03 June 2023

In Honor of Mother's Day 2023

Every year we get to honor the women that birthed us or fed us, changed our diapers, nurtured and loved us – or those who functioned in that role. While no mother is perfect, these women helped us get to this stage of life.  My Mom, Chris, has been enjoying heaven for nearly six years.  

This is my favorite picture of us, and it sits on my shelf in my office.  Every day, I am reminded of how much she invested in me – not just physically and emotionally but spiritually.  

Right after I was ordained at Valley Christian Church back in ’97, she told me she always knew I’d become a pastor.  She’d prayed for it!  Even when, in my late teens, I’d rebelled against everything religious and wandered far from God, she remained hopeful.  That desire to see me grow in Christ was backed up by living a life that demonstrated His goodness.  

At Mom’s celebration of life, I got to emphasize a few lessons she taught me about growing spiritually.  To begin with, she taught me patience.  I don’t know if it’s just a guy thing, but we men generally lack this quality.  Mom had a very long fuse that she kept hidden.  It took a lot to get her to explode.  However...!

My sister & I have a great relationship, but with 2 young kids on her small salary, we had to share a room, which led to tension!  “Mom, she started it!”  “No, he hit me first!”  And yet she could solve our problems, and we’d go back to playing.  

But, when we crossed the line, and there was one, we knew it!  She would raise her hands up in the air, shake them, and say at the top of her voice: “One of you just hurry up and kill the other one so I can have some peace and quiet!”  Yeah, that made us stop in a hurry!  Later on, we all laughed at it.  She said it was her tactic for us to get along.  

Mom couldn’t understand our quarreling slash loving relationship because she was an only child.  So, she taught us to love each other because we were all the siblings we’d get.  We needed that lesson because we endured many painful years of abuse from our stepfather and stepsiblings.  But Mom was our rock to see us through it, with God’s strength, teaching us to love without reservation when others in our lives didn’t do that for us.  

She didn’t know how God would intervene, but she knew He would.  Mom demonstrated a tough endurance that persevered!  She taught us what complete reliance upon the Lord looked like!  

But she was also humble.  When we were involved in a major auto accident, Mom never physically recovered from her injuries but never let others know the pain she endured.  Why?  Because to Mom, you were the most important person in the room, not her!  She had a selfless quality that I know Jesus honors.  She exemplified how to be an amazing mother, balancing work and caring for my aging grandmother.

Two days before she died, I asked her what she wanted people to remember about her.  She simply said: “That I once was Saul, but now I’m Paul.”  And I thought, wow, she’s teaching us even as she leaves this earth!  Her regrets of running from Jesus in her younger years had now been radically transformed into a witness of God’s grace to grow a person spiritually. 

And now, she is experiencing what Paul did.  2nd Timothy 4:6-8 says, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

May we keep learning the spiritual lessons Mom taught - over and over again, until we, too, receive that crown as we meet Jesus face to face!

23 May 2021

Pandemic Panacea

During this pandemic, I've learned a new skill.

No, it's not becoming an expert at facilitating Zoom meetings - even though I've done my fair share!  It's not scoring the best deal on hard-to-find hygiene products - even though our store shelves are stocked full of TP again!  It's not even the creativity needed to balance a host of opinions about how to "do" church.

I've become adept at recognizing people from just half or a third of their face exposed!  Have you, like me, noticed your ability to identify your friends even though this vital part of their personality is hidden? 

The first place I generally look at someone is smack-dab in the eye, which according to most social experts is the place you want to make contact first.  However, my gaze goes to their face in general.

You can tell a lot about a person by what their face says.  Happy, sad, or mad, irritable or indifferent - facial expressions and cues are a window to the soul.  For me, it's the smile underneath the mask that I love "seeing" - and it's only through their eyes!  

I never realized how much my eyes reveal my smile!  And I love to experience this gift from someone, even though it's not visibly apparent.  We didn't ask for them to be masked, but we've voluntarily covered them in order to protect others either from disease or from fear.  And it has been a wonderful gift - to smile through the barrier.  This has been my pandemic panacea - to "see" these smiles.   

But even more has been the smile bestowed on me by the Lord!  We often don't think of God smiling since He is Spirit.  The Bible has a unique way of expressing it, though - as "making His face shine upon us."

Most notably, these words are found in the words God gave to Moses and Aaron to bless the people of Israel... Numbers 6:24–26 (NIV84) - "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace."

Rick Warren, in his popular book, The Purpose Driven Life, mentions this and the five ways we can make Him smile:

∙ God smiles when I love Him supremely.
∙ God smiles when I trust Him completely.
∙ God smiles when I obey Him wholeheartedly.
∙ God smiles when I praise and thank Him continually.
∙ God smiles when I use my abilities.

He used a quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, Chariots of Fire.  Runner and missionary, Eric Liddell said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”  Everything we do can solicit the "smile" of God if we commit everything we are and do to His glory.  

And for me, that has been the cure for my pandemic blues!  How about for you?

31 December 2020

A Prayer for the New Year

I thought I might offer you a snapshot of my prayer time with the Lord this morning. It isn’t profound or prolific. But I felt compelled to share it as we enter 2021 together.

The End. This year, Lord...one of the worst ever by some estimations, and yet it is not. All a matter of perspective. How will we choose to look at it? A divided country politically, one that’s been on fire, a bankrupt government morally, a country plagued by disease... OR, one in which we got to learn new ways of serving one another – tangible thoughts and deeds of love – and people who met You for the first time, the gift of eternity with You. How did we contribute to that?  

Lord, we can still count our blessings though we face loss and uncertainty. The one blessing I am so grateful for? You, Jesus… You were handed over to die because of my sin, our sins, and You rose from the dead to make me, us, right with God. (Rom. 4:25) No amount of turmoil or hardship or disappointment can change that, Lord! You still rule and reign, and we get to participate in that with You as co-heirs, both now and forever! Therefore, since by my faith I’ve been made right with You, I can have peace in my heart and life because of nothing I did, but what You did. You have brought me into the highest place of honor and privilege – I stand here now with you – confident, joyful at the glory awaiting. (Rom. 5:1-2)

Maybe, Lord, a bit of that is to come in this New Year. I believe it! And I’m counting on You, as You count on me! I will rejoice when I encounter difficulties since I know You’ve allowed them to teach me endurance and then strength of character which then makes me all the more sure of my salvation! (Rom. 5:3-4)

I am not at all disappointed in You as I am with the world. Its promises never satisfy me like Yours… The promise of security, a political hope, a cure…no, all these fade in comparison to just how much You love me – love us – because You’ve confirmed it! Thank You, Holy Spirit, for filling my heart today with Your love, ready to face the future and bless whomever you place in my path. (Rom. 5:5)

Lord, I give You 2021 as my offering. How can I please You better this year? How can I yield more of myself and my wants, and take delight in Your plans and purposes? Oh Lord, I can be hopeful and optimistic! You have given me everything I need – in abundance! May You be glorified in me this year. Thank you for this gift of life. I love You.

The prayers I write in my quiet time are my thoughts to the Lord. But maybe today, since I felt prompted to share this, how might you echo some of these words from Scripture, as well, as your own communication with Him?  

Friends, we face uncertainty as the calendar changes. But it can be met with extreme confidence in Christ! As you look forward, what do you have to be thankful for? What changes in your relationship with Him do you want to make? And how might I pray for you?

15 May 2020

The Emoji

I just learned that my Google Messages app will now support iPhone like emojis.  Thrilling…  OK, not really!  Why, you may ask?  I think I have enough emojis already!  How many do I really need?  I’ll probably peruse the new collection, but I’ll stick with my favorites, I think, because people know what I mean by now. 

I have a collection of smiley faces, sad faces, angry faces, and even ones that evoke, shall we say, rather vivid, bodily functions!  Most convey a specific meaning… no surprises there.  But one emoji possesses great power and tremendous complexity – the simple ♥ heart.

When I use this symbol, I can emote love, or friendship, or even that I like a certain post!  So what is it about the heart that makes us believe its sincerity?  How do you know I really mean it?  Is my heart even trustworthy?

That’s what God addresses in this oft-quoted passage in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  So, it would seem that my heart isn’t reliable, according to God’s Word.  But why do I think it is?  Does this admonition from the Lord apply to us as Christians?  Are our hearts deceitful?  Then how can we truly love?

To understand this better, we need some context.  I am very grateful to John Piper for his insights to a caller on his radio program a while back who helped me see this clearly.  In the first part of this chapter, God sounds the warning, yet again, to rebellious Judah.  Vs. 1 – “Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars.”

Remember, they had exchanged worship of God for idolatry and pagan immorality.  God said it would be because of their sin that they would lose their inheritance of the Promised Land, their wealth, and be sent into captivity – because they trusted in others rather than Him, depending on their own strength rather than His!

In contrast, God says, vs. 7 – “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. 8  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

So, why do we as God’s people exchange the certainty of blessing by trusting in Him with the futility of operating under our own power?  That’s when we get to vs. 9.  Our human hearts are sick…influenced by deceit.  That’s why we trust in self vs. trusting in God.

He alone, vs. 10, searches our hearts and examines our minds, to accurately and graciously bless us according to who we are and what we do in response to His free gift of grace.

So, is my heart deceitful?  Yes, absolutely.  All of us were born with this desire to satisfy self over and above God.  But, the Bible says that when we accept this gift found only in Jesus Christ, He changes our hearts within us completely!

In Acts 15:8-9, God now doesn’t distinguish between us.  “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them (the Gentiles) by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.”  (Emphasis mine)

When we come to Jesus, we are a new creation, 2 Cor. 5:17, the old has gone, the new has come!  God gives us a new heart because of His Spirit that dwells in us!  Somebody say “amen!”  And we become more and more like Him.

The next time you use that heart emoji, recall to mind the heart of Jesus for you and how your heart has been changed by Him!

02 May 2020


Growing up, one of the most dreaded games you might have played on the playground was one of the most painful.  In a test of strength, you would interlock fingers with someone and attempt to bend them backwards.  The winner was the one who lasted the longest under that subtle form of torture.  You yielded by yelling out the code-word, which was the name of the game: "Uncle!"

I was usually the shortest kid in grade school, and this game was a favorite among the bigger kids to flaunt their power and stature.  Because my fingers were small, I was thought of as an easy target to beat.  However, I could last a fairly long time, due to the fact my bony knuckles would dig into my opponent’s fingers!

But, of course, the sheer strength of my opponent would win out, and inevitably, I would call, “Uncle” and give in.  But some of those immature bullies wouldn’t cease bending my fingers, necessitating my repeated cries of “Uncle” until finally I begged for mercy!

This childish game can readily depict what we think the concept of mercy is all about – a submissive person who is held captive by a harassing tyrant, then released – with both fingers and feelings left numb and bruised.

I hadn’t thought of this childish game in years until I came across a signature section in my Journey with Jeremiah.  The prophet seems to be the victim, as the Lord commanded him not to marry or have children (Jer. 16:1-2).  The Jewish culture viewed marriage and child-rearing as not only a blessing to be enjoyed but as obligatory.  It was your responsibility!  

Here, a dominating God seemingly prohibits Jeremiah from fulfilling his societal duty with His restrictive command.  Admittedly, the game of Uncle entered my brain upon reading this verse!  Why would God do this to poor Jeremiah, a man who desired nothing more than to serve and be compassionate to his people.

We often talk a lot about the grace of God in our Christian lives but not a lot about His mercy.  For me, I think it’s because I associate mercy with this schoolyard game.  But what is it?  Grace has often been defined as “getting something I don’t deserve” – like when I get a hug when I really deserve a rebuke.  But mercy is the opposite: “not getting what I truly deserve,” meaning I don’t receive punishment for a wrong I have done.

So, what’s the deal with God and Jeremiah?  Instead of playing the tyrant, here, the Lord reveals His perfect compassion.  With the coming judgment against the people of Judah for their willful disobedience and abandonment of a godly lifestyle, God actually spares Jeremiah from the heartache of loss that will come through captivity, disease, famine and destruction by their enemies!  As a tender-hearted man, I think Jeremiah would have been torn to pieces to watch his family be consumed like this.

Wow, Lord, what wonderful mercy You offered Your servant!  He and his people, sinful at birth, deserved punishment for sin.  And yet, You spared Jeremiah that grief and anguish.  I, too, have strayed from You more times than I can count in over 50 years of life.  I stand condemned in my willful disobedience, as well.  And yet, You show how much You love me by sparing me the consequences of my sin when I commit my life to You.

I’m reminded of 1 Peter 1:3-7 (NIV).  I praise God because, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5  who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7  These have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 

The thing about God’s mercy – I may not see it until after the fact.  I may not have a tangible experience with it right now, but I do have the knowledge of it.  Through Jesus, He offers me hope, one that I can know right now – even through my trials and what I may perceive as injustices – and look to experience in person with Him on that Day.

I am grateful God compassionately spared Jeremiah.  And I am grateful He spares me from the wrath I deserve.  “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)

When have you cried “Uncle” in your life?   How did you experience God’s mercy?  Why did you receive it?  How will you share His mercy with others today?