Skip to content

Category: Matthew

Actions, not words – keeping the ego in check

God has this incredible but often annoying tendency to set me right when I get a little full of myself.

My ability to puff up my own ego is usually done subconsciously. In fact, I don’t wake up every morning thinking, “how can build up my ego today?”

I don’t go about seeking ways to do so.

Ego-building is done more passively.

It comes to me, either via a compliment, or positive statement, or an acknowledgement of an achievement.

Now there is nothing wrong with a compliment or even a good review of my book. In many ways, we all need those. However, when I don’t deflect those praises up to God, then I kind of tuck those warm-fuzzies away into a giant Hefty bag in the back of my head.

Eventually, that bag gets bigger and bigger, stretches more and more, until every molecule of that bag has reached critical mass.

That’s when God steps in and, with a tiny divine pin, pops that bag until it flits about my head making a deflating raspberry sound like air rushing from a balloon.

All that remains is the carcass of that garbage bag settling onto the floor.

Peter has always been one of the disciples with whom I most identify.

And not for the right reason.

Peter screwed up more openly—and dramatically—than the other disciples. Other than his open three-time betrayal of Jesus the night of the latter’s trial, Peter’s ego tended to fill up before the others. Impressing others with his spiritual acumen by saying the right thing at the right time would surely result in oooh’s and aaah’s from others around him.

Whenever I think of Peter, I think of his pattern in the Bible trying to show the others how spiritual he is only to have his ego popped by God’s divine pin of humility.

One infamous example, in Matthew 14, shows the disciples in a boat on the sea of Galilee during a particularly fierce storm (Matthew 14:25-32).

This situation is cause for alarm. Their boat is not one that typically is fitted for rough seas. It is not like a naval vessel or cruise ship which could generally survive a hurricane. No, you have to think of this in terms a large rowboat.

It is completely at the mercy of the waves.

If that wasn’t frightening enough, they were even more creeped out by the sight a figure coming toward them.  It wasn’t another boat, which would make sense, but that of a man walking toward them.

Strolling along.

On the open sea.

As if he was on his way home from work.

If there was any clearer sign that they already sank and have crossed over to the other side, this would have been it.

Then they remembered that lived with the holy I AM, a God who is not bound by the universe’s laws of physics and hydrology.

After first thinking they were seeing ghost—hence the thought they might have crossed over—Jesus’s calling out to “take courage” quickly brings home the point that they are still firmly planted on earth.

Kudos for the disciples picking up on that as quickly as they did.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Perhaps wanting to show the others how spiritual he is, Peter shouts an impressive request: “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water” (14:28).

Peter must have felt pretty good about himself. In front of the others, he put his faith on display before the others. Surely that would be enough. Surely that would be all that was required. Surely Jesus would be thrilled at my—

“Come” (14:29).


That response was not recorded in Scripture. I am guessing that was what Peter was thinking.

That is most certainly what I would think.

Words are easy when you are puffing yourself up. Anyone can say powerful things.

To impress others.

To impress yourself.

God, on the other hand, wants something else.

In John 1, the author introduces Jesus as God, the eternal Word (Logos). If there was a context where words matter, this would be it.

Even for God, however, being the Word is not enough. The Word took action, stepped from the throne, and became a human. Further, as a human, the Word lived, suffered, and experienced the one thing the eternal Word never could: death.

A brutal, horrible death.

The eternal Word became the ultimate sacrifice, reversing the curse of sin once and for all.

The Word took action.

Now, back to Peter.

Peter’s mortal words—“Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water”—might sound admirable, but they require action.

Peter had to put his money where his mouth is.

Peter had to get out of the boat.

To his credit, Peter did.

Then he looked at the waves and sunk.

It only took a brief second for him to realize he can’t do it without Jesus.

For the Christ-follower, discipleship require actions more than words.

And actions require complete dependence upon him.

I get into that spiral where I am comfortable speaking words as opposed to actively living for Christ.

Words are enough.

Then God steps in to redirect me from myself to him.

Another Dan-ectomy.[i] I must have my ego ripped from God’s work. It is a spiritual surgery done by Dr. God, who doesn’t give me the option.

It’s not about me.

At all.

I receive constant reminders that I am not that great after all. Every time I speak words, I am reminded that I am not as great as I think I am. My mistakes become highlighted. For every victory of moment of praise that points at me, I get at least two reminders that people can get along just fine without me: an unfounded—or more frequently, founded—criticism, yet another example showing my that I am what could be considered a Jack-of-NO-traits, a copy of my book seen in a pile at a yard sale.

Whatever I do puffs me up.

Whatever God does through me shows it is all about him.

And for God to work through me requires that I take action.

I have to get out of the boat.

But like Peter, who cannot walk on water without Jesus, I can’t do anything without him either.

And when—not if— I sink, my only words should be “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30).

God can take it from there.

[i] This term is not my own. It actually was coined by Jeff Glover, a dear friend in my home community back in Portland several years ago. But it applies to me too.

Leave a Comment

Navigating a national tragedy through kingdom eyes

It is a twisted world we live in when, during the unfolding of a horrible, tragic event, the first response many of us have is not horror at the events unfolding before us, but dread of the asinine rhetoric that is about to erupt.

I followed closely the unfolding events at Covenant School in Nashville when a transgender woman shot and killed six people—three adults and three nine-year-old children. I am a teacher in a Christian school. This tragedy hit close to home. Like most hearing the story, it sucked the air right out of me.

Sadly, and all too frequently, we no longer have time to process the tragedy, to grieve, to be angry at the evil in the world.

The narrative became political almost immediately. Within hours, it was no longer about the victims.

This is nothing new. I have come to expect it even though it continues to break my heart to see how fast the victims get thrown aside.

I braced myself for the typical responses: We don’t want your thoughts and prayers. Your prayers don’t work. Guns are the problem and they must be banned. If you don’t agree, you’re a member of an NRA gun cult who enjoys killing children.

I usually just try to avoid social media for a week or so until the next big thing pulls America’s short attention span to something else.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the contortions our leaders and media went through in twisting of the narrative to make the shooter the victim.

This came not from the media, but directly from the highest levels of government.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre actually stated during a press conference, “It is shameful, it is disturbing, and our hearts go out to the trans community as they are under attack right now.”

Wait. What?

She actually said that.

And she said it with a straight face.

Now I got angry.

How can people harbor so much hatred toward a group of people strictly because of their beliefs, that they can’t put their ideologies aside in order to mourn with fellow humans? I don’t think anyone in the White House used the term “Christian” once in regard to the attacks.

I usually chuckle at irony of watching those who think Christians are hateful and judgmental display their own hate to a seething degree.

This time, I wasn’t enjoying the irony.

Does Jean-Pierre know it wasn’t a nine-year-old Christian child shooting trans people, right? I am fairly certain that this was one of dumbest, most inappropriate statements to come out of the White House. Even considering comments from the previous occupant.

In 2016, following the tragedy of the Orlando nightclub shooting, Evangelical theologian Albert Mohler tweeted, “The Bible honors weeping with those who weep. A lot of out LGBT neighbors & their families are weeping now. Christians must weep with them.” Then-Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren released a statement, “Heartbroken by what happened in Orlando. Join me today in praying for the families and victims of this tragedy.”

Yet the White House—the very symbol of a united states—couldn’t release anything close to that without bringing up politics or twisting the narrative?

How have we sunk so low?


…Take a deep breath…

I literally just noticed how much of my anger seeped into the previous paragraphs.

I started to edit out my own animosity in order to emulate a calmer persona.   I realized I likely alienated half the country, convincing no one. Further, I have been likely shoved into the category of right-wing gun nut. Or perhaps transphobic.

I have become used to the endless ad hominem attacks in response to my beliefs. I don’t enjoy them, but I come to expect them.

Nevertheless, I chose to not edit out my rant above. This was deliberate. Why?

As I realized the direction I was going in this essay, I had a little bit of an epiphany.

I realized I am not above the frenzy. I am not a cooler head. I wanted to write a piece about a kingdom response to a tragedy, trying to stand above the idiocy, and I wound up joining it.

My fallen heart took over and the rant began.

I am just as susceptible. I realized how quickly my anger took over.

I struggled deeply with this bizarre response. It only added to the pain.

All week, I have been reacting to news with rage and sarcasm. I couldn’t count the number of times I angrily posted something on social media responding to some perceived idiotic statement only to take it down seconds later.

Even though I believed I was not wrong, the question gnawed at me that this wasn’t the appropriate kingdom response.

The kingdom of God is not about being right. As Jesus stood trial, he could have spoken out. If anyone was in the right, it was him. All he needed to do was say something—correct the frenzied misconceptions and bogus charges against him–drop the mic and walk away.

But he didn’t.


Because there was something greater he was accomplishing than merely being right.

The kingdom is not about guns, gun control, mental illness, untwisting bizarre narratives, transphobia, calls to action, and political mic-drops. None of that will work. At best, it is a tiny band-aid on a severed jugular vein.

So, what is the greater objective than being right?

The kingdom is about proclaiming Jesus has come to correct a millennia-old problem—sin.

The kingdom is about unreciprocated love. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Easy enough. But he takes it a step further: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

Though my anger continues to flare up, those words would not stop ringing in my ears. My head—even my heart—knows they are true.

As I re-read Jesus’s commands, I could still feel the anger welling up inside of me: I just wish Christians on the other side of this debate would get off their high horses and do the same thing.

But that’s between them and God. I am not a part of that equation.

I should just focus on Jesus helping me navigate the darkness and chaos.

Next week is the Passion Week culminating in the hateful murder of the Savior of the world.

The love shown on the cross is unconditional and has nothing—nothing—to do with anyone’s definition of who is us and them. That love does not expect anything in return. There isn’t a political stance that could achieve that level of justice.

We must cling to that love, reflect it the best we can—especially in the face of suffering—and rely on God’s grace when we fail.

Your kingdom come, Lord. Your will be done.

My heart is broken over the events at Covenant School in Nashville this last week.

But so is his.

Over those twelve innocent lives lost. Over the trans killer. Over the hatred we all spread against each other while trying to score political points.

Jesus the resurrected Savior is the only answer.

Instead of stating my opinion, I have to understand how I can show the world the answer without engaging in the chaos.

As a member of the Kingdom of God, that needs to be my only objective.

Leave a Comment

Do Christians think Easter is still a big deal?

As I strolled down the seasonal aisle during my weekly grocery run, I stopped at the chocolate Easter bunnies, debating within the solid versus hollow bunny controversy.

Then something caught my eye.

Right next to the Easter bunnies, displayed in full glory, stood a chocolate cross.

This gave me pause.

I wasn’t sure what to think.

On one hand, I wanted to appreciate the acknowledgment of the spiritual aspect of Easter. On the other, I was unsettled by the thought of going into a diabetic coma after eating a chocolate molding of an ancient means of slow execution.

I actually don’t fault secular companies for trying to tap into a particular market. They don’t know the meaning of that symbol. They just see it perched on the top of a building or hung around a person’s neck and think: maybe they’ll buy this.

I mention the chocolate cross because it made me think of something else regarding the Christ-follower’s relationship to Easter.

Or more accurately, to Resurrection Sunday.

It seems that a lot—perhaps too many—of us Christians in America have a “been-there, done-that, got the tee-shirt.” At some point in our lives, we went forward, understood Jesus saved them from our sins, prayed the prayer, and moved forward with our lives.

We identify as Christians, often boldly so. We go to church on Sundays, tithe regularly, read the Bible sometimes, pray regularly, and “do for the least of these.”

Please don’t get me wrong: those are extremely important spiritual disciplines.

But often I feel like our passion—our fire—is missing. Do we really get excited about the Gospel did for us?

In a couple of weeks, while the rest of the world is celebrating Spring by mythical bunnies hiding colored eggs (and atheists think Christianity doesn’t make sense?!) and eating large portions of ham and scalloped potatoes, followers of Jesus will recognize the cross and resurrection of the Savior.

We prepare for it:

Invite family—check. Prepare our dinner—check. Don our Easter best—check. Go to church to give Jesus a “Yay, Jesus” for raising from the dead—check. Eat dinner—check.

Go to work on Monday.

But do we really get excited about Easter? Do we truly celebrate it? Does the anticipation light a fire in us—now, not just on Easter Sunday? Do we truly understand what Jesus did for us on that rugged cross? Or the power behind the empty tomb?

Or is it like the chocolate cross, where we acknowledge it, consume it, and move on with our lives?

Think about what those words “it is finished” mean. For the universe, for all the earth, for you and me.

When we read of the death of Jesus, we blow right over an obscure, yet very relevant detail:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. (Matthew 27:51-52)

Have you ever considered this? Upon the death of Jesus, the curtain in the temple, separating the whole world from God was torn in two.

The curtain mentioned separated the Most Holy Place from the rest on the world. Inside the Most Holy Place was the room that held the Ark of the Covenant. In this room was the presence of God in his holiness. Only one person—the high priest—was allowed into the Most Holy Place only once a year during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle blood onto the altar.

The priest’s ritual was extremely rigid. A rope would be tied around the priest’s waist, because if he failed to follow the precise instructions, he would fall dead. If the rope slackened, others would have to pull out the body because no one else could go in to retrieve it.

Keep in mind, this rigidity wasn’t about God waiting for someone to screw up so he could zap them.

Instead, it had to do with unholiness (which humanity has become since Genesis 3) entering into holiness. The two cannot coexist, just like darkness is unable to coexist with light.

The latter will always overpower.

The pure holiness of God cannot coexist with a fallen humanity.

Thus, the separation.

This is the curtain that was torn in two. With the cross, God made a way to allow us into the presence of his holiness.

And to make sure humanity remembers that it is his, not our doing, Matthew noted that the curtain tore in two from the top down.

From heaven to earth.

Isn’t that a big deal? Isn’t that something worth celebrating and getting excited about?

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the very foundation of our faith. The entire Old Testament points to this moment. Forty days after the resurrection, the once-cowering disciples boldly preached Christ in the very city in which Jesus died. The same high priests and the same Roman guards were still present.

After hearing Peter preaching the resurrected Jesus, all they needed to do was go to the tomb and produce the body and Christianity is chopped off at the ankles. Even Paul himself writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14)

Shouldn’t we celebrate that magnificent event? Not just with the obligatory Easter Sunday service but more like the recent Asbury University revival—twenty-four hours a day, non-stop.

Like Christmas, Easter should be celebrated leading into the day, on the day itself, and well into the rest of the year.

Be hungry.

Not just for a chocolate cross.

But for one who overcame death.

1 Comment

Changing our response to a violent world

We live in a violent world. Always have. And if I were a betting man, I’d say we always will. If humans excel — truly excel — at anything, it is coming up with new, exciting ways to kill each other. This will always be the case, as long as we exist in a broken, sinful world.

At the May 22 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a terrorist attack killed 23 people and injured 116. Days later, on a cross-town train in my town of Portland, Oregon, a white supremacist knifed three protectors trying to stop his hate speech toward two minority women. The women escaped, but two of their protectors died.

Acts like these obliterate the idea that this world can somehow overcome violence and achieve peace. We can preach platitudes, but does anyone really think Katy Perry can change the heart of ISIS by begging them to “coexist”? We can pass laws, but does anyone truly believe determined terrorists can’t circumvent them? And if we ask our governments to respond, virtually their only tools are sanctions (not always effective) or brute force (more violence).

Bottom line: We should do our best to avert violence, but people will still kill one another. I realize this is not an ideal reality, but it is one with which we are stuck.

Perhaps as a result of the information age, in which acts of violence from around the world are streamed daily onto our TVs and computers, we have lost our ability to process and to grieve.

On social media, images of terrorism mix with funny memes, vacation pictures, and kitten videos. If the latest horror doesn’t involve us, we scroll past. Only when it touches our personal values do we get angry and demand justice, and then usually only through hashtag activism which costs us nothing. We act as if some deaths matter, while others do not. We pick and choose which violence offends us.

Humanity has always been violent; that doesn’t change. So what must change is how we respond. Here’s what I mean.

We must re-humanize oppositional voices. Our nature is to de-humanize those whose perspective or experience varies from ours. We use labels like “those people” or “people like that”—often with a subtle lip-curl or eye-roll. Usually this shift is subconscious—we don’t even know we are doing it. But slowly, gradually, we begin to see “them ” as subhuman. We are the humane, enlightened ones; they are not just wrong or different, but actually evil. After this switch, we can justify violence as tolerable — even righteous — because we now believe “they” are the real problem. So attacking “them,” we rationalize, serves the greater good.

We must stop politicizing violence. Tragedy has become so politicized that after each new horror, instead of uniting in healing and grief, we split apart in hatred and blame, reducing the victims to mere pawns in the political debate. As stated in the “Rohm Rule” by Rohm Emanuel, current Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

Immediately after the Manchester concert bombing, some on the political right cheered the attack as poetic justice because Grande once said she hated America. Others used the tragedy to demand a clamp-down against immigrants and refugees coming in to the West. Never mind that the bomber was a British-born citizen.

On the other hand, after the Portland slayings, some on the political left immediately blamed Trumpism. Even former presidential candidate Jill Stein tweeted: “Another heartbreaking tragedy in Trump’s America, as a white nationalist shouting anti-Islam slurs murders 2 on Portland, OR subway.” Never mind that the killer opposed Trump and supported both Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein.

When we use tragedy to advance our own agenda, we trivialize it—and its victims. We become disconnected from the fact that this is not about left or right, but about the fact that something terrible has happened.

People lost their lives. This matters more than swiftly (and usually erroneously, as above) blaming one’s political opponents.

We must remember that we all have violence within. I own a gun, for hobby shooting and self-protection. However, I am not “pro-violence,” and the odds are very slim that I’ll ever have occasion to use it for the latter purpose. Owning a gun does not make me a killer, any more than owning a cutlery set makes you a slasher.

Yet this doesn’t mean there’s no violence in my heart.

In the Old Testament, God says simply, “Thou shalt not kill.”

But in the New Testament, Jesus expands: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22, NIV). And the writings of John confirm: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer” (1 John 3:15, NIV).

Show of hands: How many of us have never murdered someone? Most of us can raise our hands because we’ve never broken that Old Testament commandment.

Show of hands again: How many of us have never felt anger or hatred in our hearts toward someone? Ah…who’s raising a hand now? If you are, you’re lying.

This would be much easier if we stopped with just the Old Testament. But the New Testament says we’re all killers in our hearts.

When we flame someone on the internet, we are killers. When we rage against Team Trump, Team Obama, or Team Hillary – we are murderers. When my anger flares up toward Antifa rioters starting fires, throwing rocks, or stifling free speech, I am committing homicide in my heart.

This sobering realization proves that I am no better than Salman Abedi (the Manchester bomber) or Jeremy Christian (the Portland slasher).

With this realization comes gratitude that, even so, Jesus still saved my sinful heart.

And with this saved heart, I can once again feel grief for the victims of violence, no matter who they are or why it happened.

Violence will plague us until Jesus comes. But when it does, we believers must respond as he did. We must stop rushing to political agendas and personal vendettas, and instead respond with genuine sorrow, empathy, and compassion.

Leave a Comment

Giving the devil his due: the art of the lie

As I stood at the top of the staircase in the academic building at my august British university, the voices began: “Failure. Flunkie. Flop.”

I had just experienced what was, and remains, the most awkward, humiliating moment of my life. In the final hour of my seven years of effort, my two oral examiners had just rejected my PhD work. After hearing the news, I had to stand up in front of them, cram my useless 400-page paper into my briefcase, and exit the room in heavy silence. One of them had simply stared at me without expression; the other never made eye contact.

Classes were letting out, and the atrium below bustled with throngs of students, chattering and laughing. Their journey of chasing their dreams was just coming to birth, whereas mine had just died.

Carefully I descended the stairs—ashen, weak, almost too stunned to breathe—out of the building, down the path, and through the front gate, never to set foot on that campus again.

And the voices followed me: “Screwup. Moron. Misfit.”

I flew home to my dream job as a Christian high school teacher and soon learned that, for reasons I still do not know, my contract would not be renewed. So – on the last day of school there – I exited in shame from that campus too, never to return again.

And the voices continued: “Worthless. Washout. Idiot.”

Those voices would continue in my head for many years after that disastrous winter of 2008. I heard them in the quiet of solitude, whenever I was alone. I heard them in the dark while falling asleep, and again upon waking in the night. I heard them in the shower and while walking the dogs. And I heard them in waiting areas before job interviews. (Interviewer: “What would you bring to this organization?” Me: “I don’t know…a pulse?”)

I was so devastated by my losses that I figured there must be some truth to these voices. They became extremely hard to ignore.

Further, I truly believed (and still believe) that God had led me to that PhD program and that dream job, both of which began well but ended in disaster. And for a long time afterward, this belief led to even more accusations: “God tricked you; he led you into a trap. You have a right to be bitter toward the university, your advisors, your examiners, your boss, and even your God. Go ahead, curse them.” In an odd way, I am grateful that I was too numb, too paralyzed to act on those voices. But I still had to hear them.

Since that painful year, and the death of my life dreams, I continue to get questions from caring people who can’t understand why it all happened, but they try. The most frequent theory is that Satan caused me to fail because he was threatened by what I might have accomplished If I had succeeded.devil's horn

Yet to me this explanation doesn’t wash, because it makes God and Satan sound almost like equals. You know, thrust and parry: God tries to advance his plans, and Satan counters to thwart them. Superhero vs. arch-villain. But this view gives too much credit to Satan, and far too little to God.

True, Scripture teaches that Satan is very real and powerful, and that he “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8, NIV). But it also teaches that God alone is almighty, and Satan is simply one of God’s created beings. He can only do what God allows; he is not capable of creating obstacles or countermeasures which can successfully thwart God’s will.

In fact, Satan is not nearly powerful enough to do most of what we attribute to him. Even the trials of Job are credited not to Satan but to human attackers (vv. 14-15, 17) and freakish acts of nature (vv. 16, 18-19) – except for the trial of painful sores, with which Job is “afflicted” by Satan (Job 2:7, NIV). Still, Scripture consistently teaches that Satan’s power is limited, both in scope and in nature, and that even the limited power he does have is further limited by what God allows.

apple-and-snake_1280x1024_2988But Satan does not need to have power over circumstances to stop us. Instead, his weapon is words. Everyone takes a beanball to the head now and then, and Satan doesn’t necessarily throw the ball; he just messes with our minds after it happens. In fact, the primary power attributed to him in the Bible is the power to deceive. Jesus calls him “the father of lies” (John 8:44, NIV). His first words in Genesis are a lie: “You will not certainly die…” (Genesis 3:4, NIV).

And when he goes out roaming around, “looking for someone to devour,” his roar is dressed as a whisper.

He whispers to a lonely spouse, “Have an affair – what’s the harm?” He whispers to a depressed elder, “Go ahead, swallow the pills; everyone will be better off.” He whispers to a bullied teen, “Kill them all – they deserve it!”

He coaxes unsuspecting people to do his dirty work for him, causing waste and destruction in our own lives and in the lives of others.

And he whispers to all of us:



“Waste of oxygen.”

Which brings me back to the words in my own head: “Stupid. Nobody. LOSER.” When I was smashed into the canvas by a series of deadly blows to the head, Satan did not deliver the blows. No, instead he was the one kneeling over me, sneering, “Stay down, you piece of trash.”

His attacks were—are—just words. Powerful, persuasive words.

For me, sometimes those words were almost persuasive enough to make me slam my car into a retaining wall on some desolate highway.

But lies are just that: lies. They are not truth. And truth is the greatest defense against them.

So if Satan’s weapon is lying, and he’s very skilled at it, how do we win against it?

As with everything else, Jesus shows us how.

temptAfter Jesus fasts and prays for forty days in the wilderness, Satan comes to him (Matthew 4:1-11) – but again, not as a peer, like a strong villain overcoming Superman with kryptonite. No, Jesus is God, and Satan can’t match him head-to-head. So, true to form, Satan fights him with lies alone.

And Jesus responds not with lightning bolts or heavenly armies, but simply with truth. Of course, it helps that Jesus is truth (John 14:6). But that same Jesus – the Word of truth – lives in us as we are guided, counseled, and comforted by the Holy Spirit. So we have direct access to God’s pure truth.

The key is listening through the din of lies to find that truth, which is often much quieter – like the still, small voice heard by Elijah (I Kings 19:11). And learning to hear it usually happens over time.

When I was nearly overcome by Satan’s deceptions, even in my numbness I had the presence of mind to surround myself with truth. While I did almost everything I could to withdraw from the world, I also joined a home community – a small group of believers who shared their own brokenness and stepped into mine. I went to church. I read scripture. And I started to write. As I typed Satan’s lies and saw them onscreen, their falseness was exposed in the light of truth.

The truth of redemption is woven throughout the entire Bible story, which shows ordinary, broken, sinful people being loved, rescued, and used by God. As I studied how gently and persistently he worked with them, I began to trust that he is constantly doing the same with me.

So, over time, I am being rescued from lies by Christ Jesus, who himself is the truth (John 14:6), the Word of God (John 1:1). This Word created me, loves me, and came not to condemn me but to save me (John 3:17).

Gradually, over a period of years, he is giving me new words. Words of truth.

I hear the words: “Failure. Flunkie. Flop.” But God’s Word says: “Failure isn’t the end; I have a future for you” (Jeremiah 29:11).

I hear the words: “Screwup. Moron. Misfit” and “Worthless. Washout. Idiot.” But God’s Word says: “My grace covers every misstep, every sin” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I hear the words: “Guilty. Garbage. Waste of oxygen.” But God’s Word says: “I love you, and I died to forgive you and bring your life meaning” (Romans 5:8).

And finally, I hear the words: “Stupid. Nobody. LOSER.” But God’s Word says: “Precious. Beloved. Child of God!”

This truth is life-changing. And we are not meant to experience it in parsimonious sips, like wine-tasters. We’re meant to dive into it, bathe in it, gorge on it—fully baptised in it, heart and soul.

Satan’s power is the power of lies. And our weapon against him is truth.

In truth, one heals.

In truth, lies are silenced.

In truth, Satan is defeated.­

Leave a Comment

The gifts of the star

Of all the symbols related to Christmas, the most meaningful for me is undoubtedly the star. 

The star radiates majesty and mystery. Perched high atop a roof or tree, silently overlooking the frenzy of the season, it doesn’t judge, coerce, or demand attention. It is just there, waiting patiently for the world to look up and receive its message of hope. 

sheperd_star_born_jesusMentioned in only one passage of scripture (Matthew 2:1-12), the star seems to appear with purpose and move with intelligence, almost like a living character in the story. When the promised Messiah is born, the star appears to the Magi, but it does not at first lead them to him; instead it apparently disappears or is hidden for awhile, because they have to go to Jerusalem and ask where to find “the king of the Jews” (v. 2). After they learn the prophets foretold he would be born in Bethlehem, the star reappears, to their great joy (v. 10). Matthew says it “went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was” (v. 9). 

It went ahead of them, and then stopped at a specific spot? What kind of star does that? It almost seems to have a mind of its own. 

To me, its rare behavior indicates that the star was a supernatural phenomenon, ordered by God to mark a supernatural event—an event like no other in history: the coming of the Savior. 

The first-century Jews were in desperate need of a savior. They were oppressed from without by a Roman empire that neither understood nor cared about what was important to them. They were oppressed from within by a system of religious laws which were impossible to keep. It was a time of uncertainty, violence, and hopelessness. God had been silent for four centuries since the last Old Testament prophet. The promise of the Messiah was ancient history, distant and forgotten. 

They must have wondered if God had abandoned them—or if he even cared. 

Then Jesus was born, and God sent the star to point the way to him. 

The world today is also in desperate need of a savior. In our human arrogance, we think we are doing okay—but look at the headlines. We are not okay. We are lost in darkness and brokenness. 

But how does that relate to the star? Isn’t the star just an irrelevant symbol of an ancient story? What difference could it possibly make in our dark world today? 

I think the star still matters, because it shows God’s love and care. He used it to provide three gifts that are always desperately needed: anticipation, guidance, and the fulfillment of his promise. 

First, the star created anticipation. Apparently the Magi had studied prophecies about the Messiah and had connected the dots. They recognized the appearance of the star as such an epic event that they eagerly packed their things, left their home, and traveled for about two years (according to the report in Matthew 2:16) to follow it to the place where he was. Imagine their excitement as they got closer and closer to finding him. 

Anticipation creates excitement that God has something good in store. Without anticipation, we have nothing to look forward to. 

Second, the star provided guidance. It led the Magi from far-off lands to the promised Messiah, just as the pillar of fire led the Hebrews (Exodus 13:21) from the Red Sea to the Promised Land. Both the star and the fire led their followers to a specific destination, chosen by God. And metaphorically, both showed the way of deliverance, out of darkness and into the light. 

Guidance provides a sense that God is leading. Without guidance, we wander aimlessly in the dark.

Third, and best of  all, the star marked the fulfillment of God’s promise. From the prophecies, the Magi knew about the promised Messiah, and they recognized the star as the supernatural sign of his birth. The star proved that God, who had seemed to be absent or oblivious for so long, not only makes promises; he also keeps them.

Anticipation, guidance, and the fullfillment of God’s promise—we need those three gifts now more than ever. For the Magi, the star was the light which guided them to Jesus. For us, it is a reminder that God will accomplish his plan for deliverance, even when we cannot see it.


Killing THOSE people


I killed a guy this week.

Oh, believe me, I was completely justified. He really had it coming. He was one of THOSE people.

I was already miffed because I had been delayed by two separate car wrecks and was running late for work. (Sidenote: Why do I always count my problem of being stuck behind a car crash as bigger than the problem of those being pulled from the wreckage?)

Anyway, even though I was behind schedule already, I still needed to make a stop at Plaid Pantry.

So of course I ended up behind a guy who had to slow down the line and make his problem, my problem. He started picking an argument, ranting at the clerk about having to show ID to buy cigarettes and raging against the idiotic law requiring her to ask him for it. He even tried to rope me into joining his crusade. Worst of all, he looked old enough to have been buying cigarettes for years and he finally did show his ID, so he must’ve known the routine and been through it before. Yet he had to start freaking out now?

On the outside, I hid my feelings. I tried to look as disinterested as possible, silently willing him to finish his stupid purchase so I could get out of there.

But inside I was deeply, deeply irritated.

So I killed him.

I didn’t kill him physically. (What am I, some kind of psycho?!) No, I killed him in the context of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. (Matthew 5:21-22, The Message)

Why does God always bring THOSE people into my life? I don’t mean the warm-fuzzy kind—the romantic soulmate, the trusted mentor, the BFF. No, I mean those infuriating drama queens and kings who worm their way into every nook and cranny of my business, who push my buttons and get under my skin, who bring chaos to the calm. People who, even if I am totally right, make me feel 100% wrong—and if I am wrong, they just tuck away that little demerit to use against me in the future.

God loves to let THOSE people cross my path.

Sadly, I find myself killing them all at some point.

I can say that about my attitude toward the guy at Plaid Pantry. And plenty of other people too.

It’s amazing how Jesus can take murder—which seems like such a huge, whopping sin that I’m pretty sure I’d never commit it—and bring it so close to me that I can feel my guilt oozing from every pore. Though I haven’t committed murder according to the laws of the state, I have committed it according to the law of God. I have harbored deep ire, even rage, toward others: that convenience-store crusader, that frustrating neighbor, that critical coworker, that former boss who refused to see any good in me. According to Jesus’ definition of the law, in all of these cases I stand guilty of murder. I am no different than Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.

So now that I stand convicted of breaking the commandment against murder, is there anything I can do about it? Frankly, in practical terms, no. That is what the cross is for. Jesus’ interpretation of God’s law rips us from our pharisaical ruts and brands us with guilt. But that’s why Jesus came. We are holy not because we keep the Ten Commandments—according to Jesus’ words, we manage to break them daily—but because of his work on the cross.

I think God puts THOSE people in my life to force me to leave my comfort zone and show God’s grace to the world, as he has shown it to me. In truth, I’d rather stay dumb, fat and happy in my own little club of warm-fuzzy people who love me. But THOSE people keep chafing away at the callouses on my heart. Through trial and error—multiple errors—God softens and smoothes me more and more. Hopefully, in time, I will begin to see THOSE people through Jesus’ eyes—as treasured individuals for whom he died.

Just like me.