The Heart of a Teacher

“The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.”
– C.S. Lewis




These polar opposites are the reality for many of those who call themselves teachers. Teaching isn’t as easy as some people would think. At one school a teacher may be making progress with a rough student, but in another school a teacher is shot by her student. In one family a teacher is praised and honored, but in another a teacher is suspicious and seen as “indoctrinating students.”

It can be the most rewarding and discouraging path.

Teachers, I want to give you some encouragement from the Teacher of teachers. The one who has the heart of a teacher, because God is, at heart, a teacher.

Jesus, God incarnate, was the master-teacher. His heart placed him in the position of teacher, and his students flocked to him, mocked, killed him, and worshiped him.

Let’s look at how Jesus showed the heart of a teacher, and through his life, encourage ourselves to keep going in our calling as teachers.

in his giving

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

These words Jesus said about himself. It is his reason why he came. Jesus came to give his life. In John 3:16, love motivates Jesus’ giving so that he came to us. He came as a servant-teacher. He wasn’t a teacher to promote his image or his popularity. He was a teacher who was giving himself to his students.

We, as a teacher, are servant-teachers as well. We give of ourselves to our students. It is not to promote our popularity or some other reasons. If we promote only our popularity, we will never find satisfaction in our calling. Instead, we can see each day and class period as a time to give ourselves.

Some days we do not want to give. It is difficult with one more disciplinary action, one more redirection, one more phone call to a parent, one thing added, and with all the other one mores that come our way. Yet, when we delight ourselves in God, he gives us the desires of our heart. Delighting in God means we need to learn to give. The satisfaction our hearts crave will come. Patiently and through each exhausting day, as we give, it will come.

In His answering

One of the things I love about Jesus is the way he answers questions. He knows exactly how to answer each person according to what that person needs to hear; whether that is forgiveness, being put in their place, or being told to keep going.

In Luke 7:36-50, a woman comes to Jesus for forgiveness. She seeks to hear those words in her heart. From the Pharisees she is condemned and marginalized. But, embraced by the heart of the teacher, she is forgiven and called daughter.

One phrase Jesus likes to use over and over is, “Have you not read?” When approached by the snarky Sadducees and the provoking Pharisees, Jesus often made them quizzical with this question. His goal wasn’t the same as the woman mentioned in Luke 7. Instead, he was putting them in their place. Jesus knew what was in their heart (Mark 2:8). He wanted each of them to fully understand that they did not hold the keys to heaven or had the corner on how to relate to God. Jesus put them in their place and taught the truth.

Jesus also told people to keep going. In John 3:1-21 and Mark 12:28-34, two men approach Jesus. They pose a question and Jesus discusses it with them. In his answer, he wants them to keep going. He tells them they are close to knowing the truth. He isn’t putting them down. Instead, he gives them enough to keep pursuing.

We can have the same heart towards our students. There are remarks of redemption and sayings of sarcasm. Jesus had both, and it is ok if we have both. However, it all depends on what the student needs at that time. I have seen where forgiveness has brought a student to the next level and where sarcasm elevated a student to a place that surprised me, and I saw them soar.

The heart of the teacher understands what each student needs and isn’t afraid to give that. When we rely on the Holy Spirit to show us their need, we are able to respond in the best way to elevate that student.

In his protection

Have you ever stopped to consider Jesus as Creator? The one who created you and me stepped into the fallen world and experienced all of the curse we experience.

Jesus wept over death (John 11:35). His heart was consumed by compassion as crowds came to him like stray dogs begging for food and shelter (Matthew 9:36). In his compassion, Jesus heals, reunites, and delivers. This is our Creator protecting his creation. Diseases, death, and demons destroy. Delivering us from those things is his protection. He understands that without that protection, his teaching (in his words and life) would never reach our hearts.

As teachers, our hearts yearn for the protection of our students. The stories and burdens they come in with wells our hearts with a sorrow to serve. We step in front of a bully to shield that defenseless student. We fight for their safety from gunmen coming in. We protect our students just like Jesus did to his.

The world and its politics will never understand the importance of protection until it has the heart of a teacher. Am I afraid of going to school after reading about the next school shooting? Yes. Even my closest friend is scared for me. Yet, why do I keep going back? Because, those are my students. I am proud of them. I see their needs. I see their hurts. I see their potentials, and I see their futures. Without the protection of teachers, where would those students be?

We don’t fight for a continuation of a constitutional right or to pander a political party. We fight for the shielding and success of each student who will hopefully never have to cower under a desk, but will stand up confidently in our world defending others in love.

Where does this attitude come from? From the heart of Jesus – the true Teacher.

in his placing

Where is the place of Jesus? As Daniel is found in prayer as was his custom, Jesus is found at the table placing all people next to him. Jesus understood the importance of place. A person needs to know they have a place at the table – which in turns gives them a standing and a voice.

At the table of Jesus, he talked about and told stories about Pharisees, tax collectors, widows, children, Samaritans, kings, and so many others. He represented everyone in order to create a place for everyone. His table was not complete with just the religious leaders and the ones who were “righteous.” No, he came to call everyone to his table – no matter who they were or where they were from (Mark 2:17; Luke 14:15-24).

Jesus even loves to have places of juxtaposition at his table. One disciple was a tax collector (Matthew) and the another was a zealot (Simon). He wants to feast and debate with the Pharisees while the sinful woman comes to him for forgiveness. Both have a place at his table.

Teachers, we have the same calling. So often we have critics in our inner circles telling us to not include this topic or teach about that. I even had a family member question me about my teaching to make sure “I was teaching it right.”

Every student deserves to be in our classroom. Each student deserves to be represented. Jesus represented everyone, so why can’t we? We need everyone at our table. No one is going to be changed to change our world unless they find their place at our table. If our table has limited seating, then our outreach is limited. If our table has limited seating, then our love is limited.

In our placing of people at our table, our hearts need to create a space for each student. Jesus showed us how just in his stories, and we can do the same with ours.


Jesus is the master-teacher to be encouraged by (in his giving, his answering, his protecting, and his placing). He shows us that when our hearts are focused on the student, we create a classroom of flesh and blood breathing life into the students that walk through our door.

Teachers, it can be very discouraging. We have a profession which feels like unless you are in it no one will truly understand us. Jesus felt the same way. He patiently corrected, redirected, healed, and delivered. He constantly connected with the heart of the Father so his heart could be encouraged. We cannot have the heart of a teacher unless we are connecting to God’s heart. It will not be the heart of a political party or the heart of standardized tests or the heart of positive reinforcement. Instead, our love and compassion coming out in each assignment, seating chart, classroom management skill, and lecture will only be a result when the love of the Father is connected in us.

Teachers, keep standing up for your students. Keep encouraging your fellow teachers. Keep going. We can do it, because our example is the Teacher of all teacher… the beloved of the Father… Jesus Christ.

A Chorus Line Christian

“For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” – C.S. Lewis

Ever seen the musical “A Chorus Line”?

It is the story of a director trying to put together a cast for a show featuring a chorus line. A chorus line is a large group of dancers that perform synchronized routines (think “The Rockettes”). Each dancer wants the job, and does their best to catch the directors eye.

Watch the opening scene of “A Chorus Line” here – A Chorus Line Opening

Each actor battles for a spot. They hope they get it. Are they being noticed enough? How many can be included? Will they be sent away? An Actor’s anxiety can be crippling as their whole life hangs in the balance of the audition.

But what is the end result of all this work? Well, watch the end song of “A Chorus Line” here – A Chorus Line One

Isn’t that just pretty? All actors working as one with each step, kick, and turn.

It is a beautiful thing to see on stage, but it is an ugly thing to see inside a church (and I’m not talking about doing the musical inside the church).

A five, six, seven, eight…

In I Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul describes the church as a body. Every person has a unique part to play and a way in which to be for the edification of the saints and the glory of Jesus.

However, is this the image the church shines forth? Unfortunately, no. Christians have become more like members of a chorus line. We learn the steps, we hope we are not kicked out, and we stay in our line. If an event at our church happens, we are able to quickly find our cue marks as the leadership yells, “A five, six, seven, eight..” and the one, unified performance begins.

Each right step for a chorus line Christian focuses on appearance, music tastes, Bible study methods, Bible translation used, the following of non-essential doctrines (i.e. election, pre/post-tribulation, the cessation or continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, etc.), and many, many other pivots, plies, and leaps. The dance looks beautiful and unified only if each Christian in the church follows each step precisely. Without these steps, we end up looking like an unpolished play that the world might not see as different enough.

But, in reality, living as a chorus line Christian is not biblical. Focusing on the steps of the chorus line Christian life takes away at least two things that God gave us:

1.) God gave us the gift of our own unique view of his world.
2.) God gave us the gift of our own unique path in the life he wrote for us.

These two gifts are core elements to a Christian life. Unless we fully understand how these relate to the church being described as a body, then we are doomed to be a chorus line Christian.

seeing God’s world differently

In Psalm 139:13-14, David praises God for the way God made him. Many of the Psalms are filled with David’s songs and dances for God. He saw the world through artistic expression. To David, God is the creator who is mighty, full of faithful love, and is to be sung about.

In Daniel 6:10, Daniel prays to God as his routine and life centered around prayer. The book of Daniel is full of stories of Daniel seeing God’s world as under sovereign control. His response is dutiful prayer to the sovereign King who sets up thrones and demolishes thrones.

In 1 John 1:1-2, John is in awe of the life, light, and love of Jesus. John’s life is dedicated to showing the world Christ’s love after seeing it in person. His response is to show love to one another after being loved by Jesus; who takes away the sins of the world.

David, Daniel, and John… Each one had a unique way of seeing the world and seeing God. All those things are true about God, but each individual responded to one aspect of God in certain ways.

With each of us, we see the world differently. We see God differently. Some of us are captured by the holiness of God, or the love of God, or the incarnation of God, or the sovereignty of God, or any other aspect. When our hearts are captured by that one thing of God, then our response is in line with that aspect of God. Some will cheer, wave palm branches, and shout, “Hosanna” (Matthew 21:1-11). Some will be more intimate; bowing at the feet of Jesus, crying out their sorrows, and wiping his feet in worship (Luke 7:36-50).

God has created each one of us to see something the other doesn’t. That special something causes us to worship God in a way that is different and good. Our worship then turns into how we interact with the world around us. This is how being the body of Christ looks like. Our unique relationship with God spills out onto the world like droplets of watercolor staining a canvas.

The path before us

When we live as a chorus line Christian, we miss the beauty of God writing our story. A chorus line Christian assumes all Christian lives need to be in step with theirs’. The path must look the same. Christians must look similar to each other. We must all be circumcised! Oh, sorry… too far?

It becomes all about the one church denomination, the one doctrines, the one music taste, the one appearance, the one translation, and the one way of living the Christian life.

However, reality would say that is false. When you meet Christians from other cultures, you will quickly see how their life for Jesus may look very different than yours. The gospel does not change, but the way in which we live it out will change.

God has created a path for each of us to run, and called us specifically for such a time as this (Hebrews 12:1; Esther 4:14).

Each of us have a story to tell, a path to walk, and a life written by God. It will look different than mine, and it will look different than yours. If we refuse to acknowledge the uniqueness of the path God has given each person, then we are doomed to live in a chorus line mindset.

One body; not one singular sensation

At the end of the musical “A Chorus Line,” we see this beautiful number; and singular sensation. We yearn for our churches to be the same. We yearn for our Christian life to be like that. We want to be in synch with each other in our steps, outfits, and kicks. So, we set up the church to be an audition hall for our chorus line.

Where does that leave people? Wondering if they got the part, wondering if they are included, wondering if they are good enough, and walking away in shame or holding their head up high. A chorus line mindset in the church, honestly, gives love a worse name than Satan could ever do.

Christians were never meant to wear gold, lamé outfits with tap shoes.

We were meant to be the body of Christ – many, unique members, with a unique calling for the glory of Jesus (I Corinthians 12:12-27).

Think about all the amazing gifts, talents, and lives we are keeping on the sidelines, because we have a chorus line Christian mindset. What could those individuals do for the glory of God if we gave them a chance to be themselves? What would the world look like if we gave up our one singular sensation and became the one body we are called to be?

Each of us have a unique way of seeing God’s world and responding to it. Each of us have our God-written journey ahead of us. Our differences are only the enemies if we forget to unify around Christ.

So, which kind of Christian do you want to be? A one singular sensation concerned about parts, steps, and image? Or a Christian encouraging the body of Christ to grow?

It is up to us to stop the chorus line and start living as the one body.

The Burning of Honesty

“If you are of the truth, if you have learned the truth, if you see the sanctity of the truth, then speak truth. We are not called to be deceivers or liars. God is a God of truth, and His people are called to have an enormously high standard of truth.” – R.C. Sproul

It was a plague.
It was a stain that Christians have tried to bury the in textbooks of church history.
It was a time of darkness, terror, and injustice.

It was the reign of the stake.

When people spoke their mind against the church or Christian leaders, their words turned to ash littering the ground and smoke fuming in the breeze.

It is sad to think about how many were burned at the stake for honest opinion and opening up their mouths to speak truth.

Unfortunately, if we do not learn from injustices of history, we are doomed to repeat it.

That is what is happening today…

the unspoken headlines

How many of us know a person, strong in the Lord and growing, but, in a flash, disappeared? how many of us know someone who used to be outspoken and saw passion over a concern grow quiet hidden in a side pew? How many of us prayed for an individual in our small group and shed a tear with their openness; only to to recognize their absence?

These are the unspoken headlines of the church.

But what do we mean by this? Headlines speak about news important for us to know. For our churches, it tends to be events and announcements. But, there are unspoken headlines usually disguised as prayer requests and updates on a person’s life… all out of “loving concern” of course.

However, there is a pattern in churches that the people we speak about have in common.


They were either honest about a struggle in their life, honest about a situation, or honest about a concern.

And where did that leave them?



But, was their honesty real honesty? Was what they did right?

Let’s look at what the Bible says about honesty, truth, and walking in honesty.

Proverbs 11:3 tells us that honesty is to guide us. It is to be a compass on our journey. Dishonesty will destroy people. It will only lead to their destruction.

Paul writes to us in Philippians 4:8 to honor what is honest. We are urged to meditate on things that are honest. It is in honesty we see beauty, and we keep our mind focused on Jesus.

According to the Bible, honesty is a virtue help up high. God delights in honesty. He abhors those who lie.

We are even commanded in Colossians 3:9 to strip off lying since it does not have any place in our new life in Christ.

It is in the realm of honesty do we find freedom. Jesus told us that the truth will set us free (John 8:32).

Therefore, the guideposts of honest are:
1. Let honesty guide you
2. Think, meditate, and find beauty in honesty
3. Do not lie to each other
4. The truth will always set us free

Four simple guideposts, but what has happened?

Dismantling guideposts

We, as Christians, dismantle these guideposts.

What are things we value in churches today? Do we value honesty?

Honestly, answer that.

That fact is, we only like honesty if it is to our own betterment. We love when honesty makes us the winner of a situation. We love when honesty paints us as the hero. We love when honesty creates comfort and ease in our life.

However, when honesty makes us examine our life, takes away our picture-perfect image, or creates an uncomfortable air we get rid of it.

We would rather burn honesty at the stake of our image, than allow honesty to be our guide.

James 1:8 warns us that when we are double-minded, we are unstable in all our ways.

How do we do this in regards to honesty?

We praise the value of honesty, but we shut down people with honest concerns.
We lift up the freedom of truth, but we ostracize people who become truthful with us.
We lift a hearty “Amen” to sermons regaling us about being honest with God, but we would rather shut people down when they open up about struggles, hurts, and doubts.

No wonder the church is not seen in good light by many. They see the double-mindedness of the church. They see the church leader saying one thing, and yet does another. They see the values of the church helping one person, but excluding another.

We dismantle God’s guideposts in favor of the ones which promote us.


The time of burning people at the stake was horrendous. The smoke-filled screams billowed out as accusers yelled out for their repentance. Speaking out in honesty, victims found their words scattered like ash in the wind.

Yet, the scent of ash still whiffs into our nose today. We say we honor one thing, but act the opposite.

Honesty, a value honored by God on high, sacrificed on our low altar of self-image and self-preservation.

We plead for people to open up and be honest, but they have seen how we treated others who have. They are deceived to the stake, and they mistake our dancing for their destruction as praise and worship.

How can we truly love each other when honesty isn’t a value unifying us together?

When honesty is misused to weed out those we do not want among us, then we have abused the grace of God.


 “Is it not wonderful news to believe that salvation lies outside ourselves?” – Martin Luther

Have you ever heard of “The Sunday School Answer”?

It is the one answer that seems to be the answer to any question asked in Sunday School. Do you know that answer? It is always “Jesus”. No matter the question, the answer must be Jesus, right?

That may be cute for kids, but, as grown people, we have spiritual questions where the answer couldn’t be that simple. How many silent moments are a cacophony of conundrums where simple, childhood answers are naïve and tossed in the garbage like scrawled notes of rejected possibilities?

How many of us have secretly feared the silence of this question – Am I really accepted before God?

The weight of eternity, the fear of rejection, and suspicion of conditional salvation haunts our silent moments. How do we answer it? We begin going down our lists. We compare ourselves to others. We come to our own rescue as the defense lawyer we need.

Yet, we may forget the rejected answer crumpled on the floor.

As a child

Why do we rejected the Sunday School answer of Jesus?

In essence, it is too simple and easy. We know life isn’t that easy or straight forward.

We forget what Jesus says in Luke 18:16-17 – The Kingdom of God belongs to those who accept it as a child.

Our faith belongs to the heart of a child. Yes, that includes the simplicity of a child’s answer. But, what does that look like?

Most time when Christians define what faith looks like, two answers come to mind. First, it is a long prepared answer that is a complicated as taking a systematic theology course. The second answer is usually a jumbled jigsaw puzzle of images and verses leaving more uncertainty than the “clarity” found in a presidential debate.

Luke 18:15-17 gives us a glimpse at what the childlike faith is. We see children approaching Jesus for a blessing. However, the disciples scold them and try to move them away so they wouldn’t bother Jesus. But, it is the disciples who are scolded. Jesus opens his arms up for those who approach him.

The faith of a child is the faith that approaches. We see this time and time again in the Gospels. The people who came to Jesus for healing came in faith. Faith in Jesus caused them to approach Jesus. You didn’t see them prove themselves in order to be healed. You didn’t hear the parents fussing over their children messing up their clothing or saying embarrassing things. Instead, you see them approach.

In order to accept the simple answer, we must realize that faith is simple too. It is a simple approach to Jesus believing he is who he says he is and will do what he says.

The new has come

When it comes to answering the question of our acceptance before God, we are quick to reject the childlike faith, Sunday School answer. Why? We live in a mindset of proving ourselves over and over that we forget that God isn’t like that.

In Mark 14:12-26 we see something new. Jesus creates a new covenant. In the Old Testament, the covenant God set up with his people was based on conditions, blessings, and curses (Deuteronomy 28). Laws, regulations, and standards became the way man related with God. Yet, when Jesus inaugurates the new covenant in the Gospels, it is based on his body and blood. The sins of many are forgiven because Christ is poured out and offered as a sacrifice. No more conditions required.

How do we know this? Mark 15:37-38 shows us the death of Jesus causing the curtain separating man from the presence of God being torn in twain. This means that in coming to God, we no longer have the conditions of the old covenant acting as our bodyguard weeding out who can approach God and who cannot. Instead, we are invited to boldly take Christ’s hand as our advocate and stand in the presence of God (Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 2:1-2).

We can forget our self-constructed defense case. The old has passed away. The new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ has given us a new life. We cannot relate to God in our new life by referring to the rules of the old life. We have to do everything in a new way. This is what Jesus means in the passage about the new wine and new wineskins (Luke 5:37-39).

The old answer to our acceptance before God is our complicated defense case. The new and better answer is the childlike faith approaching Jesus. The new answer is the Sunday School answer.


Even though the Sunday School answer screams only Jesus, we still want our defense case. We want to stand before God proving why he should accept us. We also want other Christians to prove to us why God should accept them. Our faith doesn’t stand on the single-focus of Jesus.

What do we focus on as the basis of our acceptance before God? The lists we create. I know churches who believe you are not a true Christian unless you only use the King James Version. I have met believers who question salvation if you attend a church that uses rock music, believes in differing end times theologies, and a whole host of other issues. Are those the things that make someone accepted before God?

In the new covenant, what was the sacrifice in order to tear the curtain in two? Was it our payment or Christ’s payment?

What happens if we continue in this idea that acceptance before God rests on us? Paul tells us in Galatians 2:17-21. First, we are called a sinner for rebuilding the old system that has been torn down (v. 18). Second, we see Christ’s death and resurrection as a waste (v. 21). We treat Jesus as a waste of God-given grace. We do not need him, because we are good enough on our own. We spit on God and become our own just and justifier rather than letting God be the loving judge he is.

Only means only

Jesus is the answer to our concern over our acceptance before God. Only Jesus. Only his blood. Only his new covenant. Only him.

“Preach it! I believe that Jesus is my only way to Heaven!” Let’s get an amen and say it louder for the people in the back!

However, let me ask – why don’t we live like this or treat others with this in mind?

How many times do we question another person’s salvation? How many times do we fret if we didn’t do certain things? How many times do we question if someone is a good Christian or not?

If Jesus is the basis for our acceptance before God, then why are we raking people over the coals if their lives do not match ours? I did not know you were the next incarnation of God. The most un-Christian thing we can do is treat ourselves and others as if Jesus wasn’t truly the only way to be accepted by God. We are not the defense attorney or judge or jury.

We are the accused. We are the ones facing a sentencing that will obliterate us if we even try to accept our fate. We need a judge, a defense, and a jury of divine grace, love, and justice. It is only found in Jesus will we find true justice, love, and freedom. In our just release, we need to treat others as God has done to us. We show them the grace extended to us.

The answer is really simple. It is just Jesus. Only Jesus. Jesus isn’t a jumbled jigsaw puzzle. He is the approachable incarnation of God.

Let’s no longer live under old conditions. Let’s not rebuild what the blood of Jesus ripped in two. Let’s no longer put people on the witness stand to defend their faith swearing on our standards to tell the truth.

Let’s rest in the defense of Jesus. Let’s celebrate in the verdict of the Father because of Jesus.

Am I accepted before God?
Yes, because of Jesus.
But what about…

Quiet your worried heart. It is Jesus.

Only Jesus.

Lean Not

 “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” – St. Augustine

Can you finish the verse?

“Trust in the Lord…”

Did Proverbs 3:5-6 just roll off your tongue? We are surrounded by these verses. They come on plaques, pillows, greeting cards, well wishes, and wall art. When I worked at a Christian bookstore, this was one of the references people wanted engraved on gifts or Bibles.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Recently one part stuck out to me – “… do not depend on your own understanding.” Most of us have memorized it as, “… lean not on your own understanding.” What does this phrase mean? How do we live out this phrase? Have we not taken this phrase far enough?

The meaning taught

Do not depend on your own understanding…

It is such an important phrase and concept in our relationship with God. We have to deny our own ways and follow God; trusting him with each step. Doing so, the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 is that God will show us which path to take.

What comes to mind when we think about “not depending on our own understanding”? Most of us immediately will think of not doing what we want, but instead following the will of God. Yes, that is extremely biblical. This is what I thought too. But, do you realize that concept is not in this passage?

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to not depending on our understanding. It is not a passage about what we should do or not do in reference to specific actions. Instead, it is referring to how we think through things. It is through our thoughts that our actions manifest. Yes, there is an implicit nod to our actions. But, this passage is telling us to not rely on our thinking and understanding when it comes to trusting God.

taking it further than we thought

However, have we taken the Proverbs 3:5-6 command far enough? We will say a hearty “Amen!” when we tell others to not let their minds be swayed by the world into sin. We will congratulate ourselves when we do not give into tempting thoughts as we trust God that his way is better.

But, is that far enough?

How are we at not leaning on our own “theological understanding?”

We would all agree that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). No one would ever claim to fully understand God in all his ways. That is why we need to trust God.

But, are there times where our learned theology keeps us from fully trusting God?

We know one thing about God through Scripture, but aren’t there times in our life where something creates a contradiction with reality and God’s Word? Will our understanding of God’s Word and our learned theology keep us sane? Or will we fizzle out, because it does not fit in to our neat boxes?

Mission impossible

There is a famous story in the Bible where God asks a man to do something that is clearly against Scripture…

Genesis 22:1-18

Abraham is known as someone who lived in the presence of God (Genesis 24:40). He followed God out of his family, out of his city, and into the wilderness to a Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-3). God promised Abraham a son; even though he and his wife could not have children (Genesis 18:10-14). The promise child is born and named Isaac. But, God isn’t done with Abraham and Isaac.

God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a human sacrifice (Genesis 22:1-2).

So many times we look at this passage as a “foreshadowing of God providing Christ as our sacrifice.”

Think for a moment…

God literally told Abraham to murder Isaac on an altar as a human sacrifice. Does this go against God’s command in Genesis 9:5-6 stating that anyone who murders another human being is to be put to death? Think about the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-10). Before the Mosaic law was written, God despised murder and the taking of another human’s life.

Yet, what does God ask Abraham to do?

Do you think Abraham felt shaken a bit? Do you think he might have thought about how God hates murder, and now he is asked to murder his own son? (We rarely stop and think about that, since we are so used to knowing the end of the story and our theological trainings.)

This was Abraham’s mission impossible. Obey God’s calling and disobey another command or disobey God’s calling and obey God’s other command.

By faith

Hebrews 11:17 tells us Abraham’s decision.

Despite the contradiction, Abraham obeys. He has faith that God will work everything out. He even tells Isaac that God will provide a sacrifice (Genesis 22:8). Abraham believes God will not contradict his word or his promises even when a catch-22 is all that Abraham sees as he ascends Mount Moriah.

Do we have that kind of faith?

Many times we want our spiritual lives to fit into our neatly labeled boxes. We want the black and white when it comes to God. Confusion leads us to too much instability in our spiritual health. So, we rely on “learned theology” to navigate uncertain waters.

I remember a part of my life where I stubbornly held onto my seminary degree and thought, “This is not how God works!” I was attending a church that announced its annual Prophetic Presbytery. I did not know what that was. From what they described, it sounded like an ordination service. But, I was wrong. It was a prophecy service. Everything in me said that this was wrong. Speaking in tongues and words of prophecy have ceased! Yet, reality presented me with a conflict. Could God work even when my learned theology said something different?

It takes faith to realize that his ways are not our ways. It takes faith to trust God and lean not on our own understanding – even our own understanding of God.

How many relationships have we cut off, because their “way of faith in God” was different than ours? How many people have we given the “Hellfire and brimstone speech”, because we believed they were going against God’s Word when they could use the same Bible to show us differently?

We have hurt people, the ones made in God’s image, over not being like us. We would rather keep our black and white, neat boxes labeled than hear a differing position or expand our view of God and his ways. We become like the Pharisees. We know God. We know Jesus. Yet, when the Kingdom of God seems to expand in ways uncomfortable to us, we shut the door and bar people from entering since it goes against our “learned theology” (Matthew 23:13).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

To trust in the Lord means we need to give up all of our depending on our own understanding. Life will never be black and white. It is when we allow the beauty of God to color our world will we see the mosaic Messiah bringing compassion and light to the world.

By faith, we lean not on our own understanding.
By faith, we realize we do not fully and completely understand the ways of God.
By faith, we accept the spectrum of God’s working.
By faith, we can hold any contradiction or paradox knowing God is higher than our own understanding.

By faith, we march up the mountain God is leading us on to see a beautiful picture of redemption working in our lives.

Sacrificing Love

“About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing.” – Joan of Arc

Have you ever been burned by someone?

What does that feel like?
Betrayal? Crushing pain? Confusion and lost in a fog?

We call it a “burn” since it sears into our soul like a brand oppressing our whole humanity. We hurt in the aftermath. We flinch when that wound is touched. Our whole world is set ablaze, and we hope for the seeds of new life to grow among the charred trees and barren land.

Isn’t that how our spiritual life can feel after being burned by a church? We want to see growth like we once did, but all we see is the crumbling charcoal and abandoned ash blowing in the wind.

It isn’t surprising how much our spiritual life affects our physical life. They are interconnected. What happens in the hallowed halls of worship makes communion with our vocation, family, and friends.

The church can affect a soul. Either it is a balm of healing and growth, or it is third-degree burn blistering the skin healing into a mangled scar.

How can a place built on the sacrificial love of Jesus now be a place of pain, broken relationships, and so much hurt?

Let me take you to church…

Bound in blindness

A man came to Jesus asking what he needed to do in order to obtain eternal life. Jesus ask the man, “What is written in the law?” The myriad of moments in the synagogue flash before the man’s eyes. “The law says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Second is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus congratulates the man on his sound answer. Question and answer time over. Yet, the man asks one more question.

“Who is my neighbor?”

This starts the parable Jesus tells in Luke 10:25-37. We all know this story so well that we could tell it in our sleep; dreaming of the felt-board characters that illustrate the parable. However, how well do we know this story? Think about Christmas. Many children are told the story of Santa Claus over and over again till many of letters to Santa are sent out and visits to mall Santas are traditionally accomplished. A simple fairy tale can change a child’s whole world. Yet, does Christ’s parable change us in the same way?

A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two religious leaders show up. They pass by not wanting to get involved. Eyes go up, eyes go down, eyes go to the other side of the road. They couldn’t be bothered with anything else than where they were going and their lists of things to do.

How many of us have presented a need to the church or to other believers only to be passed by? How many of us have given hours to the church hoping for relief of the need we carry only to be passed by? It is like we are Blind Bartimaeus calling out for Jesus to heal us, but we are told to shut up
(Mark 10:46-52). Our needs silenced for the need to let the procession of worship walk on the other side

We do a better job training our eyes to avoid people’s needs than not looking at Victoria Secret when we go to the mall. We are bound in blindness to others crying out to us for help.

How did Jesus respond when his name was called? Did he turn Blind Bartimaeus away? Was his schedule to full for the children? Was he too grossed out to be anointed by a sinful woman? Are we too focused on avoiding Victoria Secret that we have become blind to the needs around us?

Betraying burdens

Holding back tears, your friend leads you to a quiet corner after the church service. Something is weighing on their mind. Fidgeting fingers, flinching facial expressions, and uneasy eyes dart around the room. After many breaths, your friend reveals a burden they carry every hour of the day. They tell about their struggles and pain. They come to you to lean on you.

A woman approached Jesus in the same manner (Luke 7:36-50). Weighed down, she could only muster enough strength to worship and plead at the feet of Jesus. Her eyes couldn’t even be lifted to his. And what does the religious leader say about this woman, “Doesn’t Jesus know who she is? He wouldn’t let her even touch him if he knew how much of a sinner she is!”

Two men go into the synagogue to pray (Luke 18:9-14). One man stands with his shameful head hung. He can’t even look up to his Creator. He begs for mercy as the weight of his sin causes him to punish himself by beating his chest. The other man, a religious leader, looks over at this “spectacle,” and thanks God that he is not like that man over there.

How do we react to those who reveal a burden to us? Have we told the church, saying things like, “Do you know about what they struggle with? I wouldn’t want them serving here,” or “That was a great sermon. I am so glad they were here. This matches up with their struggle,” or “We need to pray for them. This is what they struggle with. Let’s pray for them.” What is really being said is, “I am so glad I am not like that person. If the church knew who they really were, then that person wouldn’t be serving or being helped.”

The burdens offered to us to bear are betrayed and paraded like prisoners of war taken captive. People tell us our sins, and we sharpen our knives. We paint ourselves disguised with Galatians 6:1-2, but we betray our brothers and sisters with a kiss condemning them since they are truly not like us.

Yet, in both stories, what happened to the man and the woman? Both left forgiven and healed. They left with no guilt or shame. The Savior shouldered their burdens all the way to the cross for their forgiveness and restoration.

What are we doing with the burdens brought before us?

Beaten to bended knee

One thing that separates Christians from all other religions is the view of what needs to be done to get to heaven. In Jesus Christ, it is to believe and call on his name. In other religions, lists of duties plague followers.

Jesus came to fulfill the law, establish a covenant of grace, and free us. We sing and praise God for this. But, is this the reality we lead others into?

In Matthew 23:1-36, Jesus calls out the religious leaders. In New Testament times, the Pharisees had set up rules, regulations, and standards to be followed. When they said jump. The people jumped. They were treated like Pavlov’s dogs- conditioned to see their relationship with God as an obstacle course to be scored by their religious judges. Jesus condemned this. Jesus says in Matthew 23:4 the Religious Leaders tie people down with heavy loads like pack mules when they couldn’t lift a finger to do the same.

When someone comes to Christ or makes a spiritual decision, how do we treat them? Does accountability turn into score card of how well they meet our standards? Do we turn them into a dog worshipping at the shrine of our self-made rules loosely based on Scripture?

The outfit must be right, the Bible translation used must be correct, the image polished, and on and on the demands are burdened onto a person. In reality, our relationship with God is between us and God where our Father sees our true heart (Matthew 6:1-18). We need to encourage that relationship in the secret place even if it looks different than ours.

Healing the burns

We might reach the end of this post thinking this is just over-dramatized. Yet, how many people have left the church telling of their pain relating to a least one of these things above? How many of us, still apart of a church, have been burnt in at least one of these ways? Or how many times have we changed churches, because of how a church treated us?

We need to get back to Colossians 1:18 – Christ is the head of the church.

This means Jesus is the face of the church. When people think of the church, they should think of Christ. Joan of Arc was right when she said that Jesus and the church are the same thing. How Jesus acted, the church should act. How Jesus responded, the church should do the same. Yet, is that what happens? I agree, the church is full of sinners. However, we are redeemed sinners.

So what has happened?

We have sacrificed Christ’s love on the altar of our man-made, holy image. We exchange God’s love extending to others for graven images to worship – our own image. The church has become the altar to our image, and we will sacrifice all of Christ’s love if it means keeping our reputation, our standing with others, and how good we are perceived as Christians.

We are called to be a holy people by a holy God. Holy means to be set apart. How is God set apart? He is set apart by his unique, unconditional love for us. That is what he calls us to as we become holy.

Isn’t it time we sacrifice our image on the altar of Christ’s love?

The Wandering Worshipper

“Not all who wander are lost.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

One summer, while in college, I visited Mackinac Island (in Michigan) with some friends. Being from Michigan, I have always enjoyed going to the island. My friends and I wanted to visit Arch Rock. It is a beautiful arched rock over looking one of the Great Lakes. Since I was from Michigan (and had visited the island multiple times), my friends assumed I could get there with ease. So we walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. Eventually we made it. However, we found out we wandered to Arch Rock via the long way! My friends were a bit upset with me when they found out there was a more direct route than the one we took.

Isn’t that how we view the Christian life? We know where we are supposed to go. We know what God wants for our life. We know the passages and the songs, yet don’t we find ourselves frustrated wandering?

How many times have we looked at other Christians who have “wandered from the path,” and judged them as being away from God?

Is wandering bad? Can God actually want us to wander?

We often view wandering as a season of trial or a cursed season. But, what if we changed our life from a wandering whiner to a wandering worshipper?

The curse of wandering

“Did you hear about him? He is wandering away from God.” “I can’t believe it. She was such a good Christian. Now look at her. She is wandering from the right path.”

Ever heard these things? Ever had them said about you? Ever said them about others?

So often when we thinking of wandering as a curse. It is a time when we have “wandered away.” The curse comes from the thought that, in wandering, we are away from the presence of God.

We look at passages like Genesis 4:16 (seeing Cain walking away from God’s presence), and we tremble in fear. We do not want to be wandering like Cain. We do not want to be wandering like the cursed Israelites for not following through on taking the Promised Land (Numbers 14).

Yet, before the Mosaic law, there was someone who was sent into wandering, not as a curse, but as a journey of promise. Times of wandering do not have to be a curse away from the presence of God (we already know we cannot be away from God’s presence Psalm 139:1-12).

Let’s look at the life of the Wandering Worshipper.

The Call to wander

Genesis 12:1-3 starts this man’s journey. God calls Abraham to leave his home, his family, his land, his national identity (everything that is tied to a place), and leave for a land God will reveal to Abraham. The destination is never disclosed. A map does not magically appear in Abraham’s satchel. Instead, he is called to wander until he comes to the place God’s called to him to be.

To wander is a call unlike any other. In our modern day, we want to know the final destinations, the directions, and a comforting, monotone GPS voice to guide us there. Unfortunately, we view our Christian life as this as well. We rely so much on Psalm 37 to be a promise of golden stepping stones to line our way, that we forget that the wandering King David wrote this psalm.

When we are called to wander, we are called to trust the Lord with every step, every settling, every identity, and every new chapter. The Christian life is not the American dream. It is not filled with the perfect wedding, white picket fence, a growing career, stable finances, and a family that greets you at the door. In reality, it is a call to wander. It is call to trust God no matter what comes and where the path takes us. After all, he is the one who specially created our own race for our testimony and his glory (Psalm 139:13-16; Hebrews 12:1).

The wandering God brings into our life is a calling. Is he surprised when that family member or friend “wanders from the path”? No. He brought that wandering for their testimony and his glory.

build, worship, depart, repeat

One of the most fascinating things about studying the Bible is seeing things that are repeated. In the life of Abraham, we see this pattern of building an altar over and over again (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; Genesis 13:18; Genesis 22:9).

He built so many altars that he could do it in his sleep. Abraham built altars, worshipped God, went to his next place, and repeated. He is the original “rinse and repeat.” He kept his eye on God’s promise and stayed in the presence of God during his time of wandering.

We can stay in God’s presence while wandering? Yes! We can tell if someone has “wandered away” from God or has been called to wander. How? John 3:20-21 tells us that those who desire to be in the light are in God’s presence. They haven’t run away from it like Jonah did (Jonah 1). There is a difference between running away and wandering. Check yourself. Are you still drawn to God’s Word? Still drawn to church? Still drawn to worship? Then you are not like Cain or the people of Israel. You are in a call to wander.

pitfalls in wandering

Unfortunately, we tend to romanticize the people in Scripture. We look at people like Abraham, and we tend to think he was guided by God and floated in God’s presence like Jerry (the mouse) being led along by the smell of cheese (Tom and Jerry Clip). Instead, Abraham had to put on his Nikes on each foot and just do the journey ahead of him. Even when he fell into pits.

In Genesis 12:10-20, we find Abraham and Sarah needing to find a sustainable life in Egypt due to a famine. However, Abraham saw this new chapter filled with potential danger. So, he concocted a plan. He told Sarah to lie about being his wife so he wouldn’t be killed. He told Sarah to tell people Abraham was her brother. He lied, she lied, and a plague descended chaos upon Pharaoh and his family.

We would call out Abraham for sinning. We might shame him so much that he would hang his head in shame as he thought about his actions bringing such chaos on Pharaoh’s family. When we see Abraham in church worshipping, we hope he is repenting for his sin or we judge in disgust over how he could worship God after what he brought on that poor royal family.

Yet, what does Abraham do after leaving Egypt? He worships the Lord again (Genesis 13:1-4)! He desired to be close to the Lord and worship him. That doesn’t mean he didn’t recognize his sin. But, God’s presence was more important than beating himself up for lying.

How many times do we shame people for their sin and mistakes? How many times do we see the “Wanderer,” and put them down rather than allow the intimacy of worship take place in their heart? Yes, there are pitfalls in wandering. But, that doesn’t mean the wanderer has stepped away from God. Again, look for what they desire.

Pitfalls can lead to greater intimacy with God. Pitfalls are not moments for shame, but moments for worship.


A perfectly dressed family, sitting in church worshipping together, having time around the Word, all following the path we think God wants… Isn’t that the Christian dream? It is a dream akin to the American dream.

We think life should go one way. We think our family members or friends should be like this or be like that. But when that does not happen, we criticize them for not fulfilling “God’s will.” In reality they have not fulfilled our American Christian dream. We have allowed patriotism to pollute our piety rather than allowing piety to bend our knees to God’s path before us.

Did Abraham’s life fulfill the Christian dream? Living in tents and traveling from place to place sounds like what we all want, right? The reason Abraham did not see his wandering as a waste is because he saw God’s promise from afar (Hebrews 11:8-10). God’s promise was worth more than what others thought of his wandering.

How do we see people who are wandering? Sure, they may be off the path. Usually, that is the path you think is best for them. Life happens. Happily Ever Afters” don’t work out. That doesn’t mean someone is outside God’s presence. They may be on God’s path, but that path is away from your idolatry of the Christian dream.

Let’s take a lesson from Abraham. Let’s become a wandering worshipper. Let’s embrace the chapters of wandering as times to build altars, worship, depart, and repeat. Wandering isn’t a curse. The Covenant of Grace is not based on our works bringing blessings or curses. Jesus has atoned for our sins, reconciled us to God, and brought us into a journey led by the Holy Spirit.

Wandering does not mean we are lost. It means we are trusting God for the next place we are to settle as we step into his promises.

Scared Of The New?

“God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.”
– C.S. Lewis

Have you ever changed your belief about something?

There was something you used to believe in. Think of that moment where someone presented you with a new way of thinking or a new way of living. They spoke with such passion and such authority that you rethought your belief.

I am reminded of a scene from Friends. Ross and Pheobe are discussing evolution. Rose becomes more and more irate as Pheobe challenges his belief in evolution.

Watch the scene here

Pheobe is hilarious as she slowly makes Ross cave. But, have we had moments like this? Or are we currently experiencing moments like this?

The Jewish people and the Religious leaders experienced something new that began to change their whole belief system.

A Demon exposed

Mark 1:21-28 is a fascinating story. I used to read this thinking it was an odd story about Jesus cleansing a man of a demon. However, look closer.

Mark 1:21-22 tells us that Jesus began to teach in a synagogue. Astonished, the people marveled at his teachings. Why? He was teaching with such authority that it rivaled the teachings of the religious leaders.

Then, the story takes a turn. As if out of nowhere, a man with a demon cries out and disrupts Jesus (Mark 1:23). Jesus commands the demon to come out of the man. In a dramatic exit, the man is freed. This causes the people to spread the news saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! (Mark 1:27)”

What caused the demon to lash out? It was when Jesus began teaching something new with great authority that rivaled the religious leaders. The demon didn’t want this new teaching exposing the old teaching that oppressed many of the people.

This new teaching with authority changed many people. In fact, Luke 5:1, tells us that the people came to him to hear him teach God’s Word. But weren’t the religious leaders teaching God’s Word? They were teaching the Law of Moses and the Prophets. Isn’t that God’s Word too? Yes, it is! But, it is in the way each party was handling God’s Word.


Remember in elementary school when you had to pick out the item that didn’t match the rest of the group? Jesus talks about a match that isn’t the same and has disastrous results.

Jesus gives a parable in Luke 5:36-39. He talks about garments, patches, wine, and wineskins. He starts off by giving the illustration of a torn, old garment in need of repair. However, no one would take a patch off of a new garment to fix the old. First, that will destroy the new garment. Second, the patch would not match the old garment. Therefore, both the new and old garment are ruined.

The second illustration is of wine. Yes, Jesus talks about wine. No, it wasn’t just “grape juice.” He says that no one will put a newly made wine into an old wineskin. Why? Because the new wine is fermenting and will expand. This will cause the old wineskin to burst. Thus, the wine and the wineskin are ruined. New wine must be contained in a new wineskin. Then Jesus makes this remark, “And no one, after drinking old wine, wants new, because he says, ‘The old is better.'”

Jesus introduces that there is something new and something old. The new doesn’t match the old, can’t fix the old, bursts through the old, needs a new place to reside, and is better than the old. What could he be referring to?

The new is the New Covenant Jesus establishes. It results in a new way of living, a new way of relating to the Father, and in need of a new place to reside – our heart. The old is the Old Covenant. It did it’s job (it wasn’t wrong or sinful). However, it is old (like the garment). It will not be able to contain this newness Jesus brings. It doesn’t match the new, and it is not better than the new.

When it comes to what Jesus establishes in the New Testament, it does not match the old. This is completely new!

The Old and new clashing

Was everyone excited about this new teaching? No. The religious leaders were not happy with Jesus at all. Mark 11:18 tells us the religious leaders wanted to find a way to kill Jesus, because of what Jesus taught and how the crowd responded.

The religious leaders were losing their power over the people. They did not want to submit to this new teaching. Submitting would mean giving up their old way (and their power over people) to allow Jesus’ new teaching to change people and give life. They relied on rules and rituals to relate to God. Jesus brought love and a relationship as the way to relate to God. The religious leaders brought sacrifices and traditions to appease God. Jesus brought himself and showed people that faith is what pleases God.

The old and the new do not mix. The clash was so strong, the religious leaders looked for ways to kill Jesus. If this new teaching didn’t have divine authority behind it, then there wouldn’t be such a drastic measure taken against Jesus. However, since the religious leaders were losing their power over the people, Jesus and his teaching had to go.

Suspicious of the new

How many of us have a similar mindset to something new? How many of us have a hidden religious leader in us?

We hear things that are new, and we immediately react and shut that person down.

But, what is the proper response? Acts 17:1 says the Berean church studied the Scriptures to see what was being said is true or not. We need to do the same. Instead, of shutting people down. We need to search the Scriptures.

But, how are we to do that? II Timothy 2:15 teaches us to teach the word correctly (rightly dividing the word of truth – as in KJV). What does this mean? So many of us fight over passages and meanings. I believe a lot of these fights come from putting the cart before the horse.

Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us God spoke to us in the old times through the prophets, but now he speaks to us through Jesus, his son. This verse should give us a clue. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus. Therefore, we need to interpret everything through Jesus. A lot of us interpret Jesus by Paul or Peter. But, we really need to interpret Paul by Jesus. I am not saying these men were not inspired by God, but we need to hold up our interpretation of Paul, John, Peter, etc. by the teachings of Jesus.

This is how we do not become suspicious of the new and slip back into an old covenant mindset. If we truly believe Jesus is the Son of God and his teaching has divine authority, then we need to treat the whole of Scripture as running through the filter of Jesus’ new teachings.

Embracing the new

It is so easy to sit in what we have been taught for so long. We listen without question. We do what we are told. However, that one person says something new, and we immediately try to shut them down.


We are so scared of the new that we become modern religious leaders.

Have we checked how things hold up against the teachings of Jesus (our divine measuring rod)?

Jesus told us that his new will not match the old, that it is better than the old, and that it takes a whole new vessel to contain it. Therefore, let’s embrace his new and see where it leads. According to Jesus, it leads to life abundantly (John 10:10).

Are you ready to receive the new wine Jesus gives? You need to be like a new wineskin ready to expand. An old one is stiff and will burst. His new leads to life…. are you ready for that?

Grace Through Disgrace

“Next to faith this is the highest art – to be content with the calling in which God has placed you.” – Martin Luther

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? Ever cried in silence as something that was different about you brought on stereotypes, assumptions, and judgement from others?

Has those moments resulted in listening to lyrics like, “I walk a lonely road. The only one that I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes, but it’s home to me, and I walk alone”? (“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day)

Being different or perceived as “the other” can be a lonely road to walk; especially in Christian circles. We feel like we do not belong. We feel avoided for one reason or another. We are questioned and looked on with either pity, sorrow, or suspicion.

When you do not fit the typical “Christian mold,” it can be a lonely road. However, there is a story in Scripture that I believer can teach us that grace can be found in the disgrace we feel as we walk a different path than what is considered the ” Christian norm”.

Shattering the stained-glass story

How do we read the story of Mary? Not Mary (the sister of Martha) or Mary Magdalene . How do we read the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus? Is it filled with poised paintings of purity and piety? Is it illustrated with lustrous, light-filled stained glass windows of a virgin holding a child? Is it a picture of a perfect mother posed in prayer over a glowing newborn?

When we think of the story of Mary, we tend to read it like it is a stained-glass artwork or a painting. We romanticize it. We, actually, tend to do that with a lot of Scripture. We think that she must have been this faithful, godly woman full of faith in order to be chosen to birth the Savior. We picture her as this serene, surrendered soul for the will of God.

Please tear up that image. Some of it may be true, but let’s relook at the story. Let’s consider what is actually taking place in a real time period, a real culture, inside the body, soul, and mind of a real person.

mary with the scarlet letter

Go in your mind back to Israel. Before the birth of Jesus. Before the cross. Before Jesus fulfilled the law. See a young woman around 14-16 years old.

Mary’s life was lived under the Mosaic law as taught in the synagogue. The Ten Commandments were known and chiseled on every heart; including commandment seven – do not commit adultery. Mary knew the law. She knew the punishments for transgressing the ancestral law of her people. So, she faithfully did what the Lord required of her. She stayed a virgin until marriage. She performed the correct cleansing rituals for her menstrual cycle. She brought the correct sacrifices. She participated in each festival to remember the works of the Lord.

Then, in what could have a felt like a blur, a strange visitor approached Mary. An angel of God came to Mary. He told her she would give birth to the Messiah! The one everyone was looking forward to. The one who would reestablish the throne of David. She, Mary, would have a son named Jesus, and he would save his people from their sins (Luke 1:26-32; Matthew 1:21).

To many of us today, this is such an exciting story to listen to and watch played out each Christmas season. But, Mary did not live in a vacuum. She was engaged to be married, but was still a virgin like the law required of her. Her reaction was not, at first, submission to this message. Instead, she questioned how this will all happen since she hadn’t had sex yet (Luke 1:34). The angel calmed her by assuring her that God will overshadow her, because nothing is impossible for him (Luke 1:35-37). Mary, then, submits to God as his servant (Luke 1:38).

She submitted as one under the Mosaic law. She knew what people would say. Eventually, she wouldn’t be able to hide the growing child in her womb. Not everyone would listen to her story. She would get the side-eye. Maybe someone told her to give a sacrifice for her “sin”. Joseph, her fiancé, thought about breaking things off with her (Matthew 1:19).

How many people approached Joseph to tell him of their “concern” about Mary? How many considered her “unclean” and avoided her? How did her family treat her? Joseph wanted to wanted to break their engagement, because he did not want to deal with the disgrace (yet, God changed his mind).

Remember, Mary is an unwed, pregnant virgin under the Mosaic law. When the news got out, she was branded with the scarlet letter. God’s will for her life involved disgrace.

But, how did Mary respond?

A Scarlet Song in disgrace

Again, think about Mary’s situation. Think about what she submitted to God for. She did so under the Jewish law of Moses, the culture of the synagogues, and the traditions of the religious leaders.

Yet, Mary praises God in some of the most beautiful words in Scripture:

Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. (Luke 1:46-48)

Mary believed what God’s messenger said to her. She was carrying the Messiah. No amount of disgrace could keep her from praising God. Mary didn’t hide from life till she gave birth. She stayed with her cousin for three months, and then returned home (Luke 1:56).

I wonder… did Mary keep singing her song when she felt the side-eye, or when Joseph wanted to break their engagement, or when she was questioned or judged, or when she felt the cultural weight of disgrace?

Delighting through disgrace

Now, what about us?

Is there something in your life that has caused disgrace to fall on you? Have you felt the side-eye of suspicion and judgement cling to you like a scarlet letter? Have you had friends break off from you, because of something “culturally taboo” in your life?

Disgrace comes when we do not fit the “Christian mold” we are told to conform to. And when we don’t, the “misshaped cookie” is seen as not as good as the other perfectly conformed cookies.

However, Psalm 139:13-16 gives me great comfort. God formed us just the way he wanted to. He plans our life moment by moment. He knows what paths we will take. He knows what we will face. That one thing we feel disgrace from, do you think it surprises the Creator of the universe? No. He works all things for our good; even when we can’t see the good, because nothing separates us from the love of God (Romans 8:28; Romans 8:31-39).

So, we can rest on the promises of God, just like Mary did. The whole song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55 is full of references to the Old Testament. It reads like a psalm of David. She remembers the works of God, seeing herself among those great works, and delights through the disgrace. We can too!


Each of us have our own path. God has designed and created us each unique. No one is a clone of another. Christians are not meant to be clones of each other. We are a body of many different, unique parts working together as a whole (I Corinthians 12:12-27). Therefore, no one is going to be just like you. Each of us have to run the race set before us while keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

This race may involve things we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. Yet, God still has placed the path before us. We may try to pray things away, or push away the cup God gives us to drink, but what is that saying to God? Did Mary know what she would go through? Yes. Did she try to pray away the child in her womb? No. She submitted to God. She sang through the disgrace, because she believed the promises of God each step of the way.

One of my favorite books I read to my students is What the Road Said by Cleo Wade. The story follows the narrator coming upon an unexpected path. As new steps are taken, the narrator questions the road at each bend, each step, and each new part of the path. The quote repeated in this book is:

I said to the road, “Where do you lead?”
The Road said, “Be a leader and find out.”

(Watch a read aloud of the full book here)

The road before us is God-given. He isn’t surprised at each turn. He doesn’t give us things in our lives thinking we live in a vacuum. He understands the cultural taboos, the stereotypes, the assumptions, and every disgrace we may face. Yet, the call is the same, “Be a leader and find out.” We keep going till we rest in the arms of Jesus as he sweetly calms us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Disgrace is difficult to face. Mary understood that all too well. But, she submitted, she sang, and she lived. Why?

Because from the disgrace Mary faced came the
incarnated grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Grace will come from the disgrace we face. We just need to submit to God’s path, sing his praises with our head held high, and see the grace he will shine through us.

Talk To The Hand

“To love someone means to see him as God intended him.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Back in the 90’s, I remember a phrase we used all the time on the playground. If you wanted to stop someone from talking, we would stick out our hand to stop them and say, “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.”

Basically, it showed the other person you were not interested in even speaking to them. Talk to the hand, because you were done even looking at them. When I received “the hand”, it felt harsh. It felt like the silent treatment. It felt like an immediate cut off.

Talking to the hand is a very petty action. We would see it as childish (with maybe a hint of nostalgia if you remember those days).

Yet, did you know we do the same thing? As Christians, we have at least three ways we tell others to “talk to the hand.” What may sound Biblical and “Christ-like” are phrases Jesus would never use. We may think we are being loving to another person, but, truthfully, we are just giving them the hand.

First, about labels…

First, I want to address what most people will see as a loop-hole. As Christians, we tend to label the world as “believers” and “non-believers.” We use these labels to justify our actions or degrees of love we show.

In our dealings with other Christians, Jesus tells us that the world will know we are his disciples when (not if) we love one another (John 13:35). If we want to bear the mark that we are Christ’s disciples, then it is not through what we politically do or abstain from or what personal forms of conduct we have. Those maybe a result of our relationship with Jesus, but they are not the mark for the world to see we are his disciples. It is through our love for each other that we prove to the world we are his. In fact, Jesus commands us to love each other (John 15:17).

In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48 we need to be perfect in our love to others (even our enemies). An enemy is anyone who is opposed to you. An unbeliever is someone who could fit that definition. But how does God treat enemies? He sends rain to both the godly and the ungodly. He is gracious and loving. Jesus reminds us that there is no real reward in loving our friends, but found in loving our enemies.

So, we understand that love is extended to both believers and unbelievers. Now, let’s look at the ways we tend to tell people to “talk to the hand, because our face ain’t listening.”

tHE playact prayer

I love the movie The War Room. I love hearing the stories throughout church history about the power of prayer. We take church services and spend the whole time praying for our country, for revival, and for needs in our churches. Prayer is a very powerful tool. James 5:16 tells us the earnest prayer of a righteous man can accomplish great things. Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7-11 we need to knock, seek, and ask. In persistent prayer, there is found God’s good gifts. Can I get an amen?

However, there is an attitude that Jesus does not demonstrate. In fact, it is condemned in the New Testament. It is when someone (believer or unbeliever) approaches us with a need and we say something like, “I am sorry you are going through this. I will be praying for you,” or “God will provide. Trust him. I will keep you in my prayers” and we do not do anything.

We never find Jesus turning away someone who came to him in faith to receive. Even when someone said to him, “if you are willing to heal me,” Jesus answered, “I am willing. Be healed. (Matthew 8:1-3).” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, even if we want a person hurt, we need to give our cloak and we need to walk the extra mile (Matthew 5:38-42).

James even addresses this. James 2 is confronting this attitude. We should not have favorites, but love everyone. If we want to show the validity and sincerity of our faith, James tells us to never turn someone away and bless them without being able to at least help them in some way. He says what good is it to bless someone with, “be warmed and filled,” and not actually help them (James 2:14-16)? In fact, to only tell someone you are praying for them without actually acting to help them, James says, your faith is dead and useless (James 2:17).

How many times have we had someone ask for help financially or with finding a job or keeping their home or are in a crisis, and we just tell them to “trust God, because he will provide and we will pray for them”? That is putting on a playact of faith. It is not actually showing our faith. It is a similar attitude the pharisees had. They would show off their grand money and spiritual height, but did they actually help people? Or did they only help to promote themselves (Matthew 6:1-4)?

Telling someone we will pray for them without actually helping them is telling them,” Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It shows we cannot be bothered with their needs. Sure, we may not have the funds to help, but can we help them acquire what they need?

When our faith is without works, it is dead and useless. Prayer without action is a playact of faith. It is no better than the religious leaders who put Jesus on the cross.

The spurious separation

As a teacher, I have a love for the movie Mean Girls. It depicts life in a high school, and the drama that takes place. Through my years of teaching, I have seen many of those lines and scenes play out among the students I interacted with. One of the most common lines I hear is – “You can’t sit with us!” One group finds another group (or person) detestable and will make sure no one makes the mistake of them being associated.

As Christians, we can do the same to others. A need comes to our attention either through a conversation, text message, social media post, etc. What do we do? Sometimes we consider the person or circumstance, and we think, “I do not want to appear as supporting this persons sin or have other Christians think I approve of them in anyway. Remember, God says I need to abstain from every form of evil.” We pat ourselves on the back for this thinking as we back it up with I Thessalonians 5:22.

Again, we must ask, was this the attitude of Jesus? In Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-32, Jesus is called out for eating with sinners. The religious leaders hated that Jesus associated with and allowed “sinners” close to him. Even the disciples were shocked when Jesus associated with a Samaritan woman, because that was taboo (John 4:27). Jesus associated with sinners, because he knew that his kindness could lead to repentance (Romans 2:4).

Did you know Peter was called out by Paul for not wanting to associate with certain Christians, because other Christians might look down on him (Galatians 2:11-21)? In the early church, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were figuring out how to interact with each other. Some of their practices were different from each other, but they all agreed that faith saves. Paul had to remind Peter that it is Jesus who saves; not the works of the law or anything we do. Therefore, there should be unity between Christians.

This attitude does infect our churches today. We see a Christian, who may be in sin, ask for help, and what do we do? We may tell them no, because we do not want to be seen as supporting them. We see an unbeliever in need who asks for our help, and what do we do? We assess how our helping them will affect our image and reputation among other Christians.

This is unbiblical thinking. Even if a Christian is under Matthew 18:15-17, and is removed from a church or is now seen as a “pagan or a corrupt tax collector,” what are we to do? Jesus still loved and met the needs of unbelievers. We never stop loving or disassociating from someone “out of love.” Jesus never did.

To tell someone or treat someone with separation, because you do not want to “support their sin” or have a bad reputation among believers in your church is a spurious separation. It is telling someone, “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It is just like the pharisees using Scripture to justify not honoring their parents or putting their traditions above God’s word (Mark 7:1-13).

Does this kind of “love” really show the world we are Christ’s disciples?

Afflicting holy hurt

It is sad when someone walks away from Jesus. It hurts us inside when someone makes a choice that leads down a bad path. Our heartbreaks for that person. In these situations, we may hear or even say ourselves, “I hope God breaks them in order to bring them back to repentance,” or “I pray God uses this awful situation to break their hard heart,” or “You are going through such a hard time with (insert a difficulty and need), but maybe God is using this to break you.” I have heard this many, many times in various churches and among Christians. I even heard someone pray that if God needed to use a car wreck to break someone, that it should be done.

When has it even been Biblical to wish harm on someone in order for them to come to Jesus? In Luke 9:51-56, the disciples are angry that the Samaritans did not welcome Jesus. So, they asked Jesus to send down fire on those people. For what purpose? Jesus rebuked the disciples, and continued onto the next town.

God doesn’t even think like that! I Peter 3:9 states so! God is patient. He doesn’t want anyone destroyed, but to all come to repentance through his love and kindness (Romans 2:4).

There is only one person who was broken for the sake of our repentance – Jesus Christ. He was broken so we could live and be free. Through his broken body he established the covenant of grace. No longer our relationship with God is based on blessings and curses as seen in the Old Testament. It is based on grace. It is based on God’s love towards us. He uses his love and grace to draw us to him. He isn’t wanting our destruction in order bring about repentance. Wherever that idea came from, it sure didn’t come from Jesus.

To pray for God to hurt someone physically, financially, emotionally, or mentally in order to bring about repentance is telling that person “Talk to the hand, because the face ain’t listening.” It says we do not want to get involved and love. We would rather see someone suffer than love on them like Jesus loves on us. The pharisees and religious leaders treated people with that kind of disdain. They would say, “Let the consequences be the teacher.” Jesus would bring any individual close, feed them, give them a place at his table, and let the Spirit change that person.

Are we loving like Christ loves and allowing the Spirit to move through our love?

Lowering our hand

It is sad how many people leave the church because they have been met with one of these three attitudes. It is sad how the love of Christ has been twisted into an imitation of the “love” of the religious leaders Jesus opposed.

What should be done?

Do any of the attitudes above emulate the real love of Jesus?

We need to have the same hand gesture as Jesus did… Open arms ready to embrace. He is always ready to welcome, bless, be gracious to, listen, understand, cry with, heal, feed, and see a life changed.

The greatest commands that fulfill the Law and the Prophets is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:34-40). The person who perfectly fulfilled the Law and Prophets for us is Jesus. He is our example. In fact, he says to everyone, “Come to me with your heavy burdens. Let me take them. I will give you rest and a new way of life (Matthew 11:28-30).”

How does our love for others allow them to lay down their heavy burdens and find rest in the Jesus who did the same for us?