Will we see people with greater wonder?

Streaming tears. Yes, I will own them. Each time I’ve watched Wonder—the movie based on R.J. Palacio’s award-winning novel—I’ve been ambushed by this oh-so-moving story.

Born with a genetic disorder, Auggie’s little body required multiple surgeries. He wears his astronaut helmet because his face is distorted, even after plastic surgery. Auggie and his loving family live in Brooklyn. Originally taught at home, he’s finally sent to school in fifth grade. With helmet off, Auggie faces the full range of staring, pity, mockery, and bullying by kids. This amazing story traces Auggie’s school year, along with his parents, his sister Via, and his struggling friend Jack Will. We encounter stunning twists and turns revealing how people see Auggie and how Auggie sees everyone else.

The bulk of my daily work involves seeing and serving suffering people, deeply in need of help. If you ponder your own projects and tasks, you’ll likely conclude that’s true for most of us. From financial planners to nurses and doctors, school teachers to store clerks, automotive technicians, physical therapists and pastors, we major in helping all sorts of people. Precious people with very special needs, capabilities, disabilities, heartaches, hang-ups, hopes, and dreams.

Many days, our most pressing question becomes:

How will I see the person or group of people in my path? Will I see people more deeply, beyond my face-value, knee-jerk reaction?

The local church where I serve as lead pastor aims to love others with Christ-style love. Our aim is based on Jesus’ holistic call to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). That means our planning and behind-the-scenes efforts often involve strategizing endeavors for people who are experiencing physical, emotional, financial, spiritual, and mental suffering. Then our very public, weekly events, gatherings, and services include active interface with those precious people.

Every Sunday, a host of people greet me, including multiple individuals with special needs, pressing health crises, and emotional distress. They long for encouragement, a listening ear, affirmation, prayer, a dose of genuine good news, directional wisdom, and practical help. I am regularly challenged with this foundational attitude choice: Will I see them as too different, unique, other and awkward? Will I glance their way, feel uncomfortable, and say to myself, “Yikes! Let’s move along now. Look away. Let’s shift focus to the ‘normal’ and ‘beautiful’ people!” OR will I truly and deeply see the precious people in my path?

During Auggie’s wonder story, especially poignant are the moments in Mr. Browne’s homeroom. This oh-so-wise teacher places a monthly precept on the board. September’s is:

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

In Palacio’s book, Mr. Browne’s May precept is from John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”

Masterfully and subtly, Wonder’s screenplay writers wove the issue of how characters truly see one another all throughout the film. Auggie’s potential new friend, Jack Will, struggles with peer pressure from other boys who don’t want to hang out with Auggie. Jack vacillates between befriending him and bullying him like the other kids do. Eventually, Jack reveals his own true feelings about Auggie: “You get used to his face . . . He’s really good at science, and I really do want to be his friend.”

Mr. Tushman, the seasoned school principal, says something so stunning during his office confrontation with the bully Julian and his haughty parents. He challenges them: “Auggie can’t change the way he looks. Maybe we can change the way we see.”

A wrap-up concept near the movie’s end nails it:

“If you really want to see who people are, all you have to do is look.”

How do you see people with whom you work? Your clients, coworkers, and employees, especially those who are suffering or just different in light of their disabilities and special needs? I am moved by the divine work of seeing people, really seeing them. At the biblical culmination of creation, right after God crafts humans, we read:

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).

Scene after scene during Jesus’ ministry here on earth, we read:

“When Jesus saw __________ . . .” (Matthew 5:1, 8:14, 9:22, 14:14 plus numerous others).

When Jesus saw all sorts of people with all sorts of needs, the result was always some deliberate action, instruction, or other form of loving service in response. All because of seeing people via deeper outlook.

Let’s slow our steps, fix our gaze, and savor conversation. Let’s ask better questions, hear people’s stories, and gush kind affirmation. Folks are full of hopes, hurts, special needs, and yes, setbacks, missteps, mistakes, struggles, and heartache. But they also possess such powerful potential to display wondrous love and real joy. As we really see people, we’ll recognize more of God’s image and what a wonder people truly are.

O how I need greater doses of divine sight for all my interaction with others. Let’s see each person we encounter with fresh wonder this week!

What about a different look at Lent in 2021?

“I’m giving up chocolate!”

“No coffee for me for the next forty days!” (I’m shaking at the very thought of such asceticism, and so are my coworkers who fear the agony of being around me when I lack sufficient caffeine. Bring me the bed of nails or hot coals to walk on before you mess with my java.)

 “This year, I’m keeping my wine and chocolate, but giving up all social media. Goodbye, Facebook friends! See you after Easter.”

“No thick, juicy steaks on my plate for six weeks.”

With the start of Lent, I have heard such predictable declarations of devotion and also a number of unique, extra-creative statements of intentionality. I must confess that my own spiritual heritage did not include practicing Lent or Ash Wednesday. My religious tutelage also held no celebration of Fasnacht Day. Now, I must shout “Yea!” for the donuts’ great holiday. I have come to highly revere the sweet holiness of this fine tradition, especially when accompanied by a latte. Seriously, in recent years, my own appreciation for the potential benefits of Lenten observance has increased as I have witnessed people’s personal denial of self-consumption. I have seen meaningful, challenging levels of personal progress through such deliberate actions.

In 2021, I cannot help but wonder, “What might it look like to dig several feet deeper, to apply Lenten disciplines in the workplace?”

Instead of giving up something that represents primarily a sensory, consumer appetite, what if my zone of self-denial dared to include a core choice of the soul? How about contemplating what might be one or more of my deep-down personal ruts, a deficiency in my character relating with my coworkers, or even some often overlooked, warped, or misguided workplace values?

What about giving up water-cooler gossip and competitive character assassination?

Could I dare to begin each of the next forty days by prayerfully laying down my arrogance?

How might your productivity increase if you gave up your patterns of procrastination, to passionately attack your to-do list—especially your most dreaded tasks—even daring to do the worst first?

What healthier habits might take root in your heart if you laid aside the workplace lust you’ve flirted with way too frequently in recent months?

Might I sense a deeper connectedness with Christ, with family, and friends, if I choose to give up workaholic tendencies, to practice the sacred rhythms of Sabbath?

R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung supply a convicting list of nine workplace struggles, dubbing them “deadly work sins.” Pride. Greed. Lust. Gluttony. Anger. Sloth. Envy. Restlessness. Boredom. Their powerfully persuasive call to surrender these vices takes the conversation beyond the predictable “stop that” or “cut it out!” Ung and Stevens winsomely analyze the fresh fruit of the Spirit as life-giving antidotes. Joy. Goodness. Love. Self-control. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Kindness. Patience. Peace.[1]

One of my friends reminded me yesterday that as we enter Lent, a truly Christ-focused approach should be something vibrantly different than gloomy, grey, boring, and dismal—an outlook consumed with only short-term self-denial. Instead, Lent actually comes to us like the beautiful harbinger of springtime—potentially leading us toward brighter outcomes—resulting in a more Spirit-led life. Who knows? Perhaps such enriched Lenten practices in the workplace might stretch beyond forty days, changing us at the core of who we are, transforming how we work, and even multiplying our Christ-like impact on others.

Let’s dare to embrace Lent in our workplaces this year, in a fashion that addresses those much-needed places in our souls. I sense that will be far more wonderful, life giving, and joy-producing than my giving up coffee—both for me as well as all my coworkers.


[1]R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung. Taking Your Soul to Work: Overcoming the Nine Deadly Sins of the Workplace. (Eerdmans, 2010).

Two Lincoln Lessons this Presidents Day

From the impeachment trial in Washington to the scandal in New York State, we continue to struggle to find solid examples of upstanding, intentional leadership. These are desperate days. We need leaders marked by thoughtful integrity, thorough goodness, and hearts deliberately set on genuinely serving others.

With so much bad news lately, I have forced myself to reflect, to search and ponder some potential good news this Presidents Day. I find myself aiming to recall more positive lessons from past leaders.

Let’s revisit two lessons from Abraham Lincoln’s leadership, insights that emerge even amidst desperately negative circumstances.

Lincoln leveraged solid self-awareness of his own dark side.

His contemporaries—those people around him during early political days as well as those surrounding his presidency—all knew his capacity to convey a glum, weighted down demeanor. He would often retreat on his own with a furrowed brow in order to puzzle over problems or brood on dilemmas. He was known for projecting heaviness and a somber tone, so much that some historians have labeled Lincoln’s malaise as depression. However, Doris Kearns Goodwin has aptly deduced his outlook as melancholy instead.[1]

And here’s what’s remarkable: Lincoln knew this dismal personal penchant. He also knew how to leverage his melancholy for the greater good. Lincoln did two things in light of such self-awareness. First, he told stories, often humorous, witty ones. In such story crafting, he was typically successful at lifting his own spirit as well as the tone and overall outlook of those whom he was leading.

Second, he allowed his melancholy outlook to fuel deeper empathy. Historians recognize that much of Lincoln’s political success came via his uncanny ability to identify with the hurts and needs of his constituents. Having deeply pondered and felt their pain, he could then plan and plot a stronger platform of service.

Lincoln was also skillful at leveraging his melancholy in order to anticipate his political opponent’s next move. Sometimes he would do this well in advance of the other party’s action and the resulting public news. Such self-awareness and skillful ability to leverage his melancholy mood for the greater good proved marvelously helpful. Lincoln actually strengthened his leadership influence with intentional use of his known tendency.

Lincoln built his cabinet largely from a list of rivals.

So many present-day leaders are prone to assembling their teams and boards only from individuals with whom they fully agree. Leaders tend to gather those who are readily “yes people,” others who are not likely to give them push-back or express alternate views. It’s remarkable to realize, President-elect Lincoln very intentionally assembled his team out of those who had already expressed differences of opinion, run against him, and even some who had openly expressed opposition to his key platforms and agenda. Lincoln saw such diversity as essential, healthy, and empowering toward genuine progress and productive outcomes during those difficult days.

I am deeply grateful for these two Lincoln insights. I long to see them employed by more of our current leaders in Washington as well as influencers in vital business arenas. And I am also stirred and equally eager to utilize them myself in my own realms of church and community leadership in the days ahead.

Let’s learn from Lincoln! Happy Presidents Day!  


[1]Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Simon & Schuster, 2005.  

When You’re Sick of Waiting

“Will it ever arrive?”

“I’m sick of waiting!”

“Is this ever going to end?!”

You know how agonizing it feels to wait for the train.

The 2020-2021 edition of the waiting game is getting old for everyone. We all feel it on multiple fronts. There are still rampant COVID diagnoses and grieving. So many people are awaiting vaccination. Hosts of friends and family are hoping to return to the workplace, struggling to help kids with school at home, praying for a new job, and a host of other issues. Lots of precious folks are struggling to cope and find themselves swept into old addictions.

So many of us are struggling as we approach the one-year mark. I chuckle when I recall how we all thought that everything would surely be back-to-normal by Easter—last year.

The Apostle Paul expressed similar frustration in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8. The oft-quoted, oh-so-famous, standout is verse 28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

You’re probably saying, “Yea, okay, I saw that at Hobby Lobby on bric-a-brac. So? Big deal!”

It’s comforting indeed, reassuring for sure, that God is working in all things. Even in our agonizing and waiting. That brings us renewed confidence. But because biblical context is vital for greater clarity of understanding and accurately creative application, we do well to look at what’s around these beloved lines. Right before this, Paul employs dismal words like:

Suffering

Waiting

Expectation

Frustration

Subjected

Bondage

Decay

Groaning

Weakness

He utilizes these terms in both micro and macro ways, descriptive of both our personal attitudes and in the larger cosmos, all of creation.

But he also shares bright words like:

Glory

Eager

Hope

Freedom

Spirit

Adoption

Redemption

Help

Pray

And Christ’s Spirit intercedes for us.

Paul’s upside verbiage feels intentionally stronger. We can sense it! He is hopeful and anticipatory. But it’s not mere sentiments of sunshine or some short-term, rosy change of circumstances. For Paul, reflection runs much deeper and far-reaching. With vs. 29-30, Paul actually describes the good work.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

There’s some serious upside, seriously divine work! Note, God’s impressive foreknowledge and predestination. These are rich concepts reinforcing vital truth that he powerfully knows and plans. He is sovereign; he’s seriously in control. In Romans, Paul is emphasizing the gracious good news, the Gospel of God’s salvation, his righteousness for us in Christ Jesus. We can assuredly trust him. Even with all the evil happenings and sinful people, his good purpose will not be thwarted. Take that to the bank. He is sovereign. We can trust him.

But what is his good purpose? That we will be conformed to the image of his Son and there will be more brothers and sisters. More family!

What’s that about? It’s our re-creation. Recall how in Genesis 1, we saw the very good creation of humans “in God’s image.” But in Genesis 3, the fall into sin happens—the insurrection against the loving King—and so the image of God was marred, mangled, fallen because of sin. The creation was subjected to frustration, starting right here.

But God, in his love and grace commenced his salvation and redemption plans, to bring King Jesus, our Savior, our Redeemer. He is the firstborn (an old way of saying “first in rank, supreme, the preeminent one”). And notice: “among many brothers and sisters!”

Here’s the amazing deal. By the Father’s good plans and gracious purposes, we get conformed to Jesus’ image, re-made in the image of our Creator. Paul was also declaring that this redemptive work positively affects all creation. And the overflow of God’s good work is that more and more people in turn become his children. It’s stunning good work that he accomplishes. Jesus’ life, love, and work flow through our lives, love, and work, and even more brothers and sisters are conformed to the image of Christ!

It’s really moving to realize the real scope of Romans 8. Just like that original good and blessed intention back at Creation (Genesis 1), our salvation and gracious recreation into Jesus’ image leads to us doing good. Really. We do good works. Others are blessed and join his family!

What train are you waiting for right now? Are you weary? Frustrated? You are not alone!

Think on Paul’s bigger view of how God is working, why he’s working, and what he is bringing to fruition. Even amidst all the waiting and weariness, you can take heart. Be encouraged. He is working so much good, so that each of us looks more like Jesus, so that more people join his family!

Nothing is wasted in God’s workshop. He’s working in our waiting, even when it feels so frustrating.

Even when we can’t see it, he is still working. Especially amidst ugly pandemics, nasty politics, struggling economies, so much groaning and grieving. We can trust him. Think anew! Because of Jesus, you are called. You are justified. And based on his precious promises, he is working his plans for greater glory.

We are all still waiting, still weary, but full of hopeful expectation!

Ravish your way through this snowy day. Make something!

Wind and the wintry mix were pounding our roof as I awoke. (‘Must confess, the little kid deep inside me said, “Ah, the storm did indeed deliver.”) After a foray outside with Musti, our Bernese-shepherd mutt, I began the joyous task of shoveling the driveway. I am well aware in light of the forecast, that is just round one.

Of course, I am contemplating when I’ll build the fire. This will require carefully stripping newspaper, strategically clumping kindling, and then lighting the flame. Snowy days like today certainly call for a fire. There is other work to do today, but a snowy day like this requires making a fire.

I’m struck with the integral connection between holy interruptions in our regular schedules—these God-appointed disturbances, like snowstorms—and the opportunity to make something. We learn of the God who oh-so-creatively makes things in Genesis 1. Many years later, Jesus reminded his critics that his Father is always working (John 5:16-18). So I’m challenged today with the opportunity.

I can make the most of the space, the sweet grace of extra time. I sense the Lord’s promptings today. “John, whatever you do during this storm, you must make something.” Just perhaps, we might each hear his whisper carried on the winds and driving flakes of snow. Perhaps we’ll dare to embrace our Father’s sacred dance of playful creation and a change of pace.

Build the fire and keep it burning all day. If you have a woodworking shop, use the time to build that table or refinish an antique chair that’s been gathering dust. Make french toast—and bacon, and eggs, and waffles. Go all out. Throw on your warmest snow clothes and go make memories—even just thirty minutes worth—with your kids. If you’re married, home alone, just the two of you, make the most of your time together. Wink-wink. (Need I really encourage this? It’s likely there will be a significant spike in hospital maternity traffic approximately nine months from this wintry blast.)

So, why not make something extra-special? You get the idea.

It’s an extra-crucial concept right now during this pandemic season. So many of us have become accustomed to working our normal jobs from home. No doubt you will need to do some of that normal work during the snowstorm. Just don’t miss the sacred chance to blow the whistle at least a few times along the way today.

Perhaps such gracious time carved out by snowstorms might, after all, be more like what God intends for our normal Sabbath rhythms (Genesis 2:1-3). I too often forget that intentional holy disruptions are commanded and encouraged, integral to practicing God’s intentions for truly abundant, good life.

We are too typically too busy. Snowstorms and accompanying Sabbath are made by our all-wise Father, for our good. When Jesus and his disciples walked through the fields and plucked grain on the Sabbath, the Pharisees’ critique and Christ’s teaching proved unique and mildly puzzling (check out Mark 2:23-28). At least one of Christ’s intentions was to help us embrace the empowering tension of Sabbath. Yes, it’s commanded. Yes, we’re to be spontaneous. Yes, it’s God-like. And yes, it’s VERY good for us.

Stephen Cottrell, describing more sensitive Sabbath principles, urges us: “So never speak of wasting time or spending time. Rather, say you are enjoying it or giving it away freely. Never say you have an hour to kill. Rather, say you have an hour to revive, to bring to life, to ravish.”[1]

Let’s ravish our way through the upcoming snowy hours. Now go make something!

Special note: this post has been adapted and refreshed from another post on a snow-stormy day back in 2017. It seems I needed reminded again.

[1]Stephen Cottrell. Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop. (New York: Seabury Books), 2008, p. 69.

A snowstorm is coming. Go to church anyway. Really!

The Abominable Snowman is stomping our way! Yes, a big snowstorm is predicted. Our region of PA has a forecast for an apocalyptic snow event starting sometime Sunday. And I can read your mind. You’re seriously contemplating just skipping the church service tomorrow, whether in-person or live-streaming.

Backstage secret. Here’s an underbelly-of-the-beast truth: Every Sunday on the calendar is tough work, but pastors dread such a wintertime collision of nature and scheduled worship gatherings.

Whether you live in our region under the threat of a storm or somewhere else across the U.S. there’s a really good chance you are contemplating skipping church tomorrow. Pre-COVID, church attendance was already trending downward. People had good reasons galore. Sunday kids’ sports, golf with buddies, sleeping in, better TV preachers, fabulous breakfast buffets, or more open treadmills at the gym. “Easy like Sunday morning” is a smooth, catchy song lyric, indeed. And it seems so delightful to roll with such easiness.

The pandemic has produced a host of additional complexities, fears, disruptions for everyone. In that whirlwind, faithful church involvement has become more optional than ever. Good excuses abound and are multiplied.

Icing on the cake for this weekend, there’s a snowstorm coming, and you’re thinking, “I don’t really need to connect via live-stream, and I certainly don’t need to get in the car and go attend in-person. After all, the flakes might start falling at 10:13 a.m. Yikes! That’s risky. And then they want me to wear a mask, stay six feet apart—certainly no hugs or handshakes—and the café menu is so scaled back. It just doesn’t feel like church like I liked it back in 2019.”  

Are you really contemplating skipping church again? Really?

Don’t do it. Really. Just determine right now you’ll be made of stronger stuff. Decide you’re still going to attend—or even go back for the first time—either in-person or online for live-streaming.

Here are three bigger reasons you should gather in-person or online this week. Hear me out.

Reason #1: Your local leaders have been uniquely planning, creating, studying, and crafting something really good for you.

Really. Trust me, no matter who your leaders are, their unique gift mix, passions, weaknesses, and expertise, they’ve got something very meaningful planned. If you skip tomorrow, you’ll miss the encouragement, the challenge, the conviction, the hope, and the good gracious help that’s being served up. You’ll miss the songs, the teaching, and the opportunity to fellowship with others. Every Sunday, these elements stir together so you can be inspired to be good and do good in the coming week. For fresh perspective, see Hebrews 10:19-25. Determine you’ll gather. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for others. You don’t want to miss out!

Reason #2: Your local leaders are uniquely available and accessible. After all, well, they’re local.

This should be so obvious, but in the YouTube and TV celebrity status of so many national and international ministries, it’s quickly forgotten.

Andy Stanley, his great dad Charles, Rick Warren, and Francis Chan. They’re awesome dudes, and they are indeed fantastic communicators. Out of sight. I’ve been blessed and learned from all of them. But stop and think about it. They’re not going to chat with you after the message regarding your questions, pray with you in the lobby, call you in the hospital, do your child’s wedding, or send you an encouragement card. They’re hundreds of miles away.

So why not jump into the mix this week with your local congregation? Tap into what’s been creatively crafted by your local leaders in your unique context.

Go to church this weekend. Really. You’re warmly welcome! And welcome back if you’ve been away for a while. Go online or in-person with an open heart, a level-head, with non-judgmental expectations about the music and preaching. Bring a serious others-orientation. Aim to be a blessing yourself, not just be blessed, fed-to-the-full, and encouraged yourself. Go to encourage others!

Reason #3: Jesus went to church faithfully. You should too.

There’s a little phrase that jumps at me in Luke 4, verse 16. We’re told Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. (Yes, it’s not precisely our present-day Sunday gatherings, but it’s a very similar, Jewish, first-century approximate of our twenty-first century worship gatherings.)

Now here’s the intriguing little phrase about Jesus. He went to the synagogue “as was his custom.”

What’s that mean? He went to synagogue every Sabbath. Jesus was a regular. He was faithful, whether it was going to snow or not.

You say, “Well of course he did, he’s JESUS.” Okay, but think about it; he already knew all the truth there is to know. By nature of his divine position before coming to earth, he was intimately familiar with the best worship and the most sublime teaching. Andy and Rick don’t hold a candle to what Jesus already heard and knew by heart. But he still “went to church,” and because he did, others were abundantly blessed.

You say you want to be like Jesus. You really want to grow to be more like him in 2021, in spite of the horrific pandemic, a sagging economy, and raucous political turmoil? Wonderful.

You say you’re aiming to be like Jesus? Fantastic. Start by gathering for church, either online or in-person. You won’t regret it!

And after all, the really heavy snow isn’t supposed to start until afternoon.

Go to church. You’ll be blessed, and you’ll be a blessing in the mix with others. Really!

Capitol violence, MLK, and the Gospel of Peace

In the wake of the rioting and insurrection on January 6, I’m still trying to sort through the melee. My own soul needs calmed related to the unrest and violent actions. On this day as we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, we all hope, long, and pray for cooler heads, calmer hearts, and a peaceful inauguration week.

Plenty of people are denouncing what transpired at the U.S. Capitol and saying, “Enough is enough. The hate must stop!” Voices are gathering and calling for more voices of peace.

I’ve been wrestling with an antithetical concept: I think we need a stronger hatred. I’m serious. Please hear me out. Consider the Apostle Paul’s engaging words:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection,and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically.Rejoice in our confident hope . . . Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone . . . Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:9-21 (NLT)(emphasis mine)

Here is a foundational concept on our way to peace. It’s essential to “hate well.”[1] Hating well means we despise and push back all that is evil in our own hearts and in our collective consciences. It means starting right here in my chair, I vehemently combat the attitudes and actions that promote rank racism, self-consumed vengeance, and violence toward those of a different political persuasion. If there’s any real war to be waged, it must start in my own heart, to push back my own self-consumption.

St. Paul insists that we all CAN work for peace. He calls for genuine love, enthusiastic service, blessings instead of cursing, real-time empathizing, intentional harmonizing, and an everyday willingness to hang out with ordinary people. In these ways and more, we actively “hate evil” and “work for peace.”

Do we grasp the deeper purpose of peace? Additional biblical passages relate the necessity of serious action for Christ-followers, even employing the language of work. Consider these:

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

Psalm 34:14 (NLT)

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 (NLT)

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

Do these Scriptures have non-violence and the peaceful resolution of conflict in view? Absolutely. Are these truths applicable for both personal relationships and international affairs? Most certainly!

But is some passive posture all they have in view? Absolutely not. The core biblical idea behind peace is the robust Hebrew ideal of shalom. Christ’s peace is vitally related to the idea of actively working for human flourishing.

Richard Foster correlates: “Shalom embodies the vision of a harmonious, all-inclusive community of loving persons. The great vision of shalom begins and ends our Bible . . . The messianic child to be born is the ‘Prince of Peace,’ and justice and righteousness and peace are to characterize his unending kingdom (Isa. 9:6-7). Central to the dream of shalom is the magnificent vision of all nations streaming to the mountain of the temple of God to be taught his ways and walk in his paths.”[2]

Such Christ-honoring, grace-fueled call to “work for peace” supplies the basis for SO MUCH grace-based work that is happening already. Christ’s church today is being moved toward—

Stronger collaboration

Rather than rushing to join the saber rattling on “the left” or “the right,” more churches are working harder to actually communicate for positive change. Stephen Graves affirms: “Collaboration can be a freeway system for the gospel to travel. Non-collaboration can be a disappointing dead end or stifling roadblock.”[3]

Such collaboration begins with a highly personalized, one-person-at a time, heart-by-heart approach. Let’s admit it. We all have an encrusted aversion toward those people who are “the others”—those souls and skins who seem so antithetical to our own likes, loves, dislikes, and preferences. In great contrast, collaboration means I cultivate a holy hatred for my personal arrogance, laziness, and disgust for “the others.” Then I more deliberately love those people with different perspectives, different skin color, and the plethora of different cultural preferences that so often fuel my prejudices. We can each choose to host a meal, join others for coffee, and intentionally respond to their active overtures for mutual togetherness.

Strategic innovation toward greater flourishing

More churches are working toward Gospel-proclaiming and innovative community development. Such development aims for redemptive relationships leading toward economic growth and an overall shalom that’s grounded in saving grace. Where this is happening, both globally and in communities near our churches, such innovative work supplies a beautiful picture of counter-intuitive kindness (Romans 12:20). Through creative discipleship groups, brighter business plans, and expanding social justice in communities, Christ’s gospel is helping more people experience greater flourishing—real peace with God and peace with one another![4]

Herein lies the vibrant, Christ-like ideal of working to evoke positive change, forward momentum in the lives of people who are in need spiritually, socially, emotionally, and financially. We dare not forget, such need includes you and me! We are each impoverished, in need of God’s grace.

The local church with which I serve has certainly not arrived on these issues. Like most churches, we still have miles to go. But we are actively teaching, promoting, and mobilizing for greater one-on-one peace-making as well as stronger regional impact and more thoughtful global impact. After all, such healthier hatred of what’s wrong in our world and more loving pursuit of peace is rooted deeply in Jesus’ kingdom agenda for Gospel work.

Let’s hate what is wrong in our world and continue overcoming that evil with grace-motivated good works—all for Christ’s glory. On this historic week and in the wake of the so-sad events at the Capitol, we can all take steps to work for peace.


[1]Life guru Henry Cloud expounds this concept in 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Life and Love. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 139.

[2]Streams of Living Water (New York: Harper One, 2001), 171.

[3]The Gospel Goes to Work: God’s Big Canvas of Calling and Renewal (Fayetteville, AR: KJK Inc, 2015), 122-123.

[4]For just one regional example, see http://www.celebratecolumbia.com and on the global front, see the amazing work of www.hopeinternational.org

The Extraordinary Strategist of Christmastime

I face plenty of confounding, confusing, utterly puzzling situations, especially right now. Don’t we all? Christmas season 2020, questions loom large. All is not automatically merry and bright, right? What do we do about family gatherings? How do we make already-stretched dollars stretch even further? And advance planning for 2021, is that even possible?

Amidst my own wondering, I’ve found lately that it’s really good to simply, boldly pray:

“Please King Jesus, come meet with us. Show us the way. Lend your wisdom, please Lord.”   

Headed into a board meeting and wondering, “What in the world? How will we address that?” Or a tangled situation for one of my still-maturing sons and asking, “Where’s the wisdom? What’s the right way to go?” Or trying to encourage a friend but honestly grasping at thin air: “Is there something, anything I can really say to help.”

Here’s where I find myself more and more these days just tossing out the gutsy, on-the-fly, hurry-up heart cry, “Please Lord Jesus, come meet with us. Show us the way. Lend your wisdom, please.”

We tend to think of Christmas as the magical miracle time. But I think this year, more than ever, we need the wisdom of Blumhardt: The work for God goes on quite simply in this way; one does not always have to wait for something out of the ordinary. The all-important thing is to keep your eyes on what comes from God and to make way for it to come into being here on the earth. If you always try to be heavenly and spiritually minded, you won’t understand the everyday work God has for you to do. But if you embrace what is to come from God, if you live for Christ’s coming in practical life, you will learn that divine things can be experienced here and now . . .” (Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas)

If you’re like me, you might be saying, “Okay, okay, but what about those times when I just don’t see it, or no answer is landing, no insight cometh, and all still feels utterly confusing?” I think that’s where we must come back to the confidence that comes from the babe who already came. The prophet Isaiah foretold:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.  Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV)

One name really stands out for me this week: Wonderful Counselor. I love how The Passion Translation renders “Counselor.” TPT says his name is “The Extraordinary Strategist.” There’s a wonderfully fresh and encouraging way to think of your wonderful Christ. Even when I don’t yet have the answer for the puzzling family conundrum or know a solution to the board room dilemma. When I’m still not sensing how to work out a snarled situation or have a word of encouragement for my friend. It’s in those moments I can turn to my Extraordinary Strategist and say,

“Please King Jesus, come meet with us. Show us the way. Lend your wisdom, please Lord.”

So good to know, I can trust he will accomplish that, because he already came. Based on the ancient prophecy and Jesus’ arrival, I can know with confidence, he’s on it. He’s working. He’s got this! Why? He is the Extraordinary Strategist of Christmastime.   

The Bigger Reason I’m Weary of the Election and COVID

I feel weary today. Many of us feel the weightiness. I know it’s a Monday, and Mondays can feel wearisome in normal seasons. However, I am weary on a different level. Our current times are fraught with so much turmoil over the election and COVID. I am utterly exhausted and saddened for an even bigger reason. So many people are still struggling to work with the truth. It’s happening in the rascally nexus of both science and politics.

Working with truth in science

I find it utterly frustrating that individuals and their networks continue working double-time to discredit the work of solid researchers, reputable doctors, and those who speak out for safety measures. Yes, I am talking about mask-wearing, quarantining, and additional wise protocol. As a leader in the public service sector of faith and values, I am stymied by how many people who claim the Christian faith have chosen to sow seeds of doubt regarding the veracity of scientific research and best practices. I am weary of people’s apathy and disbelieving looks when I explain I have loved ones who have battled COVID, and I have officiated multiple funerals for families affected by COVID. Really. For real. Precious people I know have died. I have stood at COVID gravesides. That’s the truth.

Let’s cut to the chase. The struggle for such anti-science individuals is largely born of personal inconvenience and self-absorbed expression of freedom, not genuinely solid ideology. “Masks just feel too restrictive. And if I want to gather with my big group of friends for that party, well dang-it, that’s my right!” Personal rights and American freedoms should supposedly trump love of one’s neighbor and even a healthy love for self that might actually mean long-range preservation of lives. I find such thinking and behavior so strange for people who readily claim to be pro-life. Yes, I am weary.

And I have a serious hunch there’s something else in play. Too many Christians still have a deep-seated aversion to science, too often still grounded in their mistrust of evolutionary teaching. Christians often rush to categorize, and the thinking trail often goes like this:

Faith is grounded in the Bible; therefore, faith is good.

Science is grounded in evolution; therefore, science is bad.

And so never the twain shall meet.

With such a trail, too many people jump to the conclusion that scientists and their advice should be resoundingly rejected. Especially when their strong advice is inconvenient and requires uncomfortable self-sacrifice.

What if part of God’s original call to humans actually included science? Many of these same Christians are quick to focus on the good teaching of God’s wondrous creation as depicted across the opening two thirds of Genesis 1. But why is so little attention given to the closing verses of Genesis 1 and the divine call for humans to “rule and reign” over all of it? The ancient language includes the masterful work of royal-like leadership in all sorts of expressions, including arts and sciences, social endeavors and politics. We are called to be career-ready in numerous fields. So many Christians are quick to use the opening sections of Genesis 1 to refute classic evolutionary thinking, especially in support of literal days of creation versus an evolutionary timeline. But then they resoundingly ignore the implications of Genesis 1:26-31.

What if more Christians would join Francis Collins’ perspective? Collins is a rigorous scientist, the leader of the Human Genome Project, and a man of devout faith. (And yes, Collins is currently Dr. Fauci’s lead supervisor and counselor. Gasp! Stay with me, please.) Collins has said:

Aren’t the scientific and spiritual worldviews antithetical? . . . for me the experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship. Many will be puzzled by these sentiments, assuming that a rigorous scientist could not also be a serious believer in a transcendent God.

Collins proceeds to argue that “belief in God can be an entirely rational choice, and that the principles of faith are, in fact, complementary with the principles of science.”[1] In my own deep weariness, I wonder why so many Christians forget that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). Science and faith do coincide.

Working with truth in politics

It seems much of the same anti-science crowd also struggles to accept the mathematics associated with the current political outcomes. In spite of the vote count conducted, verified, and now being certified by reputable individuals, judges, and other authorities, so many Christians are doggedly touting conspiracy theories.   

With legal action taken by President Trump, many good people just shrug and say, “Well, he’s a fighter and law suits are his modus operandi.” That’s true, and there is no doubt that the current President has been on the side of conservative politics, successfully picked justices matching the pro-life cause, and has reinforced platforms in support of religious freedom for the Judaeo-Christian population. But with the seeds of doubt sown about election count, including proliferation of conspiracy theories, people everywhere are left scratching their heads. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who actually won the White House? And how can we know?

I am personally stirred to consider what lies beneath the pursuit of our answers. I believe there’s a bigger reason we should all be worked up about the election results. Again, cut-to-the-chase. Reality involves this vital thread: evidence matters, and truth matters.

It is not sufficient for either the right or the left to make their claims to winning the election, but then supply no substantive evidence. This is a principle known as burden of proof. T. Edward Damer explains:

In many cases, of course, one does not have to supply such proof, for we are not always called upon to defend our claims. But if the claimant is asked “Why?” or “How do you know that is true?”, he or she is logically obligated to produce reasons in behalf of the claim . . . one at least has the responsibility to provide evidence for the main thesis and for any questionable premise, if asked to do so.[2]

In our current election outcome, President Trump claims there was election fraud. It is important to note that this was a concern he vocalized numerous times prior to his victory back in 2016. Burden of proof means that he and his team are obligated to produce reasons, substantive evidence that points to such fraud. It’s not sufficient to just claim fraud if you don’t like the election outcome.

Across these post-election weeks, many Americans have been open to seeing the situation with democratic vision, sincerely open to such Trump-side evidence potentially being produced. I wholeheartedly echoed the same sentiment. If such true evidence exists, by all means, it should be brought to light. Fraud should be held to account. The election should be decided based on genuine evidence.

Truth matters. Thoughtful, engaged, integrated Christians grasp how genuine faith is not a blind faith but a reasoned faith. (This is what Francis Collins is advancing in his statement above.) A reasoned faith is well-founded, credible, and grounded in the evidence of eyewitnesses.[3] This issue—truth matters—is where things get very slippery today. In our current culture, people readily think truth is ultimately subjective. “Make up your own truth; you do you, and that’s what is true.” These are common mantras, prevailing thinking in our day. As a result, math, science, morals, and business ethics just don’t hold steady validity, even for some people who claim to be on the side of truth and faith.

In classic Christian understanding, all truth is God’s truth, whether it’s in the Bible or not. But under current popular thinking, actual objective counting only counts based on each person’s individual count as it coincides with one’s preferred outcome. So, premises, opinions, claims, and principles become highly subjective. With such current-day approach, truth is relative. You get to make up your own end to the story, even if history says it was different. You can make up your own math and craft your own science. You get to make up your own end to the election based on what you wanted for your candidate, your own sense of power, your worldview, and financial safety, even if substantive evidence says otherwise.

Evidence matters; truth matters. After all, if truth is simply “you do you,” then who can you believe? Who can you trust? It is never sufficient to simply make a claim. It would be like a head football coach of an NFL team who suddenly claims the outcome of a down-to-the-wire game was rigged and riddled with fraud. “WE won that game last night!” It would be that coach and team’s responsibility to produce credible proof that negates the calls of the officials and those other eyewitnesses to the game’s outcome. We know it in football. Credible eyewitnesses are essential to substantive evidence.

It’s vital we be open to our own biases when it comes to politicians and elections. I know I have biases. I was raised in a right-wing, conservative family. Our tribe voted for Ronny Reagan and lots of Bushes. Along with passionate friends, I snuck into a Clinton rally in Scranton in 1992. We held up STOP Abortion signs and almost got beat up. I am still a registered Republican, but in recent years I have modulated my political engagement and voting. I have aimed to be more integrated in my faith expression in politics, more prayerful and thoughtful in how I vote. (I’ve written about why and the theological underpinnings in previous articles.) I know, this confuses the heck out of some people. However, by many people’s criteria, I am still highly conservative in perspective, even with such modulation.

With honest recognition of my own biases, I have to be willing to affirm the evidence, because truth matters. The last time I checked, true Christians still believe in working with truth. If there is ample evidence from President Trump’s side, it should be allowed to be heard and win the day. Tough reality is, truth in outcomes can also go the other way, contrary to what you might wish or want. Because evidence is vital when working with burden of proof, I must be willing to accept an outcome that does not match my own biases, either way. And each of us should be willing to accept the truth, especially if the outcome rests squarely on solid math and ample evidence from multiple election officials across numerous states and credible vote counts. Let’s keep in mind, Secretary Clinton was not permitted to make up her own truth in 2016 when she won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. None of us just gets to make up his or her own truth.

Friends, whether you like an outcome or not, evidence and truth are so important for the health of family, coworkers, and neighbors during a pandemic. Evidence and truth matter for the ongoing health of democracy, for confidence in future elections, and for the peace and flourishing of people everywhere. God forbid anyone gets pushy and spills blood over this election’s outcomes. God forbid that families fragment and friends are sundered. God forbid that any leader, either leader, be allowed to lead a coup against our nation’s long-standing democratic process.

Please, please, friends, let’s be rational, committed to working on the side of truth. Let’s be honest, mature, calm, and steady when working with both science and politics. I’ve spent a chunk of time pondering my weariness over Christians’ reactions to both the election and COVID. I am reminded of Jesus’ insight when he noted there are times “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). What an indictment. Let’s be wise enough to set aside our own biases, our self-absorbed opinions, and stand with wise truth, even when it feels uncomfortable.


[1]Francis S. Collins, The Language of God. (Free Press: New York, 2006), p. 3.

[2]T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning. (Wadsworth Publishing: Belmont, CA, 1987), p. 4.

[3]Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, Josh Chatraw, Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World. (B&H Publishing: Nashville, 2014), p. 12-14.

No Zoom Today

What should we make of today? In my own past praxis, nothing much, really. It has been the immensely blah, pay-no-attention, make-no-mention day of Easter weekend. At best, it’s been a day to run-around, shop for last-minute must-haves, and finish getting ready for tomorrow, the truly monumental day, Easter Sunday.

2020 if of course, different. Very different. We are all locked down, very busy staying at home and doing a whole bunch of nothing. Well, sort of. If we’re honest, some of us feel busier than ever in our spirits. After all, there are new tasks to do. Schoolwork. Baking. Online shopping. Kids. House repairs. Care calls to make. Videos to upload. Economic trends to chart. New strategies to craft. And another Zoom meeting. Isn’t it ironic during this time of so much staying home and such a shift of our life gears, now so much of our existence is run by the word zoom?

My own Friday was full in its own strange way. I won’t bore you. Yours was too. We just did Good Friday in all its horrific glory. And as good Christians, we are quick to say: “But Sunday’s comin’!”

I am struck this morning with the reality that I have seldom pondered today, Saturday, the day in between. For thoughtful Christians across the ages and round the globe, this is holy or joyful Saturday. From the cross on Friday, Christ cried out his last words, his sixth and seventh sayings: “It is finished!” and “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Holy Saturday serves as a poignant reminder that his body was laid in the tomb by Joseph and Nicodemus (St. John’s Gospel, chapter 19), and there he rested.

We tend to want a busy Jesus, the sort of Savior who was still running off to do something, even in spirit. Over the centuries, scholars have debated: what was he doing in that in-between? Did he truly descend to hell, preach good news, and free the captives? Well, maybe, and maybe not. It’s a long-fought creedal debate, and since this is Holy Saturday, I am simply not feeling the compulsion today to actively engage the mental work or exert the energy necessary for full-on combat of the age-old controversy. (You can also have a pass today to not have to settle that one, if you’d like.)

What I am drawn toward is the sacred connection of Christ’s 2nd-day posture. He rested. In his incarnation, Jesus was fully inhabiting the fulfillment of the Hebrew sabbath. His body was at rest. His spirit was at home with his Father. And he rested. Full stop. Nothing more. No zoom for Jesus.

I have workaholic tendencies. I am not proud of that. Combine that with perfectionism. There’s a deadly-to-the-soul combo. So, I am extra-moved in this Holy Week 2020 when I realize that sisters and brothers across the ages have also referred to this day as Joyful Saturday. My soul is struck by the permission to do nothing today, nothing but rest in body and rejoice in soul.

That push-push, reach-for-something-more side of me as a leader, author, and speaker would typically grab two or three more books or articles and aim to craft another paragraph or two. I would consider my labor unfinished, my striving incomplete with what I am sharing right here.

And then I recall, my Lord said, “Tetelestai!” It is finished.

And so am I. Will you join me in making this a truly joyful, Holy Saturday?

Best we can, let’s do nothing, just a little bit better.

Let’s join Jesus. No zoom. Just rest.