Someone must really not like me. A few months ago, someone put out a
puzzle in the church, spread out all the pieces, and let it sit there
to torture me. And it’s a hard one, a city street scene with lots of
grays, a few flags, some horses and buggies. I am one of those people
that sees a puzzle and has a near uncontrollable need to work on it.
A few months have passed, and I’ve got all the tree pieces put
together. But the time sorting and fitting has got me thinking of all
the metaphors associated with the fascinating phenomenon of puzzles.
First we get the border done while we are flipping all the pieces over
so we can see what we’re working with. Then we separate based on
color or theme. From there, we try the pieces over and over based on
the lines, colors, and shapes of the cut. A good puzzle has lots of
variation, and takes a bit of time to complete. Then, finally, as we
put the last piece in, we stand back and look at the completion of the
image that looks just like the one on the box.
Jesus is like the picture on the box, and our church and community is
made up of people shaped pieces. Individually, we look nothing like
the whole holiness of God’s kingdom, even if we become as perfect as
we can be in being the color and shape that we are. God has a picture
worked out, and there is only one way we fit. We may try to force
ourselves to fit with people we don’t fit with, and we may want to be
a different part of the picture that is easier to put together or gets
more glory. We may try to avoid being linked with certain other
Paul may not have done puzzles, but perhaps they have become such a
popular past time because of how closely the process resembles the
deeper truths of life. In Romans 8: 28-29, Paul says, “And we know
that for those who love God all things work together for good, for
those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he
foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
It’s not that God didn’t give us free choice. He did. He also made us
to fit into a larger picture, that, when we choose to submit to his
image, becomes a clear picture that God is not only real, but is good,
perfect, and beautiful.
So my challenge to you is this. How are you fitting in your family?
How are you fitting in your church? How are you fitting in this
community? Or are you trying to be a puzzle unto yourself? You are
beautifully and wonderfully made, but you were also made with specific
purpose, specific calling, and toward a picture much larger than
See you at the watering hole. SG
In the past year for my family and I, a lot of things have fallen
apart. The washer, drier, air conditioner, roof, the car, the truck,
espresso machine, the building flooded, and even my bones. There was
even one Sunday before church I asked God, “What else can break?” As I
was tying my shoes, my shoelace broke. I couldn’t help but laugh. The
hardest things that fell apart have been some close relationships,
which have taken serious devotion to prayer, forgiveness, and letting
See, these things falling apart have not been a curse, but rather a
blessing. About a year ago, Kasity and I said a prayer, asking of God,
“If it is not real, if it is not important, let it fall apart. Let us
see the world as you see it.” And so it began. Ultimately, the washer
and dryer don’t matter. The building doesn’t matter, nor do the car or
truck. My back will heal. Even the lost relationships will find God
continuing to work in all lives involved toward the furthering of His
kingdom, even if we aren’t participating side by side.
See, we Christians are called to simplicity, yet live in a complicated
web of demands, bills, things that break, and things we want or feel
we can’t live without. We are called to deny our body and feed our
Spirit, but our body has its way of demanding constant attention,
especially when it is uncomfortable. We are called to relationships,
even though some present a problem of sacrificing righteousness for
While on vacation in Massachusetts, we happened upon Walden Pond,
where Henry David Thoreau spent two years, two months, and two days
living in relative solitude. A plaque near where his small cabin was
quotes his explanation of the retreat, “I went to the woods because I
wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of
life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when
I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
We have no plans to retreat from the woods, but are trying to retreat
from the things that do not matter and sort out what, in serving God
with our lives, does matter. As a paraphrase of Thoreau’s purpose in
solitude, let me state for our Christian life:
I prayed for God to crumble all that does not matter because I wish to
live in such a way that does, to hold fast only to what is true, to
front only the essential reality of faith, and see if I could not
learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that
I had only partially lived out my faith.
It is not that we are to sell our washers and driers, cars and
computers, but to see them for what they are, things that break,
things that don’t bring life. It is that we are to seek and find what
really DOES matter in living with the belief in a good god who is
constantly prodding us to deep life, which does require a grand
abandonment for great faith. This is what Jesus was talking about when
he said “I have not come to abolish (Greek for decay) . . . but to
fulfill (to bring life).” -Matthew 5:17
Let us see the world as it is, see what falls apart as what falls
apart, and hold fast to – and participate in what brings life. The
world should be allowed to crumble, and in those times we should also
allow God to (at the same time) give us life. It’s not the matter of
his giving, it’s a matter of our seeing and receiving.
See you at the watering hole.
Ah, summertime in Texas. That blazing fire we can feel from nearly 93
million miles away on our necks as we pull weeds from the garden, on
our arms as we drive to visit family, and on our back after we’ve
splashed in the lake until dinnertime. That heat is what makes
watermelon sweet and glasses of iced tea sweat.
It’s a time when I am extremely thankful. Thankful for air
conditioning! I won’t ever complain about the weather, but that
doesn’t mean I can’t avoid it. But today it got me thinking. I was
outside for just a few minutes and I felt like I was melting. It
reminded me of a speech I once heard.
The speaker told us to imagine driving in a car with a chocolate bar,
then to imagine parking and forgetting that we’d put the chocolate bar
on the dash as we walk out into the hot Texas summer sun. Hours later,
we return to the car and find a horrible mess of a surprise on our
dash. What happened?
What melted it?
You’re wrong. Here’s the kicker: isn’t heat the same thing that
solidifies bricks in the oven? Isn’t heat what turns a liquid egg into
that perfect golden omelet? It’s not the heat that melts you, it’s
what you’re made of.
In the Texas heat I sometimes think about Matthew 3: 11. Before Jesus
started his ministry, John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water
for repentance, but he who is coming after me . . . will baptize you
with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Yeah, that’s why there are so many Christians in Texas. We get
baptized with fire 3-4 months of the year. Or do we?
As Jesus comes to purify us with fire, to melt our hearts and harden
our convictions, do we feel a little heat and run back in the A/C
where we are comfortable? When Jesus comes with fire to transform our
state of what matters, do we hop in the pool and claim we’re baptizing
for repentance (again).
What are we afraid of? That we’ll burn? No, for the Christian who is
willing to go through the fire, who accepts the discomfort of a little
sweat, and is willing to let the world around them be subject to the
same fire, they will not be burned. They will be transformed.
So this summer, don’t be afraid of a little spiritual heat. Know who
made you and what you’re made of. And know that he made you to be
brought through the fire. And the best part is, you’re never ever ever
See you at the watering hole.
Did you know that lobsters used to be the food of the poorest classes
and prisoners? Now it’s one of the most expensive common foods you can
get. A delicacy.
Much of this has to do with supply and demand. In those times, there
was so much lobster in the local fishing communities it was cheap and
people were probably as sick of it as college kids get of ramen
noodles. But as time passed, the novelty of the unique creature spread
into the mainland. As the demand rises and there aren’t enough for
everybody, the market allows those willing to pay the most for it to
enjoy. That, and you pay for the cost of transporting the creature far
away from its natural environment.
When things get so expensive, it makes us curious, and when we spend a
lot of money on something, we treat it as though we worked hard to
deserve it, cherishing every bite.
Isn’t that strange? How much people shell out for prisoners’ food?
God’s grace, forgiveness, love and providence are free, save the cost
of accepting it. It is the sustenance of prisoners and the poor, but
also of the free and of every class. With it being so common, though,
do you walk with it as if it were as common as a microwave burritos or
do you savor the fact that God’s presence in your life is better than
buttery lobster at every meal?
When David was writing Psalm 23 from the valley of the shadow of death
and said, “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my
enemies; . . . my cup overflows,” you don’t think God was serving
Velveeta and Kool Ade do you? By no means! God was serving, and
continues to serve a perfectly balanced meal including perfectly
prepared portions for exactly what we need to keep going through the
valley and on toward His kingdom. And He’s got enough for everyone.
And it will continue to be free. It’s up to us how much we savor it.
This month, sink your teeth into the Word, be fed. And cherish the
feast that has been prepared for you as a member of the royal
priesthood of everyday saints. See you at the watering hole.
On the shelf behind my desk, there is a Bible published in 1929. It
was here before I got here, and every once in a while I pull it down
and flip through the pages. It is a well worn Bible, with a few layers
of different eras of tape holding the binding together. Time has aged
the book, but its previous owner is the one who wore it out.
I know nothing about the original owner, but can make a few assumptions.
One: he read his Bible. Passages throughout are underlined and
circled, with notes filling the margins.
Two: he read it to inform his life. Much of what was underlined is
instruction, and many of the notes are notes to himself.
Three: he read it a lot and knew it. Before the days of google and
Bible apps, he wrote parallel verses and tie ins with other parts of
Four: he loved his Bible. This relic is falling apart because it was
so well used, not because it has been on a shelf. Its owner did his
best to keep it together because it did its best to keep him together.
Thus five: he loved God enough to learn from Him, and trusted Him
enough to keep reading. When we need to hear, see, and experience God
bad enough, we stop trying to find it everywhere else and look
intently where He has already shown and is constantly speaking: in His
Word. When we love God, we not only talk to Him through prayer – we
also listen to Him. When we love God, we not only try to “be good,” we
not only read about all the other imperfect people in the Bible (and
how God still worked through them) but also about the perfection of
Christ in example and wisdom.
The Bible scholar Charles Spurgeon is quoted as aptly saying, “A Bible
that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.”
Now, it’s not a contest, and a tattered Bible doesn’t make you holy.
But it’s worth some serious reflection: what would your Bible look
like if you just put a few fingerprints on it a day for the next ten
years? What would your life look like?
In this Bible, underlined in blue pencil, 1 Peter 3: 15 reads, “Be
ready always to give answer to every person that asketh you a reason
concerning the hope that is in you.” Ask, seek, knock – it will be
See you at the watering hole.
This month, I pray that you experience the “good life.” This
“good life” has come up in Sunday school classes, Wednesday Bible
study, and in sermons – and it has usually ended up with the question:
“What is the good life?”
My first instinctive reaction is how nice it would be to have no
debt and be financially secure, to have good food at every meal (with
no cleanup!), and to fall asleep to a deep back rub every night.
But that’s not what God means by a good life, that’s a worldly
dream of an easy life. In Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me,
all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my
yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my
burden is light.”
At first reading, you may say, “See, Jesus is saying the promise
is that life will be easy by following him!” Think again. A yoke is
what connects an ox to a plow. Jesus had work to do, and it involved
tilling the spiritual soil and planting seeds of truth – it involved
exposing wrong and knowing truth enough to communicate it. Jesus’ work
included difficult and obstinate people, storms, temptation and
resistance. Jesus’ work was not easy. . . But it’s easier than dealing
with the stress, stirring, and turmoil your spirit experiences when
you’re NOT doing His will.
Jesus’ burden is light? He not only carried a huge wooden cross,
but also the sins of the world! How is that light?! But is not the
burden of forgiveness lighter than the burden of resentment? The
burden of loving those that are hard to love lighter than the burden
of hate and rejection? The burden of self sacrifice and thinking of
others actually lighter than desperately scraping in all directions to
feed our insatiable wants and needs?
The good life is not all back rubs and lobster. The good life is
when you need little and want less. It’s when you know God’s working
power and trust in His timing. It’s when you remember to seek him in
prayer and in deed instead of just trying to do it by your own best
efforts or ideas. It’s when you would rather give a good back rub than
Seek God today. Live the good life. See you at the watering hole.
Too often we pass through the days in our own little world, interacting briefly with others in their own little world. Our worlds overlap a little, and most of the time it is pleasant. A big change in mindset and approach for a Christian is that we are each to be co-habitants of a much larger world: the Kingdom of God – a realm of goodness – the actualization of the line “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Church is a practice ground, a training ground, a safe place to experiment with putting into place Jesus’ instructions and example and making this kingdom realized and real. Here are a few things we all need to remember as we participate in God’s reality.
1. It is all about relationships. It’s partly up to others to reach out to you, but there are others also needing you to reach out to them. Relationships are directly related to time together and shared experiences. Our Sunday School and Wednesday nights are just as much about the shared time together as it is about mentally learning. Every Sunday we have food after church. It saves money, and gives you an opportunity to get to know those people you worship with.
2. It is others’ centered. The more people we have paying attention to the physical, social, and spiritual needs of others, the more those needs will be met so that they, too can participate in the serving. Instead of “what about me,” ask the question “what can I do?” There is always something to do. I ask God this every day. I can only describe the response as “Pay attention, and you’ll see what to do.”
3. God is king, it’s his rules. Our behavior is not only to be life confirming, but also life protecting and life promoting. Each person is made of equal value, and we are to make sure the value God has placed in us is not only protected but also encouraged and promoted. God’s rules are what works, and we can put it to the test. Sundays we will continue to reflect on the words of Jesus for this very purpose. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”
See you at the watering hole.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God . . .” This statement by Jesus to the deceiver has been stuck in my head. The very distinction between the physical needs and soul needs speaks volumes to our current societal condition.
We are a well off nation, even though many of us experience shortcomings. Without God, it is a “by bread alone” culture – the less we have, the worse off we are. WITH God, when you scrape away all the physical needs, you recognize the importance and priority of the needs of the soul.
It is the greatest temptation when our worldly needs are met to forget about our spiritual needs. As our soul begins to hunger, we try to stuff it with the physical: more food, more money, more recognition, more beauty, more wine, more push-ups.
But only the spiritual practices meet the needs of the soul. When one has no money, simplicity begets richness. When one has no food, prayer satisfies the spirit. When one has no physical comfort, loving relationships make aches and pains more tolerable.
Whether you are physically struggling or doing quite fine, please take some time right now to ask yourself what you are doing for your soul. Is your life too busy to have stillness and quiet time with God? Are you trying to feed your spiritual needs by physical means? Are you investing time as much time and energy into others’ lives as you are your own?
Whatever state you are in, know that I have prayed over these words and have the utmost hope that you find no obstacle between you and God. And if you’re fine, know that you’ve been called not just to be fine, but to help lead others to the same spirit/body balance. See you at the watering hole.
Happy New Year friends and family! How appropriate it is that the New Year is celebrated right after Christmas. Not only does our calendar start in January, but our society as a whole tries to hit the reset button around this same time.
2 Corinthians 5:16-20 implores: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
This writing has some great resolutions for a New Year Christian:
1. Quit looking at the world from worldly eyes, and pray for the eyes of the divine. Try to see things from God’s point of view, pay attention to the world around you.
2. Quit looking at Jesus from a worldly definition and recognize that he called you his brother and sister (Matthew 12: 46-50). If he is king, does that not give us royal duties in his kingdom?
3. Be new. You have just been hired for a new job: a vessel of God, a person with a ministry, an ambassador of God’s kingdom. Don’t come into this position doing what you did at your old job.
4. Be reconciled with God. He wants to be close to you, He has come to you. Will you let Him in?
What if instead of (or alongside) trying a new diet or exercise routine, we try this year making our goals spiritual. Let us treat the growth of our faith like the growth of a child: with constant feeding, nurturing, observing, boundary setting, training, teaching, and loving.
I hope, too, that you take the chance to join the rest of us in dedicating a year of devotions with you and your house reading from Oswald Chamber’ My Utmost for His Highest. We still have plenty of copies at the church. Imagine the possibilities if our whole church is on the same page for an entire year! Just think of how God can use us for His good and perfect will!
As always, you are loved and prayed for. Let us know if you have any specific needs, or just need someone to talk to. Church is not a building, it is us as the body of Christ. Be well.
When John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing for the repentance of sins, he knew ahead of time that he was merely preparing the way for someone greater: God. This is the first lesson in approaching the next words of Jesus: John knew his ministry was not from himself or for himself.
“I baptize you in water for repentance, but the one who comes after me is more powerful than I and I am not fit to carry his sandals: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” -Matthew 3: 11
Too often we tie our daily ministry to our own self interests. The better a person I am, the more people will like me. The more I help people, the more they’ll help me. The more devout a Christian, the boss will notice and give me a raise. Ultimately, we are designed to desire a relationship with God. As we find God, we like to stay there and just be fed and taken care of. But once God has our attention, he calls ALL of his people to be living testimonies to those around, and has a specific call toward daily ministry in your everyday life.
“But, WHAT IS my ministry?!” you may shout to God, like I did a few days before studying and preaching on this scripture. Yes, I’m a preacher, and I still asked it – so I expect even if you’re not in traditional ministry you have probably wondered the same.
Jesus came up to John the Baptist to be baptized. “It is I who need baptism from you,” John reacted, “yet you come to me!” -Matthew 3: 14
Jesus didn’t need to be baptized for repentance of sins, so why did Jesus reply as he did? “Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that uprightness demands.” -Matthew 3: 15
The common answer is: to set an example so that we are to be baptized as well. It’s a good answer, and I’m good for following his example. But baptism would still be practiced and preached even if Jesus didn’t subject himself to John. And isn’t that problematic, the idea of Jesus submitting himself to us?
Could it do with the fact that John was baptizing in the Jordan River, the highly symbolic place that Joshua and the priests led the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land? Well, sure! This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, which has many symbolic parallels with the claiming of the promised kingdom in Joshua. But the Israelites crossed on dry land – quite the opposite of intentionally getting fully wet.
It was my original shout “But, WHAT IS my ministry?!” that led to a satisfactory application of Jesus’ words and actions. Our ministry is Jesus Christ. Without him, it is just our ministry, and it might very well point back to how great we think we are rather than making it evident how great God is.
John the Baptist had a close relationship with God. He was aware of his calling, and answered with faithful action. He recognized when Jesus was near, and acknowledged Jesus’ higher status. Jesus was baptized into John’s ministry in the way a giant would crouch to get into your house. And what happened to John’s ministry? It became Jesus’ ministry.
In the same way, it is highly appropriate for us to serve God in every manner we can. But it is incomplete without also baptize Jesus himself INTO our service to God. Then, whose ministry does it become? We don’t have the power to really change people, but Jesus does. We don’t have the wisdom of how to answer all things, but Jesus does. We don’t have the foreknowledge of where we’re supposed to be and when we’re supposed to be there, but Jesus does. We don’t have the holiness to be the light, but we are equipped to hold it.
God works in beautiful ways, and how wonderful it is that as we long to serve God, we can do so simply by letting him into our service. Today, recognize Jesus’ divine status and baptize Jesus into your own ministry, “it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all things that uprightness demands.”
Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for today and for the relationship we have. Thank you for providing and for your presence. As my needs are met to do your will, help me understand my calling. I desire to serve you, help me to. Lord, I purposefully baptize Jesus and welcome him into my ministry. Help me to allow it to be his, to be yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.