Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Clash of the Titans

It was epic in the extreme. I have no doubt that nature held its breath. Every angel in Heaven craned their necks to get a better view. Every demon cheered their hero on, hoping against hope that finally Jesus would be destroyed, once and for all, even before His earthly ministry began.

How did the devil do it? How could he possibly think that he could win? What strategy did he employ in his efforts to topple the King of kings from His throne?

Would it surprise you to learn that he employs the exact same strategy today, against us? He does. Like a prowling lion, the Apostle Peter wrote, the devil is determined to defeat us. 

In this podcast, you will learn how he attempts it, how he sometimes succeeds, and God’s antidote against it. You can hear it by clicking here.

Please note: Though I originally gave this message to my beloved little flock at The Safe Haven, my throat was so sore and my voice quite scratchy. Perfectionist that I am, I decided to toss that recording. What you are going to hear is virtually the same message, though this podcast was actually recorded at last week’s Hartland High School Winter Camp.

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I Saw God This Week

2011 HARTLAND HI SCH 1 MONDAY PM-114I saw God this week.

Not in a blinding blaze of His brilliant glory lighting up the night sky. Not in a booming voice that shook my house and rattled my bones. No. He’s much more subtle than that. 

I saw God in a Facebook message. Seriously. A private message sent by someone whose name I did not at first recognize. Someone who lives on the other side of the country. Someone who I’m not sure I have even formally met in person. But God showed up on a day when I desperately needed Him to show up. 

And show up, He did!

A wee bit of the backstory. Last weekend I was speaking at one of my all-time favorite places on this planet — Hartland Christian Camp — to a group of the best high school students you’d ever want to meet. The previous couple of days brought some devastating news to the Hartland staff and me. Our dear friend, Chris — loving husband, beloved father of six, missionary to Africa — died of an as-yet undiagnosed condition that befell him only 3 weeks ago. This came on top of Hartland (and me) losing another precious friend, Ken, to a motorcycle accident just a few short weeks ago. (BTW, Ken was supposed to dean at the Winter Camp at which I was speaking.)

In the language of the Broadway stage, “the show must go on.” So I was alone in my room, on Monday morning, putting my “game face” on. I had no choice. Every one of those students whom I had grown to cherish deserved my best. But before leaving my room and making my way to the chapel, on a whim really, I checked my Facebook page. In a private message, some guy named Kevin wrote to thank me for being one of his instructors at the Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, NY, a way back in 1987. He reminded me of something that I said in class that he has never forgotten. A few simple words which had come to mark his ministry to young people even to this day.

As I reflected upon them, I realized that these words, uttered so many years ago, have continued to define who I am and what I am all about.

Kevin wrote, “The motto I still live by in youth ministry to this day is ‘Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.’” 

“Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.” 

Which was precisely what I was doing last weekend at Hartland, 26 long years later. 

“Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.” 

On a side note, you would have been so proud of these students. They have restored my faith in the future generation of Christian leaders. These students sat in session after session, sometimes for up to an hour, listening to this old man drone on and on. They were off-the-chart attentive, taking notes, nodding their affirmations, smiling their encouragements, even when I didn’t have the good sense to sit down and shut up. They are my heroes.

But back on point: “Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.” 

Come to think of it, that’s an amazing purpose statement not just for youth pastors. That’s a terrific purpose statement for every parent. For every friend. For every one. Words applicable to every one of our relationships, with young and old alike.

So let me broaden it out a bit: “Love people unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.”

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that though that sound bite defines who I am and what I purpose in my heart always to do, I fail and fall short of that goal daily. Sometimes I wonder if in my life those words more accurately define the exception rather than the rule. But before God, they certainly summarize the goal that I constantly strive to achieve: “Love people unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.”

Kevin’s kind words gave me the strength I needed to take my place on the platform and to bare my soul to some pretty special students one more time. Who would have thought? Something as simple as a Facebook message became for me a gift from God. Or more accurately, a glimpse of God. His tender voice reminding me that even at a time of profound personal loss and inexpressible pain, God was right there in the room with me, enduring my pain as if it was His own.

Which challenged me to ask of myself this all-important question: Are the words that I speak or write; are the messages that I send; are the ways that I treat others; are the smiles and hugs that I give or sadly withhold; are they gifts from God, expressions of God, or do they leave people out in the cold, people in need of a divine touch that I failed to give? 

Do you suppose that was what the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 3:2? “But you are our letter… for everyone to read and understand.” Makes me sort of pause to ponder what kind of a letter I write to the precious people I encounter each and every day.

One of the students asked me this profound question last weekend: “If God does not dwell in the Temple any more, where can people go to see Him today?” What a thrill to be able to answer with these words, also written by Paul: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?”

Wow. What a powerful, life-transforming thought. One that ought to give every one of us pause. Pause before we speak, pause before we act, pause before we react.

‘Cuz the truth is, if we really truly did indeed love others unconditionally, so many of the hurtful things we might otherwise say or do we would recognize as unnecessary, and unnecessarily hurtful.

Which comes down to this: If we truly are God’s love-letters to each other, as Kevin was to me on Monday, what kind of a letter are we sending? And will the people who receive our letters be the better, or the worse, for reading them?

Kevin inspired me to shoot for the former. To consistently do what I challenged him to do so many years ago: “Love kids unconditionally, and always tell them the truth.”

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If You Love Me So Much, Why Do I Hurt So Bad?


This is a bonus podcast.

Normally, each week I upload the latest in our Jesus in High Definition podcast series. But this past weekend, I took a break from my beloved little flock at The Safe Haven, where the Jesus in HD podcast is recorded, in order to speak at a High School Winter Camp in CA. Hartland Christian Camp, to be exact. One of my all-time absolute favorite places on this planet.

So in place of a Jesus in HD podcast, I reached back into the archives to a message I gave last summer at a Junior High Summer Camp. A brief word of explanation as to what you will hear…

I usually begin a camp on the opening night by handing out to each student a 3×5 card. I then invite them to write down the one question that they would ask God if given the chance. You might be amazed at the questions they would ask. As you will hear in this podcast, I closed my eyes and randomly selected three of the two hundred or so questions that I received. Those three questions were, sadly, typical of most of the questions that those precious students would ask of God. The three questions were these:

1. Can I get my dog back?

2. Why weren’t You there for me?

3. Why are You so mean? 

So this message that I gave on the Monday evening of that week-long camp is my attempt to answer those questions. 

What would you say to a group of junior higher/middle school students who are basically asking God, Why is my life so painful? Or, to put it another way, If You are so loving, and if You are so powerful, why do You make me hurt so bad?

This is my best attempt at the answer. You can hear it by clicking here.
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I Never Cease to be Amazed…

You know what amazes me about the Bible? 

Well, lots of things amaze me about the Bible. But this may well be the top of my list: “It is today as it was then.”

“It is today as it was then.”

I never cease to be amazed at how little has changed in the intervening 2000 years since the Bible was completed.

Human nature is as human nature does, and human nature hasn’t changed all that much.

Which is why I’ve never bought into the argument that the Bible is an outdated, irrelevant book that has nothing to say to us today. Fact is, the Bible has a ton to say to us today.

Case in point: Last week, we looked at the landscape of the Israel of Jesus’ day from a physical/geographicalpoint of view. We discovered then that we have many lessons to learn today from the desert. The wilderness.

In this week’s podcast, we will focus the landscape of the Israel of Jesus’ day from a spiritual point of view. 

Here’s what’s so amazing to me: The Jewish landscape in first century Israel was strikingly, and I might add alarmingly, similar to the Christian landscape in our country in our day.  

It is indeed today as it was then.


If you’ve ever wondered why Christians say the things they say, do the things they do, and act the way they act, then this podcast is for you.

You can hear this podcast by clicking HERE.

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Then God Showed Up

God shows up in the unlikeliest of places.

And when He does, it never ceases to amaze me. 

Our Heavenly Father even shows up at something as earthly as the Super Bowl. And boy, did He show up last Sunday!

Whenever God makes a surprise visit, I’m like, “You have got to be kidding me. That was awesome.” But to be honest, I’m not so sure as to why His unannounced visits are that much of a surprise. I mean, I’ve seen the same thing happen so many times over the years that by now you’d think I’d be expecting God to make an appearance.

And Jesus certainly set the predicate for such a visit when He said about His disciples, “If they keep quiet, these stones will start shouting” (Luke 19:40 NLT).

So if God can receive praise from rocks along a path, then surely He can receive praise from a football game. And boy, did He ever!

No, I’m not talking about the placekicker who crossed himself before sending the ball sailing through the uprights. Though I offer my kudos to him for practicing his faith even in the pressure-cooker of the Super Bowl.


No, I’m not talking about a quarterback who famously sports a Jesus tattoo and a variety of Bible verses on his body. Though I certainly applaud his faith as well.

I AM talking about a commercial. A Super Bowl commercial. A super, Super Bowl commercial. One in which God, and the values that God cherishes — the values that represent the very best of the people whom He created — were on prime-time display. Throughout the country, and around the world. We’re talking a big stage here, where it is estimated that one out of every two television sets were tuned in. One in which 110 million people looked in and got a grand view.

The commercial featured the words written by an anonymous author (no one knows for sure who originally wrote the piece), but words so stirringly read by the master storyteller, Paul Harvey — who on February 28 will have been dead four years, yet “he being dead still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). Speaks loudly and clearly, I might add, to the glory of God on a worldwide stage.

The commercial began with the words, “And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”

I’ve got to tell you: Over the years, and through many a-Super Bowl, I have become an expert in tuning out commercials. Silly me. I parked myself in front of my LG 32 incher fully expecting to watch a football game. But the moment I heard those words I stopped talking in mid-sentence, froze with my snack-filled hand halfway to my mouth, and watched and listened.

This commercial paralyzed me.

But not only me. Within seconds of its conclusion, my Facebook page and Twitter account went wild with posts and tweets about the raw impact of this powerful moment frozen in time. 

The commercial has since gone viral. And that for good reason:

While the good people at Dodge were using this paid advertisement to sell Ram trucks, they tapped into a subconscious strain of human DNA that so many of us admire, and that so many of us strive to manifest in our own lives.

Our belief in a kind and compassionate God who cares — deeply — about all of His many creatures, while paying particular attention to every facet of our hectic daily lives. As Paul Harvey read, “God said, ‘I need somebody… who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark.’ So God made a farmer.”

They appealed to our love for a loving God who understands and is intimately involved in the day-to-day challenges that we all face, and the pain we so often feel. “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, “Maybe next year.”’ So God made a farmer.”

They understood that we are devoted to a God who appreciates, and approves, and delights in our most menial of tasks; for in truth, nothing is menial to God. “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.’ So God made a farmer.”

Our worship of God who looks upon all that we do as acts of worship, especially when when we do our best, give it our all, and do our work with integrity. “God said, ‘It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners.’ So God made a farmer.”

And our yearning to belong, to feel connected to one another. “God said, ‘It had to be somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing.’ So God made a farmer.”


Of course, the images on the screen were equally as moving as the narration that accompanied them. A small country church. An elderly man with the wrinkles of a life well-lived etched upon his well-worn face as his eyes squinted into the shining sun. A woman with an enigmatic smile that lets us know that she has a story of her own, one worth telling, one we’d all love to sit at her feet and hear her tell. A boy and a girl who represent all of the human potential with which they were endowed by their Creator. A lone individual, kneeling in a pew silently, with cracked hands folded reverently, alone with His God, but not really alone because God meets him there. A family seated around the dining room table softly offering their thanks to the Almighty for faithfully providing them with yet another meal.

A dad and his young son, his pride for his boy written all over his expressive face. As God said, “It had to be someone… who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.’ So God made a farmer.”

As a commercial, it was a masterpiece. As a message, it was about farmers and about Dodge Ram trucks. But only on the surface. Dig down a bit deeper, and you will find that it was a message about us. Who we are. And the kind of people we long to become.

There was a football game last Sunday. One watched by millions. And wouldn’t you know? God showed up!

Boy, did He ever!

In case you missed the commercial, you can watch it HERE.

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A Crisis of Faith

A Crisis of Faith. Have you ever had one? If so, you’ll not soon forget it. I can tell you from personal experience that a crisis of faith is no fun.

It’s no fun when your belief system is thrown into a tailspin. It’s no fun when your theological substructure upon which you have built your life suddenly crumbles into dust. It’s no fun when you’re suddenly overwhelmed by doubts about the cardinal convictions that you have held near and dear for so long. Let me tell you: Given the choice between a crisis of faith and… say… bamboo shoots stuck up my fingernails, I’ll take the bamboo shoots every time.

Here’s how it happens: Something unexpected hits our lives. A loss. A disappointment. Mistreatment at the hands of a Christian. A personal moral failure that leaves us reeling with the realization that we just did something that we were sure we would never/could never do. A spiritual dead zone where we go through all of the motions that worked in the past — Bible reading, prayer, memorization, faithful church attendance — but no matter what we do or how hard we try to connect with God, He seems utterly disconnected — silent, indifferent, or non-existent.

It doesn’t help that we’ve had it ingrained into our thinking that such deep-down doubts are evidence of a lack of faith. Because if faith is the basis of our salvation — “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) — then perhaps, just maybe, we were never saved to begin with. Or so we fear. Like a dull headache, the question can gnaw ever so subtly at the synapses of our minds: Can a true believer in Jesus ever really falter in his or her faith, or stop believing altogether?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I was reminded of something just this week in our ongoing study of Jesus in HD. During my teaching preparation, I was reacquainted with an old friend. He appears in the opening act of the Gospel drama. He plays a singularly significant role in Jesus’ life and ministry at the beginning, and then just sort of fades away — by design. Yet Jesus held him in the very highest esteem, paying him the most superlative of compliments that firmly established this choice servant of God in His Hall of Faith of biblical heroes.

And yet, in his darkest hour, at that moment when his life hit rock bottom, his faith collapsed.

Yes, I am talking about John the Baptizer. A man about whom Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Pretty high praise for someone caught in the stranglehold of his own crisis of faith.

Here’s the thumbnail of his backstory (If you want to hear the full-blown account of John’s epic downward spiral, click HERE for the podcast): John the Baptizer announced to the world that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (Mathew 3:2). But as so often happens, life did not turn out the way John thought it would or thought it should. This supremely faithful and uncompromisingly godly servant of the Most High ended up in prison and languished in a desert dungeon for months. No, life was not fair. Yes, bad things (a whole lot of bad things) happened to this very good person.

Matthew gave us the briefest of glimpses into John’s personal prison of anguish when he reported that in desperation, John sent a question to Jesus. A most remarkable question, the words of which unmask the depth of John’s doubts. The man who revealed Jesus the Messiah to the world actually asked Him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).

You talk about a faith in free-fall! There it was for all the world to see and hear.

Now, my point in sharing this is not to solve your crisis of faith (assuming you have had, or will have one). I can’t do that. I can tell you that like me — like John — you will work through it, and come out even stronger because of it.

My point is to tell you this: Jesus did not condemn John the Baptizer. Just the opposite. For it was in response to John’s question that Jesus heaped upon him the highest praise that Jesus gave to anyone.

Have any doubts of your own? Jesus understands. He knows how tough it is down here. He knows firsthand all of the many factors that can suddenly and unexpectedly and tragically come together in a faith-shattering constellation of catastrophes that will rock anyone’s belief system to its very core.

And He loves us just the same.

He won’t condemn us. He won’t judge us. He won’t think less of us. He will not abandon us. He will say to us exactly what He said in response to John the Baptizer: Look at all the things I am doing — “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:5). In other words, I’m still here. I’m still in control. Even if/when it doesn’t seem like I am. AND… I am not going anywhere.

If someone of the stature of a John the Baptizer battled his own demons of doubt, please don’t be surprised and don’t despair if you do as well.

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