Ten Years Ago Today...

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Ten years ago I experienced a highlight of my short life. Not all that usual and something most people experience. If you’re reading this… it happened to you. I witnessed the birth of our first daughter, Samantha.

Every year on March 13th, we celebrate the birth of our sweet-Sammy-girl. The seared images in the hospital room haunt my mind. Samantha’s chubby cheeks, wide-Pelton-nose, much like her brother Owen and great-grandpa, and lots of hair, thick locks of red hair. Watch out for those redheads they’re not messing around.

But while most people prepared to drink green beer and inhale Shamrock Shakes in 2009, we celebrated with heavy hearts. Those images of hospital rooms, beeping machines, visiting family members, and tears, lots of tears, had a different edge.

The entire pregnancy was one of uncertainty. Would Christy make it to full term? Would there be complications with Samantha? We had prepared ourselves for the worst. Most families are preparing a room with decorations and color schemes matching a boy or girl.

We were preparing our hearts for burial.

Read the rest on Medium…

What is Ash Wednesday For?

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In college, I played on the golf team. One day our assistant coach came to practice with dirt on his forehead. I told him about the dirt, and he told me about the ashes in the shape of a cross.

I’d never heard of Ash Wednesday and was a newly minted follower of Jesus in a Protestant-Reformed-Evangelical-Church. Isn’t Ash Wednesday for Catholics?

For my coach, every year about the same time, he’d go to church and apply ashes on his forehead in the sign of the cross. My coach cussed and said inappropriate things at practice. But the ritual of spreading ashes on his aging face was meaningful. He knew something about grace. 

Years later I realized the importance of Ash Wednesday. Not because it’s a command of Scripture or a “have-to” funneled down from our spiritual leaders. I’ve only taken part in an Ash Wednesday service a handful of times. 

I’m still a Protestant Christian and for many in our tribe Ash Wednesday makes them nervous. It shouldn’t.

Acknowledging the forty days leading up to Resurrection Sunday; with Ash Wednesday, is a wise practice. 

Being a Gen X’er, and a borderline Millennial born in 1979 causes problems. We rebel against tradition, ritual, and authority. Give me honest, real, let me be me, and don’t tell me what to do. Add in an Evangelical-subculture that fears anything sniffing of Catholicism, tradition, confessions, and only The Bible is My Creed, and you have a recipe for a confused soul. 

But Ash Wednesday has become a practice that grounds my life in a generation needing roots. It gives me a foundation to stand on when life feels chaotic. Ash Wednesday brings me low when I feel my ego and pride are getting too high. AW connects me to a community of faith past, present, and future. That we’re not in this alone.

Too many church tribes have tried to make Ash Wednesday more than it is. Borderline magic. At its core AW is about reminders. A reminder I’m ash and dust and going to die. Many traditions when they place the ashes on your head they say: “Repent, and believe the Gospel,” or, “Remember you are dust, and dust you shall return.”

Repent… believe… dust. 

With no structures or traditions in my life I’m a floating soul jumping at every shiny penny. Ash Wednesday reminds me I’m a sinner in need of grace (repent), I have a hard time trusting ultimate realities (believe the Gospel), and I’m finite, weak, and frail (dust). 

Some would say taking part in Ash Wednesday is arcane and oppressive. We don’t need to repent because we’re good, reality is how you want to define it, and live for now, because death is coming, but nothing is after. 

I say AW is life giving. If I’m not careful, I’ll believe I’m good, and have no need for repentance and confession, despite all the data proving otherwise. Without practices like AW I might believe that sin, evil, and death has the last say. Life is just trouble and toil and suffering under the sun. The cross and resurrection says otherwise. 

If I’m not careful, I’ll believe I can do anything I put my mind to. My mind, body, and soul have no limits. Who can stop me? But I’ve been in enough hospital rooms and done enough funerals to know we’re all dust and shadows. I’ve experienced enough sorrow and suffering in my life that proves positive thinking and exercise won’t halt death. Here today and gone tomorrow.  

My heart is prone to wander... Lord I feel it. My golf coach knew it. And millions of others do to.

Ash Wednesday is not a have-to. There’s no command of Scripture that says it’s something we must do, or else. We have tremendous freedom in how we participate, or not. 

This year, I won’t apply the ashes to my head in a formal service, or from a pastor.

But I will pray and tell God I’m sorry for what I thought, did, said, in the last twenty-four hours. I will read the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, and remember I’m dust, a shadow, and finite. 

I will thank God that despite my dustiness, sinfulness, I know I’m loved because of the gospel. I’m going to pray and work knowing justice and resurrection are coming one day. The work of the God-Man tells me so.

Ash Wednesday is not a have-to or should

Rather an invitation to re-frame my heart towards hope. 

When Did Leisure Become a Curse Word?

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W. H. Davies

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep cows.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

Life in the West is utilitarian and practical (not in the good sense). We punish people for stopping to breathe, stare, and take in things that don’t equate to monetary gain, or getting things done. 

Long lunches and conversation turn into business meetings and strategy sessions.

The intake of art, music, nature, literature, and poetry frowned upon, because… oh what a time waster. The Protestant Work Ethic has a stronghold on most, me included.

When Christians take a day to rest and worship and celebrate being alive in light of their Creator. They're seen as lazy and idle because the boss needs one more spreadsheet and email sent. No rest for the weary.

With all the problems in our society albeit political, educational, religious, morally, or name the category. One problem is dismissed: leisure. We speak past one another. Bowed to the god of productivity and personal development.  We often miss out on the little gifts of Grace all around us because we don’t know how to stand and stare. 

This is not a Christian or atheist, urban or rural, rich or poor, black, white, or brown problem… it’s a human problem. 

What is this life, full of care, if we have no time to stare?

A good question worth considering. 

Malcolm Muggeridge on Fame and Faith

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“I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets–that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Internal Revenue–that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions– that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time–that’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you — and I beg you to believe me–multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing–less than nothing, a positive impediment–measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”

– Malcolm Muggeridge


How to Deal with Functional Saviors? (Creative Commons) (Creative Commons)

Every day is a battle of faith. I will sacrifice time, money, energy, and affections to someone or something. Christian or not, we all put our faith in something. We trust in something to give our lives meaning.

Maybe it’s faith in the chair I’m sitting on won’t break. Faith in gravity to keep me planted on earth. Could be faith in a political party or a special someone. Faith that my brain and lungs won’t fail and I’ll make it home for dinner.

Whether conscious or subconscious, whether you’re religious or staunch atheist, we all have a faith system that gives meaning and purpose and stability to our lives. 

As a disciple of Jesus, I’m in a daily battle to give affection and allegiance to the Big S, Savior, and the smaller s variety. Some have called the latter versions: functional saviors. These impotent saviors designed to give meaning, purpose, and weight to my lowly existence, and yet never quite deliver on their promises. 

The scary part about these functional saviors is they’re typically rooted in good things. Like work, family, hobbies, friends, leisure activities, food, and church. 

My small s saviors can be work and productivity. Believing what I accomplish and produce, or write, and how much money I make, defines my existence, worth, and value. It’s when I’m doing, God is please with me. 

I can bow at the alter of parenting. Believing that if the kid’s are happy and healthy, I’ll be too. When the kid’s are growing spiritually, obedient, and thriving in the classroom, and on the soccer field, my joy is complete. When they aren’t, how long oh Lord?

My functional savior can be marriage. Using my wife to be something only God can be for me. Expecting her to meet every need, rather than serve her, like Christ served his church. 

My saviors are many and varied and come in all shapes and sizes. The harsh reality: I confess a Savior, but many functional saviors lurk in the shadows. Vying for my attention and affection with a simple wink of an eye. 

Let’s not live in theological clouds. Can we bring this idea of functional saviors down to earth and to the every day? How do I know what my functional saviors are?

Jerry Bridges in his book The Bookends of the Christian Life, suggests doing this exercise. Fill in the blanks below and see where functional saviors may lurk:

I am preoccupied with________.

If only__________, then I would be happy. 

I get my sense of significance from___________.

I would protect and preserve_____________ at any cost.

I fear losing___________.

The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is______________.

When I lose_________ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, and depressed.

For me, life depends on ____________.

The thing I value more than anything in the world is ____________.

When I daydream, my mind goes to______________.

The best thing I can think of is_______________.

The thing that makes me want to get out of bed in the morning is______________.

When I work through these questions and shine a spotlight on my soul, it’s not pretty. But that’s why I need the True Savior. When I deal with my little s saviors, I’m faced with the realities of my sins before a holy God. 

But when I deal with my functional saviors, I also see how deep, wide, and high it reveals the love of Christ in the gospel. I’m a great sinner, but I have a Great Savior, who forgives and showers us with mercy. 

I may look to cisterns that don’t hold water, but the gospel keeps leading me back to water that satisfies. 

What functional saviors can you bring to the cross today?

(Source: The Bookends of the Christian Life, by Jerry Bridges, page 73). 

Kurt Cobain on Identity

“I don’t blame the average seventeen-year-old punk-rock kid for calling me a sellout. I understand that. And maybe when they grow up a little bit, they’ll realize there’s more things to life than living out your rock & roll identity so righteously.”
 — Kurt Cobain, 
Rolling Stone

Living and getting older is a great gift. Young people only see the world in small windows and incomplete frames. Everything is black and white and complexity isn’t a thing. Years allow us to be more gracious on things we simply didn’t understand in our youth. Unfortunately Cobain didn’t learn this soon enough. (Creative Commons) (Creative Commons)

Ten Commandments for Mature Living

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“Life has served me as it serves everyone, sometimes well and sometimes ill, but I have been grateful for the gift of it, for the love that began it and the other loves with which I have been so richly endowed,” -Morris West

In Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, Ronald Rolheiser summarizes the marks of Christian maturity/discipleship with Ten Commandments for Mature Living. Let me share the ten and give a line or two for context:

1. Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life. 

Life is a gift, salvation is a gift, and God loves to give good gifts to his children. Thankfulness and gratitude are the path of holiness. 

And, the most loving people you know, are the most thankful. Love finds its roots in gratitude.

Mature people enjoy their lives. 

2. Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.

Nothing in life is black and white, including our own hearts. The world is complex, and our hearts are sick, who can understand it? 

A mature person can watch the confusion, evil, and nonsense around them, and engage with empathy. Knowing the world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Knowing there are no perfect people and everyone’s in process. 

This also includes accepting our seemingly normal and small lives. If we are always waiting for someone or a new situation to fix us, and give us the life we're supposed to live, bitterness is right around the corner.

3. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind.

Whatever emotional pain we carry it will retransmit on God and others. If someone hates you, you will hate them back. If you’re bitter, you won’t be gracious and loving with others. 

All of us hurt, and will be hurt by others. The question becomes how we’ll respond to the hurts and pains?

4. Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul.

Suffering is the path of a compassionate and supple soul. In suffering we are being refined by fire to become more hopeful, faithful, patient, kind, and compassionate. Suffering is never wasted in God’s economy. 

But, many reject any kind of suffering, and see it having no place. That’s when hardness sets in. Depth comes through suffering. 

5. Forgive—those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you. 

 Lack of forgiveness is cancer to the soul. Many people walk around with a false piety while they can’t forgive others who have wronged them, can’t forgive their lot in life, and even can’t forgive God for all the above.

If we understand grace, and understand the forgiveness God extends to us, then we must keep short accounts with God and others. 

6. Bless more and curse less!

Speak words of blessing to others, especially children. Blessing is: great job, I love you, I’m proud of you, so glad you’re my friend or son. Cursing: you do nothing right. I hate you. You’re a jerk. 

“When we act petty, we get to feel petty. When we act like God, we get to feel like God — and God is never depressed,” (page 6). 

7. Live in a more radical sobriety. 

Radical sobriety is about living in the light, telling the truth, and living in wide open spaces. No one is perfect, the cross has outed everyone, so hiding and pretending is the path of destruction. Honesty and openness with our sins and addiction is the path of healing and maturity. 

Living in the light doesn’t mean you have a happy-clappy glow around you. Living in the light is about a posture of honesty and open hands. Where there’s nothing to hide even when it’s hard to talk about it. 

8. Pray, affectively, and liturgically. 

Pray from the heart to God, openly and honestly, and in private. And pray with others in a community. We are too weak and blind to not live in constant prayer. 

Seeking maturity without a prayer life is like trying to start a fire without matches. 

9. Be wide in your embrace.

This one is about accepting the Otherness of people. Most immature people live with skepticism and fear of others who don’t think, believe, live, or have the same ideology as them. Fundamentalism is the root of paranoia. Fundamentalism forgets the Imago Dei of all humans.

If we have a solid identity rooted in Christ, we can embrace, and love others different from us on many levels. 

10. Stand where you are supposed to be standing, and let God provide the rest. 

Be committed and faithful to your place, space, and time. Immature people are always looking for the next thing, next community, and whatever is bigger and better. They can’t seem to love and minster to the people right in front of them. 

Be faithful with the job you've been called. Commit to your spouse, kid’s, church community, neighbors, and other civic duties in the here and now. Stop looking for something elsewhere. 

God will provide what you need when you’re faithful with the little things. 

Life is short and fragile. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. 

How could these ten commandments radically alter how we lived each day?

(Source: Sacred Fire, pages 245-273)

Will Our Boys Thrive or Starve with the Current Models of Christian Leadership?

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Is it time to consider the Master Leader for next-generation leadership in the 21st century?

The engine of the predominant leadership model in the modern world needs more than a tune up, it needs an overhaul. The leadership ethos of power, control, efficiency, self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, and Law; is ineffective and left wanting.

Is it time to consider a new path and a way forward for the upcoming generation of boys soon to be men? Can we in good conscious say the current models of leadership in business, politics, media, entertainment, church, and home, are worthy of imitation?

Every day we hear of a new scandal in the White House, an abuse of power in the boardroom, a sexual predator in Hollywood, and inappropriate behavior of our clergy. Are these the role models of leadership we want to hand down to our kid’s? Can we do better?

I think we can, but it will take a kind of leadership that is so countercultural and against the grain of our modern sensibilities most will reject it. A leadership that embraces and embodies the Master Leader’s wisdom that critiqued our models of power and said (my paraphrase): don’t lord over others (like the world), don’t use your authority to control and manipulate and abuse, become a servant. That’s what I came to do, and it’s the best way to live and lead (Matt. 25:25–28).

I’m speaking to males (not because this doesn’t apply to females), rather, I am a man, and don’t like the hand we’ve been dealt for male Christian leadership in every sphere of life. Let’s say I have a particular soft spot for the next generation of men. Why?

We have a generation of boys pretending to be men. Men who aren’t ready to take a wife, to lead her, love her, serve her. Men who think playing nine hours of video games is a healthy way to live out our existence under the sun. And men who don’t think pornography is harming them or anyone else. Men who think the world owes them something because they are a special snowflake.

We have too many men who aren’t equipped and ready to lead a company or church or family or themselves because the models of leadership handed down in our modern world are built on sand. It’s time we rebuild the foundation with steel.

So what could countercultural Christian leadership look like in the 21st century? What beliefs, practices, and habits are essential for a new way of being and leading in the next generation?

Henri Nouwen in his book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, examines the temptation of Jesus to navigate a way forward for Christian leadership. He suggests three shifts, and three disciplines, for empowering the next generation of leadership:

Shift #1: From Relevance to Prayer

When Jesus had fasted and prayed in the desert for forty days Satan tempted him. The first temptation was:

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” (Matt. 4:3).

The temptation of relevance is the air we breathe in our culture. Here’s Jesus being tempted by Satan two thousand years ago. Do a trick for us Jesus… turn those rocks into whole wheat. Show your relevancy and give us what the market demands. We’re hungry, fill our bellies, you’re a difference maker, and impacting the world. Don’t prove to be a square.

Relevance is tempting because at our core we want to make a difference. Seen as someone who has the answers, knows what’s going on, and appears to be in the loop.

But Jesus’ way of being and living and leading is not bent on relevance. He need not prove anything to anyone. He doesn’t have to be in the know and have all the answers (even though he has all the answers being the Son of God).

Jesus is secure in the Father’s love.

Notice how he responds to Satan:

“It is written… Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4).

Bread is nice. Getting things done and making a difference is fine. But man can’t live on relevance alone. Man is built for more than our cultural moment. He needs something greater than accomplishments, success, money, and power. Men need something greater and better and more satisfying.

Man needs God.

Men need to hear a word from Someone that’s not temporal and the latest fad. They need to hear someone say: you’re loved regardless if anyone knows your name, business, or ministry. Your relevance doesn’t predict your acceptance, and your relevance doesn’t tip the scales of my love.

Discipline #1: Prayer

So how do we cultivate a leadership and a life that’s not bent and obsessed on relevance? We pray. Not just pray, but pray like a mystic. Hang on and don’t get weirded out.

Nouwen defines a mystic as someone who’s identity is rooted in God’s first love. Some have called it, God’s one-way love. Prayer is not just asking God to get you out of jams. Prayer is cultivating a relationship with a person. Prayer is the avenue to cultivate an identity rooted in God’s love, and not relevance.

The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is the suicide rate is sky high. No one talks about it. In all the efforts to paint a picture of Apple, Facebook, and Google, being the company to work for, what you find under the hood isn’t pretty.

Yet, young men are being lured into these jobs because they are the relevant place to work. Who doesn’t want to be relevant, right?

But right now in cubicles, board rooms, and pastor’s offices, are men who hate themselves, feel irrelevant, and wonder why no one seems to notice them, or their work. They won’t voice it, but it’s real. I’ve been there.

Prayer is how we cultivate and experience the one-way love of God. Prayer is how we fight the temptation of relevance.

Shift #2: From Popularity to Ministry

Who doesn’t like crazy stunts on You Tube? When I was a kid, we used to ride bicycles off roofs into our friends pools. One of my favorite shows growing up was That’s Incredible, filled with crazy things people did and lived to tell about it.

Jesus tempted a second time is asked to become a stunt man. Satan says:

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down…” (Matt. 4:5–6).

Come on Jesus, you’re the Son of God, throw yourself off the Temple. The angels will come and save you, right? Pull off this stunt and you’ll be the most popular Rabbi in the land.

Every day we’re tempted to be popular. To prove we have what it takes to do the job, get the girl, and make stuff happen.

Jesus wouldn’t play that game. But instead he says:

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,” (Matt. 4:7).

Jesus didn’t need popularity to live a full life. He didn’t have to prove himself as popular by jumping through the test of Satan.

In fact, every time Jesus did a miracle or something amazing, he’d deflect the act, and tell the recipient of divine grace to keep it under wraps.

When Jesus completed his ministry and resurrected from the dead, he only had 120 followers. By the worlds standards, Jesus was a failure. His popularity was abysmal. 120 followers on social is loser status.

But these 120 disciples changed the world.

Popularity is a fools errand because it’s an isolating act. Seeking popularity is about the Holy Trinity of: me, myself, and I. When you only care about being seen, known, and respected, we push others away. Instead of ministering to others, we’re consumed with perception, or if we’re living up to our standards.

Popularity breeds a belief we have all the gifts, knowledge, and ability to make stuff happen. We possess no weaknesses or faults.

Like Jesus, when we have our identity rooted in the Father’s love, we have no reason to prove ourselves worthy to others. We don’t have to become the mythical stuntman.

So what discipline do we need to fight off the temptation of popularity?

Discipline #2: Confession and Forgiveness

The next generation leader needs a healthy dose of confession, forgiveness, and repentance. No man, woman, or child sees everything, knows everything, has no weaknesses, and can accomplish everything. We all have a sin problem and live in a fallen world. We must acknowledge our sins, tell God, others, and keep short accounts with both.

Saying we’re sorry is one of the most countercultural moves in the universe.
 When we can embrace the reality, we’re all pilgrims on the way, and we hurt God and others daily, and popularity is a dead end, we’ll confess our sins.

When we can be vulnerable and say we’re sorry: we no longer live in isolation of God and others. We enter our communities as equals, no longer needing to be top dog, and marveling at grace.

Shift #3: From Leading to Being Led

As men, this one is difficult. Men want to lead and be out in front. Whether it be at work, school, or home. Leading to being led, is a question of power.

Notice the third temptation of Jesus:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” (Matt. 4:8–9).

Jesus knows power corrupts. Economic, political, and religious power are a threat to intimacy. If our life pursuit is power and control, it pushes aside anyone or anything that gets in our way. Most people on a power trip have a hard time developing intimate relationships with God or people.

Power always threatens intimacy.

Notice how Jesus responds to the temptation of power:

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve,’” (Matt. 4:10).

Jesus says, I’m good. You can keep your kingdoms, I will worship and serve God. Power makes for a poor God and threatens worship. Power blinds and makes us god-like. What good is it to have the whole world and forfeit your soul?

So how do we shift from seeking a leadership bent on power? How can we shift from always leading, to being led, and loved by God?

Discipline #3: Theological Reflection

Theological reflection is not about taking seminary classes. Theological reflection is a discipline rooted in shaping and forming a mind in Christ. The world will pummel every man with visions of true masculinity, success, and the good life.

Having minds sharpened and formed by the Scriptures, Christian teachers/pastors/family, and other good Christian literature, is a way to fight the temptations of a world allergic to grace.

Theological reflection is also about discerning where God is leading us, where he’s speaking, and how we can announce good news in a world falling apart.

When we take the discipline of theological reflection seriously we can live, act, pray, and work in Jesus’ name. For his glory, our joy and good, and for the joy of others.

What Nouwen has laid out for the future of Christian leadership is challenging. But a challenge the next generation of Jesus-loving men need to consider.

(Source: In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen.)

*Originally published on (faith hacking)

A Prayer for Grace Junkies


Feel like your life doesn’t match your confession? Are you spiritually dry? Feel like sin is getting the best of you? Are you running from God? Here’s a prayer to pray from the hymn writer and pastor Charles Wesley:

A Prayer for Grace Junkies

O Jesus, full of truth and grace,

More full of grace than I of sin,

Yet once again I seek Thy face;

Open Thine arms and take me in,

And freely my backslidings heal,

And love the faithless sinner still.

Thou know’st the way to bring me back,

My fallen spirit to restore:

O for Thy truth and mercy’s sake,

Forgive, and bid me sin no more;

The ruins of my soul repair,

And make my heart a house of prayer.

-Charles Wesley

What Did Martin Luther King Jr. Think About Walls?

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In a speech given in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his thoughts about the Berlin Wall. Seems timely in our current political climate:

“For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”


Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pursuing Peace, and 3 Documentaries Worth Watching

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If you live in a America, today is the Martin Luther King Day Jr. holiday. The civil rights leader of the 50s and 60s was a complex man who did much good for equality in America. One of the things I want to instill in my kid’s as followers of Jesus, is to be peacemakers. When they see injustice from the little going ons on the playground, to bigger issues of society, they should speak up and pursue peace.

We often watch the famous MLK, I Have a Dream speech, to remind us the ideals of King are right and good, and also to remember they won’t be fully met this side of heaven. Total justice and equality won’t be realized until King Jesus, “makes all things new.” Knowing these truths keeps us humble and kills the pursuit of a utopian society. We understand the problem of racism and other evils are found at the heart level of every human, and fleshes itself out in other systemic sins of society (my take at least).

But we’ll still work toward peace, justice, and love of neighbor, wherever they are found. Jesus has no problem telling us the heart is wicked and the source of all sins (Mark 7:14-24), and simultaneously calling us to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).

Also, if you have a few minutes in the next couple of weeks, these documentaries are worth a watch. MLK was complex, but it’s important to remember the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement were complex as well.

  1. King: A Filmed Record . . . From Montgomery to Memphis, 1970, an older doc worth a watch.

  2. King in the Wilderness, 2018, saw this HBO one last year, and it was fantastic.

  3. In Remembrance of Martin, 1986, this one is from PBS, and they always do a good job.

Is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Helping or Hurting Us?

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My wife watched the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Somehow I got sucked into the vortex of the organizing guru and sweet Asian lady who doesn’t speak English. The premise is simple:

Step #1: Identify reality: you’re a hoarder. You can couch it as sentimentality or memories of the past. No, you’re a hoarder, you have too much stuff, stop playing games.

Step #2: Smell your clothes, hold up your shoes still in the box, and raise up the porcelain clown to the sky. Now ask one vital question: does it bring you joy (What kind of weird voodoo is this?)?

Step #3: Throw out all the crap that doesn’t give you joy. If you can’t, see Step #1.

Step #4: Find some tiny boxes, fold your clothes into the size of a quarter, now place the clothes in the tiny boxes of your drawers. Find more tiny boxes and place the rest of your possessions inside. You should now have nine things to your name.

Step #5: Now celebrate your new life. With your nine things…

Okay, so I’ve taken liberties on how the show works. Nothing against Ms. Kondo. But you get the gist.

Confession time: I took Kondo’s advice, kind of. My wife told me I needed to go through my closet. It was time to purge clothes. Am I a hoarder, maybe?

It felt good to let go of the shirt I bought ten years ago for an Easter Service. The pants with a stain on the butt, but oh so comfortable, needed to go. And yes, my fat man pants, from when I was carrying holiday weight from the mid 90s.

Now, I didn’t take Kondo’s advice verbatim: does this item give me joy? Instead, I asked: is it stained? Does it smell? Does it fit?

I wasn’t ready to let some weird organizing voodoo and self-help mantra enter my soul. Too practical for that.

I’ll say, it was good to do this exercise of purging and simplifying. It always is.

I can’t say my marriage is better. It was good before. I’m not sure if I’m happier. But it is easier to find clothes and not be overwhelmed with options in the morning. When you have fewer clothes, you tend to not only wear what is near the front of the closet. I wear like five things anyway, so thanks Kondo!

The exercise was also good because it revealed how I buy things I don’t need, or get attached to things I don’t wear, or the ways I tell myself I need something, when I don’t.

Good, I guess.

But here’s what I don’t like about shows like Kondo’s, and others. I’m aware that some of these couples on the show need help in organizing and tidying up. Yes, some of these people are hoarders, and have an unhealthy attachment to their stuff. If you watch the show, you see marriages on the rocks because of the amount of junk and mess in their homes, and lives. I get it.

But is tidying up our closets the answer? Is that going to get us where we need to go?

The culture in the West is in a moment of an unhealthy obsession with efficiency, productivity, technology, and yes, organization. The message goes: if I can get organized, find the right app for accomplishing my goals, and of course, eat the right foods, I will be a good person, I will find the joy I’m seeking.

If something is wrong with me or society, we throw money, technology, education, legislation, or mere grit and will at it. I’m not a problem, it’s everything around me.

Is Kondo hurting people, or helping?

Here’s the thing, our culture runs on Law, not Grace. If you follow the rules, whatever we deem to be the rules, you are a good, worthy, and righteous person. If you don’t, well, your life is a mess, and it’s time to ask: does this sweater bring you joy?


Our foodie obsessed and healthy eating culture is running on Law not grace. If you eat Kale, you’re good, Big Mac, not so much. What is that a Bud Light? Come on, only good people drink craft beers.

Law, and more Law.

So the couple who organizes their home is now in the graces of… what? Not sure. You’ve met the standard by placing your underwear in a ring box. Good job.

The grace of Jesus, is something different all together. Wait, what? A Jesus juke?

Yep, here’s why. All the shows, blogs, and books on productivity, food, organization, goal setting, and the stuff like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, are the product of a Law based culture.

Humans have been trying to make sense of their lives since the beginning; with Law. Whatever standard I set for myself, whether it be God’s Law, or otherwise, is the determining factor if I’m doing well, or failing at life. My law keeping is the factor of my happiness and joy, or not.

The scales of my life are constantly shifting between goodness and badness based upon how well I’m keeping God’s Law, or My Law. I recycled this week, the scale shifts in the right direction. Threw a can into the trash and now a whale will die in the ocean. Scale, wrong direction. Time to get back on track.

Christian people, and non-Christians, do this all the time.

Here’s the scoop, the Law is designed to be a Revealer, to shine a spotlight on how we fall short of God’s commands, and any commands we build for ourselves. The Law is a grace, yes, because it shows where joy is found. When we walk and live in line with God’s best, His Law, things go much better. Stealing, lying, cheating on your spouse, and worshiping things that can’t satisfy, is always the path of despair, death, and disintegration. We know that in our bones.

So we have an entire culture living separated from the God of grace but seeking satisfaction and rightness in how well they’re killing their goals, tidying their homes, or drinking and eating the right foods. It all looks so nice on the surface. Who would shame a person for wanting to lose weight, eat right, and yes, simplify their closets to four pairs of jeans, a shirt, and one pair if undies?
 But it’s a facade, smoke and mirrors, only deals with the surface of our lives. Doesn’t get to the gut, heart, and the soul.

The gospel says: come and eat all who are thirsty and need of drink. You don’t have to have a clean home, kept all your New Year Resolutions, or only eat Kale.

God’s acceptance of us is pure and beautiful and unmerited grace. God’s gift of grace is not because we’re worthy or awesome or drink the right beer. We’re failures when we get honest with ourselves. But God did something about it. He took our place and covered our inability to keep his commands. Everyone needs a Savior, and we can look for it in Jesus, or in tidying our homes, eating the right foods, or voting for the right candidate.

Does that mean we shouldn’t care about what we eat, if our homes are a mess, or have a few goals for improving your life this year, of course not. But that comes later. And whether we’re staying on the diet or eating Big Macs like mints, God’s love and acceptance is still runs on grace.

Our culture is tired and worn out. A little secret no one wants to admit. Modern society is not kind because it runs on Law and not grace. Everything is a competition and everyone is trying to meet some standard that on our best days; we fall on our faces.

Grace is so contrary to the default mode of our hearts and minds. So whether you have four items in your home after taking Marie’s advice, or have newspapers stacked to the ceiling. Grace is still available, and it’s a holy and crazy grace, most of our culture knows nothing about.

Is Kondo helping or hurting us? Not sure, but I’m going with Grace.

*Originally published on

Life Itself is Grace

Listen to your life.
All moments are key moments.

I DISCOVERED THAT IF you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day's work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

-From Frederick Buechner Now and Then and Listening to Your Life

A little more from Buechner on grace…

Why Do We Struggle to Keep our New Year Resolutions?

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As 2018 comes to a close people will reflect and set new goals and resolutions for 2019. Some will balk at the idea and say they're stupid and a waste of time. Regardless of where you stand on the Resolution Train I think the practice is important for two reasons:

  1. Resolutions creates space to pause and reflect on the previous year and give thanks for the good, bad, and everything in between. And to adjust unhealthy patterns in all of life. Gratitude is the key to a happy life, but if we never pause to think about the good, we become cynical. 

  2. Resolutions fight against living a passive life. People often say: let go and let God. Or, just go with the flow. That’s fine. But God hasn’t called us to passivity. No one ever stumbles into godliness and joy, and no one ever loses weight, pays off debt, or grows their spiritual life or craft without a plan. 

We could add more reasons for the benefits of goals and resolutions but something larger looms in my head on the subject. Why do I stink at keeping them? What factors contribute to failing weeks into a goal?

I’ve gone down the weight loss rabbit hole and fizzled out around February many times. Other years I’ve planned to read the Bible in a year and lost steam around Leviticus. We’ve gotten our financial house in order for a few months before April came and the IRS said: pay up. 

So why is it hard to keep goals and resolutions?

Let me take a stab based on no research and mere conjecture and learning from past failures on my part:

1. Our goals and resolutions are too vague. 

Weight loss and getting healthy in 2019 is not a bad goal. But a better goal is to give a specific number and timeline. 20 pounds by July 1. When I think about failed resolutions and goals, they often swim in generic terms like: pay off debt, read the Bible more, get healthy, grow spiritually, or date my wife.

When goals are too vague, it takes the pressure off whether we fail or succeed. We have no way of measuring progress when possible. 

2. Our goals and resolutions have no plan of attack. 

Okay, so you want to read the entire Bible in the year. What plan will you follow? How many pages and chapters must you read per day to hit the finish line? Will you take days off?

Want to pay off debt... what is the plan? How will you determine the amount to pay each month? Will you get a side job to help? What do you need to cut back on?

Whether you are trying to lose a few pounds, spend more time with your loved ones, what is our plan of attack? Whenever I’ve failed on goals, I had no solid plan. 

3. Our goals and resolutions never go public.

Once your goals go public and shared with others things get real. It’s easy to downplay resolutions when you keep them to yourself. This doesn’t mean we have to share every detail of the goal. But having a community of people rooting you on is essential for keeping goals and resolutions. 

When you know your goals are not being attempted in isolation, it can be a huge motivator to keep going.When I’ve failed over the years I kept my goals secret.

My three reasons for not accomplishing goals and resolutions might seem obvious. We all know when our goals are vague we can take them or leave them. When a plan isn’t in place the probability of completing the goal slim to none. Not seeking accountability and support from others make them hard too. 

But one reason rises to the top. It’s something that has helped me accomplish goals and resolutions on a more consistent basis. And it simply is this: you have to know WHY?

Why do I want to pay off debt, lose weight, read the Bible, be more creative, build a business, or spend more time with the ones I love, serve my neighbors, and be more generous? Can you answer the question?

Losing weight is an obvious choice for many people in 2019. Most will say they want to lose weight to be more healthy. Okay. But why? Is there a bigger reason to be healthy?

How about so I can keep up with my young family? Health allows to serve other people and not be wiped out all the time. Maybe so I can play in the companies basketball league and get to know my coworkers. Being physically healthy also feeds into my spiritual life and the joy quotient. We are wholistic people of minds, bodies, and souls which work in tandem. They all feed off each other.

Knowing your WHY gives a weight and intensity to your goals and resolutions. I don’t want to just read the Bible for religious, academic, or guilt reasons. I want to read the Bible because it’s the avenue for cultivating a closeness and intimacy with God. It’s an opportunity to teach and encourage others to know God and follow his ways. If my only reason for reading the Bible in a year is because it would be good for me spiritually (which it is). You won’t keep going when Leviticus gets boring. You need to know your WHY?

I can’t answer your WHY? But this year if you’re so inclined and you jump on the Resolution Train. Consider your why, and may it be the launching pad to see these goals realized. 

If you’re not sure what your WHY is? Keep asking why… Why do I want to lose weight? To be healthy. Why do you want to be healthy? To keep up with our kid’s. Okay, why? If you keep digging and asking: why, why, why? You’ll find a greater motivation to keep going when times get hard. 

Find your why. Make it public. Get specific and have a plan. Do these things and you’ll amazed what you’ll accomplish in 2019. 

Now before I go, let’s practice what we preach. I’m going public with a couple goals for 2019. I won’t give the why, but you can hold me to these things:

1. Read 75 books. I read 55+ past year. 

2. Read the entire Bible in One Year. I didn’t do it last year, and instead read deeply in specific books.

3. Read the entirety of John Calvin’s Institutes. I read the whole thing in seminary, and would like to revisit this classic treasure of Christian theology. 

4. Pay off debts from 2018 (new kid, unexpected house expenses).

5. Be more generous than last year in money, time, and relationships. 

6. Okay, a cliche, but needed… get to 169 pounds.

7. Write 500,000 new words for the blogs, articles, and books. 

8. Reboot monthly date night with my wife. Finally out of the fog of a newborn.

9. Win the Super Bowl… got to dream big, right?

I have others… But here we go...

Happy New Year, and thanks for following along!


Clemson QB on Faith and How to Fight the Post Holiday Blues

Freshmen quarterback Trevor Lawrence for Clemson University explains how he keeps calm in stressful situations. It’s part personality and part his faith in Christ. Lawrence nails the heart of Christian faith by finding an identity greater than football and circumstances. He knows his God and knows he’s loved regardless of the final score of the game.

Lawrence taps into something we all need to hear this time of year. Our identity shouldn’t be wrapped up in our performance or things that are temporal. 

Christmas and the holidays are coming to a close. We feel the hint of depression as the hustle and bustle of parties, gift buying/gift giving, school programs, church events, and work parties wind down. The schedule once full in December now empty in January. 

We reflect on 2018 and see the trials and everything in between. Did we lose the weight? Finish our Bible reading plan? Accomplish our financial goals? More time with real humans, and less time staring into the abyss of a screen?

How did we do? Good, bad, average…

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We look to 2019 and set new goals, move on from the past, and focus into the future. Not all bad things. But they are all based in our performance. We base our worth and value and existence on how well we achieve, perform, and find success in whatever we’re trying to accomplish. 

Lawrence is right, we need an identity greater than our accomplishments and the roles we play. We need to know the Christ who performed on our behalf and loves us despite what the scale says, or how much the kid’s liked their gifts, or whether the family got along during the holidays.

I spiral into Post-Holiday-Blues when my identity is rooted in something other than Christ. When it’s planted in the temporal or the roles I play as a husband, father, pastor, writer, friend, son, and neighbor. 

Trevor Lawrence is only 19 years old. I wish I had half the wisdom and faith he does at such a young age. 

When our identity is secure in something eternal and rock solid is doesn't negate the desire to accomplish great things. It doesn't make us passive. But when things aren’t going well, our goals aren't met, and the pass falls to the ground as the clock expires, we aren't crushed either. 

That is the beauty of the gospel. And that’s what will carry us through 2019. 

Thanks for reading in 2018,


Christmas Eve, 50 Year Anniversary of the Earthrise Photo, and a Reason to Worship

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Today marks the fifty year anniversary of the earthrise photo taken by Apollo 8 in 1968. The first NASA crew to land on the moon.

Today is also Christmas Eve where millions of people will gather to remember the day the God-Man was born in Bethlehem. The one who made earth and the entire cosmos (John 1).

Most see this anniversary as a historical event to celebrate science and technological advancement. God sees it as a gift. A gift to the world to remind them who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. The one who deserves all glory and honor and praise.

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech,

and night to night reveals knowledge. -Psalm 19:1-2

Merry Christmas!

Neglected Christmas Songs, the Death of Trying, and Why the Baby Brings Joy?


One of the most neglected Christmas songs of all time from a non-religious band is from The Band, Christmas Must Be Tonight. They suggest and ask the listener to consider a profound truth in the song:


How a little baby boy

Bring the people so much joy

Son of a carpenter

Mary carried the light

This must be Christmas, must be tonight

How does a little baby boy bring so much joy?

I can’t answer that question for you, but it has something to do with what the baby came to do… namely save us from our sins, and heal the entire cosmos.

A great reason to have joy, right?

Another band, a favorite, is Big Star that sought to understand why we’re here, and what the life under the sun is all about. Unfortunately, they missed the heart of the gospel. Check out these lyrics from Try Again:

Lord, I've been trying to be what I should

Lord, I've been trying to do what I could

But each time it gets a little harder

I feel the pain

But I'll try again

Lord, I've been trying to be understood

And lord, I've been trying to do as you would

But each time it gets a little harder

I feel the pain

But I'll try again

Trying to be what I should… trying to be what I could…

The gospel is not about trying hard to please God, or striving to become something we lack. The heart of the gospel is Do vs. Done. We don’t earn or work for anything; it has been done for us in the baby that brings joy.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we're called to do considering our renewed relationship with God. Grace is opposed to earning, not effort. We obey and honor the ones you love. But trying and striving to be something or earn something from God will only lead us to frustration.
Maybe that was the heart behind Try Again? A man struggling to become what he thought God wanted, and couldn't seem to rest in grace.

The good news of Christmas and the message of Jesus that brings great joy… is everything we couldn’t do for ourselves has been done by the Anointed Son.

That’s a song I can get in to!

Christmas, Doubting Our Doubts, and Hope

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Most people love the cultural vibe around the Christmas holidays. Time with family and friends. Parties. Egg Nog. Vacation. Exchanging gifts. The Elf movie. Sledding with the kid’s. 

All good things.

I also know the holidays elicit memories we’d like to forget. Loss of loved ones. Abuse. Abandonment. Divorce and separation. Loneliness. Pain. Poverty.

But in the shuffle of Christmas programs and Egg Nog and trips to Walmart do we ever ask: What is Christmas about?

No, not the commercialized and sanitized version we celebrate in America, with Santa’s, Elves, and Big Box Stores.  I’m talking about the Christmas that has roots in Christianity and the Messiah Jesus. 

It’s fascinating to think an entire culture celebrates a holiday that has roots in a baby born two thousand years ago to a virgin woman in Bethlehem, and yet most people say: pass the Egg Nog, and should we watch Christmas Vacation, or Santa Claus tonight?

What is Christmas really about?

Christmas is about all the things I mentioned above. Joy and sadness, community, and loneliness. The world is not what it should be, and we’re part of the problem.

The Christmas Story is wrought with the tension of life and death, joy and sorrow.

Jesus knew what he was getting into, he made the world after all. His own people rejected and abandoned the Light of the World. The Anointed One and his family ran for their lives from a Roman dictator. Jesus came into the world where it said: sorry, no room at the inn. 

Jesus came into a world we all know too well.

Yet, unlike us, Jesus didn’t throw up his hands, and say: good ridden’s. Instead, Jesus came with good tidings, of great joy!

God had not abandoned his people or world. He would not be a passive observer and sit on his hands. He would act. The Messiah born of the virgin came to save and restore what sin and death stole. The things that went against God’s original and perfect design. 

Jesus came to bring light and life, to heal, and restore all things. 

Christmas is about living with the tensions that we’re fatally flawed and the world is a dark place. Yet, we’re more loved, and have more hope, than we could ever imagine. 

The Story of Christmas is about deep sadness and extreme joy. Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Christmas is about a gift that won’t fade when the next trash day comes. 

Christmas and Jesus says all of these things. 

I know people have a hard time with the whole virgin birth and babies saving the world. But nothing in the Jesus-story is asking us to toss our brains out the door. This is not a blind leap of faith into the dark. 

We have history on our side.

The prophets of the Old Testament had been telling the story of the Messiah who’d come as a virgin in Bethlehem seven hundred years before Jesus was born. God was not asking us to check our brains at the door. Christian faith is rooted in history, not fantasy, and rooted in a God who fulfills his promises.

Recently I read a Frederick Buechner quote that said:

“UNBELIEF IS AS MUCH OF A CHOICE as belief is. What makes it in many ways more appealing is that, whereas to believe in something requires some measure of understanding and effort, not to believe doesn't require much of anything at all.”

It’s easier to allow Christmas to just be another excuse to spend too much and drink too much. Christmas can be just another excuse to blame our terrible parents or a bad lot in life. It’s easier to not believe in anything, or just take Santa at his word. 

I get it. 

But I believe Christmas is an opportunity to consider the hope found in a baby born in a manger. We keep talking about Jesus, singing about him, and celebrating a holiday that has become more cultural and less spiritual, yet, is still all about the Messiah. 

Maybe this Christmas we doubt our own doubts and investigate the God who said: I am the Way, Truth, and Life. Anyone who believes in me will have eternal life. 

The world is too messy and beautiful to chalk it up as random chance and merely a science experiment gone wrong. 

I think there’s much more going on, and Jesus might have something to do with it.

Bitter or Better, Rock Versus Cancer, and Some Post-Thanksgiving Thoughts

Someone once said when you get older you either become bitter or better. I’ve been through some stuff, as everyone has, if you live long enough. Not to the extent of some, and maybe more than others.

But nonetheless, I’m thankful, and want to choose better.

Life is short, consider your days, the Psalmist says (my paraphrase). There’s wisdom here. Every Thanksgiving we have an opportunity to reflect and be thankful for what we have. Coming to the realization life is short, and a gift.

In my honest moments most of life is good, and I have little complain about. Yeah, people are annoying, and suffering is real. But I have many moments of rightness, goodness, and joy that’s hard to put into words.

I watched a short documentary about John Grabski III. You’ve never heard of him. But he was a musician who died of cancer in 2012. Instead of becoming bitter, he became better, and made more art. Rock versus cancer, and rock was going to win for John. Worth 18 minutes of your time.

A few days after Thanksgiving the midwest was hit with a snow storm. The kid’s were off school for a few days, and we went sledding. Bitter that we’re cooped up in the house, or better, that we’re alive, and I have these sweet kid’s to enjoy, and a beautiful and gracious wife.

Life is short, I struggle with bitterness, but I want to choose better for the next 40.


Why Do We Travel?

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Why our obsession with travel? 

The couple on HGTV wanting to live in a remote village in Guatemala because of their insatiable urge to experience new cultures, food, and explore parts unknown.

The young single hipster living on beans, rice, and their blog, to travel the world and take selfies on top of mountains. Not wanting to be tied down to one locale. 

Why do we travel? Why go to other places and explore other cultures?

No time in history has travel been more affordable and accessible. Past generations could only dream of leaving their homeland. Only the rich might board a ship and take months to visit another part of the world. Now all you need is a credit card number and a cell phone. 

Is our itch to travel based on the motto: “because we can,” or, “why not?”

I think traveling goes much deeper. We travel because all of life is taking us on a journey somewhere. We aren’t aways sure where, not sure what the final destination will be, but travel feels like we’re in control of finding the place we long to be. 

Frederick Buechner says this about travel:

“SOMETIMES WE TRAVEL to get away and see something of the world. Sometimes we travel just to get away from ourselves. Sometimes we travel to convince ourselves that we are getting someplace… Maybe at the heart of all our traveling is the dream of someday, somehow, getting Home” -From Wishful Thinking

The story of God revealed in the Scriptures is one of travel. God creating a people in his image and rescuing them and delivering them to a Promised Land. A long obedience in the same direction.

But along the way we know the land in which we inhabit is not safe, uncomfortable, and not built for the true longings of the heart. The people resist the leadings of God and want another home without God and without each other. 

We’d rather travel alone.

The writer of Hebrews said it well:

“12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” -Hebrews 13:12-14

The city we seek is illusive. It’s illusive because it’s temporary and not built for eternity. Jesus went outside the camp, traveled to the outskirts of the city and suffered and died, so we could find our true city, a city which never will fade and perish. 

I think our desire to travel is a desire for Home.