Grace is on a Family Tree

My friend loves Jesus.

That sounds commonplace, doesn’t it?

It becomes less pedestrian when I tell you that his Mom died a drug addict and his father was a devout atheist. My friend was gloriously saved at the age of 10 at a Vacation Bible School event and never looked back. This. Makes. No. Sense. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but this apple fell off the tree rolled down the hill, was picked up by a pilot and flew across the ocean! (Figuratively speaking, of course.) And believe me, I don’t have enough white space here to chronicle the entire sordid tale. His story is a monument to the fact that God can save anybody He wants to save, no matter how messed up the family tree.

The New Testament begins with a family tree that had a number of ugly branches. Matthew 1 tells us that in Jesus’ lineage are a number shady characters including a prostitute, daughter of incest, an adulterer, a lying brother, lots of cautionary tales and ultimately an scandalous unwed pregnancy. It’s almost like God wanted to say from the start that this Gospel is all about grace and not about our upbringing. God isn’t as interested in your family history. He’s interested in what happens next. And when it comes to transformation, what happens next is glorious. He flips the script with grace. It’s His specialty. Never count yourself or your family out because of what happened yesterday. It’s an insult to the power of God when you do.


The Two Questions that He Keeps Asking

After the resurrection, Jesus returns to the disciples and sets his attention on Peter. You remember Peter. He’s the cussing disciple. The sword wheeling, water stumbling, denier whose tongue sprinted a few miles ahead of his brain on any given Sunday.

Jesus gives the disciples a little fishing advice that produces a record catch and then Peter jumps out of the boat leaving the haul to his buddies. That is SO Peter, isn’t it?

In the middle of this breakfast He asks Peter three times: “Peter, son of Jonah? Do you love me?”

The first time he asks, “Do you love me more than these?”

This is where I could have used a little more narrative information from the writer John. He obviously must have been gesturing to the fish, or the boats, his favorite lures, the disciples, or the water.  We don’t know. But I like that we don’t know. It leaves a mystery and every time I think about it, I think about my own “more than these” things.

I open up my retirement balance sheet. And I hear Him whisper, “Do you love me more than these?”

I open the refrigerator. He whispers again, “Do you love me more than these?”

I think about my family and friends. It gets deadly serious as He whispers, “Do you love me more than these?”

Just the question, “Do you love me?” What a soul searching question it is! Do I really love Him. I mean, hail or high water, do I love Him? Do I love Him when I am broke, mistreated, demoted, deleted, disparaged, rejected… Do I love Him?

The second question comes after Jesus infers that he (Peter) is going to die. (Note to reader: You, too, will die)  Peter looks over at John, perhaps hoping to change the subject. No one wants to talk about their own death. He turns to John and asks, “Hey Jesus, what about John?”

Jesus then says, “What is that to you?” In other words, “Peter, stop looking around. I’m talking about you and you only right now.”  I think the question inside the question is this: “Do you trust me?”

Jesus is asking me that same question. “Do you trust me?”

Those two questions:
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?

Those are the questions he whispers to me and you every day.

When He sees us fretting, anxious, conflicted, and disappointed by our careers, our lives, our future, our kids, our marriage, our finances, EVERYTHING.

He’s asking those two questions.

Stop reading this for a moment and hear Him whisper to you:

Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?
Do you love me?
Do you trust me?

I don’t know where you are, but your love and trust fascinates Him. It’s why He created you. He created you so that He could love You and take care of You. I want to see you and me grow up so that we can enter into a relationship of love and trust. He wants both of those from you, more than He wants you to sing beautifully, speak in tongues, heal the sick, or achieve greatness in His Name. Getting your theology right about free-will, Calvinism, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin– none of that is in the same area code of these two important questions.

He wants our love and He wants our trust.

So do you love Him?

Do you trust Him?

The Gospel of Enough

I grew up under the theology of scarcity. It centered around the hear-tell rumours that I didn’t have what it took to be a “really good” Christian. There were those repetitive voices outside and inside my head that said, “try harder, do more, get better.”  I gazed up at the impossible bar and counted myself out. My inadequacy labeled me, before I stepped on the scales.

My past haunted me
My scars mocked me.
My failures demoralized me,
My shame poisoned me.

I never would admit it, but I was certain that no one was as big of a poser as I was. I was weak and the more I tried to fix myself the more self-hatespeech would roll around in my head. And then one day I really did let go.

I raised a white flag and surrendered my efforts, my self-hope, self-punishment, and self-focus. I. JUST. LET. GO.

Then I discovered that the whole point of the gospel is that God is enough.

I just have to love him for being enough. It’s always been about God’s total sufficiency. What does it take to be held in the love of God? It takes a person willing to be still. This is the skill I need before everything else– to be still.  He is so much stronger than I have acted like He was.

But I am learning that He is more than enough to carry a struggler. It’s what He does. It’s His specialty and it’s His passion.  He’s not wringing his hands over your failures. He is ready to use each one to tell a story of grace and mercy.

It’s the same story that Mephibosheth experienced 2 Samuel 9. It’s an unfortunate name. It’s hard to say and spell so I call him Phiby. Phiby was the physically disabled grandson of a dead, vengeful King named Saul. When summoned, in his self-marinating humiliation he asked, “What does the King want with a dog like me.” He had nothing to offer the present king. But the king sought him out and he was seated at the kings table out of mysterious grace.

King David said to Phiby:

Don’t be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table. 2 Samuel 9:7 (NIV)

In the same way God the Father says to us, “I will show you kindness for the sake of my Son Jesus.”

John the Beloved put it this way:  Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called “children of God”—and that is not just what we are called, but what we are.  1 John 3:1 (Phillips Translation)

Throughout my days of striving to be acceptable, walking with a spiritual limp, striving to find a place, there is a Good Father who has already accepted me, not as a good servant but a beloved son. And that is good enough for me. In fact, He is more than enough.

I’ve seen him among the children and anyone who loves kids like he does, can be trusted. He is merciful to those who need mercy and He is always just. He willing to sacrifice everything for you and He never sleeps.

He is a doctor who can diagnose an illness before the symptoms appear.

He is a baker and when you go to his house there is always the wonderful smell of bread.
But more than anything…. He is a peacemaker.
He is available to you any time day or night.
He fights for the helpless
He makes time for the lonely
He is ready to step between you and your enemies
When you are befuddled confused and indecisive, He has a plan
When the walls are closing in, His doors will open wide.
He listens when no one else is around to hear you.
He consoles you when there are no arms to embrace you.
He weeps with you when all others curse at you
He is redeemer of your yesterdays and foreseer of your tomorrows.
He been to hell and back and He is still standing strong.
When others doubt you, He says, “you can do it.”
When no one knows you, He calls you by name
When few are truthful He will tell it to you straight.
He has set you apart and pulled you together
He lifts you up and He settles you down.
He’s not insecure, detached or ruthless.
All His plans are above board.
He’s written them all down in a book for you.
And nothing catches Him by surprise.
Many have tried to imitate him
And even more have tried to eliminate Him
But no one can intimidate Him
He is independent and self-sustaining and yet He longs for your love.
He could turn the world on its end and yet he has loved you from the beginning.
And He has invited you to come to His table.


Praying Before the Day

The second chapter of Joel reminds us to not only live for today. We must live for THE DAY. It’s a constant struggle to keep our focus on the fact that everything around us that we can touch with our hands will all be gone, leaving only our relationships and connection with our Source, Jesus. So how do we live for THE DAY when things once clouded will be seen face to face?

  1. Return to God (v12)

 “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

Spiritual preparation begins and ends with prayer. All our striving to be somebody must be overshadowed and minimized. Our prayers should reach the throne of God in wholeheartedness. Turning to God means that we cast aside our own desires for a greater calling: knowing and trusting Him.

  1. Reunite the Family (v.16)

Continue reading “Praying Before the Day”

Saviors will Arise but…

Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to rule over the hill country of Esau, but the kingdom will be the LORD’s.

Obadiah verse 21

We live among people longing for saviors. How great would it be if someone would ascend the hill and plant a flag of victory over the world’s conflict and injustice?

We cry out, “Give us prosperity. Give us equality. Give us revenge against the poorly measured scales of righteousness.” 

Ever since our feet have trod on the terra firma east of Eden, we have experienced conflict. Political and social saviors emmerge, ascend and fall. But Obadiah reminds us in the midst of a difficult time in our nation’s history that there is a greater Kingdom to defend than health care, homeland security and the scandalous backroom deals of politicians whose hands drip with the blight of corruption.

There is an everlasting kingdom that isn’t shaken in the least.

The church must carefully avoid foolish arguements over predestination, judging each other’s spiritual or theological leanings and remember that there is a world we have been called to die for. It’s possible for people to have correct theology inside their heads and yet no courage, connection or compassion in their hearts. Even the demons know theology.
Continue reading “Saviors will Arise but…”

Prayer of a Messy Follower

Thank You Jesus…
You’ve been so faithful to this messed-up follower.
You restore my sanity on a weekly basis.
You reach into the nothingness and give me everything I need.
You’ve been far greater and more powerful than everything I’ve faced.
If I did anything good, it was because of You.
You have never given up on me even though I’ve given you plenty of opportunities.
I can’t begin to know the number of times you have overlooked my weaknesses.
I can’t think of a time when You haven’t been there for me.
I wish I had the words to express how You bring me such peace.
I can only say, You have been so good to me.
I love you, Jesus.
If I didn’t take another breath, every step I’ve walked with You has been worth it.
I love the promise of Heaven, but if this life was all there was, I wouldn’t change a thing.
You deserve so much more of me, Jesus.
So tomorrow I’m going to try to hand more of my life over to You.
I just know I’ve got more to give and I can learn how to love You better than I did today.
So I’ll see You in the morning.

Mark 5: A Paranormal Event

Our world is obsessed with the paranormal. Horror and the supernatural are top at the box office. Paranormal games sell millions in the gaming industry. Tales of zombies, rising bed sheets in the middle of the night, UFO’s threatening to steal all our resources, and vampires hitting on hot girls- It’s all there! As I walked through our public library I was dumbfounded to find three shelves of horror and paranormal teen fiction books. Those books dominated that section of the library. Why is this? Some might argue that we all want to escape from the normal life but I would argue that students and adults take in these kinds of resources to better understand the real life that hovers under the radar of this planet. They are seeking explanations for the fantastically unpredictable and ever-present nature of the spirit world. What they find in most cases, is a misinterpreted gumbo of random theories and propositions about death, evil, and the invisible battle that rages within them. The Bible provides an interpretation of the supernatural and spiritual aspects of the cosmos. It doesn’t dismiss the concept of demons and horror, but rather gives us an opportunity to process its reality in a logical, orderly manner. Just look at the border war that took place between Jesus and demons in Mark 5

They Travel in Herds

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.

Read Mark 5:1-10

If you look at the end of Mark 4 you will read about Jesus command over the natural forces of the weather. Now in chapter five, in a small village on the eastern side of the sea Jesus displayed His strength and cunning of the supernatural world. When Jesus enters the town he encounters a maniac. This guy was a mess-living Goth-like in a graveyard, obsessed with death, cutting himself and displaying supernatural strength. This wreck of a man had absolutely no control of himself. But this isn’t a case of a boy behaving badly. There was something much bigger going on here and everyone in town knew it. Jesus came to do some spiritual house cleaning declare this independence day for this man who was probably in his teens. The demons had no doubt who Jesus was and they knew that they had to obey. They wanted to leave but they also wanted to remain in the region. The demonic influence identified themselves as “legion- for we are many.” Our habitual sinful habits operate similarly to demons. They come in packs. Often the alcoholic is also the heavy smoker, who is also the rage-aholic, who is also the absent father. Often the cheater develops a taste for other dishonest acts and creates a maze of lies to spoof a life of integrity to others. We see this often with fallen celebrities, defrocked ministers, and corrupt politicians. One revelation leads to a pack of other moral lapses. They build upon each other. Keep in mind that I’m not proposing that all these posers are demonized but rather that Satan’s traps are often intricately layered and we have to keep our spiritual house clean.

Where are the areas of compromise in your life that, like weeds, have the potential to choke your integrity and relationship with God?


The God of Second Chances

Read: Mark 5:15-17

15 When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16 Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17 Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

I’d imagine if you asked the people in that town, “what was the greatest miracle: the storm they heard rumored that Jesus calmed or the deliverance of the town maniac?” I believe they’d say, hands down, it was the deliverance. In such a small town, everyone must have been aware of this guy’s antics, the sorrow of a humiliated family with everyone offering pop-psychology answers to their deepest heartbreak, and the nights he screamed out and woke the babies. THAT was “THE BIG ONE!” That was the miracle of all miracles. Just looking at this teenager and wondering, “What happened? How did this kid surface from insanity. We’ve never seen him sitting peacefully, much less with clothes on!” In fact, the people in the town were so amazed and fearful that one Man could command so much power that they begged him to leave. It’s another example of how people fear change, even when it is good. But only one thought must have been running through the former maniacs mind: “Ah Freedom”

There’s nothing quite as wonderful as freedom, is there? His freedom happened overnight. But sometimes freedom is a series of small steps and right choices. In truth, we are all in recovery. We all have our shameful midnights and our treasured habits that we wish we wouldn’t treasure so. Our solution is to relentlessly, daily return to the feet of Jesus and beg for His mercy.

Where do you need His mercy and second chances today?

Do you fear change?


Now It’s Your Turn
Mark 5:18-20

18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[b] how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

No one understands the power of a good story more than Jesus. As he got back on the boat the ex-demonized man begged to join Jesus but Jesus told him to stay and let people know what happened to him. Jesus knew he was more powerful in that town and telling that story. We all have stories and stories are important to the Christian faith. Personal stories are our greatest tool. And yet I’m convinced that many believers don’t know their own story because they haven’t taken the time to reflect on it. In the movie As Good as It Gets, the OCD writer, Melvin Udall, tries to convince his traveling companions, “Some people have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad. Just no one in this car. But, a lot of people, that’s their story. Good times, noodle salad.” But the truth is that good times and noodle salad does not a good story make.   It is only when we reflect on the beauty of our own narrative that we will see God’s hand that led us through those terrible falls and amazing rescues. Robert Frost in his famous poem- The Road Not Taken concludes, “I shall be telling this with a sigh some ages and ages hence…” What story will you be telling some ages and ages hence? Those who are so willing to claim that they were able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps are the ones who really don’t have a story to tell. It’s the ones who realized that they had fallen and couldn’t get up but suddenly encountered a superhero. Now that’s a story! It’s our story and it’s worth telling ages and ages hence.

What Kind of Church is It?

We often categorize our churches with fancy titles: Relevant, emergent, classic, reformed, fundamentalist, traditional, contemporary, liturgical, purpose-driven etc…  The list is really endless and the subtleties of each model vary. But what kind of church are we? Really…
  • Some churches are more like a country club, complete with secret handshakes, special membership privileges, and perks for members based upon you seniority and attitude. But we are not called to be a Country Club.
  • Some churches are more like a fashion show where once a week we are concerned more about what the members look like on the outside than who we are on the inside. But we are not called to be a fashion show.
  • Some churches are like a spa where healthy people come to be pampered with a painless personality makeover and self-help rallies devoid of the power of God. They’d never think about service or sacrifice because the church is meant only for enrichment—not spiritual warfare. But we are not called to be a spa.
  • Other churches are like courtrooms full of authority and judgment. Stern faces and hushed whispers are prevalent.  Some believe that these churches are holy because of the formal atmosphere and the lack of tolerance for things like laughter, celebration and dancing.  These churches are dead they just haven’t gotten the good grace to lie down. But we are not called to be a court.
  • And on the opposite side, we find the church of cool, where musicians display their gifts not to the glory of God but rather to the glory of themselves.   The tendency toward outlandishness knows no bounds. They are different just for the sake of being different. Messages aren’t centered on the God or the Bible. In fact, some sermons might cause you to wonder if there is really is a point beyond the emotions and the glitz of atmosphere. What is the vibe? This is the main question in the church of the cool.  But we are not called to be cool.
  • Each model apart from the work of Christ is like a cemetery. You can put flowers on the graves, you can have tea parties next to the tombs, you can pipe in the best music and serve the best meals but without Christ, the cemetery is still full of rot.  But we are not called into death.
So what about us?  Are we any of these churches?  For most churches, we’ve been all of these from time to time.  That’s why it is so important for us to be desperate and dependent upon God.  Do we want to see people who are hurting and in need come to us for help or are we satisfied with self-serving religious organizations that offer risk-free comfort and predictability. We were made for much great things; things that accompany wonder, miracles, new life and transformation.
How far are we willing to go? Who do we chose to exclude?  Jesus is still knocking at the doors of churches promising that if anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Let’s invite people to the table through worship and become the kind of Church He desires to enter.
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A Word of Advice from Jesus’ Mother

There are many universal sayings that all mothers end up reciting at least once if not a thousand times.

Wash your hands before eating.
Play fair.
Don’t follow the crowd.
Be yourself.
Trust me.
Get some rest.
Pull those weeds in the back or they’ll kill the tulips!
Listen to your father.
Don’t go out with a guy just because he asks.
Stop whining.
Don’t cross your eyes. They may stick.
No throwing frisbee in the house.
No snacking before supper.
Don’t wear that much make-up.
Show respect.
Don’t do that!  You might poke your eye out.
You might get worms. You don’t know where that’s been!
Give it your best.

But perhaps the greatest advice from a mother is recorded as a side-note tucked away in the Gospel of John. It came from the mouth of the mother of our Lord. It was at a party.

It wasn’t a life or death situation. The words had very little to do, at first glance, with eternal destinies or climactic discoveries. Just a simple statement in the midst of uncertain, perplexing, awkward circumstances.

When the celebration of a marriage hit a stump, and the pitchers of refreshment were depleted. Mary, the mother of Jesus, turned to the servants and simply said, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” She knew exactly who her Son was. She could have expounded upon the majesty of her Son, the royal blood that ran through His veins, His very nature as Creator and Master of the universe.

She was well aware of the glory of Jesus. But instead, she simply pointed to Jesus and with determination and authority in her voice, she said, “Do whatever He tells you to do!”

Jesus turned, furrowed His brow, and then, He honored her despite the whole timing issue of when the Messianic works was to begin.

“Fill the pots,” He told them.

“But you don’t understand, Jesus. Those clay pots are for the ceremonial washing of hands and feet!”

Mary looked on, perhaps assertively, with her arms crossed. Her attitude was unchanged by Jesus words. She said it again. “I said – do whatever He tells you to do.”

“It is glorified bath-water,” one servant said, as he gritted his teeth.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary replied, this time politely with more grace. Mothers have a way of overseeing the details.

They filled the pots.

Then Jesus said, “Now, draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

“You’re joking, right?” a cynical servant asked with a coy smile.

“Do whatever He tells you to do.” Mary repeated.

And at that moment bath water became the toast of the town. And if you listen closely, perhaps you can hear the words of that proud and courageous mother. Her words still apply.

Do whatever He tells you to do.

Minister to the homeless. Do whatever He tells you to do! Follow Him to a foreign land. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you budget your time and resources. Do whatever He tells you to do! As you proclaim the Good News in your school. Do whatever He tells you to do!

The mother’s advice through years of weddings, funerals, challenges, and crises, in the big things, in the little things, in the plans for today and the dreams of tomorrow – it’s really some very good advice.

Do whatever He tells you to do!

It may seem like something strange. It might go against your natural instincts. It won’t be the first time. He’d startled his people before with his plan:

Reach in the mouth of that fish and pull out a coin.

Here’s some mud for your eyes.

Sell everything and follow me.

Drop those nets.

Lay off 80% of the army and give the rest lamps and horns. That ought to do it!

Avoid becoming a salt lick. Don’t look behind you.

Five loaves and two fish will do. Let’s pray and start passing it out to them.

Hit it with your stick. There’s water in the rock.

Five smooth stones. That’ll teach him.

March around the wall.

Roll that stone away. He’s not dead. He’s just a sound sleeping miracle waiting to happen. Let’s wake him up.

Rise and walk.

Don’t bring anything with you.

Go and teach all nations!

Do whatever He asks you to do!

So what crazy thing is He telling you to do?

Has he called you to start a homeless shelter? Has He called you to memorize the Gospel of John? Has He called you to minister in the nursing homes, bars, the halfway house, the merchant marines, in India, China, Alaska, Greenwich Village or Congress? Has He called you to give up your stereo, your car, your cable? Has He called you to paint your neighbor’s house or scrub toilets? Has He called you to start a church? Has He called you to try to reconnect with that kid who beat you up and stole your milk money in the third grade?

Do whatever He asks you to do!

Why? It’s a no-brainer. Whenever Jesus tells you to do something, glory happens. He is worthy and when you close the book on your life, you will not have a hint of regret. When you dive into God’s plan, you will discover that He is more powerful, more trustworthy, more intelligent, and more intuitive than you could ever think of being.

So take a deep breath and dive in. You’ll be glad you listened to Mary’s advice.

6 Keys to Victory: Heb. 13:14-21

  1. Perspective (Verse 14)

For there is no permanent city for us here on earth; we are looking for the city which is to come.

  • How do you see your marriage partner? (Also see verse 5)
  • How do you see your money?
  • How do you see your future? (Also see verse 8)
  • How do you view your enemy?
  1. Worship (Verse 15)

Let us, then, always offer praise to God as our sacrifice through Jesus, which is the offering presented by lips that confess him as Lord.

  • Worship that is not sacrificial is just an event and a bad one at that!
  • Worship requires an investment.
  • Worship requires confession.
  1. Service (Verse 16)

Do not forget to do good and to help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God.

(Also see verse 2)

  1. Submission (Verse 17)

Obey your leaders and follow their orders. They watch over your souls without resting, since they must give to God an account of their service. If you obey them, they will do their work gladly; if not, they will do it with sadness, and that would be of no help to you.

  • In the home
  • In the church
  • In the workplace
  1. Prayer (Verse 18)

Keep on praying for us. We are sure we have a clear conscience, because we want to do the right thing at all times.

  1. Reliance (Verse 21)

May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do his will, and may he, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases him. And to Christ be the glory forever and ever! Amen.