Category Archives: life

My son, a tornado, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Last night I had another moment with my son I thought I’d share with you.

It was late. Josh was having a hard time sleeping. Nightmares from the dinosaur movie he’d watched earlier in the day woke him up, I think. Mom and his sisters were already out for the night; while sitting at the table I heard his little footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Dad, I still can’t sleep,” he said, almost crying. So I brought him to the table and we began looking at pictures online (the kids always enjoy that, for some reason).

At some point we came to a picture someone had posted from the recent storms that went through our area. The picture showed a man standing with a building in the background, completely destroyed by a tornado. Josh noted that the building was broken down and asked me what happened; I explained about the powerful wind of a tornado and the damage it can cause.

Very simply he remarked, “But our house didn’t get broken down by a tornado.”

I replied, “No, and we’re grateful for that. But many people’s homes did get broken down. So let’s be sure to think of them and pray for them.”

His answer surprised me. You see, my wife and I don’t drill our kids with Bible lessons and generally we only speak of God and Jesus in casual, or should I say normal ways, just as they/he come(s) up in normal, everyday conversation. Beyond that, they have gone to some kids classes and been present at a number of meetings where adults were singing and sharing about the Lord (albeit in a very informal fashion), but my point is we haven’t gone to great lengths to “teach” them in any kind of way other than living before them what we hope are lives of love and grace.

So when Josh responded to my comment the way he did of his own initiative, I was genuinely surprised. More than that, I was delighted. Even more than that, it brought tears to my eyes. After I told him about people’s homes being destroyed he said, “But God…” He paused, then continued, “and other people can come and help them build their houses back again.”

It may not sound like much, but something about the heart and the way in which he said those words just made me cry. I was touched in a way I haven’t been touched in a while. Then today, quite curiously, I was reading a book which contained this quote by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

The soul is healed by being with children.

I couldn’t agree more. Those of you who have children probably know what I’m talking about. Most days it’s a tough row to hoe being a parent, and you’d better believe my wife and I have our fair share of frustrations and failures in dealing with three small kids, but they are truly precious. In moments like this when I glimpse something eternal in my children, something which burns right through the fog of doubt and uncertainty I am tempted to have over the meaninglessness of life-especially when I hear stories of other families who, for instance, were all taken away in a moment when a tornado ripped mercilessly through their neighborhood-I’m reminded of a greater and more enduring reality than that which my five senses alone will allow. Such a reminder brings me comfort, gives me hope, and sets my life back on course.

The “how” of it all may often remain a mystery to me, but I choose to believe, indeed I must believe, that in the end, all things will have worked together… for good.


What kind of life is God pleased with?

This is a re-post from my other blog, Reconstructing the First Century Story. I thought it might be beneficial to people, so I figured I would bring it over here in order to reach a wider audience. (As it turns out, even fewer people are interested in New Testament history than are interested in the themes I write about at this site… alas! 😉 )  Either way, I hope you enjoy it!

“He will be great” (Luke 1:32).

That’s what the angel said to Mary about Jesus before he was born. And in every respect it turned out to be true. His greatness was not like that of the Roman or Greek conception; his was the greatness of a servant.

Have we ever really stopped to consider that?

Think about it this way: Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan river in A.D. 28 when he was about 33 or 34 years old. It was here the heavens were opened, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and the voice of God was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16,17).

Notice, as of that moment in time Jesus had not yet healed a single person, he had not raised the dead, he had not made the deaf to hear, he had not said and done unprecedented things all throughout the region of Galilee and beyond. For all we know, all Jesus had done from his youth until that time was live and work as a carpenter in Nazareth, attend the synagogue each week and Jewish festivals each year, and just be human.

And with that normal life, His Father was well pleased.

The greatness of Jesus was not just all the miracles we read about or the unparalleled teachings or anything at all spectacular that He did. His greatness was primarily found in those thirty-three silent years, where he simply lived a normal human life in fellowship with His Father… deity and humanity co-habiting as one.

This is the kind of life which causes God to smile: a normal human life lived in fellowship with the Divine. So you and I may relieve ourselves this very moment of the pressure to be something “great” according to this world or religion’s standards. God just wants normal people doing normal things in oneness with Himself. That’s the goal of the gospel. That’s the heart of it all. That is what God has brought and is bringing us to “in Christ.”

Watching my son, seeing the Lord

With utmost confidence I can say that my wife and kids have been the greatest teachers in my life when it comes to knowing God. Watching our kids grow up I can see the Lord so clearly just by being with them and observing the way they are. 

For instance, the other day I was with my son in his room. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my son absolutely loves Thomas the Train. In fact, it would be safe to say he’s a Thomas fanatic. Anyway, he often asks me to play trains with him. The other night was one of those times.

Josh (my son) received a new set from my brother and his wife for Christmas. It’s the biggest Thomas set we own to date. So when Josh told me he wanted to take it apart and put it back together all by himself, I was a little hesitant. The fact of the matter is I was afraid I’d have to do it myself if he wasn’t able to figure it out!

However, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Josh took it all apart, laid the tracks and pieces in their respective piles, and began to rebuild. I merely sat to the side and watched. Now, unless you’re a dad or have ever been a dad you may not understand this, but I was absolutely delighted as I watched my boy work. Piece by piece he put that set back together-thinking it through, correcting his mistakes, and changing this piece for that. There was even a point at which I thought he’d messed up the design and would have to go back and fix it, but come to find out (as I did at the end) he was right all along! I was impressed, to say the least.

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe the joy I had watching my son build that track. To see his creativity, to share in his discovery, and to express my pride and delight at his building in such a way that brought a smile to his face when he was finished gave me an awesome insight into the Lord. I could sense the mutual joy between Father and Son as they counseled and created our universe, taking delight in one another as they labored together.  I sensed the joy they share in everyday life-creating, molding, shaping, touching lives, and doing all that they do. It’s indescribable, really. But I got a taste of it in that moment watching my four-year old do his thing, as the student, shall we say, became the teacher. 🙂

I’d be interested to hear any similar insights or experiences you might have. It doesn’t have to be a father-and-son thing, either, just some way in which you saw the beauty of the Lord through a relationship, a happening, or whatever. Here’s your chance to chime right in.

The greatest prospect ever given to man

It is all too common for people to look at the life of Jesus Christ-even we Christians who hold Him to be sinless, the perfect Man, and the full expression of the Godhead-and miss seeing the wellspring of His incredible life. It is also possible to so overemphasize the deity of Christ that the fact of His humanity is lost sight of. Jesus was a man, a man just like you and me. Yes, He was God, but he was also just a man. He was flesh and bone, he got tired, and he wrestled with every anxiety and temptation known to mankind. Jesus was fully human, the son of man.   

And yet look at the life He lived! He did wonders. He healed the sick. He loved people. He spoke with an authority no one had ever heard before. He threatened the whole superstructure of the religious system. He shook the Empire to its very core.

And He did it all… as a man. Don’t you ever stop to wonder at the source of such an incredible life?

Simply put, the source of the Jesus’ living was the indwelling life of His Father. His own confession-“I do and say nothing but what I see and hear from my Father”-signifies as much. There was a Divine life within the spirit of this simple Nazarene which moved Him to do and say the things He did. What a thought!

But that’s only the half of it. The most incredible prospect ever to graze the consciousness of man is found in what Jesus said in John 6:57:

“As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father, so whoever feeds on me will live by me!”

Can you see what the Lord is saying here? Basically He is saying that what the Father was to Him He is now to us, and that just as He lived by the life of God in His spirit, we too may live by His life in us! No difference! No separation! No one kind of living for the Lord Jesus and another kind of living for us! The same life Jesus lived by is the life we have to live by as well! What a prospect!

The fact is most of us have never seen this. I can’t tell you how many days of my life I’ve overlooked it. Jesus of Nazareth did not get out of bed each morning and live by a certain ethical code or set of rules. He did not read the scriptures as a manual on “how to be the Son of God.” He enjoyed communion with God in His Spirit as a man just as He did in the eternals before taking on flesh, and His daily living was regulated by the flow of that life within Him. This was His wellspring for being. This too is our source of life. This is the prospect He left us with which we so often overlook. Jesus was a man, and the life He lived came out of this inward fellowship He experienced with His Father. We have been called into the same fellowship. So turn within to your spirit. Quiet yourself and wait before the Lord until you sense the presence of His life deep inside. Behold Him there. Practice turning to Him throughout the day, moment by moment if you can. Let the transformation that comes from this daily exchange be the source of your living just as it was for the Lord.  

Who will be the greatest?

It’s funny how my kids will sometimes argue and fight over who gets to sit by daddy. Sometimes when I come to the dinner table and sit by one of them, that one will look at the other and say, “see, daddy is setting by meeee.”

Funny, yes. But frustrating, too. Tonight when this happened it made me think of the disciples of Jesus. James and John once came to Jesus (or their mother did, depending on which gospel you read) and asked to be granted the prime place of honor next to the Lord in His kingdom (see Mark 10:35-39 or Matthew 20:20-28). Apparently the other disciples caught wind of this campaign and did not take very kindly to it. Jesus simply asked if they were able to endure the same kind of suffering he was in order to gain such honor. Of course they said yes.

This vying for spiritual position reminds me of the way I once prayed: “I want to be closer to you than anybody else, Lord.” “Lord, even if everyone else turns away from you, I won’t” (I borrowed that one from Peter). Then there was the quote by that guy who said to D.L. Moody, “The world has yet to see what God can do though a man who is fully given to him,” to which both Moody and I responded, “I will be that man” (emphasis upon the “I”).

All this kind of praying just seems silly to me anymore. I’m fairly certain it’s a mark of spiritual immaturity. Like the disciples arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom, or my kids fighting and gloating over who gets to sit next to daddy.

The person who has really faced life and become honest about him or herself is more like the man Peter became after the cross. Such a man is not so sure of himself anymore. In love with the Lord, yes, but not so quick to broadcast his selfless devotion and superior allegiance to the Master. A man who has truly experienced the cross is more confident in God’s love for him than he is in his love for God.

There is nothing wrong with aspring to be great, dont get me wrong. When the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, Jesus did not condemn them for their ambition. He simply corrected their notions of what true greatness really is. Greatness comes not by being on top but by being on the bottom. Not by ruling but by serving. Not through strength but through weakness. So we should all strive to be great. Just get your definition right. 🙂

Embracing the cross

Life is full of sorrow, but the good news of Jesus Christ is that God has redeemed even the seemingly pointless sufferings of our lives and made them servant to His purpose. When we choose to embrace the cross then our suffering, like that of our Lord’s, is transformed into something altogether life-giving and healing.

Last night and today my thoughts have fallen toward the Lord Jesus on the cross. What a horrible injustice, from a human perspective, the cross of Christ was! And yet such horrible injustice, in the hands of God, worked itself out unto the salvation of the world! Not only did the Lord redeem my life and yours through His cross, He redeemed all the suffering of fallen humanity. Now there is redemption for our suffering!

It is inevitable that every person will suffer a great deal in his or her life. Existence in this broken world is full of heartache, loneliness, sorrow, and loss. No one is exempt. For many people this alone becomes the cause of their greatest doubts over even the existence of God. I know I have faced it. What reality could there really be beyond this veil of flesh when you take into account all the seemingly random, pointless sufferings that people go through? It just doesn’t add up.

But here is where the cross becomes such a precious thing in the experience of a believer. When we find the hand of the Lord in our suffering-not causing it, not inflicting it upon us for some “higher purpose” mind you-but simply there present, ready to transform it, or rather us through it, into something beautiful, then we are actually delivered through our pain into a life that death itself cannot touch… the resurrection life of the Lord Himself, which passes through the hands of death and through death destroys death and its power over people. What a glorious mystery!

Our response to suffering will make us like one of the two thieves who hung beside the Lord Jesus on the cross. Read the record and you will see that in the beginning they both despised their lot and reviled the Lord in their suffering. Neither one of them had anything good to say about the Lord or about their predicament. Bitterness and resentment was the order of the day. But the Lord Jesus was so different. He was calm, reposed-suffering in agony, yes-yet submitting Himself, not to its ill effects, but to the hand of His Father. At some point the one thief to his side must have beheld something in the Lord that changed his entire outlook. He saw Christ bearing a cross He Himself did not deserve to bear, and doing it with such outstanding grace. He wondered at such a Person. And in the light of such a One he became convinced of his sin, and repented. Then he embraced the cross, saying “Lord, remember me.”

The thief on the other hand, however, embraced no such change. He did not see the Lord in his suffering, rather he saw only punishment, only one more reason to be angry, bitter and spiteful. Our attitude in suffering, when we refuse to embrace the cross, is like his. Our suffering works nothing for us but pain. And in bitterness we resent our past, the people around us, and above all the Lord. Our only looking toward him is to say, “if you are really God and you really care about me, you would bring an end to this suffering of mine.” And when outward deliverance does not come, resentment consumes us and we become hard and closed off toward any kind of inward transformation.

So to go back to what I said in the beginning, when we embrace the cross then our suffering, like that of our Lord’s, is transformed into something altogether life-giving and healing, both for us and for other people. But it all hinges upon our willingness to accept the cross. God is not the author of sin, and He is not the facilitator of our sufferings in life. The world we live in is broken, time and chance happens to us all, and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. Some things just happen. It can all seem very pointless and random at times, don’t I know it. But the secret is what is going on inside of us. Which thief will we be? In whose path will we follow? One sees only suffering and pain and nothing more, and his end is resentment, bitterness, and reviling. The other sees the hand of God. He sees the Lord Jesus, and he wonders at such a life to the point of embracing His cross. In the end, though there is still suffering, there is the transformation of that life into something healed, whole, and complete. This is what the Lord wants for each and every one of us. May He somehow, by His grace, make it so.

Praying (all the way) through Psalm 139

I think if we’re honest we all have to admit that certain portions of the Old Testament are hard to swallow. Ever since it dawned upon me that God is good, and that Jesus Christ is the full and perfect expression of the Father, I have had to take a new look at the Old Testament writings. To go into everything that entails could easily span a whole volume’s worth of blogging material, but for this post let it suffice to say that I read and pray the scripture with a different mindset than I once did.

For instance, today I was reading Psalm 139. This psalm is beautiful in every respect, one might say, until you come to the final few verses. Here the writer begins to call down curses upon his enemies-“men of blood” who speak against God “with malicious intent” and take His name in vain. David is no holds barred here. “Kill them” is his prayer to God. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I just don’t see how such a mindset could ever hope to square with the words of Jesus, who said, “You have heard it said to hate your enemies, but I say that you should love them.” I trust you get my point!

But today I realized a new way to read and pray scriptures like this. I’m coming off a particulary difficult week, personally. Among other things, I’ve had a very heightened awareness of my sinfulness. And if you’re like me, the reason you hate your sin so much is because you like it!  It seems so much to be a part of you, even one with you, just like Paul describes in Romans 7 (read it for yourself). So I’ve been very humbled this week, even to the point of giving up. But I realize that these things in my flesh are common to all men. However it manifests in each person-whether your partiucular weakness is anger, lying, lust, or whatever-it’s a burden we all bear. And these things are enemies to God and His purpose. “The flesh and Spirit are at war with each other,” as Paul would say, for their desires are conflicting.

So when I came to the end of Psalm 139 today I suddenly had an instinct to direct it toward the Lord as a prayer against myself, or, I should say, the enemy within my own self. “Oh Lord, from this wickedness in my flesh, this man of blood who is hostile toward You and toward all men-deliver me! Slay this vile beast! This old man who masquerades as me, whom the enemy would have me identify with so as to come under his power and condemnation-away with him! I hate that part of me that stands in opposition to you, O Lord, and I side with you against myself!” 

Approaching the scriptures in this way allows me to take those otherwise difficult passages of holy Writ and touch the Lord through them.  While I may not be able to say amen to David’s wish that certain people would die a horrible death (except on a bad day maybe ;)), I certainly can and do identify with every man’s longing to be free from the control of sin which indwells our bodies. In the words of Paul-“O wretched man that I am!  Thank God that through Jesus Christ our Lord He has delivered me from this body of death!”