. . . steps . . .

journeying through life as Jesus leads. . .

God Interruptions

Image result for car radio

I settled in for a three-hour drive from one work site to the next, and decided to plug in my iPhone to the rental car’s sound system. My downloaded music tracks soon began to drift from the speakers randomly, the shuffled selections ranging from Eliot Fisk’s classical guitar, to a James Taylor ballad, to a Mariah Carey dance tune, and then a sharp left turn to Rhonda Vincent’s impeccable bluegrass crooning.

At some point, perhaps five or six tracks into the collection, a dynamic voice began to read Psalm 55. I had forgotten that I had loaded onto my phone the Biblical books of Psalms and Proverbs for some “devotional listening” during my trips. Steve Jobs established a legacy by making sure I didn’t miss out on those disregarded words from David and Solomon. As the words played,

“Give ear to my prayer, O God, and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!”

I reached for the button on the steering column to advance the track to the next song. I was, after all, desiring a leisurely drive with music as the background. Spiritual content was for other times.

I halted my finger about an inch from the button. My first thought: “Well, Dave, technically speaking, this is a song. It simply lacks an assigned melody line or instrumentation.” My second thought: “And, Dave, why is listening to the creations of human musicians taking precedence over the voice of God speaking eternal truth?”

Okay. Maybe the inner voice wasn’t that eloquent, but it was convincing enough for me to relax my arm, and let the track play. It launched me into some deeper thought about why I was so quick to compartmentalize a Bible track. I had instinctually isolated God’s voice from the “normal” process of my day. I apparently have some spiritual issues to sort.

My days can only benefit when God interrupts my regularly scheduled life. Some of the best ancient disciplines established moments of prayer and Scripture to intersect the normal tasks of the day. See, for instance The Paraclete Psalter, a valuable resource that I have used, and need to reinstall into my daily practices.

Such interruptions provide reminders of the foundation upon which the disciple of Jesus stands. And they serve as a power to shape the soul by not allowing our days to be dominated by every other voice but God’s. If you break down the percentages, it is likely that most of us spend far more time being informed each day by secular rather than sacred voices.

Is the God interruption enough, though? I acknowledge that a random Bible track will hardly dilute the worldly pounding that my soul endures each day. I don’t simply need devotion time each day, like a Biblical inoculation to ward off the virus of Satan until I am injected again. I need the mind of Christ. I need frequent and consistent exposure to God’s voice, God’s people, and God’s work to shape me.

I am grateful that grace holds me as I struggle to hear less of the world, and more of Him. In the interim, I am now allowing the Bible tracks to regularly interrupt my shallow delights in man’s music. Scripture memory to shape my thoughts has gained a renewed importance. I plan to dust off The Paraclete Psalter and wear it out. Engagement in the life of the church community is also invaluable.

Each of us are a work in progress, and our concern is to be which forces shape our souls. Don’t be duped. You and I will all be increasingly formed by the world OR by the Creator. I pray that He will increasingly interrupt my days until there comes that time when His constant presence will never be a secondary consideration, but a primary drumbeat.

I would deeply value your insights on this matter. Please post them below.


Eight Reasons That I Occasionally Listen to Joel Osteen

Image result for joel osteen

Go ahead, label me, but I have been known to tune in Joel Osteen on Sirium XM occasionally. Yes, he is a prosperity gospel preacher. Yes, his theology is vague, suspect, and not a good foundation for a solid walk with Christ. Still, for the cautious, solidly grounded Christian, there are some positives. Here are the ones that I have discovered.

Reason # 1

Even in the piles of chaff, there is good grain to be found. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 1, in which he muses on the different voices preaching “gospels” throughout the Roman empire. Dire as Paul’s situation was (in a prison cell, facing possible execution), he rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. – Philippians 1:15-18

Evidently some of Paul’s contemporaries were preaching with no other motive than to further sink Paul’s ship. They had no intention of bringing truth to the world. Those preachers had some serious issues. I can’t put Joel in that camp. He is not malicious in intent, but even in his way-words (see what I did there?) he brings some good truth now and then that blesses the lives of listeners. If it brings even a handful of listeners to crack open their Bibles, and discover the God-Man Jesus, I rejoice alongside Paul.

Reason #2

Joel is a lot of fun to hear, as his style of communication engages me. He often begins with a joke, almost always one I’ve not heard (unlike many other preachers), and I confess to stealing a few of them for my own messages. The preaching is packed with quotes, relevant illustrations, and good humor. Critics of oratory would term his style winsome, and that it is the style every preacher should seek to emulate. Jesus was One who spoke in this way, engaging His audience with stories and insights that caused them to pass up meals, and travels many hard-traveled miles to hear Him.

Reason #3

A dominant theme I hear from Osteen is the greatness of God. With a genuine passion, almost a giddiness, he flashes that Opie-esque grin, and extols the majesty of God. He describes and illustrates God’s power, His wisdom, His grace, and His love as few others do. The greatness of God is never shared as though reading dusty words from the textbook of a long-dead theologian, but as springing from the heart of someone who has seen God do great things.

Reason #4

If you listen very long to Joel, you will discover that he is a big fan of the Old Testament. In fact, many prosperity preachers favor Old Testament stories because they present the effects of God’s hand on the people of God as more immediate than in the New Testament. It isn’t that God changed tactics when Jesus showed up, but as God went deeper in pursuing His plan for the rescue of the souls of humanity and the whole of creation, He appealed to hearts. We still see amazing works of Jesus, and even the apostles, but the epic scenes of parted seas, fire from heaven, and the like, seem more subdued.

Much more could be said about that than we have time for here, but I point it out only to emphasize that Osteen and those like him are signs and wonders fans. They love to see and speak about the more visual and sensory works of God. Much more could also be said about that, but what I appreciate is the reminder that God is big, powerful, and fully able to wow us with His works. We have been created by, and are redeemed by, a God of signs and wonders. Granted, He does not always do those works in over-the-top spectacles worthy of Hollywood production, but such is His power. Joel reminds me that my God is that same God, still at work in us, and around us in amazing ways.

Reason #5

One of the beefs that many outside of Christ have with the modern Church is the disconnect between God/theology and life. The world hears believers spout commands, truths, and promises, but don’t consistently see lives that are changed in response to those words. Osteen diligently presents detailed stories of those who have experience the work of God in their lives. Sometimes those examples are a bit too materialistic for my taste, but there are many instances of people whose hearts are changed in difficult circumstances because they have done the hard work of faith, courage, and obedience. Those examples inspire me with the consistent relevance of faith.

Reason #6

Application. Application. Application. Homiletics 101. Good preaching always has a point. Not merely a theological point, but a life-action point. Doctrine is never intended to be an island or a fortress isolated from daily behavior. Solid truth, when genuinely embraced, changes my life. Joel helps us see this when he suggests practices that we can adopt, allowing the truth of God to steep – like a tea bag in hot water – in our lives. As we practice the truth, the truth changes us. Joel knows that, and while you may not be a fan of “Three Steps to…” or “Five Ways to…” the application of truth in our lives allows God to change us. Application creates a garden bed in which our will cooperates with God’s Spirit to receive the seed of the Kingdom that it might sprout, take root, and produce fruit in us.

Reason #7

A unique emphasis of Osteen, especially among health and wealth preachers, is that of willing service to those around us. He often challenges his listeners to find someone who is in need, then to reach out with kindness, generosity, and sacrificial service. This is the way of Jesus, and the way of Jesus followers. While we are not called to do it for the residual benefits that may come to us (as some teaching suggests), it remains our calling.

Reason #8

This one is simple. Joel relaxes me when I listen to him. I smile when I see him smile. And that isn’t a common practice in a lot of churches. Just sayin’.


I am not placing my membership with Lakewood Church. I don’t really prefer the Houston area. But I do appreciate some of what Joel brings to the table. Be careful. Be wise. Be discerning. And may we allow some of the good grain to take root in our souls as we walk with Jesus and live for Him.

To God be all the glory in Jesus Christ, our Lord, Savior and returning King.

Snow Days

These thoughts are from a Facebook post seven years ago, but still reflect my feelings about this wonderful time of year. Bundle up, and read on!


God does some of His best work during snow storms. I am sitting at the kitchen table in our home listening to the relentless sleet dancing against the picture window. Everything is growing whiter outside by the minute. And the worst of this storm has yet to move in.

I know some people detest winter. Some rank it up there with root canals and severe sunburn. I love winter. I love a hearty snow storm. I am not glad to see ice and snow so extreme that power is cut off and people become endangered, but there is something soothing to me about a good 6-12” snow. It really is one of God’s most unique creations, bringing needed precipitation in the form of miniature ice balls and delicate crystals.

“What’s wrong with drops of water?” grumble some. “Why all the fancy, schmancy frigid formations?”

God loves variety. The animal kingdom and the human race are the two biggest proofs of that. God delights in rainbows of color, menus of taste and aroma, and symphonies of sound. Why? Not sure. But I know we have a God of infinite creativity.

What is it about snow that some people (because I am not the only loon who loves a snowy day) find joyous? Is it a genetic flaw that I feel more energetic when winter becomes. . . wintry?

A snowy day slows me down. Sometimes I resist that. Sometimes I am so compelled to “get things done” that actually having a “snow day” makes me anxious.

     “How will I get ______________ done?”

This is actually God’s strategy behind the Sabbath. I am to have one day a week on which I accomplish nothing. Cease. Stop the obsession to be a producer. If God can do it, I can do it.

Stopping activity is intended to halt the spirit too. God wants me to be reminded consistently that my efforts are not what hold the world together. I can accomplish nothing of substance one day a week and creation will not be impacted negatively one iota. God is Creator. I am creature. I must never confuse the two.

A snowy day covers the ugliness of winter in white. The neighbor’s trashy backyard (purely hypothetical; my neighbors are very neat) is transformed into a bumpy white blanket. Dormant trees, previously stripped of their foliage are now decorated perfectly. Rooftops of various asphalted colors become a mini-mountain landscape of snowy peaks. The brown, scruffy turf is painted clean with a seamless coat.

The prophet described the atoning power of God’s grace using the image of pristine snow.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”  – Isaiah 1:18

When my life seems dismal, dirty and dented beyond repair, the purifying power of God gives me hope. The winter of my life is made beautiful.

A snowy day is the promise of spring. Ever notice how snowfall seems to be more frequent and voluminous the deeper we get into winter, even invading the early weeks of spring? God is supplying the needed moisture for spring’s explosion of life. It is far more interesting than the dreariness of rain (have I convinced you yet?). By the way, did I mention I sort of like rainy days too?

As the white piles up outside, remember the Source. He has a purpose. He may keep you homebound precisely to contemplate His majesty. Enjoy your snow days.

Considering the Silence of God

Serenity is a word we use to describe a quietness that creates calm within the soul. But what about those times when quiet creates anxiety?

What do I do when God seems silent? Is there anything I can do, or am I simply banished to isolation from His voice? And is His silence accompanied by His deafness? Are there times in which He is justified to not hear me, and not speak?

Someone has suggested that if it seems as though God is distant it is because you/I have moved away from Him. Perhaps this is true, but many souls have entered those soundproof rooms, screaming their lungs out, clawing their way in God’s direction, and seem unable to draw His attention.

Is God ever so calloused that He simply has had enough of our whining? Does God need a break from mankind?

When the silence of God is deafening, I would suggest that we have several options. Keep in mind that none of these are call buttons, summoning Him to our side. They are, instead, correctional perspectives.


Remember this: God has already spoken. You probably have a dozen or more versions of God’s letter in your home. The Bible is His voice in print. It is not everything He spoke or speaks, but it is the stuff He wants no one to miss. So don’t miss it. Begin with the clear and primary utterance of God.

I have caught myself in this error so many times, I am embarrassed to admit it. I wander into these seasons of seeking some fresh word from Him, and eventually He gently reminds me that He has already spoken a lot of things to which I am not paying very close attention. When it seems as though God has grown quiet, I must be willing to hear even more deeply what He has already spoken. Oftentimes the silence is due to my deafness to what He has been saying for centuries. I must be willing to return to the ancient words, and hear them fresh. I have yet to completely own so much of what He has spoken.

This is why consistent and thorough reading of the Bible is so important for the Jesus follower. Until I have chewed long on the things that God finds most important, He may not find it necessary to go further in the conversation.


Also consider this: He continues to speak in other languages. Yep, God speaks in other tongues. I’m not referring to human languages, but the language of creation, the words of Christian friends, the “coincidences of circumstances,” and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

We have to be careful here.
I am NOT saying that creation/Christian friends/circumstances possess the nature of deity.
I am NOT saying that whatever you see in creation, or whatever your Christian friends say, or whatever circumstances you experience are open to your interpretation as a directive from God.
I am NOT saying that any of these secondary “voices” from God replace Scripture.
I am NOT saying that the Spirit’s guidance is a simple matter of going with your instincts, since you are a Christian.

Let’s see if I can articulate what I AM saying.


Consider creation first. The marvel of what God has done, and what God is doing, is a reverberation of His voice. It is not the lyric, but it is the melody. It reminds us of the beauty of the Creator, His vastness, His intimacy, His pleasure in blessing us with sensual delights and childlike joy.

        The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
– Psalm 19:1-4

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
– Romans 1:20

Created things may not supply personal revelation, but as I examine the wonders of God’s design, I learn more about the Designer. He “speaks” through His creative powers. When I “listen” by seeing/hearing/tasting/smelling/touching, I am assured concerning God’s character – His wisdom and care, His complexity and simplicity, His power and His imagination.


Consider the secondary voice of Christian friends. Beware of those who speak contrary to Scripture, but be encouraged by those who reinforce the power of Biblical counsel. Stay close to those whose lives have proven an attentive ear to the Word of God.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
– Proverbs 13:20

Despite the immense reservoir of my own wisdom (insert an eye roll), I can learn from others as life rubs up against life. The counsel of others who have walked where I have not walked, and who have walked in the past where I am walking now provides a encyclopedia of wisdom. As I step into godly webs of relationships, I am connecting my soul to an almost unlimited resource, for the lives of the many have been cross-pollinated by the lives of many unseen. Woven into the tapestry of community is the influence of lives long-gone-but-not-forgotten, the wisdom of authors read, and the insights of souls polished by shared life, bringing together many voices which can erase the impotent silence.

Granted, not every voice, even from the wisest of friends, is a sure thing, but there will often be far more gold than dross. And as I draw closer to those speaking into my life, the loyalty and love undergirding the relationship assure that I am receiving another’s best words, and most fervent prayers as I struggle through difficult, silent times.


In regard to the experiences of life, these are invaluable lab sessions for discovering new depths of what God has already said. In fact, my greatest insights will emerge from each failure. Makes you want to go out and fall flat on your face, doesn’t it?

Well, maybe not, but it provides fresh perspective. Lurking in the shadows of the blinding failures are lessons which can often be gained nowhere else. Didn’t some wise ancient voices say as much?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2-4

we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame

– Romans 5:3-5a

Could it be that this very interlude of silence is the classroom itself, pressing me to “listen” more closely to what God is doing all around me?


And consider the work of the Spirit, speaking into life. Despite my assumption that God is muzzled, the promise is sure: He will never leave or forsake me. His Spirit abides in me, and is at work teaching me, shaping me, maturing me.

Hearing the Spirit is difficult at times because I have ears of flesh. I am stubborn. I am distracted. I am prone to seek other voices. My wife will attest to all these things. But as I couple hearing the Word with yielding to the Spirit’s work in me, I become better able to pay attention as He whispers His guidance. The tools of Bible and prayer are essential accessories to hearing God’s Spirit accurately.


The seasons of silence come more often than I want to admit. And often it is because I have closed my ears. Again and again Jesus brought mind-blowing truth to the masses, and He constantly added, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Translation: Get your fingers out of your ears, and pay attention!

The posture of listening during the silent times can be as uncomfortable as some of those yoga poses, which no human being should be able to do (that is why so many of them are named after animals – but that is another post…). Still, in the agonizing quiet, the whisper of God will come. Sometimes God is just saving His words until we are ready to hear. In the meantime, consider this closing thought…


Even when the silence is deafening, resist the urge to make hearing God an idol. When all is said and done, isn’t God’s promised presence enough? Must we always have God’s voice in addition to his presence? Sometimes the best of friends don’t speak at all, but simply sit in silence, enjoying just being together.

Father, I will await you in the noise, the whisper, and the silence. Thank you for your promised presence. And give me ears to hear when and what You speak.

Why Do You Love/Reject God?

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

– Job 1:8-11

In the sparring match for Job’s life, Satan’s accusation to God was that Job merely served God because God provided richly and materially for Job. It was a business transaction, contended the Liar, in which respect was traded for material blessing.

That assumption is as unbalanced as the assumption that Israel, delivered mightily from Egypt, wou

ld faithfully trust and serve their Deliverer. We all know how well that worked out. Rarely do the physical realities of life match the convictions of the soul.

Trusting in God, or rejecting God; neither are based upon what God provides, or withholds in the life of a person. Trusting or rejecting God has to do with something deeper in the soul. It has to do with the soul’s understanding of the Creator, and His sovereignty over all of life.

When I see God as small, or detached, or impotent, or non-existent, I walk with a corresponding disregard for His meaning in my life. When I comprehend His being, His nature, and His intentions in a way which aligns with the Bible, I begin to more fully comprehend my position in His creation, and trust Him accordingly.

The implications of the soul’s deepest understandings are huge. My assumptions of God cannot be driven by the headlines, but by the unchanging truth of Scripture, otherwise we are in danger of living in fantasy. This is when the tail wags the dog.

Speaking of dogs, consider this analogy from my life. It involves a 16-lb. bundle of intensity named Fredo. Fredo is a seven-year old dachshund who has convinced himself that he is a tyrannosaurus rex. A couple of local firemen came to the door the other morning offering free smoke detectors and tips on fire prevention for homeowners. Fredo saw them before I did, but I heard Fredo before I saw them. Judging by his demeanor on our side of the glass door, he intended to eat them. This is his normal, rude reaction to strangers.

If that is your only exposure to Fredo, you would consider him to be a menacing, loud, obnoxious brute. And he can be that very thing more times than I like to admit (I have many more stories). But remove the glass barrier, give him a few moments to adjust to the stranger’s presence, and soon he will be demanding belly rubs with his tail swinging wildly in happy anticipation. He loves to be coddled and cuddled, and his loyalty to those who know him best is unrelenting.

You can’t judge him by a moment in time.

Neither is God’s nature determined by the horrors of natural disasters, debilitating illness, or man’s violence against man. The truth of God’s being, instead, is discovered in investigating Him in Scripture, and walking with Him through life. As this is done, He addresses those headlines by which some try to define Him, and He supplies us the hope to walk through darkness and light, sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure.

Resist the urge to let the craziness of life shape your impressions of God. Seek Him as He is made known in the Bible, and in hearing Him speak into your life. Then when the craziness bangs on your door, your soul will be strong and your feet steady. Knowing God as He is, is the greatest preparation for the rigorous journey of life.

Like a Child

When Jesus spoke about becoming like a child in Matthew 18:1-4, a number of qualities come to mind. Primary to Jesus was the quality of humility, but several other characteristics seem worthy of note. These are qualities that almost all children possess at birth, but they learn to relinquish as life convinces them to “grow up.”

Unquenchable curiosity

  • Am I eager to investigate the beauty of creation?
  • Am I eager to explore the nooks and crannies of my human relationships?
  • Am I eager to probe the mysteries of God?

Unbridled delight

  • Does the sight of a waterfall thrill me?
  • Does the eruption of Spring widen my eyes with excitement?
  • Am I humble enough to dance with joy when delight strikes my soul?

Unconditional love

  • Do I approach others with an eye to see the good in them?
  • Are my impressions of others blind to appearances, and focused on the soul within?
  • Can I find something to love in everyone I meet?

Unhindered trust

  • Do I assume people to be truthful?
  • Do I instinctively take God at His word?
  • Do I anticipate more the unexperienced journey with the Father, than the rugged path my eyes see?

In many ways, I have grown up too much. I have matured away from the childlikeness my Father desires. I am ready for a return to childhood. You?

Broken World

I was jarred once again in my heart to wake to the news of another deranged individual wreaking havoc on innocents. At least 50 dead and 200 injured in a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Millions stand before the glow of the television screen in stunned, grieving silence, and nearly all feel the question stir within: When will the madness stop?

I decided after listening for several minutes to the live reports at the scene to turn off the noise and take a walk. I didn’t do it to choose ignorance, but to enter a peaceful place and pray for our broken world. I am a huge cynic when it comes to news media, and I didn’t need that cynicism fueled. The reports will go on relentlessly for days, with the “this-just-in stories” morphing almost every hour. I choose to begin my day with a perspective wired to a better place.

It is a beautiful fall morning in the Ozarks, cool, clear, and calm. With every step I realize that some are not privileged to have my experience this morning. For too many, their minds are numbed with images of blood, chaos, and noise. As I walked I prayed for those standing at ground zero of this explosion of violence, those reaching out in protective and healing compassion, and those who will be scarred forever by the events of last night.

As I arrived back at my peaceful home, I decided not to go back into the house right away, but simply enjoy for a bit longer the coolness and beauty of the morning. I stood in the driveway, felt the light breeze on my face, and inspected the yard for any simple task to keep me outside. I walked through the front yard, and spied my summer botanical nemesis – crabgrass.

When we moved last winter, we bought a new home with a sodded lawn. We have never enjoyed such a “clean” yard. On the contrary, in years past, we considered ourselves master gardeners if our lawns were simply green. Bring on the weeds, just so they match the small amounts of grass, giving the appearance of a healthy yard!

Not so, now. We had entered a new dimension, and I was determined to win the war on weeds. Crabgrass is among the most persistent and hated foes, so with every sighting, I was quick to purge the beast. As the growing season draws to a close, I am on the lookout for the crabgrass survivors, and am quick to uproot them. I got down on my knees, and spent about fifteen minutes removing the little demons, piling their carcasses on the sidewalk, destined for the trash can.

The key to purging crabgrass (as with most any weed) is to remove it with the root, otherwise they are simply being pruned for greater growth later. Crabgrass grows consistent with its name, reaching outward along the surface, creating an archipelago of roots and blades. For effective removal, I had to dig my fingers underneath the visible growth, locate the center stem, and firmly pull its root from the soil.

As I watched the pile grow, I was reminded that an enemy is never vanquished until the root is exposed and discarded.

So it is in this broken world.

In the coming days, the horror of the Las Vegas shooting will become a heated topic of discussion. It will be politicized, as the discussion of gun control will be reignited, and that is a needed discussion. The mass shooting will also be socialized, as experts debate the most effective ways to administer mental health services and strategies. That, too, is a helpful discussion. The shooting will be culturized, as theories are volleyed back and forth concerning terrorist ideologies, and possible racial tensions. Something productive might actually emerge from those discussions, as well.

Almost no one will dare to spiritualize the events of last night, but that is the root of the weed.

One of the initial indicators of the presence of evil in God’s good creation was the act of murder, a brother taking the life of his brother (Genesis 4:1-12). The primary weed of sin in this broken world is the devaluing of life, for life is the hallmark of the Creator’s work. Jesus minced no words, pronouncing Satan as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). The extermination of life is Satan’s primary goal, and this is not limited to physical murder, but extermination of the soul of every human being. Because Satan has no authority to take life in any ultimate way, he will seek instead to kill the conscience, hardening hearts so that love for God and for people becomes impossible unless the resurrecting power of God’s Spirit intervenes.

Within the church community, the joke has circulated for years about how to respond to the question asked by the Sunday School teacher. If in doubt as to the right answer, just respond, “Jesus.” Jesus is almost always the right answer, we laugh. And yet…

I admit to being simplistic in this. Jesus is the answer, because the root of the weed is unchanged. Satan has cultivated among unsuspecting hearts the thirst for murder – murder of conscience, leading to acts of murder relationally, even physically. And the only remedy is life brought in fullness through the resurrected Jesus. Until the root has been exposed and discarded all discussions about guns, mental health, terrorism, and racial strife will be secondary.

I don’t expect very many to read this entire piece, especially once it is discovered I am one of those simple-minded bloggers who wants to make Jesus the answer for every ill on the planet. But it is precisely that disregard for Jesus that will continue to allow brokenness to prevail over grace. And so, I will continue to wear the name of village idiot as I pray that with every gunshot, with every cursing breath, with every abusive relationship, with every racially-motivated act of violence, and with every desperation stirring in the heart of the hopeless, that ears will hear Jesus’ voice as He pleads, “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Are You Ready for Some Good News? Part 33 (Mark 14:26-52)

On the heels of a somber evening together in the upper room, which included a final meal and an ominous prediction about one of them, the Twelve sang a hymn with Jesus, and ascended the Mount of Olives. Though Mark’s account does not include it, by this time Judas (the betrayer) had left their company, and the remaining eleven are now alerted to another distressing prediction. Jesus asserts that all of those present would “fall away” when the heat was turned up. When the oppression of Jesus reached a climax, His sheep would run in fear.

If,  as it is supposed by many scholars, that the “hymn” that Jesus and the disciples sang together was from Psalm 113-118 or Psalm 136 – Hallel (“praise”) psalms which extol the faithfulness and might of God – then the predicted scattering of the Eleven is all the more distressing. In a time devoted to celebrating the deliverance of God’s people against all worldly odds, the followers of Jesus are forgetting their roots, and neglecting their aspirations.

Jesus roots the prediction of the sheep’s scattering in the words of Zechariah 13:7. It is in keeping with the record of history, that, every time God steps forward to deliver His people from agony to glory, His people become skeptical, fearful, or belligerent, or a deadly combination of all three. The Good News is that God brings grace in spite of our worth, not in relation to it. That is why it is grace. This grace is expressed by Jesus in the words that follow – words about His resurrection and His anticipated reunion with them in Galilee.

Peter, never one to be considered cowardly or faithless, steps forward to proclaim his immunity to the prediction of the disciples’ cowardice. Peter will stand tall. Peter will not slide into fear. And then Jesus lowers the hammer. Of all the timidity to be displayed in the coming hours, Peter’s will be the most damning. A triple denial. What ache must Peter have felt in his heart? What a painful tension between what his words were declaring, and what his actions would demonstrate in a matter of hours!

The scenario that follows suggests that the scattering of the Eleven and the denial of Peter might have been averted had these men heeded Jesus’ counsel to “watch and pray.” The falling away of the apostles was not prophetic destiny simply because Jesus said it would be so. It came because of the laziness of the spirit. Read carefully Mark’s account, and note Jesus’ repeated instruction contained in vs. 38.

I don’t believe that it is merely coincidental that the sleepiness of Peter, James, and John, and Jesus’ rebuke both occur three times. As the denial of Peter would be threefold, so the ignored wisdom of Jesus came threefold. Standing against the enemy is only possible as the soul is prepared through watching and praying. Many are brave when the battle is still in the distance. Peter boasted his devotion before the soldiers appeared, but when the darkness began to close in, fear began to rule. Why? Because when the spirit has not focused on the power of God, and trusted Him in prayer, the weakness of the flesh will rule.

What is watching and praying? To “watch” is to be intensely focused on the things of God, and to be alert (like a sentry) to the schemes of the enemy. Watching is not a matter of focusing on self-strength, self-ability, self-courage, or any other action of the flesh. These will all fail, always. Watching is a recognition of personal weakness, and a willingness to call upon mightier powers to assist in the battle.

Prayer is, of course, the expression of that calling. Prayer is verbalized trust. Trust on its knees. In prayer I am reaching beyond my flesh to the strong arm of God, relying upon His wisdom, might, and purposes. Had the Twelve watched and prayed consistently before the battle raged, they would have been much more likely to experience victory when the fury began.

Regarding kingdom living, it all comes down to the conflict between flesh and spirit.  Paul’s words in Romans 8:5-11 speak directly to this principle. Flesh, while not evil in itself (for it was created by God) has been tainted with sinful impulses which render it consistently prone to selfishness and Godlessness. Flesh is never intended to be a strength. It poses as strength, deceiving a person, and becoming what Gordon MacDonald would term a double weakness (see Chapter 3 in his book Rebuilding Your Broken World).

The spirit, however, as it is renegerated by the living God, enables the Jesus-follower to trust God, and follow His way in the darkness. We nurture a strong spirit, one able to trust and obey, not when the battle is on the doorstep, when the darkness is pressing in. We nurture a strong spirit in the daily routine, when the battle cries are muffled by distance. We nurture a strong spirit by coming often before the throne of grace (see Hebrews 4:16), so that when the crisis erupts, we are well-rooted in the strength of God. Peter’s failure (and mine) is not a failure in the moment (see Mark 14:66ff), but a failure in the preparation (read again vs. 38).

The ultimate portrait of flesh’s failure marches into the garden in the form of Judas. This figure of history is so tragic that no parent would afterward name their child Judas. His name is synonymous with betrayal. Even Mark stops calling Judas by name after vs. 43, and designates him as “the betrayer.”

It is at this point that the story begins its full descent. Despite the embarrassing defense of one of the disciples (Mark spares Peter the humiliation by not naming him, but John outs him – John 18:10), the Roman guard takes Jesus into custody, and the words spoken by the Lord earlier that evening (Mark 14:27) are fulfilled. As desperate as the scene is for Jesus – forsaken by all who knew Him best – His isolation would only intensify in the coming hours. The darkness would become stifling before the light of Good News would break through. Watch…

Thoughts for going deeper:

  • Review the prediction texts (Mark 8:31-32a; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). Despite the clarity of Jesus’ words, the disciples missed it. In fact, note the event immediately following each prediction – each a display of self-interest, completely oblivious to the sacrifice of Jesus and the gift being given. Now do some self-assessment. How well are you listening to the instruction of Jesus? Are His words prodding you to look more intently at Him, and consider His call upon your soul? Or, are your ears listening selectively, hearing only what potentially benefits/troubles you?
  • Because perilous times often come abruptly, we must be prepared. Watching and praying anchor the heart in the things of God so that, when the darkness threatens, we can stand firm in trust. How is watching and praying being practiced in your life? What are your eyes seeing? What are your prayers addressing?
  • What pressures against your faith tempt you to run? To what/whom do you run? How does the Good News instill courage in you?

Are You Ready for Some Good News? Part 32 (Mark 14:1-25)

At this point in the Gospel, Mark jerks the reader’s attention back to the unfolding drama of redemption. Jesus has spoken of things to come and preparation for those uncertain times in the previous chapter. This great preparation is rooted in the Cross event, which is still ahead (for the Twelve) but drawing closer. Mark drastically slows down the narrative at this point, for every moment is precious to grasp. Soon the redemption of the world will be accomplished in bloody detail.

The explanatory opening verse of Chapter 14 is a converging of holy days and unholy schemes. At the sacred pinnacle of the Jewish year, the most horrific injustice is plotted by the very ones Jesus came to save. And it will be as God designed. The Lamb will not voice His opposition, but will submit to the path chosen for Him (see Isaiah 53:7 and its context).

The jarring contrasts of this chapter are almost inconceivable: from the scheming Jewish leaders, to the sacrificial, worshipping woman in Bethany, to the dark, mercenary betrayal of Judas. All three episodes depict Jesus in the shadow of His death, but in vastly different ways.

If we consider the story of anointing to be a parallel account of John’s (John 12:1-8), then the woman is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Regardless of her identity, the emphasis is on the certainty of Jesus’ approaching death, and the honor due Him. Even this extravagance is worthy of the Savior of the world.

The side issue of benevolence toward the poor, raised as a protest by the disciples, is not insignificant; Jesus does not brush it off totally. The need of caring for the poor will always be a concern, but it would be an empty venture without the eternal riches of grace supplied through the death and resurrection of Christ. By all means, give to those in need with generous hearts, but proceed with the understanding that all human acts of mercy are grounded in the perfect gift of the Son for us all.

The contrast of honor and betrayal when moving from vs. 9 to vs. 10 reveals the extremes of the human heart. The woman of Bethany viewed Jesus as One of priceless measure, while Judas was willing to place the price of a slave (we learn from Matthew’s account – Matthew 26:15) on his Master’s head. The woman would become a legend of extreme devotion, and Judas would become a legend of utter corruption.

This death, though… for what purpose? Jesus’ final meal with the Twelve would enlighten them. Three times Jesus had predicted His death (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34), and the Passover celebration would not only be a final prediction, but a full revelation of its meaning.

At the table, Jesus is the Host. He gives. They take. It can be no other way. Body and blood is given. The body is given simply, represented by a piece of bread, and not deeply symbolized, yet we can now be in awe of what that sacrifice meant in terms of physical suffering.

The blood made the sacrifice complete, in that it is associated with the covenant of God. The blood of Jesus is God’s word that atonement has been secured for the world through the giving of the Son’s life and very soul. The sacrifice is total – body and blood. All He had to give.

It is a covenant that He established, whether we receive it or not. Regardless of my reaction, or yours, He has given all that He is to redeem all that we are. He gives. Will we take?

If His followers choose to receive the body and blood offered, they receive the promise of life, and the promise of ultimate reunion. In that Someday, He will drink the fruit of the vine again with those who desire the kingdom of God.

I cannot imagine the swirl of emotion around that table on that night, the images flashing before His followers so quickly, so powerfully. Precious ointment offered as a burial anointing. Betrayal prophesied. Death of the Teacher offered as some kind of covenant that reaches into the days of the renewed Kingdom.

How could they comprehend it all?

Jesus had to know that it was more than their hearts could hold, but He also knew that in time, as the completion of God’s plan was realized, and these witnesses reflected on it all, the sinister images of death, betrayal, and blood would become the prologue to the fullness of Good News.

We now know. Will we reflect on it? Will we marvel at it? Will we celebrate the Good News?

Thoughts for going deeper:

  • In some Christian traditions the Lord’s Supper is known as the “Eucharist” (literally, “thanksgiving”). Allow your soul to be amazed by the events of those final hours. Give thanks.
  • Consider for a moment the balance between honoring Jesus with extravagance (as the woman of Bethany did), and caring for the poor (the objection of the disciples, and our calling). How can both be honored in proper perspective?
  • Consider also the contrast between the woman of Bethany and Judas. How do the actions of each declare their view of Jesus’ worth? Are there ways in which you, at times, become somewhat Judas-like in your view of Jesus’ worth?
  • If you need a review of the roots of the Passover celebration, turn to Exodus 12 and read again the basis for it. What connections can you make between the work of God to deliver Israel from Egypt, and the work of Jesus to deliver us from Satan?
  • During times of observing the Lord’s Supper, do you stop to consider the powerful images of body (bread) and blood (fruit of the vine)? Meditate on what Jesus is offering.
  • What do you consider the “covenant” of Jesus’ blood to be? Is it His physical death, or is it more?
  • As you observe the Lord’s Supper, do you consider the Someday to which Jesus pointed in Mark 14:25? How does that Good News announcement alter the weekly remembrance of His sacrifice?

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