moving from the “who” to the “what”

Christian Gathering Faith Stock Photos

During the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. would speak of moving “from the who to the what.”

Both after the murders of Freedom Riders: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi and then after the beating death of Princeton Seminary student James Reeb in Alabama, King declared “it’s not so much who killed them but what killed them.” And “when we move from the who to the what, in a very real way we begin to see that we are all in this together.”

Of course the “what” was the underlying motive of hate and bigotry and disunity that permeated so much of the worldview of the day. A worldview which in many ways has yet to be overcome. In regard to unity among races and cultures as a whole we still have a very long way to go.

In the church we are called to unity in Christ. To be one in Jesus. We who are many and yet comprise one body through the Gospel are called to oneness. The Apostle Paul implores, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

Only God can bring this about. We are different in many, many ways. The call however is to unity, not uniformity. To “move from the who to the what.” That we would be united in spite of ourselves. In spite of our differences. We truly only come to know if we are indeed united when we encounter differences.

In many ways we indeed have a long way to go. However we serve a God whose mercies are new every morning. A God who has revealed Himself as faithful throughout the history of mankind. And a God and who is at work in a wonderful way in the life of His people today.

We begin with the Gospel and we begin with grace. For when we begin to see ourselves in our need for God and in our need for His mercy, the playing field begins to be made level, and all pride is taken away. Only then will God begin to bring about unity.

Jesus on the night before the cross prays for Himself, His disciples, and then for us: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20b-23).

How is it that the world will believe and know the truth of God made manifest in Christ? Only when they see unity and oneness in His people….

Glory to God!


the initiative


The last three days at The Initiative (hosted by the Highland Oaks Church and Hope Network) have been filled with deep, abiding reflection upon the craft of preaching and the cost of following Jesus.

Rubel Shelly.  Richard Beck.  Randy Harris.  Anna Carter Florence.

Serious conversation.  Godly counsel.  Sage wisdom.

If you preach, and The Initiative is not on your calendar, you are seriously, seriously missing out.

Glory to God!


gnats, camels, and following Jesus


“These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” – Matthew 15:8-9 (Jesus quoting from Isaiah 29:13)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” – Matthew 23:23-24 (Jesus telling the Pharisees what’s up!)

There is a point where religion gives way to faith. In order for this to occur there must come a point in time where God becomes real. To us. Where His kingdom begins to break in all around us. It is a pivotal moment. A crucial moment.

Maybe it comes about in a moment of victory. Maybe it’s in a moment of defeat.   Maybe it comes about through the words of God in Scripture. Maybe through the words of a friend. Certainly the Spirit is involved, softening our hearts. Whatever it is that brings it about, we must come to a point in our lives and in our faith when a decision is made. God is either God, or He is not. Jesus is either Lord, or He is not. The life-saving work of Christ is either everything to us, or it is nothing to us. Relationship with God is either a get out of jail free card at the end of this physical life, or it is the transformative covenant that it is intended to be here and now.

ugly camelSomehow, too often, discipleship is divorced from faith. As if that’s possible. As if that’s biblical. As if that’s acceptable! The call is to follow Jesus (faith). Not simply a system of belief (religion). And too often we find ourselves straining out the gnat but swallowing the camel.

What is discipleship? Taking up our cross daily and following Jesus (Luke 9:23).

Where does religion end and faith begin? Only, only, when we follow Him.

If we understand anything from the cross, anything from the resurrection, anything from the design of the Gospel, it is that half-hearted Christianity is a hollow shell of existence, and nothing compared to the overwhelming greatness that comes from living a life defined by Jesus.

Only when we willingly, intentionally give our whole selves over to Him will we begin to live into the fullness of the Kingdom. And only when we are defined by Christ, will we begin see life with the clarity that only He provides.

Until then we swallow the camel one loathsome chunk at a time….

Glory to God!


Summit 2014


ACU Summit is such a blast year after year.

God ministers to me through every minute of Lectureship, excuse me, Summit….

The next four days will be no exception.

I’ll spend some needed time with friends in ministry.

We’ll pray and discuss and share and argue and eat like nobody’s business.

I’ll be renewed day by day from the likes of Randy Harris, Barbara Brown Taylor, Stanley Hauerwas, Chris Seidman, and Don McLaughlin.

I am very much looking forward to three classes from my friend Allan Stanglin, from the Central Church, focusing on the Kingdom work they are doing with the Amarillo downtown churches.

I used to go to workshops and lectures to get material for preaching.

How shallow is that?

Now I just go open to God, asking Him to to what He does.


You can watch the Key Note Lectures live @

Glory to God!


weeds and wheat

cow, farming

Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a field of wheat. But while everyone is sleeping an enemy comes along and plants weeds all throughout the wheat and then slips away in the night. As the first green shoots begin to appear the two look the same. But as the grain begins to form the workers soon realize the field is also inundated with weeds.

The farmer immediately recognizes what has occurred and that an enemy has planted the weeds right along side of his wheat. The farmhands are quick to ask if they should pull the weeds out from among the wheat but the owner knows what damage it would cause. “Let them both grow until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field….”

He explains the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and those who belong to Him belong to the Kingdom. And the one who sowed the bad seed is the evil one. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

But here’s my question: Where do we fit in to all of this? If this is a portrait of the Kingdom – What’s our role?

To be wheat!


Do we uproot? Do we tear down? No! How much damage would that cause? How much damage has it already caused? No, our calling is to be wheat, in a field that is full of both weeds and wheat. To be wheat, and to show the field what wheat looks like.

And the amazing thing about the message of Christ is that the Gospel provides the way that a weed can become wheat. A complete metamorphosis. A change of state. A change of being.

In reality (if I’m not taking this parable too far) when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel should confront us of our own weediness (it’s not a real word but I like it!). The Gospel by design compels us to reckon our own weedy nature. Without the Good News of Jesus it is impossible to become or to be wheat.

The Gospel is designed in such a way that the message itself should and must compel us, and convict us, and radically alter our worldview so much so that we seek to live like the wheat we are called to be, in a world that so desperately needs to see what wheat looks like. The message of Jesus allows for the opportunity for weeds to become wheat!

Glory to God!


life in the furnace


The Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of the fourth and fifth centuries, referred to time spent in silence/solitude as “life in the furnace.” Beyond prayer and study and Christian community is silence. Solitude. Stillness.  Aloneness. With God.

Henri Nouwen writes, “Solitude is the furnace in which transformation takes place” The Way of the Heart, p10.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace” The Way of the Heart, pp15-6.

“Solitude is the place of the great struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers Himself as the substance of the new self” The Way of the Heart, also p16.

In silence we embrace conversion at the deepest level.

When there is nothing between us and God, and we are completely vulnerable before Him.

Why the desert, why the wilderness, for the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth and fifth centuries?

Because it is in the desert we are made vulnerable. And in the desert we find silence. And solitude.

And if we will allow, God, and ourselves….

Life in the furnace.

Where everything else is burned away.

Everything that hinders, all that weighs us down, all that holds us back, is consumed.

And all that remain are us and God.

I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible in the furnace lately.

To be still.  To be quiet.  For all of the static to fade into nothing.  And to simply attempt to be in tune with God.

This is what I’ve learned from these last 40+ days….

1) God is faithful.

2) My wife and children are beautiful.

3) God is the one in control.

“Our God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4, Hebrews 12).

Glory to God!


explaining why


Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna had moved from England to the United States to build a life together. They had 5 children: four daughters and a son. The family settled in Chicago where Spafford began a successful law practice.

Within a matter of a few years the couple’s life began to fall apart. Their infant son passed away without warning in 1871. Later that same year Spafford’s law office burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire, ruining him financially. Two years later, 1873, as they were seeking to rebuild, Anna and the girls set sail to visit family in England. Horatio, delayed by business, made plans to follow in the coming weeks.

On its way to England, the SS Ville De Havre, the ship Anna and the girls were aboard, collided with another ship and sank. As Anna reached the shores of Europe she telegraphed her husband two crippling words, “Saved alone.” All four of their daughters had drowned. Only she had survived.

While trying to make sense of all of the tragedy that had occurred and was occurring in his life, as he crossed the Atlantic Ocean, Horatio Spafford penned these words on a borrowed piece of hotel stationary….

When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

When peace like a river attendeth my way…. What I hear Spafford describing is a beautiful portrait of a gentle river that runs along side the pathway he is travelling. It is a river that accompanies him on his journey. And it is a river of peace.

The Apostle Paul writes of a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). A peace that transcends reason. A peace that even in the midst of tragedy accompanies us on our journey. A peace that is found in Christ.

I wonder if we truly know that sort of peace? I wonder if we experience it often? A peace that stills anxiety. A peace that quiets stress. A peace that heals tragedy. Does that sort of peace accompany you every step of the way in your journey of life?

True peace is found only in Christ. Only in closeness with Him. So often we find ourselves searching for calm. Searching for serenity. Searching for inner stillness. What we are seeking is a peace that is only found in Jesus. Wonderful, soothing, healing peace.

And when peace begins to overwhelm and characterize our lives – especially in those moments when we cannot explain how – we can indeed explain why.

Glory to God!


the gratitude we embrace

Daddy and Daughter Religious Stock Graphic

Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, relates an incident she endured as she and her sister, Betsie, were housed at the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck.  Upon entering the barracks, they found them deplorable, extremely overcrowded, and flea-infested.  The Scripture reading that morning came from 1 Thessalonians.  From a smuggled Bible quietly verses 16-18 of chapter 5 were whispered to the group.  “Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”  Betsie encouraged Corrie that they should stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters.  Every detail.  Even the fleas!  Corrie at first refused, but Betsie persisted.  Finally, reluctantly, “Father, thank you for the fleas.”  During the next several months at Ravensbruck, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible studies and meet together.  They prayed and quietly worshipped with minimal Nazi interference.  Finally they came to learn how they had been so blessed as to have lived with such little intrusion… the guards had refused to enter the barracks because of all of the fleas!

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

Matthew Henry in the late 1600’s was attacked and robbed.  Later he wrote, “Father, I thank Thee first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

Helen Keller, blind and deaf from birth, once wrote: “I thank God for my handicaps.  For through them, I have found myself, my life’s work, and my God.”

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

The thankfulness we exemplify in life reflects the relationship we share with our Lord, the objectivity and perspective we have of life, and the gratitude we embrace in His love for us.

Glory to God!


straining at the oars

oregon coast

At times we are tempted to think that we do this all on our own. I was once talking with a friend who was struggling. He was going through a difficult time in his life and there was no easy solution. It was going to take time and it was going to take God.

In a moment of frustration he said to me, “I feel like I’m a just a speck in the ocean that’s being tossed all around and nobody knows but me.”

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you’re there now. I had a college professor who would say, “Speak to those who are weary and hurting. Speak to them often. We are so very fragile.” And so if that’s you today, I want to share with you an encouraging thought from God’s Word.

In Mark’s Gospel we’re presented a unique perspective of the account of Jesus walking on the water. Generally the miracle itself is our focus. The event comes right after the feeding of the thousands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had actually travelled across the sea to spend some needed time away from the masses, but are immediately inundated as they arrive. After the crowds are filled and leave, Jesus sends the disciples on their way, now across to the other side, as He goes on a mountainside to pray and spend intentional time with God (we should learn from Jesus).

“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night (3-6am) He went out to them, walking on the lake” (Mark 6:47-48a).

If you go on reading you see where Jesus steps into their boat and immediately, powerfully, divinely calms the wind and the waves and the storm. Looking to Matthew’s account we see where Peter has the faith to step out of the boat and actually walks on the water toward Jesus. But when he takes his eyes off of Christ and becomes fearful of the chaos around him, he quickly sinks (something we should take to heart).

Here’s what I’ve been getting at…. Mark says that the disciples were rowing in the boat in the “middle of the lake.” John affirms they were “three and a half miles out to sea” (John 6:19). Jesus, as He is on a mountainside praying, sees the disciples “straining at the oars.” They’re three and a half miles out to sea! At 3am! Half way across the Sea of Galilee at 3am and yet Jesus divinely sees those He is closest to struggling. He sees those that He loves “straining at the oars.” He sees them pounded by the wind and the waves, tossed back and forth in a sea of uncertainly, and it’s immediately upon seeing His disciples struggle that He is filled with compassion and begins to walk toward them across the water.

The love of Christ is revealed in our Savior’s actions as He comes to us in our time of need.

This is what I want you to hear: You are not alone. You have a church family that loves you dearly. And you have a Savior who is filled with compassion as He sees you “straining at the oars.”

Glory to God!