Letters

Finish the Work of Church Discipline

I was part of a church one time, where one of the leaders developed what was seen as an inappropriate relationship with his female secretary.

He didn’t respond to counsel (he didn’t agree with their evaluation), and so Matthew 18 was brought out, along with 1 Corinthians 5:4&5 to bring him to repentance.
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For reference:
“...if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector....” [Matthew 18:17]

“...deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved....” [1Corinthians 5:5]
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This was a difficult gathering, when we obeyed these scriptures. It was, however, done tenderly and lovingly (I have seen these verses wielded in less loving ways at other times).

Over time, the gentleman in question recognized that he had been in error and repented. (Later, he testified that when we talked about “delivering him to Satan,” that it wasn’t a metaphor.)

It’s my observation that this sort of church discipline is exercised from time to time, whether with love or with a cudgel, by churches who value obeying the Scriptures.

I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a church practicing the rest of that process.
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“The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.” [2Corinthians 2:6-8]
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It seems that pretty often, the church whose leader has failed morally is more focused on getting the stain off of their reputation than they are in restoring a fallen brother. And so “church discipline” when it goes this far, has come to mean that we’ll never see that brother again.

That’s not the plan.

The Matthew 18 passage instructs us to “treat him as a tax collector.” You might want to recall that the author of this passage, Matthew himself, was once a tax collector, until Jesus met him.

Or consider how Jesus dealt with the only other tax collector named in Scripture (“Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”). There was no shunning, no sweeping under the rug here.

The 1Corinthians passage goes on to say that the goal of that process is “that his spirit may be saved.” And if that weren’t enough, the apostle chews them out in his next letter for not going out of their way to restore the guy.

That’s how our Jesus does things: he restores folks. More specifically, he restores relationships with folks that the religious community has written off as embarrassing and inappropriate.

I’m thinking that Jesus is a good model to live up to.


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Letters

Lessons From Samson’s Failure

This morning, I was watching a video that somebody posted online, a Bible teacher I had never heard of. And as I watched and listened, I realized that the things he was saying were not settling well in my spirit.

He was basing his teaching on the Bible, sort of. And he clearly had a gift, though it was negotiable as to whether his gift was teaching or gathering a crowd. 

I decided not to continue under his influence and switched him off. And I kept thinking about it, about the dynamics going on here.

Later, I was working my way through the Book of Judges, and I came across Chapter 13. (Interestingly, the term “Chapter 13” in US law often refers to bankruptcy.) This is where the story of Samson begins. As I listened, it came alive for me. I love it when He does that.

My attention was drawn to the fact that Samson had a real, legitimate gift from God. What he did not have was a discerning heart. Samson’s character was bankrupt.


Samson was a Nazarite. A Nazarite had only three limitations, three vows:

 1. No wine or fermented alcohol.
 2. No haircuts.
 3. No contact with corpses or dead things.

I have no idea how Samson did with the first vow. 

He's famous for obeying the second, at least for a while.

I find it fascinating to observe his complete disregard for the third vow. 

(It is beyond the scope of this meditation to consider why obeying his second vow was so important to maintaining his gift, but obeying the third vow was apparently insignificant.

At one point Samson kills a bunch of enemies with the jawbone of an ass: that is just a chunk of dead animal. Another time, he scoops honey out of a dead lion and casually shares it with his mom and dad.) 

Sammy was unquestionably gifted by God, clearly the most gifted person of his generation. But he was really stupid.

It appears that he let his gift cloud his judgment. 

More than once he put himself into nasty situations with the enemy, excusing it by rationalizing that his gift would get him out of trouble.

More than once, the pretty girls he was hanging around work were clearly working for his enemy and were intent on his demise. They told him so. And yet Sammy did not guard his heart, he did not guard his gifting.

Delilah asked several times how to bind him, how to take him captive. He gave her false answers the first few times, but he should have figured it out when every time, his enemies tried that false answer on him. Clearly she was giving all of his answers to his enemies.

And yet he was so confident in his gifting that he ignored the danger.

That arrogance cost Sam his freedom, cost him his gifting, and even cost him his ability to see. It left him a slave, working for his enemies.

As I was meditating on these chapters, it seemed to me that it's pretty easy for gifted men and women of God in this day and age to fall into the same sort of failure that Samson fell into. It seems that hell is still using these tactics against God’s folks.

I believe that we as gifted believers can and should rely on our giftings. But clearly, there is a limits to that. When we listen more to our gifting, when we listen more to our desires, than we listen to either the Spirit of God, the Word of God or the people of God, that's when it gets really messy.

I don't actually know if the gifted preacher in the video I was watching this morning is falling into Sam’s trap, but as I meditated on this, I found myself praying for that preacher.

I know several people who have gotten seriously sidetracked by their very real, very powerful gifting. Some were famous, some were not. But I have observed these principles in their lives.

Some of them clearly relied on their very real gift to get them out of questionable circumstances. Some of them relied on the very real revelation they were getting more than the revelation of scriptures or the counsel of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Most of them have crashed and burned; some of them are still in that process. It’s not pretty. It is clearly not God's will for their failure, but I observe God's mercy working in it. If nothing else, it stopped them from continuing down that twisted path and compounding their failure.

I suspect that this is a season where God is refining his people. I suspect that He is keeping his gifted sons and daughters on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

I don't have gifts anything likes Samson or like the men and women that I have watched crash and burn, but I have gifts. Just like you do. I want to be careful with mine. 

So I find myself intentionally sharing more of myself with the men and women around me. I find myself intentionally asking God to search my heart. I know that I am not immune to the temptations that took out Samson or the others.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

This morning, I was watching a video that somebody posted online, a Bible teacher I had never heard of. And as I watched and listened, I realized that the things he was saying were not settling well in my spirit.

He was basing his teaching on the Bible, sort of. And he clearly had a gift, though it was negotiable as to whether his gift was teaching or gathering a crowd. 

I decided not to continue under his influence and switched him off. And I kept thinking about it, about the dynamics going on here.

Later, I was working my way through the Book of Judges, and I came across Chapter 13. (Interestingly, the term “Chapter 13” in US law often refers to bankruptcy.) This is where the story of Samson begins. As I listened, it came alive for me. I love it when He does that.

My attention was drawn to the fact that Samson had a real, legitimate gift from God. What he did not have was a discerning heart. Samson’s character was bankrupt.

Samson was a Nazarite. A Nazarite had only three limitations, three vows:

 1. No wine or fermented alcohol.
 2. No haircuts.
 3. No contact with corpses or dead things.

I have no idea how Samson did with the first vow. 

He's famous for obeying the second, at least for a while.

I find it fascinating to observe his complete disregard for the third vow. 

(It is beyond the scope of this meditation to wonder why obeying his second vow was so important to maintaining his gift, and why obeying the third vow was apparently insignificant.

At one point Samson kills a bunch of enemies with the jawbone of an ass, which is just a chunk of dead animal. Another time, he scoops honey out of a dead lion and casually shares it with his mom and dad.) 

Sammy was unquestionably gifted by God, clearly the most gifted person of his generation. But he was really stupid.

It appears that he let his gift cloud his judgment. 

More than once he put himself into nasty situations with the enemy, excusing it by rationalizing that his gift would get him out of trouble.

More than once, the pretty girls he was hanging around work were clearly working for his enemy and were intent on his demise. They told him so. And yet Sammy did not guard his heart, he did not guard his gifting.

Delilah asked several times how to bind him, how to take him captive. He gave her false answers the first few times, but he should have figured it out when every time, his enemies tried that false answer on him. Clearly she was giving all of his answers to his enemies.

And yet he was so confident in his gifting that he ignored the danger.

That arrogance cost Sam his freedom, cost him his gifting, and even cost him his ability to see. It left him a slave, working for his enemies.

As I was meditating on these chapters, it seemed to me that it's pretty easy for gifted men and women of God in this day and age to fall into the same sort of failure that Samson fell into. It seems that hell is still using these tactics against God’s folks.

I believe that we as gifted believers can and should rely on our giftings. But clearly, there is a limits to that. When we listen more to our gifting, when we listen more to our desires, than we listen to either the Spirit of God, the Word of God or the people of God, that's when it gets really messy.

I don't actually know if the gifted preacher in the video I was watching this morning is falling into Sam’s trap, but as I meditated on this, I found myself praying for that preacher.

I know several people who have gotten seriously sidetracked by their very real, very powerful gifting. Some were famous, some were not. But I have observed these principles in their lives.

Some of them clearly relied on their very real gift to get them out of questionable circumstances. Some of them relied on the very real revelation they were getting more than the revelation of scriptures or the counsel of brothers and sisters in the faith.

Most of them have crashed and burned; some of them are still in that process. It’s not pretty. It is clearly not God's will for their failure, but I observe God's mercy working in it. If nothing else, it stopped them from continuing down that twisted path and compounding their failure.

I suspect that this is a season where God is refining his people. I suspect that He is keeping his gifted sons and daughters on a shorter leash than in previous seasons.

I don't have gifts anything likes Samson or like the men and women that I have watched crash and burn, but I have gifts. Just like you do. I want to be careful with mine. 

So I find myself intentionally sharing more of myself with the men and women around me. I find myself intentionally asking God to search my heart. I know that I am not immune to the temptations that took out Samson or the others.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.


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Letters

Conditions On Inheriting My Promises


I’ve been reading in the Book of Numbers recently. The story of the twelve spies.

Moses Sends 12 Spies to Canaan - Numbers 13, 14:1-38 - Bible StoryToday I was struck by the fact that all twelve of them saw the same information. And all twelve of them agreed that what they saw was indeed awesome.

But most of them listened to the fears, and concluded “We can’t do this.” And God said, “OK. You can’t.”

God had brought them all this way specifically to fulfill this promise for them, but because they were moved by their fears, their words really did limit them, and they could not inherit, could not enter the promise.

They died in the wilderness, having been kept out of the promise, ultimately because they listened to their fears.

The other two, Joshua and Caleb, heard the same fears, but they didn’t listen to them. They listened to their trust in the God who had made the promise. They declared “We can do this!” even though they didn’t know how yet. And God said, “OK. You get to do this. But because the other ten wouldn’t believe me, you’ll have to wait until they die before you get the chance.”

• I observe that my ability to inherit God’s great and precious promises is dependent on my willingness to listen to him, to trust what he says, even when the media is shouting fears and anxiety at me.

• I observe that if I listen to the fear, if I speak from the fear, then I keep myself out of the promises that God is getting ready to give me.

• I observe that if I listen to the fear, if I speak from the fear, then I also prevent the people around me from experiencing their promises, at least until my fears and I get out of their way.

The good news is that we get to choose what voice we listen to. Free will really is that powerful!

“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

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Letters

Discipleship Before Conversion: A Testimony

Back in the 20th century, I managed a business for a friend. This was my “tentmaking” job while we were planting a church.

Barry was a salesman working for me. He was a great guy, an effective salesman, and he was focused on his #1 goal in life: becoming a millionaire as soon as possible. I loved his honest transparency.

As a part of our job, he and I had a “sales meeting” every week. Those were remarkable meetings.

These meetings generally lasted a couple of hours and we met in the food court of a local shopping mall.

We always started out with reviewing his sales work. He’d give me the signed contracts that he’d earned over the last week. We’d discuss the accounts and then talk about the coming week’s sales strategies. That took at least a quarter of an hour.

Barry’s vehicle of choice for reaching his millionaire goal was a large multi-level marketing group he was excited about, so we discussed how that was going for him. That took maybe a third of an hour.

Then came the good stuff. I pulled out my Bible, and we discussed our experiences and beliefs in things of eternity. Barry wasn’t a believer, but he was an honest thinker. “Because the Bible says so,” wasn’t convincing to him. But, “Well, the Bible says this, and here’s what I’ve experienced there,” meant a lot.

He wasn’t afraid to push back on a subject if he thought I was wrong, and if I was, I had to be real about it, or these brilliant conversations would be gone.

That was back in my stick-in-the-mud evangelical hard-liner days. I was convinced that being rich – and therefore aspiring to be rich – was evil. Barry, the non-believer, reminded me that a lot of the guys in the Bible (Job, Abraham, Joseph of Arimathea) who were wealthy. And he pointed out that aspiring to wealth wasn’t condemned; it was just a path full of dangers and traps (see 1Timothy 6:9), and he fully acknowledged the dangers.

We talked in terms of “Crossing the bridge” from living for yourself to living in relationship with Jesus, and we both discussed it as a “when;” we didn’t approach it as an “if.” But we both knew it was going to be a while for him.

That season in my life ended abruptly when I was suddenly fired by the business owner (after acknowledging he was impressed with the work Barry & I had done to make his business remarkably profitable).  

Legally prevented from other work in the country, we packed up and moved back home and, with our tail between our legs, moved in with grandparents to lick our wounds. The economy was tough; it took a year for us to get a job and find a home.

As we were moving boxes into our rental, the phone rang. I didn’t even know it had been hooked up yet.

It was Barry. “I wanted you to know that I crossed the bridge. I knew you’d want to know And I wanted to thank you for your time and friendship.”

Life wasn’t through kicking us around. But that one phone call gave me strength to keep on keeping on for quite a while.

Barry got a running start into the Kingdom. I was not the only man discipling him before he came to faith.

Consider: Jesus did not require a confession of faith before he called his disciples. Why should we?



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Letters

Thoughts on Being Pruned

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I spent the day the other day, pruning my tomatoes. It was really hard to not think about this verse in the process. So I gave in, and thought about it. I had some interesting thoughts. Keep in mind the Lord’s pruning of his children (that’s you and me) as you read this.

Pruning really is hard work. Pruning is not something you just do as you’re walking past in a few minutes, the few seconds that you have to spare. Pruning, particularly effective proving, takes thought, takes planning, takes endurance. In the parable, this would be God’s job. When he’s preparing us for effective, fruitful ministry it’s a lot of work for him. No wonder it feels like a lot of work for us too.

Pruning really is important work. This isn’t a case where if you get pruned, that’s nice, but if you don’t, that’s fine too. Rather, this is an example of Hebrews 12, where it says that set God trains, disciplines his children. Discipline is important work. Without discipline, will never accomplish anything in the Kingdom, or, frankly, in the world.

I can imagine that pruning a plant, cutting off branches, hurts the plant. I know for a fact that pruning branches, cutting off branches, is painful to the gardener. I am confident that when God cuts things out of our lives, particularly when he cuts things out that we enjoy, it hurts him. But he is so completely committed to our good if he is willing to do things that hurt him in order to make us stronger and better.

Pruning helps a plant focus its energy. Instead of a thousand tiny little fruits, each one nearly meaningless, a well pruned plant will produce a more modest number of excellent fruit, really nourishing. Sometimes you can tell people who have not submitted to pruning. They have a thousand little ministries, a thousand little interests, but they’re really not making a difference when you come right down to it. The people who have learned to focus their attention on one area are the ones who really change the world.

Different kinds of plants are pruned in different ways. Sometimes, the same kind of plant is prune in different ways if The Gardener has different plans for the plants. It seems obvious that the same is true for people. God sees us as individuals, relates to us as individuals. He trains some of us in one way, and he trains others of us in other ways.

Some plants are pruned in order to make them more fruitful. Some plants are pruned in order to make them stronger. Some plants are pruned in order to make them more beautiful. Not all prophets are trained the same way. Not all gift of Mercy are in the same category. One may minister to a thousand individuals. The other main Minister two groups of tens of thousands, or invest themselves into groups of three or four.

Pruning is more important when the plant is beginning to develop, than it is later on. That is, unless the plant has managed to avoid being pruned when it should have been. Similarly, young believers, developing believers, kit pruned more often, perhaps, then mature Saints. Though all of us, all of us, do get pruned by our gardener.
All About Grapevine PruningIf a plant is pruned regularly throughout its life, it will generally not need nearly as much pruning, not nearly as aggressive pruning, as the plant that has managed to avoid pruning for some time. That plant will get more cuts. For years, I managed to avoid the gardeners attention. And my life was unruly, hurtful, and unfruitful. I needed more pruning than I should have needed, at my stage in maturity.

Sometimes, a successful pruning will remove strong, healthy, even fruitful branches. This is for the best interest of the plant, the fruit, and the Gardener. Just because God removes something from our lives, that does not mean that it was a bad thing to be in our lives. Some of those things were good. But if we are going to be successful at changing the world, some things that are not part of our calling need to be cut away. If we are truly going to know and experience God’s heart for us, his heart for the world, then there may be much that we would have to say no to, good stuff that we will have to say no to.

At least with tomatoes, plants that produce big strong delicious fruit, are pruned more vigorously then plants that are designed to produce lots of little fruits. Slicing tomatoes get pruned more than cherry tomatoes. It would follow, then, that those of us who have a calling to greater things, bigger areas of influence are likely to need more times of pruning, and greater pruning. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a handful of cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes, if a plant is not pruned by The Gardener in time, the plant will just let some branches just die off, simply because it doesn’t have enough roots, enough strength to support so many branches. This is not a healthy thing. Dead branches on a living plant or a pathway to pests, predators, and disease. Areas where things have died in our life, rather than been pruned away, are similarly dangerous, places where disease or bitterness can find root.

So as I was pruning my tomatoes, I was also discussing God’s pruning of me. I found myself inviting my master Gardener, whom I trust, to prune me as he sees fit, from his view in Eternity. I love partnering with him in the work of the kingdom, and I know that he can lovingly prune away the things that hinder my effectiveness, that hinder my fully receiving his love.

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Letters

Maintaining the Garden


I had an interesting train of thought this morning in the … er… Library.

I have some plants and some starts that will go into the garden when the weather stabilizes (around here, that’s traditionally Mother’s Day). I had already brought many of those out of the greenhouse into what may actually be sunshine at some point in the day; it’s a good idea (in my view) to get plants ready for their new environment before I plant them there permanently.

I’m really looking forward to the growing season. I’ve got a fair number of plants ready to go, the garden beds are ready to go. The soil has been turned and amended with fresh compost. The weeds are gone (except for one: I want to know what it will turn into), and I know where each plant will be going. I have a few seeds in the ground (mostly salad things), and I know where more will be going.

And Father ambushed me on that topic. “You keep your garden up-to-date, don’t you?” and he reminded me how I try to keep it weed free all year, how I add plants and fertilize plants and how I water it regularly.

“Yeah, I do. It is a better garden if I take care of it.” I’ve had gardens in the past that I haven’t taken care of very well. They had been overtaken by weeds and grass and their produce was small and scarce.

Then he shifted gears on me; he reminded me of the investment I make in my marriage. “A good marriage takes the same kind of work that a good garden does, doesn’t it?” He reminded me that a marriage needs fertilizer and needs weeds removed just as much as a garden does.

I am (we are) pretty intentional about keeping the relationship healthy. We talk things out, we regularly express our love with words and touches and time together and such. We have maintained a delightful discipline of taking date nights, just for our relationship, every week (or more often) for more than 30 years.  

I reflected on the different joys that my marriage and my garden bring me.

“A relationship with me takes similar investment, you know. And it will bring you similar joy.”

He’s right, you know. (I say that kind of a lot. I’m not going to change that. He is. :) ) A relationship with another person – a marriage relationship, a friendship, a family relationship, a relationship with my creator – takes maintenance. Since we’d started with the metaphor of the garden, I’ll stick with it: it takes adding things (seeds, young plants, fertilizer, water) and taking things away (weeds, birds who want to dig up the seeds and eat the young fruits, cats who are thankful for a clean sandbox) to make the relationship thrive.

I think I’ll be meditating on this for a bit. How can I best invest into my relations with God and with the people around me? 

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Letters

Grey Haired Rockers?


There were some remarkably talented musicians in the heyday of rock & roll, back in the 70’s and such.

Have you ever noticed that a whole lot of the “big name” 70’s bands are still on tour, still singing the same songs, still riding that wave. And in all honesty, they’re still making a good living that way, reliving their past successes.

Other artists with just as much of a heyday in the past, are not riding on the past successes. They’re still pushing forward, still staying fresh, still developing.

Don’t worry, this is going to make sense in a minute.

I was listening to one of those “golden oldies” (ironically, it was a song called “Comfortably Numb”) when Father caught my attention, and pointed out that there are at least two lessons to learn here:

1) The artists who made the turn and are still fresh and creative have generally spent a season or three in a hard place before they were able to move on in their craft.  

2) This principle is true in the kingdom (and this one really kicked me in the gut). There are lessons for me (and maybe you) here:

                2a) There are some remarkably gifted ministries of the past heydays of one revival or another who are still singing the same (basic) message, still riding that wave. And in all honesty, they’re still making a living that way, reliving their past successes.  Some are big names; others still have regional or just informal spheres of influence. We notice the big names more.

                2b) There are other ministries (the ones that come to my mind tend toward prophetic ministries, though that may just be my perception) that have had just as much of a heyday in the past,  but are not riding on the past successes. They’re still pushing forward, still staying fresh, still pressing in for a fresh revelation for this fresh season.

                2c) The difference very often is about who has been willing to be allured into the wilderness, away from busyness and “success,” to sit with the Almighty, to listen to his heartbeat, to understand more of his heart, particularly his intents for today.

I remember that after his baptism, Holy Spirit “drove” or “compelled” Jesus into the wilderness [Mark 1:12] for a remarkable and memorable challenge. But at the end of that adventure, “the angels ministered to Him.” And afterwords, he “returned in the power of the Spirit.”

Apparently seasons in the wilderness are valuable.


I observe a few things here:

• Wilderness seasons seem to be God’s timing [cf Mark 1:12 & Hosea 2:14], not ours.
• But our choices are incredibly powerful here:
                ○ Do we choose to go to the scary, uncomfortable place that he’s leading?
                ○ Once we’re in that place, do we stand up and resist the evil that (mistakenly) thinks we’re weak? Do we whine and beg for people to pray for us, or do we stand  in the devil’s face and plant ourselves on the foundation of the Word (both scripture and prophetic words)? [Note: Community is precious in these times, but wildernesses are generally solitary events.]
                ○ Do we let angels minister to us? (Do we know how?)
                ○ When we come successfully through the wilderness, we walk in more of “the power of the Spirit.” What do we do with that power, that influence?

If this feels rough, that’s only because it is. I’m in the midst of these lessons myself. I don’t have all the answers anymore. I only share this in case others are going through such a time, or will shortly, and might benefit from some signposts along that trail into the wild places.

#AlMacksJournal

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A Very Messy Narrow Way


I’ve been reflecting on something interesting recently.

I have some children, and now they have children. And of course, once upon a time, I was a young child myself.

All of these children have the experience of birth in common. A few children take the short cut: someone opens things up and brings them from a world of comfortable, constricted darkness into bright lights and loud noises and then spanks them on the butt. Terribly confusing.

But all the rest take the longer route: their world of comfortable, constricted darkness gets more and more crowded. Then the real pressure comes, and their world gets terribly tight, insane amounts of pressure.

And then suddenly all the pressure is gone, and we’re in this wide open space. This guy smacks us and somebody else scrubs us up, and then there’s all that cuddling.

But it’s never that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills.

This is where these curious thoughts have been taking me:

My life in Christ is sort of like that. Somebody who knows what he’s talking about said, “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life.”

For some reason, this reminds me of the birth process. Narrow is that gate, and difficult is that way which leads to life. And messy. It’s really messy.

But after the mess of birth, oooooh how much freedom. My world is never again that tight, never that constricted, never that narrow a place ever again. We can do anything, we can go anywhere, though it might be a while before we master the right skills to get around and to be less messy.

Yes, the gate into the Kingdom is narrow. And let’s be honest: it can be pretty messy, too. But once I’ve passed the gate, things in our life in the Kingdom are a whole lot less about “Thou Shalt Not,” than it is about “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

A lot of us have grown up with parents and preachers and other folks who have regularly slapped our hand and said, “Don’t touch!” or warned us not to try this thing or believe that thing. And there are some things that we should maybe not touch yet. Apparently I tried to drive my dad’s car when I was two, and had just crawled out of making mud pies. For some reason, that didn’t go over so well.

Yes, there are some things that we’re not ready for (don’t try to drive when you’re two). Yes, there are some things that would distract us from what’s best (don’t stuff yourself full of cookies just before dinner).

But all in all, there’s WAY more “yes and amen” than “do not touch” in the Kingdom of God.

Go forth. Explore. Discover your freedom.


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Letters

The Private Use of Miracles


It’s right there in Mark Chapter 8, but I’ve never heard anybody teach about it. Here’s the relevant part of the text:

Related image13 [Jesus] left [the crowd], got back into the boat, and crossed to the other side.
14 Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 “Watch out!” He cautioned them. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
16 So they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread.
17 Aware of their conversation, Jesus asked them, “Why are you debating about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Do you have such hard hearts? 18 ‘Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?’ And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Twelve,” they answered.
20 “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you collect?”
“Seven,” they said.
21 Then He asked them, “Do you still not understand?”

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I get it that the warning (v15) about the influence of the Pharisees (religious spirit) and Herod (political spirit) preaches really well. That’s cool.

And I get the encouragement (v18) that there are three ways of building faith from miracles (seeing, hearing, remembering). That preaches nicely, and I’ve benefited from that lesson.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus is chiding the disciples for their concern about provision (food: bread). The clear implication of the conversation is that Jesus is completely comfortable with using the same miracle that he used twice before for thousands, but using it this time to provide for himself and his 12 disciples. He doesn’t actually come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear nonetheless.

This challenges a belief that I didn’t recognize I had, and it makes me uncomfortable. I find that I’ve believed that miracles are for evangelism, or for public ministry, that somehow using them to cover for my mistake of poor planning was disrespecting the miracle.

But Jesus rather blows up that false belief. (And if that weren’t enough, he does it again in Matthew 17:27, where he sends Pete to get their tax money from a fish’s mouth! And he walked on water just to meet up with his boys who had left earlier.)

As I reflect on my crumbling misbelief, I realize that it includes the assumption that God loves “them” (whoever “them” is) more than he loves me, that he is pleased to provide for hungry masses, but for some reason, I don’t qualify for that sort of miracle.

I call that out as a lie. That’s not true. God loves me. Period. And since he’s an infinite God, with infinite omnipotence and stuff, therefore his love for me is infinite: it is not possible for anyone ever to be loved more than he loves me. Not crowds of sinners, not the 12 disciples, not that missionary in Africa who gets to raise the dead so often. Not even you. He loves me fully, completely, infinitely.

It’s OK. He loves you that much, that way, too.

And apparently, he’s OK with relying on miracles for everyday life, for lunch, for taxes, for meeting friends. Wow.  


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Letters

Why Jesus Turned James & John Down


James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ side in glory. They wanted to be close (and, given the context, they wanted to be big shots).

[They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”][Mark 10]

Jesus said No.

Curiously, he wasn’t saying “No” to the desire to be a big shot. In the next breath, he shows them how to aspire to greatness appropriately. [Mark 10:42-45]

I’m thinking that Jesus said No because sitting on his right and left was too far away for his preferences. That means they’re separated, that means there’s (a little) distance between him and them.

He didn’t want them to be separate from him, even if they’re right next to him. He wanted them united in him [John 14:20, 15:4, 17:21]. He didn’t want them seated on the throne right next to his. He wanted them – just like he wants you and me – right there on his throne with him, in him [Ephesians 1:20]

So go ahead and aspire to greatness. Go ahead and aspire to “become great,” as Jesus encourages.

Just do it his way. Just do it from your place IN him. Don’t aspire to be separated, next to him. You are in him! Go with that! It’s way better than “next to”!


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Letters

Adjusting the Target

Adjusting the Target

Anybody who lives in this world knows some people who are hurting. I know I do.

I saw some posts recently, “Pray for me,” and “I am needy!” So I looked through their wall for some sort of explanation. And that’s when I heard Holy Spirit’s whisper.

You see, their pages had lots of God’s promises posted, Bible verses, encouraging statements. In the midst of all those promises, Holy Spirit whispered to me, “They’re looking to the Word, but not to Me. Their target is falling short.”

He schooled me, and I could feel the compassion in his heart in the process.

“Focusing on their pain, on their need, blurs their vision, they can’t see me clearly. So they look to my promises instead of to me.

“They think that the promise of what I will do for them when they come to me is enough to blunt the pain, but they stop at the promise; they don’t actually come to me to let me heal them.”

I could feel his tears.

And in this, I’m reminded that it’s our job to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith [Hebrews 12], to think about what is true and noble and excellent and praiseworthy [Philippians 4].

It’s not only counterproductive to put our attention on the need, on the hurts and betrayal, it’s downright contrary to Father’s clear instruction. The reason, I think, is because of the principle, “What you fix your attention on, you empower in your life.”

It’s because looking at the wrong part of the picture inhibits our ability to receive what we need from our Father who loves us!

It’s not the promises of God that heal our heart and provide for our needs. The promises point to our God, our Father, who heals our heart and provides for our souls.

It’s easy, when we’re looking at the pain, at the need, for our eyes to fall short of Him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!"
~John 5:39
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Letters

Target Fixation



I’m pretty careful about where my attention goes, and about how I handle my words. God’s instructions are pretty clear, and I’ve learned over the years that there’s reason for his instructions.

That command shows up in at least two places:

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

The other is in Hebrews 12:1& 2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

There’s a common thread in these: Guard what your attention is on. You know, I think he’s serious about this.

Have you heard of “Target fixation”? Whatever you focus your attention on, you tend to become like.

In these passages, God’s telling us to focus our attention on stuff that – should we actually put our attention on them – we’d become “excellent” and “praiseworthy” in our character; we’d become Christ-like.

That’s an excellent goal in itself.

But regardless of the result, it’s still a command. “Do this.” “Think about such things.” “Fix your eyes on Jesus.”

I take him seriously. :)





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Letters

The Cutting of the Lord


Jesus promised us that our growth would be rewarded with pruning. We think, “Pruning? That’s cutting! That’s taking things away! That can’t be good!”


Here are some details about pruning.

• Pruning carefully will drastically increase the fruitfulness of the pruned tree. Cutting back results in a dramatic increase of fruit!
• Pruning at the right spot strengthens frame of the base plant. Pruning makes you stronger.
• Pruning is not actually optional (John 15:2). If we bear fruit, we will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, we’ll be cut back very severely (but not killed), so that when we grow back, we’ll grow fruit. And when we do, we’ll be pruned for even more fruit.

So how does he prune us?

In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” So him speaking his word to us is part of our cleaning, our pruning. This is him speaking to us, mostly through the Book, and a lot of that is about how to respond to the crap in our life.

In Luke 13:8, he gives us more detail. The conversation is about pruning, and in that parable, Jesus says to the Father, “Leave [him] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it....”

Fertilizer in that day was manure: animal poo. So pruning may show up as crap in our life.

Here’s an example: in Luke 9, the boys are arguing about who's greatest. That's poo. The ambition to be great is actually good. The competition apparently is the poo.

So in 9:48, Jesus prunes them. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

This is what pruning looks like. That’s not as bad as we feared, is it?


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Letters

The Cutting of the Lord


Jesus promised us that our growth would be rewarded with pruning. We think, “Pruning? That’s cutting! That’s taking things away! That can’t be good!”


Here are some details about pruning.

• Pruning carefully will drastically increase the fruitfulness of the pruned tree. Cutting back results in a dramatic increase of fruit!
• Pruning at the right spot strengthens frame of the base plant. Pruning makes you stronger.
• Pruning is not actually optional (John 15:2). If we bear fruit, we will be pruned. If we do not bear fruit, we’ll be cut back very severely (but not killed), so that when we grow back, we’ll grow fruit. And when we do, we’ll be pruned for even more fruit.

So how does he prune us?

In John 15:3 Jesus says, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” So him speaking his word to us is part of our cleaning, our pruning. This is him speaking to us, mostly through the Book, and a lot of that is about how to respond to the crap in our life.

In Luke 13:8, he gives us more detail. The conversation is about pruning, and in that parable, Jesus says to the Father, “Leave [him] alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it....”

Fertilizer in that day was manure: animal poo. So pruning may show up as crap in our life.

Here’s an example: in Luke 9, the boys are arguing about who's greatest. That's poo. The ambition to be great is actually good. The competition apparently is the poo.

So in 9:48, Jesus prunes them. “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

This is what pruning looks like. That’s not as bad as we feared, is it?


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