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!


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!


the cause of redemption

Bible Love

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

Love is a quality that we develop. We learn how to love. We learn love from our parents and grandparents. We learn love from those who love us along the way. As we fall in love and marry we learn to love our spouse and learn love from our spouse. Tiersa and I have in many ways “grown up” together because we came to know one another at such a young age. As we look into our newborn children’s eyes for the first time we experience a love that gives us such insight into the love of God (although we’re certainly content to let grandma and grandpa give us a rest as often as they like!). Through life, through experience, through trial and error at times, we learn how to better love – and what it means to love.

And yet we often wonder, “How could God love us?” Or perhaps even closer to home, “How could God love me?” But I think as honest as these questions are, they don’t quite have a full grasp of God’s love. Or, the reality that the Apostle John unveils to us: “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Love is not a quality that God has learned. Love is who God is. God reveals love because He is love.

God does not love us because we are easy or difficult to love (although through relationship we oftentimes find ourselves either closer to God or distanced from Him – but this is our doing, not His!). God loves us because He is God. He is love. Love is who He is. Love is His character. His nature. The reality that God is love is as unchanging as He is. God’s love is not drawn out of Him by us, rather, it flows from Him constantly. Steadily. Why? Because God is love.

“God so loved…” (John 3:16) not because we were loveable, but because He is love. Christ did not die for the world so that God might then love us. Christ died because God loves us. He died as the ultimate revelation and realization of God’s love for us. Love is not the result of redemption, it is the cause of it….

Glory to God!


the only voice we hear

girls yelling

If you were to sit down and list the events of your day, from morning until night, what would that list look like?  If you were to put pen to paper (or hands to laptop), and just allow yourself a few moments to consider what it is that consumes your days, you, like me, would probably find yourself readily listing item after item after item.

And what if you did the same thing, and made a second list, only this time you listed those things that occupy your thoughts?  Concerns.  Worries.  Burdens.  Stresses.  Fears.  Anxieties.  Those things that consume your mental energy.  Elevate your blood pressure.  Deplete your spirit.  Perhaps that list would fill up rather quickly as well.

We each have a lot of voices vying for our attention.  Some that indeed need to be heard.  Many that are of importance.  Others that are wearily urgent.  A number, however, that are counterproductive.  Voices that distract.  Voices that detract.  Voices that all too easily shift us off course.

The Apostle John records these wonderful, affirming, assuring words of our Savior, “I tell you the truth, the one who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because the know his voice” (John 10:1-4).

Tuning in to the voice of Jesus amid all of the static, amid all of the distractions, is so very crucial for His followers.  It is a discipline to be practiced.  An artistry to be pursued.

Yet when His voice is the only voice we hear amidst all that is encompassed within those two lists, the result is peace and clarity and confidence.  Aspects of the Christian life that perhaps more a few of us are in need of.

Glory to God!


the God of the towel

Eyes of Faith Stock PhotosMinistering to others is the primary way in which we reveal Jesus to a lost and broken world.  Allowing the love of Christ to bring healing to a broken world through those who themselves are continually made whole in Jesus is what serving and sharing and ministering is all about.

Jesus sets the pace:

“The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him” (John 13:2-5).

Angel Sculpture Christian Stock ImageJohn’s Upper Room narrative intimately describes the motive and method of Jesus.  God has placed all things under His authority.  Jesus is in complete control.  John acknowledges Jesus’ awareness of His divine nature and authority, “He had come from God and was returning to God.”  And because of His divine prerogative, the God of the towel rises from the meal, wraps a towel around His waist, and pours water into a basin.  Jesus’ connectedness to God and divine reality as God incarnate compels Him to take the nature of a servant (cf. Philippians 2:6-8).

Isn’t it the same with us?  Isn’t it such that our connectedness to God and spiritual reality as those within whom His Spirit dwells, compel ministering to others, and bringing hope and healing to a broken world?

But, is this you’re perspective?  Is this your philosophy?  Is this your practice?

Glory to God!


satan’s native language

No Devils Allowed Sign

“When Satan lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar, the father of lies.” – John 8:44

As Christians I believe we easily acknowledge that Satan has one mission: To separate us from God.  That’s his mission.

“The thief comes to steal, kill, and to destroy.” – John 10:10

As believers we readily confess we have one mission: To connect others with God.  That’s our mission.

“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against God, and we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Satan never ceases in his attempts to derail our lives, our faith, our eternity.  However, not only is the enemy seeking to alienate us from God, he also attempts in every way to interfere in our relationships with one another.  To distance us from one another.  To create animosity or stress or distrust or anxiety within the community of faith.  Why?  Because it impedes our effectiveness.

He’s the “father of lies” remember?  He is the deceiver.  If he can convince us that disharmony (not disagreement, but disharmony) is acceptable, it limits our effective witness in the world.  When he is successful in deceiving us and convincing us that the enemy is a fellow believer with whom we have disagreement, the father of lies is “speaking his native language.”  Satan wants nothing more than to stifle momentum in Christ’s church.  And very often he accomplishes this not through outright sinful behavior, but by diverting our attention, and cloaking divisiveness in the shroud of religiousness.  The tension is such that if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.  When we allow the father of lies to whisper in our ears, we serve as conduits, as he shouts from the rooftops.  And very often, through well-meaning believers misguided in who the enemy truly is.

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other.” – Galatians 5:15

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12

Why do we so often play into Satan’s hand?

Glory to God!


another way of life

enslavedIn January of 1863 Abraham Lincoln made public his intentions to abolish slavery in the United States, in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Civil war erupted.  Lincoln was soon assassinated.  And it wasn’t until December of 1865, nearly three years later, that Lincoln’s dream was realized as the 13th Amendment of the Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery.

Word soon spread throughout the country.  From Capital Hill into every state of the south the headlines of every newspaper read, “Slavery Abolished!”

Yet something happened that no one had expected.  Something that no one (especially in the north) could have imagined.  A war had been fought.  A president assassinated.  A law had been signed.  However many slaves in the south, who had been set free, willfully chose to remain with their masters.  To, in essence, continue to live as slaves.  Many for the rest of their lives.

And the question that began to be asked was, “Why?”  Why would once enslaved men, women, and children who had been freed, emancipated, why would they continue to live in bondage and in fear.  As brutal and as cruel as their old master was, why would they willingly choose to work in his fields, live under his oppression, and remain under his thumb?  Why after being liberated, would so many choose the security of slavery, over the risks of liberty?

breaking freeThe answer?

Because they knew no other way of life.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a child belongs to it forever.  So if the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

I wonder if that might hit home for some of us?

Glory to God!



water“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37).

Anyone.  Anyone who is thirsty.  Anyone.  Anyone who thirsts.  Anyone who has become dissatisfied with a lifeless life.  Discontent with existing but not living.  Anyone.

Jesus stands on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles and declares that for those who are spiritually thirsty, living water is a present reality.

During the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles there were two primary ceremonies.  One was the Festival of Lights in which lamps were lit all around the Temple courtyard on the final night commemorating the restoration of the Temple by the Maccabees during the intertestamental period.  It is as the light of these lamps floods the Temple grounds that Jesus stands and exclaims, “I AM the Light of the World.”  Earlier on the final day of Tabernacles was the water libation ceremony in which water would be poured out before the people upon an altar symbolizing the water from the rock in the desert wandering (Exodus 17) through which God saved and provided for His people.  It is during this ceremony that Jesus stands and declares, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture reveals, streams of living water will flow” (John 7:37-38).

Ripples in the Blue WaterA few chapters earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus had spoken similar words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst again” (John 4:13-14).

“This water” (I envision Jesus motioning toward the well).  Physical water.  The water of this world.  Or “living water.”  The choice is ours.

Why do we continue to believe that this world has anything to offer that satisfies?  Why do we find ourselves returning to the well of despair?  The well of heartache?  The well of futility?  Rather than drinking deep from the well of life?  The living water of the Kingdom of Jesus.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a).

“As the deer pants for streams of water so my souls longs for you O God.  My soul thirsts for the Living God” (Psalm 42:1-2a).

Living God.  Living water.  Life that is life.  Life that is filled.  For anyone who is thirsty.  Anyone.

Glory to God!


heaven came down

Referee Blowing WhistleMy kids know my whistle.  I don’t necessarily whistle all that loudly or all that long.  But if I want to get their attention amidst distraction, I just whistle.  When we’re all in the Family Life Center on Wednesday evenings and there are people talking and kids everywhere and I need to get one of my boy’s attention in the sea of children on the basketball court, I just whistle, and their heads turn.  Not in a fearful way or a worrisome way.  They just know my whistle.  When we’re at home and they’re playing outside with other kids, and in one of their friend’s back yard, and Tiersa and I need them to come home, I just step out on the front porch and whistle, and I soon here a, “Coming!…” from a few houses down.  The whistle is sort of like “Heads up!” or “Hey, look this direction!”

clouds sunshineJohn the Baptist came proclaiming the Kingdom is at hand!  The Kingdom is close.  The Kingdom is near.  Heads up!  Pay attention!  It’s near!  The Kingdom is near!  And then, the Kingdom (the reign and rule of God) is made a reality in Jesus.

As the old hymn declares, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul.”

The Kingdom of heaven.  The reign of God as His Spirit rains down upon human hearts through divine will.  The Kingdom of heaven.  Heaven coming down.  Glory filling our souls.

bullhornThat’s our reality.  Here’s my question: What was John’s role?  What is John the Baptist’s task in this?  Fulfilling the will and purpose of God?  Yes.  “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him” (Mt 3:3)?  Absolutely.  But ultimately, John’s God-ordained position is to announce.  To call attention.  “Heads up!”  “Hey, look this direction!” (cf. Jn 1:29,35).   “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near!” (Mt 3:2).  The Kingdom is near!  Heaven is coming down!

Calling people wherever they were in life to come, and to be a part of the Kingdom.

Our role, our task, our purpose is the same….  To call people wherever they are in life to come, and to be a part of the Kingdom of heaven.

Glory to God!


ten words

blurred, man standing, subway

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  Ten words.  That changed everything.

In an instant, everything changed.  It was all in God’s divine plan.  All in His divine providence.  All founded in His divine initiative.

Decades later (and especially a century later), the incarnation would be at the center of debate.  There were many who questioned the validity of the Word becoming flesh.  It wasn’t entirely Christ’s deity that was under scrutiny.  It wasn’t solely His humanity that was doubted.  It was the mental gymnastics required to accept that He was both.  Divine and human.  Simultaneously.  Upon initial consideration, can we blame them?  We have the benefit of 2000 years of theology.  But the reality that Christ was 100% God and 100% human, you have to admit, is a doctrine that must be based solely upon faith.  Because it makes no earthly sense.

But He was.  Christ was with God in the beginning (John 1:1).  And then He became (John 1:14).  He became, He took on flesh, and He lived and walked and ministered among us.  The incarnation is intended to blow our minds.  And it should!  That God was willing, that Christ was willing, to “take on the nature of a servant” and be made “in human likeness” and to become “obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1-11) should amaze us!  It is certainly designed to.

walkAnd the amazement of the incarnation must not end there.  Because the wonder of it all is that Christ is “incarnate” in us (if we can use that terminology).  God is revealed “in the flesh” when His people live out our calling as those who belong to Him.

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).  Verse 27 comes at the conclusion of an entire section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church which centers upon the incarnation of God in Jesus.  He then transitions to the incarnation of Christ, in us!

That a holy God would, through His perfect Son, reside within an unholy and imperfect people should amaze us!  It is certainly designed to.  Our reality as those who have been sanctified by the Spirit purposes you and I to reveal His deity in our humanity.  In our divine and human nature(s).  Christ is us, the hope of glory.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14).  Ten words.  That changed everything.  Ten words.  That change us still.

Glory to God!