The Return Counter

It’s not often that you find yourself walking through the mall with an archangel. But that’s kind of the way dreams are: a normal day and you then- throw in something odd- like going to school in only your underwear or discovering that your teeth are falling out one by one during the sermon at church… He was definitely an odd sort of angel I decided, as I watched him (in blue jeans and flannel shirt) finish off an oversized slice of pepperoni pizza from Sbarros. 

He winked at me and said, “Well, looks like you survived another last minute shopping spree.

“I never was much of a planner,” I replied.

“Can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure.” (Who could resist a secret from an archangel?)

“It’s not much of a secret, but I love to point it out.”

“OK,” I said, wondering if he would reveal the truth about Big Foot, the JFK assassination, or Donald Trump’s hair.

“It’s not really His birthday. I know—not a big surprise. But I just like to point that out to people.”

“So when was it?”

“Oh nooooooo. Not gonna tell you. You’re a writer and it would be all over the blogosphere in a day.”

“You overestimate me. I don’t have that many followers.” 

(I suddenly winced at my own words. I’m talking to an archangel about Jesus and then I shift gears to mention my followers. The seedy underbelly of social media exposed once more…)

“I guess you’re wondering why I’m here instead of geo-tracking terrorists,” Gabriel said.

“The thought did cross my mind.”

“Michael is the angel in charge of Battle. Not my job. I just had a little time and I thought I’d help you out,” 

He tossed the pizza container in the trashcan next to the bench. He wiped his mouth and turned, looking me squarely in the eyes with grave attention. 

“You’ve got way too much stuff.”

I glanced at the bags I had plopped on the bench next to us and confessed, “Yes. Way too much stuff. This is how I compensate for all the thoughtlessness of 2015.” 

“You and 300 million other Americans… But I’m not talking about THAT stuff I’m talking about THIS stuff—“ Gabriel said, pointing to a shopping cart filled with beautifully wrapped boxes.  

“Those aren’t mine.”

“Yes they are.”


“Don’t argue with an archangel.” Gabriel said with a chuckle. “Seriously they are yours and you might want to return them.”

Now I’m feeling like a thief but he assures me that I am no thief. I had come by all these boxes honestly- every Santa sleigh, Rudolph red-nosed, green or purple and snow-white one of them!

He rolled the cart while I followed, feathers falling in a Gump-like fashion in his wake.

We arrived in front of the smallest shop tucked next to Dillards and in front of the “Discount Swag-Nation Jewelry” kiosk. The sign above the shop seemed dull, sterile, businesslike. No marketer would approve of it. It simply said “RETURNS.” 

The man greeted Gabriel with a smile and said, “We meet again.”

Gabriel got straight to the point. “This fellow has a number of things he’d like to return.”

“Whoa. Wait a second,” I interrupted. “These are really amazing looking presents. I mean, I’d keep them just to decorate the lawn next year,”

“You’ve had them long enough,” Gabriel said gravely.

“What are you talking about? I’ve never seen these boxes in my life!” I exclaimed.

It was then that I noticed the tag on the box wrapped in Winni the Poo paper.


Gabriel sighed and said, “You’ve had that one hanging around as long as I’ve known you. You’ve concealed it with a veneer of kudos, applause and congratulations, but deep inside you feel rotten. It turns everything into a competition and you always feel like the loser. It’s just ugly. You hate it. I hate it. HE hates it. It’s just not you.”

The returns assistant smiled and said, “So you are returning ENVY.”

“He is.”  

“And the reason for the return?”

“It doesn’t fit him.” 

Gabriel paused for a moment and then pulled out a huge box with the tag: SHAME. 

“This has a lot of moving parts. Most of them are under the surface of the item,” Gabriel explained. “He’s had it since childhood and now he needs to let it go back where it came from.”

I gulped.

“And the reason for the return?” The assistant asked, as he scribbled down notes.

“It doesn’t work.”

“He’s right.” I added.

“Fair enough.”

For a long time, as dreams go, we emptied the seemingly bottomless cart of packages and provided reasons for the record

Bitterness (“It so very old school”), 

Acclaim (“It doesn’t do what they said it would do on TV.”)

Fear (“Too many side effects when he uses it.”)

Anger (“It’s just ugly. Who would want that? Really.”)

And a flood of smaller items that are too many to name.

After the cart was empty, a feeling of lightness enveloped me. I was beginning to experience what Christmas was all about.

As I surveyed the brightly decorated packages, the assistant of the Returns Shop said, “I wish we could reimburse you for these, but they aren’t worth a plug nickel. However… we’ll put them in the layaway department next to the Cinnabon if you ever want them back. It’s open 24/7.” His crooked smile haunted me. It still haunts me. 

Gabriel chuckled, “I wouldn’t recommend it. Just cut your losses and get on with life.”

As we walked away I asked a million questions and Gabriel answered them all. He revealed mysteries great and small. Answers to a thousand questions… But for the life of me, I can’t remember any of them. Isn’t that just the way dreams are?


Who Touched Me?

“You see the people crowding against you,” His disciples answered,

“and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

i wonder if the angels ask Him that on Sundays.

Jesus looks through this mass of believers

millions speaking

singing and seeking

a whirlwind of worship as the world spins from sun’s rise to fall.

“Who touched me?”

He asks.

And the angels watch as His gaze spans the Sunday horizon.

“Do you see the millions?”

“Yes, but who touched Me?”

“Do you hear the music and see the offerings?”

“Yes, but who touched Me?”

“Do you feel their passion?”






The Art of Pondering

“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19b

Advent is to ponder.

If you don’t take time to turn everything off and ponder sometime this week, you are left with all that is temporal, ordinary and fleeting about Christmas.

Stop and ponder.

Luke tells us in his gospel that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. What happens when you catch a glimpse of God’s glory? You treasure it. She could have griped about the travel arrangements, the lack of planning, the constant need to improvise. But Mary, in a barn full of visiting animals, horses, mules, stray dogs, camels, splinters, hay, horse manure, kept all these things treasured in her heart. 

That night she had to contend with Joseph’s snoring. And those shepherds, loudly recounting angelic visitations. They probably woke the Baby several times that night. But, just before dawn, with all asleep, except Mary and a mule, she gathered from the hope chest of the near past a tapestry of memories —

The beautiful colors of Gabriel’s clothes,
The look on the face of Elizabeth when she turned and saw Mary,
The clamor of packing for the dreaded tax appointment,
“No Vacancy” signs,
The nervous, frustrated father,
The incarnate kicks,
The looming grief,
The tiny hands that would pierce her heart.

She wept and smiled. She experienced an orchestra of emotions in concert with the breeze that swept through the Bethlehem hills like a Spirit newly released.

And Mary pondered. 

Will you join her tonight?

Don’t You Worry, Mary

Don’t you worry, Mary. 
Just lean into My plan.
I will not leave you helpless 
On the way to Bethlehem.
No money in your purse…
No place for you to stay…
But don’t you worry, Mary.
I’m enough for you today.
Don’t defend your reputation.
There’s greatness just ahead.
Your name will be remembered
Long after they are dead.
So just cry if you need to.
Feel free to let it out.
But don’t you worry, Mary
You’ll never do without.
A gentleman beside you
And joy to heal the pain.
Adversity surrounds you,
But it will not be in vain. 
So don’t you worry Mary.
Every step to Bethlehem
draws closer His appearing.
My Son, the Great I Am.

He Came for the Rest of Us

Jesus came
for the wise and the strong.
And He came, just as well, for the rest of us.
Jesus came for the days that life seemed ordered and filled with meaning.
But we rejoice because He came for the other days, too.
Blessed by old men and shepherds
Worshiped by kings and beggars
And the rest in between.
He loves us still.
He did not come to receive just our joy and elation.

He came for the rest of us.
He came for our doubts, our burdens, our sorrows and grief.
He even came for the times when we doubted His presence.
He reached down to us.
When our loneliness seemed unbearable.

His love courted us.
And His mercy enveloped us.
His holiness consumed us.
God’s advent of grace put the pieces of our broken lives together.
Along the path of our lives we’ve heard of blessed souls who could manage their problems, pick themselves up, find the reasons for all of life’s challenges.
But thank God, that He came for the rest of us!
Not just our good.
But also the rest of us.

He came to celebrate our youth but when our youth is spent,
He celebrates with even greater passion, the rest of us.
He came for the people of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Judea.
But He also came for the rest of us.
So now He compels us to shout to the world, the joy of a coming King.
So that every person can hear the invitation to join…

The rest of us.

He came… for the rest of us.

There is a River

The longing of our hearts
the thirst of our soul
When we are forsaken
When our joy is taken
We feel lost in the desert of dashed dreams
There is a river.
Our peace is so fleeting amidst wars and struggles
The heat hangs in the air like a curtain of despair
Even then let me remind you
There is a river
When we look in the mirror and we see an aging soul
And life seems so brief
And knowing death comes like a thief.
We stare at gravestones and unscalable walls
And in our despair we lose sight of our dreams
We are tired, thirsty and fearing the enemies schemes
Our song is silenced. And we reach the end of our rope
No vision, no laughter, no hand and no hope
We hear the voice of life-giving savior
Who leads us to this river
He is the everlasting giver
And if we look beyond the horizon of our hopelessness, we will see the river.
And we’ll hear a Savior say “Come. Come take rest. Come and be blest.
With all you are.
You emptiness,
your filth,
your doubts,
your despair
All things that have caught you unaware
Celebrate, reunite with the One who invites you.


I Promise

I promise not take myself so seriously, remembering that God made the hippo and the hammerhead shark.

I promise to look at all the incredible blessings that are buried under our to-do lists, agendas, and behind the billboards that blur across the windshield as I shift into fifth on the open road.

I will remember that Jesus took naps even during high gale warnings.

I will choose to let myself off the hook when critical remarks fly my direction. If i wanted to judge my life on the opinions of others, I chose the wrong Savior.

I will remember to never attend a church business meeting, chaperone a youth retreat, get a root canal, and stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the same week.

I will try to give more than I get. I can’t keep it anyway. Remember, God is planning a huge end-of-the-earth bonfire. Even the antique doilies my wife bought for next-to-nothing on e-Bay will be ashes.

I will remember that this life is not predictable. It is best lived in a state of dangerous wonder rather than linear monotony.

I will NOT try to figure it all out today, and I really don’t expect you to do so either.

I will make it job #1 to hang on for dear life to my family, my friends, my mission, and my Jesus.

Everything else I’ll move to the back of the line.


Before I meet Bart Wrinkle

when it’s all said and done here.
look me up.
I’ll be kicking back, slinging jawbones
with samson
who made it in the door by the grace of God
same as noah
found grace
discovered it

(he happened upon it or rather it happened upon him)

i’ll be listening to stories of limping jacob and stumbling bartimaeus
I’ll be all ears– smiling and wondering about weak eyes, pharisees and romance
discussing it with the miracle boy of Jesus’ mud pies

look! there’s Paul (no longer writing with big letters–the lasik surgery is divine)
he’s catching up on his reading
checking out the far flung analysis of lettered theologians
from barclay to barnes to hal lindsay (just for fun)
I will not dare disturb him.

and Jesus is smiling
His kids–the whole crew is back home
all of them
He’s feasting on the vision He’s been waiting to see

i’m the guy way over in the back of the family portrait
next to a man named bart wrinkle (of whom i have not met)


He’s the Greatest and He is with Us

The truth that we are deeply flawed humans is supremely overshadowed by the truth that we have a triumphant Savior and He has a plan. His presence and our acknowledgment and devotion to Him equips us to overcome every challenge we face as believers.  As stumbling creatures, we own nothing more empowering than this strong, never changing moniker of His love: “He is with us!”

In a just a few verses in Hebrews, we find every reason to believe that His presence is enough. Jesus is the greatest.

Jesus is the greatest owner.

“He (God, the Father) has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things.”


In this chapter the writer reminds us that Jesus owns it all.  This changes our perspective on the sufficiency of Jesus. If He owns it all then we truly are without want.  God lavished everything on the Son who gives to us all good things.

Everything we need, he has. Everything we toss His way is made ever more glorious and effective. In His presence we walk into the sanctuary of the divine and encounter the aroma of warm, holy bread. God’s word tells us that He is the giver of everything good.  What an amazing thought! If Jesus is the one who gives and He is our champion, how could we ever lose in this life or the life to come.

Jesus is the greatest artist and creator.

And through whom also he created all things. Hebrews 1:2c

Just think about this amazing creation.  There are 300 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. And the brightest astronomers will tell you that there are more than that many galaxies in the universe.  They can’t be counted, much less named. Your body has more than 50 trillion cells and the more we know about cells, the more we find that each cell is like a huge metropolis of activity and parts.

This was no accidental occurrence and in this verse we find who holds the keys to this macro and micro creation.

Jesus is the greatest resource.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1:3

Man sustains his belongings, his career, and his activities by the sweat of his brow. God sustains the entire universe with His Word! And He’s asked us to trust Him as our resource. He owns the herd! This is how Christians through the years have given dangerously to him through tithes and offerings.  When we give, we are saying, “God, I trust you with my resources because I know that You own it all. It all belongs to you.” That’s what we are saying when we give. God promises that he will keep His end of the deal.

  • Do you trust Him to sustain you during financial turmoil?
  • Do you trust Him to sustain you when marriage become difficult and kids rebel?
  • Do you trust Him to sustain you when the grey clouds of adversity discourage you?

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.
John 6:35 (HCSB)


  1.  Jesus is the greatest authority.

…You crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.”

Hebrews 1:7b-8a

The writer of Hebrews uses this word picture to describe Jesus’ authority.  He is above it all. He wears the crown of authority and everything is under him.  

Still most people, including Christ-followers scrape and fight to get the upper hand in life.

Most people live their lives in calculated steps marching to their internal mental metronome. They measure their moments by pleasure and risk management. Most people in the church are prone to use worship as a guilt squelching, touchy feely, two dose shot in the arm. It’s just tragic. Most people are far too busy achieving to acknowledge who really holds the keys. They will end their life’s in greater regret of the smallness of lives hypnotic noises and the drone of the daily grind.

 And this one and only Jesus is our brother, father, provider, healer, friend, confidant, and redeemer.

(He is) the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.  Hebrews 2:11-12

We aren’t made holy by all of our good deeds, our prohibitions on vices, or ability to look holy.  Jesus makes people holy. He covers us in His righteousness and here’s the other amazing truth: He calls us his brothers and sisters. This is the mystery of grace.

  • What problem are you facing that’s too big for Jesus?
  • What need are you lacking that’s too great for Jesus to handle?
  • What leadership crisis in your life is too complex for Jesus?


I recognize you as my Source and my sustainer. Lord, I bow before you and trust you with everything that is within, beyond, around and beside me. Lord you have full access to my life. Possess me Lord, Renew me. Revitalize me. Change me. Transform me. Correct me. Equip me. Love me.

I acknowledge that above all you have full and complete authority. I speak against any power or earthly principality that seeks compromise me blood relationship with you.


An Awkward Rite of Passage

Every stage of life has its milestones and ceremonial rites. At 20, it’s a party surrounded by eligible bachelorettes. Turning 30, it’s a birthday lunch with business associates and a rare evening out without changing a diaper.  At 40, it’s a surprise birthday party orchestrated by your kids. In your 50s, it’s “Strap on this hospital gown, we need to see what’s going on down there.”

If you haven’t had a colonoscopy, I want to tell you that it’s really not that big of a deal. It starts with two delicious gallon-sized beverages that taste like a very heavy 7-Up that initiates all-out civil war in your stomach. I thought an alien would bust out of my midsection at any moment. But yea and verily, this lasts only for a season. Just stay close to the bathroom, invite no dignitaries over, and turn the music up loud throughout the house. The rumbling and ruckus will sporadically turn embarrassing.

After a day comprised of sugar-free lime Jello cups and enough broth tostrike fear in the hearts of chickens everywhere, we made our way to the diagnostic clinic. When we got there they informed me that the worst was over, and truly it was. They also informed me that I’d be getting the Michael Jackson drug.

“And you’re telling me this because…”

But I survived the propofol, the rear slit of the hospital gown, the long wait, the paperwork, the Miralax (AKA: InstaColonQuake), the paranoia about what they did to me while I slept, the embarrassing things you say after you wake up, and I was polyp free! Yes!

Shout out to the doctor, my wife, and the nurse that I thought was Mother Mary. I’m not even Catholic.

Guys, if it’s time, please get this screening. It’s no big deal. Just don’t go for pizza right after the procedure. Just trust me on that one.