Colossians 1:21-23

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God's side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don't walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message. - Colossians 1:21-23, The Message

When you think about the reality that God has “put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence,” what comes into your mind?

I am struck by the reality that I needed to be put back together. I wrote about this the other day, the sense of dis-ease and dislocation. Our world is so full of ways to help us put ourselves back together. I think we inherently know that we need to be put back together and we enter into deep frustration when we think that we can do it ourselves.

Because we can’t.

We need someone outside ourselves to help us do that. In our day to day, right here and right now this will be people in our community. Those that we allow into our lives can be agents of reconstruction. They can help put us together. The hard part is that they too are in need of being put back together and so, they can also be people who break us apart.

I am learning that one of the most significant things that happens as I follow Christ and trust the Spirit in me, is that there is an ontological change that happens.

What the heck does “ontological” mean? It’s defined like this, “relating to the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.” Wow, thanks, super helpful. What that’s trying to get at is the “nature of being” thing. When we talk about something from an ontological perspective we are talking what it actually is.

Christ has changed us ontologically. Christ’s work of reconciliation has changed the very nature of who and what we are. When we can recognize the reality of what has happened, that we have been put back together it frees us to experience that put-back-togetherness.

Have you noticed that when you’re around people who are what we might call, “comfortable in their own skin,” you too experience a greater sense of being comfortable? Why do you think that is? I think it’s because on that deeper level of being they don’t need anything from you or me. This is the effect of what Christ has done.

You see, in Christ the reality is that we are not broken. In Christ we are put back together, we are whole and holy. The work that we have to do is moving towards that reality and experiencing it. When we surround ourselves with people who are seeking to do the same, we become people who reveal as opposed to people who reconstruct. That change of role for ourselves and our community frees us to love more deeply and live even more honestly with one another.

What stands out to you in this passage? What resonates? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Broken and Dislocated

Colossians 1:15-20

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross. Colossians 1:15-20, The Message

Colossians 1:15-20 is my favorite passage in the whole of the Scriptures. There is nothing quite like it, in my opinion. Romans 8 is pretty great, but, when I read this my heart swells and a lump in throat is formed. This is the first time that I’ve meditated on it using Peterson’s translation in The Message and it does not disappoint.

There’s just so much here! I feel like someone who wants to tour their family around their new city. Do you know what I mean? I want to point out everything from the reality that in Christ we see God, to everything getting its start in Christ, to Christ holding all the things together.

Yet, this morning I’m particularly struck by this image of Jesus properly fitting together all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe.

Oh, how often I have felt broken and dislocated!

For much of my life I felt like the odd man out. Always, it seemed, I was the third wheel. Everyone else seemed to be in on something and I was always one step behind. Whenever I would make a friend they would move away. It just never seemed that I was ever funny enough, good enough, or smart enough.

I was never enough.

The awareness of my brokenness and dislocation created in me an always present sense of dis-ease. It was as though I was going through life walking on one of those sidewalks where the tree roots have broken and disjointed the cement. I was never quite able to find my footing.

I’m grateful to have found a loving community that has embraced me. I have friends who love me well. The older I get the more I’m finding my footing.

These days I’ve never felt more healed and located.

This is part of what seeking the face of Christ does for us, I think. We find the healing of our souls and we find our location in the creation.

It is beautiful isn’t it?

Are you feeling broken and dislocated? Then let’s pursue this Christ together. I’d love to walk the journey toward healing and place with you.

Dead-end Alleys, Dark Dungeons, and the Kingdom

Colossians 1:13-14

God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He's set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating. - Colossians 1:13-14, The Message

Do you ever wonder about what it takes to change? Not the kind of change that lasts for a few days, but the kind of change that we call transformation. You know what I’m talking about, right? The kind of change where we become someone different than we were before.

Throughout my life I have tried make many changes. All of them were changes that I thought would help me become the best version of myself. Most of them did not stick. Every year I create a list of goals that I want to pursue. Most of them are never accomplished.


I think a big part of making any kind of change is an influx of energy. This could be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental energy. When we are making a change in our lives it means that we are going in one direction and we want to go in a different direction. To change direction requires a significant amount of force to stop us, turn us, and get us going again. Over the last couple of years I have made a significant change to the way I eat. The force necessary came from the realization that food is an important tool to my health. My health was in decline and if I made changes to what I ate, I could change my health for the better.

What kind of force is necessary to change the spiritual direction of humanity? What is required to bring about the reconciliation of all things? On a personal level, what kind of force is needed to help us get “rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating”?

It turns out that it is a divine force. We, quite literally, needed divine intervention to change us.

I just love the imagery here of God rescuing us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. We could not save ourselves. There was no way for us to pull up our boot straps so to speak. No, we were stuck in a cycle of sin-sicknesss in dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. At every turn it seems that we would make the wrong turn.

But God.

God, not only saves us from the dead-end alleys and dark dungeons but sets us up in the kingdom of the beloved Son. There is a change that has taken place an infusion of divine energy and force to make us different. We are now free to live as those who live in the kingdom of the beloved Son. In our daily lives we can choose to put others before ourselves, we can choose to practice the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).

I look so often at myself and see that I too often still live as one trapped in a dead-end alley or a dark dungeon. Why? I think it’s in those moments that I find I’ve come to the place where I think it all depends on me to “live right.” But, it doesn’t. Part of the learning the way of the Master is to learn how to yield and trust the Spirit of Christ in me and my neighbor.

How are you doing? Are you finding yourself experiencing the kingdom or the beloved Son or are you too often living as though you are in a dark dungeon?

Live Well

Colossians 1:9-12

Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven't stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works. We pray that you'll live well for the Master, making him proud of you as you work hard in his orchard. As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you'll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul—not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that he has for us. - Colossians 1:9-12, The Message

I am struck this morning by Paul’s prayer for the Colossians that they would “live well for the Master.”

If we are to live well then we have to live. That sounds a bit ridiculous, I know. Yet it seems to me that many people who go to churches on Sundays and even those of us who preach in the pulpits too often make following Christ out to be something that we accomplish in our minds. For a while now right believe, orthodoxy, has outweighed right living, orthopraxy. This has come as a result of people not wanting to become legalistic or somehow infringing on the beauty of God’s grace.

It turns out though that God’s grace is most greatly demonstrated in us as we live out our faith. The Christian faith is not one that is practiced through ideas or concepts. It’s a lived and embodied faith. We carry it with us where we go and we are to practice it in our daily lives.

I don’t think that anyone would ever claim that Paul teaches some sort of “works based salvation.” Yet, I do think that many have said that he teaches how we live matters little as long as we believe rightly. I think that if we take seriously what he writes in its entirety that we just can’t get there. It turns out for Paul that living well is crucial to following Christ.

To follow Christ is a call to live in the way of Christ. That is to live a life marked by, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Do you want to know what else is beautiful about what Paul writes here? He doesn’t expect the Colossians to have it perfected. He assumes growth as they learn the way of Christ. Did you catch that? “As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.” In the Christian life there is an expectation of growth, change, and maturity. It will take time to grow. We won’t have it all figured out. But, we will grow if we are seeking to follow Christ.

Following Jesus therefore demands all of who we are, body and soul. It’s not an either/or. There is no room for dualism in the Christian life. Following Christ is an all encompassing calling for all of who we are.


Colossians 1:5b-8

The Message is as true among you today as when you first heard it. It doesn't diminish or weaken over time. It's the same all over the world. The Message bears fruit and gets larger and stronger, just as it has in you. From the very first day you heard and recognized the truth of what God is doing, you've been hungry for more. It's as vigorous in you now as when you learned it from our friend and close associate Epaphras. He is one reliable worker for Christ! I could always depend on him. He's the one who told us how thoroughly love had been worked into your lives by the Spirit. - Colossians 1:5b-8, The Message

Sometimes I think we miss out on the reality that the gospel message is not something that we can control. It’s living. It’s active. Or as it says here, “vigorous.” The message of the gospel, this message of grace is something. Too often, too many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that the gospel is just an idea or concept. But, there’s something more to the gospel.

What is it? What is the more?

I think that the more is the reality that the gospel is not simply a truth to be believed or an idea to give intellectual ascent to. It is a call to join God in the work that God is doing in the world.

This work is the work of reconciliation. God is bringing together the whole of creation.

As I read the Scriptures what I see is a descent into isolation, separation, broken relationship, in a word, exile. It seems as though the trajectory from Genesis 3 until the coming of Jesus is one of greater depths of exile. The story of course begins in Genesis 2 where all is good. The whole of creation is living in harmony, there is no exile. Yet, with Genesis 3 humanity experiences exile for the first time. From there, it’s a never-ending cycle of a deeper experience of exile.

Then Christ comes and shows the way of reconciliation. He becomes “the other” and demonstrates for everyone how to live in the way of reconciliation. Reconciliation is defined as, “the restoration of friendly relations.” I think this what the gospel is at work in the world doing.

When we begin to fully understand





and love

we move out into the world differently. There is less animosity and greater empathy.

As the gospel sets in it makes things messy and beautiful.

It is uncontrollable.


Colossians 1:3-5a

Our prayers for you are always spilling over into thanksgivings. We can't quit thanking God our Father and Jesus our Messiah for you! We keep getting reports on your steady faith in Christ, our Jesus, and the love you continuously extend to all Christians. The lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack, tightly tied as they are to your future in heaven, kept taut by hope. — Colossians 1:3-5a

I love this line, “the lines of purpose in your lives never grow slack…”

What draws me to it is this image that Peterson paints here of our purpose being tied into the future of heaven with hope pulling on them. This gives me some insight into this idea of purpose. Purpose is something that is important for us to have in our lives. When we feel purposeless then it makes it very hard to be content in our lives. When we lose a sense of purpose we can struggle with feelings of depression or apathy.

I love this idea that purpose is future oriented and pulled along by hope. I am finding that hope is often the animating force behind much of our actions. If we think a particular situation is hopeless then we give up. If we have hope, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen"," then we are able to press on and push through problems and difficulties that arise.

It’s interesting to me that Peterson translates this passage the way he does. It’s a bit of a departure from the NIV but similar to the way the Common English Bible (CEB) and the NRSV render it. Which makes sense because this opening section of the letter is one gigantic sentence in the Greek. As a result there are any number of ways of making sense of the passage.

Speaking of the CEB check out its rendering, “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.”

What I like about the more literal translations is that we see more readily how faith and hope are tied together.

I recently heard someone define faith as “risk with a direction.” That resonated with me and even more so as I consider the role of hopeful expectation and purpose being tied together.

What if the direction of risk that we are called into is one of hope? What I mean to say is, could it be that the way we are to move about in this world is not as cynics but as ones who are filled with hope?

How different would this world look if you and I entered every interaction with others as one filled with hope?

To quote the great Louis Armstrong, “What a wonderful world it would be!”


Colossians 1:1-2

I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God's master plan. Together with my friend Timothy, I greet the Christians and stalwart followers of Christ who live in Colosse. May everything good from God our Father be yours! - Colossians 1:1-2, The Message

I’ve been writing through the Gospels for over a year. It’s been a fantastic time of reflection for me and it has re-acquainted me with the subversive nature of Jesus. He challenges us at the core of who we are and calls us into lives of flourishing rooted in gracious-loving-kindness. It’s time for a change. I am going to spend some time bouncing around the epistles for the next few months. Which means, I’m starting in Colossians, it’s my absolute most favorite letter. It is dense and concise and subversive.

I was thinking that I would take a larger chunk of the first chapter but I couldn’t get around these first couple verses.

There is something about Paul’s sense of calling that I am enamored with. He was convinced of who he was and secure in his identity as one called by the Master.

Don’t we all want to know and experience that?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about being present in the lives of others for the last number of years. In the midst of that thinking has also been a concerted effort to practice it. As I do self-evaluation of being present, when I succeed is when I am most secure in who I am. To say this another way, when I am in a season of healthy self-love it affords me the ability to practice self-forgetfulness. When I am able to do this then I am able to be fully present with another.

I think that a part of landing in this “self-security” is connected to our sense of calling. Do we really know who we are and what we are supposed to be doing? Paul had this clarity. He knew who he was. He was a sent one. Paul never claims perfection or having arrived. What he claims is that he was an imperfect, sin-sick, grace embracing person who was sent. Now, obviously, that doesn’t come from this particular verse. But you can read more about Paul’s journey in the letters to the Galatians and Philippians, also in the Book of Acts.

Paul also knew what he was supposed to be doing. He was to be carrying out a special assignment from the Master. What was this? This special assignment was to go to the world and teach people the way of Jesus through demonstration and teaching. Too often we miss the demonstration aspect of Paul’s life. He was out here writing about “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” This means he was seeking to live a life that was worthy of imitation. This was embodied.

How do you answer these questions: Who am I? What am I called to do? Sound off in the comments!


Matthew 10:34-42

"Don't think I've come to make life cozy. I've come to cut— make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don't deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don't deserve me.

"If you don't go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don't deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me.

"We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God's messenger. Accepting someone's help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won't lose out on a thing."

Over the years within many Christian circles there has been this call to “radical” living. It’s as if many leaders think that to truly follow Jesus one must become something akin to a faith daredevil. I totally get the attraction to such messages. They are exciting and they tap into this desire that many of us have for adventure and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.

Yet, they also create shame.

Most of us will never be in a position to be a “radical” for God. We have responsibilities that are important to keep. Responsibilities like marriages, children, jobs, and the like.

Some of you may be reading this and thinking, “Doesn’t Jesus say that if we count those things as more important than him then we don’t deserve them? Dan, aren’t you trying walk back what Jesus is saying here and making it less challenging?”

That is a fantastic question. Honestly, this passage more than most has caused me heartburn over the years. Are we supposed to simply leave our families to do something radical for Jesus? What does it mean to not put our families in front of Jesus?

Two things that I think hold the key for me, particularly reading this translation of the text. First, there is the aspect of self-forgetfulness. When Peterson translates, “But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me,” he is translating the bit about “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” I have often struggled to put my arms around this idea of “losing” my life. To put it in terms of self-forgetfulness is so helpful. When practice self-forgetfulness we are freed up to be fully present in the lives of others.

Second, how does Jesus argue for the radical display of discipleship? Does say leave home and go to the mission field? Does he say become a martyr? No. He says, “Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance.” Would you like to read that in the NIV? Sure, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” Jesus is calling us to what might be called, “radical ordinary kindness.”

What a key idea for us to consider. The call of Jesus on our lives is fundamentally a call to radical ordinary kindness.

How can you practice some radical ordinary kindness today? Leave a comment with some ideas!


Matthew 10:24-33

"A student doesn't get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn't make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, 'Dungface,' what can the workers expect?

"Don't be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don't hesitate to go public now.

"Don't be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There's nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.

"What's the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don't be intimidated by all this bully talk. You're worth more than a million canaries.

"Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I'll cover for you?

I love the balance that Jesus brings here to what he says in earlier in this teaching. It’s never either/or with Jesus. He is not a dualist. Everything is both/and with him.

If we stopped with “don’t bring attention to yourselves” we could get the sense that we shouldn’t really talk about Jesus and what he’s done for us. But that’s not the case. In the midst of the wolf pack he says, “don’t be intimidated.” We don’t need to fear the world we can speak into it.

I think in today’s climate this is more important than ever.


Because we live in a day and age of hyper-tribalism.

A friend of mine was working for a presidential campaign this past cycle. She ended up leaving the campaign because they were banned from any critique of down ballot candidates within the party. In other words, “Don’t say anything bad about our tribe!” The staffers were in a sense being bullied into silence about things that they knew were wrong, misguided, or untrue being stated by those within the tribe.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter which tribe you belong to these days for this to be true.

In the context of tribalism there is a demand for absolute and unquestioning support in all things.

When you seek to follow the way of Jesus you find that gospel truth doesn’t fit neatly into the tribal boxes. You will find that whichever tribe you are drawn towards will eventually demand you to speak against its values at some point. Why? Because at their heart tribes seek to “other” those with whom they disagree and the gospel near its core is an act of “de-othering.” When find ourselves at odds with our tribe then there is a reality that we will be bullied toward silence. Yet, the call of Jesus is to speak.

We do not need to be intimidated by our own tribes and we do not need to be intimidated by other tribes either.

When we choose to follow the path of radical gracious kindness we will find that no tribes will accept us. You will be mocked, derided, and called names. When we choose reconciliation over revenge we will be seen as weak, sell-outs, and traitors to “the cause.”

When it comes to speaking our faith we must not be bullied or intimidated into silence. For us to have courage we must realize that our faith is rooted in our identity, the core of our being. In so doing we are able to be free from the wants of the tribes around us because we don’t need them because we have our faith.

The Wolf

Matthew 10:16-23

"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.

"Don't be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don't be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they've done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don't worry about what you'll say or how you'll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.

"When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate! But don't quit. Don't cave in. It is all well worth it in the end. It is not success you are after in such times but survival. Be survivors! Before you've run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived.

It’s so interesting to me as I read these words with fresh eyes in The Message. They are familiar and yet shocking at the same time. The development of the ideas here by Peterson are something that I think Western Christianity needs to hear.

As Jesus sends out the Twelve (for this is the context of this passage) he is not going to sugar coat the situation. Jesus is not naïve. He tells them point blank that they are walking into a dangerous world. It can be scary and it can be hard to live life as as follower of Jesus. There is no deceit on Jesus’ lips.

So, what does he challenge the Twelve with? He challenges them to go and to be wise. He argues that they should not draw much attention to themselves but simply go and represent Jesus in the neighborhood. Remember, just before this he tells them to go and be present in the neighborhood. Now he tells them not to be naïve for as they go about teaching the way of Jesus they will face some hard things in a hard world. But, in a sense he is saying, “Don’t bring it on yourselves. Be present, be authentic, be faithful, but don’t be seeking the spotlight and bringing attention to yourself.”

When we were in campus ministry one of the things that we were committed to doing early on was “making Jesus an issue on campus.” We did all kinds of things to try and create a stir around the person and work of Jesus. In some ways I think that was OK. But, if I’m honest it always felt off. We would expend all kinds of energy and time to create a “buzz” but the pay off was primarily burnt out volunteers and staff. At some point we made the conscious decision to no longer “create a buzz” but to simply focus our energy and attention on helping one another grow in our faith. This translated into people trusting Christ and our ministry growing. People shared their faith with those in their community not as a result of compulsion but as a result of identity formation. They began displaying the fruit of the Spirit in their neighborhood and it was beautiful and attractive.

I think this is what Jesus is getting at here in his instructions to the Twelve. Go, be present and live authentic lives of faith. Living an authentic life of faith necessarily includes talking about your faith in Jesus. But, it ceases to be a canned elevator pitch and becomes something deeper.

If you’re a follower of The Way then show up today in peace, authenticity, and grace.

Show Up

Matthew 10:5-15

Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:

"Don't begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don't try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.

"Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.

"When you enter a town or village, don't insist on staying in a luxury inn. Get a modest place with some modest people, and be content there until you leave.

"When you knock on a door, be courteous in your greeting. If they welcome you, be gentle in your conversation. If they don't welcome you, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way. You can be sure that on Judgment Day they'll be mighty sorry—but it's no concern of yours now.

“Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.”

That way of rendering the verse about not going to the Gentiles but the “lost sheep of Israel” really hits home.

I think Jesus is simply saying, “show up.”

Be present in the lives of those in your neighborhood. Just show up. When we seek to simply show up we don’t need a lot of money and we don’t need a lot of stuff. All that is needed is a willing and open heart.

Jesus’ ministry was all about showing up. He was present in the lives of those around him. Peterson taps into this concept in the way he translates the opening of John 1, “he moved into the neighborhood.” It is in Christ that God was made manifest. This means that God was physically present in the world. What a remarkable concept! There was no fear by God that corruption would naturally follow as a result of being in the world, there was only the promise of the redemption of all things.

Too many times those of us who are Christian are too afraid of being in the world. We fear becoming corrupted by the sin-sickness we see around us. Yet, the call of God is to go be present in the world. We are not to hide in holy huddles but we are to be lamp-stands in a dark world.

In other words, we are to show up.

Where do you need to be present today? With whom do you need to show up?

Life is Together

Matthew 9:18-26

As he finished saying this, a local official appeared, bowed politely, and said, "My daughter has just now died. If you come and touch her, she will live." Jesus got up and went with him, his disciples following along.

Just then a woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years slipped in from behind and lightly touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, "If I can just put a finger on his robe, I'll get well." Jesus turned—caught her at it. Then he reassured her: "Courage, daughter. You took a risk of faith, and now you're well." The woman was well from then on.

By now they had arrived at the house of the town official, and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and the neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: "Clear out! This girl isn't dead. She's sleeping." They told him he didn't know what he was talking about. But when Jesus had gotten rid of the crowd, he went in, took the girl's hand, and pulled her to her feet—alive. The news was soon out, and traveled throughout the region.

Do you see! Do you see? The healing narratives are about an invitation, a clearing the way into full community.

The woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years was ceremonially unclean. She could not fully participate in the community. She was always on the outside looking in. There was no way for her to be part of the life of her community, not fully at least. The act of healing, while important, is a bit player in the ultimate ramifications of the healing. This woman who had been on outside looking in was now on the inside. She could fully be with her community. The barrier of the ceremonial law of the Jewish Scriptures had been removed. This woman, was finally fully welcomed!

The girl that Jesus raises from the dead is one of the ultimate acts of reconciliation. She was in the place of the dead and yet this Jesus was able to bring her from there to here, the place of the living. You don’t get any more outside than death.

This action of bringing her from the place of death to the place of life is an image that other writers in the New Testament will grab onto, particularly Paul of Tarsus. We see this language all over his writing of the Romans, Ephesians, and Corinthians.

One of the things that I have learned over the last 18 months is that life to the full is found in community. We need one another. In our physical isolation I was able to find life and connection through the digital realm. I needed it. Yet, as wonderful as it was, there was nothing that could replace the vitality of being with people in an embodied way. I think that this reality hit home with me when I did a driving tour to see and pray for the people that I have been called to specifically serve. Even just seeing folks from a distance in a driveway was magic and filled me with wonder and awe at the beauty of our shared community.

So, do you see? Do you see that the goal of healing is not healing in and of itself? It is the bringing people together into a reconciled community! How beautiful is that!

The Party

Matthew 9:9-17

Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, "Come along with me." Matthew stood up and followed him.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew's house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus' followers. "What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riff-raff?"

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, "Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: 'I'm after mercy, not religion.' I'm here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders."

A little later John's followers approached, asking, "Why is it that we and the Pharisees rigorously discipline body and spirit by fasting, but your followers don't?"

Jesus told them, "When you're celebrating a wedding, you don't skimp on the cake and wine. You feast. Later you may need to pull in your belt, but not now. No one throws cold water on a friendly bonfire. This is Kingdom Come!"

He went on, "No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don't put your wine in cracked bottles."

I love that Jesus is all about the outsider. The person that the religious folks have no time for.

Do you notice what he’s doing in this story?

He’s eating with people whom the religious folks find disgusting. This is a statement that can’t be overlooked or minimized. Table fellowship was a big deal in this culture. When you had table fellowship with someone you were saying, “They’re with me and I’m with them.”

Now, as you read the stories in the Gospels, Jesus eats with the religious folks and with those whom the religious folks find deplorable.

I have to wonder if what the religious people found so frustrating about Jesus eating with the “riff-raff” was the mere fact that he ate with them or the fact that in doing so he was uniting them to one another.

Think about that for a minute. Jesus was having table fellowship with all these people. In so doing he was the bridge between them. If the religious wanted to be with Jesus, they necessarily had to be with the outsiders. If the outsiders wanted to be with Jesus, they necessarily had to be with the religious. It was not either/or for Jesus, it was both/and. He was bringing these different people together through himself.

How many “good Christians” would have table fellowship with those considered to be “riff-raff” by their community? Sadly, not as many as we would like to imagine, I think.

This passage is another reminder for us to go show up in the world and not hide from the world.


Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

One quick note, I chose to use the NIV this morning because The Message was not discernibly different except that it created some confusion with the context, making the story too different from Mark 2 (the other place we read this story).

Another passage filled with loads of theological stuff. It’s dense. It’s also one of my favorite stories in the Gospels.

This morning I am struck by the communal aspect of what is happening here. We begin by seeing a group of friends bring their paralytic friend to Jesus, we end by seeing the broader community celebrating. In the middle we see the religious leaders upset.

My attention this morning is drawn to the friends who bring the paralytic to Jesus. They don’t know what is going to happen. Will Jesus heal? Will Jesus not heal? We learn from Mark 2 that they get the man to Jesus by digging a hole in the roof of the house, would Jesus be mad at the destruction of property? All these guys wanted was for their friend to be healed and walk again. Why? Probably so he could do life with them.

I think this is the thing that we so often miss when we read the Bible. These stories were about real people who had real lives and were living in real community. Could you imagine the overwhelming joy these men must have felt when their friend rose up and walked out of that house? They could finally do life fully together. He could be with them without barrier.

Isn’t that the beauty of the gospel? The reconciliation of all things! Jesus authority to forgive sin was so amazing because it brought about reconciliation in real and embodied ways. It was not just a theological idea of words. No, it translated into real life.

And, all of it done in the context of community. From start to finish.

I think sometimes we overlook the value of having people around us who will carry us. Sometimes we just can’t get to where we need to be on our own. It turns out we need one another.


Matthew 8:1-17

Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, "Master, if you want to, you can heal my body."

Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, "Don't talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done."

As Jesus entered the village of Capernaum, a Roman captain came up in a panic and said, "Master, my servant is sick. He can't walk. He's in terrible pain."

Jesus said, "I'll come and heal him."

"Oh, no," said the captain. "I don't want to put you to all that trouble. Just give the order and my servant will be fine. I'm a man who takes orders and gives orders. I tell one soldier, 'Go,' and he goes; to another, 'Come,' and he comes; to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."

Taken aback, Jesus said, "I've yet to come across this kind of simple trust in Israel, the very people who are supposed to know all about God and how he works. This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then those who grew up 'in the faith' but had no faith will find themselves out in the cold, outsiders to grace and wondering what happened."

Then Jesus turned to the captain and said, "Go. What you believed could happen has happened." At that moment his servant became well.

By this time they were in front of Peter's house. On entering, Jesus found Peter's mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him.

That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah's well-known sermon:

He took our illnesses,
He carried our diseases.

This is one of those passages that most of us preachers can spend hours on. It is rich with theological poignancy. There is much that we could dive into and tease out. But, this is not the time or place.

The question that I have for you is this, “Did you notice what Jesus was doing?”

I’m serious.

Did you catch what he was up to in these stories?

I have been a professional Christian for a long, long time. I have read and re-read the New Testament many times over. But, it was not until this past year that I really took note of what Jesus was doing in these kinds of stories.

It’s one of those things that when you see it for the first time you slap your forehead and think, “How have I not noticed this before? It’s RIGHT there!”

Do you have an idea yet?

Here it is: Jesus was bringing people into community. He was clearing the path so that they could come and be fully participating members of community together.

It’s not really about the healings. It’s about something more than that. What Jesus was doing as a result of the healings was making it so that individuals were no longer exiled from the community.

The leper couldn’t be in community. The demon possessed couldn’t be in community. The lame, the blind, the deaf, none of them could fully participate in community.

Jesus even says as much when he heals the Centurion’s servant, “This man is the vanguard of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God's kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

He was saying, “You see! You see! Those who were on the outside will be on the inside. Those who were not a people will be a people. They will come and eat at God’s table.”

When the kingdom breaks in, this is what we see happening. People who were on the outside, people isolated from community, people who were once “untouchable,” become part of community. Those who were only able to participate on the fringe, are brought into full participation.

This is the beauty of the healing narratives. The healings are cool, no doubt. But it is the effects of the healings that we must notice.

How are you helping bring people into community? How are you breaking down barriers for people to fully participate in your community? Maybe this weekend, you can do something to help facilitate that.

Incidentals or Foundations?

Matthew 7:22-29

I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, 'Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.' And do you know what I am going to say? 'You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don't impress me one bit. You're out of here.'

"These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

"But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards."

When Jesus concluded his address, the crowd burst into applause. They had never heard teaching like this. It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers! This was the best teaching they had ever heard.

I love this line, “These words I speak are not incidental additions to your life…”

I am also struck by, “All you did was use me to make yourselves important.”

This morning as I process these words and ponder them, I don’t really know what to say.

The conclusion of the sermon on the mount is one final push and challenge by Jesus to remind those listening that they have to respond with their lives. It’s not about the words we say or parrot. It’s about how we are living. We must build our lives on the words and principles found here.

There is a very real call here to embody what Jesus is talking about.

What does it mean to embody something?

It means that we must physically live out the words in the real world. There is no way around it. These teachings of Jesus must find their way into our real lives. Lives lived in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and communities.

I think the most challenging thing for me as a pastor is the last bit, “It was apparent that he was living everything he was saying—quite a contrast to their religion teachers!” Ouch! Every week I lead people into discussion about Jesus, am I living out what I’m preaching? Is it evident that I’m doing so? I want that to be true. Yet, I know how much work I have yet to do.

I desperately want to see more fruit of the Spirit in my life, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” When these are the ways that people describe me, when these are the things that I can begin to see in myself, then I’m on the way of practicing what I preach.

The question I have to wrestle with this morning, “Do I believe that these are simply incidental ideas or do I believe that they are foundations to build my life on?”

The Manipulation

Matthew 7:13-21

"Don't look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don't fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

"Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character. Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook. These diseased trees with their bad apples are going to be chopped down and burned.

"Knowing the correct password—saying 'Master, Master,' for instance—isn't going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills.

“A genuine leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook.”

This punched me right in the face this morning.

I am coming to believe that the two ditches that are along either side of pastoral ministry are these: emotional manipulation and financial manipulation. These seem to be at the root of so much abuse in the American church.

Before I finalize a message to preach on Sunday I have to make sure that I’m not practicing in the ways of emotional manipulation.

It’s just too easy.

I am confident that early in my years as a public speaker that I used it to great effect. The ability to create a “holy hush” due to the use of the manipulating of people’s emotions felt so “successful” at times. After some time I came to realize that it was nothing more than cheap salesmanship and really nothing more than a way to get people to agree with me. In other words, it was about “winning.” You see I would create my messages as arguments, trying to “prove” something. I imagined in my head an interlocutor who was disagreeing and challenging me. So, I had to “win” the day for the gospel. There was this sense that do so required “exposing the need.” What that translated to in my world was exposing some sort sin or failing in a person’s life and then getting them to feel the weight of that (which is odd because I would have told you “feelings” have nothing to do with your spiritual life). Then taking them from that place of vulnerability I would seek to get them to agree with my solution for their lives.

All of this was of course couched as “leading people to Christ.” But, it was really about me and placing myself in a position to get people to do something.

Thankfully, I had mentors who demonstrated a better way. They showed me a way that was not dependent on “winning” but a way that was built on pointing people towards Jesus and what he embodied: grace, mercy, love, truth, compassion, and empathy. They showed me that when we preach we need to leave the manipulation and moralism behind. As Peter writes, my responsibility is to “declare the excellencies of [Jesus].” This is the work to which pastors are called.

Perhaps over the last few days you have seen the headlines from the other ditch, the ditch of money and greed. One televangelist is crying for money for a new jet and another saying that Jesus has not returned because people aren’t giving enough money to his ministry.

It’s all manipulation.

I pray that those of us who are pastors would follow Paul and know nothing but Christ and him crucified. I pray that we would be people of the Cross. I pray that we would eschew the wisdom of this world and embrace the folly that is Christ crucified and resurrected.

What's In Your Eye?

Matthew 7:1-12

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

My custom is to use The Message for these daily devotionals because it’s often jarring to read these well known passages in a different translation. While I really like the way Peterson renders this section, I think he misses the central issue that Jesus is getting at. But, I think the NIV, NRSV, and other more literal translations get at it a bit better.


Because of the word, “hypocrite.”

That really seems to be the heart of what Jesus is teaching here, we must engage with one another in humility because we are flawed and none of us are perfect. If we act as though we have it all together then we are nothing more than hypocrites.

All in all, I think Jesus is saying, “Give one another the benefit of the doubt.”

When Amy and I joined the staff of CRU we were assigned to a campus team at Illinois State University. I am so grateful for those years. We grew up there. When we arrived to campus we were in our early 20s and not much older than the students were serving. I was young, brash, overly confident, and believed I knew everything.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thankfully, our team leader, Matt Kent, was kind and gentle. He didn’t put up with my childish ways, but he also acknowledged he was imperfect. Matt is the embodiment of humility (he probably just blushed without knowing why). One of the greatest gifts that Matt gave Amy and I through his leadership was this, “We will believe the best in one another.”

“Believe the best in one another.”

What Matt meant by that was that we would endeavor to give the same amount of grace and mercy to one another that we wanted to receive ourselves. This meant that we didn’t question one another’s motives. Our posture was to assume that each of us on the team had the best intentions and wanted what was best for one another. By serving together in this way, we experienced one of the healthiest teams that I have ever been a part of. There was no question where you stood with one another, there was little to no drama, and all of us really respected one another. That’s not to say we didn’t have disagreements or arguments or hard conversations. No, it’s just that when we did we knew that we were all coming from a place of mutual respect.

In our society we take an approach of, “I will extend respect to you if you first extend respect to me.” Do you see how this is so broken?

The thing is, I’m guilty of it too.

There are days when I have forgotten that lesson taught to me by Matt about, “believing the best.”

As a follower of Jesus I am reminded this morning that believing the best is something that I’m called to from a deeper place. It’s part of my new identity. I am called to believe the best because I recognize my own weaknesses, my own need for grace, and my own hope for mercy. You see, I need grace and mercy from the people in my life because I’m so deeply flawed. If I’m deeply flawed, then I can’t expect others to not be deeply flawed. All of us need grace and mercy. All of us are carrying around planks in our eyes, when we are able to recognize this reality then we are able to offer up grace to our neighbor and their speck.

Let’s not be hypocrites. Let’s not act like we have it all together. Let’s recognize our own sin sickness and engage the world from a position of humility.

Pray Simply, Simply Pray

Matthew 6:7-15

"The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best—
as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

"In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can't get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God's part.

You can pray very simply

If that isn’t an encouragement I don’t know what is.

I think that sometimes we have in our minds that prayer is something akin to spells that we see in fiction. You know what I mean, right? There’s this idea that we often hold that thinks we need to use just the right words and have just the right intentions and have just the right body language for prayer to work.

But, that’s not the case at all.

We can approach God with simplicity.

There is no need for big words or lots of words or few words.

There is no need for theological treatises.

There is not right or wrong time to pray.

There is no right or wrong body position to pray.

We can simply come.

Over the years I am learning that just showing up in prayer is the key. Setting up some time to pray and then doing it is what matters most. More and more I am finding that I have less and less words. During the last year or two my most often prayer has been, “God, seriously? What the heck?”

So often I find that I don’t know what to pray for or even how to pray. When that happens I pray that and leave it at that.

I am reminded often that the Scriptures say, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”

You see, we don’t need all the words, or the best words, or even any of the words. We can simply show up in prayer and trust that God is at work in us through the Spirit. This is grace.

We can also use all the words. There is freedom to dump everything in our hearts and minds out as well, even if it’s an unfiltered stream of words that flows without breathing. Sometimes simplicity in prayer is knowing that we don’t need to filter anything with God. This is grace too.

To experience this grace we find ourselves unclenching our fists and relaxing our shoulders. We breathe again. There is a yielding and trust in God.

I am so grateful that we can pray simply. How about you?

Being Seen

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

"Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don't make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won't be applauding.

"When you do something for someone else, don't call attention to yourself. You've seen them in action, I'm sure—'playactors' I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that's all they get. When you help someone out, don't think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.

"And when you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

"When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don't make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint. If you 'go into training' inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn't require attention-getting devices. He won't overlook what you are doing; he'll reward you well.

I have often wondered what it was about the prayer closet, the secluded place, that was so important. I understood what Jesus means here about “playacting” or “hypocrisy” in our more literal translations. That all made sense. But, I have often wondered if there wasn’t more to it.

Peterson expands what we read in the NIV when he writes, “Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”

Here’s how the NIV handles that verse, “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

As I have been pondering this, this morning I think what Peterson is tapping into here is the “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret,” part of the verse.

There are a few people in my life who really know me. These are people that I feel “seen” by. There’s a depth of knowing by them that allows me to let my guard down and simply be.

This idea of the Father “seeing” is something that I have glossed over too many times. I have focused so much on the “reward” aspect. Too often in my young Christian life I had the belief that if I prayed rightly that I would be rewarded by getting what I asked for.

I don’t think that’s what is being said here.

No, I think the reward is knowing that the Father sees me.

Imagine that!

The Creator God of the universe…

sees you…

knows you…

is present with you…

cares about you…

None of this is dependent on whether or not you pray in a secluded space. It’s all true regardless of you or your actions because that is the beauty of who God is. God’s actions are rooted in God’s personhood, God’s being, God’s identity, God’s nature. God is faithful regardless of us.

What is dependent is our experience of this seeing by God. This is our reward! The intimate, experiential, awareness that the Father sees me.

Every kid I know (and I am well acquainted with being a child as well) wants to be seen by their parents. I was moved by images of an NFL rookie after playing in his first NFL game running into the stands to his parents and family. It doesn’t matter how old we get, there is something about being seen by our parents.

How much more so the Creator God?

The more I practice the simplicity of secluded, private, prayer the more I am growing in my awareness of the presence of the Divine. More and more I am feeling seen by God. More and more I am feeling secure in my relationship with God. More and more I am feeling loved by God.

Grow Up!

Matthew 5:38-48

"Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

"You're familiar with the old written law, 'Love your friend,' and its unwritten companion, 'Hate your enemy.' I'm challenging that. I'm telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

"In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

“Grow up!”

Once again, reading this in the Message just feels different. These passages are hitting me in places that I don’t like to talk about at parties.

It’s fascinating to me that this passage, above most in the Sermon on the Mount, gets explained away whenever it’s convenient.

Here’s a secret:

I do it.

I make excuses to hate my enemy.

All. The. Time.

It’s not just a once in a while kind of thing. It’s a most of the time kind of thing. It feels so good to “get them” when they show themselves. Man, it feels like justice when I can stick it to people I’ve determined as my enemy.

Usually I explain it away in one of two ways. First, when I’m feeling super spiritual I will say something along the lines of, “I’m not hating my enemy, I am speaking truth to them. It’s for their own good.” When I’m being really honest I say, “Listen, I’m not going to be a doormat for Jesus. I’m standing up for my rights and for my family.”

Those are my “go-to” outs for loving my enemy. What are your outs?

We all have them.

More and more I am realizing that this love thing is at the center of being a follower of Jesus. If I want to grow in my Christ-likeness then I must grow in love. There is no way around it. This is the thing.

I am not good at loving, on the whole. I do well some times, especially if I know people are watching. But, in places that I don’t talk about at parties, I struggle.

As I grow older, I am becoming more desperate to learn how to love well.

Sometimes people ask what does it look like? What does it practically look like to love like Jesus. That kind of love is laid out for us in 1 Corinthians 13. Have you ever noticed it before? I mean, I know it’s read at weddings. But, have you ever realized that this is the way to live the Christ oriented life?

Consider it today…

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.

Love doesn't strut,

Doesn't have a swelled head,

Doesn't force itself on others,

Isn't always "me first,"

Doesn't fly off the handle,

Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn't revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.


Matthew 5:27-37

"You know the next commandment pretty well, too: 'Don't go to bed with another's spouse.' But don't think you've preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they are also corrupt.

"Let's not pretend this is easier than it really is. If you want to live a morally pure life, here's what you have to do: You have to blind your right eye the moment you catch it in a lustful leer. You have to choose to live one-eyed or else be dumped on a moral trash pile. And you have to chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly. Better a bloody stump than your entire being discarded for good in the dump.

"Remember the Scripture that says, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him do it legally, giving her divorce papers and her legal rights'? Too many of you are using that as a cover for selfishness and whim, pretending to be righteous just because you are 'legal.' Please, no more pretending. If you divorce your wife, you're responsible for making her an adulteress (unless she has already made herself that by sexual promiscuity). And if you marry such a divorced adulteress, you're automatically an adulterer yourself. You can't use legal cover to mask a moral failure.

"And don't say anything you don't mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, 'I'll pray for you,' and never doing it, or saying, 'God be with you,' and not meaning it. You don't make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say 'yes' and 'no.' When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.

This is tough stuff from Jesus. In our modern day and age you might be made uncomfortable by some of Jesus’ statements here.

It hit different reading this in the Message than in the more familiar NIV.

What struck me this morning was the radical minimum standard of integrity that Jesus was calling for. Morality and commitment were not just behavioral issues for Jesus. He pressed into people’s hearts. The sentence, “You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure,” really struck me. This is such a subversive way of thinking in our day and time. So many of us deem what is legal and what is moral as the two of the same things. But, Jesus calls us to something deeper. He demands a depth to our integrity that goes beyond the legal.

“You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk…”


This challenge by Jesus to his hearers was meant to cut them to the quick. The reality is that integrity is something that demands from us more than just words. It requires action. But more than action, it demands something even deeper.

Did you notice that?

You can do the right thing and still not have integrity.

You can say the right thing and still not have integrity.

You can say and do the right thing and still not have integrity.

Jesus’ call here is a wholeness of being. It goes down to the soul or heart of a person. If we are living duplicitous lives then eventually they will be exposed. To live with integrity means that the wholeness of who you are, the wholeness of your being, lines up and is integrated.

Your words and your actions and your soul must all integrate.

We live in a day and age where integrity is rare.

This challenges from Jesus is one that we need to hear again and again.

What Will You Be?

Matthew 5:11-16

"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

What will you be?

This is the question.

It’s not a question of what won’t you be. It’s a question in the affirmative. What will you be?

Too many times in our day and age in America, Christians are known for what they’re not.

“Don’t dance, drink, or chew and don’t go with girls that do.”

American Christianity is too often portrayed as some sort of cancel culture. Which makes sense, if you think about it. I remember Christians trying to get Teletubbies off PBS, I can’t count the number of times Disney has been boycotted by Christians. The fundamentalist, evangelical culture that I experienced in college was one marked by ridding ourselves of secular influences like non-Christian music. I spent hours pouring over lists of “If you like this secular band, then try this Christian band.” There was a time when I traded in my Garth Brooks for Michael James.

In our desire to be different and set apart we too often find ourselves only championing those things which we are against.

Notice the way Christ discusses how he wants his followers to live in the world.

Be salt.

Be light.

Bring out the God-flavors in the world.

Bring out the God-colors in the world.

It was a new way of being.

There is a significant difference between saying, “Don’t be darkness,” and “Be light.” The negation of being leaves us in a place of not knowing how to move forward. We end up stuck and lost. But, when we are given an affirmative command to “Be” we are finding ourselves united with the divine.

Why do I say that?

Because God’s nature is being. When asked his name, “I AM.”

God is.

To be a God follower, to be a Christ follower, is to BE something. We are being salt and light.

This weekend I would encourage you to take some time and ask yourself, “Do people know me more for who and what I am or do people know me more for who and what I am against?”

The Agenda

Matthew 5:1-10

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

"You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

"You're blessed when you feel you've lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

"You're blessed when you're content with just who you are—no more, no less. That's the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can't be bought.

"You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God. He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat.

"You're blessed when you care. At the moment of being 'carefull,' you find yourselves cared for.

"You're blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

"You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.

"You're blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God's kingdom.

Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about this passage a bit. N.T. Wright and Michael Bird in their book, The New Testament In Its World, argue that the beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom work. It strikes me that as we start to seek living this agenda out we will likely find ourselves at one time or another practicing all of this.

Each of us will likely jump into the fray at different points. Some of us come into this at the beginning of the agenda, at the end of our rope. Some of us might pop in at the middle and others may experience persecution right from jump street. Where ever we find ourselves, we must recognize that living this way is our agenda as followers of Jesus.

The longer I try to become more like Christ, the more attracted I am to people who live this way. I find them to be refreshing and life-giving.

Most particularly I am finding that I want to be around the peace-makers. Peterson says it like this, "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family.” Thinking about peace-making this way is so beautiful to me. The idea of teaching people to cooperate as opposed to competing feels subversive in our world today. There are so many stories about leaders in our government who refuse to find middle ground positions of cooperation because they can’t look like they are capitulating to the “other side.” As a result, good policies don’t get done on behalf of our nation. I also think about the disunity in the body of Christ and the schisms and divisions that have happened over the years because people were unwilling to pursue peace-making.

Over the last few years I am growing less concerned about my theological tribe “being right.” I am more concerned with those of who claim to follow Jesus practicing this kingdom agenda that we find in the opening lines of Matthew 5. Again, I’m pretty wrapped up in this idea of peace-making as I write this. What would it look like if the Christians of our world steeled themselves toward making peace? How would our neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, and nation changed if there was a collective effort toward teaching people to cooperate with one another?

I guess, at the end of the day what I long for is people to love their neighbor and their enemy as themselves.


Luke 4:18-30

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Tonight I’m talking about this passage at some length during Beyond Sunday School at 7 pm. You can join me in the Zoom Room if you would like to be part of the conversation. I am also realizing that this passage hits home with the conversation that my friend Mike and I had on the Simple Theologian podcast yesterday about “disappointment.”

This passage is a microcosm of the prophetic ministry of Jesus. He starts by quoting a famous passage from Isaiah. It was a passage that many in the first century were holding on to as an image of what would come in the Messiah. To be sure, when Isaiah wrote it, he was writing about the return from exile in Babylon. But, by the time of Jesus it was being held on to as something deeper, a hope for the climax of the history of Israel. Isaiah 61 had become the picture of what would happen when God would set all things right by bringing his people out from under the oppressive pagan regime and placing Israel again in its rightful place as God’s chosen people.

At first people are ecstatic! They are excited, thinking that Jesus was embodying this hope for national Israel and that the climax of history was at hand.

But, then Jesus says something that they didn’t expect. Jesus, in the words of the great theologian Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friends!”

This was bigger than national Israel. This was inclusive. This was universal. What God is doing with the in-breaking of his kingdom is expansive in ways that the people could never have imagined.

Jesus says from the jump of his ministry, a pagan widow and a gentile cripple may have a better seat in the kingdom than national Israel. Why? Because at the heart of Jesus’ message, just like every prophet before him, was the call to repent. There had to be a change in direction. This change in direction for the people he was speaking to was to see themselves as the agent of global blessing as opposed to being the blessed.

Perhaps if Jesus was speaking to us as Christian Americans he would say, “Friends! Repent! The kingdom is here! You must no longer cry ‘God bless America!’ but ask, ‘How can we bless the world?’”

This is, in some sense what he is doing. There was a fundamental misunderstanding of the people about their role. God had chosen Israel to be agents of blessing, justice, and mercy to the whole of creation. But, Israel had flipped it around thinking that in their chosenness they were the recipients of blessing, justice, and mercy from the rest of creation.

When they were challenged, they became irate.

Why? Because they were disappointed that God was not working in accordance to their personally designed framework. They were experiencing missed expectations. Anne Lamott says, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”1 When we are disappointed by God this disappointment is often rooted in our own expectations that we have created. When we experience this disappointment we have two paths. One is to move toward resentment where we continue to feel the disappointment over and over again. This leads us into a place where we are hardened to change. Or, we can move into a season of disillusionment where we deconstruct the illusion of God that we have fashioned. This eventually leads to a deeper understanding that is based more in reality than the view we held before. I have found over the years that there is a spiral of growth as my expectations lead to disappointment that leads to disillusionment that leads to deconstruction which leads to a reconstruction of new understandings of who God is.

How do you respond when your expectations of the divine fall short? What have you done with your disappointments in God?


As quoted in Learning to Speak God From Scratch by Jonathan Merritt, p. 118