Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  – Psalm 36 : 5


Not long ago i had the joy of attending a reunion of some of my friends from high school. Initially i had quite mixed feelings about the event. There were, of course, a few friends who i was very excited to see, knowing that our friendship from school remained (mostly) intact and untainted. Overwhelmingly though i felt a tremendous sense of dread about encountering many of the attendees; i had not left a good impression on many people while in school, and i could only begin to guess at how much this would still be a factor.

The evening was quite pleasant at first, comprised primarily of the standard exchange of updates. Conversation centered around jobs, children, living locations, and other sundry pieces of data about each person’s current situation. It wasn’t long, however, before talk naturally shifted to more nostalgic ground, and tales from our time together 15 years prior began to surface. This, of course, was the part of the evening i had been dreading all along.

i will spare you the details, because some of the stories i heard about myself are truly too embarrassing to pen, but suffice it to say that even i was shocked at the level of callousness, selfishness, and utter depravity that the character Rich Wilson exhibited in some of these stories. With no exaggeration, i can honestly say that i was such a pompous and disgusting ass in high school that i had forgotten some stories that most people would remember with cringing horror. In essence, i had done so many awful things to people that my memory could not contain them all.

Reflecting on this later in the evening, i found myself shaken to no small degree as a result of these encounters. This event revealed two things about my heart, things which i knew to be true but clearly needed to be reminded of. First, it still matters to me a great deal what people think of me, so much that i believe it is somewhat idolatrous. While it is true that i should be concerned with how i come across to other people, i should only have this concern in the context of my identity in Christ. My primary concern should be reflecting Christ’s love to the world, and not what opinion people may have of me. If anything, my self-image issues frequently get in the way of this reflection, and often i find myself less bold about the gospel than i ought to be for fear of seeming crazy or silly. Secondly, i have a tendency to dwell on the mistakes of my past, so much so that sometimes this becomes my identity. My mistakes and inadequacies also have relevance only in the context of the gospel: they display, if i allow them to, how deep is the Father’s love and how powerful is His redemptive might. If He can love even me, He can surely love anyone.

Somewhere between the abject blind selfishness i showed in high school and the co-dependency i exhibit in current relationships lies the proper place for my heart. This place creates a man who is aware of his failures and yet not afraid to show them because in them Christ’s ultimate grace is displayed. This place creates a man who is concerned with how others see Christ, not himself. In this place, my image is of no consequence; in this place, i am not afraid in the least of looking like a fool so long as it is done for the sake of loving God and loving others well.

Outside of this place, there is only worry, guilt, shame, and dark, weary stories from the past. i do not want to forget these stories entirely, because they remind me of who i was, and they remind me of who i would be without Christ. At the same time, i need not fear these stories nor run from them any longer. i may concern myself with how others feel about them for the sake of healing and amends, but i myself can be free to feel nothing about them. That man, praise God, has been and is being put to death each day.

Ultimately, the only opinion of me that matters is God’s. It would be great if these people learned to love me, but if they do not, God has chosen to, and that is not only enough, it is everything. i would be lying if i said i understood it, and even to say such is humbling beyond words, but for purposes of His own He has chosen to see in me His child. i pray that i will learn to see myself in the same light.


The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.  – Lamentations 3 : 22

At the End, Joy


The first few minutes of running suck. It starts to suck, in fact, before i’ve even begun. Perhaps the hardest part about exercising for me is getting up the motivation to go. My typical exercise session (and yes, i have actually gone enough recently to call it “typical”) is comprised of four minutes of jogging/running at six-seven MPH, followed by four minutes of walking up a 7-8% incline as fast as I can walk, which usually ends up being just under four MPH, and then repeating that cycle three-four times. Now you might be immediately inclined, unless you do much of this type of exercise yourself, to think that the last cycle is the toughest. But strangely enough, as i have already said, i don’t find this to be true. It is, in fact, the first two or three minutes when my body protests the loudest: muscles that have lain dormant all day (and let’s be honest: for years before this) are now suddenly enlisted to the front lines of action, pressed into strenuous and exacting duty. A few minutes in, though, there seems to be a threshold i pass after which my body starts easing into the work, and somehow the second cycle is much less demanding, and very nearly enjoyable.

The same phenomenon is observable in macro: the first few days and weeks of beginning an exercise regimen are horrid, especially after doing nothing for years but languishing in idleness and indulgence. But now that i have a few regular weeks behind me, i actually look forward (sometimes) to going, knowing that it is accomplishing for me what it needs to: chiefly, making me have more and better time with my wife and with others around me (that is, as much as control of such matters lies within my grasp). The point is, being able to see the end result, the fruit, enables me to appreciate the journey.

It isn’t hard to see where i am going with this, especially since this is hardly the only example from the world around us. Stepping into a hot shower, the skin actually burns and reddens in response. A few minutes later, the sensation is soothing rather than painful. Entering a room that is utterly dark and flipping on a bright light can actually cause us to wince, as if under attack by the sudden influx of protons. Yet after our pupils have adjusted, light is not only not an attack but actually an improvement over darkness: seeing our way through the room keeps us from stumbling over the dog’s half eaten chew toy and face planting on the floor. I think, too, of Isaiah 9:2, a familiar quotation that points to the birth of Christ. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

What would it actually be like if, as in John 9, we had walked in darkness all our lives and suddenly had our eyes opened? We all, going from utter blackness to the brightest light of them all, would be blinded, stunned, shocked. We might have no idea how to distinguish depth, color, shape, motion. It would be a radical process of adjustment. The occipital lobe would, like my feeble legs, be arrested up into immediate action, having sat largely unused for many years.

There is a reason this verse points to Christ: this is precisely what an encounter with Him is like. When He enters our life it is as if we see light for the first time. And though we typically think of this verse in Isaiah as an expression of great joy, which is certainly is, it is also a proclamation that where we were previously blind, we will now see, but this takes tremendous healing and adaptation. In fact, our personal encounters with Him can be quite demanding, painful, blinding even, and it may seem at first as though we were worse off than before. Think of how many times the Israelites, after clamoring to be free from slavery in Egypt, bemoaned their new fate and expressed a wish that they had simply died in Egypt.

i have been there many times, and many times a day: every time He wants me to relinquish control, conquer fear, steady my heart, give instead of ignore, love instead of curse, die rather than thrive. These things are anathema to me, to my flesh. Nearly every time i am asked to do one of these things it doesn’t feel like joy, or sudden freedom, it feels, in the moment, like pain and constraint. it feels like stepping into a shower that is too hot, or onto a treadmill that is too fast.

But joy is not in immediate gratification. That is why Paul calls the Christian life a race, why he “beat[s] his body and make[s] it [his] slave.” (1 Cor. 9:27) Joy is in the long haul, the discipline, the dedication, not in the quick fix. The Quick Fix is what got us into a “quick fix” in the first place. Joy, real joy, will need to look like something different, and might very well need to look, at least at first, like something so different that it is extraordinarily uncomfortable. i must remember, we must remember, that many of us, myself chief among these, have just gotten up from our knees on the road to Damascus. We have just gotten on the treadmill of the walk, just plunged ourselves into the heat of His cleansing waters. For the most part, we are still staggering and reeling from the shock of having “seen a great light.” But given time, our skin will adjust to the heat, our legs to the work, our bodies to the strain, and our eyes to the wonder and glory of vision. After that perhaps we will enjoy the fruit of walking upright in Him, and we will see the joy of not tripping over the dog toy of temptation and face planting on the floor of sin.


i don’t go work out every day. Sometimes the sluggard inside wins. i am terrific, probably the best you’ve ever met, at originating excuses. i need to write. i need to read. i didn’t eat that much today anyway so i don’t have enough calories to burn. My leg still hurts from tripping over that dog toy in the dark. Whatever the reason, it is just as common, if not more so, that i fail to go as that i actually do go.

The good news is that the gym will still be there tomorrow, and i bet my key will still work to let me in.

Christ, our Key, will also still be working to let us in tomorrow. He is an Amenity that has already been provided for us as residents here. We have but to reach out and grasp hold of Him and the fruits will come. Should we fail to do so today, well, He will be there for us tomorrow. But my prayer is that as each new tomorrow becomes today, it will be the day that i stop making excuses and just go to Him.


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.   – Hebrews 12 : 1 – 3

Underdogs Unite


I have never spent much time in the book of Judges. In fact, before recently, i would have been hard pressed to recite even one story from the book. In a way, Judges is one of the underdogs of the Bible. It is not oft quoted. Generally speaking, there are no artsy cursive-script pictures hanging in kitchens with scriptures from Judges. It is probably possible to have a very intimate relationship with God and the Bible without ever setting foot in Judges. But this is fitting, because as i have spent some time in the book recently, it seems to be a running theme therein that victory is not always for the strong. And though i didn’t see it coming, my perusal of the book has definitely enriched my understanding of the Word as a whole. Here’s why:

i have a tendency to err on the side of disqualification when it comes to service to the Lord. i look at my life and my past and see too much litter there, too much garbage and brokenness in my history, for me to be of use to God. And this is where Judges is a great affirmation to me. Even in the earliest days of the Israelite nation, God was already trying to guide His people to act in ways and follow precepts that, frankly, were just different, counter to the reason and logic of the world around them. Of course, this didn’t begin with Israelites. All along he had been using unlikely characters to further his designs. Abram, promised that he would be a great nation, was nearly 100 before he had any descendants at all. Sarah, his wife, was a barren woman before this point. Throughout the next few generations God is constantly using youngest sons and barren women to continue Abraham’s lineage.

He seems to take this to a whole new level in Judges. First off, the whole point of the book of Judges is that Israel was intended to be a land of which God himself was the king. They were to be surrounded by enemies with powerful kings, but were not to be a nation with a king, but rather a nation ruled by Judges. God intended to use this political structure to indicate man’s proper place before God, and to demonstrate this to the world. To drive the point home, consider just a few of the people he chose as judges:

Ehud – “a left-handed man.” (3 : 15) His left-handedness was significant because the right hand in Israelite culture was the royal hand. Consider that Christ sits at the right hand of God. Also, he was from a tribe, Benjamin, whose name means “son of my right hand.” And yet it was his very left-handedness that allowed him to be victorious. (vv. 15 – 30)

Shamgar, son of Anath – (3 : 31) Shamgar is not an Israelite name, and Anath was the name of both a Canaanite god and a Canaanite city. So by most indications, Shamgar was not an Israelite, and yet God chose him to aid His people.

Deborah – a woman. Need i explain why this is significant? In many cultures, women are still considered second-class citizens, and the effects of that attitude still echo in cultures where it has long been (at least according to law) eliminated.

Gideon – one of the few stories from Judges we are familiar with. In this case it is not Gideon but his army that God chooses to be an unlikely victor. He whittles the fighting force down from 32,000 men to merely 300, so that they would know it was not their strength but God’s that delivered them.


I could go on and on, because this theme does not stop in the Old Testament. God chooses a virgin and a carpenter to be Christ’s parents, old barren people to be the parents of John the Baptist. Jesus chooses fishermen and tax collectors for his disciples, some of whom go on to be leaders of the early church and powerhouses of faith and spirit-filled preaching, and none of it has to do with their personal backgrounds of learning or exemplary faith. He chooses a murderer antagonistic to the faith to be his messenger to the Gentiles, etc. etc.

The point is, i look at my history of sin and rebellion and depravity and hear a tiny malicious voice that discourages me from speaking about Jesus. They will never believe you. You are not educated enough. People will think you are crazy. You are not faithful enough. You should not be so bold as to brag about something you are not worthy of.

There are a hundred ways in which my doubting heart and mind twist these facts into excuses for being cowardly about the gospel. But when i read books such as Judges, i come to realize that it has nothing to do with my capabilities anyway. i am not being asked to convince anyone of the truth of the gospel. It is only the Spirit that can do that. i am only being asked to tell my story, and to tell Christ’s story, and tell them faithfully and truthfully. God will use my words as he will, as he uses barren women and bones and stones and virgins and rapists and thieves and murderers and liars and adulterers and a whole host of unlikely, impossible anti-heroes throughout history. What makes the Word believable, and thus the gospel as well, is not that everyone in it is perfect and acts rightly all the time. In fact it is quite the opposite: it is that everyone in it is broken and weak and flawed in some way so that by the end of it, it can only have been God who brought everything about. It can only have been God who turns sticks to snakes and raises people from the dead and stops the very forces of nature, and in my case it can only be God who makes anything i say land on fertile soil.

God is both capable and qualified, and that is all i must believe. When i start to worry about my own qualifications and abilities, then i am only getting in the way, blocking the view: eclipsing the one true sun.

i’ll step aside now, Father, and let you shine through. That’s all You were asking of me in the first place.


But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.   – 1 Corinthians 1 : 27

In the Right, part I


The bus rattled its rattling way along, and John’s discomfort grew with each passing second. The reasons were legion: the kids were growing rowdier by the minute, and there were still several hours of bus ride to go; the seat was missing a spring or something and no matter how he shifted it caused a pain somewhere in his body; and the perfectly nice and perfectly old-fashioned lady in the seat next to him was the kind of overplump that infringed on others’ private space, but they were both too polite for the subject to be discussed. In a healthy, whole world, John thought, she wouldn’t be this overweight, and even if she were it wouldn’t bother me as much as it does that she is one and a quarter seats wide, and even if it did i would have no problem telling her, but even if i did have a problem i would do it anyway because she would accept it gracefully as loving criticism, because that’s how i would mean it. But none of these things were true, were positive, were yes. All of it was no, no, no. So much is broken, he thought, and as if noticing that for the first time his mind gasped a little gasp, so much that we cannot fix or make right, but must simply endure.

John looked around the bus then, almost as if looking for an escape. He was having a minor panic attack. He had never done anything like this before, and he was beginning to regret volunteering now that it was too late to turn back. Five days with forty-one teenagers and a few adults with whom he had spoken maybe twice before? He thought back to the genesis of this idea now, and his vision was less clear than it had been at the time. He remembered hearing about the trip two Sundays ago at church, the annual youth mission trip. The trip was somewhat spontaneous this year; generally it was planned many months in advance, but because the need was so pressing the youth and the youth minister had decided to travel to Bastrop, Texas, on the heels of all the fires that had devastated the town recently. There was no time to lose, so the trip was planned as quickly as could be done without sacrificing logistic practicality. The response was overwhelming. Usually about twenty to twenty-five kids would commit to these summer trips, but the cause had brought an overwhelming turnout from area youth, almost twice as many as they had ever had before. Once so many kids had committed, the church was up against a wall of sorts: by law they were required to have a given amount of adult chaperones per child along on the trip, otherwise they would have to turn kids away.

John had sat in one of the pews in the back of the church that Sunday, and though he was there every week, and though there was a need for something every week, this time he burned to help. He could not now say why, but as the pastor called for more volunteers from the pulpit, the feeling to comply had been almost compulsory, almost automatic. His arm had shot up, his legs had straightened and raised his seated body to standing, and his mouth had cried out almost before his mind had processed what he was doing. His body knew first what his heart would feel moments later: so much broken in the world, and for once people, kids even, are trying to do something good to help, and if he did not volunteer to aid them in that endeavor then he was a coward and a villain and what right did he have to be calling himself Christian in the first place. He could not sit idly by as kids who wanted to pass out food and help build houses for victims of the wildfires were turned away: such an act would be bold and rebellious and cruel, he knew, especially when all it would cost him would be a few days of comfort. His comfort was not the issue, he could clearly see that day; not when there were those to whom he could bring even greater levels of comfort than what he would be sacrificing.

But now that the deed was done, now that he was locked in a rectangular road bullet loaded with gunpowder teens, hurtling to what felt like doom, the warm feelings had worn off, leaving only the fear: what was he doing here? Would he know what to say if the kids were in danger? Would he be of any use if some delicate pubescent feather needed advice or discipline? Would he damage fragile psyches if he provided it ignorantly, or close their hearts like dying flowers if he chose not to? What if a construction emergency happened? What if one of the kids in his care was injured, or worse, killed? The responsibility, now that he was addressing it, was starting to eat at him; eat at him like tiny fish eat at corpses, nibbles at a time, unnoticed nibbles nipping pieces of him away, tiny hardly known pieces that after due time, become all of him.

This pensiveness, this topical thoughtcloud: this was the real problem gnawing into John’s body, even though he didn’t realize it. It had very little to do with his physical comfort. He felt, and would say to others if they were to ask, that he was very excited and joyful and grateful to be doing something good for others, and none of this would be exactly untrue, because these elements were present in him as well. But the notion was also now beginning to form in his mind that the rankness, the stench of the slowly rotting world was the thing that was causing him emotional rollarounds, as if his heart was sleeping on a pebble. Even if he were sitting next to someone slim and pleasant and sweet on the nostrils, even if all the teenagers in the bus were asleep, or quietly reading, even if the road were paved well and the driver expertly skilled and the seat were made of cotton candy, John would still be shifting, shifting, shifting endlessly in his seat. He would not have been comfortable, he would not have been quite right even if everything around him had been stellar, shimmering, stalwart.

He did not know all this yet, but soon, so soon, he would.



Author’s note: Who knows how long it will be, or what it will resemble when it is done, or if it will even come to anything but thoughts and dust, but here lies a beginning. It is something that might be either grand beyond measure, or utterly nonsensical rubbish, but most likely it will land somewhere in the vast doldrums of in-between. I pridefully hope for the first of these, of course…

Enjoy it for what it is, whatever that is. More to come soon.



i carry two

(when one should suffice)

one is enough heavy weighty enough

dense hard thick enough

mucked filthy and crusted enough

(it is all i can do to keep it alone clean)

when the outside is dust and grime and bird

haven’t time enough to drive two cars

limbs enough to live two homes

lies enough to love two lovers

enough smiles to shine

(that both may seem joyful complete wondrous)

dichotomous duplicitous diverting double time to double life

(so neither lives loves moves



No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.     – Matthew 6 : 24

a course correction


Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 6 : 1


This verse landed on me heavily this evening. Pretty sure i’ve been all about doing that lately. Teaching at Recovery. Checking my blog stats (which are paltry, if anyone cares). Covering this issue of the heart up with clever phrases like “gospel confidence” and other assorted nonsense. i feel most convicted by this verse today, but it wasn’t just this one that hit me. The lessons were abundant. As i am fond of saying, whenever there is a confluence of a theme from more than one source in my life, i am generally sure that that is what my heart needs to hear. i won’t waste the space if you are not interested, but also on today’s reading was Isaiah 58, which has to do with true and false righteousness, Psalm 119, which is essentially comprised of about 150 different reminders that God has a particular Way and a particular Law, and lastly Deuteronomy 31, in which both Moses and God state not only the likelihood but the inevitability that we will fail at keeping that law. (Click on the scripture references if you want to read them.)

Long story short, it is rather apparent that my own righteousness is mostly false, or at the very least incomplete. Sure, i want to make an impact on others, but often i want that more than i want God. i want to make sure it was me who impacted them, forgetting altogether that really only God can do that. Sure, i want to live a clean and healthy lifestyle, but mostly i want that because it enables me to be comfortable rather than because it is right. i don’t love what is right because it is right, i love it for what it provides me. i don’t love God because he is God, i “love” Him for what he can do for me, as if He is some cosmic UPS or a giant invisible vending machine in the sky.

The very end of Matthew 6 reminds me where my heart should be instead: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (vv 33-34)

Here’s what i get out of that verse: i am miles away from being righteous, and having lost track of that just proves that it is true.

i have been very consumed with this blog lately, worried about whether certain posts will meet with people’s approval, wondering what it means when a post gets no likes, wondering if i should be concentrating on the religious or the secular; and i have been equally concerned with what the other participants and leaders at Recovery think of me: whether i am a “good” leader, whether my insight is worthwhile, and whether i have anything to contribute. But ultimately, if tomorrow my fingers are chopped off and i lose internet connectivity, and the day after that i am kicked off the Recovery team, then i need to be trusting that those things are for the best, and in fact they probably would be if i can’t get my approval idol under control. And i need to be particularly conscious about using “righteousness” or “leadership” as a means to gain friends or be a superstar.

For that reason, i came close to shutting the blog down today, but that might be a bit drastic. For even though i may not be in control, God still is, and He can use even my most self-interested garbage to change someone else. Hopefully this post is a step back in the right direction.

But i hope i do have the guts to tear it down if i keep finding myself off track and wandering in self-indulgence. In the meantime, i intend to circumcise the whole process, purify it, and give it back paltry and bleeding to God.

Seems like that’s the kind of thing He can use the most.


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

From “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

Safety: a short story

It had happened many times before, but not in over a year, and something was different this time.

Before, it was the kind of thing that sent his heart reeling to recover, like a narrowly avoided collision at 70 miles an hour. This time, there was a new rush; a fresher, cleaner one. Pure and serene it was; the subtle kind of creeping joy like sitting at a baseball game on a day off from work. Behind him, the red and blue still pulsed in rampant waves, but whatever physiological response his body had Pavlovianly learned over the past ten years was suddenly and wonderfully absent. There was no worry now, no secret buried in the rubbish of his back seat waiting to be unearthed, no stash of the illicit, no fear of discovery. No foul would escape his breath, and no engorged tributaries of red would be noticed in the floodplain of his sclera. Now there was only a smile for the officer, only genuine wonderment at the reason for the stop.

“Sir, the reason I pulled you over is because your brake light is out. May I get your license and insurance please?” Another smile, not in the least disingenuous, and he confidently pulled out the requested documents. He had to unfasten his seatbelt to retrieve them, but he did not hesitate to hand them over, for he was unashamed of what they could indicate. The date on the insurance was months away, and the license would reveal no unresolved business when swiped through the scanner in the patrol car.

Patiently he waited, not annoyed, not bothered, a cool breeze whipping through his open window refreshing his face.

The officer returned a minute later, having written out a warning for the brake light. He accepted it gladly, gratefully, almost gleefully. As he drove off, he smiled again. How different, how sublimely new! Somewhere inside in that moment, for reasons he could not fathom, some phenomenon deeper than his understanding was occurring: some piece of time was freezing, slowing to still, verging on and almost touching the eternal…

And then it was gone, and he could hardly remember what he been happy about in the first place. Before he realized it, he was home, and the rest of his evening was pleasant and uneventful.


The next day he took his car to the shop to get the light replaced. When the job was done, he paid for it with debit, and popped in to head back home. It would be a while before anyone would pull him over again, he knew. He was slightly saddened by this for some reason, and felt a bit silly and perplexed for being so. But mostly he just felt good. The windows were down, the day was mild, the breeze faint, and the drive home quite peaceful.


A few minutes later he would forget the whole incident almost entirely, but not quite. In years to come, on certain breezy spring evenings, he would still smile for no reason at all.


Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.

–  Psalm 119 : 165