Up Abraham’s Mountain

When Big-Brother James lays it out like he does, it is as plain as any road sign, and we’re all shaking our heads over how easy it is for us to lose sight of the simple Truth: faith and actions are entwined the way body and spirit are, and together they make up the life of a Christ-follower. Ignore either, and you are as lifeless as a corpse. It’s sad how in our sincere desire to be good we can detour off the path into wanting to be good enough or better than, until we find ourselves halfway up a useless tower with a hammer in our hands. It’s as if we’d never even heard the words of the ancient song, ” Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain…” (Psalm 127:1) And it’s just as likely that we will veer into a careless swamp of familiarity with Grace that lets us indulge our emotions, our desires above obedience to God’s ways. James is warning us that both are the subtle bent of the Enemy. How tragically ironic that among the ranks of the gloriously Born Again there would be those who are walking dead and deceived.

No wonder Jesus can state unequivocally that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) That may sound narrow-minded to modern ears, but He is only stating the facts, that you can spout all kinds of knowledge about God and build ministries that impress people, and still be dead as a doornail inside. Obedience that springs from a trusting heart is the only proof-positive of genuine faith. It’s as simple as that, and the signs of Resurrection Life in a person are that obvious: “… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit….Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:17, 20) Big-Brother James challenges us to recognize fruit for what it is, and keep a close watch on our lives and on the Family of God in which we live. He warns, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom…”(James 2:12)

We might not be so surprised at the way real faith manifests itself, if we think back to the Beginning. Eve looked long at the beautiful fruit, and listened to what the Enemy whispered about it… let the doubts grow in her mind that maybe God was taking something good away from her, and maybe He did not have her best interests at heart, and maybe if she wanted to get what she desired she should reach out and take initiative, show herself strong and intelligent and capable of plotting her own course in life. She let emotion and desire grow large, and when she acted she revealed what she truly believed. But just because you stake your life on something doesn’t make it true, and even a woman made with God’s own hands can lose sight of His love. We’ve been following in her footsteps ever since, captive to our ancestry in both our living and our dying.

So James holds up heroes for us as examples of real faith; Abraham and Rahab both faced the same tangle of emotions that Eve had– the same strength of desire, the same confusion about God’s intentions. And their choices also revealed what they truly believed, because they stepped out in blind obedience, trusting that His Words were true no matter what their circumstances were screaming. In their hearts, faith was both proven and strengthened by their choices to obey; in their actions, obedience was an offering of worship to God as Maker and Ruler. They declared Him powerful and just and righteous when they held onto His promises instead of their desires. They declared His glory when they valued Him over family and home and culture. They declared His right to rule by following when it didn’t make sense, by trusting the future to His plans. “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend.” (James 2:23)

And isn’t that what Jesus did for us in His suffering? He came to earth in order to obey God fully– in every confusing and painful circumstance, against every opposition, in spite of every human emotion He had. He trusted hard and said “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Mark 14:36) And He looked forward to our trusting obedience and the righteousness He was providing for us, and He called us friends who would follow His example. He proved once and for all that obedience is the best way– the only way– to demonstrate what we truly believe.


“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)


“As I walk into the days to come,
I will not forget what You have done,
For you have supplied my every need
And Your presence is enough for me.
Doesn’t matter what I feel,
Doesn’t matter what I see,
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me.
Now I’m casting out all fear
For Your love has set me free;
My hope will always be
In Your promises to me.”
(Your Promises, Elevation Worship)


Share this with others!

Not My Will, but Thine

In the middle of Lent, and thinking about the Savior’s face set toward the cross. And all these burdens we carry seem so small and yet still so heavy, for they are all part of the same weight of sin in this world– the weight He carried for us, to do away with once and for all. Can we not have patience to watch and wait with Him in these long night hours, carrying our small pieces of His great burden, knowing that the Resurrection Day is coming soon? Because He has promised that there is beauty in His plans, and the redemption of all things.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to keep our eyes on Jesus, to watch our Champion and follow His example in both living and dying. He says plainly that this is our pattern and our privilege: “Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility He endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.  After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.” (Hebrews 12:2-3) Who are we then, to be reluctant to trust God with our own circumstances? As if they were somehow more difficult, or we were more unique in our experience so that we could not pray with Jesus, “Thy will be done.”

In writing about trust, and the way Jesus prayed, a well-known preacher observed that “If we can’t say ‘Thy will be done’ from the bottom of our hearts, we will never know any peace. We will feel compelled to try to control people and control our environment and make things the way we believe they ought to be. Yet to control life like this is beyond our abilities, and we will just dash ourselves upon the rocks….to pray ‘Thy will be done’ is to submit not only our wills to God but even our feelings, so that we do not become despondent, bitter, and hardened by the things that befall us.” (Prayer, Tim Keller)

May we follow in Your footsteps toward the cross, Lord, lifting our trusting hearts up to You, along with whatever circumstances we are carrying. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)


“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)


“Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet….

I’ve seen You move, come move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet.”
(Do It Again, Elevation Worship)

Share this with others!

Sunday Is Coming

In this Passion week, with the all branches budding red towards the sky, and the flowers bursting forth from their Winter graves, we see for ourselves a tangible picture of the Savior making all things new with His suffering (passio in the Latin). And there is Hope in this Spring-time resurrecting. Not that we will find something to satisfy our hearts in this world after all, but that in Him we will have enough, and that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Life from death, joy from sorrow, reaping from our planting as surely as day follows the long night.


“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:12-13)


“Peace be still, You are near;
There’s nowhere we can go
That You won’t shine redemption’s light.
Our guilt withdrawn–
As You rise, we come alive;
The grave has lost, the old is gone,
And You’re making all things new…
And we are free;
Hope is found, You are here.
Our hearts forever sealed
By this love that came for us;
Now we are Yours.
As You rise, we come alive,
And You’re making all things new…”
(All Things New, Elevation Worship)

Share this with others!

Not my Will

Encouragement today from the precious reminder of our Savior’s wrestling in prayer with the emotions and limitations of His humanity as He approached the cross, and the gentle exhortation that all the Father requires is a willing heart. If we can pray through the pain, and continue to desire God’s will above our own, that is enough. We should not be too hard on ourselves for having either questions or weakness, as long as we are carrying them rightly to His feet. And He will pour out His own strength to carry us through whatever we are facing– even comfort us with His love, so that we do not lose hope.

The nineteenth-century British theologian E.B Pusey advised believers to have a one-prayer-fits-all approach to life. “Choose but the will of God, and thou willest with His wisdom, thou choosest with His all-perfect choice; thou enterest into His counsels; thou lovest with His love. Be this our watch-word, brethren, for the Church, for those we love, for our own souls….This shall hallow our hopes; this shall hush our fears; this shall ward off disquiet; this shall preserve our peace; this shall calm anxieties; this (if it must be) shall soothe our heart-aches; this shall give repose to our weariness…. ‘Lord, not what I will, but what Thou’; not what I, in my misery, and ignorance, and blindness, and sin, but what Thou, in Thy mercy, and holiness, and wisdom, and love.” It is the prayer that never fails.


And [Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:41-44)


“Oh how I need Your grace,
More than my words can say;
Jesus I come, Jesus I come
In all my weaknesses,
You are my confidence;
Jesus I come, Jesus I come.”
(Jesus I Come, Elevation Worship)


Share this with others!

Hunting for the Right Things

Talking about the discipline of thankfulness and teaching our hearts to sing God’s praise, this morning in the car, and was reminded of past Easter seasons, when our small group intentionally focused on God’s good gifts.  Offering up this post from two years ago, with humble thanks to the Giver of all good things….

Here in this season of Lent, instead of fasting and acts of self-denial, we are counting our thanks out on paper, feasting on Grace. We are looking ahead to Easter and the resurrection, and rejoicing in the Giver of life.

And I find this to be true, that when eyes are wide open to see “Every good and perfect gift…from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17), there is joy welling up that has little to do with visible circumstances. The Musician-King’s song echoes here: “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Maybe not that we get some unspecified list of treats, as if we were spending the weekend with grandparents, but that the more we live in His presence, the more we experience the depths of grace and the more we can see glory all around. No wonder the saints of long ago wrote down that the primary purpose of man was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever…relating to an Eternal Almighty Being is liable to take forever, and the psalm writer says it is all joy.

And you can tell, when you spend time with people, the ones who get this mystery of thankfulness, because the daily choice to recognize Grace– when you name it in every little manifestation and offer your praise back up to the Giver– has a way of changing you on the inside. Thankfulness is courage and hope and faith held high, a shield against the Darkness all around. The daily discipline of humble thanks-giving stocks my Thought Closet with more of Him and less of me. Thankfulness chases away resentment and discontent, calms the spirit, focuses my thoughts on the things that are true and honorable and lovely, just like the Apostle Paul advised. He made that same connection between rejoicing and thanksgiving– said it should shape our lives and our prayers, promised good results: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) 

So as we prepare for Easter and look forward to new life springing out of the ground into green, we go on hunting for His blessings, day by day, tuning our hearts to see Grace, to sing God’s praises– and it’s like we are setting the cross of Christ in the middle of all our days. Because these many little blessings are only glimmers of that one rugged signpost to Grace, where God’s Passion made all things new.


“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)


“This is amazing grace,
This is unfailing love,
That You would take my place,
That You would bear my cross.
You would lay down Your life,
That I would be set free.
Jesus, I sing for all that You’ve done for me.”
(This Is Amazing Grace, Phil Wickham)

Share this with others!

Of Eggs and Lambs and Waiting for Easter

I almost missed what the preacher said, right there in the middle of the music and the Lord’s Supper and my fingers already moving to play the next notes. “We don’t know how broken we are. And we don’t know how loved we are.”  It wasn’t until the next day that it sank in deep enough to feel…right through into the Humpty-Dumpty heart of me.

Here in the middle of Lent, with the cross set before us, we are taking time to face our own sin. Our self-indulgence, our lack of love, our pride, our vain ambition for things that are passing away. And maybe the worst part of our sorrow, in the most honest quiet moments, is the dim realization that no matter how much we can look at our brokenness, God sees more. Not just a matter of what we can know, but a matter of moral capacity…how much we are able to fathom, to feel, to bear in our spirits. He is the only One who understands just how diseased we are– the bone-deep fragility of men and women afflicted with sin. We are without excuse, without remedy, without hope even on our best days, although most of us have learned to cover up nicely, or at least distract ourselves from what we cannot put together again.

The Prophet Isaiah puts it out there in livestock terms: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…” (Isaiah 53:6) We may not have much personal experience with sheep, but anyone who has ever tried to shepherd a group of more than five children on an outing can grasp the general idea. I think it’s safe to assume that sheep are never fully aware of their path, or where it is leading them, or just how dangerous it is for them to be out there alone. I heard someone say once that “It’s not that sheep are stupid…it’s just that they are completely defenseless.” Indeed.

I have no defenses against the selfishness and death that eat away at my life, nor any defense in the face of the standards that I can’t measure up to. But Isaiah finishes his thought...”and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  My sin-disease and personal culpability laid fully on Someone Else big enough to bear both– on Jesus, the One Isaiah said was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter.” (Isaiah 53:7)

In this middle-gray land of March, halfway between death and life, there is also time to hear the Love that calls us. And isn’t that what we all need here, when we are looking death in the face?…To see beyond its wretched ugliness and finality, into the eyes of the Beloved One, who carries our death on His own shoulders, lays it into the ground, and leaves it there? “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (Isaiah 53:4) Here in the middle of Lent, the only way we will even be able to face the rubble inside, is if we can also see Love’s glorious broken body standing in the middle of it.  “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

And I have no defense against Love like this.


“We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes–
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
when I think about the way
He loves us…
Oh how He loves us.”
(How He Loves, John Mark McMillan)


“Forty days, I am reflecting on my cross, my sins….Looking hard for release from this messy body of death. And there is Jesus. Jesus with a crown of thorns. Jesus bent low, God carrying my rotting mess, Grace doing what I cannot do, and I cannot ascend to God but He will descend to me….

Jesus will have to do everything. He will have to accomplish it all. I am ashes and I am dust and I am in dire need and Lent has given me clear eyes to see my sin and I am the one broken under all this skin.” (Ann VosKamp)



Share this with others!

Take Heart

As the sun warms and life quickens, here in early Spring…as the icy hold of death is cracked loose, slips away like a dark dream in the face of bright dawn arising…as we turn our faces toward Resurrection Day, there is this Word for all those holding onto hope:

“Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of His great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing….how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?…how can you say God ignores your rights? Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of His understanding….He will feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” (Isaiah 40:26-28, 11)


“Courage is what is elemental to living — composed of two parts fierce hope, and one part wild believing.
It’s hope that can create a quake that cracks all despair.
It’s hope that stands in your dark with a lamp lit with prayers.
And it isn’t the likelihood of your hope that sustains you, but the object of your hope that sustains you.
We lay our hope, full and tender, into the depths of Him.”
(Ann Voskamp)


“All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust”
(Beautiful Things, Gungor)

Share this with others!

The Most Important Holiday

Here at the brink of Easter the world teeters on the brink between death and life: fuzzy baby animals and pastel colors rioting everywhere against the matted brown remnants of Winter. And a person could feel overwhelmed at the rubble of brokenness, at all the things that don’t work right in this world. There isn’t one of us who hasn’t felt the weight of Adam’s curse in ways large and small, and maybe that’s why we plunge so eagerly into the glut of the calendar holidays,  to forget just for awhile the aches and pains, the way relationships can get so tricky, the masks we wear and the walls we hide behind, all the little distractions that tangle around the feet of those who run. But here just before Easter Sunday, if you have eyes to see, life and death hang in the balance.

And here at Easter is the crux of the matter– all the Earth’s history and future summed up, condensed into one wrenching weekend. The world that was spoken into existence by God’s Word and broken by man’s rebellion lives in feverish denial of its sickness and in dread of death to come. The eternal living Word that entered our world dies at its hands (carrying all of its brokenness on His shoulders), and then just walks out of it again. And God’s creation groans and heaves in the cataclysm. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Here at the cross, life and death lay at Jesus’ feet. Jesus is living proof that there is nothing that God’s love and forgiveness cannot accomplish for us.

Easter is the one holiday we need to remember all year. Death is not the same terrible enemy. And Life is not the same futile effort. Now all of God’s promises to us are coming true in Jesus. Now there is always Hope. “I…pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)


“‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)


“Great is Your faithfulness, oh God;
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart.
You lead us by still waters and to mercy,
And nothing can keep us apart.
So remember Your people,
Remember Your children,
Remember Your promise, oh God…
Your grace is enough for me.”
(Matt Maher)

Share this with others!

When Winter Seems to Never End

We are still hemmed in by piles of snow, but here we are planning our weekly Lenten lunches for the community, talking about how to make Easter real for hungry souls. And we can feed them sandwiches, fill up bowls of hot soup in cupped hands, re-tell the stories of our Savior’s Passion, but Easter’s new life seems very far away to a world gripped in Winter still.

And you don’t need to look far to see the bruised and the weary, hear the prayers going up for deliverance and answers, watch the upheaval of change and the demands that stretch to breaking. You can hardly escape the relentless newscasts about hate-fueled violence, see the world reeling on its axis. A resurrection can seem like a distant improbability to the one firmly stuck in cold hard realities. And under the gray-metal skies and endless cold, a heart can begin to numb– get the life leeched right out of it even though it is still beating– forget to look up, to look ahead and hope. This is what Lent is for, to remind us of the promise that goes back to the very Beginning, and it sets up the cross in the middle of everything, with the very flesh of God suffering death and bringing life to us. The prophet Ezekiel wrote down the promise for his own people: “’Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!…I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.'” (Ezekiel 37:4-6) Jesus repeated it to His dear friends just before He called their brother back to them: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die.” (John 11:25-26) Lent sends our cold numb hearts to the cross and the empty tomb, bids us gaze on the proof of God’s love, let the certainty of hope run in our veins again and look forward to what He is accomplishing. Every year Spring brings that reminder of what is True and Eternal: the promise that in the end, Life wins. “.…thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” ( Corinthians 15:57)

The bare-boned trees stand silently cloaked in snow, but there is resurrection coming.


“Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35:6)


 “For people who are stumbling toward ruin, the message of the Cross is nothing but a tall tale for fools by a fool. But for those of us who are already experiencing the reality of being rescued and made right, the Cross is nothing short of God’s power.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Share this with others!

Endings and Beginnings

As always, this change of seasons from Winter to Spring reminds me of the realities of life and death. Of the fact that Life has conquered Death and there is no more fear– just a change. It reads like a song: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)… just a change from one season to the next like the way the bulb’s green shoots struggle up through hardened dark earth into the sunshine of Spring. So death turns into life before our eyes in this one season, and we realize what a miracle Easter Sunday is, all over again. We need that reminder as we face the future and hard seasons yet to come…that it is only one more change, until at last it all turns into Glory.

I talk to the children upstairs in church about the holiday that is coming, and they tell me that what makes it special is candy and hunting for eggs. I loved that about Easter too, when I was four and seven. And the new hat and dress, and carrying the little matching purse. Big family dinner at Grandma’s house, and hunting for the baskets she had hidden for us that were full of candy. Mama’s hyacinths and daffodils lining up along the yard. All that is still Easter in my best memories. But now I am searching for words to explain why we celebrate Easter, and they don’t even know how much it means to have death swallowed up in Life, and grief turned to joy. For now they will have to accept “Easter is the most important day” as yet another mysterious grown-up declaration.

But those of us with older eyes watch the bulbs push their way skyward and breathe in the scents of a world awaking into life, and we know it is a promise unfolding before us: death is not the end but only a change. Like the Church-planter wrote in one of his letters, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44) All this dust can change, become something new and better. Spring is our yearly reminder of the most important Easter Day, when Jesus showed us that Winter’s death was no match for God’s resurrection power, and He can bring life to all our dead places.




“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:54)






“All around,
Hope is springing up from this old ground;
Out of chaos life is being found in You.
You make beautiful things;
You make beautiful things out of the dust…”
(Beautiful Things, Gungor)

Share this with others!