Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Blessing....Don't Miss It...this year

Set your mind right now to not let this season of blessing slip by. Take it and squeeze out every drop... Thanks again to Eugene Peterson:

Psalm 128-A Pilgrim Song
 1-2 All you who fear God, how blessed you are!
how happily you walk on his smooth straight road!
   You worked hard and deserve all you've got coming.
      Enjoy the blessing! Revel in the goodness!

 3-4 Your wife will bear children as a vine bears grapes,
      your household lush as a vineyard,
   The children around your table
      as fresh and promising as young olive shoots.
   Stand in awe of God's Yes.
      Oh, how he blesses the one who fears God!

 5-6 Enjoy the good life in Jerusalem
      every day of your life.
   And enjoy your grandchildren.
      Peace to Israel!

How can anyone say that the way is smooth and straight? Isn't Christianity so hard it is painful? No my friend, being a Christian is easy- being an unrepentant sinner is hard.

HH Farmer- go against the grain of the universe and you will get splinters.
J.H. Newman (paraphrase): "If I want to travel north and all the roads are cut to the east, of course I will complain of the roads. I will find nothing but obstacles;I will have to surmount walls, and cross rivers- never finding the end- only failure. So it is with all who seek happiness for their own end- the signposts to Zion are well marked- but we ignore them and stubbornly bushwack our own way. Of course we will meet thwartings, and disappointments, and failure- then we get mad at God for making it so hard- religion is an inconvenience only to those who are going against the compass-."

The above Psalm is just one of the many ways I have experienced the pouring out of mercy by the Holy Spirit this Christmas season. John Calvin used to press his congregation to pursue deeper happiness- seeking the pleasure that goes beyond the world's standard of ease, honor, and great wealth.

So this morning I am reveling in God's great YES. The last few days I have been able to see how blessed I am. The wife He has given me- the children of joy that light my heart with life- the beautiful friends who love me- my extended family who pray faithfully. For one whole week I have been able to retreat from the contrary winds of the pilgrim life and soak in the peace and warmth of God's riches- this is a blessing of Christmas.

My friends- I am calling out to all- right now in your heart see that Christ is right here- He is right there- He has NEVER forsaken you- and He holds no grudge for our ignoring Him- look deep inside and say to Him right now- 'THANK-YOU- Lord, help me sip the wine of your sweet gift this Christmas'.

 The gift is not because we are good- I am a great sinner-the gift is because HE IS GOOD.

At that very moment of that prayer, He begins to pull out the splinters and salve your hurting heart. And you will SEE His provision all around you.

JOY, which was the small publicity of the pagan,
is the GIGANTIC SECRET of the Christian
                           G.K. Chesterton

Hug those who are with you and bask in the riches of His love- MERRY CHRISTMAS!
And let's all walk on that smooth well-worn path of blessing- all the way to Zion!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Re-post "Walking through Wounds"

This is always such an amazing time of year. It is a chance for reflection.
I took a long time today in my blog: and re-read years of journal entries and posts.
This one is from Dec 1- 2008. God's truth is still as true today as it was then. I know this sounds crazy- but I am doing great and have had Christmas cheer all day today. Isn't God good!

Walking Through Wounds With Joy and Hope

Life wounds….. there is no getting around it. It isn’t always tragic, it sometimes just pricks like a thorn. But it’s those little tears that can add up the most. Life lets you down.

I want to thank Bill Delvaux for opening a window to explore this, because it is these hurts that point us eventually toward heaven and it is pain that inexplicably keeps the heart alive.

Life is often a series of disappointment: Robert Frost correctly asserted that ‘nothing Gold can stay- even the good moments are fleeting and drift away in slivers. I always thought it was appropriate that Pip experienced all the shock of seeing his world collapse in “Great Expectations”.

“All the truths of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.”

But it was the subtle letdowns that he noticed first:

My (new) clothes were rather a disappointment, of course. Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in, fell a trifle short of the wearer's expectation.

A big part of Christian maturity is accepting the ‘beautiful letdown’ as a reality that does not dampen joy or hope.

The apostle Paul makes this point vividly clear in Roman 8:18 “ For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because [6] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…”

But it is not an easy lesson to learn. It must be experienced by faith over time. It means silent suffering and patient endurance. It really is like birth pangs that ebb and flow with variations of intensity.

I have had my share of deep hurts.. including the loss of my mom.

But it is the subtle wounds that can exasperate, partly because they send mixed messages. Is God angry with me? Is this deserved discipline? Is He protecting me?

I look back over old notes regarding a time in my life where I sought a head coaching job. I ended up being the runner up four times in a row! My reactions were all over the place… sometimes anger, sometimes laughter.

Look at some of my former journal entries:

There has always been a cry inside of me. It’s hard to describe exactly, something akin to a hunger. It throbs and fluctuates, groaning to be born. But it always stops. I am somewhat afraid of it…is this the evil part of me? Is it an unquenchable thirst for pleasure and self-satisfaction that wants to destroy all the good intentions of my creator?
I am afraid because I know it is tied to my ego- that part of me that wants to matter, to be noticed, to be applauded as the winner of whatever race I am in. Is it evil? Does it miss the mark- what the English termed a sin?
I am also afraid because it may turn out to be a sham. Some wild excuse to sound pseudo-philosophical and be nodded to by the brilliant. It is so funny, I am a roller coaster between self-assertion and self-denial, self-confidence and self-condemnation…. and now I chastise myself for self-absorption.
I have lived long enough now to have more questions than answers. I have read the great writers and realized that I can’t even read, much less write. I have heard the great preachers, and realized I can’t hear. I have mulled over the great thinkers and realized I can’t think. The only really good thing I do is forget.
Then I soothe myself by finding someone lower than me, only to realize that I perceive him to be lower, I can see no farther into him than he can into me. So what is my premise?
I am glad I am not a mathematician or a scientist. I am glad I am not a lawyer or a doctor. Lord knows we need all of these. I am glad I am not a mechanic, or a plumber, or an accountant, but I am glad my wife is an accountant.
I am glad to be me. I enjoy appreciating the dull things. I do love life and all in all it is an easy one. There is a part of me afraid of God. Afraid that He will look down at me one day and say, “suffer”. I know there is pain a comin’- death of loved ones (update mom passed away in Jan 2004, brother in drug rehab 2004). I feel a knee twinge now, or get a gas pain in my side, or have heart burn and I pause..”is this cancer? A heart attack? Arthritis? Lou Gherig’s disease?” Then I pause again and say, “What a poor view of my Father I have”. God design is not zapping people out of their mirth; it is getting me to trust Him enough to ascend the mountain of His pleasure.
But I’m writing today to say that I fell trapped. I am a gold fish swimming so hard against the edge of the bowl that I am fagged out- (thanks for letting me reclaim the term). I am punching against golden puppet threads and am tangled. I see the air on my gauge at critical, but am too far under the surface to survive. And so I am crying out.
I do not want to be cut loose from my wife or my girls. I do not want away from my Lord. But I need to get away from this sanctuary. I have been too safe for too long. It feels so good to lie here and soak, but I’m afraid that if I stay too long I will lose my desire to ever move again. I’m too young to pull in my reins and rest. Will I then find I have saved all I have, risked nothing, but never gained anything?
So how do I approach this? How does God’s sovereignty fit in with my knack for manipulation and coercion? Can I push so hard that I go where God cannot bless me? Do I sit back and find I never arrived where He could use me? One has faith to sit and wait – am I showing faith by swatting every gnat in my eye?
I am discovering that the truth of God that states that He put eternity in my heart (Ecclesiastes) can feel sometimes like a curse- it is a madness that tortures me. So I am crying to you- Oh my Father- get me out or take me out or take out that part that wants out….just please help…. I am not demanding…. I am begging and it probably sounds like a whimper.

It is now more than 6 years later… and I see God’s purposes more clearly. But I am still a man who hurts… cut me and I still bleed.

Losses still hurt…. Arguments still frustrate…. Rejection still wounds me.

But I am more able to at least say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”.

I see that the granting of tears, teaches compassion. Ravi Z is right, I will feel no passion to change until I feel the pressure in my own soul. There are seasons- A time to laugh and a time to cry- My prayer is that we always show compassion and love first- it is actually more important that the truth that comes later?

The question will come: Why?

There are a lot of wrong answers to the question of wounds and a few wrong responses to these happenings. I don’t have time to go into it in detail- but there is a growing Heresy within the evangelical church that is a new spin in age old unbiblical answers to these issues.

These heretics are not bad people- but unfortunately are giving advice that sounds good to the human ear, but really offers no real hope- in fact, in the end it robs them of a path to true recovery.

So hear me very clearly-God is great and God is good/ Great in that He is in control- He ordains these dark times and will use them to His glory. The very second you say that God is not in control, you began to rob Him of His Godness and you begin to believe that He is not trustworthy.

A surprising help to me is Psalm 107
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so- what is the so? Oh Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His steadfast Lord endures forever. Whom He has redeemed from trouble.

4-9 Some wandered- became hungry and thirsty- He led to straight way satisfies the longing. All of us are wanderers.
10-16 Some sat as prisoners- shadows of death- for they rebelled- example of substance abuse - you cannot escape- there are all kinds of dependency- the heart of the addict.
17-22 Some foolish- sowing and reaping-
23-32 Some just experienced storms of life- not making the team/ injury/ sickness
33-42- The general providence of God- divorce/bankruptcy/cancer/crime/ school authority and decisions of those in authority

Hear the promises in this Psalm:
Cry to the Lord and He delivered
Thank Him for His steadfast love
He satisfies- He fills the hungry
He brings them out of the shadow of death
He breaks the bonds- shatters iron and bronze bars
He delivers from distress
He sends His word and heals them
He delivers from destruction
He controls nature
He prospers
He shuts the mouth of the wicked

43- Attend to these things- consider the steadfast love- and SAY SO



And here I am 2 years later- And I can fully say LET THE REDEEMED OF THE LORD SAY SO- I WILL SAY HE IS GREAT AND HE IS GOOD! AMEN!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This One Will Be Strange

OK- here we go-.... inspired by Eugene Peterson

Look at me- you laugh and I laugh. But it is too convoluted to sort out.

So I realize now that the way God cares is so alien.... it is his strange ministers that make up His HOLINESS. He does seem intolerable careless about my scars and crosses- but He should be. Things I tremble at, He just shakes His head. Do I really know of loneliness and pain? 'Come on' He says, "Give me a break. Your powder puff- magic dragon God of expediency does not exist".

"But I get so tired of constantly defending You against the cynics and criers- especially those who walk around so disappointed in You. Some are sure You are not there- and they are mad at You for that."

"Well I'm tired of you thinking you have to defend me- that's the job of the stars and moon- and they do just fine- Thank-you."

I sit down in the sandstorm and feel the sting- the sandpaper grinds my flesh- a little layer at a time.
As I sit there, the greatest dragon I have ever encountered opens wide. His breath is nasty hot and his fangs are poised to strike.

At that point... I become the most surprised man on the planet.. I look with a steeliness and an anger and a vigor that I never felt before and I strike that dragon with a sword that had been hidden inside me- sharp and deadly.

I stand back up and the sand does not sting anymore. I finally get a little hint- faith is not the good life- it is the God-life.

The skeptics sneer at me still- 'false front' they say.

But my faith is on the line- and my love is on display. "No No" I say "Look at my gospel. It is not pretty and nice... it is authentic and true.- it is scratched, dented, beat up, and worn...but it sure looks good on me and feels so much like home....


Because my lot is really easy and the burden is light..Faith means I have no knowledge of the next minute- there may be death/pain/loss/rejection/sickness/tragedy- but I persevere in the firm confidence that God's love NEVER leaves me.

I prayed about my cold heart- and God breaks it. He binds it back up- but it never stops leaking after that- and that leakage is streams of mercy.

So I laugh at my silly pity party- God smiles.

I look at my girls and thank Him- and discover that is the foundation of worship.

And then I see how good we are- what strong shape we are in- and find the greatest truth of all. It was NOTHING in me- it was ALL IN HIM.

And I laugh so hard I cry.

Bring on Christmas!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Biblical Passages for Those Who Parent or Work with Teens Pt 3

 My blog over the next few weeks will be devoted to my work with students. Next year will mark 20 years that I have been involved in Christian Education and I wanted to reflect a little on my ministry philosophy and set some goals for the future- see the original blog at

PASSAGE 3- The Fruit of Faith Produces Obedience 

Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This last passage is one that will take some very special and careful explanation. We all love this verse- how can it be any clearer? Our justification is purely Christ alone! Nothing can be added to Christ as the atonement for our sin. He paid it all and we simply receive this immeasurable gift by trust. We can not work or earn God’s favor- we do not merit it by good deeds- we can not add to it.

But the Scriptures do present a part 2. We do not believe in faith plus works- but we do hold to a faith that works. The amazing forgiveness we receive and the indescribable love that accomplished this feat compels us to follow the one who gave so much. Over time- an understanding of the gospel and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit should produce a general trend of obedient and abundant living. It is a slow process, it is a frustrating up and down, forward and back, existence- but there is ample Scripture to show that Christ died so that we may live- not to our ourselves- but to Him.


Now, the biggest mistakes we make in this area is when we (1) try to sanctify others or (2) buy into a false belief that education equals reformation.Let’s take these two things separately. As soon as I begin to grow in obedience and receive the blessings of living within God’s design I want others to join me. Often, this is a good intention- and it can serve a dual purpose: I want to celebrate success and bring someone with me. But before long I see a subtle and sinister root take hold- I begin to expect things in others that I have done myself. I begin to compare my successes with failure in others and at some point I begin to demand in others MORE than I expect in myself. In a short amount of time- I have walked away from the gospel of grace and built a prison of legalism and instead of loving others, I am oppressing them. How quickly I have abandoned salvation by grace through faith.

The second mistake is to accept the notion that education is the key to reform. This is a tough one, because my entire professional life has centered round the value of education. There is a noble use of education and also a diabolical one. In its purest noble application, education is about teaching skills of observation, communication, thinking logically, reading, writing, and mathematical computations to allow for a greater degree of knowing God and evaluating all of life by His truth.The potential problem of education and its diabolical application is producing knowledge that creates pride and artificial division of people. A Christian is NEVER anti science/technology/or knowledge- but he must see this pursuit as what it is- a result of the Biblical mandate to subdue and rule the earth as a good steward and not a power grab. 

I guess the clearest example of this is what has transpired to human society in the wake of the enlightenment- once we elevate education over piety – it creates and unintended competition where we judge men according to academic credentials and not the content of character. And we begin to believe that advancements in knowledge will solve man’s biggest problems. The enlightenment, with all of it’s great achievements, unintentionally lifted up elites and gave them a voice based on knowledge, but not necessarily wisdom or morality. High intelligence has a hard time keeping an ego in check- and slowly trades questioning to cynicism or skepticism- and enthrones reason.As reason generates knowledge- it also creates power- and power in the hands of a man, especially one without a moral compass – can quickly generate oppression and greed.

Now, let me stop here and clarify what I am NOT saying. I am not saying that education is evil. I strongly lament the retreat that has happened in the evangelical world in regards to educational excellence and participation and I sadly admit to the intellectual laziness that places God in the gaps of knowledge and indulges in distraction and distaste for hard questions- we have no excuse here. What I am saying is that the church continues to evaluate progress on the city of man’s standards of intellectual arrogance and not the humility and gratitude of acknowledging that ALL TRUTH IS GOD’S TRUTH and placing everything under the authority of His Word.

Here is a subtle hint of how this is not ingrained in our current thinking. What do I spend the most time on and give the weightiest praise to? My daughter’s knowledge of the high priestly prayer in John 17 or her ACT score? What gets me more excited- her ability to speak in Spanish or her ability to quote Romans 1? Again- we should praise God if our children make a 29 on the ACT and get excited about foreign language… but wouldn’t it excite us if they loved the Bible so much that they read it….memorized it…used it… taught it…? And believe me, I am condemning myself as a parent as I write this.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Biblical Passages for Those Who Parent or Work with Teens Pt 2

My blog over the next few weeks will be devoted to my work with students. Next year will mark 20 years that I have been involved in Christian Education and I wanted to reflect a little on my ministry philosophy and set some goals for the future- see the original blog at


II TIMOTHY 3:1-9  "1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 6 They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, 7 always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone."

Passage 1 (yesterday) was more optimistic- be patient- God will get them where they need to be.

Passage 2 is more pessimistic- there is a downward spiral that doesn’t offer much promise to change.

Every time I read the above passage I get sad. I grieve over the slow decay of society and pray for renewal. Oh Lord please rend the heavens and delay this decay! 

Yet, it is important to be realistic- the city of man will have a consistent testimony throughout history- and the bottom line is not a pretty picture.

G.K. Beale has a very interesting quote regarding this: “Worldliness is what any culture does to make sin seem normal and righteousness seem strange.” 

The list above is where all of us are headed without an intervention. Don’t I see these base impulses in myself? At my core nature I am selfish-materialistic-arrogant and boastful- autonomous- slanderous, especially of the weak or downtrodden- an addict- an animal self and a diabolical self- pursuer of leisure and pleasure more than a pursuer of God- living in a Christ haunted land – holding to my rituals- but cold in my relationships. I am manipulative. The more I learn, the less I know. And the fruit is shameful.

The application of this verse is to combat the decay and the trend. What tools are at my disposal to see that this ‘default mode’ is resisted at every point?

Fortunately, the gospel takes aim right at the root of the issue. The renewal that comes in by embracing justification by grace through faith strikes a mighty blow to this cycle of cynicism and addiction. The employment of all the means of grace can stop and reverse these deadly trends and issues.  

For me personally, and for those who dwell in these communities of faith, it is incumbent to encourage and stir one another up in love and good deeds- to memorize, study, and meditate on God’s Word, to assemble for worship, to proclaim Christ, and participate in the sacraments to fight against the domain of darkness.

Have we not grown weary of the ineffective programs and snappy slogans? We must all agree with Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones “ I am never tired of saying that the church does not need to embark on some new methodology or program but must herself start living the Christian life.”

What can we do to inspire young leaders to fight against this 'default mode'? This is my largest goal and constant prayer!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Biblical Passages for Those Who Parent or Work with Teens

My blog over the next few weeks will be devoted to my work with students. Next year will mark 20 years that I have been involved in Christian Education and I wanted to reflect a little on my ministry philosophy and set some goals for the future- see the original blog at


Luke 5:33-39: 33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”
36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” 

This passage has always helped me in my work with students AND as a parent. I know that the applications may be less direct in my line of work, but some clear principles are here both for the teacher/parent and for the students. And even though the context here is the nature of the New Covenant Kingdom- the applications are valid.

Context and Overview: Jesus is being carefully watched and critiqued. It is interesting how the flow fits here, and you almost paint a narrative though I admit it brings in some speculation. Jesus is getting active and drawing interest and the implications of His ministry is causing uneasiness. The status quo is being challenged and it always attacks rivals. The key word is found right above this passage, in verse 29 “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect ‘complained’. What is the difference in a complaint and a question? What is the dividing line of helpful critique and a damaging complaint? We know the answer- matters of intentionality.
Their first critique is that they are eating and drinking with sinners. Jesus answers the sinner issue. The second criticism is that they are eating and drinking. In their understanding, religious zeal is regulated and evaluated by ascetic lifestyle. I find it interesting that Jesus uses a wine analogy to answer the charge.
Of course the biblical principle centers around the timeliness of behavior and allowance of the pleasurable when appropriate. Basically Jesus is saying- sometimes the time is right and sometimes the time is not right. Ultimately we enjoy pleasure at the allowance of our King who also is our Father. We serve at his will and not ours. There are times for feasting and there are times of fasting- it’s not important what we do, it is important why and for who we do it.
This seems to be an important point of the New Testament and the emphasis on conscience and concern for the weaker brother- or in other words- not using freedom as an offense (another day and another topic).
Jesus implies that He is involved in a process and the first step is preparation. You prepare a new wineskin, then fill it with new wine, as it ferments both the wineskin and wine are changed. The structure influences the substance and the substance changes the structure. The process takes time and involves pressure and constriction and contraction.
At some point, the wineskin is opened and the aged, desirous, aromatic and beneficent drink is used.
To put new wine into an old/used wineskin is foolish. The old skin cannot withstand the new process – it can only take so much for so long. And it is senseless to patch an old with a new piece- you ruin both. You must make allowances for time and pressure to produce the good stuff.
The overall point is that Jesus is bringing in a new administration of the covenant of grace and these disciples are going to carry this new wine into a new structure. They will face pressure and suffering- they will fast in time-AND the product will be beautiful.

PATIENCE- wineskins are in process. As sophisticated as a senior seems, they are still just a new wineskin that will be filled and capped in time. My guess is that they will pour out the gospel in whole new structures and I have no clue what it will look like. I will not be able to work in that new structure- I just need to pour out my wine in faithfulness to my Father.
PROPRIETY: In a weird twist- we should teach the teens to serve at the Lord’s will, not their hasty whim. The bridegroom is away for now- so we need to fast and practice self discipline- enjoying pleasure- YES- but in His timing and in His way.
So we have a strange application- the trials of life are coming- be patient. I do not expect my senior daughter to have the sanctification of a 30 year old. God will fill her and ferment her in circumstances and time to produce a beneficial fruit. She will be changed and the world will be impacted- at His pleasure and for His glory.
At the same time- trust God in this timing by obeying Him. There is a reason He wants abstinence and soberness- pleasure is not sinful- using pleasure outside his allowances is sinful. As a parent/teacher I am to be patient with their spiritual immaturity and they are to be patient with God’s restrictions. Both are points of perseverance.