Joy Comes From Holding Firm

When we hold firm in the face of adversity we discover joy.

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Approximately eighteen months ago I was plunged into a dark night of the soul. I stepped off a cliff and began to experience something that is commonly called, “deconstruction.” All of the answers about God, faith, and Jesus fell apart. They all seemed thin. None of them appeared to be grounded in anything substantial.

I was wrestling with faith and doubt in ways that I had never known. It was hard and frustrating and utterly painful. I desperately wanted to escape from this period of my life.

I wanted all the answers to make sense again.

My greatest desire was to hear God’s voice and feel God’s presence like I had when I was younger.

But, his voice stayed silent. His presence seemed absent.

So, I searched.

I waited.

I cried out.

I waited more.

I searched again.

I cried out again and again.

Then, God did something. He made himself known to me in his people. He showed me himself through the people who call themselves his. From that moment on I’ve had a new song, a new faith, a clearer sense of the reality and beauty and mystery of God.

I rediscovered joy.

David wrote a poem that resonates with me like it never has before. Here’s the first stanza:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him. — Psalm 40:1–3

One of my favorite bands, U2, recorded a version of this psalm and it has become an anthem for me. I leave you with it:


Integrity Matters… No Really

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Last night my wife and I had a conversation with our son about how I, “make people mad.” It was kind of a fun conversation because my wife kept saying, “Your dad is not a jerk about things, well, he used to be, but he’s not any more. Now, he simply knows what is right and true and he doesn’t back down.”

Those were really encouraging words for me because as I shared yesterday, I have had to be “humbled” quite a bit. But, now when I “make people mad” it’s often because they simply don’t like what they are hearing.

It turns out that when you have integrity and character those are really subversive traits in today’s society.

Some Scripture

This morning I was reading about John the Baptist in Matthew 3. He was a guy that had integrity, character, and spoke the truth. He knew who he was and who he wasn’t. He embraced his identity. I love what he says here in verse 11,

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

How different is his attitude than ours? Can you imagine a pastoral transition where the outgoing pastor says of the incoming one, “Folks, this guy is such a great man that I’m not even worthy to carry his shoes.”

What usually happens?

Usually, the outgoing pastor has either been fired or if he’s retiring and trying to pass off the baton he sticks around and makes life miserable for the new guy.

These are the moments that show us what a person’s character and integrity are. Can we come to terms with the reality of who we are not? This was one of the key things about John being a man of integrity, he knew who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the Christ and let everyone know.

Do you know what happened to John the Baptist?

He lost his head.

Quite literally.

The powers that be didn’t like him and had his head removed from his neck.

It turns out that being a person of integrity and character was pretty subversive in the first century too.

So What?

What does any of this have to do with Advent and joy? That’s a great question. I think that one of the ways that we experience joy is in the context of living out of our identity. Being who we are in every sphere of influence we find ourselves in.

What I mean is this: We are to be the same person at home, at work, at play, with family, with friends, and with strangers. We are to live a life that is integrated and is based in who we are and the acceptance of who we are not.

When we live this way we will begin to experience joy. Not necessarily happiness. When you live with integrity and character it is not always going to be easy (thankfully you probably won’t lose your head), and so you might not necessarily be happy. However, joy is deeper and more enduring than happiness.

Joy is a sense of contentment knowing who you are and how you are to live.

“It Is Good To Be Humbled.”

…said nobody ever.

Seriously. Who says stuff like this? When you’re in the midst of being “humbled,” do you think, “Boy howdy! This is great!”

I sure don’t.

When I was in college, I was in a Bible study with a couple of other guys. We were leaders in our CRU movement at Central Michigan University. Each week we began with 15–30 minutes known as, “What did Dan do wrong this week.” Our poor small group leader would have a laundry list of stupid things that I had said or done.

It was definitely, humbling.

I definitely didn’t enjoy it.

I most certainly didn’t think it was good.

However, as I look back at these times I realize that they were some of the most significant moments in my life. It was then that I began to learn how to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me.” During these months I also learned when to have boundaries and stand up for myself when I was in the right.

“What did Dan do wrong this week,” shaped me in ways that I’m still experiencing to this day.

I was reading in Psalm 119 today and ran across this line,

It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes.
Psalm 119:71

This is one of the truest and most discomforting lines of poetry that I have ever read.

We all know it’s true too. Each of us knows that it takes us being humbled to really learn.

It is indeed good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn who God is and know his grace.

This week in Advent is the week of joy. It turns out that being humbled has brought me great joy. That joy resides not in comfort but in the fact that I have been transformed and that in the process of being humbled I have known grace.

Originally published at on December 19, 2018.

The Weird Jesus Verse

There’s a famous Advent reading that I’ve always found to be really weird. It’s Isaiah 9:6 and I read it again today. Check it out in the NIV:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace

It’s beautiful and traditional and points us to the majestic beauty of the coming Messiah. I absolutely love this verse. Yet, it’s super weird too.

First, the “government will be on his shoulders,” has never sat well with me. It’s felt so out of place and really never made sense to me. When I read the passage this morning it was in a translation of the Bible that I had never read it out from before, the NRSV. It translates the phrase this way, “authority rests upon his shoulders.”

I had an “AHA” moment.

My guess is that for many of you this is nothing new. But, for me it was a “WOAH! I get it! WHAT!?” kind of moment.

Authority: the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.

When I think of the reality that Jesus has authority, particularly the power to settle issues, it brings so much into laser focus for me. Throughout the prophets in the Old Testament we see the people of God being put on trial by God, in a sense. We also see the people of God putting God on trial too. They are found guilty of setting God aside and end up being exiled.

Yet, there is this promise of the Messiah to come. The one who would bring them home. This weird little verse gives us a glimpse into the foundation for the Messiah to be able to do that. It is because he has authority. He has the power to settle issues.

Second, the other weird thing about this verse is the “wonderful counselor” bit. I always had in my head a picture of God with a notebook doing counseling. Today though, with my “AHA” moment on the “government” issue, I realized that I should look more deeply into the “wonderful counselor” bit too.

The word “counselor” could be understood as “strategist.” The NET Bible translates the phrase, “extraordinary strategist.”

Again, “AHA!”

The kind of counselor we are talking about is the kind of person that was wise and strategic. These are two of the things that I see in Jesus ministry and here they are, on display, in this prophecy.

I mean, come on.

You know, I have been studying the Bible a long time and have told people for years to check different translations, etc… Isn’t it funny how going back to the basics can be such a big deal?

Originally published at on December 18, 2018.

Support Your Faith

In theological circles there are some technical words that get applied to certain perspectives of theology. I am what is known as a “monergist.” Simply put, this means that I believe God does all the work in bringing about salvation. It is purely by his grace and mercy and there is nothing that we can do to add to our salvation or to bring it about.

Sometimes we also need to talk about what something doesn’t mean. Being a “monergist” doesn’t meant that I hold to some sort of cold, impersonal determinism. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t think we have any responsibility regarding our spiritual lives.

Two things are becoming more clear to me in these days. First, the way salvation works is a mystery. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to unravel the definite machinations of the how.

This mystery is beautiful and glorious and intriguing and messy.

Second, we have a responsibility to support our faith. Peter writes,

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
2 Peter 1:5–7

This passage starts with a “For this very reason…” The very reason that Peter is pointing to is in verse 4 where he says that we “…become participants of the divine nature.”

The contemporary idea that faith is nothing more than eternity insurance has no place in Christianity.

When we say we are trusting Christ, or following Christ, or that we are “saved,” it means that we are participating with Christ in the divine nature. This is called “union with Christ.”

If we are participating in the divine nature then our lives will begin to look different. I love how Peter says that we must “make every effort to support your faith.” There is a distinction that he makes there. Our faith is not something that we work up, it’s a gift, it’s given to us by God. But then we have a responsibility to do something with it.

Have you known of athletes who are members of the “Coulda Been Great” Society? I sure do. These are athletes that had tons of raw, God-given ability, and yet they did nothing with it. They were given a gift and didn’t develop it.

The same is true of our faith. We are called to act upon our faith. It is to practically change us. Our lives should be different because of our faith.






Mutual affection.


Do you see the progression here? Take a moment and ask yourself how you’re doing. It’s OK to take a little stock every now and then. Are you supporting your faith by practicing goodness? Pursuing knowledge? Practicing self-control? Enduring? Seeking to be godly? Practicing mutual affection? And, loving?

In many ways you could summarize this with, “Don’t be a jerk.” Or, “Love your neighbor.” Or, “Be a good person.”

This week is the third week of Advent with its focus on joy. The joy of this week is the sure and certain knowledge that our king is coming. The thing is, when our king comes our lives will need to look different. True joy, the joy that goes beyond being happy, is based and rooted in our identity. We experience joy when we are living out who we are.

If your life was marked by goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love how much joy would know? How much joy would experience?

My friends, support your faith with your life. Live a life that honors our King and you will know JOY.

Originally published at on December 17, 2018.

Confession Is Good For The Soul

When you hear the word “confession,” how do you feel? It makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am not all that excited about airing all my dirty laundry.

When you hear the word “sin,” how do you feel? If you’re like most of us these days you probably think, “Who are you to judge? Jerk.”

Something that I keep trying to lean into in my life is reality. I want to honestly assess myself. That whole “know thyself” thing has become a near obsession. There is great power in understanding ourselves, our passions, our calling, our longings, and our brokenness.

Too often I find that I try to talk myself out of my brokenness. When I mess up in relationships with others or myself, I typically try to argue it away. When I’m unloving or uncaring, I usually project my brokenness onto others.

Owning our own stuff is really hard to do. It demands us to practice the ancient spiritual discipline of confession.

I’m a protestant and this act of confession is made a bit harder for me because there is no standard practice of it in my tradition. My Catholic friends who are serious about their faith go and make confession regularly to their priest. There is an understanding that they need this and they need someone to hear their confession.

For us protestants we have held to the idea that confession is something just between us and God. Which it is, but not “just.” Why? Because we need someone who will say, “Is there anything else? Did you lie to me?”

Confession is good for the soul. It is good for our well-being. Owning our sin and getting rid of it is like oxygen for our spirit. I love the image of spiritual breathing. The picture that you exhale your sin (like carbon dioxide) and inhale grace (like oxygen).

The ancient Jewish king, David, wrote a poem where he says,

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and whose spirit is no deceit.
While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Psalm 32:1–4

Two things stand out to me in this poem. First there is happiness when we know we are forgiven. There is happiness in the experiential knowledge of grace. Second, holding onto sin in silence kills us from the inside out.

In another poem this same king writes,

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:4–5

When I confess my sin to another, when I confess my sin to God, my greatest fear is anger. I worry that they will break the relationship. With those who are faithful friends, like God, their anger is momentary. Usually it is not even anger so much as disappointment. But their favor lasts a lifetime.

When I invite friends into my confession they become for me agents of grace. They speak words of grace to me.

When grace comes then comes joy.

Tomorrow morning we will light the third candle of Advent, the joy candle. Truly joy comes in the morning.

Originally published at on December 15, 2018.

The Night Is Darkest

It is often said that the night is darkest before the dawn.

It is also said that,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Romans 5:8

As I write this, there is no sun outside my window. I am seated at my desk looking out over my neighborhood and the sky is gray, flat, and weary.

There is little life.

The leaves are gone.

The rose bushes are in hibernation.

The only light is the small desk lamp that is focused on my copy of the Scriptures.

The night is darkest before the dawn.

Could you imagine how dark it must have felt those days before the coming of the Christ? It had been 576 years since the promise of Jeremiah that the Christ would come. It had been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, had preached. The darkness must have felt unending.

One of my favorite books to read is The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s the tale of a magical land, Narnia, that is trapped in an everlasting winter with no Christmas. Surely, this is what it must have felt like for the people of God from Malachi to Christ.

In one of David’s psalms, Psalm 31, he writes,

I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities.
Psalm 31:7

David, experienced and felt the love of God because he encountered God in his pain. Think about that for a moment.

It was not because he was without pain that he knew God loved him.

It was because in his pain he encountered God. This is completely opposite of how we often think of and understand our relationship with God.

Too often, when the night is darkest we doubt that God loves us. Yet, it is in the darkest night that God meets us in our pain because he is the one who will never leave us or forsake us.

We are in the midst of the darkness of Advent. There is great struggle as we wait. As we do, let us pray and reflect on these words from Psalm 31,

Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faith, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.
Psalm 31:23–24

Originally published at on December 14, 2018.

You Are Loved, Stand Firm

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This past summer I was watching a Detroit Tigers game and they were interviewing Nicholas Castellanos, one of the Tigers better hitters. He had just come off a very long slump and the interviewer asked, “How do you handle the ups and downs of baseball?”

Castellanos didn’t miss a beat. He talked about his dad. He said that while he was growing up his dad would tell him all the time that he was the best. So, whenever he is going through a down time in the season he just remembers his dad’s voice.

That interview has stuck with me a long time. I wonder if we believe that our heavenly Father loves us the way Castellanos’ dad loves him?

Life is really hard. The good times and the bad times both come and go. Seemingly with no rhyme or reason.

When the bad times come, how do we respond? Will we be able to hear our Father’s voice, the one that says, “I love you, you’re the best.”

King Ahaz, an ancient Jewish King, was having a real bad time. He inherited a kingdom that was in disarray. The people of God had rebelled against God. The nation was about to be exiled. In Isaiah 7 we read that his heart “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind,” because the nations of Aram and Israel were coming to attack Jerusalem.

Isaiah went to encourage Ahaz in his faith. He told him not to fear, to be quiet, and not to let his heart faint. He even talks a little smack about the two nations coming to destroy Jerusalem. There is a sense that God is saying, “I see you. I got you.”

Then at the end of the conversation Isaiah says,

If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.

How could he though? Two armies were knocking at his door. I would have been afraid too. Yet, Isaiah calls him to stand in faith.

I think in the midst of this is the reminder that God loves us. He loves us and will meet us in our bad times. When those times come we need to hear the voice of the Father saying, “I love you, you’re the best.”

When we know we’re loved we can stand firm in the faith.

During this time of Advent, while we are waiting, we must stand firm in the faith. What will ultimately give us our strength to stand is the knowledge that we are loved.

Do you believe this? Do you believe that you are loved?

Originally published at on December 13, 2018.

He Sees…

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He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good; so be good for goodness sake. Oh…You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not shout, I’m telling you why…”

So the old song goes.

Thankfully, God is nothing like Santa Claus.

I have been reading a lot of psalms this Advent season and one of the things that constantly strikes me is that there is no limit on the crying and shouting. Every human emotion is present in the lines of the poems that make up the book of psalms.

There is no holding back.

There are no holds barred.

There is just pure unadulterated emotion and passion. The psalmists pour out everything that is within them to their God. It is uncomfortable to read some their words.

There are times when I think, “Wow. I can’t believe they wrote that and left it for posterity.”

At other times I think, “I wish my relationship with God were so honest and real.”

In Psalm 38 David writes,

I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes — it has also gone from me.

He is in misery. Yet, he turns his heart to God in brutal honesty.

Later in the psalm he writes,

But it is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

I am coming to learn that it is this unyielding belief that God sees and knows and will answer that drives David to brutal honesty with God. Because he is confident that God sees, he knows that he can cry out with our reservation.

Unlike Santa, God does not want us quiet and good. God wants us authentic and real. He wants us passionate and honest. God wants us to know him and be in relationship with him.

The God who sees is ready for us to cry and ready for us to shout because he knows all too well our pain and our struggles.

How does he know that?

Because after Advent comes Christmas.

Originally published at on December 12, 2018.

For Those Who Seek

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We wait.

We wait.

We wait.


How long must we wait? How long will the exile to darkness last? How long until the master comes to his temple to make all things right? How long until faith becomes sight?


The longer Advent goes and the longer I try to imagine what it must have been like to live in exile and to long for the coming Messiah, I grow in my sense of anticipation and frustration. I want Christmas to come and I want it to come now. I want the light and voice and presence of God.

Yet the darkness grows and we wait.

I find myself now looking for glimpses of the divine around every corner. I try to see God in the little moments of laughter and joy. God, during this season of Advent, seems to be just out of reach but inviting me to come along further up and further in.

The psalmist writes,

The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Psalm 9:9–10

His invitation in the midst of the waiting is to “seek.” It is not a passive, sit on the porch and hope to see God, kind of waiting.

No, he invites us to seek him and we will not be disappointed. If we seek God he will not forsake us. He will not hide forever. We will eventually find him.

We don’t wait, we SEEK!

Originally published at on December 11, 2018.

Love Well

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Advent is all about the waiting. It’s an entering to the void between the time that the Messiah was promised and the time that he finally arrived. On this side of the resurrection, we are waiting again. We are waiting for the ultimate coming of the Christ.

It’s been a couple thousand years and who knows how much longer we will wait. But, wait we shall. The waiting for many has become a longing.

We aren’t the only ones who waited and wondered at the coming of Christ. In the first century the expectation was that Jesus’ return was imminent. The expectation was that he was going to return any day.

Spoiler: He didn’t.

This led many to worry about the future. Paul, in one of his longest teachings on the issue in 1 Thessalonians 5 ends with,

Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

In this second week of Advent, the week that we focus on love, I think this is a good reminder that as we wait in the darkness one of the most important things we can do is encourage one another. Do you notice that Paul tells the Thessalonians to do this not because they aren’t but because they already and he commends them in it?

When I think of my congregation, what amazes me is all the ways that we love well. People genuinely care for each other. It’s absolutely beautiful and I’m beyond grateful to serve them.

As this second week of Advent gets going, ask yourself this question: How will I love well this week?

Originally published at on December 10, 2018.

In God We Trust

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It’s interesting to me that this little phrase, “In God we trust,” has become a point of debate within some circles. It is on our currency and we find it in other public places. Clearly, the reason that the phrase causes problems in the public sphere is that we are to be an inclusive country and that the government is not to establish any religion. Whenever this conversation gets brought up it amazes me that many in my tribe want to fight hard to keep such phrases rooted in the government.

As a pastor, I suppose I should want to see this idea everywhere. Many would assume that I would be fighting to keep “in God we trust” on our currency and court room walls. Yet, I don’t see it that way. I think that in some weird way, fighting for these things actually communicates the opposite of what it is that we’re really trying to accomplish.

This morning I read Psalm 20 and and in verse 7 the psalmist writes,

Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we depend on the Lord our God.

I think many of us in the Church have come to a place where we are afraid of losing power, position, and status in the culture. We are afraid of becoming a minority group. There is a sense that we are “losing” our country.

The reality is that as a follower of Jesus there is no “country” for us. The Scriptures are clear that we are aliens in a foreign land.

How does any of this connect to Advent and this week’s theme of hope? Great question.

Honestly, it comes down to this: What is the object of my hope? Psalm 20 is beautiful because it shows that the king, David, was hoping and trusting in his Lord, not himself. He was a man of great power and even in that power his trust and hope was in God.

Verse 7 is the culmination of the psalm, it is an exuberant shout of joyful exclamation to the reality of who God is.

We don’t anyone to defend God. We don’t need anyone to save us from “the world.” What we need is to hope in our God, the one who saves.

Where is your hope?

Originally published at on December 8, 2018.

Even At Night

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Amy and I attended different universities while we were dating. Our schools were about six hours apart. As you can imagine we spent many hours driving between our respective campuses and neither of us ever wanted to leave. Too often we got much later starts on a Sunday than we would have liked. I had to park quite a distance from my residence hall and arriving home late at night required me to take a bit of walk in the pitch black. One thing I learned on those walks, was to never trust my eyes and ears. In the darkness your eyes and ears play nasty tricks on you, particularly if you have an active imagination. I can’t tell you the number of times that I jumped because of the shadow of a tree or the flapping of the wings of a bird.

I have been thinking about the darkness and the silence of Advent. I keep wrestling with the question of how could I maintain hope in the midst of the silence and waiting. What would it look like for me to be one of the people who were living “between the testaments”? Could I have held on to hope? Would I have had faith?

I honestly don’t know.

Today gave me a hint at how these men and women held on to their faith in the darkness.

In Psalm 16 there is a line that caught me off guard a bit. David writes,

I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 16:7–8

Did you catch that bit where he says, “even at night…”?

I love that. He wrote this before there was electricity. Night was even more treacherous and scary than it is now. Night was a time of chaos.

When I was in Israel one of the things that I noticed was how dark the nights were. I don’t know if it was just the time of year, but the night felt like it stuck to you. The darkness was almost tangible.

Even at night, his heart would instruct him. Why? Because he praised the Lord.

Praise is powerful. In the darkness we can choose to praise our Lord. When we praise it makes it easier to trust. Praise gives us access to hope.

As we walk through the nights of our lives will we choose to praise?

Originally published at on December 7, 2018.

There’s Nothing to Them!

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One of the central issues of the season of Advent is that of hope. Hope is an expectant waiting. It’s not passive but active.

Hope, though is only as good as the object of that hope. If you’re hoping that a piece of wet tissue will hold a bowling ball, you have a misplaced hope.

These days I see people placing their hope in heroes more and more. It almost feels like we are regressing to the days of ancient armies who sent out heroes to do battle on their behalf.

In the Christian world people get very excited when a prominent politician, actor, musician, or athlete identifies as a Christian. They are immediately placed on the speaking circuit. Pulpits are opened and these men and women are welcomed as heroes. Inevitably, like all of us, they fall from grace.

It turns out that people, mere humans, are unreliable heroes.

Eugene Peterson rendered Isaiah 2:22 this way,

“Quit scraping and fawning over mere humans, so full of themselves, so full of hot air! Can’t you see there’s nothing to them?”

I love the way he interprets the Hebrew here. The picture of people “scraping and fawning over mere humans,” is so poetic and accurate. Think of how we crowd and scream for our heroes, whether it’s at a concert or a ball game. Look at how people who trust in politicians respond to their favorite candidate, they scrape and fawn.

These heroes of ours are full of themselves and full of hot air. There is nothing to them. Our hope is misplaced and it will fail.

Advent is about placing our hope in a promise that is as sure as the sunrise and moonrise.

Where is your hope?

Originally published at on December 6, 2018.

Let Salvation Come!

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As we walk through Advent together, I’m struck ever more by the darkness. Today I read through Psalms 12, 13, and 14. They’re not exactly cheery. These are not the poems that you would read at your holiday gathering and then pass out the eggnog.

These are dark poems.

They reflect the stark reality of our world.

A world of injustice and oppression.

We live in a world where the poor are abused and battered. Those who do evil appear to be rewarded. Those who do good appear to be cast aside. It seems that in our world nice guys finish last.

It was no different back when the Psalms were written. People are people.

Yet, at the end of Psalm 14 we hear this refrain, “Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores his people let Jacob and Israel be glad!”

In Isaiah 2, we catch a glimpse of what this restoration would look like when Isaiah says, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

Oh for that day when peace and wholeness reigns for mankind! Oh for the day when salvation from Zion comes. This is the hope of Advent. The hope that there will be a day when we can rejoice because all has been restored.

Let salvation come

Originally published at on December 5, 2018.

Them, Not Me

Photo by Juli Moreira on Unsplash

Have you noticed how we think about “them” and “us” or “them” and 
“me”? It’s not something that I notice myself doing very much. I see it in a lot of other people.

That’s the point though isn’t it? Them, not me. Today, I was reading in the Psalms and I was struck by this reality.

In Psalm 5 there is a call by David for God to judge his enemies and protect him. He wants God to declare them guilty and destroy them.

In Psalm 6 David opens by saying, “Lord do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” Not me God! I’m so sorry. I know I messed up, but don’t discipline me. Let me off and forgive me.

Them. Not me!

On the one hand this is what I love about the psalms. They are brutally honest. I read them and think, “Wow. These people were messed up.” I also read them and think, “Oh man, I am so these people.”

I have been thinking about this today, this juxtaposition of “Them. Not me.”

Why is that we demand grace for ourselves and judgment for our enemies? What is it that is in us that is like this? Have we ever thought about the reality that for some other person we might be the “them?” Could you imagine if you knew someone was beseeching the divine to destroy you and pour out wrath on you?

How might we change if we try to let go of the “them, not me” mindset?

I wonder if I might be able to love a little better. I think so, but too often it’s them, not me.

Originally published at on December 4, 2018.

Let Him Settle It

As I was meditating on my Scripture reading this morning there was a theme that kept popping up. It seemed like there was a refrain in the Scriptures that said God is not interested in our sacrifices.

He wanted something else.

It turns out that God wants our trust. He wants us to trust him for everything in our lives.

That is really hard for us. We want to “play our part”. The idea that God will settle it and all we have to do is simply trust him is unsettling, at best. We whave this innate desire to appease God.

Yet, we can’t.

All we can do is trust him. That’s what he wants most anyway.

Will we?

Let Them Tell Their Story

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

This week I had the privilege of sitting down with an amazing teacher. She had just taught in a morning gathering I lead called, Merge. We were meeting for me to provide feedback so that she could continue to grow and improve in her skills as a teacher and communicator. As we talked she said, “You know, I think in narrative.”

I think in narrative.

That really struck me. Don’t we all love stories? A good story can capture your attention and make you see the world differently. I think that’s part of the reason that Jesus told parables, he knew that a good story could flip the world on its head.

Storytelling is an art. Some people are great storytellers, others not so much. Yet, we all tell stories.

In my neighborhood there’s a group of folks that gather around fire pits in the summer for “Fireball Fridays.” Yes, you guessed it Fireball whiskey is ever present (some of us bring good beverages) but that’s not really the point of the meeting at the fire pit. The real purpose of that gathering is the telling of stories (even though nobody would articulate it that way). We sit and listen to story after story and we laugh and cry. There is such beauty in those times. When the weather turns from fall to winter, we mourn the loss of these gatherings. We wait with hopefulness for the times to come in the summer.

We long for these times because we get to tell stories.

I have recently fallen in love with Psalm 107. It begins like this…

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story —

It goes on to tell story after story in the form of a poem of the redeemed. It tells of how people were saved from the desert, prison, the storm and others.

The beginning has been in my mind for about a week now, “Let the redeemed tell their story…”

I was scanning my Twitter newsfeed today and came across a tweet that grabbed my attention, Dan White Jr wrote, “Preaching in the New Testament was primarily dialogical but our Western preaching is monological.”

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

So much of the communication that happens in most of our churches is from the front and the people are largely receivers. Yet, it seems that by doing things this way we are are missing much of what the body of Christ has to offer.

On Sunday nights in my home our missional community gathers for dinner, Scriptures, prayer, and communion. It’s fantastically beautiful. As we open the Scriptures together we tell stories. We connect the Scriptures to our lives and our histories. I teach and give perspective but as a congregation from youngest to oldest we are involved by telling stories to one another. We weep together and laugh together and tease one another all over the Scriptures.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

I love that this teacher I met with “thinks in narrative.” This is why she is an amazing teacher.

Through narrative truth connects.

The redeemed are compelled to tell their story. There is something in us that has to tell the story. We must tell the story of God’s goodness to us.

What’s your story? What good things have you seen God do? I want to hear your story.

I have launched a podcast called, “Be Awesome. Don’t Suck.” If you want to hear more about what I’m thinking about life and how to live it to the full check it out: Be Awesome. Don’t Suck.

Originally published at on April 24, 2018.

Why You Matter

He sat there staring at the white board with a blank expression bordering on rage. His eyes were unblinking and slightly moist. He slowly moved the dry erase marker back and forth between his fingers. A deep sigh and then a sense of resignation as he capped the marker and leaned back in his chair.

She stood there with anger in her eyes. Arms folded and a stance that was begging for a fight. When she looked at you there was an emptiness in her gaze that cut through you and left you feeling heartbroken. The hurt, the pain, and the anguish were almost tangible. She never made it to the table.

The two boys sat at the table with the now all too common look of confusion. They had no idea what to write. They didn’t matter. Nobody would care if they were gone and never to return, so they thought.

These scenes were played out over and over again as student after student arrived to participate in the #WhyYouMatter campaign at our local middle school.

There were other scenes too. Scenes of smiles and laughter. Groups of kids easily writing down why they matter and joyfully posing for the camera, alone and in groups. One group of girls bounced in and immediately wrote, “I matter because life is LIT!” There was so much joy and happiness in them, they embraced a girl who didn’t have anything to write and they left together giggling.

What struck me is how few of these kids have ever had anyone speak life to them.

Then the teachers and other adults in the building arrived to do the same. Many of them struggled.

Many of the adults struggled to answer the question, “Why do you matter?”

What struck me is how few of these adults have ever had anyone speak life to them.

When was the last time you had someone speak life to you? I’m serious. Who was it? When did you hear from someone that you matter? Who looked you in the eyes and said, “You are loved. You are needed. My life is different and better because you’re here. I love you.”

When was the last time you spoke life to someone else? I’m serious. Who was it? When did you tell someone that they matter to you? Who have you looked in the eyes and said, “You are loved. You are needed. My life is different and better because you’re here. I love you.”

Every day I left that school with a mix of deep emotions. Joy over seeing kids speak life into one another. Happiness when kids knew who they were and knew that their lives mattered to people. But also deep heartbreak over the ones who couldn’t speak or hear love in their lives.

There is as deep and abiding need in our lives to know we are loved. There is also a need to know that we love another.

Once again I am confronted with the reality that we are image bearers of God. We are like him in real ways. When we first encounter God in the Bible it is in creation and he is speaking. As image bearers we have voices. Our words have power, tremendous power. This is a sacred power and too often we either forget about this power or we use it unwisely. We can speak words of life or death. These words are chosen by us and leveraged by us.

Do you know what else we can do? Not speak. Sometimes silence is golden. Other times silence is causes pain. I think many of the people, children and adults, who didn’t know why they matter is not because someone said something mean or hurtful to them. I think much of it is the result of people not having said anything. They felt like ghosts, they were living their lives as apparitions that nobody noticed enough to even be mean to. Our silence can be the most hurtful words we speak.

We must speak life into this world. Who will you tell today? Who will you look at and say, “You matter. You matter because I care about you. You matter because I love you.”

Originally published at on April 17, 2018.

What is Repentance?

“Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!”

That phrase has been uttered by the parents of boys from ages past and will be uttered for ages to come. There is just something about little boys and their desire to run.

The first time I said these words my son was about two. He had discovered the joy of running and the game of running away from Mom and Dad. The three of us were at Panera having a little lunch date and as were packing up my boy smiled up at me took off! I tried the words, not too loudly and not with too much authority because we were in Panera. They didn’t work. Those little legs rushed him around the corner. At that moment, my wife and I had a decision to make. How do we wrangle this little guy? We went with divide and conquer. She went one way, I went the other. The problem? He went a third and ended up in the kitchen. One of the kind employees brought out this squirmy, giggling, little dude and gave him back to us.

But those words, “Turn around young man! You get yourself back over here! RIGHT NOW!” Turned out to be utterly useless.

Do you know what’s funny? Many of us think that God is saying that to us all the time. Why? I have often discussed repentance with people and they, without exception, have always thought that it is a negative. If you were to define the word “repentance,” you would probably say something like, “To stop doing something bad or wrong, to turn from sin.”

Over the years, I have come to think that maybe that’s not the best definition. Particularly, as we think about what it means in the context of our spirituality.

What is repentance?

Repentance at its most fundamental level is simply to turn around from the direction you’re currently heading. Does it have a correlation to the stopping of doing bad things? Absolutely. But that is not all that it is. This is the great problem with so much of our understanding of the Christian life and spirituality. We focus on one aspect of some issue and think that is all there is, yet there is so much more.

Repentance is much more than simply to stop doing bad things. It is not just to stop sinning. It is that, but it’s more than that too.

Whenever God breaks in and we experience a “kairos” moment there is a turning involved. That turning is rightly understood as repentance. This turn could be a move from better to best. It very well could be a shift where we turn from a very good thing that we are doing to something that is even better. Think about that for a moment. Have you ever considered the reality that repentance can be positive?

Repentance demands change.

To repent is to turn and that means change. I think that a very real part of what it is that causes us to think about repentance in a negative light is that many of us hate change. Change for so many is a dirty word.

We prefer to be comfortable and change, almost by definition, is uncomfortable. Change challenges us and moves us from one place to another. When we experience change we begin to realize that maybe, just maybe, we can’t or don’t control everything around us.

Perhaps, above all, we want to be in control. We want to control our outcomes and circumstances. When there is lack of control we experience fear. This fear drives us to do whatever it is that we need to do to regain that control.

As a result, “repentance,” becomes something that we avoid and hide from. We cast it in a negative light and only understand it in conjunction with sin.

Repentance is good!

The reality is that repentance is good. As my friend The Beard says, “Super good.” When we repent it moves us towards a place where we can believe God in a fresh new way. We are able to move out on new adventures.

When we repent, when we change direction we get to experience life in a new way. It is fun, it is exciting, it is joy.

Repentance is to turn. It is not the call of the angry Father or an angry God to simply stop sinning.

At the end of the day, repentance is a loving Father inviting us into a new depth of joy.

Originally published at on April 3, 2018.

Holy Week— Holy Saturday

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Psalms: 95* & 88 & 27 OT: Job 19:21–27a

NT: Heb. 4:1–16** & Rom. 8:1–11***

Today is Holy Saturday. What would this day have been like? The fear of the disciples. The sadness of the death of Jesus hanging over them. It would have been Sabbath so all they were left with was to ponder on what had just taken place.

I imagine it would have been a day of sharing stories. A day of intermittent crying and laughter. Yet, also a day of great fear, expecting the authorities to show up at any moment to arrest them and crucify them too.

Yet, here we are on the other side. We are those that Jesus prayed for in John 17 who would believe because of the witness of the disciples. We know that Jesus defeated death. We know that Friday was indeed Good.

Sunday is coming!

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:1–11, ESV)

Originally published at

Holy Week — Good Friday

Photo by Adrian Moran on Unsplash

Psalms: 95* & 22 & 40:1–14(15–19), 54 OT: Gen. 22:1–14 NT: 1 Peter 1:10–20

Gospel: John 13:36–38** or John 19:38–42***

Have you ever wondered why Christians call the Friday before Resurrection Sunday, “Good Friday”? What was good about it? Think about it. This is the day that Jesus was crucified. He was beaten. He was mocked. He was hung on a cross and he died.

How could this, in any way, be considered good? An innocent man died one of the most brutal deaths known to man. Yet, we call this good.


We call it good because Jesus “gave up his spirit (John 19:30).”

Jesus willingly gave over his spirit so that he might reconcile all of creation back to the father. Rome didn’t take it from him. The religious authorities didn’t take it from him. He gave it up. He became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus great love for us and his desire to glorify the Father made the cross a place of glory.

What Rome and the religious authority meant for degradation and humiliation and death, Jesus turned it into glory and life.

We know that this is Good Friday because we know that Sunday is coming. We know that the resurrection is at hand. We know that our king and savior didn’t remain in the tomb.

This is Good Friday because Jesus lives.

Originally published at

Holy Week— Maundy Thursday

Photo by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash

Psalms: 102 & 142, 143 OT: Jer. 20:7–11 NT: 1 Cor. 10:14–17; 11:27–32

Gospel: John 17:1–11(12–26)

Today we celebrate Maundy Thursday. It is the day that we remember the evening of the Last Supper. It is when we Christians traditionally believe that Jesus celebrated this final Passover meal with his disciples and then was arrested. It is a somber evening. It is the beginning of the end of the life of Jesus. In mere hours he will be handed over, beaten, and ultimately crucified.

Yet, in the midst of this Jesus is looking at the bigger picture. He is shaping and creating identity for his disciples. He showing them that there is more to come after his crucifixion. The Cross is not he end, it is the beginning.

In John 17 we have what is called, “The High Priestly Prayer.” This is one of the final recorded prayers we have of Jesus. He is praying for his disciples and worshiping the Father as the end draws close. Check it out…

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17, ESV)

While you could fill a book on things learned from this prayer there are three things that I want you to see very clearly. First, Jesus, as he prayed, had the future Church in mind. He says near the end, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…” How beautiful is that? In Jesus final hours he was praying for us. Those who would believe in him in the future. We are those of whom he speaks. Somehow, some way, we can each of us trace our spiritual lineage to the disciples from the first century. When I ponder on this reality it gives me chills and fills my heart with joy!

Second, Jesus wants us to understand what eternal life is. We often think of eternal life as people being reincarnated as chubby little angels floating on clouds strumming harps. This is not even close. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing him. Let that sink in for a minute. If we want to experience eternal life we do so by knowing Jesus. That means, right here, right now, we can have eternal life. Today, in this moment, eternal life is something to be experienced. Why? Because today, in this moment, we can know Jesus.

Finally, Jesus wants us to know that we have this eternal life for a purpose. He prays specifically, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” Jesus prays that we would be sent, protected from the evil one, and sanctified. To be sent is to be given a mission. He gives that mission particularly in Matthew 28:18–20, “Go and make disciples.” The world is the domain of the evil one, so prays for our protection. Lastly, he prays for our sanctification. This is a fancy word that means he wants us to become more like him.

Maundy Thursday is a day that maybe we shouldn’t be so somber. Maybe we should take time to reflect and evaluate how we’re doing with our calling to know him and to make disciples. How are you doing? Are you spending time in community with believers? Are you reading the Scriptures? Are you praying? Are you talking to people about Jesus?

Originally published at

Holy Week — Wednesday

“Green hello beautiful sign on urban wall with blue sky in background, Charleston” by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Psalms: 55 & 74 OT: Jer. 17:5–10, 14–17 NT: Phil. 4:1–13

Gospel: John 12:27–36

What do you think about? What consumes your mind when you have time to think a bit? Does your mind fill with worry, anxiety, or details? Are you consumed with thinking about all the things that you have to get done? Perhaps your mind wanders to what others think of you. Maybe you are filled with thoughts of your favorite sports team or what you’re going to to do this weekend. Are your thoughts filled with the news and everything that is happening in the world?

The Scriptures are very concerned with the state of our minds. Paul in particular. In Romans 12:2 he says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” How do we experience this “renewal of mind”? I think he gives us some direction in Philippians 4 (in this little letter he is very focused on the mind),

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8–9, ESV)

First, he tells us to set our minds on the right things. We need to be intentionally thinking about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Some people think this means that we ought to only think about God. I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying. The key here is the repeated word, “whatever.” This can be the great things of our culture. The beauty of art, literature, architecture, music, and the like. It can include things like science and math and history. We can celebrate human achievement. Clearly, we also celebrate the good things that God has done in our lives and those around us too! It’s not about being Pollyanna, but it’s about noticing the beauty in the world and those things that reflect our Creator God.

The second thing that is important is that Paul says, “practice these things.” It is far easier to focus on the negative and imperfect around us. It so much harder to choose to focus on the good and the beautiful. So, we must practice. Practice requires repetition and getting up after we fall down. We make a mistake and we brush ourselves off and try again. We keep working on a particular skill until we become good at it. To continue being good, we must continue practicing. So, we must practice at setting our minds on the right things.

Look around you. What are the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things around you?

Originally published at

Holy Week — Tuesday

Photo by Milan Popovic on Unsplash

Psalms: 6, 12 & 94 OT: Jer. 15:10–21 NT: Phil. 3:15–21

Gospel: John 12:20–26

Do you know people who have green thumbs? These folks could plant a water lily in a desert and have it grow. I am not one of these people. It simply wasn’t part of my life growing up. I never learned the “joy of gardening.” Yard work was always a chore. Our “gardens” simply meant more work.

When we built our home we had some landscaping done, professionally. We did this because we knew we wouldn’t do it on our own. As we met with the landscaper we told him we want as little maintenance as possible. He came through in a big way! We have, what I consider to be beautiful landscaping and it doesn’t require much from me.

Yet, even in the midst of my low-maintenance landscaping I have had to learn about some basic plant care. One of the things that I have learned is the importance of pruning. The other thing that I have learned is that from death comes life in the garden. There is a beautiful glory that comes from my garden as every blooms. Yet, it couldn’t have happened apart from the pruning and death of the winter.

Jesus talks about this with regards to himself in John 12. He says for him to be glorified, he must first die. Check it out,

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. (John 12:20–26, ESV)

Just like the grain of wheat dies and then bears fruit, so too does Jesus, and not just him, but those who would come after him.

For Jesus, like all of creation, life comes from death. It is a hard reality for us. But, it is true. Jesus had to die for there to be life. His death, like the grain of wheat, brought life.

Jesus says, that we must hate our life in this world if we want to experience eternal life. What does that mean? Are Christians to be melancholy kill-joys? No. That’s not how Jesus lived. Are we to be dualists who see the natural world as evil? No. That’s not what Jesus did. So, what does it mean? To die to this world means that die to ourselves. We die to our desires. It means that we live to serve Jesus. How do we serve him? We serve him by following him where he goes. His way, ultimately, is the way of love.

As followers of Jesus we are commanded to have the attitude or mind of Christ. One way to live that out is to die to ourselves for the love of another. Will you?

Originally published at