Simple Devotion

Ever have a song instantly transport you decades into your past? That happened to me this morning while driving. I was listening to Chris Tomlin’s new album, “Always.” Then song number 5 started, “O Lord, You’re Beautiful.”

For those of you old enough to remember, this is one of Keith Green’s songs. As I listened to the song this morning, I was transported back to 1988. I was a brand new youth pastor, on fire with intense love for Jesus. I wanted to go anywhere and do anything to serve him. I loved worshipping him. So, I taught myself some basic piano chords so I could sing my love to him.

As the simple chords of “O Lord, You’re Beautiful,” played in my car this morning, I was in the upstairs youth room in that old Baptist Church. I was alone with Jesus, playing the chords and singing this song of love to him.

“O Lord, You’re Beautiful

Your face is all I seek

And when your eyes

Are on this child

Your grace abounds to me.”

Back in the car, my heart swells and the tears start. My God, I loved him with such a simple and focused love!

But over the decades, I’ve “matured” and let my life and faith become more “complex”. And the simplicity of my love had been replaced by something else. When I was young, I strained for a vision of what I could be in the future. Now I’m there and I long for what I had in the past.

“O Lord, please light the fire

That once burned bright and clear

Replace the lamp

Of my first love

That burns with holy fear.”

In the car, the song continues. I’m back, fully in the present. I’m singing these simple words — words that are more than a song. They’re a prayer, a yearning, a plea. A cry of simple devotion from my past, racing forward to shape my present and future.

The Prize Of Doing It Again

Photography is about not giving up

I’ve occasionally discussed how photography has helped with my spiritual formation. It has taught me to slow down, to look, to notice, to reflect.

The short post linked above highlights another aspect of how photography can also aide spiritual formation by teaching us to endure, to persevere, to see the long road. Or as Eugene Peterson has discussed, “the long obedience in the same direction.” I love how this post ends. The prize is that we get to do it again tomorrow. The prize of spiritual formation is that we get to follow Jesus — to be with him, to learn from him how to be like him — again tomorrow. The prize is his presence, his person, his character, all of him everyday.

Saying Goodbye Again

Back in March, I was able to help Chris move back home from Texas. We had hoped this would be a permanent move and that he could get his program transferred to California. Unfortunately, after weeks of trying, it turned out not to be possible. The warehouse in Texas to which Chris was originally assigned is finally opening this month.

Of the different options available, moving back to Texas to finish the program seems to be the best one for Chris. He made that decision less than two weeks ago while Debbie and I were on vacation in Idaho. So this change has come upon us abruptly. We thought Chris would live at home with us for another year or more. But that is not to be. He is leaving home again. And this time, it seems for good.

A year ago when Chris left for Indiana and then Texas, he was single. There was the chance that he would return home between finishing the program and starting the next phase of his life and career. 

This time, Samantha, his girlfriend, is joining Chris in Texas. They have decided to use this occasion to start a new life together and plan to live in Texas for at least a year. And based on recent conversations, it looks very favorable that they will be engaged by the end of this year. 

So today, they start the three-day trip to Texas and a new life together. 

I am so grateful for the last few months Chris was at home. We all wish it could have been longer. But now Chris’ room is empty again. Almost all of his belongings are packed in his small car and Samantha’s dad’s truck. For him, his empty room is a symbol of the exciting life that awaits him with the woman he loves. For us who remain behind, his empty room echoes with memories of conversations, prayers, joys, disappointments, laughter, and tears. 

Debbie and I share in Chris’ excitement. We will be praying for him and Samantha, hoping for their best, and looking forward to their visits in the near future. But today, as we say goodbye again, we know it is different. Almost twenty-three years of Chris living at home with us ends today. And we are very, very sad. Our son and friend has left and we miss him terribly.

My Own Ted Lasso

I love the show Ted Lasso. While it can go over-the-top with its foul language and adult themes, I love how it depicts kindness overcoming a lot of the ugliness in our society. I’m privileged to say that I have my own personal Ted Lasso.

My wife Debbie has got to be one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. This was made apparent to me again in the airport, preparing to leave for vacation. During the couple of hours that we waited for our flight, Debbie introduced herself to several people, passed out candy, and made friends with a number of them.

At one point there was a young woman waiting at our gate asleep in her chair. They changed our gate and Debbie noticed that the woman did not wake up to hear the announcement. When Debbie didn’t see the woman in the crowd at the new gate, she decided to go back and inform the woman of the gate change. After waking up the woman and informing her of the change, the woman thanked Debbie profusely. 

One of the young men with whom Debbie was speaking shared a lot about his past and his dreams for his music career. Debbie and I were one of the first to board the plane. When this young man boarded, Debbie shouted out his name and gave him a fist bump. He was so thrilled and proclaimed, “You guys are so awesome!” 

It was amazing watching Debbie at the airport. While most people would simply isolate themselves, bury themselves in their phones, and ignore those around them, Debbie was talking to people and getting them to open up.

This is just a sampling of what I get to experience firsthand on a regular basis. Where most people choose to ignore others, Debbie chooses to engage, encourage, and love.

The tagline for the Ted Lasso show is, “Kindness makes a come back.” Frankly I have been living with kindness for over 30 years. Throughout my life, there have been a lot of people I’ve wanted to emulate – leaders, theologians, pastors. But the one person I truly hope to be like is my wife.

A Journey Home

Last week, I flew from LAX to Austin, TX. At the airport, Chris picked me up and we began a three-day drive back to California. Chris was coming home! Over the three days in the car, in hotels, on walks, and at meals, we talked about God, the Bible, the vastness of the universe and time, music, relationships, human brokenness, and God’s abounding love.

The last time Chris and I traveled together in 2018, I was trying to help him discern a calling to monastic life. After that trip, he commented to someone, “I would have been lost without my dad.” In the three and half years since that trip, Chris has grown and matured. He could have made this trip from Texas to California by himself. But he wanted me to join him. On this trip, I felt more his friend than his dad.

I think that is what made the conversations and moments so special for me. We asked questions, shared opinions and values, laughed and pondered, and encouraged each other as friends and peers.

As I’ve thought about our trip together, it reminded me that we’re all traveling home in one way or another. While we could travel alone, it’s better when we choose our travel companions for the journey. And it’s an honor when we’re chosen to be someone’s travel companion.

On the journey, hopefully we’re both formed a little more into Jesus’ likeness by the lives shared with each other. It makes the journey home that much sweeter.

Come And Follow Me… Again

The following is not something that I would normally post. When I have intimate and personal experiences with God, I tend to keep them close. But this was a powerful moment and I wanted to put it out there.

This morning, as I was reflecting on the person of Jesus, a very powerful image came to mind. I was standing on a high place like the top of a hill. Jesus was in front of me, silhouetted by a magnificent vista. The land behind him was beautiful and glorious, beyond what any words could adequately describe. I knew this land was his Father’s kingdom.

I could sense Jesus inviting me, “Come and follow me.” He was inviting me to join him on a new journey to explore this grand vista. I knew that if I didn’t accept, he would go on that journey without me. If he started without me he would disappear over the hill and vanish from my sight. And the thought of that brought intense sorrow. Yet as I thought about following him, I was aware of my condition as a middle-aged man, overweight and out of shape. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. I had followed him to this place on the hill and had become content and complacent where I was.

But being with him was the only thing I wanted. So I shouldered my backpack, said, “Wait up. I’m coming,” and struggled to join him. I was filled with a mixture of devotion and fear. I knew where I had been standing was not where I was supposed to remain. It was only a temporary point in the journey. But it was comfortable and safe. I was frightened of the pain I would experience and the prospect of losing everything I had gained. But I knew I would rather lose everything I currently have than lose Jesus. So I chose to follow even though I felt I wouldn’t be able to keep up.

As I rushed to join Jesus, my knees and joints ached and I was winded by the short distance to catch up to him. I was so out of shape. This increased my fear and anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with him. But I knew I had to follow him. I couldn’t let him go over the crest of the hill without me or I would lose him. No matter how much it hurt, I wanted more than anything to journey with Jesus and explore his Father’s kingdom with him.

I remember sensing a similar call when I was 18 or 19 years old. It was the most exciting prospect and filled my life with the deepest sense of purpose. I was ready to go anywhere and do anything with him. I was ready to take risks and make sacrifices. I had absolutely nothing to lose.

For many years, I feel I have drifted from that purpose. I have followed Jesus to the top of this hill and have become encamped there. But now he’s calling me to follow him further, to start a new leg of the journey. While the idea of following Jesus into a new and risky journey is exciting, it also fills me with fear. At this point in my life, I feel I have so much to lose. I fear it will somehow jeopardize my future, my retirement, and the “golden years” of my life. I find myself praying for God to protect or increase what I have obtained. I’m scared of losing it.

But I know I was never supposed to worry about my future. Things like owning a home and saving for retirement, while fine, were never supposed to be my primary concern. And I know that you cannot follow Christ and cling to what you have.

I knew that to accept Jesus’ invitation and challenge, I would need to undergo significant change in order to keep up. I have no idea what Jesus is calling me to. All I know is that he’s challenging me to explore God’s kingdom with him. And as I pray about what this means, Colossians 1:10-12 keeps coming to mind: 

“That you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.”

That is what I want the rest of my life to be about.

Jesus’ call to “Come and follow me” doesn’t only occur at the beginning of our journey with him. I think we hear it again and again as we begin new phases of our life with him. In those moments, we have a choice either to stay where we are, content with what the journey has produced in us or to answer the call again. We begin something new again, accepting new risks and challenges.

Answering the call is always risky. Each time it requires us to leave everything behind, even everything we have gained by following him. This is true whether we are young or old or in-between. Each time we are confronted with the question, “Is following Jesus worth everything?” Is he worth even losing everything we have gained thus far by following him?

Remember the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

In both parables, everything had to be sold to gain the most valuable item. The willingness to give up everything to gain the best is essential at the beginning of the journey with Jesus as well as throughout all the phases of the journey. It goes without saying that Jesus is the treasure and the pearl. So when faced with his call to “Come and follow me” we have to ask, is Jesus worth losing everything again?

Approaching Christ

In my opinion, virtually everything that Bishop Todd Hunter posts is gold. But the following post last week really struck home:

“Many people do not approach Christ to find out what claim he might put on their life, what transformation of the total self it might require. We often interact with the person & work of Jesus hoping to find support for views we presently hold and the current habits of our heart.

“As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, ‘We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or—a judge.’

“When not aligned to the aims of Jesus, we are in fact rebels living a life contrary to the whole track laid down by the purpose and plan of God. When we name the rebel within us, it allows us to then deal with our self-will in order to trust and follow Jesus.

“in the biblical and spiritual sense, surrender has a beauty, goodness, rightness and power to it. It is the grace-enabled ability to let go; stop fighting; and deny self-will and follow Jesus.

“Wholehearted surrender and the abandoning of outcomes to God is not fatalism. It is not passive. It is a thoroughly reasoned abandonment to Jesus, taking on his aims in your own life and ministry.”

Bishop Todd Hunter

At times I’m guilty of a vending-machine Christianity. I want something, so I approach Christ with my request, hoping he will give me what I want. It could be for myself or for another — life direction, a job, a car, health, blessing, or intervention. I may even tack on “The Lord’s will”. But bottom-line, my requests tend to be like Bob Wiley from “What About Bob?” “Give me, give me, give me! I need, I need, I need!” Regardless of how eloquent I may be, I’m still approaching God simply as a dispenser of blessings.

Approaching God with our needs isn’t a bad thing. God is our shepherd in whom we have no need. The Bible does say that “Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights”?

But our requests of God must be within the overarching truth that Christ has a claim to put on our life. He wants to train and transform us into his likeness first and foremost so we can be genuinely human in God’s rule like he is. Then our requests are driven by what God is doing in us and through us as part of his program to renew his world.

If would be so nice if “self-will” and “surrender” were settings we could just flip off and on like we do with our smartphones. But it’s not easy. That’s because they’re not settings. They are part of our coding that needs to be rewritten. And without us cooperating with Christ’s rewriting of our code, we find ourselves unaligned to Jesus’ aims and rebels who are living a life contrary to God’s purpose and plan, even though we claim to be his people.


Today is Thanksgiving day in the United States. This morning, I had a chance to take a quiet walk and reflect on everything I am thankful for. As I reflected on my family, friends, and the evident aspects of my life for which I’m thankful, I realize that I have nothing for which I am not thankful. 

Does that mean everything is perfect or painfree? Absolutely not! Life is full of stress, struggle and suffering. But as I think about those trials and pains, both past and present, I’m aware that even in the difficult times there is much to be thankful. 

Am I thankful for the loss or absence of loved ones in my life? By no means! But I am thankful for the shared life and deep love we have that makes their absence so deeply felt. 

Am I thankful for the times of financial struggles my family experienced when we were young? Not really. But I am thankful for how our family was saturated in God‘s faithfulness and how the reality of his constant presence and care formed all of us. 

Am I thankful for the stress and dysfunction of my workplace? Not at all. But I am thankful for the relationships there as well as how God has used this job to care for my maturing family.

And the list could go on…

In 1Thessalonians 5, Saint Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I’m not sure if my reflections do his words justice. But I am reminded that even in the darkest times, I can give genuine, heartfelt thanks to him.

I know I don’t experience intense suffering like others throughout the world. Nor do I have severe chronic illness or pain that many experience. So I’m in no way trying to give simplistic advice or answers for those who are in dark places that I can only imagine. But from my limited experience I continue to see God‘s constant care, unending faithfulness, and abounding love in all things. And for that I am thankful.

Wedding Day

Yesterday, my oldest daughter, Cathy, married the love of her life. The small outdoor wedding was held at Santa Fe Dam.

Cathy and Mike are amazing people. They are committed to growing together into better people and to making a difference in their world. Frankly, I wish I had been more others-concerned when I was their age.

The days leading up to their wedding, I reflected on my life with Cathy. Memories of her as an infant, a toddler, a child, a teenager, and a young woman filled my mind. I remember things like her sitting on my lap as a little girl to read a book together. Holding my hand as we walked together. Squealing in delight as we played tag. Giggling with joy at something silly. Introducing another child she had just met at McDonalds as her new friend. I remember her unbridled enthusiasm, her deep love of animals, her wonderful artistic abilities, her incredible imagination, her theological questions. Cathy is bursting with feelings and emotions, driven by a keen mind, expansive imagination, and determined spirit.

And through all of those memories is a constant love she has for our family — for her mom, for her siblings, for her grandparents, for me. Our family is more vibrant, more colorful, more exciting because of her shared life with us. I am privileged to be her dad and friend and to watch her grow into the vibrant, enthusiastic, compassionate young woman.

Today Cathy transitions from my daughter to Mike’s wife. Mike is Cathy’s exact counterpart — equally creative, compassionate, intelligent, and vibrant. They both approach life with incredible zest and optimism. I’m proud to welcome him into our family. It’s no wonder that Cathy has chosen to share her life with his. And their marriage ceremony reflected all the good about them. It was a wonderful event! 

But most importantly, both of them enter into a sacramental covenant with each other, one that reflects the mysterious and powerful relationship between Christ and his people. Through this covenant, two people become one person. As Mike and Cathy learn to grow together, will the good of the other, and sacrificially submit to each other, they embody a union and love more powerful than any other force.

I love the following quote from Elder Aimilianos as he describes the living sacrament of marriage:

“Marriage is a journey of love. It is the creation of a new human being, a new person, for as the Gospel says, ‘the two will be as one flesh’. God unites two people, and makes them one. From this union of two people, who agree to synchronize their footsteps and harmonize the beating of their hearts, a new human being emerges. Through such profound and spontaneous love, the one becomes a presence, a living reality, in the heart of the other. ‘I am married’ means that I cannot live a single day, even a few moments, without the companion of my life. My husband, my wife, is part of my being, of my flesh, of my soul. He or she complements me. He or she is the thought of my mind. He or she is the reason for which my heart beats… in marriage, it seems that two people become together. However, it’s not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery, and three remain together in life.”

Today, Mike and Cathy begin their new life together. Whatever the future holds, whatever they encounter on their journey — the joys, the stresses, the milestones — they will do so together. One person, one life, one love.

Goodbye, Chris

Today we said goodbye to our youngest child, Chris. He’s leaving California to participate in a year-long training program with his work.

There are so many things that we will miss and so many things we have cherished over the past 22 years with him in our daily lives. Twenty-two years comes to a close with tears, prayer, hugs, and “I love you’s”. I’ve dreaded saying goodbye to him in the months leading up to today,. But I’m glad our goodbyes were filled with such abounding love.

And a few minutes later he had ascended the escalators and was off to begin his new adventure!

Life Keeps Moving Forward

My posts on this blog have been fairly sparse. I seem to go through seasons where I don’t really want to say anything. This has been another one of them. I still feel like I’m in that season. I just wanted anyone interested to know that this blog isn’t dead.

Life keeps moving forward. Like most people, I spend the majority of my waking moments at work. And I try to follow Christ there the best that I can. I try to be a man filled with integrity and care for people. I try to spend my remaining time with Deb and my kids with some photography sprinkled in. That’s a basic summary of my life right now and I’m at peace with it.

I feel like I’m in a liminal space, transitioning from one phase of life to another. In that space, certain aspects have become very precious to me. 

For example, time with my kids has become priceless. Michael got married in Oct 2020. Catherine got engaged and moved out in Nov 2020. Danielle started dating a great guy. And Chris is leaving California in less than two weeks to embark on the next phase of his life. So whatever time I can spend with them is invaluable to me. I’m trying to soak in these last moments before they’re gone to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

Time with Debbie is also precious. She spends weekdays caring for her dad. She doesn’t get home until late evening. So the only time I can see her during the week is about 30 minutes after work when I meet her to walk her dad’s dog at the park.

I’m still reading, but not as much as I used to do. I’m obviously not writing anywhere near the consistency of prior years. And while I’m still taking photos, I’ve become unwilling to post my images on social media. These images are very dear to me and I’m unwilling to share them.

I know it’s a cliche, but there really is only so much time in the day. I’ve squandered so much of it over the years pursing goals I thought were important. But as our home slowly empties, I’ve realized, with much regret, those pursuits weren’t truly important. So I’m trying to spend the time on the people and things most important to me.

Here I am standing on a threshold. Part of me is in awe and celebrating the culmination of raising children. Another part of me is deeply mourning the end of this phase of our family as life keeps moving forward.

Selling My Car

This week, I sold my old 2003 Kia Sorento. My parents gave it to us when they bought a new car four or five years ago. And it became my faithful everyday commuter car. And while I had to invest some money into it, the car kept on going and going and going. About a year and half ago, it started acting up. So I decided to upgrade my car. At the time, my youngest son needed a car just to drive around locally. So he took the car as his. He kept using the Kia after he landed his current job. But one night, it broke down and he decided to upgrade to a newer car as well. Since then, it sat in front of our house, used infrequently as a spare car. So we decided it was time to sell it. When we sold the Kia, it had over 236,000 miles on it!

I’m a fairly nostalgic guy. Oftentimes, my nostalgia centers around certain objects upon which memories are attached. Our cars are some of those objects. My little red Corolla was the first car Debbie and I owned as a married couple. We used it for trips early in our marriage, we transported the teenagers in our youth group, and it became our family car until our three kids could no longer fit in the backseat. (Poor Michael had to cram between two car seats back there.) 

Our white Chrysler van that we bought from our best friends was the first car that fit our family of six. We purchased it soon after our youngest was born. It felt so luxurious to have a large car that sat us all so comfortably. 

After that car started showing its age, my parents gave us their Kia Sedona so we would have a newer van for our family. It was such a faithful, dependable car that we used to take our family everywhere. That car held so many family memories. Its faithfulness allowed my family to go and experience so many wonderful things together. The same is true for our current family van (pictured above). These cars have become the anchor point for many wonderful and cherished memories for me. When I think of these cars and the unique memories associated with them, I can’t help but smile with joy and gratitude.

As I think about my life, I hope the same and even more can be said about me. I want my life to be the anchor point of many cherished memories for others. I hope my faithfulness to God, my family, and my friends will allow them to remember moments that bring them joy, gratitude, and even inspiration in their lives. I pray that one day God will welcome me with the words I long to hear, “Welcome home my good and faithful servant.” And because of my attempts at faithfulness over the many miles of my life, we will have unique and cherished memories together that bring smiles to our faces.


I took this photo at today’s Theophany service at Puddingstone Lake. Theophany has a lot of meeting for me, so I’m very grateful that I was able to take off work and attend our parish’s Theophany services with Debbie.

Theophany commemorates the revelation of the Trinitarian God at Jesus’ baptism when God the Father spoke to Jesus saying “You are my son, whom I love” as the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove. God as Father, Son and Spirit.

The context for that event is a mammoth, over-arching Story that began in Genesis 1 and ultimately concludes in Revelation 22. Like any good story, this is a multi-layered narrative. Multiple meanings and subtexts converged when Jesus stepped into the Jordan. He was God’s Son, faithful Israel, who were called to be God’s “rescue party” to the nations. He was God’s Son, Israel’s representative King, come to be and do what Israel as a nation had failed. He was God’s Son, the Creator stepping into the very creation that had been created through him and for him.

The Story of God and his creation. His image-bearers fallen, but not forgotten. His covenanted people, gifted to bless and rescue the nations. Their representative king, to be and do what they couldn’t. The Creator loving and rescuing his creation. Jesus, true human and faithful Israel, fulfilling the human side of the covenant. Jesus, the true embodiment and presence of God, fulfilling God’s side of the covenant.

Immersed in the Jordan. Immersed in the Story. God’s Son, beloved by the Father and anointed by the Spirit, ready to turn the Story on its head.

But it’s not just Jesus’ Story. He has swooped us into it as well:

“But when the time of fulfillment arrived, God sent out his son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that he might redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And, because you are sons, God sent out the spirit of his son into our hearts, calling out ‘Abba, father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son! And, if you’re a son, you are an heir, through God.” – Galatians 4:4-7

Theophany is God’s Story. It’s Jesus’ Story. It’s our Story. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. And we are now God’s adopted sons! Sons and heirs through God! Let’s join him and live the Story!

My Son’s Wedding

This weekend my oldest son, Michael, got married. He married his best friend and the love of his live. And we are so thrilled for them!

Due to circumstances, Michael and Frances chose a courthouse wedding. The courthouse would only allow one person to accompany them as a witness. They bestowed that wonderful honor to me!

During the sparse ceremony, many of the elements we associate with a wedding were missing — church, priest, music, flowers, a best man and maid of honor, a father to give away the bride, a room filled with family and friends.

But the essential core to a marriage was there — two people committing to a life of self-giving, self-sacrificing love to each other and the presence of our loving generous God in whom we live, move and have our being.

So alone under fluorescent lights and in front of a desk surrounded in plexiglass, Michael and Frances committed themselves to each other and to a life together. And within a few minutes, the ceremony was over.

St Paul calls the marriage between a man and a woman a mystery, a sacrament. This sacrament is living and growing. Elder Aimilianos describes this living sacrament:

“Marriage is a journey of love. It is the creation of a new human being, a new person, for as the Gospel says, ‘the two will be as one flesh’. God unites two people, and makes them one. From this union of two people, who agree to synchronize their footsteps and harmonize the beating of their hearts, a new human being emerges. Through such profound and spontaneous love, the one becomes a presence, a living reality, in the heart of the other. ‘I am married’ means that I cannot live a single day, even a few moments, without the companion of my life. My husband, my wife, is part of my being, of my flesh, of my soul. He or she complements me. He or she is the thought of my mind. He or she is the reason for which my heart beats… in marriage, it seems that two people become together. However, it’s not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery, and three remain together in life.”

The living sacrament of marriage is a journey of learning to embody self-giving love and mutual submission for the good of the other person within the loving tutelage of Jesus.

And in the sterile environment of the courthouse, my son and his wife committed to a life of this kind of love. It will be a life filled with joy and laughter mixed with sorrow and pain. But each moment together will continue the emergence of this new person.

After the short ceremony, Michael and Frances walked out of the courthouse.  They may have been alone inside, but outside Debbie, Cathy, Mike, Danielle, and Chris eagerly awaited them. We received them, celebrated with them, and loved on them. And we embraced this “new person” and wished them well on their new journey together.

Lovingly Butchered

My youngest son has embraced his musical aptitude. He has learned the ukulele, guitar, and bass. Recently, we’ve started having occasional jam sessions. We’ll project the words and chords to songs on our TV and then play and sing together. I haven’t touched a guitar in about ten years. I’ve retained enough guitar and singing skills to lovingly butcher some of my favorite songs. Each jam session always seems to incorporate John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” And when we hit the chorus, it’s no holds barred in both strumming and harmonies.

I do a lot of reading and thinking about theology and spiritual formation. And I try to practice what I’m learning in loyal faithfulness to King Jesus. Frankly, I think my apprenticeship to Jesus is at about the same skill level as my guitar playing and singing. I know what it should sound like in my head, but what actually comes out falls short.

It’s easy to beat myself up over my failures in spiritual formation.

But then I think about my strumming and singing. When my son and I finish a jam session, my fingers hurt and my voice is strained. Slaughtered melodies linger in the air. But I never feel bad about my skills. I’ve had a great time! I love my son! I love playing guitar and singing with him. We sing and laugh through the cracked voices and inconsistent timing. It’s just fun being with each other.

So when I start feeling bad about my failures in my apprenticeship to Jesus, I try to remind myself of why I do it. I love Jesus! I love his presence and living life with him! I love the human vocation to bear his image into his good world and to be a positive presence for the good of others. And even when I stumble and falter and get in my own way, my attempts are my way of loving him with my heart, mind, soul and strength.

Having been a Christian for almost 30 years and intentionally practicing spiritual formation for over twenty years, I wish I were much further along than where I am. But I’m not following Jesus because I’m trying to master a skill or acquire a status. I follow Jesus because he first loved me and I absolutely love him! I follow Jesus because he’s everything to me and he’s leading me to the place of his likeness — genuine humanity as God intended for all of us. Our true home.

So who’s ready to lovingly butcher another chorus?

Country roooooaaaads! Take me hoooooome! To the plaaaaace! I beloooooong!!!!

Suddenly the Judge Shall Come

“Suddenly the Judge shall come and the deeds of each shall be revealed.” 

This is a line from the morning prayers I say. When I first became an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I used to emotionally cringe at this line. It played into my old juridical perspective of God, depicting God as pounding his gavel and declaring me guilty. Or worse, it played on some of my deeper distortions of God as a deity hiding around the corner, waiting for me to do something bad so he could jump out and catch me red-handed. 

But that isn’t the God revealed in Jesus. He’s a good, loving, generous Father who desires us to enter the true human life and vocation as his image-bearers, ambassadors, and priests.

So now, I see this line more therapeutically. A judge determines what is real and true. Like a doctor touching an area on our body in order to diagnose, the pain that we experience reveals disease or disorder that needs to be addressed and healed.

So it’s for our goodness and health that the Judge comes and reveals our deeds. It reveals what is real. And that honest revelation is always a gift, and never a curse.

But how does the Judge come and reveal? I find in my life it’s through pressure and suffering. When circumstances become stressful, that’s when the Judge reveals, when the Doctor diagnoses. As part of the process, the crap that I’m fairly good at burying during normal times is exposed. Anger, anxiety, fear, impatience, gossip, pride, self-centeredness, control, self-preservation, and so much more are flushed into the open.

And that’s when I’m reminded and invited again to trust in and follow my Shepherd. In him I lack nothing. In him I am safe. In him I am sustained. In him the fractured and frenzied pieces of my life are being reintegrated and restored.

I write this because yesterday morning as I prayed that line, I choked when I realized how the past couple of weeks have brought the Judge so powerfully. I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt so overwhelmed, to the point I feel physically ill and emotionally strung out. And what’s being exposed isn’t good. It feels like all the spiritual formation over the past several years has evaporated.

I’m not writing this to invoke pity. Rather, it’s a reminder that true and genuine honesty is a gift, not a curse. If I let God do his work, then what I’m experiencing is ultimately for my good. Suddenly the Judge comes and it is a good thing, even though it hurts so much.

Trust, Worship, & Care

As a resident of California, things have been changing rapidly over the past week in regards to COVID-19. And as I’ve watched and listened to family members, co-workers and the public, I’ve been pondering how I will live during this unique time.

These kind of thoughts always take me back to Psalm 23. This has been one of the core passages for my faith and spiritual formation the past couple of years. “The Lord is my Shepherd, so I lack absolutely nothing.” Whatever issue is facing me, this first line always confronts me with a choice. Is it mere poetic sentiment or is it ultimate Reality? If it is ultimate Reality, then my circumstance, large or small, is simply a passing shadow, like a storm cloud temporarily eclipsing the ever-shining sun.

The ultimate Reality is that God is good. He created a good world. And his reign and purposes for this world and all who live on it are good. So we are safe in this ultimate Reality.

That means COVID-19 did not catch God by surprise. It didn’t wrestle any control of his world away from him. Nor did it alter any of his good intentions and purposes for his creation at large and for you as his child in any way.

I’m not trying to minimize the incredible stress and uncertainty that comes with COVID-19 and it’s societal impact. Without going into any details, job loss, risk of exposure, dramatic changes at work, and even death are close to my extended family.

But again, Psalm 23 keeps confronting me with the question, is this sentiment or Reality. Is God truly the Shepherd-King of his world and all who live in it? As I’ve been learning during my training with God’s Spirit over the past couple of years, it is Reality and I can trust him.

Our trust must then move toward worship. In his commentary on Revelation 4, NT Wright says the difference between the worship from creation in general and the worship from humans is the word “because.” In Revelation 4, the four creatures around God’s throne, representing creation as a whole, worship God with an amazing declaration of who he is. But the twenty-four elders, representing God’s people, worship by using the word “because.” Their worship states that God deserves all worship because he has created all things. They worship because of his ultimate Reality

Our trust in God and his ultimate Reality must lead us to a worship that is immersed in and reflects upon that ultimate Reality. This is so difficult when our news feeds constantly bombard us with everything but that Reality. They fill us with fear and anxiety so our worship is more a reactive cry of desperation than a reflective declaration of trust and love.

Now there’s nothing wrong with cries of desperation. But they shouldn’t be the core of our worship of God. We need to ask, is my worship driven by my news feeds and fear or by my immersion and reflection on the ultimate Reality he’s revealed to us?

Our trust and worship should then lead us to peaceful care of others. If God is truly the Shepherd-King, then we don’t need to turn to hoarding and armed protection like I’ve some Christians proclaim. We follow the Prince of Peace. And like his followers throughout the ages, we’re called to care for others, even at the risk to ourselves.

Yes, we should prepare and even stock up on supplies, but with the intention of giving them away to those in need. Yes, we should practice social responsibility by staying physically away from people, but only until they need our support and help.

I know this has gone long, but I want to share a recent incident. I normally don’t share these kind of personal moments, but I think it highlights how simple care can make a difference in this current situation.

Debbie and I were in line to enter a grocery store. We had finally moved to the front of a substantial line. An older gentleman walked up to the employee monitoring the entrance and asked if he could go in to just get two items. She said no. He said he had to take the bus to every grocery store, but she insisted. He turned and began to walk away.

Debbie overheard the conversation and asked if we could let him in front of us, but I said that wouldn’t be fair to all the people behind us. She asked what if I grabbed the items for him. I agreed and she ran to catch up to the man while I entered the store. One of the items the man wanted was limited to one per customer. It was something I was going to buy for our family, but I grabbed it for him instead.

When I finished shopping and left the store, I gave the man his two items and Debbie told him they were a gift. He started tearing up.

Simple care. That’s all it takes. My wife is the queen of this kind of love.

Trust in an ultimate Reality that leads to reflective worship and other-centered care. Whether it’s a pandemic or just normal circumstances, this is the way of life as Jesus’ apprentices.

Missing Mom

Today marks the first anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death. I wrote the following on Facebook soon after her passing, but wanted to share it again.

“Yesterday, my beloved mother-in-law passed from this life. Often you hear about people who embody heroic portions of kindness to all people. We had the rare privilege of living with one. Leslie impacted so many people through her sheer kindness, gentleness and sacrifice. No matter who you were, you were always accepted and cared for. Others were always more important than herself. Whether it was a plate of food, an extra $20 to help meet the bills, or a kind word, she genuinely gave to everyone. She gave like she was the richest person on earth. And quite frankly, I think she was.

“As long as I knew Leslie, her heart’s desire was to ultimately be in Jesus’ presence. Yesterday, she was rewarded with her greatest desire. I can only imagine her joy of seeing her Friend and Savior welcome her with his loving arms and whisper, ‘Welcome home my good and faithful daughter!’”

A year has passed and it has been a difficult one. We have celebrated birthdays and holidays, but they have not been the same without her. And it pains me that my family will celebrate new and significant milestones without her. 

I miss her smile and her voice. I miss the small things she would  do. Just yesterday, I saw a woman eating a donut the way mom would hold her food and I felt the pang I’ve felt throughout this past year.

I miss you, mom.

Update: After posting this, Debbie left a beautiful “first year in heaven” tribute to her mom on Facebook. I wanted to include it in this post because it provides such a beautiful image of Leslie and expresses the immense hole in our lives that her absence has created.

“It has been one year since my Mama was welcomed into Heaven. We miss you Mama! We miss so much about you. Your sweet voice, your loving hugs, your smiles and funny jokes. We miss how much you made us feel loved and lovable. We miss your singing out praise songs and hymns throughout the day. We miss you “getting our honey”, that always made us smile and laugh. Nobody could soothe me better when I was sick; it was like you had the best recipe for toast and tea. Thanks for all the times you made baby tea for us when we were little and needed some special treatment. I have never met a more compassionate and giving woman. I have seen you give of yourself over and over without a complaint and yet I haven’t learned to be enough like you. I will keep trying to learn from your example.”

“Until we meet again, sweet Mama, we will remember you and the love of God that you have shared with us. We will remember that you taught us to trust and follow Jesus. We will remember that you taught us to pray and sing hymns and praises to God all through the day and when we wake up at night. You are often in our thoughts. In our selfishness we wish you were here but we know that you are in a much better place. Happy first year in heaven!”

Traveling Alone

Early this morning, our family took Chris to the airport. 

During our July 2018 visit to St Herman’s Monastery, the Abbot told Chris that the next step in exploring his calling to monasticism was a two-week visit to the monastery. Chris decided to wait until he finished his AA degree, which he accomplished this past August. So now, he’s taking a solo trip to the monastery. This is both his first time traveling alone and his first time on a plane.

I am emotionally torn about Chris’ calling. As his dad, I don’t want to lose my youngest. Imagining a life without him is too heart-breaking. Frankly, I’m already struggling with the prospect of two weeks without any contact with him.

But I’m also filled with joy and excitement for him as he learns to follow God into his unique life-calling. As someone who had a similar calling into professional pastoral ministry, I know that joy firsthand. I know what it’s like to wake up each morning with a sense of purpose in this world.

And as one who is no longer pursuing that calling into professional ministry, I also know the inner turmoil, self-doubt, and even depression that accompanies not fulfilling a calling.

I wish I could join Chris on this trip. But this next step, and all the subsequent steps, can only be walked by Chris alone. The monastic life is a solitary life. Chris will not be able to find solace or affirmation from family and friends. He must learn to trust God as his Good Shepherd. Because of this, my role in Chris’ journey has changed since our trip together in 2018.

I’ve done all I can to prepare Chris for this trip. And I will help him with any future trips. And if possible, Debbie and I will one day walk him through the monastery gates and entrust him finally to his abbot.

But now my role is to pray for him continuously and coach from the sidelines when appropriate as my son travels alone.

Happy Birthday, Debbie!

Today is Debbie’s birthday. She is my wife and my best friend. I don’t know what I ever did to deserve such an amazing person as her with whom to share my life, but I am sincerely and eternally grateful.

Not only is she stunningly beautiful, but Debbie has an incredible depth of character. I can honestly say that I have never met another person who is so God-centered and other-centered like she is. Having been a pastor and a theology student, I have heard and read my share of people talk about what love is. Debbie’s life cuts through all the verbiage with the actual thing. Her default setting is to think about the good of other people. Then add to that her brilliance, her charm, her wit, and all the other envious qualities and you have this astounding woman.

And, every morning, I wake up thankful and stunned that she wants to spend her life with me. And every night, I go to sleep grateful I’ve shared another day with her.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

In his commentary on Matthew, NT Wright begins his observations of Matthew 6:25:34 by asking a question that startles me every time I read it:

“Has it ever struck you what a basically happy person Jesus was?”

Sure there were times of stress, grief and anger, but as Wright states, “But these are the exceptions, the dark patches painted on to the bright background.”

When Jesus spoke of God’s care for the birds and flowers, this emanated from his “strong, lively sense of the goodness of his father, the creator of the world.” This was Jesus’ knowledge and experience of God and life.

So when Jesus invited his followers not to worry about tomorrow, he led by example. He was able to completely live in the present, aware of and celebrating his father’s goodness in the moment.

In addition, when Jesus instructs his followers to make God’s kingdom and the covenant life of creative goodness and sacrificial love for the sake of others their highest priority, he’s inviting them into a twofold reality.

First, God is the source of beauty, energy and excitement, not food, drink and clothes. God is the creator who infuses his world with his beauty, energy and excitement. So his people can find their source first and foremost by loving and trusting God, who is always close to them.

Second, because God has saturated the world with his beauty, energy and excitement, it doesn’t mean that food, drink and clothes don’t matter. Jesus isn’t telling us not to enjoy these things, but to enjoy them in their proper priority. For example, Jesus attended parties and ate and drank so that his enemies accused him of being a glutton and drunk. And when he was crucified, his tunic was such high quality that the admiring soldiers gambled for it rather than tearing up such a valuable item. So Jesus isn’t saying to avoid these things.

Rather, Jesus is inviting his followers to enter a life of different priorities and values than what the surrounding world offers. When one puts God’s work and life first, beautiful and wonderful things like food, drink and clothes are provided. So the aspects of our lives like work, relationship, possessions, and hobbies should be enjoyed. But we don’t have to anxiously strive after them in order to find happiness and fulfillment. In this life Jesus is inviting us, one doesn’t have to worry about tomorrow because we know our creator God and good Father is near, caring and providing.

So let’s return to Wright’s introductory question, “Has it ever struck you what a basically happy person Jesus was?” Imagine what his inner life was like. Imagine his deep, trusting confidence in God’s love and goodness. Imagine his ability to live in the present, loving and celebrating God’s goodness in that movement, task, or relationship. Imagine the utter lack of anxiety and worry about what the next hour, day, week or month would bring.

Now hear his joy-filled, anxiety-free voice inviting you to share his knowledge and experience of life:

“Are you having a real struggle? Come to me! Are you carrying a big load on your back? Come to me — I’ll give you a rest! Pick up my yoke and put it on; take lessons from me, I’ll be gentle with you! The last thing in my heart is to give you a hard time. You’ll see — rest you need, and rest you shall have. My yoke is easy to wear, my load is easy to bear.” -Matt 11:28-30

Visiting St Herman’s

Back in July 2018, Chris, who is my youngest son, and I visited St Herman’s Monastery near Platina, CA. We took this journey together because he feels called to monasticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church. I wrote the following reflection soon after the trip, but never posted it. I’ve decided to post it now because immediately following this upcoming busy holiday season, Chris will leave for an extended stay at the monastery as the next step of pursuing his calling. I assume I will be posting reflections over the next year as he moves forward in the process. So it seemed like the right time to post this initial reflection from our first trip to St Herman’s.


It was the final moments of a long trip. I was sitting in the dark on the bus with my youngest son. 

The trip to the monastery was fourteen hours. Then three days of physical, emotional and spiritual intensity. Then fourteen hours back home.

Chris and I visited St Herman’s Monastery on a quest, a pilgrimage. For some time, Chris has felt called to monasticism. In many ways I see a bit of my young self in him. I was in my late teens when I became a Christian. Passionate to follow Jesus, who gave me a new life, I sensed a calling to ministry.

Now my youngest senses a call to monasticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church. And where I had no one to help me explore my calling, I have committed to help Chris explore his calling as best as I can.

If monasticism is his vocation, his call is more severe than mine. If he chooses to become a monk, his vows will sever him from our family in order to embrace a lifetime of ascetical hardship and suffering. Chances are I will rarely see him again, maybe never. As his dad, this absolutely crushes me. The thought of him never being present in our family’s life, never seeing his face or seeing him smile or hearing his voice shatters me to the core.

So I don’t want him to make this decision by himself. I will travel this road with him as best and as far as I can to help him determine what God is calling him to do with his life.

My role on this trip was simple — to help him get to the monastery and back, to support him in any way possible, and to pray for him. Most of my trip was spent praying for and talking with him. We discussed various aspects of the monastic calling and what it meant to follow Jesus in any context. I tried to help him understand Scriptures, to answer questions, to process his thoughts and to pray. And pray. And pray.

Chris has such a beautiful heart toward God. He truly wants to give himself fully to God and to be shaped into his fullness. My greatest fear is such a life might be wasted in pursuing the wrong thing. If he’s not called to the monastic life, then he will endure great pain and hardship in isolation when he could have made an impact for God in the marketplace and in our family. But if he is called to the monastic life, I lose my son.

Our trip was a success. It was one step in a journey. Chris met his expectations for the trip and I met mine.

So sitting in the dark on the bus, pulling into our final destination, I listened as Chris spoke with a young woman. She had asked about our trip and Chris tried to explain our journey to the monastery. She responded by saying, “That’s a really long trip to take.” And Chris’ response broke through my fears, my ache, my fatigue….

“I would have been lost without my dad.”

I know his statement was specifically about our trip. But, for me, I hope it speaks prophetically about the journey that lies ahead for him… and for me.

Reflecting Our Father

Jesus calls us to follow him and to learn from him how to be genuinely human. It’s a journey of transformation by grace into what God is by nature. In this way, we reclaim our original human vocation as image-bearers, reflecting God’s character and love into the world. So when Jesus says the following, our ears should perk up:

“That way you’ll be children of your father in heaven!” -Matt 5:45

In what way will we actually be like our Father? This is how:

“I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you!” -Matt 5:44

We are like our Father and reflect him into the world when we become people who embody a fresh, creative love to everyone. This is a life so free from toxic idolatry and sin that one’s first inclination toward personal offense and violence is not anger and vengeance, but a patient, generous, sacrificial love.

And Jesus’ summary statement is preceded by three examples that make a profound point about this kind of life — you cannot fight insult, violence and injustice with more insult, violence and injustice. Darkness does not overcome darkness. No matter who comes out on top, darkness always wins. God is light and love, so his people, his children must embody and reflect this into all situations.

Unfortunately, we are surrounded by people who have placed their self-interest before others. It may be the person who just cut you off on the freeway, barely missing your car. It may the person in the express checkout line at the store whose purchase far exceeds the fifteen item limit. It may be the co-worker at your job who just threw you under the bus in order to look good in front of your boss.

Our response in these frustrating and even dangerous moments is to embody what Jesus embodied throughout his life. He healed people. He told stories that made them see life and reality differently. He fed people. He cared for people. He challenged people to become truly human. And when his enemies escalated the stakes, Jesus received the pain of the beatings. He carried the beam upon which he would be executed. And while excruciatingly hanging upon the cross, he prayed for them.

He was truly his Father’s child. And he invites us to learn from him how to be the same.

Hearing And Not Understanding

When Jesus explained his parable about the receptivity people have to his message, he likened one type of people to seed falling on a hardened path:

“When someone hears the word of the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.” Matthew 13:19

These people don’t understand what he’s saying and that lack of understanding allows the Satan to easily steal away the message. This is a very frightening prospect.

I wonder what keeps a person from not understanding Jesus’ message? In Jesus’ historical context, he was speaking to his fellow Israelites. Their lack of understanding was not caused by a lack of intelligence. They were as smart then as we are today.

Rather, I think Jesus was speaking from a different story, a different narrative that didn’t make sense from the story they had embraced their entire lives.

Israel believed that their God was the one true God. If this were true, then they shouldn’t be ruled by pagans. They believed their Scriptures that one day, God would make everything right by ultimately becoming king of the entire world.

But many in Israel believed they were to bring about God’s kingdom through violent revolution, overthrowing their pagan oppressors. The problem was they were fighting darkness and violence with darkness and violence.

Jesus was calling Israel to turn back to their true calling as God’s covenantal people, who were to restore the nations and God’s creation through light and love.

Jesus was inviting them to follow him on the path of self-sacrifice and self-giving love, even to one’s enemies and even to one’s death. This message made absolutely no sense in the context of the other stories where Israel was to be the supreme nation above all others.

The other day I saw a bumper sticker that actually made me cringe. It said, “My three loves: God, Guns and Country.” An ideology that would even associate God with either Guns or Country is absolutely ludicrous. But it’s a prevalent one among Christians in the US. And this is only one of several false preconceived ideas about God that Christians embrace.

So it’s our false ideas of God that actually get in the way of understanding Jesus’ true message of God. In this way, someone who thinks they’re close to God is actually far away. And someone who thinks they understand God and his kingdom is actually not understanding at all.

And Satan is right there doing his work.

A Framework For My Life

I realized the other day that during my commute to and from work, I frequently remind myself of some basic truths with which I try to align my life. Like the infrastructure of a building, these truths form the framework for my life. My daily activities, thoughts, and words may not always sync with these truths, but I trust Jesus to continue training me into more consistent alignment.

One. God is truly good and has created and rules over a good world. As I seek to live in his reign, he generously provides everything I need. I truly lack nothing and can be content in God’s provision whether I possess little or much.

Two. Jesus is the model of genuine humanity. He is a human being the way God intended. Everything he did was as a human being living fully in God’s reign.

Three. Jesus invites us to follow him in order to learn from him how to be genuinely human in God’s good world and reign. By learning to live in God‘s reign like Jesus, we will discover that the way we live, work, and lead will be completely and radically different from the common experience around us. We won’t need to make things happen. We won’t need to hurt, push, bully, or manipulate people. We can live from a place of peace, faith, generosity, grace, and compassion and know that God will work out everything.

Four. The human vocation is to be God’s image-bearers into his good world. In this way, we cooperate with God by embodying his character and wisdom. We are his royal priests, his ambassadors and representatives that only say and do what we hear and see the Father saying and doing. Through the power of God’s Spirit, we do creative goodness for the sake of others and creation. 

Five. Our actual lives is the gymnasium for our formation into Christ’s likeness as he trains us. All circumstances, regardless of their place on the spectrum between suffering and tranquility, are opportunities to learn from Christ how to be a genuine human in God’s reign for the sake of others.

Six. Jesus fulfilled the covenant and thus 1) broke the power of idolatry and the life of sin that empowers it, 2) restored to us the human vocation as God’s image-bearers , and 3) launched his Father’s New Creation in the midst of this one. When we accept Jesus‘ invitation into an intimate relationship of following and learning from him, we become part of the New Creation both in what God is doing in us and through us to the world.

Chris Turns Twenty!

Chris turns 20 today. This young man has brought so much joy to our lives. The day he entered our lives was amazing and every day since has been an absolute privilege. His devotion to God and care for people are a  delight to experience and continue to challenge me to be a better person. He serves people wholeheartedly and selflessly. He is extremely witty, intelligent, and creative. He has grown from being our “baby” to being an extraordinary man that I admire deeply and I am proud to call my son and friend. I can’t tell him enough how much I love him and how proud I am of him. Happy Birthday, Christopher!

Faith Fulfilled Through Works


“But supposing someone says, ‘Well: you have faith, and I have works.’ All right: show me your faith — but without doing any works; and then I will show you my faith, and I’ll do it by my works! You believe that ‘God is one’? Well and good! The demons believe that, too, and they tremble! Do you want to know, you stupid person, that faith without works is lifeless? Wasn’t Abraham our father justified by his works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You can see from this that faith was cooperating along with the works, and the faith reached its fulfillment through the works.” James 2:18-22

Many modern Christians struggle with James’ teaching on faith and works. They believe that James and Paul are somehow at odds with each other. First, we need to get that out of the way. James and Paul say the same thing. Here are a couple of quotes from Paul:

“You have been saved by grace, through faith! This doesn’t happen on your own initiative; it’s God’s gift. It isn’t on the basis of works, so no one is able to boast. This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.” Eph 2:9-10

“For in the Messiah, Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any power. What matters is faith, working through love.” Gal 5:6

Second justification does not mean salvation. Biblically, salvation is the deliverance from our idolatry, the life of sin that supports and empowers it, and the dehumanization, disintegration and death that ultimately results from it. And salvation is the deliverance to the restored human vocation as God’s image-bearers in his creation. 

Justification, on the other hand, is a term from the law-court. The image is a law court where the Christian is on trial in order to determine if they are actually a member of God’s covenantal people. In the Old Testament, covenantal membership was based on ethnicity. Israel was God’s chosen people, receiving both the covenantal blessings (land, law, and temple) and responsibilities (to rescue and restore the nations and God’s creation).

This ethnic-based membership was summarized by the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” Deut 6:4-5.

Ethnic Israel was God‘s chosen people. Yet, Jesus, Israel’s true king, redefined covenantal membership, opening it up to the nations, and redefined the covenantal vocation.

James is dealing with Jewish Christians, who seem to continue using the Shema as the basis of their covenantal membership and vocation and thus excusing themselves from caring for the poor and needy.

In this law-court image, James is saying let’s look at the evidence. As Jewish Christians you are presenting the Shema as your evidence. You loyally declare and adhere to the statement that God is one and you love God with your heart, soul and strength. Well, first, even the demons believe that God is one, so that doesn’t take you very far. 

And second, the Shema is adhering to only half of the covenantal vocation as redefined by Jesus, Israel’s true king. The Shema is the old standard. Jesus’ royal law is to love God with all of your heart, soul and strength AND to love your neighbor as yourself. If you are loyal to Jesus, then you must be loyal to his redefinition. And loving others is practically expressed through the loving care for the least in society — the poor.

These works, says James, are the true evidence that he’s a member of God’s covenantal people. The ethnic declaration of loyalty is no longer valid evidence for covenantal membership and vocation. The true evidence is loyalty to God demonstrated by love for him AND acts of care and kindness to others. These works demonstrate loyal adherence to Jesus’ redefined covenantal vocation as expressed in his royal law. In this way you are justified, declared “right” in God’s law court, that you are truly a member of his covenantal people.

Faith must leap into action through service. Serving others is not optional. It’s why we have been saved and invited to join Jesus’ covenantal people — to do creative, beautiful and sacrificial goodness for the sake of others. In this way our faith reaches its fulfillment through our works.

Rejecting Formation By Feeds

Yesterday, I deleted or deactivated almost all of my social media accounts — 500px, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook. 

Removing myself from these feeds was a difficult decision, especially Facebook. Having been on that platform for years, I have so many people from my past and present that I enjoy following. I have watched them and their families grow, laughed at their memes, cheered at their successes, cried in their tragedies and even deaths, and prayed for them as they shared their life events.

I’ve also enjoyed writing anniversary and birthday messages for my wife and kids. My greatest joy is being Debbie’s husband and being Michael’s, Catherine’s, Danielle’s and Christopher’s dad. I want the world to know how much I love and cherish them and how highly I think about them.

There were a number of factors that played into this decision, but two stand out. One reason is I didn’t like how I turned to my social media feeds during down-time moments. Rather than turning to images and posts, I want my internal default to turn to activities like prayer, reflection, reading and writing. And I also want to be more aware of God and people in the moment. That’s very difficult to do when I’m staring at my phone.

Another reason is too much noise has accumulated in my life. It seems like everything is a rapidly scrolling feed of images and ideas, competing for attention before it’s quickly replaced by something else. It’s like standing at the top of a waterfall and trying to focus on the objects quickly passing by and plummeting over the falls. And if I had anything to contribute, no matter how important or meaningful it might be to me, it was simply swept away among the other items.

I remember when blogs were “the thing” twenty years ago. When I received a notification that someone I followed had posted, I would carve out some time and slowly read through their post, mulling over what they had written. Yet over the last several years, it seems like this has been replaced by rapid-fire sound bites, links to videos and news articles, memes, and the like. While many of these items may be important, their meaningfulness is drowned out by the dizzying frenzy of hundreds of items spinning by. I found I had no time to enjoy and reflect on everything bombarding me through my feeds. This is the primary reason I have left my friends’ blogs on this blog’s navigation panel. While they’ve been silent for years, I like to return to them and reread their posts.

Add to that the hacking, advertisements, changing algorithms and the impending election cycle, I’ve decided that I’ve had enough. 

Please don’t misunderstand me. This is not a comment about anyone who remains on Facebook or the other social media feeds. This is something I need in my continual formation into Christlikeness. Everything forms us. And the formation from my feeds seemed to be contrary to the formation I’m pursing.

So, is this a permanent decision? I don’t know. At this point I want to say it will be permanent. But I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve taken short breaks from social media in the past and found the experience to be refreshing and refocusing. But I always knew these hiatuses were temporary. This feels different.

I have deleted my 500px and Flickr accounts, so they’re permanently gone. Because I have more personal history invested in Twitter and Facebook, I simply changed my password, logged out, and deleted the apps on my phone and bookmarks on my browsers. And I’ve decided to remain on Instagram (although I’ve deleted the app from my phone) and Youtube since I still draw some inspiration and instruction from those platforms for my photography. But I may eventually remove myself from those platforms as well.

My goal is to revisit this decision in 9 to 12 months. If this decision has made a positive impact, then I will probably permanently delete my Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Moving forward, I will invest my activity into my two blogs — this one and my photoblog. These are slower-paced opportunities to reflect and write. I don’t have any desire to increase engagement here. These blogs are simply a quiet, obscure corner of the internet where I can record the things rumbling around inside of me as well as the important moments of my life.

And hopefully when I look back on this decision, I will have discovered that rejecting formation from my feeds contributed significantly to my ongoing journey home.

Facing Regrets & Anxiety

So today is my birthday. I don’t know if it’s my age, but I find myself frequently facing two personal demons — regret about the past and anxiety about the future. Like ghosts, past words, deeds and decisions hauntingly whisper during the quiet moments of my life. What if I raised my kids differently? What if I had spent more time with them than at work? What if I had stayed in professional ministry? Did I somehow miss or disqualify myself from God’s calling on my life? And if given too much room, regrets can turn into paralyzing despondency. But thinking about the future can be no better. Rather than facing ghosts of my own making, I face wraiths of what might yet come. Loss of job, loss of family, loss of security, loss of… well everything. These in turn can cause paralyzing fear and panic.

The thing about regrets and anxiety is that we wield no control over them. Nothing we do can change what has happened. And while we may think decisions in the present may somehow govern what happens in the future, it’s a false sense of security. We have as little control over the future as we do changing the past.

That’s when the serene, yet solid words of Psalm 23 calm the raging storm. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing” and “I will fear no evil for you are with me.” Jesus is my caring and compassionate Shepherd. He is always intimately and protectively present. And in him, everything I need for life in his kingdom within this world is provided. There’s no need to fear any evil, including regrets and anxiety, for Jesus’ real, tangible, interactive presence eclipses everything.

It’s within this reality that St Paul’s words make so much sense, “Rejoice always. Pray continuously. Give thanks in all circumstances. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God’s will, desire and intention is that we live in Jesus’ intimate and interactive presence. As we do, the natural response will be continuous joy, prayer and gratitude. Fueled by the reality of Jesus’ ongoing shepherding presence, their continual flow from our lives will vanquish the voices of regret and anxiety.

I used to get Paul’s words backwards. I thought it was my responsibility to muster up continuous joy, prayer and gratitude. But I’m finding the more I discard the false realities of how I see the world and immerse myself in the solid REALITY of Jesus’ interactive presence as the Shepherd King of this world, I’m naturally filled with joy, prayer and gratitude.

Photo credit: My best friend and awesome photographer, Mark Feliciano

The Story Behind The Story

A local photography club in which I participate assigned a project. We were to create a still life image. I love stories, so I started gathering the props to tell a story of a traveling musician who missed his family while on the road. The props had a modern feel. For example, I was going to use a ukulele and a photo of my wife and kids from several years ago.

I decided to ask my kids to help gather some props and they eagerly jumped to the task. My son came out of his room with a battered violin he found at his grandparents’ house. The thing looked incredible! My daughter emerged from her room with a pocket watch and what looked like an engagement ring. And we found some old black and white photos of my kids’ grandma when she was young. 

Suddenly the story took on a new twist with the introduction of these awesome props. We started building a scene about a man who chose fame and wealth through his music over the young woman he loved. He had bought her an engagement ring, but never proposed because the dream of fame and wealth was far more enticing. Now years later, he carries the ring and photos of her on his musical travels.

The story is laced with regret, melancholy and a desperate hope that he can return to her. But we know the odds of their reunion of love are slim.

I love the story we created. Storytelling with one image is what makes photography so rich. But even more, I love the story behind the story. In this case, the collaboration with my kids was a fun and memorable time. And the images are as much theirs as they are mine.

It makes me think that there might be a Story behind that story…

Thoughts On Suffering

I’m on vacation. After ending work on Thursday, I went to my favorite coffee shop and then took my coffee to my favorite park for a stroll. I love to end my day with this routine. It allows me to pray, reflect and unwind. 

It was then that I was hit by the full realization that I was starting several days of vacation. I actually got a little emotional. I hadn’t realized how taxing work had been on me. I am so thankful that even though I have a very stressful job, it allows me to take breaks so I can step away for several days. 

As I was praying, I started thinking about those who are undergoing intense struggle and suffering with no opportunity to step away. I know friends and colleagues, not to mention people that fill our news feeds, who are suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually with no relief in sight. I don’t know how they can endure such long-term and life-crushing pain. 

I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child and face an unfathomable well of grief. Or to lose one’s entire savings and confront the daily panic, despair and regret. Or to hear the doctor’s diagnosis and know one’s life is forever altered.

Scripture verses, advice, and platitudes don’t help in most of these situations. The pain is too deep and unending.

But on behalf of those who are suffering in any way, I pray, “Lord, have mercy” and know our God — our loving, kind and compassionate king and shepherd — hears and is present.

Relaunching Images From The Journey

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a photoblog in 2009-2010 that was an offshoot of this blog. 

The primary reason I entered photography was to stop and discover the innate beauty of God’s world — to explore the “extra” in the ordinary. The photoblog was a place where I could reflect on some of these images.

Ten years later, my life is full. And in its fullness, I’ve neglected the habit of pausing, observing, and reflecting. It’s time to make a change. As part of this change, I’m restarting the photoblog.

St Paul says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” My hope is the photoblog will become that place again in my life.

So why use a photoblog and not just use social media? I currently post a lot of photos on both my professional and personal Instagram accounts. But social media is designed for self-promotion and images stream quickly by in one’s feeds. 

A photoblog seems to be a more conducive platform to slow down and reflect. And while this might seem sappy and overly romanticized, I like to see my blog posts, both here and in the photoblog, as similar to messages in a bottle in the vast ocean of the internet. I don’t know if anyone will ever see my posts. But perhaps a serendipitous Google search may bring someone here at just the right time in their life’s journey. 

So I’m relaunch the photoblog. If you’re interested, you can find it at I’ve also created a link in the “My Photography” page of this blog.

Life’s Transactions

Ten years ago, I tried my hand at a photoblog. I took up photography as a hobby because it helped me to stop and see the world in a way that my busy life normally prevented. The photoblog was a small place on the internet to post the images I created along with short reflections.

Not having any photographic technique, my entry-level camera was set to automatic. But taking a great photo wasn’t the goal. The goal was to pause and glimpse a glimmer of beauty that I would normally miss. And in the process, I hoped I was becoming a slightly better person for it. I can’t remember why I ended the photoblog, but it lasted about a year. 

About five years ago, I began to take photography more seriously. I bought a better camera, set it to manual and began learning ISO, aperture, shutter speed and the nuances of lighting and post-processing. In that process, I still searched for beauty. But the goal of my photography subtly shifted from pausing and pondering to creating a better image. As my technique developed, I began posting on various social media platforms not with the purpose of reflection, but of exposure. I’m still finding beauty, but I’ve almost stopped reflecting. I’m pausing to find the subject for an image and process it to emphasize its appeal, but I’ve ceased ruminating on the subtly of its attraction.

Now looking back over the last several years, I feel I’ve lost something in order to gain something. 

These kind of transactions occur throughout our lives. We make certain decisions and start a journey rarely knowing its true trajectory. With a healthy dose of hindsight that only time provides, we realize the true cost of those transactions.

We are finite beings, so money, energy, passion and resources invested into certain areas of our lives often means other areas won’t receive the same kind of attention. Most of the time, we weigh our options and choose what seems best in the moment. Sometimes that can be a good thing. But other times, not so much.

Fortunately, if caught soon enough, some of these transactions can be refinanced. Resources can be redirected to nurture an area that has lain fallow so that over time new growth may emerge.

There’s a word for this process of refinancing our life’s transactions — repentance. Try to hear that word without any of its religious connotations. When Jesus used the word, it did not have any religious meaning. It meant “think about it.” Think about what you’re doing in your life and the repercussions of your actions. And in that process, consider that there might actually be a better way. And once you’ve weighed the options, choose the better way. That’s repentance. That’s refinancing those costly life transactions.

We often think of applying repentance to much larger things. But sometimes repentance needs to be applied to some of the “smaller” areas of life. For example, not spending regular time in quiet reflection can exact a huge cost over months and years, shaping us into a certain kind of person.

But whether it’s a large or small area of our life, God’s Spirit invites us to “think about it” and to empower us in the process of refinancing our life transactions. And through it, we experience the vast richness of God’s power and presence.

The Core Of The Good News

Occasionally, I like to simplify everything back to its core. I especially like to do this with the idea of The Gospel, which we are to live and communicate.

The Greek word for “Gospel” means good news. When a new Roman emperor was installed during ancient times, messengers were sent into the outlying territories proclaiming the gospel of that emperor. It was the good news that Rome had a new emperor and because of it, Rome’s citizens would experience peace, prosperity and salvation.

The four New Testament Gospels, in narrative form, are doing the same thing about Jesus. They are bearing witness that Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited, representative king. As such Jesus has fulfilled the covenant that God made with Abraham and his family to be God’s blessing to the nations, he has launched God’s future new creation concurrent with this creation, and he is installed as the world’s true Lord. That is the good news of Jesus! Jesus is the true King and Lord!

The implications of that gospel for every person who loyally embraces Jesus’ kingship and follows him is freedom from all of the destructive powers in our lives and the restoration of our human vocation (and here I’m blatantly stealing from Bishop Todd Hunter) “to be God’s cooperative friends who are learning from him how to live constant creative goodness for the sake of others in the power of God’s Spirit.”

With Jesus as our true King, we lack nothing and thus can learn from him how to build strong, unshakable lives like his, able to risk everything for the sake of God and neighbor. 

This is reality of Jesus’ kingship. And it is the ultimate Good News!

To Be Continued…

DSC02335As I read and reread the last couple of chapters of Revelation, I’m struck by the idea that this is not the end of God’s Story. I think we’ve been formed by our culture to read Revelation 22 as though it ends with an assumed “And they lived happily ever after.”

As the book climaxes, all of God’s plans come to fruition. Evil is vanquished, humanity and creation are restored, and God dwells with his people. The New Creation launched by Jesus in his resurrection completely arrives on earth. The dimensions of heaven and earth are finally merged. God’s people will have their resurrected bodies, animated and energized by God’s Spirit. And they will be fully formed into the likeness of Christ.

But that’s not the end of God’s Story. Rather, Revelation 22 seems to indicate that the next phase of God’s Story is ready to begin. There’s an interesting description in Revelation 22:

“Then he showed me the river of the water of life. It was sparkling like crystal, and flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either bank of the river was growing the tree of life. It produces twelve kinds of fruit, bearing this fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

In symbolic language, St John describes the core of life on God’s renewed earth —the Tree of Life, fed by the Water of Life. And the leaves of this Tree are for the healing and therapy of the nations. It sounds like there’s still work to be done in God’s New Creation. This is different from the popular vision of living among the clouds, reunited with loved ones, in complete bliss.

So the question I have is, “What will the human vocation as God’s image-bearers and kingdom of priests look like in the New Creation?” What will life and work be like for a worldwide community of people with resurrected, Spirit-empowered physical bodies, who are formed into genuine competent love for the good of the world?

Scripture implies there will be some level of continuity between this creation and the New Creation. If so, what will the various elements of human life and community look like — politics, education, technology, economics, travel, art, communication, research, and more.

I realize this is absolute assumption on my part. And I’m not trying to speculate about some “sci-fi” utopia. Rather, I want to envision what human life and community might actually look like when it’s fully formed into competent Christlike love and completely empowered to express it. Because that is what Jesus modeled during his ministry. He competently loved the people and expressed it powerfully to heal them, teach them, feed them and lead them. What will that look like in God’s New Creation when all of God’s people are able to love like that?

St Paul implies this very thing in 1Corinthians 15. After providing a detailed instruction about the physical resurrection, he ends with the following encouragement:

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Because there is a future physical resurrection when God’s New Creation is fulfilled, keep doing the Lord’s work of competent Christlike love in this present creation. That work will not be worthless. In fact, that work forms the building blocks that God will incorporate into his New Creation. We live God’s future now in anticipation of that future.

God’s Story doesn’t end just because the book ends.

Perhaps we need our imaginations sparked with the ramifications of God’s greatness and goodness filling the earth and our lives, not only now, but also into his eternal future.

Perhaps every Bible should end with “To be continued…”

Lacking Nothing

Since reading Dallas Willard’s posthumous book, Life Without Lack, my imagination has been reinfused with a vision of the with-God life. So in an attempt to keep that vision always before me, I’ve made praying Psalm 23 a daily spiritual discipline.

As I pray this psalm, I’ve realized its words are filled with tremendous meaning in light of Christ’s life and teaching. So I thought I would share how I understand Psalm 23 as I use it as a prayer.

The Lord is my Shepherd. He is my King and my caretaker. Because he is the good shepherd, I live in a good world created and ruled by a good God who gives every good and perfect gift. Therefore, I lack nothing. Because God lacks nothing and because he’s abundantly generous, I lack nothing. I know that as I make his kingship and covenantal justice my first priority, everything else I need will be provided. So I can be fully loyal, faithful and abandoned to his kingship.

The Lord is training me to be satisfied and sustained in him alone. I no longer need to be fed or nourished by anything other than him. He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. I no longer need to hunger or thirst for anything. Like a sheep that is already full and content, I can lay down in green pastures rather than roaming around eating. This is the secret of being content in any and every situation. My soul, which has been fragmented by the frantic and frenzied pursuit of meaning and satisfaction, is being healed. He is restoring my soul, binding and restoring the shattered fragments into his power and life. 

Living constantly in him and lacking nothing, God shows me how to take up my human vocation as his image-bearer and royal priest. He guides me into a cooperative friendship with him so that I can participate in his righteousness, that is, his covenantal justice in the world. I am now a partner in his reconciling, renewing, and redeeming work in this world. And I do this in his behalf and in his name. I represent him, learning from him how be like him in order to embody, demonstrate and announce his restorative good news.

And I can engage in this redemptive vocation without fearing any evil. When this vocation takes me to the brink of death, destruction, or loss, I will fear no evil. God is with me. He protects me. Nothing can separate me from him and his love. In this constant Reality, I am comforted by God, knowing he works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. 

The vocation of covenantal justice takes me into places where the world hurts and groans. Because God is generously abundant and gives me all things, he plants my life in the places of pain, even where people might seek my ruin. And yet, I do not need to fear my enemies. I am safe in the care of a good King and Shepherd with his life and power sustaining, nourishing and providing all I need in every moment. Therefore, instead of fearing my enemies, I can bless them. I can invite them to enjoy God’s abundant anointing and blessings in my life without fear of lack or loss. The abundant with-God life allows me to give to everyone — strangers, enemies, friends, family, and loved ones.

Therefore God‘s presence and character exudes from my life everywhere I go and everything I do. His goodness and love are the exhaust of this mighty engine of restoration and blessing. And each moment of my life today and into the infinite future is spent in God’s intimate presence where heaven and earth are merged and restored into his New Creation.

More Present Now

Last weekend, our family visited Oak Glen, a favorite location of ours. This visit was unique because a thick fog rolled in, altering the landscape. So during our visit, I took several photos with my phone. One of the photos was a reflection shot of the pond in the botanical garden. When I took the photo, I thought the image was free of fellow visitors. But when I got home, uploaded the photo to Lightroom and expanded it, I noticed there were a couple of people in the image. The larger screen and software enabled me to see the scene better than when I was actually standing there.

That photo came to mind this morning while reading John 14:12-21. In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon be returning to his Father. While at first this sounds discouraging, he informs them that they will actually be able to do greater works than what he’s been doing because he’s going to the Father. And that’s because the Father will give his followers the Holy Spirit. 

I think many of us believe that Jesus’ original followers had it much easier than we do simply by the fact that Jesus was physically with them. But according to Jesus in this passage, the opposite is true. If we think about the original disciples, they seemed to constantly misunderstand Jesus’ words. They found themselves misinterpreting events. Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him and the rest scattered at his arrest.

Here’s the remarkable truth of John 14: Christians today are in a far better situation than Jesus’ original followers during his lifetime! Jesus is actually more present to his followers in this new mode than when he was physically present.

When Jesus talks about going to the Father, he’s not just talking about going to heaven. He’s referring to defeating evil, idolatry, sin and death through his crucifixion. He’s referring to launching God’s New Creation through his resurrection. He’s referring to merging heaven and earth through his ascension. And he’s referring to being fully present and empowering by the Spirit through Pentecost.

Because of his accomplishments through the process of “going to the Father,” an entirely new world lies before us. And in this new world, Jesus is with us far more fully than he was with his original disciples — renewing our minds and energizing our lives with his LIFE to do greater works than Jesus ever did.

The Flowers Of The Field

One form of photography that I enjoy is macro photography. When I take macro shots of flowers, the process allows me to enter into, observe and capture a world of beauty that often goes unnoticed. It also allows me to capture the fragility of that beauty. Most of my subjects only exist for a short time. A strong wind and the dandelion’s seeds are blown away. A child’s playful step or a short heat wave and the flower’s petals are crushed or withered.

Macro photography also offers me a glimpse into the faith Jesus had in his Father. During his life, he witnessed thousands of different flowers growing in Galilee. The fragile beauty took away his breath and reminded him of his Father’s generous provision and love. It fueled his knowledge of his Father’s goodness as this world’s Creator. It strengthened his perspective that his Father’s world was a good and safe place.

“And why worry about what to wear? Take a tip from the lilies in the countryside. They don’t work; they don’t weave; but, let me tell you, not even Solomon in all his finery was dressed as well as one of these. So if God gives that sort of clothing even to the grass in the field, which is here today and on the bonfire tomorrow, isn’t he going to clothe you too, you little-faith lot?” Matthew 6:28-30

I remember hearing about a conversation someone had with Dallas Willard. Willard said if he had to describe Jesus with one word it would be “relaxed.” Jesus was absolutely happy and content in his Father because he knew from experience that his Father excitedly and energetically loved his creation and cared about beauty, life, food, clothes and the other good things inherent in his world.

So here’s Jesus’ invitation to his friends then and now:

“Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

The cornerstone of Jesus’ faith and therefore the key to the training he gives his friends is to make God the priority, not the beautiful elements of his creation. Creator, not the creation. 

The key is to seek God’s good, generous, loving kingship and his “righteousness” — the good covenantal way of life that is in sync with God’s kingship. The implication is that we yield our “kingships” and “queenships” to God’s and embrace and learn his way of life.

God has made his world with incredible and wonderful things to experience and enjoy. But those things are fleeting. So when we put those things first, we give ourselves to that which will quickly fade. And then we commit ourselves to a way of life that tries to obtain more and tries to prevent it from fading. Our failed priorities are called idolatry and the way of life that tries to sustain it is called sin. And this life is ultimately riddled with stress, worry, anxiety, pain, brokenness, and corruption. The joy, beauty, excitement and wonder that we’re pursuing evaporates away.

One way to assess our idolatry and sin is to examine our natural inclination to worry. For many of us, worry is like breathing. It’s our default status through daily life. But Jesus didn’t worry. And he taught his friends that they didn’t need to worry. This wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky wishful view of life. This was the actual reality of Jesus’ faith and daily living. And his friends ultimately found it to be true as well (Phil 4:4-7).

We simply need to admit that Jesus’ faith and life are far better than our current experience. When we learn to see, experience and trust our Father like Jesus does, then we can actually enter into the same kind of fearless, joyful, happy and worry-free life he had.

So take a moment and look at the flowers of the fields and let your faith in your Father soar.

Cleaning My Paint Brush

After painting a room the other day, I had the “privilege” of cleaning the paint brushes and rollers. If you’ve ever had this privilege, you know how long this process can take. After some cleaning, the brush looks clean. But the moment you squeeze the bristles, more paint oozes out. So you clean and clean. Again, the brush looks deceptively clean. But then you squeeze the bristles again, and more paint seeps out.

Spiritual formation can be like this. It seems I’ve been trying to clean the paint brush of my heart for decades. Unfortunately, I have let the paints of anger and anxiety saturate deep between the bristles. So even though I may seem calm and cool on the outside, sometimes all it takes is a stressful circumstance or a jerk… uh I mean a fellow human being… on the freeway, to squeeze my deceptively clean-looking brush and those stark colors bleed out again.

But each day I have a choice to make. In frustration, I can give up. I can simply let anger and anxiety rule my life. I have some semblance of control over them, so they wouldn’t cause too much damage.

Or I can keep following Jesus, confident in him, his life, his teaching, his power, his brilliance over all aspects of human existence and life. Ultimately I have to remain confident in him even though my brush doesn’t seem to be getting clean.

During Lent, I read Dallas Willard’s posthumously released book, Life Without Lack. First, I need to say that I miss him. He was a wonderful gift to the Church. Second, the vision in his book of a “with-God” life based on Psalm 23 has been so refreshing. This “with-God” life is what Paul speaks of when he says:

“In every possible situation I’ve learned the hidden secret of being full and hungry, of having plenty and going without, and it’s this: I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power.” -Philippians 4:12-13

In God’s New Creation, I don’t need to experience anger or anxiety. Sure there will be stressful circumstances and people. But by training with Jesus into his likeness of living a “with-God” life, I can have his unshakable confidence in an abundantly good and generous Father who has created and rules over an abundantly good and generous world. And this confidence can allow me to completely die to myself, my passions, and my desires, completely safe in my Father’s abundant goodness and generosity. This then allows me to expend my life fully on seeking and willing the good for others.

One of the shocking realizations I had from reading Willard’s book is the implications of Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

A “with-God” life, confident in God’s abundance, steeped in death to self, and fully focused on the good of others allows even my “enemies” to join me at and enjoy the benefits of the table of my “with-God” life.

The last part of Willard’s book forms the practical application of how to live a “with-God” day that will over time form a “with-God” life.

So I think the choice remains clear. A “with-God” life, no matter how long it takes to form, sounds exceedingly more appealing than a life of anger and anxiety. So no matter how long it takes, I’ll keep cleaning my paint brush.

Letting Go During Lent

I don’t think I need to convince anyone when I state that our lives are filled, perhaps overfilled, with activity. Usually from the moment we awake to the moment our bodies drift to sleep, we are doing something. And many of those activities have formed our identity, reinforcing and energizing those activities.

One of the invitations of Lent is to let go of some of those activities in order to create new space within our lives — space for the potential of beauty, space to be alert to God and others, space to examine some of the shadowy parts of our inner lives.

I read a statement by Richard Rohr that might be helpful. He says, “We become free as we let go of our three primary energy centers: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.” I think every person struggles in some way with these areas and Lent invites us to become a bit more aware and perhaps to learn how to let go.

The beauty of Lent is that it doesn’t demand, but invites. There is no obligation to participate in Lent. It doesn’t make God love us more nor does it necessarily make us better people. God loves us and is pleased with us whether we have a laser-focus during Lent or if we choose to “give up Lent during Lent.” But that same lavish, unending love is both the invitation to and the environment within which we engage in Lent.

To put it simply, Lent is Love. It is God’s love that invites us to Lent. It is God’s love in which we experience Lent. It is God’s love through which we may be transformed in Lent. And it is God’s love in which we may fail in Lent.

Recently, Bishop Todd Hunter likened Lent to the R&D department of a company. It’s a unique time each year where we can, with a childlike and an almost playful spirit, let go, make space, examine, and engage God regarding oft-hidden aspects of our lives within God’s deep and unchanging love for us.

So I would encourage you to hear and answer God’s invitation to let go and experience his love during Lent.

The Paint On Me

There’s a line from a Sister Hazel song that has haunted me since I first heard it. It goes:

“But the paint on me is beginning to dry and it’s not what I wanted to be.”

I’ve observed recently that as people grow older, we seem to become caricatures of our former selves. The paint on our inner lives, our character, dries and hardens almost to a point of exaggeration. Worriers worry. Complainers complain. Gossipers gossip. Ragers rage. Gluttons glut. Lusters lust. There’s almost no nuance left.

When I was a younger man, my life ambition was to be someone great for God. I wanted to do amazing things for God and change the world in his name. A couple more decades of life altered that goal. Ambition was replaced with a desire to become like Jesus, to have my inner world shaped into the likeness of Jesus’ inner being so good toward others would flow naturally.

I jokingly told a colleague that after my recent observation, I’ve lowered the bar to just not becoming a person that makes my wife and kids miserable when they’re around me.

I’m very aware of my character flaws. And the thought of those flaws permanently hardening to form “the real me” over the next few decades scares me to no end.

Reading Bishop Todd Hunter’s book, “Our Character At Work,” has reminded me again that who I’m becoming is far more important to God than anything I accomplish. Hunter writes regarding the context of leadership at work:

“What if my work is not the most important thing? What if I cannot be reduced to my work? Maybe from God’s view my work is not his work? Maybe I, the kind of person I become in carrying out my leadership, am his work.”

These words remind me that work, home, church, hobbies, relationships and all the other areas of life in which I find myself become the soil from which my character is formed for good or bad. In the midst of daily life I can choose to recognize Jesus’ brilliance into human nature and learn from him how to be like him. Or I can let my broken, hurt and corrupt nature continue to dry and harden into something I didn’t want to be.

Where Past And Present Overlap

Back in February 2017, I decided to become more intentional with my photography. So virtually every weekend, I would buy a cup of coffee and go to Finkbiner Park in Glendora, CA. I would walk around sipping my coffee and taking photos of compositions that caught my eye.

Why Finkbiner Park? This was a place that my kids visited frequently in their childhood and still holds a fondness in my heart and memories. I would regularly take them to this park and they would innocently play and laugh as children.

Now my kids are adults. They face adult struggles and stresses. They have adult dreams and goals. But when I stroll through Finkbiner Park, I can still see and hear them as little children. For a short time every weekend, I’m flooded with memories as my past and present overlap. I relax in all the thoughts and emotions that surface. And I take photos.

I never had the intention of making my weekly trips to Finkbiner Park a photography project. Ever since I took up photography, my goal has been to use this art form to force myself to see ordinary things from unique perspectives and hopefully see something beautiful that I and others would normally miss. But over the past year, I’ve amassed a couple hundred photos of the park and surrounding neighborhood. I used different cameras, lenses, photography styles, and editing processes to capture some of the beauty of this small local park.

I have uploaded all of my Finkbiner Park photos into a Flickr album if anyone is interested in looking at the images. There are some good photos, same mediocre ones and some bad ones. But, they all form a special visual memoir of this past year. I also post a lot of my photos on my Instagram account if you’re interested in following me there.

I think the image at the top of this post captures this experience. Time is like the gate that has closed upon a stage of my life very dear to me, a time when I watched my four children experience life with innocence and wonder and play. The playground in the background is like my memories of my children — colorful, dreamy and slowly fading out of focus.

I absolutely adore my adult children and who they’ve become. But, I painfully miss my little children and the life we shared together. And for a little sliver of time each weekend, I get to capture images of the present as my past swirls around me.

Fascinated With What Others Don’t See

I just viewed a beautiful photo and read some wonderful thoughts by Zeb Andrews. View his photo here. And here are his thoughts:

“I think one of the greatest gifts of photography is the ability to be fascinated by something as seemingly mundane as an empty parking lot. Ok, in all fairness it wasn’t simply an empty parking lot, but rather the reflection of light at night across the shiny surface of a wet, empty parking lot. But that is still fairly mundane. Not many people are sitting at home and think to themselves, “You know what I want to do tonight? It’s not dinner, it’s not club hopping, it’s empty parking lots.” Not many people, but I am willing to be a vast majority of the people who do think such things are photographers. Because that’s what photography does for you, it gives you the tools you need to notice such things and strengthened sense of creativity to appreciate them.

“I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate that. For me then, it isn’t even about being able to make an interesting photo of such things, but rather simply the noticing of them. I think this image is alright, I doubt I will ever print it, it’s interesting enough to post along with this short essay here on Flickr, so that counts for something. But the value that came from this experience was all in the experience itself, standing there in a big, open parking lot that was a few hours removed from being packed with cars and people, that was noisy with human activity and had become silent, the play of the different color temperatures of light across its reflective surface, and the speed at which the clouds were traveling on the stormy breeze through the skies above.

“All in all, it was a good moment to be in and one I doubt I would have ever found without the benefit of photography.”

What is true in photography is even more true in spiritual formation. I think we’re all aware that technology has reduced our culture’s awareness to simply swiping up, down, left or right to see the next new thing that tickles our senses.

But spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, prayer, repentance, and fasting force us to stop and look. We cannot simply swipe left when confronted with personal or society’s brokenness. Nor can we simply swipe right into Christ’s likeness. God’s movement in our lives is not a social media feed through which we can casually scroll. Spiritual disciplines compel us to stop, see and become fascinated with the Spirit’s work like a photographer is fascinated by light, color, and reflections.

Simply Being God’s Presence

I mentioned last time that I want to live by a very simple focus. I want to have an intimate, trusting relationship with Jesus so that I can learn from him how to be like him so my life can somehow participate in his work in the world. I want to be his trusting, faithful apprentice; to be his ongoing presence doing his work in his world.

So what does this look like? Again, in an attempt to maintain a simple focus, I want to capture being Jesus’ apprentice in three ways.

First, I want to live thankfully in God’s presence in the present. In other words I want to learn from Jesus how to still my mind and feelings, which primarily live in the past and future, and bring them into submission to my heart, the core of who I am. From that place, free from the regrets and guilt of the past and the fear and anxiety of the future, I want to live thankfully in the present with the awareness of God’s presence in that moment.

Second, I want to see the unsurpassable worth of every person. I want to view people without labels and categories. I want to see them as God’s creation, each person worth the death and resurrection of God’s Son to forgive and free them from all destructive idolatry and sin and into their true human vocation as his image-bearers.

Third, I want to focus my life on doing good to and for others. Whether engaged with work, family, friends, strangers, or hobbies, I want all I do to produce good for others. I want my life to be God’s goodness to others.

That’s it. I want to be Jesus’ trusting and faithful apprentice — to be with him in order to become like him in order to work with him as his ongoing presence on earth.

The Easy Life

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old or something else, but I find myself wanting to live by a very simple focus. I want to have an intimate trusting relationship with Jesus so that I can learn from him how to be like him so my life can somehow participate in his work in the world. I’m finding myself evaluating every aspect of my life through this simple goal. And eliminating things that get in the way of it.

I think about what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-29:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus invites us into a life that is restful, easy and light. It’s a life in which we are “yoked” to him and learn from him how to be and live like him.

This is for what Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. Jesus lived to model and invite us into the restful, easy and light life of our true human vocation of reflecting God’s good, loving and wise character into our world for the good of others. Jesus died on the cross to vanquish the idols and forgive the sins that enslaved us and prevented us from entering into our human vocation. And Jesus was resurrected to launch God’s New Creation, this world renewed and transformed into a world fully managed by God.

Now we are God’s children, co-heirs with Jesus, saints who are set apart by God for our renewed human vocation, and God’s temple who are filled and empowered with God’s Spirit to learn from Jesus, to become like Jesus and to participate with Jesus.

I understand that there will be some difficulties and hardships associated with Jesus’ restful, easy and light life. But those difficulties originate from relearning how to do life. It’s tough letting go of a life managed by stress, anxiety, greed, lust and reputation. Part of us wants to let go, but another part wants to remain in control. Like learning a new skill, there’s the initial difficulty of training our mind and body to think and act in new ways.

And I understand some difficulties originate from the conflict of the various kingships out in the world. Every human being has his or her own kingship that they exercise in cooperation with or opposition to God’s kingship. And there are dark forces that, although they have ultimately lost, still try to cause as much damage as possible during this time they’re allowed to run amuck.

But bottom-line, Jesus’ life should be restful, easy and light. We have to take him at his word. And our church communities should be the place where this is discussed and taught. We should be learning how to follow Jesus into his restful, easy and light life of the human vocation. We should be learning the simple disciplines that make our lives increasingly present in God’s reality. We should be encouraged to grow in our intimate love and trust of Jesus’ invitation to enter into his life. We should be reimagining the Reality of God’s New Creation around us. We should be discussing ways to bring our family, our work, our hobbies, our resources, our time and our lives into restful, easy and light participation in Jesus’ work in the world for the good of others.

It Starts And Ends With Intimacy

As a young Christian, one of my favorite worship songs was Maranatha’s version of “As the Deer.” It’s basically Psalm 42 put to simple music:

“As the deer panteth for the water,

So my soul longeth after Thee.

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee.

You alone are my strength and shield

To you alone may my spirit yield.

You alone are my heart’s desire

And I long to worship Thee.”

I have cherished memories of being alone with God, playing the chords on a piano, and singing my heart to him.

Ever since meeting Jesus, he’s been my heart’s deepest desire. And that intimacy and longing has been the core of over 30 years of journeying with him. Now as a not-so-young Christian, the same intimacy for Jesus is the driving force in my life.

And while intimacy with Jesus launched my journey with him, I think it has matured into much more.

Recently, I read a short post by Bishop Todd Hunter describing the purpose of his parish, Holy Trinity Church. He wrote that Holy Trinity Church “is engaged in a straightforward and plain journey: we seek intimacy with Jesus and transformation into his likeness, becoming his cooperative friends… for the sake of others.”

That simple sentence captures the goal of intimacy with Jesus — a personal and communal vocation of spiritual formation into God’s royal priesthood for the sake of others. This is the calling of God’s people, His Body — to be a community of people gripped by deep intimacy with Jesus so that it transforms us into his likeness so we can be like him, live like him and work with him for the sake of everyone around us.

This is why the local parish exists. And all of its theology, liturgy, sacraments, programs, administration, and other aspects of its life must direct its members toward this singular goal — a transforming, loving, others-centered intimacy with Jesus.

But the vocation only makes sense when it’s first and foremost fueled by deep intimacy with Jesus. That’s where it starts and that’s where it ends. And that’s what gives everything in between its shape and meaning.

God Has You Right Where He Wants You

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus.” -Ephesians 2:7, The Message

This morning I was reading Ephesians in Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, and I came across the verse quoted above.

Ephesians is one of my favorite New Testament letters for many reasons. But one reason is that it reveals how to thrive in God’s kingdom.

Oftentimes, we associate God having us right where he wants us so he can punish us or worse. We still struggle with a perception of God as an angry, wrathful, violent God who punishes our moral transgressions.

But that is not the God revealed in Jesus.

Jesus operated from a completely different framework. God was his loving “abba” Father. God was the world’s creator, lover and redeemer. God was the faithful rescuer of humanity and the world, willing to plunge to the deepest depths to restore his world.

And Jesus fully embodied this abundantly loving, compassionate, caring, healing, restoring, merciful God. As Hebrew 1:3 states, “He is the shining reflection of God’s own glory, the precise expression of his own very being.”

So when God finally gets us where he wants us, it’s to lavish us with his love. And God is using all the time in this age and the next to accomplish this.

This is the framework from which we must retrain our thinking regarding God. He is not an angry, vengeful God. He is the one, according to just the introductory verses of Ephesians, who blessed us, chose us, adopted us, redeemed us, revealed his plans to us, sealed us by his Spirit, and seated us with Jesus in the heavenly realms.

And Paul continues to pray that our very core is opened to this reality of God so that we may live and operate from it (Ephesians 1:17-23). For this is key to our flourishing in God’s world and being the ongoing voice, action and presence of Jesus as his Body.

Happy 23rd Birthday, Cathy!


Twenty-three years ago, and with dramatic flair, my oldest daughter, Cathy, entered this world and our lives. And she has brought such incredible joy and love to us. She has grown from a fiery baby to an intelligent, thoughtful, courageous, beautiful, strong, humorous, independent, creative and dare I say sassy young woman. She has a heart as big as the sun and loves deeply God, people and his creation. I am very privileged to be her dad and her friend and I am so very proud of her. Happy Birthday, Sweetie! I love you very much!

Betrayed By Jesus

“Give me a freakin’ break! I trusted him! I followed him! I left everything! He was supposed to be Israel’s king. And he went and got himself killed like all the other “messiahs” before him. Now you’re telling me that he’s alive? Give me a break!

“I know, Thomas. It sounds crazy. But we were there. We saw him.”

“I’m tired of this. Not again. I’ll tell you what. Unless I can see and touch his wounds, I mean actually shoving my hand in his side, I’m done trusting.”

I know I’ve taken some liberty and have embellished the biblical dialogue. But I want to highlight what I perceive to be the raw emotions in Thomas’ words.

Too often, our modern, rationalistic culture is projected onto Thomas as though he demanded scientific empirical proof. That’s unfortunate, because I think that perspective misses the point of Thomas’ experience. I believe he felt betrayed by Jesus. And roiling inside of him was pain, anger, hurt, fear, shame, and a whirlwind of other dark emotions that accompany betrayal.

Jesus claimed to be the Christ and Son of God — the King of Israel who was anointed by Israel’s God to vanquish the Roman occupiers, to restore the presence of Israel’s God in their Temple, and to make Israel great again. Jesus had convinced Thomas by his words, his deeds and his very presence to follow him. Sure, there had been would-be messiahs before. But Jesus actually seemed to be the one capable of succeeding where everyone else had failed.

Recently, though, Jesus seemed to be on a suicide mission. Thomas had told the group just before visiting Lazarus’ grave that if they went with Jesus, they would die with him. Jesus seemed intent to return to the places that wanted to kill him. Going publicly into these areas without any type of military force or strategy was simply tempting fate. Jesus had been lucky so far. But Thomas knew how things worked. Sooner or later, Jesus’ luck would run out and he and his followers would be captured and killed like all the other would-be messiahs before them.

What was Jesus thinking? How could he risk everything he had been building the past few years? How could Jesus be so cavalier with his and his followers’ lives? Sure enough, Jesus’ luck ran out. This past week he pushed too hard, too often. He got himself killed. The movement came to a crashing halt at the foot of a Roman cross. And now his followers, including Thomas, were at risk. The authorities would hunt them down and do the same to them.

It’s my opinion that Thomas’ statement was not unbelief. If he truly didn’t believe, I think he would have hightailed it out of Jerusalem under the cover of darkness soon after Jesus’ death. If he no longer believed, why did he stay with the threat of such peril?

I believe it’s because Thomas’ faith was crippled, not destroyed. And his proclamation about seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds was the mingling of betrayal’s pain and hope’s yearning.

And a week later, Thomas is still with the other disciples.

Much like the paralyzed man who had relied on his friends to carry him, to rip apart the roof, and to lower him at the feet of Jesus, Thomas needed his friends. Like true friends, they carried a crippled Thomas and tore down the roof of betrayal’s pain and lowered him to Jesus’ presence.

And there Jesus met and healed Thomas.

And Thomas’ faith surges.

“My Lord!” Thomas’ faith extends to where it was before. Jesus IS Israel’s king. And “My Lord” is how you would address your king.

“My God!” Thomas’ faith launches into new uncharted territory. No self-respecting Jewish man would ever associate divinity to a human being. We must remember that even the title “Son of God” was a Jewish term for Israel’s human king. It’s normal use never associated divinity to its bearer.

Yet, in that healing moment between Jesus and Thomas, Thomas’ faith expands to a place no one else has yet contemplated. Jesus is Israel’s King. And somehow, Jesus is also Israel’s God.

And with Thomas’ remarkable declaration, the Gospel-writer, leads his readers to a startling conclusion. John’s Gospel has revealed a New Creation, a New Temple and a New People of God. And he uses Thomas’ declaration as a rhetorical exclamation mark to highlight that these new realities of God’s New World require a New Faith — a faith exclaimed by a man at his lowest and darkest point, ravaged by feelings of betrayal, anger and fear.

My Lord and My God!

Training To Bless

For the last several weeks, the global Christian Church has been engaged in Lent. During this time, we focus on three primary spiritual disciplines that, when practiced properly, can train us into our vocation as God’s royal priesthood. The three spiritual disciplines are prayer, fasting and giving.

As we’ve seen previously, prayer is our primary form of standing in the overlap between heaven and earth. As God’s image-bearers and royal priests, we are embedded within the world that God loves and that groans in travail as a woman about to give birth to new life. And embedded in us is the Holy Spirit, who is in turn interceding with wordless groaning. And between the two, we live and groan. We groan in empathy to the world’s pain and in cooperation with the Spirit’s intercession. Our groaning is the place where pain is transformed into prayer. Like Jesus on the cross, we too are suspended between the dimensions of heaven and earth, absorbing and transforming the world’s groans of pain into the groans of prayer so God’s New Creation may be born from the old.

So during Lent, spend a little bit of time each day talking with God about the world around you. Take a ten-minute break each day to take a walk or to sit down on a bench and pray for the people you see. Pray for God’s blessings upon your part of his world. You can also adapt the content of one of Paul’s powerful prayers into your context:

“I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of King Jesus our Lord, the father of glory, would give you, in your spirit, the gift of being wise, of seeing things people can’t normally see, because you are coming to know him and to have the eyes of your inmost self opened to God’s light. Then you will know exactly what the hope is that goes with God’s call; you will know the wealth of the glory of his inheritance in his holy people; and you will know the outstanding greatness of his power towards us who are loyal to him in faith, according to the working of his strength and power. This was the power at work in the king when God raised him from the dead and sat him at his right hand in the heavenly places, above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and above every name that gets itself talked about, both in the present age and also in the age to come.”

The second spiritual discipline is fasting. Traditionally, the Christian Church fasts from meat and dairy during Lent. You may hear Christians discuss what they’re “giving up” for Lent. However, Lent is about self-denial, not giving up something. And there’s a big difference between the two.

“Giving up something” can easily play into our culture’s narcissism. The focus still remains on myself. I’m giving up chocolate, or I’m giving up meat, or I’m giving up social media. But self-denial is learning to shift the focus off of myself in preparation for something greater.

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Notice there are three components of being Jesus’ apprentices, of which self-denial is the first. Fasting, when correctly practiced, cooperates with the Holy Spirit in learning how to not focus on yourself by learning to ignore your impulses and appetites. Those impulses and appetites may be natural and good. But learning to abstain from them shifts our natural and automatic inclinations to care for ourselves to something better — carrying our cross and following Jesus.

This leads to the third spiritual discipline — giving. Or as Jesus states, taking up your cross and following me. As we learn how to pray — groaning in the painful overlap between heaven and earth — and how to fast — denying our natural impulses and appetites — we can learn how to give as Jesus gives. Giving is the essence of the cross — self-sacrificial love for the good of others. It is the heart of the royal priest that embodies his or her King — the Lion of Judah who has overcome as the slain sacrificial Lamb.

The spiritual discipline of giving can be practiced by giving away money, time, resources and words. But inherent to this spiritual discipline is learning to intentionally make space within my life to give. This is why self-denial is so important. We have to learn to not automatically respond to our own agendas and appetites in order to make the appropriate space for others in our lives.

So while the spiritual discipline of giving will involve giving money and resources to your local church or to someone in need, it should far exceed it. Giving is blessing, a primary task of God’s royal priesthood. Ultimately, giving is embodying the aforementioned spiritual disciplines so our very lives begin to naturally reflect God’s care and love into our world. It involves, but far exceeds, acts of mercy and charity. It’s a life that blesses by being and living. It’s a life that flows from our core and expresses itself in our attitude, our facial expressions, our posture, and then into our interactions with others. And when appropriate, it’s a life that offers money, time, resources, and counsel in order to express God’s loving care to the world.

I’m learning the hard way that I cannot give or bless if my default reaction to people or situations is anger, anxiety, fear, suspicion, jealousy, retaliation, shame, sarcasm, apathy, or the many other defensive and offensive modes I naturally evoke to ward off the world and protect myself.

And that’s why the spiritual disciplines are so essential. While we may be able to muster moments of prayer, fasting and giving, it’s almost impossible to embody this life, Jesus’ life, without spending time training with God’s Spirit through the disciplines. In this way, training leads to transformation. And cooperating with his Spirit, we become by grace what Christ is by nature for the sake of this world.