10 Martin Luther King Jr Quotes To Challenge and Inspire Your Faith

1. We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability. Our goal as Christ followers is....wait for it....to follow Christ. There is no other scorecard which should guide our lives - not money or popularity or anything other than whether we are being faithful to what God has called us to do.  Jesus told us that if we gain the whole world and lose our soul in the process, we've missed the point entirely. He also told us that following him is not a good way to arrive at popularity.

2. The hardhearted person lacks the capacity for genuine compassion...He gives dollar to a worthwhile charity, but he gives not of his spirit.

In Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton argues that the last thing we should give to a charity is money. Prayer and volunteer hours require a much greater investment, and will therefore impact both us and those who we serve to a greater degree. We are never called to outsource our love for people to others. Giving money without giving of ourselves smacks of Paul's warning that undertaking the noblest of actions without love simply doesn't fulfill the call of the Gospel in our lives.

New Book Available!

Lent CoverMy Lent devotional, A Reason To Hope, has been released on Amazon. You can purchase it now in paperback or kindle versions.

Lent starts February 10th in 2016.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need seasons like Lent where we refocus and make temporary sacrifice, but this world is far from perfect, and I am a work in progress.

The book uses scripture, reflection and practical application to guide you in a season of growing closer to Jesus.

If you and/or your church or church group is looking for a resource to provide some structure to the seasons of Lent without any particular denominational affiliate, I hope you'll consider this casually voiced, artistically crafted book!

If you want to get a preview of the look and feel of the inside of the book, head to the Books Available page of my blog.

Thanks for your engagement and support!


How To Deal With Worry In Your Life

(Note: a version of this article originally appeared on relevantmagazine.com.) worry_lgA couple weeks ago, I started having trouble sleeping. Normally, I don’t struggle with getting to sleep, but I’ve got a lot going on right now.

I have a big project deadline coming up at work, my daughter (who has special needs) is starting school again next week with a new aide, and I have a friend who was rushed to shock trauma the other day with a serious medical issue, These are just a few of the topics that weigh on me as I try unsuccessfully to drift into unconsciousness.

I just lay there with those pieces of uncertainty or unfinished business angrily glowing on the checklist of my mind.

Tape recorders of potential upcoming conversations keep playing and rewinding over and over and over again as I’m planning how to deal with existing problems; then trying to figure out what unforeseen problems are coming my way, waiting to burst all over me like a dam.

Somewhere in there, I remember Jesus saying not to worry about tomorrow.

But wasn’t Jesus worried in the Garden of Gethsemane as he literally sweat blood and asked the father to remove the cup of suffering from which Jesus was about to have to drink deeply?

So how is this whole ‘don’t worry’ thing supposed to look in my life?

Should I not be trying to foresee issues and how to resolve them?

What’s the line between ‘not worrying’ and ‘being naive and unprepared for life’?

Trusting in God’s Strength

In Philippians 4, Paul says that he has learned the secret of living whether he has plenty or is in need, and that secret was that he could do all things because of the strength that God gives.

So to Paul, not worrying means we live in confidence of God’s strength.

Worry therefore, is the opposite: it is when we live without confidence in God’s strength.

Because if I were to vocalize my worry, it would probably sound like this, “When I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t have much control over the outcome, and I’m not comfortable with that arrangement.”

That’s a lot different than Paul’s approach which didn’t depend on the situation, but in the unchanging nature and character of God.

Trust vs. Control

Trusting in God doesn’t mean we have to love the situations we find ourselves in. Jesus clearly didn’t love the day of agony and abandonment he was facing.

Paul wasn’t hoping to endure more shipwrecks and stonings.

I don’t want my car to break down, or for my daughter to have a hard time at school; but the question I ask is whether those things loom larger in my mind than God’s goodness and his sovereignty (that is, the fact that he is in control and that he cares about me).

Because if my issues and problems are bigger than God in my own eyes, they will have a bigger influence in my life than God does; and that is what noted and respected biblical scholars like to refer to as ‘a bad idea’.

There’s nothing wrong with making plans and preparations, but if we ignore the nature of God (all powerful, all knowing, all present), how much good can our plans really do?

This doesn’t mean we should run to the opposite approach, embodied by the ancient Stoics who believed that you could only find peace once you accepted that the universe was giving you the best possible outcomes and you obtained peace by accepting everything without question.

We serve a God that has invited us in to his plans of making all things new. He says we have a part to play in that process. Rather than accepting everything the way it is, we can push back against injustice and heartache in our world.

But in the midst of all this, how do we incorporate trust in God’s strength into our everyday lives?

I love to look for ways to make the scriptures practically applicable in my life. When I’m facing worry, I think Paul lobs us a softball in Philippians 4:6-7 (the same chapter where he talks about having the secret to contentment):

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I like to boil this down to a pseudo mathematical formula:

Pray + Thank = Peace.

  • Pray

This is definitely not about telling God what you want him to do. This is about remembering his nature and character.

Look at Jesus praying in Gethsemane. His prayer wasn’t even about uncertainty. Most of us would probably agree that Jesus knew everything that was coming his way when he was praying in Gethsemane. His prayer was about asking God for strength.

Prayer may not result in God ‘fixing your situation’ the way you would demand from a genie, but he gives us promises that will strengthen us as we seek his will both in and through our lives.

  • Thank

If you’re following Jesus, I’m guessing you have a story or two about instances where things seemed pretty hopeless, but in the end they worked out.

Maybe that’s part of your salvation experience.

Hopefully you have another story or two of times you cried out to God and he responded. Remind yourself of those stories.

God is not a mean kid with a magnifying glass on an anthill. You are not foolish to trust him.

In addition to loving you, God has invested a great deal into you - he’s not going to kick you to the curb.

Thank him for what he’s done, and choose to exercise faith by thanking him in advance for what he will do.

  • Peace

Usually, my worry is directly linked to my ability to comprehend the ‘master plan’. I say stuff like, “I’m willing to trust God, I just want to know what he’s up to.”

Jesus says that his peace goes beyond all understanding, so our ability to ‘stop worrying’ isn't linked to our ability to figure stuff out.

In fact, our uncertainty about the future is a chance to trust God.

God is faithful to us even (especially?) when we don’t deserve it.

So in the times when I don’t get why God is allowing something in my life - I didn’t get into the school of my choice, or I didn’t get hired into a place that I think would have been perfect - it’s an opportunity to reflect some of that faithfulness to God.

  • Remember who is in control

Dr. Henry Cloud, in the Boundaries books series, teaches us that we do not control other people. We may also not have very much control over situations that we have to face, but we are ridiculously in control of ourselves.

Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs in Love and Respect, says it this way: “Your response is your responsibility.”

You can’t decide whether your identity is going to be stolen, or if you will contract a disease, or if your computer suddenly stops working.

You can take steps to lower your risk, sure, but guarantee that they won’t happen? No chance.

But what you are 100% in charge of is how you will respond to the risk.

I think this is what Jesus is talking about in Luke 12 when he challenges us by asking, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”

I take him to say, ‘Trust God in the stuff that you have no control over’.

Maybe this last thought will put you at ease - stop worrying whether bad things will happen, because they will. Jesus promised that in this world, we would have trouble. So instead of worrying about if or when or what, spend your time becoming the kind of person who responds in healthy ways to the challenges of this life.

Make plans, create strategies for life, but in the midst of it all, draw strength from your trust in God no matter what comes your way. Pray, give thanks, and be at peace.

Making Faith Practical eBook Now Available!

Beatitudes v3 I have released a new eBook about making faith practical!

You can purchase and download it on Amazon.

In it, I take what Jesus says in Matthew 5:3-10, commonly called The Beatitudes, and explore ways we can incorporate these truths into our daily lives.

I mean, who really prays to be poor or persecuted? So how do we incorporate these ideas into our lives to receive the blessing which Jesus promises will accompany them?

I hope you enjoy it and find it useful in your everyday journey of following Jesus!

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,

   for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

God blesses those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are humble,

   for they will inherit the whole earth.

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,

   for they will be satisfied.

God blesses those who are merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure,

   for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace,

   for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,

for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-10)

Why Isn't My Life Easier When I Follow Jesus?

Labor_8Why isn't life easier? I follow Jesus. I try to be kind to others, I read my bible regularly, I give to my church and charity, yet I often feel like life is a boxing match where I'm in the 12th round against a heavy weight.

Doesn't God...I don't know...kind of...owe me? At least a little?

I mean listen, I know Jesus went to the cross for me and I can never pay him back for that. I get that and I'm so grateful. But shouldn't I get to avoid some of the issues other people deal with because I'm on board with what God asks me to do?

Have you ever thought something like this?  Even if I say that God doesn't owe me one, I often act like it when something less than perfect happens in my life.

I know that Jesus said in this world we will have troubles, but shouldn't that just be stuff like, occasionally somebody tells me I'm dumb for believing in Jesus? Something manageable, something that doesn't really hurt.

I've been a pastor at a mid-sized church for the last 3 years and we've had tons of people dealing with illness and financial problems and addictions and everything else you can name. We've lost several people to cancer in my time. I've had to do a funeral for a 2 day old baby.

That's just the difficulties I hear about. I also have challenges in my own life that just make life hard. My wife and I are still dealing with the financial fallout from the failure of a business we believe God told us to buy several years ago. Having a child with special needs is a never ending battle in numerous ways.

My wife and I occasionally talk about whether we'll ever get to a point where life isn't just so dang hard.

Shouldn't we get off better than the rest of society because we're working to be obedient to Jesus? Shouldn't the abundant life Jesus talks about in John 10:10 be a little more cushy?

I've prayed about this as I really explored the depth of my self centeredness (it was ugly) and I feel like there's 2 reasons why this completely selfish disposition of mine is off base:

First, God is looking for faith.

Listen, if everybody who decided to follow Jesus got a Cadillac, lost 30 pounds and found their dream job, who wouldn't follow Jesus? And how would it be possible for anyone to be a genuine disciple of the man who told us to pick up our cross and follow him?

I don't know about you, but when everything is going well, I actually have the hardest time getting closer to Jesus.

I feel like he occasionally allows my life you involve some chaos so help me remain engaged in discipleship - the process of getting closer to him.

The abundant life Jesus is referring to involves so much more than money and possessions. It's about a life of more meaning. It may not always show up on a bank statement.

Are we willing to trust God to bless us, even when it's not in the manner we would request?

Or, are we only in this thing for what we can get out of it? The scriptures repeatedly affirm that we are called to patiently have faith in the face of doubt or unfulfillment. (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10, Matthew 25:1-13)

Will we trust that God will fulfill his promises to us when all the evidence we see points to the contrary? The word for that is 'faith'.

Second, there is an enemy at work

In Matthew 13:24-30, there's a story called 'The Parable of the Tares'. You can read the whole thing for yourself, but the summary is that Jesus tells of a farmer (representing God) that plants his fields with good seed.

In the night, an enemy plants weeds among the crops.

By the time the farm workers figured it out, they couldn't do anything about it. Pulling up the weeds would damage the crops, so the farmer tells them to let the weeds grow. At harvest time, they will separate the weeds from the crops.

In Strength To Love, Martin Luther King Jr. breaks down this story.

King notes that Jesus never disputes the reality of evil. He does not say that the weeds were an illusion or a state of mind. He says that the weeds - evil - is real.

The other thing Jesus tells us is that God is going to deal with evil once and for all at the time of the harvest.

In the meantime, Jesus calls the satan 'the ruler of this world' (John 12:31).

The kingdom of God is here, and it is yet to fully arrive. We can not expect a world which is not paradise to treat us as though it were.


When I keep these truths in mind - that God is looking for faith and that there is an enemy at work, it helps me approach life more prepared.

There's a big difference to preparing for a beach trip versus preparing to run a Tough Mudder.

God has promised abundant life and he's going to deliver it. It's a promise that I believe in, so I'm willing to put everything I've got into putting myself in a position to receive it.

9 Ways to Get Out of A Spiritual Rut

03b3ba2There's this quirky story in the gospel of John: There's a pool called Bethesda, and around this pool, invalids and people with various illnesses would wait for the waters to suddenly be stirred. The belief was that the first person into the pool after the water stirred would be healed. It's not clear in the story whether it actually worked - if anybody got healed by this method, but what is clear is this: that when the water was still, nothing happened.

When everything is stagnant in our lives, we will most likely not see any motion. Occasionally, we need to change our routine, change our 'normal' so that we get different results.

To paraphrase Einstein, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.

With that in mind, here are 10 ideas for shaking things up in your faith to get something better than 'the usual':

1. Join a group at church.

This isn't just about making yourself busy. The point here is to learn about other people's story of faith. When you're not sure what God is doing in your life, listen to what he's doing in other people's lives. Joining a small group or a volunteer team is a way to connect with others and be able to learn what God is doing in their lives.

Image-12. Take a road trip

Get out of your normal surrounds. Take a day trip or an overnight trip. If you want, make it a silent retreat. Turn down the volume of your life in order to hear the quiet whispers that may already be there.

3. Read a book that challenges your faith.

If you don't know of any books, let me make a few recommendations: Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber // Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle // Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller // The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel

Or, ask your friends about books that have inspired them.

4. Take a leader at your church out to lunch.

Ask his or her perspective on a biblical/theological/faith-centric topic that you've given consideration to. Ask them how they get out of a spiritual funk. Ask them ways you could contribute to your community of faith. Ask them anything, just so long as you get to hear a different perspective.

5. Download an app to memorize some scriptures

In multiple places, God talks about wanting his words to be in our hearts. Getting them in our head is a great first step.

volunteer16. Find a non-profit where you can volunteer and serve a group of people you usually ignore.

Doing something you don't feel fully able to do is a great way to increase your reliance of God, which can certainly lead to a refreshed relationship. Kind of like the whole 'step out of the boat' thing Peter went through. I bet that changed his view of Jesus a bit.

7. Fast

This is going to sound sappy, but I mean it genuinely: if you want to experience hunger in part of your life (spiritually), it helps to experience it in another part of your life (physically). When I'm fasting and the hunger pangs start, I say 'God, my body is hungry for food, but I want to be hungry for you'. It sounds stupid, but it really does help you start to transfer that desire.

8. Read the Same Bible book over and over again.

If you're reading the Bible day after day and getting nothing out of it, try picking a shorter book, like 1 John, and read it everyday for a month. You'll start seeing what you're reading everywhere you look.

9. Start a journal

I used to be terrible at journaling. It started on day one with a list of my prayer requests and by day three it was the same prayer requests and I stopped. I could see no point or benefit. So instead of writing a prayer journal or a spiritual journey journal, I started a tumblr where I just wrote about books I read, and observations I made, and things I thought God may be showing me. I wrote every weekday for a year and it changed my life.

These are just a few ideas to get you jump started. They're all about the same basic two ideas: get a different perspective or do something that makes you a little uncomfortable.

Do you have other ways you've gotten yourself out of a rut? Please comment and share!

White Washed Saints

6063940161_78a5fc93c8_b"Don't call me a saint," Dorothy Day once told an admirer, "I don't want to be dismissed so easily." We love saints and heroes. We have Presidents Day and Martin Luther King's birthday. We used to have Columbus Day. We celebrate Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. We build statues to star athletes and war heros.

Generally speaking, we love the dead ones most. The reason being that once they are dead, we can choose to remember them as we wish without the pesky reminders of who they actually are -- which living people tend to provide.

George Washington cannot tell a lie in our nation consciousness, though the story is apocryphal and an admitted fabrication.

Lincoln never has to deal with bouts of severe depression in the car sale commercials we run in his honor.

Mother Teresa said in the midst of her ministry she had not heard God speak to her for decades.

Martin Luther King's womanizing is quickly pushed behind the curtain as we put him on a pedestal.

I think that King may be the best example of the misguided but not malicious makeover that we give our dead heroes. MLK was a genius. If you've never read his letter from a Birmingham jail or his books, or even watched the movie Selma, you're missing out.

Having just read his book, Strength to Love, I believe that if MLK was alive today, he would be speaking out about the evil of war. Any and all wars.

If, after 9/11, he were to speak to our nation and caution us against replying to violence with violence, we would have turned on him quite viciously. But because he is dead, his blind patriotism is unquestioned. In fact, he was becoming a thorn in the side of the government when he turned against the Vietnam war prior to his assassination.

Indeed in Strength to Love, King says this: "There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminates even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good."

Would our love for King be so great if he continued to force us to face questions about our behaviour as a country? His agitation for civil rights is viewed highly through the lens of modern history. If he was alive to speak against other injustices that still exist, we may not be so quick to praise him.

Would King be closer in national opinion to Al Sharpton rather than how we celebrate him today?

Heros and saints are great. They are important. By their examples, they call us to think bigger and to give ourselves fully to a cause greater than ourselves. But when we ignore their problems and failings, it actually hurts us.

We think, "I'm not perfect like s/he is, so I shouldn't try to do what s/he did." Our heroes and saints lived in a broken and corrupt world, just like we do. They had to deal with the same crap that comes toward all of us. Sometimes, they didn't handle it well.

That gives me great reassurance. God can do great things through people who are sometimes as flawed as me. We live in an era where we crave the humanity of our heroes.

Watch the latest Superman and Batman movies to see that we no longer want paragons of virtue who are untested by emotion and character flaws. I hope we can continue to apply that lens to the real heroes of our current and past world and not just our fictional ideas.

History and the Next Great Decision

history-booksDo you ever wonder how you would have reacted if you lived during different eras in history? What I mean is this:

Had I lived in the civil rights era in this country, would I have had the courage and understanding to stand with those who were fighting for equal treatment?

If I had lived in Germany during the 40s, would I have hidden Jews from those seeking to kill them?

Would I have criticized Abraham Lincoln when he led the process of introducing the Emancipation Proclamation?

Had I been alive at the time, would I have joined the crowd shouting ‘crucify him’ before Pontius Pilot?

Silly as it may seem, these questions scare me.

Mostly, because I know how imperfect I am. I worry that in the midst of these situations, I could have come to the wrong conclusions through arrogance and selfishness.

And when I talk about the wrong conclusion, I don't just mean the one that lost. We all know that history is written by the victors.

What happened to the Armenians in Turkey was wrong. Dropping nuclear weapons on civilian populations was wrong.

Obviously, I'll never know the answer to these questions. But it makes me look for the people groups and issues in our day that need people to stand up and courageously speak out.

Where are the issues that I need to apply the values gained from studying the scriptures and work for what is right?

There's many issues we argue over today: gun rights, universal health care, gay marriage, minimum wage, etc.

How can I be sure that I am pushing on the side 'of the angels' as the phrase goes?

I believe it comes down to a simply concept - that I must always chose the side of love.

I love this quote by Napoleon:

“Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded his empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for him.”

Love is willing to give and sacrifice whereas force is willing to kill and take.

Where can I pour out my time, and energy and resources and efforts and possible my life for a cause greater than myself?

I believe this question will lead us to the places where we can work for redemptive and creative causes.

Humanizing Monsters

human_fragility_by_djoeI'm reading a book called Radical by Maajid Nawaz. He grew up in the UK to a Pakistani family and became an Islamic Radical, but eventually came to disagree with the viewpoints he once embraced. He said one of the things he had to do in his journey back from a place of great hate was to learn to humanize everyone, even (especially?) those who dehumanize others. He describes how he went from celebrating 9/11 to mourning the London attacks in 2005.

As I read about what happened in Charleston, my reaction is to want to dehumanize the man who murdered 9 people in Emanuel AME Church.

He's a monster. Or a demon. Or something else that allows me to pretend that he's not a fellow human.

But that's not true.

He was born. He has a mother and a father. He eats. He drinks. He breathes. His heart beats.

He's human. And if I take the narrative of the bible to be true, he's a fellow child of God. Loved by God.

I want to be very clear: I'm not supporting or accepting of what he did.

As I read that he spent an hour sitting in a worship service with these people before murdering them, I can't fathom how after that time, he pulled out a gun and started shooting them.

I remember that at Columbine, in the original modern day mass shooting, crosses were erected for all the victims. Someone erected two smaller crosses for the shooters, which were angrily torn down. It's painful to recognize that someone who has caused so much harm may also deserve some measure of compassion.

We like to live in a binary, black and white world. Someone is 'good' or 'bad'. But life isn't so cut and dried. Someone can be guilty of terrible things and still deserve compassion.

The Colorado movie shooter suffered from mental illness. Instead of having to choose whether this affects his guilt or innocence as the legal system must do, can I not see it as a place where I should have compassion?

I'm not seeking to humanize the Charleston shooter because he deserves it or because I am ignoring what he did.

I'm seeking to humanize him because it's true.

It is also the only way we can hope to stem the tide of shootings at schools and malls and workplaces and houses of worship.

Because if these actions are the work of monsters and demons, I am powerless to stop them. I can only shake my head and feel sad that such beings cannot be stopped.

But if I'm dealing with humans, I can have hope. Hope that messages of love and acceptance and peace can be heard.

When I see an Islamic Radical come to the conclusion that 'an eye for an eye' simply doesn't work; and when I learn about the US Civil Rights movement through a film like Selma, I see clearly that only when we treat our adversaries as humans - no matter how flawed - can we hope to prevail in our cause.

In this case, the cause is that all humans are valuable. All people need dignity and acceptance.

That doesn't mean approval of all their actions, but that leads us into conflict resolution, which is not the point of this post.

So as you continue to hear about Charleston, mourn with those who mourn. These were also fellow humans who were killed.

I'm so saddened to hear of the death of my brothers and sisters in Christ. But I also have hope in a God of resurrection who says that He has the final word.

So in the meantime, I will hope that the shooter may get a glimpse of the loving God worshiped at Emanuel AME.

Because every human needs to know that God loves us, even as we must accept consequences for our actions.

The End of the World (As We Know It)

10f0039If I were to ask you if things are going to get better or worse, what would you say? Perhaps you would ask me for some context, or at least a time frame.

One year from today, do you think your life will be better or worse?

What about 5 years? What about 30 years?

What if we think about more than your life. Will the world at large be better or worse off in a year? A hundred years? A Millenium?

I was in a discussion recently with some local community leaders and one of them made the observation that almost all movies/shows about the future have a negative outlook. Post apocalypse type stuff. The remake of Mad Max is currently on top of the box office as I write this post.

Shows like Last Man on Earth and the 100 are popular.

The theme is similar. In the future, things have gone terribly wrong (one way or another) and now human civilization lives in this Hobbsian reality where survival is the only real goal for people who are fighting to exist.

But here's the thing: there are other indicators that show we don't really believe that.

When a school or mall shooting occurs, we are still shocked and dismayed. If we believed that this world was inevitably heading for hell in a handbasket, we should simply shrug our shoulder and say, "Oh well. That's all we can expect."

Instead, we want answers on how to avoid these occurrences the next time. We turn to our political systems and seek answers and leadership. We want to make sure it will never happen again.

This is where I feel that we have cognitive dissonance.

We think that in the long term, things are going to go badly; but at the same time, we think in the short term, things can/should get better.

I believe we need to pick one or the other.

Either 'things can get better', or 'abandon hope all you who enter here'.

In the past, I think the church has taken the latter stance. The sales pitch has been, "This world is awful, but one day we'll get to heaven and it'll be okay". I'll Fly Away is a hymn that reflects this kind of escapism mentality. This world is the Titanic and my only goal should be to get off of it.

When I started to read N.T. Wright a number of years ago (specifically, Surprised by Hope), I discovered that I didn't need to choose the path of negative eschatology.

God is recreating this world. Revelation 21 points to a day that the heavens and earth are renewed and they exist in harmony with one another.

This tells us that what we do in this life makes a difference. It prepares the arrival of the kingdom. God is conducting train, and he has invited us to lay down the tracks for his arrival.

We can make things better now by praying the prayer in Matthew 6:10, "Your kingdom come, Your will be done" and then bringing our actions into line with our prayer.

And we know the end of the story. It is one of hope and redemption and renewal.

All the wrongs are set to rights.

No more tears or pain or death.

Now that's a future I can get behind. That's a future that lets me look at tragedy today and say, 'No. I will not stand idly by and allow this.'

That's a future which gives value to working for peace today.

If that's the end of the world as we know it, then I really can feel fine.

Justice: Freddie Gray and the City of Baltimore

bal-baltimore-sun-coverage-of-freddie-grayI live in Baltimore County, just a few miles south of the city that is currently in the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray, who died while he was in police custody a little over 2 weeks ago. Initially there were protests, but then some people have used what happened as an excuse for violence. The family of Freddie Gray has asked that the violence stop because it does not honor the man whom they loved.

It seems like we have seen this movie several times recently.

Violence leads to more violence.

Pleas for peace emanate from community and government leaders.

Most everyone just wants everything to go back to normal.

But normal means we go back to not being able to have a conversation when something goes wrong, like it did on April 12th.

We have been trained by political campaigns and cable news not to listen to one another, but rather to shout over one another.

When somebody attacks you, you must return it upon them ten fold.

The 'other side' is not just wrong, but also stupid and evil.

Respect, compassion and understanding are signs of weakness. If you're right, you should have the power of conviction that would make it impossible to demonstrate these traits.

Justice, we have been taught, is something you must demand, and if it is not offered, it must be taken.

But even if we are pure in our intentions to seek justice, we are wholly unable to achieve it.

Does that surprise you? What I just said? Let me explain why I believe that:

Jesus said "God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied." (Matthew 5:6)

Do you notice here that justice is not linked with our own action? The implication we get from Jesus is that God will give justice to those who have longed for it.

It does not say be "justice makers", as in verse 9 where Jesus tells us to be peace makers.

It says we should hunger and thirst for it.

Why is God alone able to provide justice? Very simply because we don't know what is just.

How should the police officers who handled Freddie Gray be responded to? Should they be be punished? Fired? Prosecuted? Imprisoned? What was in their hearts at the moment of the incident? We don't know.

And what of the police officers who have been injured by people who are looting and attempting to riot? If their actions were not just (and they certainly seem not to be), then what response should they receive? What does justice demand for them? We will again run into the problem of every person creating their own answer.

So what we end up with instead of justice is retribution.

We will demand punishment for those who have acted wrongly. Those who cry out that the punishment is too light, will say that the punishment is unjust.

If we give the harshest penalty possible, wouldn't those on the other end of the spectrum likewise scream that the punishment was unjustly harsh?

Both sides will appeal to justice for completely different results.

We cannot give justice. Only God can. And that is why he calls us to hunger and thirst for it.

What can we do in the meantime, while we are awaiting God to set all the wrongs to right, to restore this fallen and broken world?

I would suggest we look at verse 9 where Jesus gives us an action step. "God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God."

We can work for peace as we await justice.

Peacemaking, as we already saw why, is not simply getting things 'back to normal'.

Peacemaking is much, much more difficult. It will involve seeking to work on the issues that cause such outbreaks. Why does violence so often occur in our cities? Why is there an undercurrent of frustration that can lead to civil unrest?

This seems like a daunting task. Baltimore is a large city and I am but one person. How can I work for peace?

Perhaps your level of peace making starts with stopping. With not 'picking a side' and using your words on social media to bash the 'other side'.

Perhaps it can start with choosing to pray for everyone involved and not for the people who you prefer.

Perhaps after the unrest has settled, as it eventually will, it will start with reaching out to organizations or missions in areas where there is no peace to invest some time, energy and/or money into the process of peace.

Black lives matter and blue lives matter.

All lives matter to God, and they should matter to us as a result.

So let us hunger and thirst for justice. Let us trust that God will set the wrongs to right. In the meantime, let us work for peace.


(If you are interested in reading some excellent material about this topic, I recommend No Future Without Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu, Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright, and Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf)

Socrates and the Tough Mudder

picture-5173-1400881038There's an old story that goes something like this: A rich guy goes on a trip. Before he leaves, he calls his household employees together and gave them a task. Each of them got some money to manage for the boss while he was away.

- one got $3,000,000

- another got $1,200,000

- the third one got $600,000

The boss was gone for quite a while. When he came back, he called his three employees in to evaluate their performance.

The first guy had invested it well, and had been able to double the portfolio to 6 million bucks. The boss is thrilled, saying "Great job! My benefit will also be your benefit...I'm going to share the profits with you!"

The second guy also has good news - he doubled his portfolio as well. The boss tells him the same thing - that he's really pleased and that the employee is going to get a reward for his performance.

When the last guy speaks, it's quickly apparent that they didn't go 3 for 3.

The last guy tells his boss that he didn't do anything with his money. He was worried what would happen if he lost it, or if his boss would need access to it, so he put it in a checking account for the entire time. It didn't earn a dime.

The boss was furious with him.

"Are you kidding me!? You didn't even put it in a savings account or an IRA to earn some interest? If I can't even trust you with that, how can I trust you with anything I actually value?"

He was fired right in that meeting.

The story has multiple truths to explore. The obvious one is to do everything you can with what you have been given, but just below the surface of that is another truth: not everybody gets an equal starting point.

Both of the first two guys doubled their investment, but one of them started with a much bigger amount, so his results were magnified. The boss doesn't explain why one got more than another. It was the bosses prerogative to divide his investment however he wanted.

I went road biking with a friend the other day. I normally mountain bike, but I have a friend who road bikes and we agreed to each try the other style. I road biked with my friend, and he will mountain bike with me sometime later this summer.

When I was performing better than he expected, he complimented me and said that the running and mountain biking I do must have 'something to it'.

I told him about how I will be running a fourth Tough Mudder this year and how my current fitness goal is to complete a half full ironman triathlon next summer.

He had the same reaction that many people do when I talk about it, which is some combination of 'you're crazy' and 'why do you do this'?

My wife has asked me the same thing. Many friends and acquaintances have also asked this. I usually give an answer that goes something like this: I like to find my limits and push past them.

In the midst of the ride, though, something occurred to me. I told him the famous quote by Socrates: "The unexamined life is not worth living." I used to think this applied to philosophical introspection, but it dawned on me that was I applying this to my physical life.

I like to examine my limitations. So that I can push those limitations further out.

And I've done this not only in my physical life, but in my intellectual life as well. I finished a graduate degree and started teaching part time at local universities and colleges. I read books at a reasonable high rate on a wide variety of topics. I'm interested in entering a doctorate program in the next few years.

Spiritually, I threw myself into exploring the nature of God. To the point where I wanted to be involved in growing and strengthening the community of believers known as the Body of Christ. It led me to full time ministry.

I had an epiphany that I'm doing what Socrates said in pretty much every area of my life.

I think that I'm the second guy in that story from above (which you can read in Matthew 25:14-30 if you want the way Jesus told it).

I'm not the smartest guy I know, but I'm a professor. I'm not the fastest or strongest guy I know, but I've completed triathlons. I know better ministers, but I'm part of an amazing community of believers who I get to help lead.

The point I'm making is not that I'm a jack of all trades and a master of none, but rather that I simply wasn't given the 3 million dollars to start with, but that I think I'm doing everything possible with the one million I did get.

Others may have more than I do in their results, but I would bet that most of them started with more than I had to work with.

I think I have gotten pretty good returns on what I was given. And instead of getting frustrated that I didn't get more (with 3 more inches, my baseball career could have gone a lot further), I'm going to get every drop out of what I have to work with.

I didn't want to run races in my 20s because if I couldn't win, I didn't want to compete. I mistakenly thought I should compare myself to what others could do. I knew there would always be somebody faster than I am.

But when I learned to compete against myself, and against the clock, I realized that it was all about maximizing what God has given me.

I'll keep that in mind on June 13th in Virginia when I'm running through tear gas, electric wires and dumpsters full of ice water.

I do this because I want to get the highest rate of return possible out of every part of my life, so that my boss says 'Great job! I'm going to share my profits with you!"


A Weird Way to Save the World

thornsAnd this is one of the most crucial definitions for the whole of Christianity; that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith. ― Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

That the opposite of sin isn't doing good or being good; rather it’s trusting Jesus.

That’s a weird idea.

That when I screw up and do something that’s selfish and hurtful, it doesn’t mean that I need to make myself into a better person; but that I am a person who is in need of a Saviour.

Jesus saves us from all our selfish, destructive ways not by glaring at us and threatening us with what will happen if we don’t start to get our stuff together.

Instead, it seems like he’s always trying to lead us on paths that lead to life rather than paths that end up in us getting the same, normal results everybody else gets in life.

Instead of saying “stop doing that or else”, it seems like Jesus says “stop doing that, because I’ve got a better way”.

Jesus shows us this narrow path by the way he lived his own life. He was the Son of God, yet he didn’t show up demanding to be treated like a king.

There’s a great story in the book written by one of Jesus’ closest followers, John that highlights this:

“Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.” (John 13:3-5)

Jesus knew he had been given authority over everything, and yet here he is, washing the dirty feet of a group of men, one of which was going to betray Jesus.

He didn’t use that authority to dominate or control or bully. He knew he had it, and he chose to serve. That’s definitely weird.

At the end of that story, Jesus tells his disciples “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” (v. 15)

Jesus saved me.

From my sin.

From a life of anger and hopelessness

And ultimately, from death itself.

He saved me by serving and sacrificing. That’s a weird way to save the world, and I’ll never be able to adequately express my gratitude for it.

But I want my life to be a response to his great love.

So I will worship God with my heart as I sing of his great love.

I will worship God with my mind as I think of the things he has done.

I will worship God with my soul as I invite God into the center of all that I am.

And I will worship God with my strength as I go out into my community and my world and share his great love through my actions.

Because if Jesus can bring salvation through serving and sacrifice, then I know I can point to that salvation through doing the same things.

OUTRAGED: a note to people who don't agree with me



Man! Can you believe that thing that just happened? Where that person said that thing!? And then those people responding to that thing said such stupid stuff?? I AM OUTRAGED BY WHAT THOSE PEOPLE SAID!!

EVERYBODY on my facebook is talking about it.

It was about a new piece of legislation.

Actually, I’m pretty sure it was about the Methodist minister who just got defrocked.

Or wait, maybe it was the comments by the Duck Dynasty guy.

No, I’m sorry. It was totally the Chick Fil-a owners comments.

Anyway, it was one of those things, or something similar to that.

I’m trying to tell everybody what they should think, but they don’t seem to be listening to me no matter HOW LOUD I GET ABOUT IT.

I just don’t know what’s wrong with some people.

I mean, screaming at people is just how we’re supposed to deal with issues. That’s how politicians do it through the media. If you watch any TV cable news, they’re going to have multiple talking heads yelling at one another.

Because that’s the only way we can reach resolution: by smashing the other side to bits.

If you show a willingness to actually discuss a topic and validate the fact that other people have value whether you agree with them or not, that shows weakness, and nobody wants to hear what a weak person has to say.

Aristotle was 100% wrong when he said “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” He SHOULD have said “people who don’t agree with me must be BLASTED ON FACEBOOK.”

Meek people never inherit anything.

Peacemakers are compromisers and should be ignored.

Mercy is is the ultimate sign that you don’t have any true convictions.

I know Jesus talks about those things in Matthew 5, but that must be one of those ‘non-literal’ parts of the Bible.

I like the part where Jesus makes a whip and runs a bunch of people out of the temple. I can't remember why he did that, I just like it.

So I’m going to keep arguing and yelling at people until they agree with me. I’ll never stop, because that would be abandoning my principles.

I’m sure you agree with me.

And if you don’t:



Wasting Your Life Away

water1I read something shocking today. I’ve read it before, but today it just really impacted me.

It’s a story about Jesus, a couple days before he is going to be crucified. He and his disciples are hanging out in in the house of a man named Simon the Leper.

Now, I’m betting the disciples are already in kind of a bad mood because Jesus dragged them along to a house where a leper lives. They know leprosy is contagious. They also know its gross. Seeing somebody rotting alive…nobody wants to be around that. But Jesus takes them to dinner at his house.

It’s at this house where a women comes in and pours a container of expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. Whatever Jesus had done for this woman, she decided that in response, she was going to honor and bless Jesus in an extravagant way.

Beautiful, right? This woman probably had a broken life and through interacting with Jesus, she finds hope, healing, joy, acceptance, love. Her response is to say ‘thank you’ in the most beautiful, meaningful way she can think of.

And do you know what the disciples response is to this amazing scene?

They’re indignant, and they ask this question: “Why this waste?” (Matthew 26:8)

Why. This. Waste.

These guys have been following Jesus for years. They’ve seen him do things beyond their wildest imagination. They were picked out of obscurity to be disciples of God’s Messiah, groomed to change the world, yet they have already reached a point where they take Jesus for granted.

Why waste this nice perfume on the guy we hang out with all the time? I mean, come on. It’s just Jesus.


If these guys who are watching Jesus perform miracles on a daily basis can get to a point where he’s just ‘my boss’, what hope do the rest of us have of avoiding this?

I suppose we simply have to be on guard against this. We can’t get to a point where we simply look at time or resources or energy given to God is a waste.

I’m not saying we have to become destitute giving away all our belongings and money to charity. I’m also not saying we need to burn ourselves out by never taking care of our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs while we volunteer at church every night of the week, 365 days a year.

But we must never get to a point where we view the things we give to God as a waste. Like we’re throwing good things into a black hole that will never fill up.

Jesus said he came that our lives would be more abundant. Not easier, necessarily; but more meaningful.

Here’s the next part of this story (I love this part):

The woman doesn’t have to defend herself, or answer for her actions…because Jesus stands up for her.

“Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (v. 10)

Other’s may not appreciate the things we sacrifice to Jesus. They may look at it and call it a waste.

Why are you spending your time helping poor or homeless people? Why are you hanging out at the nursing home? You could be partying every weekend instead? You’re wasting the fun years of your life with that junk.

But Jesus sees it, and values it. He tells his disciples that as a tribute to this woman, the story of what she has done will go everywhere that news of the good news goes.

There’s no such thing as wasting our affections on Jesus. On giving him our most valuable assets. No matter what others think. Even those who are supposed to be the closest to Jesus.