We Are Different, We are the Same…

different same

We are different.

We have different skin tones, different facial features.  Northerners sound funny to Southerners; Southerners sound funny to Northerners.  Some have hair, others (like me) have beautiful scalps, free from follicle interference.   Some people like liver; others gag at the smell.

Men and women are different.  Sure, there is basic biology: women have different parts than men.  But our differences are beyond our parts.  Our bodies produce different chemicals at different levels.  Pharmaceutical companies are just waking up to the idea that they need to test some medicines on men and women before prescribing treatments.  We are different at a very basic level.

All women are not alike.  I know women who would much rather be in the garage fixing a car than in the kitchen fixing a casserole.  All men are not alike.  I know men who would rather arrange bouquets than hunt Bambi.  Before we say, “That’s not normal,” we must ask, “What is normal?  And who gets to define normal?  The US Department of Normal?”

Brothers can be different.  My brother collects guns.  I collect books.  Sisters can be different. One of my sisters can cook up a storm; the other sister can calm a storm of preschoolers.

We are different.

Why?  Maybe God knew we needed variety.  Maybe God knew we would never learn to love unless we learned to accept each other’s differences.  Maybe God knew different people would need different gifts to make a difference.

We are the same.

I’ve never meet a human being who didn’t long to connect to another person.  I’ve never meet a human being who didn’t long to be noticed by someone.  I’ve never meet a human being who wasn’t hungry to be understood.

Every child, even a child who is profoundly disabled, is curious.  Put six children with different skin tones in a room, and they explore together.  They learn together.  They discover together.

I’ve never known a human being who missed out on pain.  We hurt.  We grieve.  Even the man who is mute expresses his pain with a silent cry.  Pain is a universal language.

Brothers and sisters can be the same.  My brother and I have the same upper sinuses that cause disgusting sounds when we wake up in the morning.  Since I’m the youngest, it’s frightening to see my future when I see my brother.

We are the same.

Why?  We are the same because we are all made in God’s image.  God said, “Let us make man in our own image, male and female.”  God crafted us all in the same basic design, with just enough difference to keep things interesting.  You bear the image of God; so do I.  So do people in China, North Korea, Iran, England, Costa Rica, Haiti, and California.  There is a sacred imprint on our souls that not even sin washes completely away.

How do you love people different than you?  Find inside that person what is the same as you.  Find the sacred fingerprint of God.

Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

Find the sacred.  Love and do good.

Five Keystones of Generosity…

open hands

The law of the fist: Open hands receive; closed fists don’t.  This basic faith principle works whether you believe in God or not.  If you live with a closed attitude, you cannot receive love.  If you live with an open attitude, you can receive friendship.  Building an open-handed life requires generosity as a regular practice.  Our problem is defining generosity, and then practicing it.

The scripture teaches that generosity is defined by percentage, not amount.  It’s an old preacher riddle:  When is $40 more than $100?  In the offering plate.  If an administrative assistant is paid $400 per pay period and puts in $40, that is more than if her boss, who is paid $2,000 per pay period, puts in $100.  If you are honest with yourself, you will take a minute and come up with a percentage that represents generosity for you.

Generosity is like the keystone of an arch.  When practiced, it holds your financial life in place.  How do you put generosity into practice?  Put these five keystones into practice:

  1. Give to God first.  This is where many people struggle.  First, they pay their bills, then they set aside money for groceries and Wal-Mart.  Then, if anything is left, they give a little bit to God.  Too often, there is nothing left!


Jesus said, “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.”  Apply this to your financial life.  God comes before the bank.  What this requires, of course, is that you organize your finances.  This is not something Americans are good at.  God wants you to organize your finances not just so you can give, but so you live within your means.  Giving to God first creates a healthy soul that is generous.


  1. Give what you have. Whenever giving is discussed in church, people get nervous.  Is the expectation for me to give to God and have nothing left for myself?  That was the expectation of the ancient gods.  They demanded sacrifice and didn’t care if you went hungry.  That is not the Christian understanding of God.

Paul taught us two important principles: Take care of your family; and give what you have, not what you don’t have.

You may need to adjust your lifestyle to be generous.  Your lifestyle probably needs adjustment, anyway.  You need transportation, not a car that makes a statement.  Your children do not need to get more for Christmas than the neighbors.  In fact, the most valuable lesson you can teach them is to not play the comparison game.  The real question is not “Does God expect me to do without?” but “How do I need to live so I can be generous?”


  1. Give a percentage. You live on a percentage of your income.  I read the average American family lives on 113% of their income (ah, the wonders of credit cards).  No wonder so many of us struggle.  I think 10% of your income is a beginning point of generosity.


The best financial advice I can give you is found in the Bible and in every financial planning guide:  Create Margin.  Spend less than you make.  A financial health formula: Give 10%, save 10%, and live on 80%.

Could it be that God wants you to give and save so you can have margin in your financial life?

  1. Give regularly. Regular giving means you pay attention to your financial life.  As a couple and a family, you have the hard discussions.  If you are a believer, regular giving means you acknowledge regularly that God owns it all.  Regular giving means regular acknowledgement of God’s blessings in your life.


  1. Give to Jesus’s body. If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, I think it’s still a good idea to give.  But if you are a follower of Jesus, give to your local church.  Give so God’s work can be done.  It takes resources to provide tools for ministry: buildings, bulletins, and Bibles.  It takes resources to fund vocational ministers, who lead, teach and equip.


I understand the impulse to want to direct our generosity.  We want to have a direct connection to those blessed by our giving.  But I believe giving 10% of our income to Jesus’s body is a form of submission.  It is a tangible way we say, “Not my will, but yours be done.”


What would happen if these five keystones of generosity governed your financial life?  You would be a better money manager, your soul would be healthier, and the world would change.

Small price to pay.

God and The Great Eclipse …


After months of hype, the eclipse is finally here.  Parties have been planned, schools are out, glasses are purchased, and we’ve been warned: “Don’t look directly at the sun!”

We’ve known this was coming.  In fact, astronomers tell us they can predict every eclipse for the next 1,000 years (good thing; I need to make plans for 2915).  Have you ever thought the universe does not have to be predictable?  In fact, the Big Bang suggests the universe should be chaotic, not predictable.

God, however, made the universe to have order and predictability.  Though free spirits may chaff against the routine, the routineness of gravity makes us feel secure.  None of us ever worry about the sun coming up in the morning.  We know the most important thing a child can receive from his or her parents is a sense of predictability.  Our heavenly Father has given us a predictable universe we can count on.

Do you know why eclipses work?  The moon places itself between the sun and the earth and its shadow falls across earth.  How is the moon able to completely block the sun?  Isn’t the sun much larger than the moon?

The sun, in fact, is 400 times larger than the moon.  But the sun is also about 400 times farther away from earth than the moon is.  Amazing coincidence?  Or one more clue that the universe has an intentional design by an intelligent designer?  Maybe God gives us the experience of an eclipse so we can remember God arranged things on purpose.

Although the math is difficult, ultimately the universe is a giant rotating clock, beautiful in its complexity and simplicity.  I have an image of God holding the universe in his hand, just as a man holds a pocket watch in his hand.   Christianity teaches the God who holds the universe also holds me.   He knows our names, and the number of hairs on our head.  Events like the eclipse remind me the God who does life with me, holds the universe together with his grace.

Psalm 18:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Pause and ask what the eclipse tells you about the glory of God.

But keep your glasses on.




You know the drill.

Your computer freezes.  You click your mouse.  Nothing.  You try to click out of the program.  Nothing.  You try to minimize the window.  Nothing.  You speak to your computer with four letter words.  Nothing.

You might try Ctrl+Alt+Delete.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  When all else fails, you push the button.

What button?  The one that turns the computer off.  You know it will take time.  You know you will lose work.  The alternative is to stay frustrated and hope your anger melts the computer’s brain freeze.

I don’t know why, but this works most of the time.  Electrons get back on track.  The mouse works again.  Programs and apps are opening.  The computer needed to reset.

You need to reset too.

God knows this.  That’s why he commanded the Sabbath (Note: he didn’t suggest it).  Once a week you need twenty-four hours to unplug, remember what’s important, and reset.

You may not know God told his people they needed time off.  In his instructions to his people, he told them to celebrate festivals.  God said to his people “Spend three weeks a year feasting, worshiping, and resetting.

You need more than a day to reset.  You need days strung together to remember what’s important.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our vacations.  We get away, but we don’t reset.  We don’t create emptiness so God has space to speak to us.  It is ok to do nothing.  Doing nothing means there is room in your soul for God to say something.

To reset, you may need some vacation time that doesn’t involve Disney.  You may need to shut down your cell phone.  You may need to take a break from social media (you will not be forgotten).  You may need to explain to the kids that part of vacation will be creating space to reset.

Include God in your vacation time.  Ask him what needs to be reset.  Let him whisper to you about your soul clutter.  Soul clutter is all that occupies space in your soul and becomes a “have-to.”  Somethings have to be done – laundry, grocery shopping, etc.   But there are “have-to’s” that aren’t.  You don’t have to involve your child in five sports.  You don’t have to do your adult child’s laundry.  You don’t have to meet the guys at the hunt club at 5 AM for a workday (when the sun doesn’t come up until 6 AM).

Reset means giving yourself time to see your life as it really is.  Reset means giving yourself room to hear from God about what your life needs to be.

Time to reset.  Take a deep breath.  Push the button.  Shut down your operating system.  Let your heart rate slow down.  Do nothing.  Listen for God.


Why Hell?


I’ve been reading this week reasons why people don’t believe in hell.  The most cited reason: I can’t see how a loving God would send people to hell.

I get that.  God, who is the source of love, doesn’t seem to be the kind of being that would send people to eternal punishment.  One blogger I read talked about a parent putting themselves on the judgment seat and then punishing their child for wrong doing forever.  This blogger concluded no parent would do such a thing (however, I’ve known a few that would).  Therefore, the blogger concluded, either he was morally superior to God or Christianity was wrong about hell.

This kind of logic is appealing, but it poses the wrong analogy.  What if instead of the parent being on the judgment seat, the parent told the child, “You can never leave me.  You must always live in my house.  In fact, I will chain you so you will always be in my presence.  You can have no thoughts of your own, you can make no choices on your own.”  A god who forces people to be with him, to spend eternity with him, turns into a god who makes people dance like puppets.  Anybody want to live that life?

For love to be real, for relationship to be genuine, there must be choice.  God, in His great wisdom, grants us the freedom to choose to do life with Him.  That choice begins on earth and goes beyond death.

All evidence points to God allowing people to make their own choice about relating to Him.  This changes our idea about being saved.  To be saved is not just to escape hell and go to heaven.  To be saved is to choose to follow Jesus all the way to the heaven.

People who choose not to follow Jesus do not go to heaven because they do not want to.  The place they go is called hell.

What is hell like?  Scripture teaches us is hell is a place of regret.  Why?  People regret their life choice to live without God.

To live with Jesus is to live forgiven, to live cleansed.  Followers of Jesus are the Easter People, the people of hope.  People without Jesus are people who live in guilt.  They are people who choose to live life without eternal hope.

If all this is true (and I believe it is), it means my life choices here are really important.  Choosing Jesus matters.  The reality of my commitment is shown by my life choices.  It also means other people may choose not to follow Jesus.  That should break my heart.  There should be no glee when we talk about people going to hell.

At the end of your life, your decision about Jesus matters.

What’s your decision?

The 7 Day Bible Reading Challenge: Passages

Seven Day Bible Reading Challenge

Day 1 – Psalm 23 – God’s care

Day 2 – Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12 – The suffering Servant

Day 3 – Psalm 51 – The weight of sin

Day 4 – Matthew 5-7 – The Sermon on the Mount

Day  5 – John 19-20 – The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Day 6 – 1 Corinthians 13 – The way of Love.

Day 7 – Hebrews 11 – The Hall of Fame of Faith

Deep End Or Shallow End?


I learned to swim in the shallow end.  Though my brothers often tried to throw me into the deep end, it is amazing how much fight you can put up when faced with imminent drowning.

My mother, of a gentler school, told me to lay flat on top of the water.  She would hold me up, while I kicked my legs and moved my arms.  One day, without me realizing it, she let go.  To paraphrase Forest Gump, “I was swimming.”  Soon, the shallow end of the pool was my kingdom.  I learned to push off from the side and zoom around the pool.  But I stayed away from the deep end.  I knew I wasn’t ready.

One day my brother Steve and my cousin Bob seized me without warning and threw me into the deep end.  I had no time to prepare, no time to fight.  I sank, but then instinct kicked in and my legs and arms began to move.  I broke the surface of the water, laughed at my brother and cousin, and swam around the deep end, frightened no more.

When people start to read the Bible, they often want to start in the deep end.  They want to know if God really made the world in six days, and if Jonah was really swallowed by a fish.  They get so busy trying to stay afloat, they miss the story.

This is God’s story in the Bible:  God made the world, we messed it up, and because of His great love, He has been working to save people from their own destruction.  That’s the shallow end.

I’m not saying you should avoid the deep end.  I am saying, make sure you build some confidence in the shallow end first.  Know the basics of the story.  Know the character of God.  Then go to the deeper stuff.

You won’t always find simple answers.  The universe isn’t a simple place and God is not a simple being.  Why does the Bible tell us stories about God’s judgment, wiping out whole nations?  Dallas Willard once said, “Hell is simply the best God can do for some people.”  Maybe the same principle applies.  Maybe destruction is simply the best God can do for some people.

It’s important not to be arrogant about our own time and culture.  We assume our culture’s values are the correct ones.  The Bible, however, is a book for all peoples, for all times.  Some teachings in scripture may not make any sense to us, but were perfectly clear in the time they were written.  They may also be clear in a culture halfway around the word has a different outlook than we do.

Any honest person has to admit there are parts of the Bible they don’t understand.  I’ve been studying the Bible as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor for a long time.  There are still stories I don’t get.  I still read some of the laborious laws in the Old Testament and ask, “What is that doing there?”

But if the Bible is truly God’s book, wouldn’t it make sense that I may not understand all of it?

If you’ve never studied the Bible, start in the shallow end.  Read the teachings of Jesus.  They will help you, whether you believe or not.  Don’t be afraid of the deep end;  God will let you know when you are ready to tackle some deeper challenges.

The main thing is: Get in the pool.  Open your Bible.  Read.  Let God speak to you.  Dive in.

Reasons Not to Believe…


People have a reason not to believe in God.

Sometimes the reason is hurt.  They expected God to do something and they were disappointed.  They prayed for healing, but there was death.  They expected God to resolve a relationship, but the relationship broke.  The hurt of unmet expectations turned them away.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe is they want to do something they think God won’t approve of.  The easiest way to deal with God’s disapproval is to stop believing.  A kid grows up in church, participates in the student ministry, then goes off to college or joins the military.  A new lifestyle presents itself.  It looks fun and carefree.  The kid decides the church people were wrong.  There is no god, so that means the new lifestyle can be embraced.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God has to do with unexplained suffering.  Steve Jobs as a child asked a pastor to explain why God would allow a child to starve in Africa.   The pastor couldn’t answer the question and Steve Jobs began to doubt.  The suffering may be more personal.  You lose a parent, or a child and you wonder how God could allow such tragedy.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God is because intellectually they can’t reconcile God with existence as they understand it.  Evolution, on its face, seems to make more sense than God speaking the world into being in six days.  Stories in the Bible fly in the face of logic and reason, or so it seems.  God seems to be an ancient myth unsophisticated people embraced to explain the un-explainable.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God is because they are angry.  Neglected or abused as children, they conclude there can’t be a god.  Angry at their dysfunctional families or parents, they rebel against any authority, including God.

Sometimes the reasons people don’t’ believe in God is because they once did believe.  They were choked by the rules and regulations of religion, the certainty of dogma that left no room for doubt.  The hypocrisy of those who said they believed but lived different introduced a cynical acid on their faith.  Often another god – logic – presented itself.  More predictable and orderly, it became a more attractive path of faith.

Sometimes the reason people don’t believe in God is because they haven’t really thought about it.  Something else occupies their mind: success, money, pleasure, family.   Often people will label themselves as “agnostic” but they functionally live as if there is no god.

Confession: some these reasons tempt me.  Sometimes it would be nice to believe there is no god.  No rules to follow, no intellectual rigor to fight for, no more stupid battles over things in church that don’t matter.  If you believe life is a product of random evolution there is not god, then you get to make your own rules.

But I can’t make that leap.  Each of the reasons not to believe has a response that also makes sense.  It really comes down to your fundamental presuppositions.  My fundamental presupposition is there is too much order in the universe to be random.  An observation:  there has been too much grace poured into my life to be accidental.  One more of my fundamental touchstones: I’ve seen too many lives changed by Jesus to believe He is just a myth.

As much as there may be reasons not to believe, there are also reasons to believe.  To be intellectually honest means you must consider those as well.

Prayers for Relationships…


How we usually pray when it comes to relationships:

  • Lord, I want one!  Send me someone!
  • Lord, fix him/her.  They are driving me crazy.
  • Lord, why did you stick me with them?  Could I not have an easier spouse/child/friend?
  • Lord, guide this fight so I don’t have to admit how wrong I really was.
  • Lord, please don’t let them discover my secret.

I know God hears our prayers, but to make progress in life, maybe we need to pray differently:

  • Lord, help me understand before I defend.
  • Lord, let me see where this person is wounded.  Let me treat their wounds with grace.
  • Lord, make me aware of my own issues in this relationship.
  • Lord, give me courage to raise issues that need to be talked about.
  • Lord, give me courage to be vulnerable with feelings and emotions.  Deliver me from stereotypes of needing to be strong when the most authentic thing to do is to weep.
  • Lord, give me strength to stand fast in tough times.
  • Lord, heal my own hurt so I do not hurt someone with it.
  • Lord, give me love so I may love when I do not feel love.
  • Lord, show me the joy that is possible in this relationship.
  • Lord, no matter how this relationship turns out, I will remember to put my trust in you.
  • Lord, show me how I actually come across, not just how I think I come across.
  • Lord, teach me to be generous in this relationship.

I wonder how your relationships would change if we prayed differently?

  • Maybe there would less blame and less shame.
  • Maybe there would be less intensity in conflict.
  • Maybe there would be a surrender of the need to make things even.
  • Maybe there would be a drawing closer.
  • Maybe there would be greater peace when someone turned away.
  • Maybe there would be less anxiety about the future.
  • Maybe our souls would be more secure, because our security would in our Father, not in someone else.


What relationship in your life needs a different prayer?



rayI find it hard to write about my friend Ray.  His sudden death at 52 last week rocked my soul.  Other friends my age who have passed away died from cancer; you had weeks to prepare.  Ray was walking through the church office two hours before he died.

Ray had a way of filling space with positivity.  His response to the question, “How are you?” was always the same: “It’s the best day of my entire life.”  No matter how many times you heard it, you had to smile.

Ray was a servant extraordinaire.  If a need stirred his heart, he jumped in with both feet.  Feed 1000 people for VBS?  Sure.  Lead a mission team to New York City?  Tell me when.  Teach a group on his second Sunday at ADBC because the teacher was in an accident?  No problem.  Talk to the awkward teenage male?  Done.

Ray did have a clear idea of how things ought to be done.  It was only half a joke when he said, “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Ray way.”  This meant he could be stubborn and bullheaded.  Behind his hardheadedness there was a heart of compassion that longed for people to connect to each other and to God.

He a vision and energy to make it reality.  Let’s take that hill.  Let’s get this project done.  He loved to dream big for God’s Kingdom.  As I said at his funeral, if I ever had to charge the gates of hell with a squirt gun, I would want Ray High beside me.

Ray was a 3 AM friend to me.  He respected me as his pastor, but he also valued me as his friend.  I thank God for putting Ray in my life.

Over the past week, I’ve had strange flashbacks of my father’s death, which was before my memory took shape.  “This,” I thought, “must be what it was like when Daddy died.”  Shock. Why? What can we do?  A crowded church, with every man thinking “It could have been me.”

I do not pretend to know why people die before their time, but I have wrestled with that question my entire life.  In fitful prayers I’ve given God one hundred reasons why Ray should not have died; but God has not reversed time.  Ultimately, I believe God does not always offer us answers to “why.”  Maybe our heads would explode if we knew.  But I believe God offers us Himself.  We trust Him when we do not know.

This is true faith, not just faith born in a moment of emotion.  True faith is trusting God is good when there is hurt in your heart.  True faith is extending your heart for God to lead you even when you do not have the answers you want.

In this time of grief, I choose to trust.  I believe my God is for me, for us.  The pain of today does not overshadow the grace of eternity.  It is that eternal grace that Ray embraced – and made February 15, 2017, the day he saw Jesus, the best day of his entire life.