Thursday, November 26, 2009


Lord, as you know, I am deeply impressed and affected by my weaknesses and my failures, but I want you to know that I am grateful for the life you have given me. When I question this, when I say to myself, “I wish I had never been born,” I am being very foolish and ungrateful.

Despite the difficulties in life, I do have a life, a life that will carry on into eternity. From the day I was born, you granted me eternal life. I am deeply grateful that I will live far beyond this life, and that I will live it with you and loved ones. I love and appreciate my family, both now and in the future, a family that will never cease, a family that will continue forever in your presence. This time on earth is just a beginning.

Some have said that how we live on earth will shape and impact how we live in heaven. I’m not so sure. How many of us will enjoy what you granted the thief on the cross, or those who come to know you on their death bed? I don’t know what eternity holds for me, but I know that it is beyond my imagination to conceive. I do know that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” For this life now, and for the life to come, I am deeply grateful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


“What is this news? For whom is it intended?” The words struggled to emerge from the shepherd's mouth. Despite his dumbfounded condition, somewhere in the back of his consciousness lurked the question, “Why is a messenger from God bringing news to insignificant, unknown shepherds?”

Why indeed? Why does God invest himself in the insignificant? With the whole of Creation from which to choose, why choose earth? From among all the peoples of the earth, why choose a tiny sect called Jews? Why choose Abraham? Moses? Elijah? Why choose a slight youth to slay a threatening giant? Why choose Bethlehem? Why choose a manger, a stable of animal smells, in which to birth his Son? Why does God, as he moves events among men, have the perversity to make small men large and large men small? Why this delight in the unimpressive, the insignificant? Why his strength made perfect in weakness? Is it because he is attracted to humility and put off by the proud strutting of human arrogance? God holds sway over the heavens. Men of power and influence have no power or influence with him.

This is perhaps exciting news to the disenfranchised, the governed, for those whose lives are dramatically affected by the whims of other other men, men who except for status, are just like them. But that is hardly the point. It could be argued that the impoverished have stronger character, are less pretentious and full of themselves. Alas, the character flaws, pretentiousness and pride of the poor is as ubiquitous as among the rich. The poor are as quick to take unwarranted advantage of a weaker neighbor as are the rich. There is no honor among beasts, whether rich or poor.

It is, nonetheless, a fact that pain is greater among those without the resources to make life more pleasant. Suffering is more prevalent. Babies die quicker and more often. More violence and murder. Hunger. The nagging feeling of being in need greater. The struggle for survival more intense. The malaise of will and determination more accepted and understood. More of their lives spent in prisons. Though many cry out against the terrible Fate that decreed their poverty, God is still more readily received among such people. They seek him for they have discovered that mankind does not love them, does not know what to do with them. They have no place else to go. If God does not help them, they will perish.

Of course, the verdict of the affluent and sufficient is that these pathetic creatures need a God. They invent something, someone larger than themselves, larger than anything they know in order to help them survive in an adversarial, competitive world. Poor things. That is obviously why their God favors them, is it not?

The shepherd, however, could not think beyond Why? Simple man. For him there was none of this insufferable, pedantic reasoning. He, a man of whom not even Rome made sport, was afraid.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. -- Matthew 3:13-15

COMMENT: This is one of the exquisite moments in the Bible. Given the truth that Jesus is God and came to reveal the Father to us, what does this exchange between Jesus and John have to say to us?

Jesus has come to be baptized; for what we are not told. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, yet Jesus needed no repentance. It was, however, a moment of great change (definition of "repent") for Jesus. Prior to his baptism, we have only a small record of his life. It was at this point that his purpose for coming to the earth begins to be realized.

Now, note the demeanor of the two men. John humbled, ostensibly because he knows who Jesus is. Jesus’ response is “Let it be so now.” This is not couched as a command for John to obey, it is a gentle request. It is from one man to another. Jesus treats John with dignity and respect. He could have demanded. He did not. He could have treated John as the inferior that he was. He did not.

I find this exchange most ratifying. It tells me that Jesus does not treat me as he has the credentials to do. I am a sinful man, yet he does not treat me as sinful. My “righteousness” is as filth, yet he accepts me as a friend, as someone whom he respects and loves. John must have been amazed at Jesus’ response to him and his clear affirmation of his work. John, for all of his calling, was no less a sinner than any of us, yet Jesus affirms him. Jesus endorses him. Jesus says to John, we are in this together.

This to "fulfill all righteousness." As we serve the Lord each day in our own pedestrian way, we should remember that Jesus affirms us every moment. He dignifies us with his presence, with his participation, indeed, his empowerment in what he has selected us to do, our "place" in the completion of his plan.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Shepherd's Campfire

Coals from the campfire glow hot and red from yellow flames recently fallen. Bright flickers still spurt here and there settling softly among the embers. Still the fire cracked, sending sparks like tiny shooting stars. The air adorned pleasantly with the smell of burning cedar. Lemuel hugged his thick wool cloak around his shoulders, his eyelids drooping with approaching sleep. Stars hung above with uncommon presence against purplish black velvet. Lemuel, however, was not thinking about stars. His head nodded with thoughts envisioning the lovely Sheililah. He thought of her eyes, her golden hair, the fullness of her lips and just as his thoughts began to consider the rest of this quean beauty, Ahiam spoke,

“Aaah!” It was loud enough to open Lemuel’s eyes and twitter his heart. The first thought of a startled shepherd is, An attack! His hand reached with automatic practice for his staff. But it was not an attack. Ahiam, who was not preoccupied with blood-surging dreams of Sheililah, was taken rather with what appeared to be an anomaly in the heavens. Ahiam's exclamation sounded as if the breath were knocked out of him. No alarm amongst the sheep, Lemuel’s second thought. An eerie incandescence enveloped them. It was not soft and glowing. It burst upon them, bright and abrasive. Gleaming. Frightening.

Young Jesse, a mere boy, emitted a high-pitched wail. Lemuel stared at him, agitated. Veteran shepherd that he was, he felt his presence of mind slipping. He thought he might urinate. The fourth member of the group, Elieazar, began to flee. Unheard of among shepherds. Shepherds were known to die protecting their flock. Elieazar suddenly stopped, confronted by an apparition which nailed him to the earth. His muscles could not work. He froze where he stood.

Lemuel had seen just about everything his calling had to offer. He had confronted and defeated predators of every description, animal and human. Lemuel was not easily awed by events around him. There was the time for example, when a drunken centurion attempted to make sport of him. The officer had drawn his short sword as if to decapitate him. Lemuel stood straight, galvanizing the man with his eyes, almost daring him to strike. When the blow came, Lemuel caught the soldier’s wrist with his hand and held it as if in a vise. Then abruptly, he laughed. The officer’s colleagues saw the humor of the event and also laughed. The embarrassed soldier desisted and lowered his sword. Lemuel was not a man of whom one easily made sport.

This light, however, jolted him. He did not rise to the moment with detached coolness. He, too, was afraid. His stomach recoiled in a wave of mild nausea. Perspiration wept through trembling, clammy skin. What he saw was totally unknown to him – indeed, unknown to all living men.

The “apparition” that had so arrested Elieazar emanated a brilliance that permeated this theater on the hillside. It was human in appearance, yet inhuman. A man. A creature. A source of unimaginable light. After a moment of silence, it spoke. “Do not be frightened.” Despite his appearance, despite the supernatural tension of the moment, his words, indeed, were soothing. If it is possible to go from intense fear to calm expectancy in an instant of time, it happened in the terror-stricken hearts of these peasant shepherds. “I bring you good news of immense joy.”

from The Carpenter Trilogy

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


I have ceased to be amazed when someone creates a thing of elegance and beauty, perhaps even to rival the lilies of the field, that some sick, dirty-minded, evil person will attempt to slather it with excrement, never realizing that the stink sticks enduringly, indelibly, and happily, to them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


The rubric these days among evangelicals is that if you are a Christian, then you are also a member of the “Religious Right,” or the “Moral Majority,” or at the very least, a Republican. And if you are not a Republican, then by definition, you are 1. Probably not really a Christian, of if you do make a profession of faith, then it is likely disingenuous. 2. Lacking in patriotism and love for country. Or, 3. You are a liberal Christian, which likewise makes your profession of faith suspect.

I sat in the class of my theology professor in seminary, lo, several millennia ago, who advised we lowly students that all Christian doctrine is derived from the Epistles, not from the Gospels, (books of history) and certainly not the book of Acts, where they spoke in tongues. As I sat there in class, a fleeting thought struck me to the effect that told me, “Hey. That is truly wrong.” The thought was quickly buried as the eminent professor moved on to the next point in the syllabus. Buried, but not dead.

Scrambling up through the dirt that was my theological training, and clawing its way out of the grave, that “fleeting” thought has followed me around for the rest of my life -- bugging me, haunting me, sticking it to me whenever I waxed too eloquent in expository preaching, explaining Greek words and stuff.

Not long after I graduated from seminary, sporting a brand-new doctorate, and after serving several churches, a copy of The Life of Christ in Stereo fell into my hands. Despite its pedestrian title, it is likely the most important book I have ever read. It changed the direction of my life and provoked a total remake of my understanding of God in general, and of Jesus Christ in particular, and not surprisingly, the critical importance of the Gospels in theological formation.

The Life of Christ in Stereo is nothing more, or less, than a brilliant, meticulous, harmony of the Gospels. The advertising trumpets it, “Four Gospels Testify as One.” Remarkably, that is exactly what it does. Johnston Cheney, a layman who had taught himself Greek, put it all together over a period of twenty years. As you read the single narrative, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John disappear and behold! Jesus appears in powerful and compelling relief.

To the end that I wish to consider the political views of Jesus in this narrative, I must acknowledge the importance of this work. That said, I wish to note in my observances of Jesus in the now dozens of times I have read this work, devoted my life to comprehending him within the pages of the Gospel narrative, and writing my own book about him, I wish to state that Jesus was unequivocally apolitical. The Gospels reveal Jesus as having the political awareness/concern of a stone. Jesus was, in a climate of intense political factions and uproar, utterly disinterested.

Note, for example, his treatment of taxation. When questioned about it, he said plainly, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And when accosted by tax-collectors regarding the payment of his own taxes (and that of Peter’s), he cavalierly sends Peter out to catch a fish out of which Peter extracts a gold coin and with which, as he was instructed, he paid the tax. Would God we all had such a fishing pole! Ergo, taxation was a trivial, tellurian bore to Jesus, although he clearly did not oppose it. The best that can be said about Jesus and taxation, is that he was inert to it.

This was his basic attitude toward government in general. It was an irrelevant issue. He was far more concerned with the church (synagogue/Sanhedrin) than with throwing off Roman oppression. Witness his engagement with Pilate. When told by Pilate, “Don’t you realize that I have the power to crucify you or let you go?” Jesus replied, “You don’t have any power at all except that which is given you from above.” I suspect Pilate’s eyes widened at that. But it was true. Had God the Father wished, or had Jesus himself wished, Pilate would have been completely neutralized.

So how does all this speak to people of faith?

There is no issue here with anyone having political perspectives based on what they perceive to be moral or even pragmatic concerns. There is no concern here with honest patriotism, there is no issue here with informed decisions about concerns of patriotic and/or political importance.

What concerns me is when these issues supercede their importance. In short, if we are followers of Christ and consumed with politics, we are genuinely missing something. When our lives are characterized by our political perspectives more than with our faith, we have a problem. Jesus teaches us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things (which can be understood to be necessities of a satisfying and peaceful life) will be added to you.” When politics, whether the religious right, or the radical left, become divisive and engender hate and murderous intent, then they have superceded the Gospel. They have superceded our legitimate concern for one another.

They have superceded Jesus.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Finished watching Billy Graham's life portrayed in video, narrated by David Frost. Deeply moving experience. I believe he is the greatest man to live in my lifetime. I am grateful to have lived when he did. I wish with all my heart that I could have even a small portion of the impact for Christ that he had.

I think the thing that most impressed me about the Graham video last night was that Billy wasn't in it for the money. He wasn't in it for the fame. He was in it for Jesus. His preemptive focus was to preach the Gospel. Nothing else, just the Gospel. Not only was he not in it for the money, he actively eschewed the Gantry image whenever and wherever he could.

I need to keep this in mind as I “market” my books. Unfortunate term. What I am really doing is distributing them in hopes that all may read and come to know Jesus Christ in a way that is deeper and more satisfying than ever before.

Yes, I am hoping and trusting that my family's financial needs may be met. In terms of actual dollars, I am not quite sure what that means. But I have no need to be wealthy or rich, compared to the society in which I live. Compared to other societies in the third world, I am already wealthy beyond imagination.

The other thing that impressed me, indeed, brought tears to my eyes, was the graphic of the chinese woman, in a crusade in mainland China, spontaneously spreading out her arms in praise and worship. She obviously, in this communist country, did not care who saw her. She was taking all of Jesus that she could get. What incredible passion does the Holy Spirit bring! My God, may I feel it as well. May all who seek the Lord Jesus Christ feel it. As an evangelist I heard once said, “When a malignantly sinful man meets an infinitely Holy God, Somebody's got to feel something!"

Friday, July 17, 2009


The manner in which you interacted with the kings of Judah and Israel, is much different than the way you seem to work with your people today. In fact, I am often inclined to think that the ancient narrative in Hebrew history is more from the perspective of the Hebrews themselves, than from you. I am not saying I am right in this understanding, just saying that my experience with you, and the teachings of Jesus and the gospels, seem so radically different that I sometimes wonder if it was you at all back then. After reading of the way you interacted with the Hebrews, I wonder how a God like that could love and accept someone like me.

But Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.

In these years of study and consideration, have I come to know you more deeply? And by doing this, have I answered, at least partially, my own prayer? How am I to understand that Jesus went through this torturous death for me on a personal level? How am I to see that he did it, or would have done it, just for me?

I feel very inadequate in my knowledge of you, dear Father, or you, dear Jesus, or you dear Spirit of God. It was Jesus who taught us that there is a Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One needs to understand Jesus before one can really discover the Trinity in the Old Testament. Without Jesus, my knowledge of you probably would not exist at all.

Does it matter that Jesus called you, “Father?” Does it matter that he never called you, “Mother?” He said that God is a Spirit, and they who worship him must worship him in Spirit and Truth. But in Jesus' teachings, God is always a paternal Spirit, never a maternal Spirit. Does it matter? At the moment in my enlightenment, I can't see that God's “gender” has any relevance at all. Was Jesus merely accommodating the paternalistic culture of his society? Perhaps someday, I shall know more than I do now, but for the moment, I can't see how it matters at all.

What really matters is that I am loved by God, by the Father, by the Son and by the Holy Spirit.

Whatever happened to that black lady, Lord, who asked why I referred to you as a Father and not a Mother? I pray for her today. I pray that you would bless her and bring her to yourself. Fill her with your love and acceptance and may she walk in the light of your Spirit and Truth.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Every individual created in the Image of God should be able to say . . .

Stop! Pay attention! I am real. I take up space. I am here. I am. I am a fact -- as certain as the sun and moon, the speed of light, the Sequoia and Stone Mountain, Georgia. Now the rest of you out there are just going to have to learn to deal with that. You can lock me up. You can try to discredit me. You can even kill me. But you cannot destroy me. You cannot, you will not ignore me. I will come back. I will incessantly and relentlessly continue to Be. I will not go away. And because I have lived, you will never be the same.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 4, 2009

If we spent half the time we spend complaining about our leadership, in prayer for them, perhaps the threats we endure, both real and imagined, would be less threat than blessing.

May this Fourth of July give us pause to reflect on how God has blessed this nation despite its flaws of character. Let us give thanks for the brave and noble soldier and sailor who alone, are responsible for our freedoms of worship, speech, movement and the pursuit of happiness and peace.

God grant us humility and strength of purpose.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


If I knew that my adult son, or one of my adult daughters were hurting and in trouble, and it was in my power to help them, would I do it? If they were suffering, would I come to their rescue? You bet I would. I would do so, so fast that it would make your head spin. And what if they were suffering because of me or because of something I had asked them to do? Would I come to assist them. I would fall all over myself trying to do so.

Jesus himself used this analogy, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”

Then how is it that the Hebrews were enslaved for 400 years in Egypt? How often did fathers and mothers beseech God for their children? How is it that today believers are in pain, and continue in pain until death? Have they not sought relief from God? Has that relief come? Did they enjoy their remaining years in comfort?

In the light of the fact the God is all-loving and all-powerful, and in the light of the promise of his Son, how is it that God allows his children to suffer? How is it that he appears less caring than an earthly father, who is “evil,” yet gives of himself to his son when he is needed?

An interesting event in the life of Peter and John may shed some light on this conundrum:

They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

What is the purpose and function of this life we live each day? There is a ready answer to this question, both as an unique individual and in what it does to each person. The purpose of this life is to fulfill the specific and unique reason God allowed us life – a purpose no one else but the individual can fulfill. Of equal relevance, the purpose of this life is to form our character, not provide for our comfort.

Peter and John were flogged. Their suffering and humiliation was incalculable. Yet they rejoiced that they were counted worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus.

This life is infinitesmal compared to eternity. However small it may be by comparison, it has relevance and is important. It is in this life that relationship with God is established. It is in this life that our character is formed. It is in this life that we accomplish and fulfill our raison d'etre. Much, if not most of this is in preparation for the next life in which there will be no death. We will live another life, a life that has no end.

Now suppose I had the power and freedom to help my children, but knew that in doing so, I would somehow diminish them? That I would somehow make them less than what they could be? Of course, human fathers do not always know this. But God does.

Is it not an act of love to allow pain if one knows that pain is the very thing that will bring about something good, something that would make the pain infinitely worthwhile? We see this in athletics all the time and applaud it. We admire players who play despite their pain. What character, we say. What commitment, what dedication to the game, to the cause, to the Lord Christ.

Is it any wonder then that Peter and John rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer?

Some consider suffering or labor for whatever reward or blessedness there may be in heaven to be irrelavent, if not ridiculous. Such dedication is derided as “pie in the sky.” That is an unfortunate and erroneous mindset. It is a mindset that could only take place this side of eternity. Once one is there, once one hears, “Well done!”; after one has experienced 10,000 years of joy, peace and contentment, how relevant will the pain and suffering in this life seem?

That is God's perspective. He can view the 400 years in Egyptian bondage as well as the discomfort of our own lives from the perspective of eternity. Does he hurt when we hurt? I believe he does. In the same way, when I see my children suffer, I suffer also. It is impossible for me to believe that God is indifferentt to our pain. As the writer to the Hebrews said, “He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” That is emotional language. That is “feeling” language. But God can see what we cannot. “Eye has not seen; ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for him.”

It can be seen by our loving father. It can be seen by the one who longs to give us, and at the right time, will give us what our minds can't imagine.

Happy Father's Day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


As in an "irrepressible desire to do what?"
Many years ago I was headed south on the Santa Ana freeway out of Los Angeles and it hit me like a tsunami: There is a reason why I am alive!
I mean -- other than my parent's attraction to each other.
If there is rationale for the cosmos, then it's not too far a leap of logic for there to be a rationale for me, or for you, or for anyone and everyone. Jesus had a strong sense of the reason for his life. Paul, in his letter to the Galatian church, put a finer point on it by advising us that Jesus came at just the right time, in just the right way for just the right purpose. If this is true, then the same can be said -- and with equal force -- for you and me.
When I was a kid, the big deal was fingerprints. Anybody could be identified by their fingerprints. Then came the eye retina. Now DNA is the most compelling evidence that while we are all humans, made in the Imago Dei, we are, after all, very different from each other. In fact no one who has ever lived, or ostensibly, ever will live who is exactly like us. It then follows, that there is something I can do related to my raison d'etre (reason for existence), that absolutely no one else can do.
Does this juice you as much as it juices me!?
To take this to the next level, I need to believe this, accept it and adopt it as a guiding principle in my life. Which means that like Jesus, I need a clear grasp of the rationale for my life, and see it expressed and materialized with a desire that nothing can diminish, let alone stop!
So, while pushing my Ford station wagon down the Santa Ana freeway at 65 mph, I whipped out my notebook, laid it on the seat beside me, and the tsunami rolled right through my ballpoint engendering these words . . .

Create in me
an irrepressible desire
to take up space
in your fullness.

To be in operative touch
with my purpose,
my destiny,
and the strategic timing
of my existence.

Totally absorbed
in my committment
to BE.

Well, to do what? I guess, THAT'S what.