"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

Friday, December 28, 2012

"Milestones" Testimonials

Check out what readers of "Milestones: On the Road Home" are saying:


Motives of the Heart

Crime dramas can shock us, but they can also inform us. I find it interesting that the legal system is so invested in determining motive. In some cases, even when it is known that one person took another's life, the issue of motive can make the difference between a few years imprisonment and the death penalty. Motives are huge.

As Paul continues to weave a rich and varied tapestry in Philippians 2, he cautions the readers regarding their motives:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3

This verse at first might even seem out of place in the otherwise poetically beautiful and positive passage. Paul invested the majority of Chapter 1 expressing his deep affection and appreciation for the church in Philippi. He has started Chapter 2 emphasizing the spiritual benefits of connection with Christ. He has asked the readers to make his joy complete by being united in mind, spirit, and purpose. Now, in this little verse, he does what Scripture is known to do, he shines a light on the thoughts and intentions of the heart. He challenges them to check their motives.

In I Corinthians 13, Paul taught that even the most dramatically supernatural gifts exercised without love, count for nothing, amounting to just so much noise. Even the good things we do need to come from the Holy Spirit within us, not from our own fleshly desires to look good or to gain attention or approval.

Perhaps you know someone who embodies this virtue, especially the part about considering others better than ourselves. I once heard  about a scholar who was invited to a program which he did not know was in his honor as it was a surprise for him. This man was accompanied onto the stage by a colleague. When the crowd burst into applause, the honored man immediately turned and began to applaud the colleague! It never even occurred to him that he was the object of such applause. He assumed the other man was more deserving of honor. I think this is what Paul is talking about. He wants us to focus so on the strength and beauty of the Spirit in each other that we are sincerely honored to share life with one another.

As we exercise our gifts, some people will express their approval. I like the analogy of the donkey at the triumphal entry...what if the colt thought the "hosannas" were for him? Remember the King we serve and,  look for him in one another's eyes. This is our challenge and our blessing. Seek him in the hearts of your brothers and sisters, and you will find him there.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Joyful News

When you think of joy, what comes to mind? Receiving that hard earned diploma? Scoring those winning points? Your wedding day? The birth of a child? Certainly happy feelings overflow for most people on such "joyous occasions." God must be a fan of joy, judging by the fact that "joy" and its derivatives are used almost 250 times in the New Testament (NIV). Differing from happiness, biblical joy is evident even when circumstances do not go the way we had hoped.

The angels announcement to the shepherds (perhaps among the most unlikely recipients of divine revelation at the time) was not a theological treatise on justification and the state of man. Rather it was a declaration of joy, peace, good will, and favor:

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord...Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Luke 2:10-11, 14

The joyous message the heavenly messengers brought from the throne room of God to smelly, asocial men who kept the flocks by night, was this. "I love you. Watch how much." The babe in a manger was more than a lovable infant. He grew to live a perfect life and showed us how to live and, more than that, he gave up his perfect life so that we can be reconciled with God. The angels announced the birth of the Reconciler. The vast chasm between God's holiness and our fallen state was about to be bridged. If that isn't reason for joy, I don't know what is.

The apostle Paul lived in the glow of such joy. His life circumstances were anything but pleasant. His plans, even those to further the gospel, were often frustrated and, he owned little to nothing in this world. His thanks for all of his efforts, as far as the world was concerned, was imprisonment and a martyr's death. Yet he spoke often of joy, and in the second chapter of Philippians, had this to say about it:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Philippians 2:1-2

Paul's joy was firmly anchored in the promises of God. He lived in a state of freedom from sin, freedom from legalism, and freedom from despondency. He knew who he was in Christ, his inheritance, and his ultimate destination. His joy was enhanced by the faithfulness and unity of those to whom he ministered. This unity is made possible by the good news brought by the angels long ago. Not only did Jesus come to redeem us for eternity, but also to redeem us from selfish, petty differences as we walk along our path to intimacy with God and others.

Receive the good news of great joy with gladness this year. Rejoice for the eternity that awaits you if you have believed in Jesus. Let that joy reverberate in your life and relationships. Make Jesus' joy complete by fulfilling his command (love one another).  Lay down your grievances and take the hand of the person next to you. Look one another in the eye and say: "I love you. Watch how much."


Friday, December 14, 2012

Being One

Think of  how a team works. Diverse people with a variety of skills, backgrounds, and talents come together with a common goal. The members are not identical. In fact, the more varied the better. The thing that needs to be shared is the goal, whether delivering the ball to the basket or selling a predetermined number of widgets. As Paul continues his introduction to Philippians 2 he speaks of that kind of oneness in the church:

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:1-2

I used to look at this and other passages on unity and think that this is an ideal the church has just not lived up to. In my stint as an elder, I was disillusioned by the level of concerns that people divided over: church furnishings, music style and volume, loyalty to this leader or that one. I would think, frankly, that Jesus prayer at the last supper was in vain, that the free-will of his unruly bride kept him from this one blessing he asked from her. While it is true that Jesus must not be pleased with such petty divisiveness, I now believe that, in general, the church does function in unity with diversity. The members, though diverse, seek to fulfill the ultimate mission: go, teach and baptize. The methods are as diverse as the vegetation that clothes the earth, but the mission of unity is to bring ourselves and others into fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In so doing, we bring ourselves into fellowship with one another. We are on in purpose.

Key passages on spiritual gifts support this view. Ephesians 4 and Romans 12 point to the diversity of the body and the different spiritual gifts. We understand the varied personalities given to different members drive the things we do and even the way we do them. That is God's design. The hand cannot say to the foot, "I have no need of you." We are interdependent if we want to accomplish the mission. Rather than judging one another for our differences, what if we embraced and even thanked God for them? The charge here in Philippians 2 is not so much about producing "Stepford" Christians, who look, act and talk alike. It is more about remembering the goal.

Which end of the court are you driving toward? Our thoughts, meditations and actions take us toward one or the other. One end of the court is the flesh, with its unending desires and insatiable lusts. This is the way of the world, the passion of our culture aided and abetted by the advertising industry. The other end is the direct opposite. It is fueled by the encouragement of being united with Christ, the compassion of his love, the fellowship of his Spirit, and by tenderness and compassion. The team mates are clothed in the fruit of the Spirit and motivated by him from within.

Keep your eye on the goal. Let go of the thousand petty distractions. We win because we function as a team. Press on!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tender Compassion

In counseling people, I find that many literally do not understand the meaning of the word compassion these days. Just as aggressive and assertive are used interchangeably in spite of very different meanings, when I ask folks about compassion they respond by talking about their passion. I mention this only because compassion is such a central word in the Bible, and even my Christian clients are apparently unfamiliar with it. While passion speaks of high emotion on a given subject or person, compassion refers to hearts and hands that reach out to help a hurting person in need. It is no accident that Paul uses the word compassion as a foundational principle in the beginning of the second chapter of the book of Philippians:

"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any tenderness and compassion, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose." Philippians 2:2

Tenderness and compassion are linked here in a string of benefits that come from being united with Christ. We find encouragement in him, we are comforted in his love, and we have in him tenderness and compassion. Paul is setting the stage for one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, and as he does so, he is reminding the Philippians of the relational gifts of being in Christ. He uses the word if  here in a positive assumption, as if to say:"if you have these things, and I know you do..." The if  word, however, implies that the reality of their faith (with these benefits) is about to be put to the test.

Tenderness and compassion conjure images of a mother comforting a troubled child, of Jesus kneeling next to the spritiually and physically afflicted, of God who loved the world so much that he gave his only Son to save its inhabitants. As we live out our faith, we have plenty of need for the ongoing tenderness and compassion of God. And there is plenty of it--we cannot exhaust his resources--that is not even possible!

The tenderness and compassion of Christ are not meant to find their final destination in us, of course. They are meant to be accepted, embraced, and shared with others. Drink deeply of his tender compassion, and pass it on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Note to International Readers of "grace and truth"

Some of you who read this blog do so in countries around the world. If you are interested in the book in the right margin, please know that it is available in many countries. The link at right takes you to the author website, and the page labeled "Purchase Milestones" has several options. The most comprehensive listing I have found for international ordering is here:


Thanks for checking out "grace and truth." I hope it blesses you. Seeing your countries come up on the Stats report makes my heart sing! Press on!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Comforting Love

When I imagine examples of comforting love, I tend to think of movies and TV more than childhood memories. That being said, a child who is hurt or frightened instinctively turns to the nurturing embrace of a parent. Whatever the pain is, it is more easily borne or forgotten in the arms of comforting love.  No doubt many of you have such memories, and from this you draw great comfort, even as adults.

As we continue to look at the second chapter of the book of Philippians, Paul refers to such a love. The source of this love is Christ:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Philippians 2:2

Paul has reminded the Philippians, in chapter one, of his love for them, his thankfulness for them, and his faith in them (Christ in them). Now, in Chapter 2 he has begun to build a bridge between that foundation and a supernatural challenge. In the last post, we looked at the first phrase (encouragement from being united with Christ).  Today, we look more closely at the second: comfort from his love.

I spend many hours with hurting people. Most of the time, it is beyond my ability (and theirs as well) to remove the source of their pain. Terminal illness, grief, betrayal and bewilderment are a few recurrent themes that parade through my modest offices, an ever-revolving kaleidoscope of pain. For whatever reasons, people find comfort and healing in being cared about and truly heard. And from the ashes, beauty emerges.

The comfort that comes from the love of Christ has many levels. We find comfort in his sacrifice on our behalf, in humble obedience to the will of the Father.  He comforts us as a compassionate high priest who has been tempted in every way. We experience his comfort through the ministry of his Holy Spirit and through the words and actions of gifted believers who serve on his behalf.  We are encouraged by Scripture to give it away as freely as we receive it.

The problem or the pain in your life may not be instantly healed or removed today. But the comfort of his love is with you. Don’t push him away. His heart is broken for you. There may be many unanswered questions for now. Trust him in the meantime. He will comfort you. He laid it all down for you once, and he promised to never leave you. Take his hand. Touch the hem of his garment. And find comfort.


For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Update:Yesterday's Barnes and Noble Book Signing

Yesterday, 11/24/12, Barnes and Noble Grand Junction Colorado hosted a book signing for "Milestones: On the Road Home." In a nutshell, it was successful. Here is a link to my author website with pictures and a report:


Thanks for the prayers!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book Signing Today!

Barnes and Noble, Grand Junction, Colorado, is hosting a “Meet the Author” event today for "Milestones: On the Road Home" from 2-4PM. Here is a link to their posting about it:


Locals know the store is located immediately east of Mesa Mall on Patterson Road. I would love to meet you (or see you again). Why not break away from the mall crush for a few and come by to say hello?

Have a joyous season and remember what is really needed is often different that what we imagine (or have been told) we need.


Saturday, November 17, 2012


Like most of you, I hope, I have a few encouragers in my life. You know, those people who’s default modes are positive attitudes. They don’t even consider the half empty portion of the proverbial glass, highlighting and prognosticating extravagantly on the half full part. I am sometimes jarred by their perceptions and melancholy drops away in their presence. Thanks to you all. God bless you!
The Apostle Paul has just written a beautiful introduction (chapter one) to his letter to the Philippians. In it, he expresses his heartfelt gratitude for them, for their encouragement to him, and prayers for him. He has reminded them that the greatest encouragement they can give him is to work together in unity for the gospel of Christ, persevering in blessing and in suffering.
Now he begins what must be one of the most beautiful chapters in the New Testament.  He is about to lay a supernatural challenge before them: one that will require the help of God to succeed. First, however, he reminds them of a few potentially life-changing things:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Philippians 2:1-2
Easily passed over as an hours devour before the main course, this preamble offers many layers of encouragement and comfort. Interstingly, several times he uses the word if in these conditional clauses. True to the content of the first chapter ( Paul knows that God will complete in the Philippians the good things he started) these ifs carry with them a positive assumption, as if to say: “If (and I know you do) you have any encouragement, etc.” Still, the inclusion of ifs leaves open the possibility of another choice. It is possible for people not to have these things.
And what things are these? At the top of the list is encouragement. The source of the encouragement Paul is talking about comes from being united with Christ. We are united with Christ by faith (same Greek word as trust) in him. He has accomplished for us what we could not accomplish on our own. He has fulfilled the righteousness of the law, he has built a bridge between our fallen states (all have fallen short of the glory of God) and made a way (the gift of God is salvation through faith in Christ). Romans 3;23 and 6:23
Being united with Christ also includes his work in sanctifying (setting us apart) and maturing us. It is this Paul spoke about when he said a Counselor, and Encourager must come. Here is a point at which the doctrine of the Trinity (which I do believe in) becomes a bit confusing. The Holy Spirit is not only the Holy Spirit of God, but also that of Christ. In 1:19, Paul alluded to the Spirit of Christ who has helped him in response to their prayers. They too can count on the presence of Jesus in them to encourage them and to assist them to do all that he is about to lay out before them.
We can be encouraged greatly by being united with Christ. He not only promises peace with God for eternity, but also strength and empowerment for today. Whatever God has laid before you today—blessing, suffering, tasks that are beyond your abilities—he will help you to do. The “all things” that we are able to do through Christ who strengthens us includes anything he asks you to do. Look to him, not the wind and the waves. Walk on water. Be encouraged. Christ is with you and in you. Press on!


Friday, November 9, 2012

Milestones: On the Road Home, 11/10/12 Book Signing

Hasting's Books in Montrose, CO is hosting a book signing for "Milestones: On the Road Home" Saturday afternoon (11/10/12) from 2-6 or as long as the books last. They sold out of their stock of Milestones this week BUT I have a stack on hand for the signing (and hopefully to replenish their stock).

Many of you have bought the book online, through other stores or from me directly. Even so, I would love to see you, to thank you in person, to hear how "Milestones" has touched you, and to answer any questions you might have. Montrose Hasting's is located on Townsend Avenue between Murdoch's and Office Depot, directly across from Russell Stover's. Here's the "nutshell" version:

Steve Warner, "Milestones: On the Road Home"
Meet the Author, Book Signing Event!
When: Saturday, November 10, 2012, 2:00 PM
Where: Hasting's Books, 2201 S. Townsend Ave, Montrose, CO

Thursday, November 8, 2012

An Unexpected Gift

As the holiday season grows near, thoughts of gifts begin to take center stage. Holiday gift giving is a tradition that persists, though it is sometimes questioned. A giver takes into account, or should, what is in the best interest of the receiver. As any parent knows, giving your children what is best for them is not always the same as giving them what they ask for.

As the first chapter of the book of Philippians draws to a close, Paul alludes to two gifts the church can expect from God. The first is a gift the church no doubt wanted: to believe (trust) in Jesus. The second, not so much—to suffer for him:

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” Philippians 1:29-30

In these two verses, Paul lays out the plain and simple truth of following Jesus. We are granted (by no personal merit) faith and suffering. The first we want and even request. Most of us would rather not acknowledge the second. Suffering, by definition, is not a whole lot of fun. Nor does a gospel that includes the certainty of suffering fill the pews or sell books necessarily.

Even the spiritual among us tend to think of suffering as a necessary evil, the results of living in a world broken since Eden’s disobedience. But to ever think of it as something God grants to us is rarer. Of course, there are different kinds of suffering for the believer in Christ. Some suffering is a part of the enormous domino effect of the Fall, when Adam and Eve brought brokenness into the world for the first time. Since then we have illness, catastrophes and myriad lesser annoyances that nevertheless bog us down and want to steal our joy.

 Paul here, I believe, speaks more specifically of suffering precisely because we follow Jesus. His own prison chains are the current suffering to which he alludes. Earlier in the chapter he has rejoiced in them and thanked God for them, because they had served to further the gospel of Christ. As a result of his chains, he asserted, the good news of Jesus spread throughout the whole palace guard (1:12-14).

I must admit, at best, I see my sufferings as things to be endured. While I am going through them, I am eager for them to pass. Paul, by contrast, is thankful for them even as he is in the midst of them. He sees the opportunities connected with his trials and is thankful (gulp) that God thinks enough of him to let him follow Jesus’ example in this way for the furtherance of the gospel. Just as Jesus humbled himself in the suffering that needed to occur for our salvation, Paul humbles himself for the sake of others who need to hear the grace and truth of Christ.

God, help me to reset my default mode from a self-centered one (I want to be comfortable again) to a Christ-centered one (use me in this for the sake of the Kingdom). And let me arrive there sooner rather than later. That my joy may be full, that it might spread to others, that your name will be glorified, Amen



Wednesday, October 24, 2012


A really bad comedic movie from the 80s featured a couple of hapless guys who fawned over their hero, chanting, “I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy.” When it comes to being worthy of the love of God, of our place in his family and service in his Kingdom, let’s face it. We could all be chanting, “I’m not worthy!” Paul, the Apostle of grace, nevertheless encouraged the Philippians to conduct themselves in a worthy manner:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened by those who oppose you. Philippians 1:27-28a

The “whatever happens” phrase carries life and death import for Paul. He has just described the two possible paths he is facing: to live (opportunity to serve God and others); to die (to be with Jesus face to face). So his encouragement to the Philippians says something about its dearness to his heart.  His legacy, the torch he would pass, is their unity for the sake of the faith (trust in) the gospel. To Paul, of course, the gospel is not a set of homilies or rules to live by in order to be good enough for God—the gospel according to Paul is acknowledging that none of us is good enough, repenting of our old way of life, accepting the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, resulting in walking in newness of life. By his own example, this gospel is worth dying for. Everything else is trivia.

It is so easy for us to turn on one another when we are meant, as fellow believers and brothers and sisters in Christ, to have one another’s backs. Your fellow believer is not the enemy, though you will certainly differ in many preferences and probably even some doctrines. Jesus said the defining characteristic of his followers should be love. It is true that abounding love finds its roots in deep knowledge of the Word (and God’s heart). But knowledge without love is like a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal—so much noise.

Believers united in purpose (in spite of millions of less important differences) are an unstoppable force. Jesus said of such a church, that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. When the enemy can lob a grenade into the church and get us to throw one another onto it, he walks away smiling. When we love one another as Christ loves us, he quakes in his proverbial boots.

Come what may, let’s conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Let others know that we stand firm on one spirit, contending fearlessly as one man for the faith of the gospel.  In so doing we will be salt and light in a dark and tasteless world.  And Christ will be honored. Isn't that a worthy cause?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Infectious Joy

When was the last time you caused someone’s joy to overflow? Having just laid out the spectrum of possibilities (as the ultimate win-win situation) by the declaration that for him “to live is Christ; to die is gain,” Paul now assures the Philippian church that he expects to be with them for a while…for this very purpose:

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.  (Philippians 1:25-26)

Whatever attitudes we carry with us, whatever qualities we clothe ourselves in (Colossians 3), we infect others with them, for better or for worse. We are social by nature, and in our interactions with others we cause some kind of a ripple effect. We can stir waves of discontent and dissention, or we can cause ripples of joy—overflowing joy—in the lives of others.

Sometimes the thought of a joyous person conjures images of a beaming face, always smiling from ear to ear, exuding positive affirmations morning to night. Somehow, this image does not match up with serious minded Paul. He was rooted in truths, even the uncomfortable ones, and he apparently had no trouble speaking these truths (in love). And yet, he could comfortably say that he expected his presence to cause their joy to overflow! This causes us some confusion because of our misunderstandings about joy. It is not necessarily always an emotional state (as is happiness). Like love, joy is not always a feeling, but finds its firm foundation in what we truly believe. And here is where Paul excelled. He was (and is) the master of reminding us of the true source of enduring, overflowing joy.

By keeping a God’s eye view of things, even uncomfortable circumstances and disappointing interpersonal encounters, he was able to hold steady. By sharing this perspective with others, he was able to infect them with this joy—to overflowing. Paul knew, and wanted the Philippians to know, that in Christ, we are secure. There are no bad outcomes. Whether we are in prison or free, rich or poor, hungry or fed, live or die, Jesus has our backs. We are his and he is ours. God loves us with an everlasting love. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Our present sufferings are less than a blip on the radar screen of eternity, if we are united to Christ by faith. Such perspectives are reality. Our current circumstances, whether good or bad, are only temporary. What lasts is the mansion just over the hilltop, an abode that overflows with joy and happiness—forever.

Our attitudes and perspectives affect the way we feel about, and deal with, the things and people we encounter in our lives. They also affect those around us. As you go out into the world, as you deal with those in your own household or church, how about considering ways to infect them with joy?


Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)


Friday, October 12, 2012


Countless hours in my counseling office involve hearing couples out as they engage in the importance of winning. Initially, each is convinced he or she is “right” and invest their energies in proving their case. Like two attorneys before a judge, they present their cases and await a verdict. At some point, I pose the question: are they competing opponents or a team, equally yoked and motivated to win together? Winning together as a couple presents the “new” dynamic of the win-win.  If they can let go of being right, if they can see the other’s point of view, if they can compromise and give a little so that the needs of their partner are met, they both win.

Many times, individuals come into my office, frozen with indecision. If they have been depressed and or anxious for a while, they gaze at two paths, immobilized by fear of what appear to be inevitably dark outcomes. After they feel heard and understood, the question is presented: what if the situations really offer a win-win potential?  What good can come from the decision options? Sometimes this shift in perspective unfreezes people and they are able to move forward with hope.

The Apostle Paul, in the first chapter of Philippians, presents another kind of win-win scenario, in the extreme! He looks at the possibilities before him, life and death, and sees their win-win potential:

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is s more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:21-24)

Once again, the Spirit-transformed heart of Paul pours forth wisdom rooted in agape love. On the one hand, his love for Christ draws him in the direction of yearning to die and go to be with him. On the other hand, he sees the need of those in the church at Philippi and is motivated to see them through to maturity. While he clearly prefers to be with Jesus face to face, his love for Jesus and for the Philippians motivates him equally to stay in the world in order to minister to them. Die and be with Jesus, or live and engage in fruitful labor—a fairly ultimate win-win scenario.

By contrast we focus on winning our arguments with one another  and beating one another out in business or even ministry. We see winning as a selfish motivator: I want to win. When we grow to see through our Father’s eyes, when we serve with the hands of the Son, when we share the yearnings of the Holy Spirit, we will be motivated to finish strong, yes, but not alone. We will bring others with us to cross the finish line together. When we do, we will win together. And that’s a win-win outcome!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Book Release: Milestones: On the Road Home, Steve Warner

For those of you who follow "grace and truth" but not my facebook, twitter or author accounts, I want to be sure you know that my book, Milestones: On the Road Home is now available in online stores worldwide, and through your local bookstore. You can find out more about Milestones by clicking on the picture of it in the column to the right. Here are a couple of helpful links to check out prices:




It is available in e-books of all kinds, paperback and softcover. Prices range from under $4 (e-books) to around $15 (paperback) to about $25 (hardcover with dust jacket.) Some stores offer free shipping as well. Your local bookstore can order it as another option.

Thanks for your loyal readership since 2010. Already the book is opening up some of the most beloved messages of "grace and truth" to a whole new audience. Savor the journey and bring someone along!

Saturday, October 6, 2012


How often do we pray for deliverance, thinking that God will resolve our problem, somehow making it go away, or vindicating us before our enemies? When I am in a tight place, that is exactly what I want.  However, when Paul wrote to the Philippian church about his confidence of deliverance from prison, he had some other possibilities in mind:

Yes, I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:18b-20)

This is not a popular view of deliverance. Like the boy who finds himself locked in the hot garden shed, we want to be set free so that we can frolic in the shade with our friends. We want to be comfortable again, and the restoration of our own comfort is the motive for our prayers. Paul, in contrast to our current views on comfort, has one priority in mind: the exaltation of Christ. How this happens, (whether by life or by death), is up to God. Only the ultimate result matters.

While I generally agree with teachings about praying specifically so that God can show his might in our lives, I think there is humility in not counseling God to do our will. What if our prayers were that we could know his will, accepting and even facilitating it, no matter what? Jesus in Gethsemane showed us the bridge between these two views of prayer. He prayed repeatedly that “this cup,” (the crucifixion and temporary separation from God the Father and God the Spirit), would be taken from him. Ultimately, he submitted to God the Father, praying that the Father’s will be done even in this most extreme of circumstances.  Frankly, some today would consider this waffling, asserting that we should not be double-minded in our prayers, leaving room for doubt. There is a difference between double-mindedness and remembering who is God.

Such a biblical view of deliverance is a “win-win” view of life’s circumstances. There is no bad outcome as long as Christ is glorified. We can unclench our minds and let go of the circumstantial outcomes. If our focus in on Christ alone, he will have our backs, causing all things to work for our (eternal) good. Let’s ask God to deliver us—from our selfish motivations to restore our own comfort—as we love him and others above ourselves.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ripple Effects

Ripple Effects

Country summers before the electronics age were a little different. Local ponds were a source of amusement whether fishing, catching frogs or crawdads, or skipping stones.  The stones would skip across the water leaving a trail of concentric circles. The ripple effect on a windless afternoon was beautiful to see, as the ripples collided, overlapped ,and eventually reached the shores.

The Apostle Paul was aware of ripple effects as well. In the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians, he has already demonstrated his spiritual and emotional maturity by rejoicing in his prison chains. He was able to do so because he knew the gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ had been strengthened by his incarceration--not to mention he used the time to write a letter we are still studying today! Now he turns to discuss further ripples resulting from his imprisonment:

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerity, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)

The same Apostle Paul who wrote the poetically eloquent language about agape love in I Corinthians 13 and encouraged the positive perspectives of Philippians 4, had no illusions about the true nature of the hearts of people—even people in the church. Some hearts are filled with goodwill and agape love, indeed. Others, unfortunately, minister to others from a place of selfish ambition, competition, and ill-will. Ultimately, Paul deduces that the motives, in the biggest picture, matter very little. The individual gains nothing without love as a motive (I Corinthians 13:1-3), but the gospel of Christ may still be furthered by their efforts.

The other remarkable thing here is that Paul has apparently risen so far above the petty exchanges that sometimes characterize our human (and church) interactions. His focus is steady: nothing matters but the message of Jesus Christ. He has no time or energy for worrying about what others think about him or do to hurt him. What a man of God!

The applications are endless here, aren’t they? I don’t know about you, but I have a way to go before I can, in total honesty, make the kinds of statements that Paul makes here. We are pretty focused, aren’t we, on our own agendas and preferences? Mistreatment by others can still knock the wind out of me for an embarrassingly long period of time; try as I do to hand it to Jesus. How wonderful will it be when, finally, I can care less about such things and keep my eyes steadily on Jesus, letting the nonsense fall behind me, inconsequential dust.

Let’s press on. Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Let his message and mission become our own as we go, teaching others to obey all he commanded, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let's make some waves. After all, he is with us, even to the end of time.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chains of Glory

I am amused, and a little frightened, by the advertisements for pharmaceuticals on television. In bold clear language, enhanced by images of beautiful people seemingly glowing with health, they proclaim the virtues of said drug. The last 20 seconds of the add, the announcer slips into half volume and very hurriedly lists 30 life-altering and potentially fatal things that might go along with taking the drug. The emphasis is clear; hear the benefits and ignore the warnings.  

These days the Church tends to emphasize the perks of being a Christian. "Come to Jesus for personal reasons and he will meet your needs," might be the slogan of today’s Christian marketing campaign. Certainly, one can find scriptural basis for Christ’s desire to quench our thirsts with living water and to give us rest and peace. However, there is another side of the message of following Jesus. It has to do with taking up our cross on a daily basis, following his example. He taught that we should count the cost, as if building a house or taking a journey. Maybe someone should have told him this is not good marketing. Could it be that Jesus, unlike the Church today, was issuing a call to commitment, not comfort?
The Apostle Paul was not a big fan of comfort. Having just laid a foundation of deep affection and agape love for the church in Philippi, he goes on to talk about something else in glowing terms—his chains! Paul is imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Rather than whining about his situation and questioning the goodness and presence of God, he rejoices! He wears the chains of Christ with the glory of a gold medal winning Olympic athlete on the podium for his country. Because of his chains, the gospel of Jesus has been furthered:
"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more compassionately and fearlessly." (Philippians 1:12-14)
When you are going through something difficult, do you stop to think that the way you do so may advance the gospel of Christ? When you respond to insult with kindness, when you are ridiculed for your faith, or when life just deals you a lousy hand, do you complain, or do you thank God for the opportunity to show the world a better way? Paul’s perspective was firmly rooted in what was good for the kingdom of Christ, not what was in his own best interest. This is in stark contrast to the teachings of many today that the primary purpose of the gospel is  the individual's personal fulfillment. The time may be coming when the Church will be sorted out. In fact, that may already be happening. The sorting may involve separating those who embrace comfort from those who seek commitment at any and every cost.

I have to admit that Paul’s attitude is not consistently my default mode. Nevertheless, it inspires me to find opportunities in life’s everyday rollercoaster ride. Opportunities to be light—a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand. These shine more brightly in the darkness. So should we.

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our current sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory the Lord will reveal in us. The creation waits  in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:17-19)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Righteous Fruit

One of our first memories in Colorado was pulling over to a fruit stand on the Uncompahgre River near Ouray. A western Colorado orchard had set up a little stand, and their fruit was on display. We were impressed at the size and quality of the fruit they had grown. We learned that the hot days and cool nights of the Grand Valley lead to very high quality fruit—that  and a lot of careful guarding and tending on the part of the fruit farmers. Beautiful fruit rarely happens by accident, because it results from a lot of diligent, intentional actions along the way.

In Philippians 1, Paul tells the church  his prayers for them include a petition for their spiritual fruit. He has just expressed a desire that their love might abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that they may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until Jesus comes again. While all of this is happening, he prays that they may be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ Jesus—to the glory and praise of God.”

Fruit is a familiar theme in the New Testament.  In John 15, Jesus used the analogy of himself as the vine, and his followers as the branches, saying that those who abide in him bear much fruit, but apart from him we can do nothing. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit (who indwells every follower of Christ) as: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, good ness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). In these teachings we see that we are not the source of these qualities. Rather, intimate relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the source. Our remaining in relationship with him is what taps us into the supernatural resources we need to bear much fruit. Apart from him, we can do nothing, Jesus states. It is not that humans are incapable of producing good deeds, it is that deeds apart from an abiding relationship with Christ produce only temporary fruit, and tend to glorify the individual in some way (I will look good; I will feel better about myself). In contrast, the fruit that Paul speaks of draws its nectar from the Spirit of God, and nourishes for eternity.

Though we cannot produce eternal, spiritual fruit apart from relationship with Christ, this fruit does require some tending. We need to know and understand what God thinks and how he feels about people and the world. It is a common practice for people to say things like, “I think,” or “I believe,” without scriptural basis for these thoughts and beliefs. To paraphrase Augustine, such a person does not believe the gospel, but himself. Time in God’s Word is the way we can build an internal library; the Spirit can then direct our listening hearts based on what God thinks—not what we decide or the culture tells us to believe. In this way, we can tend the fruit of the Spirit; adopting God’s perspective on things and people changes how we act and feel. It causes us to bear fruit, abundantly.

It is my prayer, as we abound more and more in knowledge of Scripture and depth of insight, that we will be able to discern and remain blameless, looking for his coming. As we do, may we be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus. And may God receive the glory.

“This is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Several years ago, I had some serious vision problems. A film had slowly developed in the lenses of both eyes. It was as if I were looking through a perpetual fog. It happened so gradually that I was unaware of my vision loss until it was quite significant. I walked through the world, oblivious to my inability to clearly discern what was around me.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul has just prayed that their love would abound more and more, rooted in true knowledge and depth of insight. Now he speaks to the results of such deeply rooted love:

“…so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ…”(Philippians 2:10).

Like the rest of us, the spiritual eyes of the Philippians had become clouded. They were in need of lens transplants so that they could clearly discern what was best, and then live accordingly. I have heard it taught—“It all depends on the lens.” In counseling, we try to assist people in the perceptions that affect their perpetual emotional states. Truthfully, the way we look at things usually affects our feelings more than the things themselves do.

Paul is here addressing something far beyond a simple shift in perception. He is reminding them that abundant love is rooted in knowledge of the truth and depth of spiritual insight. These assets result in clarity of perception, an ability to discern, and a glimpse of our world as God sees it. In other words, it gives a biblical world view. In the Word, we have (at least some of) the mind of Christ.

In relativistic philosophy (the true religion of the masses these days), perceptions and opinions abound. By definition, one point of view is no better than another. Taken to its logical conclusion, there should be no laws and no consequences because the criminal has the same right to express himself as he sees fit as does anyone else. His perceptions of the situation are equally valid to those of the masses who say that opening fire on unarmed citizens in a movie theater, for example, is wrong. In fact, words like right and wrong lose their meaning entirely. In the ultimate philosophical irony, some people insist that “there is no absolute truth.” This statement nullifies itself because the statement itself proposes an absolute truth. This emperor has no clothes.

Paul wants something better for his readers. Christ wants superior things for his church. God’s reality is the one true reality. While we cannot fully comprehend it, we have what we need for this life in his Word. Enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is written on our hearts, changing our desires and perceptions. We discern (the same Greek word as judge) what is best. We live, to the best of our Spirit-assisted ability, pure and blameless as we wait for the coming of Christ. Taking his truth deep within us, we are transformed and remodeled from the inside out, repent when we fall, and agree with God about our sins, while accepting and extending grace and truth.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Abounding Love

I like words. When studying languages, I enjoy learning about the origins of words. This helps me with learning the words and gives me a deeper understanding of them. In every culture, language changes over time. Words, like everything else, come in and out of style.

Abound is a funny word. When was the last time you heard someone use it in a conversation? You are more likely to see it on the cover of a romance novel than to hear someone talk about how they wish their crops, business or church might abound. However, Paul uses it to bless the Philippian church in Chapter One of his letter to them:

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…” (vs.9)

Abounding may be easier to grasp if we think of Jesus declaration of his own mission when he said he came that we might have abundant life. Abundant is excessive, more than enough and overflowing. So the idea Paul conveys here is that he prays for the church in Philippi that their love may be extravagant, spilling over on one another and all they encounter. They are not the source of such love, but it comes through Jesus Christ (vs. 11). I am reminded of Jesus metaphor in John 15, where he explains that he is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him, he promises, we will bear much fruit. The secret of abundant fruit is an abiding relationship with Jesus.

When I first discovered verse 9 (above) I remember being a little surprised by the phrases that go on to describe this abounding love. Paul does not here emphasize warm fuzzy emotions (though he has expressed his own in verses 7-8). Rather, he describes a love deeply rooted in knowledge and depth of insight. The reason this surprises us today is that we think of emotions and knowledge as separate tracks frequently arriving at very different destinations. Paul here is teaching that the tracks to agape love are nailed into the beams of full knowledge (epignosis) and deep insight.

If our love is emotion based, it is about as permanent as morning dew. When exposed to the light of day (disappointment, conflict and hurts) it vanishes. But when it is rooted in what we know to be true, and we have opened our hearts to the instruction and challenge of the Spirit, love endures. One does not have to read between the lines here to see once more the principles of grace and truth, and speaking truth in love. If it’s all about grace and love, we have missed half of the gospel. If it’s all about truth and knowledge, we become full of ourselves and overlook the importance of love and grace (our only hope). True knowledge coupled with Spirit inspired depth of insight will root our love into something far more permanent than our feelings.

When I think about it, this is how God loves us. Our daily stumbling, our fickle feelings, and our occasional straying from the path do not surprise him. He has already made his commitment to those who receive his Son. He will never leave them or forsake them. So, his love is steadfast, longsuffering, enduring. Jesus parting prayer with the disciples on the night of his betrayal was that we would love one another as he and the Father love. Big shoes to fill. Fortunately, we do not have to muster this love from our self-centered human hearts, but it flows through us from him. The question to consider today might be:

What am I doing to increase my knowledge and insight so that the love of Christ may abound in me?

Paul’s prayer does not call for an apathetic response. God did not design the body of Christ (his church) to be passive. Let’s be diligent to dig into his Word, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us, seeking Godly counsel and instruction so that our love may abound, being deeply rooted in full knowledge and deep insight. That is my prayer for all of us.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Note from Steve

A few years ago, a small flame began to kindle in my heart. Though I had never written, I felt a gentle but relentless tug to begin to write down some of my hard-earned lessons, especially the ones that have a direct impact on people’s relationships with God and other people. My blog “grace and truth” was started in July 2010. To my surprise, the Spirit of God quickly carried it to hearts in almost 80 countries. Some of the posts have also been picked up by e-magazines. Many readers have asked if I have considered compiling these writings into a book. The coming book “MILESTONES, On the Road Home” will carry some of the most loved messages to a whole new population. The lessons are edited, updated and augmented with questions, prayers and “milestones” for progress on the path to intimacy with God and others. Even the most faithful follower of my writings will find them fresh and more personal than ever. I am eager to see what God does next with this, his project. Success is defined as his pleasure. I also pray a few lives are touched for now and eternity.

Steve Warner

PS~ Check out the Author Website link in the column to the right. This is where I will post progress, events and information about the book.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Affectionate Prayer

When we were dating, we could not wait to converse with our partners. Whether in person or over the phone, we hung upon each word. Our love was so strong; we longed to be with one another. Our “first love” kindled brightly. As time goes on, most couples become immune to such powerful affection. We sometimes see conversation as a duty.

Our prayers may fall under a similar spell of disillusionment. We might think of them as an obligation to be fulfilled (before forgotten). How starkly Paul’s words to the Philippians contrast with our deflated feelings toward prayer for others:

“I thank God for you every time I remember you…It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3, 7-8

The obvious fondness displayed in these words is remarkable by any standards. All the more so, when you remember that Paul started out as Saul, persecutor of the Church of Jesus Christ. He stood by while Christians were stoned, and was proud to do so. Now, transformed from the inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit, he can barely contain his affection for other believers.

Paul was nothing if not “all in.” He saw his life as belonging to Christ. His personal ego long dead, he felt no embarrassment in declaring his love for groups of people, or even for other individual men (2 Timothy 1:3-4).

These strong declarations of loving affection cause me to question why are so different today? We are too cool and aloof to put our hearts out there like that. Men may declare their appreciation, regard and respect for one another, but we are hard pressed to say to one another, “I love you.” Our prayers are motivated by a sense of responsibility (not a bad thing). But what keeps us from our first love for one another? What barriers have we erected that hide the potential of deep emotional (there, I said it) connection with one another?

In speaking with an older saint the other day, as we reflected on the simple words “love is patient and kind,” I asked him why he thought we, the church of Christ, have such a hard time living them out. He answered that he thinks it is our “broken natures.” Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, people have gone their own way, seeking to be gods of their personal universes. In truth, we have a hard time letting our heart focus for long on the needs or admirable qualities of another person. And that outward focus is what is required to feel and express the affection of Christ for one another.

Let’s pray that the Holy Spirit will shine a light into the dark recesses of our hearts, not for condemnation, but for healing. Let him show us our self-centeredness, so that we can lay it down and put it to death. As our eyes turn to him, let the scales fall away from our eyes so that we can see the beloved others around us. Seeing them, let us love them. Loving them, let us say so— out loud.

“I thank God whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy.” 2 Timothy 1:3-4

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Joyful Prayer

My days are filled with problems. They come in all shapes and sizes. Of course, many of these come from time with clients. Even as I sit with family and friends, conversations gravitate toward problems. Some are quickly resolved, many are not. The mysteries of emotional mazes that accompany seemingly simple issues complicate the road home to solutions and intimacy. As Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Travelled” says in his opening statement, life is difficult.

I have been in countless situations where believers gather for prayer. I am struck by the nature of the inventory of prayer requests. Most have to do with petitions for comfort: relief from health concerns, financial stress, relationship crises, and occupational dilemmas. Let me say at the outset, there is nothing wrong with praying for these issues.

But please consider this. Have you ever had a relationship with friend or family that consisted primarily of them contacting you when there was a problem in their lives? What quality of relationship is it, when the only common ground is somebody’s difficulties? How excited are you to hear their voice when they always seem to want something from you?

Now, I am sure that God is always eager to hear from us. I know that there is no limit to his patience, and our troubles do not exhaust him. Still, there is something to be said for balance in our relationships, whether human or divine relationships.

Paul opens his letter to the Philippian church with a declaration of joyful prayer. In it we see gratitude for the church and its faithfulness, and joy for their faithful alliance with him in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We hear his faith in the ability of the Holy Spirit to complete his work in them until the end of the age. Joy. Gratitude. Faith. These opening statements must have made the Philippians smile. Such prayers must make God smile.

Gratitude is linked to so many positive spiritual outcomes in the Bible. When we are grateful in offering our prayers and petitions, supernatural peace guards our hearts. Grateful prayer preceded the resurrection of Lazarus. At the last supper, Jesus broke the bread and gave thanks, and a new covenant was established. Paul thanks God for the Philippians, and joy follows.

Joy and happiness are not the same thing, in the Bible. Happiness is more temporary, tied specifically to favorable (but changeable) circumstances. Joy is better because it is anchored in eternity. We know how it all ends, so our troubles in this life are a blip on the radar screen of eternity. Paul did not write about joy as a philosopher, but as a traveler on a long and difficult road. He suffered every kind of persecution known to man, and yet he inhabited joy.

There is a lot to be joyful about. In this world we will have trouble, but fear not, Jesus has overcome the world. Thank God for all he is, for all he has done, for all he has given, for those who travel beside you on the road home to intimacy. And be joyful.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-6

Friday, July 6, 2012

Regarding Truth

The first chapter of the Gospel of John states the Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us...full of grace and truth.

Many of these posts have focused on grace,specifically in relationships. Truth, on the other hand, represents reality from God’s point of view. This includes the fact that God has standards and expectations, and that every person falls short of those. Truth is essential because it anchors the Gospel:

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

“The wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

If grace is sweet on the tongue, truth is a little hard to swallow. To the world, it seems so narrow minded, so arrogant. I find it ironic that the world wants to paint Jesus as meek and mild. A nice guy, a great moral teacher, even a prophet. Anything but who he says he is!

Regarding Jesus claims about who he is, C.S. Lewis concluded we must decide if Jesus is Lord, lunatic or liar! Who claims to be God's only begotten son but a lunatic- or God's only begotten son? Who claims to be the only way to heaven but a crazy man, or perhaps, the one who IS the only way to heaven!

"And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us… full of grace and truth."

There is a true story of a battleship cruising the Atlantic off the northern coast of Maine one stormy evening:

The commander of the battleship was notified. "Sir, there's a light ahead. Oncoming vessel."

"Signal oncoming vessel, 'Change your course ten degrees to the west.'" The message was sent, but a light flashed back, "Change your course ten degrees to the east."

The commander barked, "Signal again, ‘Change your course ten degrees to the west. I am an admiral.'" The light flashed back. "Change your course ten degrees to the east. I'm a seaman third class."

By this time the admiral was incensed as he thundered, "Signal again, 'Change your course ten degrees to the west. I am a battleship.'" And the message came back, "Change your course ten degrees to the east. I am a lighthouse!"

Sometimes we act like admirals. We're the boss, we think. We want to create God in our own image, to imagine that He will grade on a curve, that He will keep up and accommodate our ever changing cultural norms. We believe we know better than God, what is fair and right.

The world shouts to God- “Change course, we are good people!”

To this way of thinking, Jesus shouts with authority- "You change course! I am the lighthouse."

Seventy nine times, Jesus is quoted in the Gospels as saying- “I tell you the truth." And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…full of grace and TRUTH. In our pursuit of grace, let us never neglect the truth.

“I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6

"For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testfy to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." Jesus to Pilate: John 18:37

“You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”John 8:32

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Take Heart

At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, British athlete Derek Redmond won the first round of the 400m race with the fastest time and also easily won the quarterfinals. But in the semifinal, just 150 meters into the race, his right hamstring tore, causing him to fall to the ground. He gathered all his courage to stand up as the stretchers were being carried toward him. In tears and his face grimacing in terrible pain, he was determined to finish the lap and started to hobble down the track. His dad Jim Redmond barged past security to be united with his son, and assisted him until the finish line. And as they crossed the finish line, they were given a rousing standing ovation by the 65,000-strong crowd.

You are running a race as well. The race is impossible on your own. God the Father found a way to come along side you. He wants to wrap his strong and loving arms around you. He wants to help you finish strong.

Take Heart. Jesus has sent a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to speak words of encouragement to you, at just the right time. You are not alone in the race. Take heart. The Holy Spirit indwells us and writes the will of God on our hearts. As we grow in relationship with Him, we hear his voice, often through the words of Scripture, encouraging and exhorting us to finish strong. Take heart. Jesus is with you. He has promised that he will never leave you or forsake you. When human relationships disappoint, He is there. When we are challenged to love and respect one another, He is there.

In fellowship with one another, as we let people in and become a part of faith fellowships like a local church, we can sometimes be the voice of Jesus to one another, cheering one another on. The book of Hebrews uses the metaphor of the spiritual life as a race. We are to cheer one another on, staying in fellowship with one another, keeping our eyes on the finish line. The author says:

“Therefore… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race set before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:1-3

You run your race on the tracks of integrity, faithfulness, and relationships. Jesus stands at the finish line; arms open wide, face beaming with joy, cheering you on. If you listen to his teachings and run the race his way, your joy will be full, you will be blessed, and you will receive the ultimate medal at the end of the race.

Heart matters are at the center of our spiritual walk, our relationships, and our marriages. Heart really matters. Take heart! Jesus is waiting, eager to award you the ultimate medal with these words:

“Well done my good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness.”

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Having just exhorted the Colossians to teach and admonish one another, Paul then refers to a common teaching method of the day, saying “as you sing songs hymns and spiritual songs” (3:16). The early Christians had only the Old Testament, and did not have access to the New Testament (which was being written in various forms) or to other Christian books. The teachings and life of Jesus were memorized and passed on verbally, from person to person. Sometimes these verbal traditions were set to music. Thus, music became an important part of both education and worship. The purpose was to glorify God, but also to teach people truth in a way they could remember and pass on to others.

Part of our understandable confusion about such passages has to do with changing traditions and methods as well as the changes in meanings of words over time, including the English language. Today, for example, when we hear the word psalms, we assume it refers to a lengthy book of poetry in the Old Testament. In the original language, and when first translated into English, psalms was derived from a literal meaning referring to the striking of one’s fingers on the strings of a musical instrument (today we might refer to such similar things as “strum” or “pluck”). In the Bible, it refers either to the Psalms of the Old Testament, or, as in this passage, to sacred songs with musical accompaniment. Hymns now conjures more modern traditions in the church, accompanied by an organ or piano, with several verses, packed with teaching and doctrinal principles. Hymns as understood in this manner were the dominant singing tradition of the church in recent generations. When Paul wrote the word, it simply meant “a song of praise addressed to God.” The last words, spiritual songs, includes the generic word for song, ode, and a modifier, spiritual. So, in Colossians 3:16, Paul was referring to the common teaching methods of the time: psalms (sacred songs accompanied by musical instruments), hymns (songs of praises to God), and songs of spiritual nature and content. There was not one style or preference for music in the church, even in the first century.

What we can take from this phrase, is that a primary purpose of music in Paul’s culture was to teach. Style was not an issue, however, meaningful and doctrinally sound content (lyrics) are the common denominator of all these kinds of music. Just as we are to evaluate whether the teaching we receive tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we should run the Christian music we hear through the same filter. If we are in a position to choose music to be sung in our local churches, we are responsible for running it through the filter before it reaches the congregation. We carry equal responsibility as those teaching. Music carries its message into the heart, soul and mind. It is a gift of common grace to all people, as it strikes chords in the soul. Use it wisely to “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.”

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing songs, hymns and spiritual songs…” Col. 3:16

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Teach One Another

In Colossians 3, Paul encourages us to let the message (word) of Christ dwell among us richly. He then tells us how this is to happen: “as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom”(vs. 16). He goes on to say some things about praise, but for today I want to meditate through the keyboard about the quoted phrase… teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.

These are not necessarily attractive words in western culture these days. If someone invites us to be taught and admonished, we may have flashbacks of grade school where we were told to sit down, shut up and “behave ourselves.” We would much rather be entertained than taught, and we rather fancy ourselves as being above admonishment. After all, admonishment is for the unruly and we are good Christian folk. These cultural attitudes speak to our narcissism, our sense of already having arrived. We prefer to compare ourselves to the lost world around us. By comparison, we then feel smug and secure, patting ourselves on the back as we leave our local gatherings, thanking God that we are not like “those sinners” we encounter day after day.

The problem is we have not arrived, any of us. We do not yet fully grasp or comprehend the mind of Christ. We have not yet completely yielded ourselves, and every area of our lives, to the will of God. So we need desperately to be taught. Our default modes still gravitate toward the flesh, either in disobedience or pride. Admonishment is the loving hand of God’s Holy Spirit remodeling us from the inside out- the sledge hammer that takes down cracking walls and the crow bar that rips up moldy carpet. We are works in progress. He does not require us to be finished, cleaned up, fully redeemed (sanctified), before He loves us. But He does require that we undergo the process of redemption, not only from hell, but also from ourselves.

As I ponder this phrase, the risen Christ’s words to the Church in Laodicea come to mind:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your sinful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. THOSE WHOM I LOVE I REBUKE AND DISCIPLINE. So be earnest and repent. Here I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Rev. 3:15-20

At first glance this does not sound like much of a love letter. However, Jesus clarifies his motives: He rebukes and disciplines those he loves. He states his intentions: to persuade us to open the door so we can fellowship with him. There can be no intimacy without conflict. Conflict-free relationships are neither hot nor cold—they are lukewarm. Lukewarm relationships are not real, whether with God or people. Jesus is saying to the church (today?): “Get real or move on!”

So Paul’s reminder to “teach and admonish one another in all wisdom” fully aligns itself with the heart of Jesus for his church. Biblical wisdom keeps in view the holiness of God, and the brokenness of the world including those who dwell in it. It looks not to doom and gloom, nor to unrealistic optimistic denial, but focuses on the realities of a stumbling, bumbling band of vagabonds who need desperately to be taught and admonished on the road home to intimacy with God and others. Through these means, He will complete in us the good things He has started. And that’s an optimism we can count on.

“In my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-5

Thursday, April 26, 2012

And Be Thankful

It appears almost as an afterthought. It is one of those points you wish you could ask him to clarify: Why there? Paul has just reminded the Colossians to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving just as the Lord forgave them. Over all these virtues they are to put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. They are to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts (for they were called to peace). And there it is, a three word sentence: “And be thankful.” Col. 3:15

It is not the only time Paul linked gratitude to peace. In his letter to the Philippians, he reminded them:

“Do not be anxious (do not go on being anxious), but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6 (parentheses mine).
The Holy Spirit inspired these appearances of thankfulness (gratitude) and peace in the same context for good reasons. In the Philippians passage, Paul elaborates that when their minds dwell in the place where they are focused on things that are right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy, and act accordingly, the God of peace will be with them. Of course, God’s presence in our lives is not contingent upon our behaviors, or even our attitudes. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Paul is here underlining the fact that our God is a God of peace, and when our hearts are aligned with his heart, we are unified with him in intent and purpose. What a place to be!

The reverse point is worth visiting. When we are dwelling on the negative, focusing on the things that are wrong, impure, ugly, disreputable, gossip-worthy, etc., there is no room for the peace of Christ. We are not “with” the God of peace. We are working at cross-purposes with him. In this sense, we are not “with” him. We are against him.

No wonder negativity drains us so! Our minds, hearts, souls and spirits are not working in accordance with the heart of God. You can only move a refrigerator so far from its power source before it becomes unplugged. Similarly, when we dwell in the negative and drink in the dark, we can unplug ourselves from the empowering Spirit; he will not enable us to do the things that are not in accordance with his will. And that is an exhausting place to live. The negative ripple effect can devastate our horizontal relationships as well. Whatever is not of the Spirit is of flesh. Life in the flesh is selfishness, and the fruits of selfishness are disharmony, separation and resentment.

The three word phrase, “And be thankful,” is no accident. Paul did not add it as an afterthought as if to say, “Oh yeah, remember to thank God,” before moving on to more pressing matters; not at all. He was slipping us an important key. One of the main ways we can let (God is a gentleman; we have a choice) the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, is to be thankful.

Whatever is happening in your life right now, it’s a pretty fair bet it is a mixed hand. You are probably looking at some good cards and some… you would rather trade in. It’s not that the “bad cards” are not there. It’s that we are so easily focused on them that we can forget to play our hand constructively.

Remember where you have come from, and who has brought you this far. Remember where you are going. To say that, if you are redeemed through faith in Christ, your future is bright is a laughable understatement! Someday, sooner than we think, the negatives will be wiped away. The things that are right, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy will endure forever. And you will live in his loving presence forever. Dwell on these things. And be thankful.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sovereign Peace

The process of selecting a leader for our country surrounds us. Over the next several months candidates will bombard us with messages about their character and competence, and the lack of same in their opponents. Their goal is to become the supreme leader of our country, to exercise control and influence, presumably for the good of the people.

In our hearts, a similar campaign emerges. Priorities and goals jockey for position. Some are obvious: jobs, marriages, families, houses and cars. Others go unnoticed unless one has been trained, as Paul is training his readers in the third chapter of the book of Colossians. He has laid a foundation, reminding us that we who follow Christ are to take off the old self and its practices, and are to set our minds on spiritual things, not the things of this world. We are to get rid of the things of the old self, many of them attitudes and resulting emotional states: anger, malice, slander, sexual immorality, impurity, lust evil desires and greed. In saying that we should get rid of “all things as these” that Paul is giving these as examples, and not an exhaustive list. The point is there are many attitudes that compete for the leadership of our hearts. Most of them are expressions of the old selfish self.

Having given so many examples of these competing priorities and motivations, Paul now crowns his persuasion with these words:

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” Colossians 3:15

There is a throne in your heart and someone reigns there. The natural by default ruler is the old self with its selfish motivations (greed, lust, malice, impurity, etc.) Paul assures us there is a better way and a better Ruler. If we let Christ rule there, peace results and we are able to wear the qualities of Christ on our sleeves, so to speak. Paul has given us examples of these qualities in verses 12-14: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, perseverance, forgiveness, all bound together with agape love.

At any given moment we are letting one or the other of these ways of being rule in our hearts. As I meditated on this verse over the course of weeks and months, I asked myself: What if I REALLY believed this? What if, rather than passing over the verse and calling it a beautiful thought, I actually let the peace of Christ rule in my heart? As trying circumstances presented themselves, I had opportunity to allow the old self (malice, anger) to rule in my heart. The other option became increasingly clear as the Holy Spirit asked me:

“What if the peace of Christ ruled in THIS situation? What would be different in your thoughts, motivations and actions? How would these change the way you feel and act right now?”

This single verse has been life changing. It has freed me from the bondage of an old way of life that I had allowed to share sovereignty (rule) in my heart. By first imagining what the rule of the peace of Christ would look like in my life on any given day, longing for it, seeking and cooperating with it, I have been able to experience and share the peace of Christ more consistently than ever before.

There is a throne in your heart. There is room for only one there. Today, who will it be?