Not trapped in yesterday

You would never know it is winter in Los Angeles. The leaves have barely changed colors, the temperature is in the 80s, and everyone around me is still in yoga pants or shorts.

And yet it’s officially winter—the calendar told me so.

Sometimes the seasons of our lives are like that too. The season has shifted and the calendar says the year is brand new, but everything still feels like yesterday.

Sometimes we need to be reminded that life will flow again. We won’t be trapped in yesterday forever. Yesterday ended at midnight, and whether our yesterday was full of victories, draws, or defeats, there is grace for us to get up and run again today. Perhaps you need to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror (or write it in lipstick as my wife, Jessica, has been known to do): “Yesterday ended at midnight.”

There is a prayer in Psalm 126:4 that says, “Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.” This prayer might not mean a whole lot to us until we learn that by late summer the river bottoms in the Negev (the desert country in Southern Israel) become bone dry, and the thought of retrieving water from them is laughable. However, when the winter’s rainy season finally trumps summer, fresh, clean, life-giving water begins to flow into those barren riverbeds once more.

The change over to a New Year is the perfect time to be reminded that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Unlike Cinderella who had everything revert back to the past when the clock struck twelve, we have the promise that with every new day there comes new grace and new opportunities for life, love, healing, hope, and breakthrough. Let’s live today to the hilt.

And then let’s let it die at midnight as we run courageously into the mystery and hope of a New Year.


Identifying with Princess Leia

lukeswingingNearly every great adventure film has a scene where the hero/heroine grabs a rope and swings across a dangerous chasm. They are usually running for their life, with their enemy bearing down upon them, and yet they still find a way to look beautiful while they dodge bullets and float gracefully to the other side.

The best chasm-swinging scene in all of movie lore is the epic moment from Star Wars Episode 4 when Princess Leia clutches Luke Skywalker’s neck, kisses him for luck, and then swings away with him to safety.

I never forgave Luke for getting that kiss instead of me, but now years later I find myself identifying a little more with Leia than with Luke. Don’t get me wrong I still want to be a hero, and I want my wife and daughters to be able to hold onto me during tough times. However, as I review my life I realize that I haven’t survived my dead ends solely because of my own heroism—I’ve been carried more times than I can count.

King David (a hero of Skywalker proportions) understood this too. In Psalm 63:8 he wrote to the Lord, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”

Even though this life of faith is an epic adventure that pulls the courage, toughness, and valor out of us, we will never survive it by our own grit and determination alone. Some chasms are just too wide for us to cross, and our souls need something larger than us to cling to. We need to be like Princess Leia and learn to lean and rest and allow God’s right hand to carry us through.

What in the world is going on?

what-in-the-world-is-going-onOn the morning of September 11, 2001 I was en route to a monthly pastors’ prayer gathering at the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs when the first tower was hit. Those events of 9/11 plunged our country into unimaginable pain and disbelief, and immediately took their place alongside other unforgettable historical tragedies such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and others.

This week, in the wake of yet another tragic shooting and its resultant escalation of fear, hatred, and racism, those familiar feelings from 9/11 are resurfacing.

Bombings…shootings…racism…fury…terror…maddening presidential campaigns…the deaths of police officers…the deaths of young black men…what in the world is going on? AND what in the world can we do?

1 Chronicles 12:32 identifies a subset of King David’s mighty men, men from the tribe of Issachar, who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” How can we be those kinds of men and women? How should we process the signs of our times, and what are the courses of action that we should be taking?

Is our country falling apart? Is there only gloom on our horizon? Should we hunker down under fear? Should we assume that our glory days are over before they ever even really began, and that things will only be grim from here on out? What should we be doing as a general cloak of fear, anger, and despair settles more fully over our country’s soul?

Perhaps we should cling to and manifest some things that are promised to remain. The Apostle Paul told us that when everything else is passing away there are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love.

The Christian worldview gives us FAITH that the God of history is still deeply at work in the universe. It gives us confidence that there is HOPE for both today as well as tomorrow. And ultimately it give us a mission: to LOVE our God, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our world.

I don’t presume to have great wisdom or prophetic insight about this…I just wonder what might change in our world if we were people of courageous and prayer-filled faith, generous and compassionate hope, and reconciling, hate-abolishing love?

I will always need you more than ever before

the lord is nearEver since I was quite young, hot tubs have been one of my sanctuaries. It’s kind of weird, but true nonetheless. Tonight, while thinking in the hot tub, I uttered a simple prayer to the Lord, “I need you more than ever before” and then I was immediately struck by the humor in that prayer.

I have ALWAYS needed God more than ever before.

As a drifting, disillusioned young college student, I needed God more than ever before.

As a newlywed husband I realized that I would need Him more than ever before if I was going to be a husband worthy of Jessica.

When my three daughters were born, I was keenly aware that I needed His help more than ever before.

In other seasons of success, failure, victory, and trauma I uttered those same words. And then tonight I prayed it again. I guess I’m just always going to need Him more than ever before.

I think that’s a good thing. King David felt that way. So did Paul. I can relate to a little bit of their stories. I’ve had moments of such exhilaration in the Lord’s presence that I was certain that heaven had come to earth, and I’ve had other moments where I didn’t know if I could go on living. The one constant has been Him. Jesus has been, is, and ever will be faithful.

If you’re on a mountaintop tonight, enjoy it. If you’re crawling through a valley, keep crawling. You’re not alone, and the Lord will meet you there.

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him…” (King David, Psalm 145:18).

Are you a visionary?


adjective vi·sion·ary

  • having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future
  • having or showing a powerful imagination
  • of or relating to something that is seen or imagined in a dream or vision

Every person possesses visionary gifts, and is able to dream about a brighter future. However, some people are specifically gifted of God with unusual visionary skills and talents.

Here are several visionary statements to help us gauge our visionary aptitude:

  • While some say, “No one understands” the visionary says, “I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and I am not alone.”
  • While some see a problem, a visionary sees a race to run.
  • While some worry, “What if I trip?” a visionary wonders, “How fast can I go?”
  • While some see a “finisher” T-shirt, a  visionary fixates on the victory lap.
  • While some fix their eyes solely on their own strengths and abilities, visionaries glue their eyes to Christ.
  • While some lament the sacrifices that must be made, visionaries celebrate the lives that will be changed along the way.
  • While some count the cost, visionaries count the reward and joyfully move toward its acquisition.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Alexis’ story

Alexis GraceOn May 14, 1996, after 30 hours of labor and an emergency c-section, Alexis Grace was born and promptly stole our hearts. She was gorgeous, with Jessica’s curly hair and brilliant, blue eyes. We never dreamed of how deeply and instantaneously parental love would flow. We also never dreamed we would have to face all  of the shock and horror of those initial days, months, and years with her.

Upon her birth, sweet Alexis entered a world of suffering. Brain damage, a seizure disorder, and multiple health deficiencies caused her life on this side of heaven to be a horrific mixture of doctor appointments, surgeries, potent medicine applications, and 24-hour health care. She spent her first seven weeks in the neo-natal intensive care unit, and then had to undergo the insertion of a tracheotomy. Sick with pneumonia nearly every month of her life, and undergoing seven different surgeries, Alexis faced more pain and trauma in her three years of life than most of us will ever face in ours.

She was an angel who touched the lives of everyone that contacted her, and after she died, eight nurses, a family doctor, and two of the leading pediatric specialists in the Pacific Northwest attended her funeral.

Our hearts splintered into a thousand pieces and we didn’t know if we would ever recover. We’ve cried, we’ve cursed, and we’ve wanted to die. But we’ve also lived again. There’s a little phrase that occurs in the book of Genesis after the sin and fall of mankind that says, “…Adam lived.” This Hebrew word for “lived” means “to live again.”

Adam lived and died in the Garden of Eden and then he began to live again.

That’s been true for Jessica and me as well. We feel like we’ve lived, died, and, finally, have begun to live again. And that’s our prayer for you in your painful situation, that God would take what appears hopeless and unnecessary and transform it into something brilliant and beautiful. He certainly did that in the time we had with Alexis Grace, and despite the grief of your personal heartaches and losses, He can do it for you as well!

(To hear more about Alexis’ story and our journey to reconnect to life after profound loss, check out my book, Praying Through SorrowsFree copies are also available in our Grace Church services).

The end and the beginning

throwing starfishIn the end it’s all about the “one.”

Today will be my last official Hole in our Gospel posting, and I think the most appropriate way to end is with Richard Stearns’ own words. He writes: “In the end God works in our world one person at a time. The hungry are fed, the thirsty are refreshed, the naked are clothed, the sick are treated, the illiterate are educated, and the grieving are comforted, just one person at a time.”[1]

These are important closing words because after spending more than twenty weeks together reading about the dire state of our world we could be tempted to lose heart. We could compare our puny resources with the monstrosity of global needs and feel that our best efforts will still fall woefully short.

Or we could go the opposite direction.

We could recognize that while we can’t save everyone we can save one.

Although we can’t sponsor every child we can sponsor some.

We can’t water the whole world but we can irrigate a region.

We can do our part.

My hope for every Grace Church and non-Grace Church reader is that we would end this particular reading program both broken and resolved, limping under the weight and yet breathlessly excited to make a difference.

Several weeks ago I reminded you of the oft-quoted starfish story, wherein a small boy chose to rescue the stranded starfish that were within his reach even though he knew he could never reach them all.  Let’s be that boy. Let’s carry God’s heart like we never have before. Let’s care at an unprecedented level. Let’s evaluate our time, talent, and treasure and commit to using all three for the glory of God and the needs of humanity.

When people come looking for us let’s be found along the seashore chucking starfish as far as we can possibly throw them.

[1] Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson: 2009): 257.