both and heard them whisper – go ahead. Follow Him, even now.

Do you hear them encouraging you on? Listen. You will.

Trust Me, I’m an Expert

We are a credential-driven culture.

We love to hear what the experts have to say. We turn to them for advice on everything from buying cars to raising our kids to losing weight. Every field of study has a stable of know-it-alls who have little better to do than wait for those of us who know nothing to turn to them and ask for counsel.

And sometimes they’re right but often they’re not. If you’ve watched any crime show, you know that lawyers on both side of a case can line up expert testimony supporting opposing versions of the argument at hand.

(Of course, on TV you know the best experts because they’re bigger, more attractive stars than the B-roll players they cast to oppose them.) It’s harder to sort it out in real life.

Don’t get me wrong. I love learning. If I could be in school right now, I would. I’d have a string of letters after my name so long I’d have to print my business cards on legal size paper. I love being a student and I’m good at it. I don’t have the time or money to pursue endless formal education, but that doesn’t mean I don’t continually pursue knowledge. I do. So, I’m not anti-knowledge, or anti-education or even anti-expert.

BUT

A word of caution to the faithful:

There is a growing body of expert testimony being built up against the church of Jesus Christ. There is an arsenal of human understanding that is being compiled as a weapon of mass destruction to be used to defend the world against our faith. And much of it is a based on lies, false assumptions, personal agendas and an over-reliance on capricious scientific methods.

Even now, it’s being hauled onto the witness stand in the court of public opinion and it’s delivered in PowerPoints with excellent graphics by presenters who are attractive, clever and articulate. It speaks with the weighty voice of authority like a James Earl Jones voiceover on the History Channel or the Discovery Network or PBS.

Sometimes when we listen, we, too, can almost be convinced.

That’s a secret we don’t share in our small groups once we’ve been Christians for more than ten years. We allow seekers and new believers room to voice their skepticism, their doubt, their hard questions but once we become the answer givers, we begin to hide our own moments of doubt in some closed door back room of our minds but that’s not a wise practice.

We tell ourselves that as mature believers we should be past doubt. We fear that if we share our doubts, we might frighten those who depend on us. So we just shove them into that room, we mentally hoard our shaky faith moments like stacks of old newspapers and fast food wrappers.

But alone, late at night, there comes a knocking from inside that room and when we crack open the door we are besieged by flocks of doubt flapping at our brains like squealing bats. They’ve fed off the blood of the questions we’ve allowed to sour and ferment in secret so now we find ourselves alone and at risk.

But there’s no reason to panic. Really.

There have always been experts.

There have always been those who carry themselves with unusual authority, who wield worldly knowledge like golden scepters and look down over their spectacles at the rest of us as though we were made of something less than they. Take courage from knowing that every tested Christian in history, from Jesus to modern pastors imprisoned in China, has had to face “experts”.

Take heart, also, in knowing that every believer faces moments of doubt. There are dark moments in this world and in those moments, forces come against us and doubts thud into our minds like hooded executioners ready to behead our faith. Don’t be afraid of doubts or hard questions. God’s not.

John the Baptist knew who he was and why he was here. He faced down authorities, he called out the Pharisees, he baptized Jesus Christ and saw the Holy Spirit descend on Him like a dove. But one dark day in prison, John sent his followers to Jesus to ask “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” I mean really, if you were John and heard that Jesus was healing the sick and performing miracles while you sat locked in prison looking at death, you’d have a couple of questions for Him, too, wouldn’t you?

God loves hard questions. The Bible is full of those who love Him coming to Him in their lowest times and wrestling through the doubts, the fears, the wonder – “Are you really the one?”

Expertise is worthwhile in its proper place. But remember that it was experts who built the Titanic and the Challenger. It was experts who told our mothers that bottles were better for babies and that they didn’t have to be awake during our births. And there were experts who said that if they killed Jesus, then that would be the last anyone would hear of Him and that no one would ever listen to a pack of uneducated fishermen and retired whores. Those experts all turned out to be wrong.

So, this might be a good week to clean out that dark back room. Find another you believer you trust or just have a straightforward conversation with God and let some light shine on those doubts. It’s OK to say “I heard this fact and it really made me wonder about the Bible.” Or “I’m bothered by this aspect of our faith and sometimes I wonder if it’s all real.” Even if you’ve known God for forty-seven years, it’s OK to ask hard questions.

God tells us to love Him with all our heart, our MIND and our strength. He knows what goes on in there. Nothing surprises Him.

Believe me, I know about doubt. I’m an expert.

No Ordinary Hero


Last week I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time in years. I love the scene where Indiana Jones discovers where Marion has been taken captive and instead of rescuing her, he leaves her there! It’s a great moment because we all know the hero is supposed to rescue the damsel in distress but Indiana Jones is no ordinary hero. He knows it will serve their goal better if he leaves Marion in her predicament for just a little longer. Eventually, he saves her but a lot of damsel distress happens in between.

That’s just like Jesus. He’s no ordinary hero. We have all these expectations about what He should do in our lives and when but He’s not compelled to serve our expectations. He’s got a greater plan and sometimes it serves the good of the goal to leave us unrescued for the moment.

Jesus loved John the Baptist. They were cousins and John, perhaps more than anyone at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, understood what Jesus was about. It amazes me that when John is thrown into prison and sends word to Jesus, Jesus doesn’t come. He doesn’t show up. He sends John a message through one of his followers and shortly thereafter, John is beheaded.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus. They were his friends. He stayed at their home when He was in town. They hosted His gatherings. Then Lazarus grew seriously ill. They sent for their friend who could heal the sick. Does He drop everything and come rushing to their rescue. No. He tarries. Lazarus dies. What are they to think? Where was He? How could He not come?

In both cases, Jesus knew it served the greater plan for Him not to come. John, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are all rescued now but in the moment, they remained unrescued. Jesus is no ordinary hero.

Some of us remain unrescued. We love Jesus. We follow Him the best we can. We’re not perfect but we’ve really tried. Then trouble shows up at our door. We are sick unto death. We are financially devastated. We watch relationships crumble. We cry out to our hero for help, and we wait. But we remain unrescued.

We know He can hear us. We know He could save us if He wanted. We even feel His love and know He is with us in our trouble. So we are tempted to question our own faith.

Hebrews chapter 11 is the great faith chapter where are listed the heroes of our faith: Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Moses – the list goes on. If you read to the end, however, you will find the chapter takes a distressing turn. Around verse 33, the writer mentions many who through faith shut the mouths of lions, conquered kingdoms, and escaped the edge of the sword but then, around verse 36, we find that some who exercised faith faced jeers, flogging, prison, torture, persecution, mistreatment and death. It ends with these words “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.”

God has a plan. Jesus is no ordinary hero and if you choose to follow Him, you are not on an ordinary adventure. Sometimes you will not be rescued from your temporary predicament. Some of us through faith will be healed, will overcome obstacles, will triumph over death on earth but some of us, through faith, will remain sick, will remain impoverished, will die.

Are you still unrescued? Take heart. He loves you as dearly as He loved John and Mary, Martha and Lazarus. You will arrive safe in the end but if He tarries to come, He has a greater goal in mind and you have been given a part in that. Stay strong and do not lose heart. He is no ordinary hero and you are not a child of ordinary faith.

Ultimately, we are in this, not for the payoff of the momentary rescue but for the greater prize – the building of a kingdom that will exceed all our expectations and include all who need to be rescued! Take heart, loved one. In a little while, He will come. “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”( Rev. 22:20-21) Maranatha!