Nature of God

Jesus and the Politics of Gender Identity

Jesus and the Politics of Gender Identity

Recently, the conversation around gender identification and gender fluidity (the concept that a person may identify their gender as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities at any given time) has come into the public spotlight.

As some facilities in our society (specifically bathrooms, locker rooms, etc) are locked into the binary, either-or genders of our physical bodies, a person who does not necessarily identify their gender with their physical body is faced with a question of how to respond to this social construct. Do I go into the women's restroom when I identify as a woman, regardless of my gender?

Now, as a follower of Jesus, what am I to do with this?

Balaam: A Study of God's Interaction with the "Un-Chosen"

I find the story of Balaam (primarily in Numbers 22-24) to be insanely interesting. If you’re not already familiar with the story, I’d recommend you read it before you continue with what I wrote.

Here’s what grabs me: Balaam is an outsider, yet he really is a prophet of the Lord. Not a false prophet. Not a diviner, using spiritually shady tactics. A prophet of the Lord.

God’s chosen people are the Israelites. He has given no promises or covenants or guarantees to the people who have not descended from Abraham, other than a vow not to flood the earth again. He doesn’t have any obligation to speak with somebody like Balaam, yet he does anyways.

Several times in this narrative, the scriptures clearly say that God comes to Balaam and talks to him. (22:9-12, 22:20, 22:32-35, 23:4, 23:16, 24:2)

And what’s more, Balaam is obedient to God. Until God gives him permission to go with the messengers, he won’t do it. He repeatedly says that he will only say the things that God puts in his mouth, and backs it up by doing exactly that.

Now, in the end, Balaam ends up working to bring destruction upon Israel. He tells the king of Moab to entice Israel to sin through idolatry and sexual immorality. It leads to a plague in Israel and the death of Balaam himself as repayment.

But in this story, we see that God is working outside of his chosen people. A guy with no connections to Israel at all is using his God given gifts to make a living, blessing and cursing people - and he’s successful, according to the king of Moab (v. 6)

I wonder - where and how is the Holy Spirit moving in the world today outside of Christianity?  Are there people who speak God’s truth without perhaps being fully aware of it?

Do some musicians and artists and poets and movie-makers create artistic expressions with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit despite only a desire to make a living?

Does God spread his truth and his life into places that we would least expect?

As Balaam himself comes to ruin through his self serving ways, perhaps God’s blessing does not guarantee that someone will lead a life that directly contributes to his kingdom, regardless of their gifts or calling.

The more we try to put boundaries around God, the more he seems to ignore them. The more we try to simplify him to a reliable formula, the more variables we find in him.

I wonder if we can find the places that God is moving in our schools, neighborhoods or workplaces and become a part of his work, rather than viewing ourselves as the only possible conduit for God’s ministry. Joining with a charity or outreach that isn’t “Christian”. Getting involved with an artistic collaborative (a band, or a play troupe, etc). Joining a discussion group centered on literature. These are just some possible ways we can place ourselves in areas that God may already be speaking - shockingly - without any outside help.

Perhaps that is what Jesus is talking about when he speaks of fields ripe for harvest. That God causes growth to occur, and we are simply called to point that out.

How To Be Emotionally Healthy

We are emotional creatures, there are no two ways about that. God created us in his image, and the scriptures frequently refer to how God feels: rejoicing, angry, frustrated, and grieved.

Look at Jesus: he wept, got angry, reacted with surprise, showed frustration, etc.

So as God created us with emotions, they are meant to be part of our lives. The goal of a healthy emotional state is not to become like Spock, with no emotional imput, only cold rational logic dictating our lives.

Think of your emotional state as a Rubik’s Cube.

When you are angry, or depressed, or lustful, or anxious, or any emotional state other than healthy, your emotional state is like a messed up Rubik’s Cube. No rhyme or reason, just total disarray.

Here’s the best way to not fix a Rubik’s Cube: ignore it. Toss it in the back of your sock drawer. It’s not going to get fixed that way, but at least you only have to see it every once in a while. It’s still a mess the whole time, but hey - fixing it would take time and effort. Who wants to spend that, am I right?!

There are underlying issues that are causing you to be depressed, or anxious, or lustful. You need to be willing to get alone, and spend some time exploring and examining your own thoughts and feelings. To pull out that Rubik’s Cube and start examining it, interacting with it, and adjusting it.  It’s going to be frustrating. At times you may feel that it will never be put together in the way it’s meant to exist, but one thing is for certain: you will never solve the puzzle without putting your hands on it.

Are you depressed because of your situation in life? Are you angry at your lack of control? Do you have doubts about God or his goodness that you’re suppressing instead of dealing with?

Are you lusting uncontrollably because of a need for acceptance? Are there actions that you are taking that you need to cut off in order to get healthy?

Until you go in search of these underlying issues that are causing your emotions, they will stay hidden and continue to cause your emotional state to be completely out of whack.

If you’re not the kind of person that can be impartially introspective, a trained counselor can help guide you in that process. Or maybe you have a friend who is willing and able to tell you things that you have a blind spot to.

Regardless, the fear of what you might find once you go digging in your own soul must be overcome. We cannot be so afraid of looking in a mirror that we never do it. How can we begin to correct problems if we refuse to really and truly see them?

As a Christian, I strongly believe the scriptures provide an excellent source of objective input and that the Holy Spirit himself wants to help us in such inner journeys of discovery. As I said in a previous post, I found the scriptures to be much more beneficial when I stopped reading them to be ‘right’, and I started reading them to be changed.

Introspection, in my opinion, is the most valuable tool in spiritual and emotional development.

Now, once you have spent the time necessary to arrange your Rubik’s Cube of emotions, it’s tempting to sit back and look at how nice and neat and organized it is.

But what you need to realize is that it isn’t going to simply remain that way.

As you go through life, your carry your emotional Rubik’s Cube with you everywhere you go.

People will often try (and sometimes succeed) to grab it and mess it up. You get cut off in traffic. A friend betrays you. You find out that your pastor has been stealing funds from the church. Your boss/teacher chews you out. There’s a death of a close friend or family member.

Suddenly, your cube is out of alignment again. After all the work you put in getting it in order, it could be tempting to say ‘enough!’ and throw it back into the sock drawer.

This won’t help. This puzzle, this cube - it will be with us for the rest of our lives. But just as handing a real Rubik’s Cube will get easier with experience, so too will handing your emotional health. Once you find the place that your emotional balance point exists, it will be easier to get back to it.

There will be times that everything falls apart. But you will be able to pick up the pieces and put it all back together, as long as you don’t quit on yourself.

Don’t depend on other people to do this for you. If every time you turn into a mess you look for somebody to pull you back together, you’ll never be able to handle your emotions. I’m not saying that you can never go to a friend for support - I absolutely think that’s good. But you can’t expect them to “make it all better”. After you get some comfort or encouragement, go be alone. Work through your feelings and thoughts.

And when somebody comes to you in an emotional mess, love them, listen to them; then encourage them to work through it themselves. (Note: if this person says or in any way indicates that will hurt themselves or somebody else, get them professional help immediately. It could be a ploy to manipulate you into babying them, but you don’t screw around with a situation like that. Don’t enable them by coddling them, but do not just cut them loose.)

The best way to become emotionally crippled is by letting other people determine your emotional health. We are social creatures, and we must work to build community, and that will be difficult on us emotionally, but we must learn to handle these challenges by growing and maturing - and being able to deal with our own emotions is an essential part of that.

Get alone with yourself. Delve into the tempest. Stare into the abyss of your soul, and don’t be afraid as it stares back, because you’re not alone. Jesus heals the broken hearted and frees the captive. You just have to be willing to open the door.

The Incomplete God

I believe in an incomplete God. I pray to an incomplete God, sing praises to an incomplete God and read the scriptures of an incomplete God. It’s not that God is incomplete, mind you. It’s that my understanding of God is incomplete. So I am left believing in a God who I only partially comprehend. I worship the tip of the iceberg, knowing that there is so much more which is beyond my perception.

I can’t tell you why one person dies of cancer while another recovers against all medical odds.

I can’t explain why one person wins the lottery while another struggles to feed their children.

I don’t know why some of my prayers yield amazing results while others seem to go unnoticed.

But the thing is, I’m a super analytical person.  I don’t like unsolved mysteries. I want a God that I can understand and explain. That way, everything makes sense. I don’t have to be confused or surprised in any situation.

So I fill in the blanks.

I take the God who in judgment destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the God who in mercy spared Nineveh and I draw connections to explain the differences.

I take the God who stuck Annanias and Sapphira dead and the God who forgave the adulterous woman and I color the spaces in between.

I take the God who killed almost everything on earth in the time of Noah and the God who came as a man and bore the guilt of the entire human race and I figure out a way to explain it simply and easily.

And I end up with something that isn’t God. Or rather, it’s a God created in my own image.

Because, despite vaguely understanding how feeble my mind is in comparison to the greatness of God’s existence, I prove over and over that I’d rather have a complete but false God than an incomplete/incomprehensible real God.

Only when things in my life occur which can’t be explained by my false God do I have to wake up to what I’ve done. And those are the times where I must do violence to the God I’ve created. Instead of having the ability to understand and explain what’s going on, I simply have to echo Ezekiel who, when asked something beyond his comprehension, answered “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)

I have to face the fact that most of the time, I don’t know why God does whatGod does when God does it.

It’s when I start trying to improve God in my own eyes that I get myself into this trouble. When I try to make better sense of him in my own understanding.

So I do my best to worship the God who I can’t fully see or understand, leaving the blank spaces free from my own conjecture and speculation. The places where he has clothed himself with shadows, I cannot force him to be revealed.

He is, for me, the incomplete God who is greater than I could ever imagine.

Theology: Knowing God

I think that studying God, theology, the bible, etc, is like studying the moon.  If you buy the biggest telescope you can find and put it on maximum zoom, you’re going to learn a lot about the part of the moon you can see. You can also move the telescope around a see zoomed in pictures in different areas. But there’s two things to keep in mind:

1. You’re not going to be able to scan the entire surface of the moon with that telescope (or if you do, it’ll be so fast you won’t really see anything)

2. Even if you did see the entire surface of the moon that way, you’d still have a lot to learn about the moon.

See, if we just focus on one area, we’re going to miss a lot. At some point, you need to step away from the telescope and look at the whole sky. To see how beautiful the moon is, suspended in the black with stars around it. To see how the moon affects the tides here on Earth.

Don’t miss the beauty in the midst of the study.

I could focus my telescope on one particular crater and learn everything there is to know about that crater. Then, when people talk about the moon, I could talk for hours about that one crater. And people would be interested for about 5 minutes, then they would want me to shut up. There’s more to the moon than the one crater I know all about.

We can get so fixated on one point that we miss out on what’s really happening.

Alot of evangelical theology is based on the message that people who don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell, and they need to be saved. So we hand out tracts and talk through bullhorns and try to force people to come to church with us where we use an altar call to try and get them to say they believe.

I’m not saying that people aren’t going to hell. And I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s a minor deal.  But God is bigger and greater and grander than ‘the being who sends people to hell.’

God created this world, where we find joy and sorrow; heights and depths; pain and pleasure. More than that, he became one of us. The infinite, in one man. He who holds the galaxies in the palm of his hand, using feet to walk from one town to the next.

People who are so locked into their own theology that they think they are the only one who really ‘gets’ God scare me. A lot.  Because I have totally been like that in my life. And I was so blinded by my ‘right answers’ to let God be who he is. I turned the bible into a book of answers and doctrine instead of what it is: The story of a God and the flawed people he loves.

In Christianity, we say that we don’t have a religion, but rather a relationship. Then we put so much structure and so many requirements on that relationship that it becomes a religion.

I have a feeling that there is a great deal of truth in this world that we refuse to acknowledge because we didn’t think of it.

I believe that everyone is looking for God, whether they know it or not. And I believe that God has left signposts that point to him in the most unlikely places. Signposts that reveal truth about him. People who are paying attention will pick up on these truths, and believe in them.

Nature speaks of a great creator.

Intimacy speaks of a need to be completed by somebody or something.

Dreams point to the existence of something greater just below the surface.

Mercy and compassion reveal that there is something within us that works against the primal urges we’re told that we consist of.

Art reveals a need to see more than just what our eyes can perceive.

I once thought that God needed me. That he needed me to tell people about what he is really like because I had so much insight. He couldn’t sideline me, because I was too clever and smart.

Now, I realize that I’m about as useful as asking an ant to explain a supercomputer. A know-it-all is about the last thing God needs representing him.

I don’t understand God. I can’t explain why he does the things he does most of the time. If I zoom in, I can probably start to explain small parts of him better, but I’d rather step back and see the vastness, the grandeur, the beauty of who he is. And I’m content to be amazed and surprised by what I can’t contain.

Two Kingdoms

I believe that there are two kingdoms. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of his enemy.

I believe these kingdoms are at war on the earth today.

The Kingdom of God has already secured the ultimate victory, but his enemy is unwilling to lay down his arms and peacefully surrender. He wants to cause as much damage as he can before he is destroyed permanently.

The kingdom of his enemy does not require any oaths or commitments. Everyone is by default a citizen of this kingdom from birth.

The Kingdom of God requires one to commit their life to the service of the King and renounce their citizenship to the kingdom of the enemy. It requires one to lay down his or her plans, desires and purposes and instead work only at the command of the King.

It does not require effort to advance the kingdom of God’s enemy, because disunity and confusion advance his purposes. Everyone may set their own agenda: money, power, comfort, religiosity, sex; these are all common individual purposes in the kingdom of the enemy.

It is also the reason that the enemy’s kingdom will not stand. It has no unified purpose other than to consume all that it comes in contact with. It is at war with itself all the time.

As as the Kingdom of God unifies behind the King - not behind a particular denomination or doctrine - he leads us in a great campaign of sabotage against the enemy.  He sent his son to lead our campaign: “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8)

Our purpose is two fold: to press back the advancing lines of the kingdom of the enemy from his attempts to rule over the people of this earth, and to rebuild what his army has destroyed. He uses a slash and burn campaign, destroying anything he cannot have.

We share the secret that anyone in the kingdom of the enemy is free to defect. The miserable existence they lead now under the oppression and infighting of the enemy can be left behind.  The Kingdom of God is exclusive in so far as it is only for those who will stand with the King.

I serve at and for the pleasure of the King. And by my life or my death, I will advance his kingdom on this battleground called earth.

I don’t do this in my own strength, but in his. For unlike the kingdom of the enemy, who only takes from his denizens, our great King actually puts his life into us. He doesn’t make us hired soldiers. He makes us sons and daughters. He adopts us.

I stand with the King.


Remember the blind guy that Jesus heals, then the disciples ask whether he was blind from his own sin or his parents sin?  Then Jesus says it was neither of those things, but rather that “this happened so the power of God could be seen in him”? Then Jesus heals him. (John 9) And remember Job? How God allows the devil to do anything short of killing him to see whether Job will stay faithful to God in adversity? But instead Job insists that God is righteous and just, despite all that happens to him. Then God blesses Job with twice as much as he had before.

What if the challenges you face are in fact an opportunity for you to give God glory by having faith and trust in him even when there’s no evidence to support your actions? And God wants people to see you trusting in him when it seems stupid to do so, so that when he blesses you, everyone will say that God did it.

Maybe the challenges and trials in your life aren’t about you, but they’re about God. They’re about an opportunity for you to show that God is greater than the troubles we encounter on this earth.

The two men I talked about up top showed faith and trust in God and God honored them. Those events became scripture and have encouraged every believer who ever read them. Maybe God wants to make your life a living testimony to those around you. They may not read the bible, but in your life perhaps they can see it in action.

God deserves our devotion because of who he is. Period. Not because of what he does, but simply by being the God who made the universe and everything in it.  Worship God when logic says not to and see God respond and glorify his name in your life.

Faith and Politics

I started reading ‘Bringing Up Girls’ by James Dobson yesterday, but I stopped after the first few chapters because I was getting annoyed with it. He keeps inserting political opinions into the text. That’s right, in a book about raising daughters, he wants me to hear all about his political leanings. Why do we do that in Christianity? Politicize our faith?

I used to think it was important for Christians to be involved in politics.

Then I became adamantly anti-political party and anti-politician.

I’ve now arrived at the place where the politics of this planet do not matter to me.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t matter to Jesus, either.

The people following him wanted to make him a king, but he wouldn’t let them.  About the multitudes who were starting to follow him, the bible says, “but Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.” (John 2:24-25)

That’s why, when he was entering Jerusalem and everyone is cheering and giving him a regal entrance, Jesus ends up crying for the city. (Luke 19:41) He knew that days later some of the same people shouting ‘Hosanna’ would be shouting ‘Crucify Him!’ (Luke 23:21)

When he had a great crowd, instead of fomenting a political movement, he gave the ‘eat my flesh, drink my blood’ talk and many left him. (John 6:22-66)

When Pilate questioned Jesus about his rule, Jesus said “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Jesus didn’t come to win a seat on the Sanhedrin and enact new legislation. Heck, he didn’t even care about unseating the oppressive Roman government which was occupying Israel.  He commends the faith of a centurion (Matthew 8:10), and even advocates paying taxes to this government oppressing his people!! (Luke 20:25)

I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote or do your civic duty.  I’m just saying I don’t think political activism is what we are called to.  In Galatians 5, where Paul lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit, he talks about the fact that those fruit can never be outlawed.  He’s basically saying that the genuine Christian life is above and beyond earthly rules and regulations.

Some may disagree with me here, and I’m okay with that. I just think when Christians get into the political game, they cannot accomplish what they are called to accomplish.  Getting abortion outlawed won’t change the underlying problems that cause a girl to get pregnant in the first place, and won’t help her be a good mother to her child afterwards.

If the law could save, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus.

We’re called to bring heaven to earth and the way to do that is not through politics and laws.

Okay, I’m done with this soapbox now, if anybody needs to borrow it…


Solomon is one of my favorite characters in the scriptures. 1 Kings 3:12 indicates that he’s probably the wisest man who ever lived (with the exception of Jesus - Luke 11:31).

He wrote deeply and extensively of the very nature of all things. Proverbs, Song of Solomon and (probably) Ecclesiastes were written by him.

And yet, he screwed up.

That’s right. Wisest guy who ever lived, who was divinely given an unequaled amount of discernment, acted stupidly.

It gives me so much peace to know that. I’m no where near as smart as Solomon, but even still, when I do something dumb I’m relieved to know maybe he could have done it, too.

He totally could have locked his keys in the car. Or dropped his phone. Or forgot to return that Redbox DVD before 9pm.

Here’s what Solomon really did: he married a bunch of women that God said not to marry. Those women, over a thousand of them (!!!), led him to worship the idols of their homelands.

Yep. Solomon. Smartest dude ever. Starts worshiping fake gods. For those keeping score, that’s commandment #1. Probably a bad one to break.

So fulfilling God’s will doesn’t mean you have to be the smartest person in the room.

It means being obedient to him.

We learn so much through Solomon’s insights. Yet even with all his insight to the nature of everything, he still deceived himself.

He told himself that he could have all those wives even though God said not to and he would be fine. He was wrong.

It’s the garden of Eden all over again. God says ‘don’t’, but we find a way to believe he probably didn’t really mean it.

I am all for education, all for refining and improving on your brain - a wonderful gift from the Lord. But, like all else, it must remain in its proper place: obedience and service to God.

In the end, Solomon loved women and power more than faithful obedience to the Lord.

His wisdom and intelligence, as great as they were, still weren’t as great as God’s. Solomon decided to make his own path and in the end, it led him to lose the inheritance given to his father, David.

That’s why I like Solomon. He gives me hope. He shows me that even if I became the highest version of myself that could ever exist, I still wouldn’t have any hope without God actively helping me.

That even at my best, I’ll never be able to do it on my own.

I embrace this failure, this short-coming of mine. And that’s the place where I accept Jesus.

God's Timing

“During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”” (2 Samuel 21:1 ) I found this story to be fascinating. First, because it gives some insight to God’s frequently unusual timing (at least from our perspective).

God deals with things when he wants to. Sometimes it’s immediate (as with Joshua and the Israelites at Ai). But sometimes it’s later, even much later.

So God wanted to deal with this thing Saul did. But it’s long after Saul is dead and buried that God brings it up.

We don’t know when in David’s reign this famine occured. It seems quite possible that it was a decade or more after David was first crowned King of Judah.

I don’t have a clue why God waiting so long before dealing with this issue that he clearly found to be of critical importance. And perhaps that’s the point of this story. There is no way we can know why God does what he does, when he does it.

He brings things up when he chooses to, and we must simply be ready to deal with what he sends our way. We make our plans, but he directs our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

The second thing I wonder about this situation is this: Did David only ask God’s input after 3 years had gone by? Or did he ask sooner and have to wait for years for an answer?

From the text, it seems that David delayed asking God until 3 years had gone by.

It makes me wonder if there are situations in my life that God wants to bring about healing or deliverance, but I’m busy trying to endure them.

I had some minor health problem that I had been living with, but recently realized I didn’t have to. So I prayed for healing and God did it. I had some of those situations going on for years.

All the while God was just waiting for me to ask.

In the end, God’s timing is going to remain a mystery to me. My job is to ask and trust. And perhaps most importantly, to listen. Because if I can’t know God’s timing, at least perhaps I can know his purpose

The House Analogy

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis uses an analogy about being a Disciple of Jesus that I have found to be very meaningful lately.

Lewis says that our lives are like a house. Before we invite Jesus into our house, it is a filthy mess. A mess that we really aren’t able to do anything about. The plumbing and electricity don’t work properly, it’s dank and moldy, the whole thing is in a state of disrepair.

But when we invite Jesus in, he starts fixing the things that are broken. He starts cleaning up the place. We are ecstatic! This place that used to be so miserable and depressing is now becoming beautiful and joyful! We are so happy and thankful as Jesus makes the house livable.

Then, once he has finished repairing and cleaning up, we’re ready to enjoy living in the house with Jesus.

And that’s when he pulls out a sledge hammer and starts knocking down a wall. Then he rips the wallpaper off. Next he destroys the deck and starts pouring more foundation in its place so he can work on a new extension.

The thing is, God isn’t a housekeeper. He’s an architect. He’s not here to maintain the little house we’re in. He’s here to create the house he has in mind. And where the new house and the old house are not compatible, the old house has to go.

Early this year, God showed up in my life in a fresh and powerful way. He fixed several things that had worn down and broken. He cleaned the layer of dirt and dust that had covered everything, and I expected that with a clean house, it was time to start fulfilling my purpose.

But instead, he started renovations. I can’t get the party started while all this construction is going on. So I’ve had to wait, because demolition and construction takes time.

It’s easy to be excited when God is cleaning things up and making everything beautiful. It’s harder to keep your eyes on the goal when all the work he’s doing seems to be making a bigger mess.  But that’s what it takes for upgrades to occur.

So please, pardon my dust while God is working on me. Soon, I’ll be ready to fulfill the purpose that I’m being designed for by the ultimate builder.

Saul vs. David

I think I figured out today why Saul ended up being rejected by God while David has an inheritance that will never end, thanks to his lineage leading up to the Messiah. In 1 Samuel 15, the prophet Samuel tells Saul to go to the Amalekites and destroy everything. People, livestock, “everything that belongs to them”.

I know, stuff like this is hard to hear. How could God order babies to be killed? He’s God and we’re not. Just accept that his reasons are good enough for him, so they’ll be good enough for us when we learn them. But back to Saul.

So Saul leads the army there and kills the people, but spares the king and the best of the livestock and “everything that was good.” So they only killed and destroyed what they didn’t want.

When Samuel returns to the camp, Saul speaks first: “God Bless you, Samuel! I did what God said!”

Samuel, not being an idiot, asks Saul why there’s livestock all around.

Saul is quick thinking: “Oh, um, we kept the good stuff. You know, to give it to God! We’re going to sacrifice it to him!”

Samuel has had enough. He tells Saul how he’s going to be rejected as king by God for his disobedience. Now check out Saul’s response:

“But I did obey the LORD…I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal. (v. 20-21)

He’s trying to justify his actions. “I did obey, and in the places where I didn’t obey, it was for a totally good reason!”

Samuel, in his reprimand, says the following: “To obey is better than sacrifice”

Saul then fesses up: ”I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.”

It’s like Samuel was dealing with a child. He throws out excuse after excuse after excuse. In his admission, he even blames ‘the people’. Saul never accepts that it was his fault.

Now, let’s check out David.

The prophet Nathan comes to confront David about his affair with Bathsheba and killing husband Uriah. After telling David the story about the man with one lamb being wronged by the man with flocks of livestock, Nathan lowers the boom on David, telling him “You are the man!”

And here’s David’s response: “I have sinned against the LORD.”

That’s it. No ‘The devil made me do it.’ No ‘But I married her, so it’s all okay now!’ He makes no excuses. He doesn’t argue.

After Nathan leaves, David goes straight home, lays on the ground and fasts and prays for days.

And that’s when David wrote this:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart,

O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:13-17)

David got it. That it was about obeying God and being open before him. That God isn’t out for stuff we can give him or ceremonies we can put on for him. He wants us. Our whole heart and soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Saul didn’t get that. He thought if he gave God enough of the leftovers he would gladly take them. David knew that if he wasn’t putting God first, before everything else, it was meaningless.

In my life, I don’t want to go my own way, then argue that it was all really for God, so he should totally be happy with it. I want to give him my all and go from there.

I want to be like David, whose kingdom and ministry will never end because he made his kingdom and ministry the kingdom and ministry of God himself.

Taking My Cue From Winnie the Pooh

My family watched the new Winnie the Pooh movie on DVD not long ago. Afterwards, my wife and I started talking about how each character is a different kind of crazy:

Pooh is a compulsive eater.

Tigger is ADHD.

Eeyore is clinically depressed.

Piglet has an anxiety disorder.

Rabbit is OCD.

At first, we were like “Why are the characters so insane? Is this even good for our kids?” But we quickly realized this: if all the characters were ‘normal’, it would be the most boring movie of all time.

A bunch of people sitting around chatting amicably about topics they hold in common. Forget the fact my kids wouldn’t sit through that, I’d be demanding a refund for wasting my life.

I think in Christianity, sometimes we’re trying to do exactly that: make everyone into the image of Christianity that seems right to us. How in the heck is God going to tell the story he has with such boring characters?

I used to go to a church where we had some people who I considered to be certifiably insane. But you know what? I remember those people. I remember the wacky stuff they did occasionally. I can’t tell you one story about a guy who I noticed that showed up each week, sat quietly through service and then left. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of men and women who did that.

But the guy who once brought a huge long sword to the Saturday night worship meeting to wave it instead of a flag? I remember him. The guy who showed up one Sunday morning drunk, let his dog loose in the sanctuary and started yelling his dog was Jesus? Yep, I remember that guy.

I’m not saying we should be crazy for the sake of craziness, or that showing up for church drunk is a good idea.

I am saying that stories are only worth telling if they are compelling. Adventures and challenges make life worth living. That’s why ‘accepting Jesus’ isn’t the end of your life. It’s a beginning. With new challenges and adventures.

We all have some area(s) of our life where we’re a little different. Don’t hide it! Jesus talked about cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin, not because of your uniqueness.

The bible doesn’t call us to conform, it calls us to be transformed (Romans 12:2). In other words, break out!

We should not seek to be a bowl of popcorn kernels, each one the same as the next, but rather a bowl of popped popcorn: each one different from the others. There are some similarities, sure, but not identical. Some people like the half popped kernels, some like the ones that have a compressed dome shape, some prefer the ones that exploded the largest.

God is telling a story, and it isn’t a story about how he made everyone act and think the same way.

God is working in my life to bring forward the version of me that he wants to exist. He’s working in your life to bring forth the version of you that he wants. And the fact that we’ll be totally different isn’t a good thing…it’s a great thing.

So be unique, be different, be you. Because the only characters in the story I’m going to remember will be the unique ones.

False Promises

You know, it’s funny. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be his disciples he didn’t say “Come follow me, and it’ll be a cake walk.” (see Matthew 4:19)

But I act like that’s what he said.

I also don’t think he said “Things are going to go really, really smoothly because I’ve overcome the world.” (see John 16:33)

But again, that seems to be my expectation.

I don’t know why I act like my life is supposed to be easy. It’s not. Even the best of us has struggled trying to figure out what God’s will is.

When Peter had the vision of the sheet descending from Heaven, he was like ‘what the heck are you talking about God? I’m not eating any of that stuff!’ (Acts 10)

When Paul wanted to go into Asia, the Holy Spirit blocked him (Acts 16:6) Not to mention when he asked three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh and God said ‘stop asking’ (2 Corinthians 12:6-8)

Jesus himself didn’t want to have to endure the agony of the cross. (Matthew 26:39)

What marks the difference in their lives is simple: obedience. They obeyed God because God is worthy of our obedience. Not because it’s fun. Not necessarily because they understood it, but because our job is to do the will of God.

We must not make up false promises. Or accept them. Any person who essentially turns faith in God into a way to make money, live in luxury and/or avoid any sense of discomfort in our lives must be rejected in the same way Jesus rejected Peters effort to avoid a life of sacrifice: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Matthew 16:23)

Instead of deciding what will make me happy and then demanding or expecting God to give me that, I will learn to take joy from obeying him.

This, I believe, is the dying to myself I am called to by the scriptures. So that I may be made alive in Christ.

In the life he gives, not the life I try to ‘get out of him’.


Forgiveness is one heck of a concept. Somebody does something against you that is wrong, and you make the choice not to hold it against them.

Peter has this on his mind when he approaches Jesus in Matthew 18:21 and says “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

Have I mentioned how much I love Peter?

He’s basically saying ‘I hate to forgive, but I’ll do it the minimum number of times I’m required to do it to keep you happy, Jesus’.

You can just imagine if you did something wrong to Peter, he’d say ‘I forgive you’, then he would pull out a sheet of paper with your name on it and put a big, red “X” in one of the seven boxes under your name. Then he’d look you in the eye with a rock hard stare.

Jesus’ response is ‘seventy times seven’. Now, Jesus isn’t saying 490 times is the limit. He’s using a figure of speech that is equivalent to us saying ‘infinity plus one!’  In other words: don’t stop forgiving.

Now here’s a big question that people have: do I have to forgive somebody who hasn’t apologized/repented?

If you were abused as a kid / had a car stolen and you never found the thief / been lied to by a salesperson that you couldn’t contact, should you forgive them? Or even somebody you know and see all the time - what if they don’t ask for your forgiveness?

I had a professor who was adamant that, biblically speaking, we are under no obligation to offer forgiveness unless we have been asked for it. We are free to offer it, much like Jesus did, but don’t have to.

For a long time I agreed with him. I was willing to forgive instantly if asked to do so, but if you didn’t ask for forgiveness, I didn’t extend it. I felt it would be like casting pearls before swine.

But I’ve realized something lately. Failing to forgive can be harmful to you. Until you let go of your offense, I’m not sure God can heal the wound it caused.

It’s like being stabbed with a knife, then saying ‘I won’t pull this knife out unless you ask me to.’ That’s dumb. Pull it out and let the healing process start.

The important thing about forgiveness is this: until forgiveness is sought, none can be received.

If you forgive somebody who hasn’t asked for it, they won’t accept it. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are beginning to heal. It’s not like you’ve let them off the hook and they’ll just take advantage of your forgiveness to make themselves feel better.

If somebody doesn’t think they need forgiveness, they won’t take it.

Think about Jesus. He offers forgiveness at the cross (Luke 23:34). Is everybody immediately off the hook? No. Not until they repent. Look at Peters’ speech at Pentecost. Telling the people in Jerusalem that they killed the Messiah. And what happens? Their hearts are pierced (Acts 2:37) and they ask what they can do. Peter tells them to repent and turn to God. Why? Because forgiveness has been offered. All they have to do is accept it.

Now listen, the important thing about offering forgiveness is to learn whether it has been accepted before restoring that person to the place where they previously were. If you gave somebody your credit card and they ran it up without your permission, you need to make sure they have really repented before you think about giving it to them. One good test is that if they truly have repented, they’ll start working to pay you back.

If your husband/boyfriend beats you or your kid(s), saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t good enough to let him back in your house.

There will be proof to go along with genuine repentance. The Bible calls this ‘fruit in keeping with repentance.’ (Matthew 3:8) In other words, prove by the way you live that you really have changed.

I tell my daughter all the time to show me she’s sorry with her actions, not just her words. If she says she’s sorry for not listening, but then doesn’t listen to me again 5 minutes later, I have to doubt the sincerity of her apology in the first place. (Now, she’s a child, so she’s learning. I don’t hammer her over this…usually. It’s a gentle teaching process.)

Some may say that this is essentially saying ‘forgive, but don’t forget’. I don’t see it that way. I see it as ‘forgive immediately, restore slowly’.

Forgiving isn’t easy. I’d say it’s one of the hardest things we do in life. Maybe that’s why Jesus made it a little easier by putting a line about it in The Lord’s Prayer: “…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us…” (Matthew 6:12)

Jesus is saying here, ‘even if you don’t want to forgive somebody, do it for yourself’. Unforgiveness in your life will affect you much more than it will affect the person who you’re holding it against.

And in the end, it will make you unforgivable, too.

The Way of the Cross

When God came to strip away my sin, I was glad. Sin only ended up making me miserable, and in the end, I was a slave to it. He freed me. When God came to strip away my selfishness, I reluctantly agreed. I knew it wasn’t a good thing. Focusing on other people is what I’m supposed to do. But this wasn’t fun. It wasn’t as enjoyable as being freed from sin.

When God came to strip away the plans I had made for my own future, I wanted nothing to do with it. I had cobbled together my own hopes and dreams. I had looked at all my possible paths and decided on the ones that would be most fulfilling to me.

God was no longer taking bad things away from me, but good things. Things I wanted, not things I wanted to be rid of.

But this is the way of the cross. God is not a cosmic garbage can, where we only toss the things that we don’t want.

We have been called to surrender everything to him. So that he may remove from us whatever he deems necessary for reasons that may often remain his own (at least initially).

The way of the cross is the opposite of ‘what’s in it for me?’ Rather, it’s ‘what is asked of me?’

This is where I’m trying to incorporate ‘The Path Proverbs’

Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

If I set out to navigate this life based on what I can see, it’s not going to end up where I want. Remember those puzzles in kids books where you have to trace a line as it twists and turns among other lines, almost like a pile of spaghetti? I think life is a lot like that. But this one is so complex and convoluted, only God actually knows which start point gets to which finish.

As I feel like God has been sending me in a different direction that what I would have chosen for myself, I am choosing to trust in him. I trust that if he has me on my current path, it is to keep me away from ending in disaster or disappointment.

I don’t think hopes and dreams and a vision are inherently bad things; I only think they are if they get placed above trusting the Lord and following his lead.

God is the potter I am the clay. How can I get upset about how he is molding me when I don’t know how he will use me? If I think I’m going to be a planter, a handle would be silly. But perhaps God knows I will be a pitcher, and he therefore knows I need a handle.

The way of the cross doesn’t stop at God removing the bad stuff from our life. It only begins there. The way of the cross comes in accepting that God’s will for our life is going to encompass all of who we are. Not just our ‘spiritual life’, but our whole life. Mind, body, spirit, soul, finances, time, focus, etc.

Jesus gives us this example in the garden of Gethsemane - “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39)

He was giving up his life then and there so that he could lay down his life in the hours to follow. It was an extraordinary life, lived in complete and total service to God. Jesus deserved accolades and adoration, not torture and murder. But God’s path led him through Golgotha.

But it didn’t end at Golgotha. It ended in eternal life. Not just for him; but also for you and me. It led to the defeat of sin and death.

From his human perspective, Jesus wanted nothing to do with the path God was leading him on. But in his obedience to God, he followed it and in the end God had led him on the path of life.

Jesus followed the way of the cross. The way of humility. The way of downward mobility.

He calls us to do the same.

The God of Daniel


After God saves Daniel in the lions den, the king of the Persians sent a message to all of his subjects throughout his expansive kingdom: “I decree that everyone throughout my kingdom should tremble with fear before the God of Daniel…” (Daniel 6:26a)

The king looked at the gods he subscribed to, made of wood and gold and silver, and he decided ‘Daniel’s God is better than the gods I worship’.

I know a lot of people who worship themselves, money, power, sex, etc. Shouldn’t they look at me and say ‘his God is better than mine’?

Whenever Daniel got an opportunity to shine in the kingdom of Babylon, he never hesitated to give God all the credit. When Nebuchadnezzar demanded that somebody tell him what dream he had and provide an interpretation, Daniel’s response was “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries…” (Daniel 2:27-28)

He never left any doubt as to where his special abilities came from. And as a result, “The God of Daniel” was exalted and glorified.

Instead of trying to scare people with hell, shouldn’t we be astounding them when we tell them that what he does in our life, he’s willing to do in theirs?

So I ask myself: What do people think of the “God of TC”? Is he mean? Pompous? Insignificant? Or is he kind and life giving and a source of joy? The only way they’ll be able to tell is based on how I act and what I say.

Truly, we are ambassadors of our God (2 Corinthians 5:20). And everything that people know about our kingdom and its leader, they learn from us.

Dying and Christianity

Jesus gives us some tough things to wrestle with sometimes. You want to be first? Make yourself last. (Matthew 20:16)

You want to lead? Start serving. (Mark 10:43)

You want to live? Learn how to die. (Luke 17:33)

I think the main message Jesus gives us in these teachings is that the Kingdom of Heaven, in many ways, functions the opposite of how this world is organized. Makes sense, seeing as how the person currently in charge of this world is the devil. (Ephesians 2:2; John 12:31)

I started wondering how I could tell whether I had died.

Then I recalled what Jesus says in John 12:24: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.”

The way you can tell if a seed has died is this: there’s a ton of life growing where it used to be. Ever see a field of crops? Full of life, flowing with the wind, reaching high for the sunlight? Well that’s a field where seeds died.

The defining attribute of death in Christianity is the abundance of life.

Remember John 10:10 where Jesus says “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”? Well, look at the life the Holy Spirit has brought to the world. It’s there because Jesus died.

So I think that the way to tell if a Christian has died to themselves is when you see “life more abundant” in the place where it used to be just them. Is the Holy Spirit bringing joy and peace and love and patience? That’s because the anger and depression and hate and frustration that used to be all you had is gone. Because the old you died.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:43, talks about being planted in weakness, but raised in power. He’s talking about our current bodies versus our resurrection bodies, but I think it also applies to when we leave behind our carnal lives and instead allow the Holy Spirit to flow in us and through us.

Jesus, in his death, assured the defeat of Satan. In mine, I can be a part of his Kingdom expansion. Where there was once just me, soon there will be an abundance of life.

God the Artist

I think God is the ultimate artist. An artist works with material to express themselves. They may use paint or clay or music or a million other things. But what they are all attempting to do is take something within themselves and express it to others through a medium.

An artist is the opposite of a manufacturer. A manufacturer wants to make the same thing, over and over again with as little variance as possible. A manufacturer is out for profit, not self expression.

Making lots of the same thing is easier, faster and cheaper than making each item an original, unique piece.

Sometimes, manufacturers even try to reproduce a unique item. For instance, “Portrait of Dr. Gachet”, painted by Van Gogh sold in 1990 for $82.5 million. But you can buy a duplicate for as little as $140.00 at You can buy as many as you want. They can make more anytime they need to.

God is not in the business of manufacturing Christians.

He is in the business of uniquely crafting sons and daughters.

If God is a painter, I actually think that he only paints one thing: a self portrait. But each one looks a little different. Some are modernist, some are impressionist, some are abstract; some are oil, others pastel and on and on and on.

If you put them next to each other, they’d initially look very different from one to another. But each one, if you watch as he paints, shares the same theme. It begins to look more and more like Jesus.

Some paintings are early on and you can barely see any similarities. Others, he has been working on for some time and they are nearly done. You can totally pick out aspects of Jesus in those paintings.

But by looking at only one piece, we wouldn’t know very much about the artist. By looking at just ourselves, we can’t see much of God’s work. It’s when we look at many different pieces that we start to know his handiwork.

We may like some of God’s paintings and not like others, but God loves them all. The main point in his art is the message, not the material he is using. As we spend our time wandering in his gallery, we get more familiar with his message and less caught up in his varying mediums.

Maybe at first the only thing we’ll see is how different every piece is. Maybe his only tenancy is to be completely unpredictable. But as we look and examine other pieces, I think we will start to see the common thread across the various styles and materials. That each piece has a little of himself in it.

God is an artist, not a manufacturer. And in you, he’s making another beautiful, unique self portrait of himself.

Bumping Into Jesus

In Luke 8, we read about the the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years without stop. You know the story: Jesus is walking among a huge crowd on the way to help a synagogue leader with his ill daughter. In the midst of all the jostling and bumping this crowd is causing, Jesus stops cold and says ‘Somebody touched me’.

The disciples must have been wondering if Jesus was joking. Imagine you are leaving a huge sports event through a narrow gate, squeezing yourself through the crowd, almost being smooshed, then suddenly shouting “Hey - who just touched me?”

The disciples are like ‘Um, Jesus, it’s kinda crowded.”

But then Jesus says this: ”Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” (Luke 8:46)

This is amazing to me. I have no doubt that every person in that crowd has something going on in their life, some issue where they could really use the power of God. Why else would they be swarming him unless they had needs which needed to be met?

But the people who inadvertently bumped into Jesus didn’t receive a blessing from him. It was the woman who, out of faith, touched Jesus with a purpose in mind.

In Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell discusses Malachi 4:2: “…the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings…” He points out that the ‘wings’ discussed here are the tassels at the end of a prayer shawl.

This woman didn’t happen to touch the edges of Jesus’ robe. She knew exactly what she was doing. She had a specific purpose in what she was doing. Her touching Jesus wasn’t on accident and it wasn’t haphazard. She set her sights on the edge of his robe because she believed he was Messiah.

I see people who go to church on Sunday, but who don’t actually follow God as being people who are bumping into Jesus. Every Sunday for a couple hours, they’re like ‘hey! Jesus! How have you been? Nice to see you! Well you take it easy for the rest of the week now, you hear?’

You don’t get anything out of accidentally bumping into Jesus.

But when you reach for him with purpose and with all your mind, strength, spirit and soul; you’re going to receive the blessing of his presence in your life. Notice that Jesus doesn’t bestow a blessing on her. It happens automatically due to her faith.

Let us in the Christian community stop being part of the mob that’s kind of going around spectating what Jesus does, occasionally bumping into him, and let’s instead set our target on connecting with him and receiving the healing and blessing he wants us to have.

Stop bumping into Jesus and start grabbing hold of him, even if it’s just the strands of clothing at the very fringe of his presence.