"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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Boundaries and Love

Depending on your point of view, the word "boundaries" elicits a positive or negative response. The word came into fashion in the counseling and self-help field about 20 years ago. Most understand it to have to do with assertiveness and the ability to set limits. For example, when you say you don't want someone else raising or influencing your child or treating your spouse disrespectfully you are asserting a boundary.

Some object to the term, stating that nowhere in Scripture do you find the command: "Thou shalt have boundaries." It is interesting to me that the same people tend to have very strong boundaries in their lives--no one is going to tell them what to do! Paradoxically, by rejecting the word "boundaries" they are asserting a boundary. Interestingly, they would usually not take issue with the word "communion" or "trinity" though these words, strictly speaking, are not found in the Bible.

In my counseling practice the filter for skills and ideas is, "Is this practice congruent with Scripture?" So I think the question is, (as with the principles of communion and the trinity), is the principle of boundaries found in Scripture? Consider these:

  • God set limits in the form of the 10 commandments. These are given for our benefit and because violating them offends God. Exodus 20

  • Paul encouraged his readers to speak truth in love so that we can all grow up into the image of Christ. Truth implies clear ideas of absolutes in teaching and behavior. Love is the filter that takes into account not only the command, but the heart of the Commander, Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:15

  • If someone is overtaken by a fault, a spiritual person should gently confront them with the goal of restoring them to fellowship with God and the Church. This would not be a necessary practice if there were no boundaries on behavior and attitude. Galatians 6:1

  • Jesus, the most loving man who ever lived, clearly understood that not all people are trustworthy. He cautioned his followers to beware of some who are "wolves in sheep's clothing" or "swine" who will trample spiritual pearls and kill the messenger. This is an internal boundary based on discernment. Of course, human discernment is not perfect but, the principle remains--don't trust everyone! Matthew 7:6; Luke 10:3

  • The risen Christ, in his letters to the churches in the book of Revelation, chastens them for tolerating false teaching. The charge is serious enough that he warns them He will remove his Spirit unless they get some boundaries and reject falsehood. Revelation 2-3

It is important to remember that our every personal preference does not translate into a legitimate boundary. Biblically, boundaries are not an excuse for selfishness, entitlement, or control. Boundaries are meant to protect us (as Jesus taught of wolves and swine) from false teaching, spiritual abuse, and unnecessary harm.

When you feel tension rising, a good rule of thumb is: Check under your own hood first! Are you coming from a place of flesh (selfish, competitive, vindictive) or a place of Spirit (e.g., agape love, fruit of the Spirit) Galatians 5:22-23. This sorting process would eliminate many conflicts, just be careful not to sacrifice discernment under the guise of being "loving." Withholding a needed warning is not loving and is often self-serving because we don't want the hassle of a loving confrontation.

When you have prayerfully considered the source of your tension, whether or not to change or enforce boundaries in the relationship becomes clearer. Remember not to measure the confrontation by the other person's response or reaction. Jesus confronted many who turned away from Him, but it was still the right thing to do. Sometimes things are revealed in a relationship, over time, which were not evident in the beginning. Don't waste a lot of time wishing it were not so. Move on--cling to fellowship with Jesus and those who encourage you in your relationship with Him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Thanksgiving Key

When I was a boy, I cared for a neighbors' dog when they were out of town. To get to the food and supplies, I needed to find the key, strategically hidden under a rock. The thing is, anyone could have found the key but, they needed to know to look for it.

Scripture holds some keys for us. Some are hard to find while others are hidden in plain sight. The thing is, most of the time, we are not looking for them. We are looking for information to gain knowledge or, we are looking for easy unconditional promises God makes for us, so we forget to look for a key. Such a key is gratitude.

In our search for peace, we can easily overlook gratitude as a key. Jesus' words were true when he said he gives us peace, not as the world gives, but peace that lasts, peace without lethal addiction and, peace without conditions. If someone gives you a new house and hands you the key, in what way is using the key a condition for having the house? Rather, the key is the means for entering in to abide and live and spill and do all the things that make a house your home. Giving thanks is such a key. The Apostle Paul puts it this way:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7New International Version (NIV)

These verses are great examples of how we can get stuck and forget to look for keys. Many people (I have been one) look no further than the first phrase and, they turn it into a rule: "Be anxious about nothing." So your boss calls you into a mandatory one-on-one meeting or, your wife calls you from the emergency room, or your son is in an automobile crash with no details available and you feel like such a sinner because, here you are, anxious.

Take a deep breath and read the rest of the sentence. It says to take everything, every situation to God. Not only that, but bring along thanksgiving. Thanksgiving? What an unlikely response in fear inducing situations. A key, hidden in plain sight, that opens the door to peace that transcends all understanding.

By turning to gratitude, we honor God and, we shift our focus--to his goodness, to his faithfulness, to his character, to his promises. Like the child who wakes from a nightmare and cries out for Daddy, cradled in his arms we hear him say, "I have you. Don't be afraid." In that context "be anxious in nothing" takes on a whole new meaning. It is not about a rule, it is about relationship with the Faithful One who will never leave you or forsake you (even when your emotions say the opposite).

It has been said that in the Bible, thanksgiving always precedes a miracle. Read the story of Lazarus again and find the key of thanksgiving, hidden in plain sight. It was there all the time. We just weren't looking for it there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Relationships: Follow the Flag!

For centuries, soldiers in battle would follow the flag of their country or regiment. This helped them to keep moving in the right direction. It also kept them from being separated from their comrades.

When asked for a few biblical principles to heal and improve relationships, an acrostic I like is FLAG, as in--follow God's flag for relationships.


If you get close to another human being for long enough, they will disappoint you, hurt you or, even betray you. If you eliminate from your life every person who causes you pain, you will end up alone. You were created for community. Forgiveness is YOUR get out of jail card; it sets you free from resentment, bitterness, and eternal replays of the offense against you. Forgiveness is not excusing the offense, (some things are inexcusable), rather it is letting go of your options to judge and punish the other person. Forgiveness is different from the pain you feel when you recall the offense. You may still be hurt and make the choice to give the other person to God--who alone knows what the other person needs (e.g., discipline or blessing). When we postpone forgiveness we fear that God won't get it right. But he will, and he may be waiting for you to get out of the way. Boundaries often need to change, but forgiveness is not an option, it is a command.

Bear with one another, forgiving whatever grievances you have against one another because Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:13

Pray: God help me to forgive as you have commanded. You are God and I am not, so I hand the person over to you. When I am tempted to pick this back up and help me to give it back to you. I still feel pain about this, so I ask you to teach me whatever it is you would have me learn (compassion, patience, grace) and bring good from it to further your Kingdom. Amen


Like Billy Joel sang, honesty is hardly ever heard. Maybe we think honesty has to be brutal. Maybe we have heard the word connected to rude, unsolicited opinions about inconsequential matters. But if Jesus came in grace and truth, and Paul exhorts us to speak truth in love, maybe there is a better way.

Speaking truth in love we will all grow up into the head of the Church, Jesus. Ephesians 4:15

Truth means many things. It is one of the gospel's two legs, the other being grace. The truth is, I need a savior. There is nothing I can do to be good enough to be in God's presence. There is only one remedy for my sin, and it is trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ to make me right with God. That's where grace comes into play, because God has made that provision, not because I deserve it but, because he extends his grace for all who will accept it. This is the benchmark and foundation for loving truth. We who believe can extend it to others because we have received it from him. Before we can accept his grace, we have to recognize the uncomfortable truth that we need it.

In human relationships, truth may be expressing loving concern for the path of a brother or sister. We are commanded to restore gently those who are overtaken by a fault. As with the gospel, we can lay it out there but, ultimately we are not in control of the other person's response. Sometimes what appears to be an unfruitful intervention takes time and, people can eventually give in to the truth. Honesty may also mean asking for what we need in a relationship, while remembering that our biblical perspective need to be what am I giving, not what am I getting. Other people cannot read our minds so, it is sometimes necessary to spell things out for them, Do it lovingly and you will get better results.

Pray: Father, help me to see your truth in all things and help me to know when and how to speak the truth in love. It is not loving for me to withhold a truth another needs to hear, but keep me from my own pride lest I stumble. Amen

A is for AGAPE love.

This is the kind of love a parent (hopefully) has for a child who is learning a new task (like walking or talking). The parent does not punish the child for not being proficient in his first efforts but, meets the child where he is (often on the floor), encouraging and believing in him. These attitudes from the parent encourage the child to get up and try again. Coming from the Holy Spirit who is infinitely patient with us, this kind of love never gives up, never fails, and gives the other person the benefit of the doubt. 1 Cor. 13

Above all, love one another deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Jesus "new command" was simply, "Love one another," as it fulfills every other command in Scripture. We know agape love in that while we were still defiant, Christ died for us. This love is the result of the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. It is not a matter of us mustering up more love; it is a matter of getting our selfish egos out of the way and asking how can I be salt and light?

Pray: God, I ask that you remind me of your love for me and of your desire that your love flow from me. I need this so that the camera in my mind stays focused on you and others and not on self. Let me put my ego (my sinful nature) to death so that I can live fully and abundantly for your glory. Amen

G is for the GOOD STUFF

One of the main traits of lasting relationships is the ability of partners to focus on the positive. We know the negative is there. Every human has different expectations for others and reality is, those expectations are not always met, even when we communicate honestly and lovingly. Similar to gratitude, focusing on what is good in relationships keeps our hearts open and helps us overlook our unmet expectations.

Whatever is good, true, right, pure, lovely, excellent, of good report, worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. Philippians 4:8

Pray: Father, please help me to choose  to think about what is right in the relationships you have given me. Help me to remember that you cause everything to work for my good and so, help me to turn my focus away from what I see as imperfect in others, even as I hope they will do for me. Teach me to be an encourager, acknowledging the good in others and cheering them on. Amen


There is no formula that guarantees every relationship will meet your expectations. You need to let go of that overall illusion. We are not in heaven yet, and we are not gods of our own little worlds. We live here with others who will sometimes make choices we do not agree with and, some of those choices will have a painful impact on us.

However, God is pleased when we choose to do these things. As we walk in fellowship with him, his Spirit prompts and empowers us to love in ways we never imagined. This is a win in and of itself. Often, we get back what we send out in relationships (think of echoes) and our relationships can only be enriched as we follow God's flag.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Q & A: The Foundation of Healthy Relationships

Healthy Relationships

This post is a summary of part of an interview I recently gave in a local church.

·        How would you encourage people to have a healthy foundation that would lead to healthy relationships?

Relationship with God is meant to change everything. When we trust in Jesus to be our salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of us. He begins a remodeling process in us that takes the rest of our lives. We have to cooperate with Him in this process. It is possible to be a Christian and remain self-centered and unloving. So talking with God, thinking about God, and learning about God are ways of deepening that relationship.

“7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:7-19New International Version (NIV)

Relationships require some kind of communication. The main way God talks to people is through his Word, so time in the Bible is huge. If we lack a biblical foundation, we are guessing what God wants (if we are thinking about what God wants at all). By becoming familiar with the Bible we are building a frame of reference. Then the Holy Spirit can bring a passage to mind just when we need it. You don’t have to spend hours every day, a few minutes a day adds up over time. You can listen to CDs or download Bible audio versions if you struggle with sitting down to read.

“12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12New International Version (NIV)

Ready to stop playing games? Ready for relationships based on more than selfish needs and competitive motives? Ready for a relationship with God that can have a positive and eternal impact on your other relationships? Make Him your priority and see what happens. You will be amazed!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

King of kings, Lord of lords

The phrase “king of kings” is found in Scripture six times. Once, the title is applied to God the Father (1 Timothy 6:15), and twice to the Lord Jesus (Revelation 17:14; 19:16). The other three (Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37) refer to either Artaxerxes or Nebuchadnezzar, kings who used the phrase to describe their supposed sovereignty over their respective realms (Persia and Babylon). The phrase “lord of lords” is used in Scripture five times and only referring to God (Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 136:3; 1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). It is significant to note that, used together, the two phrases refer only to Jesus the Christ.

In 1 Timothy 6, Paul is concluding his letter to Timothy, reminding him to fight the good fight and keep his profession of faith.Timothy is to do these things “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” whom he describes as “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion.” The title indicates one who has the power to exercise absolute dominion. In the case of the Lord Jesus, his realm is all of creation. Paul takes pains to emphasize the unique nature of Christ’s rule, calling Him the “only” Sovereign, who is “alone” and “unapproachable.” The rule of Jesus stands alone and above all. Jesus trumps all.

The other two uses of the phrase, those in Revelation, refer to the return and final conquest of Jesus. The implication is that ultimately all other rules will be conquered or abolished, and He alone will reign supreme as King and Lord of all.  The writer of Hebrews says of the Lord Jesus: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). The next verse describes Jesus as “much superior” to the angels. Clearly, His rule is absolute.

Paul clarifies this rule is derived from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Philippians 2:5-11, he discusses the lengths to which Jesus went to atone for sinners, and concludes that this is the reason that “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (vv. 9-11).

Finally, the Book of Revelation fully reveals the Kingship of Jesus. In chapter 5, the Lamb (Jesus) is the only one in all creation found worthy to open the scroll containing the judgments of God (vv. 2-5). In chapter 11, voices in heaven proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of Christ, and that He will reign forever and ever (v. 15). In chapter 12,  the authority of Christ is what causes Satan to be thrown down to earth (vv. 9-10). In chapter 17:12-14, the Lamb conquers all those gathered against Him, and John stresses that He conquers because He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Finally, in chapter 19, we read of His triumphant coming to strike the nations and tread the winepress of the wrath of God, having the authority to do so as King of kings and Lord of lords (vv. 11-16).

Jesus being King of kings and Lord of lords means that there is no greater authority. His reign over all  is absolute. God raised Him from the dead and placed Him over all things, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:21-23).

In a world that questions or ignores his existence, we followers are challenged to remember his authority over us. His commands (e.g. love one another) are not mere suggestions. But what he calls us to do, he also empowers us to do. Why wait for a final judgment day to bow to him? Everything in the universe is his, including you and all you call "yours". Offer it to him now because, he only has your best interest at heart. And as Paul writes in Colossians 3:15, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts," because Jesus trumps all.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Good Shepherd

When I first felt drawn to Western Colorado, Mary and I came out in the Fall to visit the valley we would later call home. As we drove from Gunnison to Montrose, a favorite memory we often recall is the sight of shepherds driving sheep through green pastures and glowing red oaks under the robin-egg-blue Colorado sky. I have since learned that Spanish shepherds were among the first settlers here.

Shepherds have always lived solitary lives with minimal accommodations. As with any profession, some are more dedicated to the sheep than others. Jesus loved to use the analogy of sheep and shepherds and called himself the "good shepherd." He knew that some shepherds were not invested in the sheep while others would literally lay down their lives for the flock. The analogy was not lost on his listeners. Sheep and shepherds were an integral part of their culture.

When he described a hired hand who would abandon the sheep when danger arose, his listeners would have known that he was referring to some religious leaders who loved the position and prestige they enjoyed, but did not love the people they were supposed to shepherd. In stark contrast, Jesus was saying that his commitment to them was as serious as life and death. He promised that he would lay down his life for them.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

Eventually these words would prove prophetic. He did indeed lay down his life for our sakes. Religious leaders (consorting with other politicians) turned out to be the wolves who took him down but, he was clear that nothing happened to him that was not in the plan. He was not surprised and he was not their victim. Something else was going on, a spiritual battle--with eternal consequences--between good and evil. For a moment in time, it appeared that evil had triumphed over him--until his resurrection.

He is still the good shepherd. Having laid down his life, he continues to care for his flock of followers, resting us in green pastures, leading us beside quiet waters, restoring our souls. His commitment to us already proven, he will be true to his promise to keep us. If you are lost, he will not rest until you are found. Once he has ahold of you, no one can snatch you out of his hand.

If you have been a Christian for a long time, maybe you take these words for granted. Why not pause and reflect on the good Shepherd who cradles you tightly to his chest. While the call of the good Shepherd's voice is sometimes dangerous, in the end, there is no safer place to be.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Our little red tool box sits on a chest of drawers in the garage. Smaller than the average toolbox, it contains the most basic tools needed to function in a home and for those "some assembly required" purchases: hammer, screwdrivers, tape measure, pliers, etc. Without these basics we would be really helpless. Of all the tools in the box, the Phillips-head screw driver is easily the most used and so it has a place of special honor on top of the heap.

Words are the fundamental tools of language. Of all the words in the English vocabulary, "word" itself has taken on many uses and meanings. For example, we may ask someone to give us his word, we believe a man is as good as his word, up to date information on a subject is considered the latest word, in an argument we want the last word and, when someone says something truthful or insightful we might simply respond: "Word." You might call word one of our most used tools.

Language evolves over time. When reading ancient literature, including the Bible, we miss something when we gloss over some phrases, including this one about the Word:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)

First, the Gospel of John, unlike that of Luke, is not considered a biography so much as a thematic presentation of Jesus' life. John wanted people to understand that Jesus' actions and teachings are inseparable from who he is. He shows Jesus as fully God and fully human--he took on full humanity but never ceased being eternal God (Creator, Sustainer of all things, source of eternal life). As one of Jesus' disciples and eye witness to the things he recorded, John wanted to convey this foundational truth so that people could believe that Jesus really was the Son of God.

John wrote to people of different cultures and backgrounds. Many in his reading audience were Greeks. To them, John wanted to show that Jesus is not only different from but superior to the mythological gods of their traditions. John wanted to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of all Old Testament literature, also referred to as the written Word.

So, what does John mean when he calls Jesus the Word? Theologians and philosophers of both cultures used the term in many different ways. In Hebrew Scripture, the Word was an agent of creation (Psalm 33:6), the source and message to his people through the prophets (Hosea 1:2) and God's law and standard of holiness (Psalm 119:11). To Greek philosophers the Word was the principle of reason that governed the world, while to Hebrews the Word was another way of saying God. John's introduction to his Gospel clearly explains that he his talking about Jesus (vs. 14) as a human being he knew and loved and, simultaneously God--Creator of all things, the ultimate revelation of God and, the living manifestation of his holiness.To the Jewish readers, "the Word was God" (in reference to Jesus or any man) was blasphemous; to the Greek reader, "the Word became flesh" was unthinkable. John introduced a completely new use of the Word as gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

As we read the first chapter of the Gospel of John with this deeper understanding, layers of meaning and truth open up to us. What John is saying was--and is--revolutionary. To John, to think that Jesus was just a good man or a great teacher was to miss the point entirely. Here he emphatically insists that with the advent, death and resurrection of Jesus, God has had the last Word.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Author and Finisher

The recent political scene in the United States has involved a lot of controversy about the Constitution. In conversations about it, eventually someone says something about what the authors intended (or did not intend). This is not a blog post about those debates, rather about an author of something greater--our faith!

The Hebrew recipients of the letter of Hebrews knew the characters of chapter 11 very well. Abraham, Noah, Rahab, Moses, Joseph, Jacob and Esau, the faithful who passed through the Red Sea--these people inhabited the pages of Old Testament literature as examples of people led by faith to places they did not know and could not handle (apart from God). The Jews claimed such a heritage with great pride--and rightly so. The writer of Hebrews wanted them to get the big picture--that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament faith. In his coming, the Word became flesh (John 1) and the goodness of God walked among us in grace and truth.Having just given what we affectionately call "faith's hall of fame" in Hebrews chapter 11, the writer of the book concludes this:

"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."  (Hebrews 12:2)

All biblical faith is authored by and made complete by this God-man, Jesus. Far from a passive victim of circumstance who floated along contemplating fields of lilies until he landed in court, Jesus was there when  the world was made, holds all things together by his faithful character, lays down his life for his followers, goes to prepare a place for them, and promised to come back to make things right in the world. He is worthy of our trust (faith), and he actively and deliberately carried out the plan of salvation for all who trust in him.

As we go about our daily activities, is he the author and finisher of our lives? As with the Old Testament saints listed in Hebrews 11, circumstances sometimes appear to be random and impossible as we walk through them. The question is whether the anchor of our trust is lodged deep within his true and faithful heart. He walked through some dark and seemingly random places for us, so he is compassionate and understanding of our tests and trials.Let's patiently run the race set before us, our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and fulfiller of our faith. He won't let us down.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Wonderful Counselor

When I meet with people in my office for the first time, I ask them about any previous counseling experiences. Frequently they cannot remember the name of the person who counseled them a year ago. This is humbling of course, because we like to think we are unforgettable.

There are exceptions though. Once in  a while, someone will report that so and so was wonderful as a counselor. When I ask what was good or helpful, they say things like "good listener," "offered perspectives," or "gave us skills."

One of the famous names of Jesus (given to him in the prophecies of the Old Testament and repeated by the angels at his birth) is Wonderful Counselor. Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines "counselor" as one who counsels or advises. Certainly we see plenty of these in Jesus' teachings. He was always listening, reading the heart of the speaker and hitting them between the eyes with his replies. The rich young ruler was asked to give all he had to the poor and follow him; Peter was called Satan for asking him to take the easy route; Martha was told to stop her busy work and sit down and listen. His Kingdom perspective lifted us above the daily grind to see the world from an eternal perspective. Amassing wealth and high positions are meaningless, or even hindrances, in this new Kingdom. He challenged us to find the blessing in being poor in spirit, meekness and mourning.  He taught us how to live in ways that were often new and usually unexpected--count the cost, give more than people request, keep looking forward, live one day at a time, give up your life and you will save it--the teachings of his Kingdom turned everything upside down. He never once invited people into a marginal relationship with God but, taught them that there is nothing more valuable by comparison.

Interestingly, when he knew his time to leave this planet was just around the corner, he told his followers that a Counselor (the Holy Spirit) was about to come. His Spirit would lead them into all wisdom and give them power. While on earth, Jesus was in one place at a time, dealing with, healing or teaching those with him, then and there. Since the advent of his Spirit of holiness, we have his presence with us, simultaneously, wherever we go. As such, he empowers us, listens, changes our perspectives, and teaches us new ways of being and living.

Human counsel is inherently flawed. As a counselor I know that on my best day the words that come from me are a mixed bag. I pray true wisdom sticks to people and the rest is forgotten. It does not matter that people will not remember my name a few years from now. What matters is that they enter into a deeper relationship with the Wonderful Counselor who will never leave them or steer them wrong.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6   New International Version (NIV)

Monday, July 21, 2014

World Book Blog Tour

The World Book Blog Tour provides a format to get acquainted with authors and their works. Each author is invited by a friend who in turn invites more friends. It is sort of a daisy chain of creativity. Thanks, readers, for taking a minute to check it out!

Thanks as well to Elizabeth Van Liere for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Elizabeth has enjoyed success as a writer for many years, and her book, “Dare to Live: Devotions for Those Over the Hill, Not Under It!”  offers easily digestible and highly nutritious bites of insight in the form of devotions, each served up with savory garnishes of humor and wisdom. Whatever your age, it might be just the boost you need in your spiritual walk!
These are the questions posed by the World Blog Tour:

 What am I working on?

In addition to my full time counseling ministry, I maintain a blog, “grace and truth” and an author website. This year I have completed drafts for several chapters of a new book about “being light.” Jesus said to his followers, “You are the light of the world…” I feel inspired to explore what it looks like to be “a city on a hill, a lamp on a stand” right where we live—everyday. I am toying with the question about whether this might be subtitled “On the Road Home” and become a sequel to “Milestones: On the Road Home.” (“Being Light” should stand alone. However, I do think it is a next step to intimacy with God and others, the theme of “Milestones.”)

 How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My extensive experience and training as a counselor have taught me how to help people go deeper. Following each short devotional I pose several questions designed to make the reader squirm a bit. The purpose is to challenge the reader to a deeper insight and, more importantly, to encourage change in the way we live our lives. My books are not passive experiences as they invite the reader to participate in the journey of following Jesus more closely, by taking the relational message of the Gospel of Christ to heart. Finally, suggested prayers tie each chapter together, acknowledging our need for God to do his will.

 Why do I write what I do?

Several years ago, a friend encouraged me to start a blog, and from that conversation “grace and truth”was born. As I saw the message spread worldwide, and as I got feedback about how helpful the blog was, a spark became a flame. Though I was initially reluctant to write “Milestones” the feedback from grateful readers has inspired me to keep writing! The idea that something I write causes someone to walk closer to Jesus gives me an indescribable charge! Writing has become a fun and creative way to multiply the ministry God has given me, broadening my investment in the Kingdom.

 How does my writing process work?

I have an idea or hear a phrase and begin to contemplate, what does this really mean, what are the implications, what would it look and feel like to really live this out? I ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten me—show me things I have not seen before—and I examine the concept in Scripture, not just an isolated verse. As sit down to write, the next sentence often surprises me! Only later do I go back and put on my analytical hat to eliminate errors, reduce redundancies, and to clarify confusing statements. The goal is to say what God wants to be said on a given subject, offering clear and honest encouragement.

 The authors I have invited to participate in the World Book Blog Tour next week are:

Cheryl Ott is a suicide survivor and author of Stubborn Love: A Recommitment to Live When Giving Up Seemed so Much Easier, an inspirational Keynote Speaker, and the founder of Anchor Of Hope, Int'l, an organization aimed at reducing the incidence of suicide. What makes Cheryl's story unique is that she has overcome a major depressive disorder and suicidal behavior after learning the skills necessary to live free from depression. She's experienced this freedom for more than a decade.

David Wolstenholm is the author of Combat Ready which was written by and for veterans and active-duty personnel. It takes you on the journey from beginning to end of the military life paralleled by the life of a Christian. Personal and combat stories are interwoven into the book to bring it to life.

Bryan Yeager is the administrative director of Samaritan Aviation. He has authored 2 books to date: Franchise, a fictional account of what might happen if a corporation devoted itself to significance—not success, and A Young Person’s Guide to Personal Happiness (Or How Not to Screw Up the Rest of Your Life).

Monday, June 30, 2014

About Judgment

"Judgment" has such a bad ring to it. Probably this is because it has been misused so often. We have so easily judged one another, oblivious to the fact that we have been guilty of the same (or worse) offenses. Jesus clearly taught us not to judge one another, for by the same standard that we judge others, we ourselves will be judged (Matthew 7:1,2). In his inimitable style, he taught that we should remove the beam from our own eye first, then we will be able to see more clearly to remove the speck from our brother's eye. This latter implies an attitude of discernment (the Greek word anakrino shares the same root and is sometimes translated as judgment) but the motivation is one of helpfulness, not condemnation. Note that Jesus ultimately does not teach us not to remove the speck from our brother's eye, only to remove the plank from our own eye first.

And that attitude is the pivot point. There are times, in scripture as in the spiritual life, that we are called upon to discern and to be helpful to one another. If someone is found in a sin, a spiritual brother should go to him in order to restore him (again, the goal is not condemnataion or punishment without a plan of reconciliation). Paul begged the question, as if it was widely understood, "Are you not to judge those inside the church?" (1 Corinthians 5:12), while in other places, he cautioned believers not to become petty and judgmental over disputable matters (Romans 14:4). As usual, these matters become complicated simply because they are NOT all or nothing, black or white. There is a time to share our judgments and discernments, and time not to. Figuring out when, why, and how is part of the group process of spiritual maturity. We can sin by judging, to be certain, just as we can sin by turning a blind eye to the sin of another. Sorting this out on our knees before the Lord is crucial, being careful lest we stumble ourselves. A basic rule of thumb for deciding to confront might be: "Is it helpful? Is it truthful? Is it necessary?" Consulting with other mature believers can bring perspective when the problems have become too emotionally charged for us.

We are to exercise judgment (discernment) in listening to what we are taught. These days, teaching comes at us in the forms of books, articles, blogs (that's right), music, commentary from the platform before and after the message, and the sermon proper. We are admonished to pay attention, and to run what we hear and see through the filter of scripture. This takes some maturity, but even a new believer can do this with some effort. In fact, the new convert is more likely to exert the effort. The complacent Christian may become lax and drift away from the discipline of guarding the pure and simpe truth. A healthy, spiritual leader will welcome your questions. Luke describes the believers at the church in Berea as more noble than the rest, for they searched the scriptures daily to see whether the things they were being taught were true(Acts 17:11).

As our lives become informed by scripture (truth), we develop a frame of reference that gives us judgment about our lives. Beyond the obvious choices of avoiding sins, there are issues of motivations, obedience to God, benefit to His Kingdom versus self. These kinds of values begin to inform our decisions and guide our choices. Our judgment becomes grounded in biblical wisdom. This happens only when the collection of thoughts and facts become integrated, and we develop integrity. I beleive this is what James is referring to when he says we should not be like the male (Greek aner) who looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what he sees; rather, we should look deep into God's word and let it inform all that we are and all that we do.

Then we will exercise judgment and discern wisely for our own sakes, and for the sakes of others. Our judgment will be grounded in grace because we will not forget our own need of it. Our motives will be empowered by love because His Spirit flows through us to do His will for the sake of His Kingdom.

"You hypcrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Matthew 7:5

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself or you also may be tempted." Galatians 6:1

"Are you not to judge those inside the church?" (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


Waiting is no fun. Recently I heard a character on Downton Abbey say, "There is no worse feeling than waiting for something to happen." As a young man in the 70's I used to hum along with a song about anticipation..."it's breaking my mind...keeping me waiting..."

For centuries, the Jewish people had waited for their Messiah to come and restore the fortunes of Israel, liberating them from oppressors, and extending his rule over Gentile (non-Jewish) nations. Generations came and departed and still they waited. Then came the announcement of the angel at the birth of Jesus, "I bring you good tidings of great joy! Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ the Lord!"

The name we use today, Christ, is actually a transliteration of the title Messiah. That just means that the English translators chose to spell out the word in Greek (christos) rather than giving its original meaning. So "Jesus Messiah" is really a more accurate way of saying "Jesus Christ." Jesus responded to the question put to him by the high priest, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" by saying, "It is as you say." He was acknowledging, for the record, his identity as Messiah.

As a member of the family of David, Jesus was proclaimed as Messiah both before his birth and after his resurrection. Jesus himself was slow to make messianic claims because of the ideas about the Messiah in the minds of the Jewish people. Those ideas were very different from the character and purpose of his ministry and so, he did not want to encourage the wrong ideas.

When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus told him and the others to tell no one that he was the Christ. It was a matter of timing because he had first to suffer and die. After his death and resurrection, what he had done changed the old concept of messiahship. He was proclaimed as Messiah, God's Anointed King, resurrected in glory to occupy the throne of the universe.

What are you waiting for? Do you wait for a time when everything will come together harmoniously so that you can live happily ever after? Are you waiting for the world to change to match your expectations? Are you waiting for that special someone to complete you and make you whole? Is it possible that, like Israel at the time of Jesus, we misunderstand the meaning of what he has provided for us?

Jesus has done what was needed to grant you peace and joy right now, in the midst of apparent chaos, confusion, and loneliness. He waits patiently for you to turn to him to find all you  need, and more.  He is the Messiah who longs to reign in you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Alpha and Omega

We see it all the time and, few things are more disappointing. Athletes, celebrities, politicians, race horses and marriages start strong but falter before the big finale. Once we see a promising beginning, we long for a victorious finish. Followers hopes rise to the Sun--only to have their waxed wings melted--and plummet to despair.

The story of Jesus' life has two tracks. On the surface, he was born to impoverished teens under suspicious circumstances. He grew up on a remote village, the son of a common laborer. The religious authorities of his day rejected his claims. His followers misunderstood his teachings and, in the end, most of them abandoned him as he died like a common criminal. From the perspective of people at the time, it must have seemed like a weak start and a weak performance followed by a weak finish.

But from an eternal perspective, Jesus (the Word) existed before creation, created everything and, at just the right time came into the world to bring light into the darkness. The gospel writers traced his lineage back to King David. His life and words changed the world, and still cause controversy and faith 2,000 years later. Three days after his redeeming death on a cross, he rose and appeared to hundreds of people over an extended period of time. He promised to come back for those who trust and follow him, to judge the world, and to reign forever.

The writer of the book of Revelation quotes the resurrected Jesus saying, "I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last." (Rev. 22:13) In recording this, John is acknowledging Jesus Christ as Creator, Redeemer and Final Judge of everything.

More than a teacher or philosopher, Jesus radical claim placed him alongside God the Father and the Holy Spirit as Eternal God. Either he was what he claimed to be or the authorities were right to kill him as the greatest heretic who ever lived.

He is the first and the last. Far from weak, his plan and execution might not have been what was expected but, it was flawless. His purpose was accomplished. The way to God is open for all who will walk in it. The Eternal One, the Alpha and Omega, has already seen and promised the glorious outcome.

His plan for you is good. Your life runs on two tracks. To society you may not look like much but, from an eternal perspective, if you are trusting and walking with Jesus, you are already a winner. Your life is hidden with Christ in God, ready to be revealed at just the right time. Keep the faith and finish strong!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Man of Sorrows

I see posts on facebook from time to time asking friends to use a word to describe the poster. There is sometimes even a menu of choices. I cannot remember any of them giving "sad" or "sorrowful" as options. After all, everybody knows facebook is about fun, right? And wouldn't we consider it a slam if someone said that's what they thought of us? At best, we might think they felt sorry for us. No, sorrow is not good public relations.

Isaiah either did not know that, or did not care when he prophesied about Jesus:

"He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him." (Isaiah 53:3)

When was the last time you saw a church named "First Church of Sorrows" or "Sad Man Sanctuary?" You have not seen them because we do not like sorrow. We are not attracted to it. To call Jesus a man of sorrows makes him sound...sad. What in the world was the Holy Spirit thinking when he gave these words to Isaiah?

Consider this: You have just come through a terrible patch in life. You are closing in on 50 and your job and marriage are on the skids. Your kids hardly acknowledge you any more, and you just can't seem to shake the feeling that life is over for you. You look in the phone book and find the name of a counselor. You make an appointment with Caring Carl and show up for your appointment. The counselor walks into the lobby and you are surprised to see that he looks to be about 25 years old. He tells you he is not married, has never had a serious relationship (or a job before this new practice). He is from a privileged background and has never wanted for anything. Oh, and he looks like Tom Cruise. What are you thinking at this point? Can this man, so unacquainted with sorrow begin to understand or empathize with you? Probably not. He may offer some sound textbook advice, but you leave his office feeling worse than when you entered.

What you need is a counselor who has had some sad days, weeks, or even years, and has overcome them. Someone with some experiences under their belt. Someone who has been in the darkness and found the switch. What you need is a man or woman acquainted with sorrow. It is this the writer of Hebrews refers to when he says that we have a compassionate high priest (Jesus) who understands our pain because he has been there.

Jesus came, the first time, to suffer and die as a sacrifice for our sins. Many today want to shy away from the so-called down side and focus on a "happy gospel" where it is all about your joy, your happiness, your blessings, your best life...YOU. The gospel of the Bible is one of suffering, a sacred sorrow that leads to repentance. The outcome is joy with its foundation firmly planted in eternity--not whether God is coming through for you the way you think he should here and now.

It may not be the best public relations. Not many people are signing up to follow Jesus into a sacred sorrow. Maybe that's why the gate that leads to salvation is narrow and few find it. We have to know we are sick before we can ask to be healed. It is the gate that leads to peace with God and eternity-based joy. Like Jesus, we long to do the (sometimes unpopular) will of the Father. The thing is, the Father really does know what's best for us.

The Man of Sorrows stands by to walk with you through your darkest valleys (and your brightest paths). There is no circumstance that will cause him to walk away from you. He will never give up on your broken life or your broken heart. Compassionate and patient, he is there for you, always, and his promise to all who trust him is to bring beauty from ashes. He is the redeemer of everything, and he is not afraid to get down in the mud and the muck to do it. He gets it; he understands you. His love never fails and, by his stripes we are healed.

... behind it, and what is the meaning behind Christ, The Man Of Sorrows

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Lion

During a time of deep emotional and spiritual wounding, when I went to sleep with a plea for Jesus' presence in my heart, I dreamed of a lion. The lion in my dream lived with us. He was not a pet but had well deserved respect from us. As I lay on the rug in front of a fireplace beside the lion, suddenly he had me in a bear hug from behind, his mouth covering my head. My first reaction was fear, until he held me there for a while and I realized the gesture was one of loving control and protection. The lion had my back.

In Christian tradition, the Lion of Judah represents the triumphant Jesus. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah and he is mentioned as the Lion of Judah in Revelation 5:5; "And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof." Many Christian organizations and ministries use the lion of Judah as their emblem or even their name. The use in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia of a lion named Aslan is known to represent Christ.

Jesus first appeared on earth as a sacrificial lamb. He was literally led to slaughter to provide a bridge between this fallen world and the holiness of God. He was not a victim but a willing participant in our redemption, if we trust in his righteousness (and not our own) to save us. The second chapter of the book of Philippians shows us that because Jesus descended from heaven and humbled himself in this way, he is given the "name above all names" and everyone, eventually, will worship him.

In Revelation, we see the risen Christ, triumphant, certain of his victory over sin and our mortal enemy. His message to you, wherever you are is this: "Dry your tears. The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed." He has your back.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Man

Remember the popular phrase, "You da' man?" We used it whenever someone surpassed our expectations in some way. From a friend or partner it was a badge of camaraderie, the gold medal of brotherhood, so to speak. I suppose it was a rather sexist way of saying, "well done." A hundred years earlier there might have been in its place a rousing chorus of "He's a jolly good fellow..."

Of all the things that Jesus is called in the gospels, the one I find the most intriguing is "the Son of Man." Jesus used it to refer to himself more than any other, possibly because it was not a title already used in the culture, therefore unsullied by pre-existing ideas. This title just means, "The Man" and Jesus gave it a whole new significance as he used it in 3 distinct ways.

First, he used it generally to refer to himself, often in place of the pronoun "I." For example, when he warned a would be disciple of the cost of following him he said "the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke 9:58). It was his way of saying that those who follow him must be willing to share his homeless existence if called upon to do so.

Second, Jesus used it when he referred to his need to fulfill prophecies, specifically those which foretold his suffering. This usage is seen in "the Son of Man must suffer" (Mark 8:31), in reminding them it was "written concerning the Son of Man, that he must suffer many things and be treated with contempt" (Mark 9:12). He referred to his being taken captive and his crucifixion at the Last Supper declaring "The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him" (Mark 14:21), and when he submitted to his captors he said "The Scriptures must be fulfilled."

Ultimately, Jesus referred to himself as "Son of Man"--the one who had and exercised exceptional authority. This authority, he was clear, was given to him by God the Father. When he said "The Son of man has power on earth to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10), he was declaring this authority. This special use of Son of Man got him into some trouble with those who just wanted a rabbi, not a Lord: "The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28). The Son of Man spoke and acted in these cases as the ultimate prototype human being. In Genesis, God had given people dominion over all the works of His hands and, the Son of Man was in a position to exercise that dominion in very literal ways.

Looking into the future, Jesus promised (and warned his opponents) that the Son of Man will be seen "coming in the clouds with great power an glory" (Mark 13:26), and "sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62). The illusion, at the time, was that he was the victim of their illegal proceedings and political intrigues but, a reversal of fortune was coming when He comes with the authority of God Himself.

Stephen, the first martyr of the early church, was the only other person on record as calling Jesus the Son of Man. While he was being stoned he declared he saw "the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56). In this vision, Jesus stood as his witness in fulfillment of his promise "Whoever confesses me before men, him the Son of Man will confess before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8).

In the title "Son of Man" we see Jesus humility, poverty, past and future fulfillment of prophecy, the ultimate example of humanity, and Lord of the Sabbath.  In every sense of the word, he was and is--The Man.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014


People often bring into my office the opportunity for reconciliation. Two people, once in love, have grown apart. Misunderstandings piled upon hurt feelings and the walls of defense are only outmatched by their growing arsenal of ways to hurt one another. Yet something brings them in--a glimmer of hope for paradise regained. In all my years of working with all kinds of issues, there is nothing more miraculous than seeing a relationship healed, reconciled, redeemed.

Reconciliation is simply the act of bringing two or more disagreeing people into agreement. It implies that motives and feelings of hostility are abandoned for the purpose of restoring damaged or broken relationships. There are people, like me, who make a profession of it.

The ultimate reconciliation came to the world to reconcile fallen people and a broken world to a holy and blameless God. "Religion" was and is about people trying to reach God through  personal effort and human goodness. Jesus brought a new deal. He became righteousness for us because we could not become righteousness (completely blameless before God) on our own. And he did it (pardon Paul's lack of political correctness by mentioning it) through his blood, shed on the cross.

"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Colossians 1:19

So, today is the day to take a deep breath and drink in peace. You do not have to be perfect or even good enough. You are already loved beyond description and, if you have trusted in the righteousness of Christ, you are reconciled with God through his sacrifice.

Part of his ongoing redemption, his reconciliation, is to write his will on the hearts of those he loves so that they respond not out of fear, but out of love.  Jesus referred to this kind of relationship redemption when he said the peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called the sons of God.

In making your personal applications, please do not lose sight of what the Apostle Paul is saying about Jesus: there is One who reconciles the vast chasm between God and man. No other philosopher, theologian, intellectual or mystic became the eternal sacrifice for you. Admire who you will--but worship the one and only Jesus.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Holding It All Together

Recently we dismantled our satellite connections inside and outside of the house. The process was way more involved than I imagined. I would have thought that all I needed to do was to unplug my receivers and send them back. But with this particular company I had to do that plus remove a mother board looking thing from the outside of my house, as well as some noise reduction gadgets from each satellite dish. (I had some help from a friend with one of these that exceeded the reach of my ladder.) To my surprise, most of these items, standing out in the elements for many years, were held together with one or two small screws! I am amazed they held together as long as they did in our Colorado weather.

There are times in our lives that test the metal of the screws that hold us together. The array of problems that parades through the typical counseling office astound the most seasoned among us: indescribable pain and unutterable losses revolving around seemingly unbearable circumstances. It is in walking through these bleak seasons that people discover the reality of their faith and the truth of sustaining grace. The presence and comfort of the Shepherd who walks with us through these dark valleys (notably not around or away from) reveals the tangible nature of deep and abiding relationship with him. It is when nothing else works for us that we realize that Jesus is the force that holds us together.

Paul wrote to the Colossians:

"17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy." Colossians 1:17-18

Jesus Christ was before all things--present and active at creation. He is also active in holding all things together: the balance of the planets, especially earth, suspended at just the right distance from the Sun to sustain life and allow the cycle of our water planet to work; the intricate balance of nature providing all that is needed (micro-organisms, oxygen, water, light, photosynthesis, gravity); seasons, and on and on. What we call the natural order might be described as the character of Christ.

Have you considered that Christ is also holding you together? Literally, every atom (each an inexplicable miracle in its own right) just where it needs to be to serve a unique function as part of an organ contributing to the greater needs of the body which in turn is capable of interacting with the environment and other organisms. Virtually, Jesus holds you together through the storms of life as well. At those times he speaks: "I'm right here. Will you trust me?"

Don't misunderstand--this Colossians passage is all about Jesus--his deity, his timelessness, his role as creator and sustainer, his place as head of the body (the church), the firstborn among those who will rise again, supreme over all.

But isn't it good to know that the "all things" he holds together includes you and me?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Exalted Matters

Mary, my wife, has had a couple of chance encounters with celebrities. At a music camp in a remote location, I found her sitting at a table with one of the male stars of the television series, "Lost." On one of our jaunts to a Nashville music store, she complimented a young man on his choice of guitars--without realizing it was Brad Paisley. My wife: celebrity magnet.

The rarity of these coincidences aside, what we noticed most were the gentle, humble personalities of these men. The Lost star was in several music classes with me and, actually seemed a bit insecure, frequently whispering in my ear, "Do I sound okay?" Mr. Paisley, incognito in standard ball cap, blue jeans and tee shirt, could have been any guy on the block. He accepted Mary's compliment with grace and wished us a nice day. I know men in my own community whose life stance is, "Do you know who I am?" But these celebrities did not need to flaunt their fame or superiority. They walked among us as fellow humans, laying aside any celebrity status.

The second chapter of Philippians contains one of the most beautiful chapters in the New Testament, which speaks of an even more dramatic example of this principle. The apostle Paul is encouraging the believers in Philippi to adopt the same attitude. Not only does it speak to how we should do life, it speaks volumes about Christ:

Philippians 2:5-11
New International Version (NIV)
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

He is, in his very nature--God! In terms of rank, he is equal with God. And because of his willingness to empty himself, to become one of us, submitting to God the Father all the way to the cross, God has given him a place of exaltation--a name above all names and a promise that every knee will bow and acknowledge him as Lord.

Jesus Christ is not just a man who practiced holiness and became like God. He was God before he came to earth. He is not merely another great philosopher, though his teaching changed the world. He is not just another prophet, foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the age, he is the fulfillment of all prophecies. He is not our buddy, our therapist or, our imaginary friend. He is God and exalted King.

The love of God is seen in this--while living in perfect bliss in heavenly realms, Father, Son and Spirit colluded in a conspiracy to restore fellowship with a fallen world and its broken inhabitants. God loves the world this much: He gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will never perish, having eternal life. Your decision about whether you believe this or not is yours, he gives you that freedom. But your decision about who he is does not change who he is, any more than our initial belief that Brad Paisley was just another guy cancelled out his true identity.

One thing about that decision? What you choose to believe about Jesus has eternal consequences for you. Choose wisely.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Supreme Matters

I remember riding shotgun in a buddy's Cutlass Supreme back in the late 70's. We were young and free from responsibilities, and this was a first taste of luxury. To us, it was a supreme experience--a chance to savor the best life had to offer.
Some words have lost their power through overuse. We love everything from our family to cookouts. Everything we approve of is awesome and, we apply the word supreme to everything from courts to tacos. We love comparison so we desire to know what is the best--cruise, restaurant,  baseball team, American singer or place to live. It seems to matter a great deal to most of us, that we get our share of the best the world has to offer.
So, it seems extremely ironic to me that when the best of the best is right in front of us, we want to make it less than supreme.  Take Jesus. Ask the average person what they think of him and, what do you think you will hear? "Get away from me with that fanatical stuff!" "Oh what a good man and great teacher!" "I love what he did, he changed the world!" "I think he's one of many who taught us a way to enlightenment." " I have no problem with Jesus, he was a gentle spirit." Even the most generous of these comments express a weak view of the biblical Jesus:
"15 The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him." Colossians 1:15-16, parenthesis mine.
Why would we want to diminish him? I mean, God came to us in the form of a scandalous babe.  Both God and man, he grew before us as a tender plant. He was tempted in all ways and yet never sinned. He gave us words of life, and then offered his life as a sacrifice for sin so that we can approach God as sons and daughters. That should be nothing but good news--supreme news! So why would we not enthusiastically embrace him and worship him?
I fear the answer to that "why" has a lot to do with our desire to be the masters of our own fates. If another is master over us, we might not like what he asks us to do--and not to do. This goes against our independence and what we imagine to be our freedom. How can we worship another when, truthfully, we are the gods of our own lives?

Real worship is more than a one time intellectual acceptance of who he is. The apostle Paul, in the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans, says that our spiritual act of worship is to give our bodies (our lives and everything in them) to God in sacrificial living. This is a result of growing, loving relationship with God through Jesus. As a favorite writer puts it, "Everything" is what you give up and what you gain to really follow Jesus.  
After delivering a particularly tough message, the crowd turned away from Jesus. He looked at his motley posse and asked if they would leave him too. One of the more outspoken responded that they had nowhere else to go because Jesus had THE words of life.
And that is what it's like to live in the light of the supreme One. No one else can satisfy. Nothing else will do. Now I see those cars in period movies of the 70's and I am surprised how funny they look to me. The things of  this world, including tastes in cars, fashions and kitchen appliances, change to the point the once-supreme is now laughable.

One stands heads and shoulders above it all--eternally supreme. Why would we put our faith in anything or anyone but the best?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Greater than Angels

Twice I have been stranded on the road, in two different states (Oklahoma and Colorado). Though these circumstances occurred about 10 years apart, they share a common outcome. Both times I was picked up by an ordinary looking man, white shirt and tie, driving a green Jaguar with tan leather interior. Both times the conversation went about the same. The man said, " I normally don't pick up strangers but you didn't look too dangerous."

The first time, I thought little of it. On the highway between Dallas and Oklahoma City, it was not that unusual to see a nice car and a well dressed driver. I paid little attention to his appearance beyond that, being mainly concerned with getting a tow to a repair shop.

The second time, I was in a company car making a steep climb from the plains to West Cliff Colorado. I was struck by the similarity of the cars, thinking, are you kidding me? I really could not say that it was the same driver, having paid so little attention the first time. My best guess is that is was the same man, though he did not look any older. My only explanation for this is that this was an angel sent from God to help me in times of need, and that the similarities were intentional. God wanted me to know for sure that he had his hand on me.

The Bible talks of angels (Greek word: messenger) as presenting themselves to people in various forms. Often they appear to be so ordinary as to go unnoticed. Many have spent time with them without even knowing it. Contrary to popular ideas stemming from old movies, angels of the Bible are not dead people who appear here for some purpose, or who follow us around keeping us from harm. Angels are servants and messenger from God, created for that purpose, who worship God in heaven and carry his "messages" to people who need them. (Hebrews 1:14)

When angels let the glory of heaven shine through, they are radiant enough to cause people to fall on their knees. However, heavenly angels refuse to be worshipped. If an angelic being presents himself to you and you worship him and he is okay with that, he is probably an angel (fallen messenger) from another place entirely.

When the writer of Hebrews speaks of Christ as being greater than the angels, he was saying that even in the heavenly realm of angels, Jesus was worthy of worship. He elaborates that, unlike mere messengers from heaven, Jesus Christ is worthy of: being called God's own Son; worship by the angels; being anointed as King for ever and ever; being called Creator of the heavens and the earth: and to be seated at the right hand of God the Father to rule. (Hebrews 1: 4-13)

More than a good man, a mere prophet or a great moral teacher, Jesus Christ is exalted as Creator, heir of all things, the radiance of God, the exact representation God's nature, sustainer of all things by his powerful word, Savior and High Priest, King, Son of God, and above the angels. This is the Jesus of Scripture. Not just a humble carpenter turned itinerate preacher, Jesus first came here as a servant that he might rise as a King. We enter into relationship with this real Jesus by trusting him, by taking him at his word when he says:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

True followers of Jesus grow in relationship with him, trusting him more through trials and blessing, and seek to hear his "Well done" above all else. He is above the angels and so high above anything and everyone on earth, it all fades away in the radiance of his glory. If you don't know him these words seem strange and unreal to you. If you have an ear to hear, you already know what I am writing about here. We all need to be reminded from time to time.

The angels are great from where I sit. They have been in the throne room of God. That they spend time with us is nothing short of miraculous. But they bow to another--King Jesus.

"He became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs." Hebrews 1:4

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Greatest Name in the World

Arguably among the best violinists in the world, Joshua Bell was involved in an experiment a few years ago. He stood in a Washington subway tunnel and played his heart out for hours. Here's the thing--nobody noticed him! The same player who commands standing ovations from the most discriminating musical ears on earth barely turned a head. The subway masses came and went, eyes on the turnstiles and doors, minds occupied with the mundane cares of life. They failed to recognize the fact that, for a moment, they were in the company of greatness. They just were not expecting to find it there.
Similarly, when Jesus walked among men, there was nothing in his appearance to draw him any special attention. Those who knew him while he was growing up found any claims that he was great to be preposterous. They were astonished that he eventually drew multitudes to himself for healing, teaching and saving. So accustomed to the boy with dirty feet and splinters in his fingers from working in his father's carpentry shop, they missed the greatness in their midst.
Today, too,  we have forgotten much of his greatness. Even with the benefit of hindsight, we tend to boil him down to more comfortable, manageable dimensions--a gentle spirit, a humble servant, a great moral teacher, a lover of people. While there is truth in these descriptors, they are, in and of themselves, extremely misleading.
You see, we want Jesus to be our buddy, our tolerant older brother, or just our friend. We want that guy who slaps us on the back and beams at us with his unrelenting smile. We prefer the friendly Jesus who will never tell us we are wrong and will never use the "S" word, instead framing our transgressions as mere mistakes, human errors to be overlooked because, we are, after all, good people. Who would not want to hang out with such a relentless encourager?
One problem with this, revamped, user-friendly, politically correct Jesus is that he is not the Jesus of the New Testament. Gentle with the broken, harsh with the proud, impatient with the self-centered, the Jesus of the Bible commanded wind and waves and forgave--here it comes--SIN. His claims about himself were impossible (unless of course they are true). And the things the apostles later wrote about him stretch the limits of theological and scientific understanding. Creator, Savior, Son of God, the one and only Way to the Father, Jesus may be your friend, but not because you are good people. He chose to dwell among us in grace and truth so that he could restore relationship between a holy God and a fallen world (including us).
In one of his more astounding statements about himself Jesus said that if you want to see God you should look at him! While this is not our usual idea of humility, he was, nevertheless, the very epitome of humility--leaving the throne room of heaven in obedience to the Father to walk among the sweaty, sinful, and unwashed--out of nothing but the pure, unadulterated love of God. The love he has for us is not based on our worthiness, rather on the quality and unlimited quantity of God's love for people. It says little about us, and everything about him, Jesus, the greatest name in the world.


Hebrews 1:3

New International Version (NIV)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.