Road Trip

There is a way that seems right to a person,
but its end is the way that leads to death.
Proverbs 14:12

A person plans his course,
but the Lord directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

Range Anxiety

“Range anxiety” can be defined as the concern, worry, or fear that your vehicle will not be able to get to your desired destination. It is not, as my brother first intuited, a fear of wide open spaces experienced in the plains (as in, “Home on the Range”)

For most people, driving internal combustion engine (ICE as we EV owners call them) cars, it’s something rarely experienced except in the remotest areas. The reality is that you can’t go more than a few miles without finding a place where you can fill up your tank with dinosaur juice.

It’s a more serious concern if you are in an airplane or on a boat in the middle of the ocean. And it’s a very real concern in an all-electric car.

Tour de Tesla

Taking a long distance trip in a Tesla is different from driving an ICE car. A road trip in a Tesla is punctuated by stops to recharge the battery. First, you decide how far you want to go in a day, then you look for hotels with “destination chargers”. A handful of hotels around the country have installed Tesla chargers that allow you to wake up to a fully charged car, which makes a significant difference in a long road trip.

Next, you tell the car to calculate a route to your stopping place. Tesla has built an extensive network of Supercharger stations, such that it is possible to get most places in the United States or Europe (no, you can’t drive from the United States to Europe). The car is knows where the Superchargers are, and will (by default) tell you which station(s) to stop at to get from where you are to where you want to be.

Warm Up Lap

On our first road trip, I charged the car to 100% capacity and set our destination. The car told us to stop at the supercharger in Colby, KS and off we went. As we got closer to the stop (but not that close) I had my first encounter with range anxiety. The car’s estimated range is an approximation, based on a lot of factors, so you can’t take an estimated range of 50 miles and assume that you will drive exactly 50 more miles. Watching the remaining range continue to decrease, and seeing how many more miles to the stop, I was starting to second guess the car. When we arrived at the Supercharger with 16 miles of range remaining, I decided that the car was more aggressive than I; we would rather stop more frequently and not worry than get a panic attack before every stop.

Green Flag

On our next road trip, we knew that it was possible to get to Colby, but we weren’t having it, so when the car routed us to Goodland, KS I was pleased. I thought perhaps, in addition to the software updates that had given us nearly 10% more range, perhaps the navigation had been tuned to live a little further away from the edge, for old fogeys like us.

We stopped at Goodland, enjoyed lunch at the Steak-N-Shake next to the charger, and left with another full charge. I was surprised, however to see that the car wanted us to stop in Hays, KS, arriving with close to 50% charge. While cautious, I thought that was ridiculous so we did some quick math and determined that we could get to the charger in Salina comfortably.

It would be really nice if the navigation software allowed some customer tweaking, like specifying a minimum level of charge before stopping, or explicitly adding charging stops (or even adding additional stops, like finding food for a vegetarian passenger). But it doesn’t so I simply drove through Hays, on our way towards Kansas City, without stopping.

Yellow Flag

The navigation system adapted to my intransigence by continually suggesting that I take each exit before it passed, so I could turn around and charge up. Finally, frustrated that the car wouldn’t figure out that I could make it to Salina, I changed the navigation to go directly to the Salina charger and on we went.

As we approached Salina, my wife noticed something different about the Supercharger icon on the map. Looking more closely we realized that it had the universal “no” icon (circle with a diagonal line) through it. Panic began to set in. I quickly called Tesla, because if the station was closed I was going to be in a world of hurt. The very nice man on the other end of the phone assured me that the station wasn’t closed, but it was “degraded”. He said one of the pillars was taken out of service by the electric company, but the other two were fine. Relieved, we continued on our way.

I have to say that I despise the Salina Supercharger. It has the worst amenities of any charger we have stopped at to date. It’s at the end of a barely paved road, in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express. There are no other reasonably nearby amenities (there’s an IHOP about 1/4 mile back up the road, but you wouldn’t want to walk that in the dark… or at all, if you are me). Unfortunately, its location and the spacing between superchargers makes it an ideal stop when driving between Denver and Kansas City. My dislike of this stop was not eased by what happened next.

As we exited the freeway and made the turn onto this poor excuse of a road, we were greeted by a “road closed” sign and several inches of water across the road. The panic started knocking at the door again.

Photo Credit: Dennis Grover

I pulled into the truck stop on this side of the water and called Tesla again, looking for suggestions. I was really hoping that they would tell me that they would be right there with a tank of electricity to get me on my way; unfortunately the fellow who answered the phone this time was not as helpful and transferred me to the general support line. I’d endured that particular pain before, and didn’t have the hour to wait on hold so we hung up and called the hotel. They said yes, they were open and that “the water isn’t that deep, if you stay to the center of the road”. I started to brave it, but about a foot in, I decided that there is a decided difference between wisdom and foolishness. Electric car + water did not add up to a winning outcome. So I backed out and regrouped.

Looking at the map, there appeared to be another way to get to the hotel, so I started out. This time I turned off the main road onto an under-improved dirt road. Driving carefully to avoid the potholes (all I needed was to blow a tire to make this adventure complete), I came to where I was to turn towards the hotel. I made the turn and found myself at a rickety little bridge with what appeared to be a wet sand road ahead of me. I decided that pursuing that path wouldn’t end well either, before we saw the sign that said “Road closed when wet”.

Time for one last call to Tesla. I needed options. I had 53 miles of range left; not enough to go back to Hays or the 100+ miles on to Topeka. All they could offer me was a campground with a Nema 14-50 plug, or a nearby Nissan dealer with a J1772 plug.

Mechanic’s Tools

A note about charging. The Tesla Supercharger is one of the major reasons for Tesla’s popularity. When it comes to electric cars, range is king; the farther you can go without charging, the better. Next in importance is how fast you can re-charge and get back on the road. Tesla owners talk about charging in terms of “miles (of range) per hour”. While many factors affect charging rate, at a Supercharger, I can charge at up to 500 miles/hour.

Charging at 500mph at the Brentwood, TN Supercharger

A destination charger will charge between 25-40 miles/hour (which is fine for overnight charging). As noted, a 120v outlet will charge at 5 miles/hour. Were it not for the Supercharger, long-range electric car travel would simply not be viable. A 30-40 minute stop at a Supercharger is a nice respite from driving and long enough to get a good charge before moving on down the road.

My Tesla came with a nice little zipper bag that includes a 20 foot charging cord and adapters for either 120v (wall plug) use or 240v Nema 14-50 outlets. Since my daily commute is trivial, I’ve been content to use the 120v connector. This comes with a loss of efficiency and only charges at a rate of 5 miles of range per hour, but meets my needs. Before leaving on this trip, I debated unplugging the cord and putting it back in the bag, but we had pre-booked destination charger hotels and I just couldn’t see a need to plug in anywhere, so I made the decision to leave it plugged in at home. Therefore, stopping at the campground was not an option. Besides, as it turns out, the campground is next to the hotel that we couldn’t get to!

Pit Stop

We went on to the Nissan dealer, arriving around 6pm. Fortunately, the zipper bag with the J1772 adapter was still in the car, so I was able to plug in and begin charging. We then took advantage of their restrooms and waiting room, and we waited. And waited. And waited.

By the time we got to the dealer, I was down to about 25 miles of range. I needed to go 100 miles or so to Topeka, and I wanted some buffer. While I was certainly grateful for the charger, happy that it was free, and appreciated the hospitality of the dealership (until they closed at 8), charging at 24 miles/hour was one of the most painful travel experiences of my life. We charged for four hours before getting back on the road at 10 pm.

Remember what I said about range having a number of factors? As I set my navigation to the Topeka Supercharger, I was cautioned to keep my speed below 70 to reach my destination. Not wanting to be stranded in the middle of Kansas in the middle of the night, I set my cruise control to 65 and off we went.

My car has a graph showing real-time battery consumption and an estimated range, based on that consumption. My wife was glued to the screen, as each hill we climbed ate into the range, and the downhills added to it. Over time, it appeared that we were maintaining a constant 20 miles or so of range buffer. It was one of the most tense 90 minutes in recent memory, but we were never so happy as to pull into the Topeka Supercharger. By the time we walked over to the Quality Inn to use their restrooms, and walked back we had more than enough charge to make it to our hotel in Kansas City.

Checkered Flag

I really hesitate to add this part. While there are many hotels with Tesla destination chargers, there is only one in Kansas City. When there are more Teslas than there are chargers, someone has to do without (this happened to me one night in Franklin, TN). However, the staff at the Homewood Suites in Kansas City are so kind and eager to support Tesla owners, that I feel I owe them a mention (even it it means you take my charging spot on my next trip!). This hotel has two Tesla chargers and one J1772 charger (for the rest of you).

When we got back on the road after our “time out” at the Nissan dealer, my wife called the hotel to let them know that we would be arriving late, and in need of a charge. The very nice person at the desk walked out to the parking lot, determined that there was still a Tesla spot left, and put cones in the spot to save it for us. We were so grateful when we arrived at 1:30 AM to know that we could plug the car in and go to bed, and wake up to a full charge.

On the return trip, we pulled into the hotel much earlier(!). Only a handful of cars were in the hotel lot; perhaps 10 total. Yet as we drove around to the EV spots, I discovered I had been “ICEd out” (when ICE cars park in EV spots). The front desk staff was very upset by this (unfortunately, they didn’t have any way to match vehicles to guests). They promised to try to figure out who was there and make them move. In the meantime, they assured me that I was safe to park in the adjacent handicap spot, which was well within reach of the charging cables. Our room was directly above where the car was parked, so an hour later or so, when one of the offending cars moved, I was able to see and move out of the handicap space.

When we checked out, they were very interested in suggestions of how to prevent this situation in the future. We shared with them that the hotel in Franklin had a sign that said “Tesla Parking Only; All others will be Towed” and they liked the idea. I have to say that this level of support and accommodation makes this hotel a “must stop” for me. I encourage you to stay there as well (but not when I’m passing through!).

Application

If I haven’t tortured the racing analogy too much, at the end of every race the team reviews the performance of the car, the driver, and the crew. Each person looks for how they can improve the area where they are responsible to make the next race better.

Observation without application is just entertainment. Rather than waste a perfectly good lesson, I will leave you with three.

Lesson One: Trust Someone Smarter Than You

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
Acknowledge him in all your ways,
and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

We’ve been living with smart phones for some time now, and have some amusing family stories that all lead the the same conclusion: Trust Siri. While it’s possible she is wrong, it’s more likely that you are so just go where she tells you.

Similarly, my car knows things that I don’t. I’d like it better if it would share more with me, and allow me to be engaged in the decision process, but the bottom line is, if the car tells you to stop in Hays and charge, you need to stop in Hays whether you think you need to charge or not. You don’t know what’s down the road (but the car might).

Case in point: On the return trip, the car was telling us we would arrive in Kansas City with about 11% range (about 30 miles) remaining. While tight, it was manageable, except for one thing: you get less range at 80mph than you do at 65. As we continued down the road, our reserve dropped into the single digits and I was anticipating a repeat performance of the outbound trip.

As we entered Columbia, I decided that a quick top-off would be in everyone’s best interest. After about 15 minutes, we were back on the road, but soon we saw a sign on the road saying there was a vehicle fire just past Exit 121. About that time, the navigation system began telling me to exit at Exit 121. We inched along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, squeezing over to let an emergency vehicle drive up the middle of the freeway, until we finally got to the exit. Surprisingly, very few people were taking the opportunity to leave the traffic jam. The car faithfully navigated us down back streets I didn’t even know existed until we were past the problem and were able to resume our freeway driving.

More generally in life, God knows more than you do; you aren’t as smart as you think you are. You will do much better if you listen to the one who created you and who sustains all things. Unfortunately, we don’t come with navigation systems that can route us around the unforeseen problems of our lives, but God has revealed his wisdom for living in the Bible. While we may think we have a plan, God has the final word in how things turn out.

Lesson Two: Worry Won’t Make the Car Charge Faster

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

I have defined stress as “emotional energy expended on something over which you have no control”. Anxiety is stress out of control, and it is a huge issue in American society today; billions of dollars are spent on alcohol, prescription and other drugs as a way to numb the pain.

As a result of various life experiences, and a deep and abiding faith in the goodness of God, I’m not generally prone to anxiety. However, as the situation unfolded our general range anxiety gave way to full-blown anxiety. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something bad was going to happen and I couldn’t stop it. Through all the phone calls trying to work out a solution I held the anxiety at bay, but as we sat waiting for our car to charge, 24 painful miles at a time, I started becoming physically ill. Things would not be better until we were back on the road. Despite the fact that leaving before the car was sufficiently charged would not end well, it took all of my mental resolve to just sit and wait.

Surely, all of us have faced situations outside of our control: physical illness, financial distress, wayward children, the list goes on. Some try to adopt the advice of Bobby McFerrin or Douglas Adams, but in the end it doesn’t work.

The best cure to anxiety is given in the Bible. When there is something you can do about the situation, you do it. When there is not, your worry won’t have a (positive) impact on the situation.

Lesson Three: Sometimes Bad Things Happen

My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything.
James 1:2-4

Heeding my own advice, I consciously tried to release my anxiety. I wondered what purpose God might have for me to be in this place at this time. I looked around for someone who I might possibly be a blessing to, but the dealership was deserted. When the very nice manager told us we had to leave, I was left in my car with just my wife and daughter. And I found no purpose, no redeeming quality, no hand of God. Just the incessant waiting.

Truth be told, in the “testing of my faith” I had come up lacking. I was mostly certainly “deficient” in patience, kindness, gentleness. Caught up in my own emotions, I was brusk and thoughtless with my family. For the rest of our trip, I continued to process this situation. I apologized for my harshness and we continued to try to figure out how to live broken together.

We search for meaning in our difficult circumstances, because if we can ascribe some greater good to our misery, if it has significance, then somehow enduring it seems more noble. But sometimes (and I think this might have been one of those times) we just have to endure hardship to give us practice enduring. Like lifting weights strengthens our muscles, facing trials strengthens (and proves the quality of) our faith.

I had a pastor’s wife say that she prayed for patience and God gave her sons. There is nothing glamorous about the process of acquiring patience, nothing delightful about the opportunities to demonstrate it. Yet patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and an attribute of the Most High God. Certainly, it is worth the cost.

Epilogue

Traveling with adult children is … interesting. My daughter is very much like me, and I enjoy talking with her immensely. We can process things together in a way that my wife (who is nothing like me) finds difficult. On the other hand, my daughter is very much like me, so she is quite skilled at seeing my faults and not shy about “sharing” them. Having her with us was an fitting backdrop against which this drama could unfold.

She said that she felt no stress during the whole ordeal. We were safe at all times, we had food (well, junk car snacks), we had electricity, and in the end we got to where we wanted to go. Since she had no responsibility, control, or ability to affect the outcome of our trip, she was able to just sit back and let things unfold.

How about you?

SDG

The Joy of the Lord

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2b

A common phrase in Christian communities is “The joy of the Lord is my strength”. While a popular Christian chorus, it is found in the Bible in Nehemiah 8:10, where Nehemiah uses it as encouragement for the people who were humbled and broken over their sin and ignorance of the law. Rather than wallow in their contrition, he encourages them to find joy.

I had this phrase stuck in my mind one day and as I turned it over and over, I wondered, “what is this ‘joy of the Lord’ and how can it be my strength?”

Joy

Without any allusions to any past presidential statements, it seems to me that the crux of understanding “the joy of the Lord” is in the meaning of the word “of”. Is this a joy that belongs to the Lord, or a joy that derives or proceeds from the Lord?

Through the miracle of the internet, I do a pretty good impersonation of a biblical scholar, but www.blueletterbible.org let me down, as I could not find “of” in the Hebrew interlinear tool. So I turned to an actual scholar friend who told me:

The normal grammar of a genitival relationship between two nouns  binds the first (the construct) to the second and the sense is “belonging to”. There is no definite article in Hebrew but because LORD is a proper name, this construction is “the joy of the LORD” not “a joy of the LORD” which perhaps further strengthens “belonging to” rather “deriving from.”

If this joy belongs to the Lord, I have to wonder, what gives God joy? The Hebrew word translated “joy” in Nehemiah is חֶדְוָה (chedvâh). Although there are other words translated “joy” in the Old Testament, this word appears only one other place, in 1 Chronicles 16:27, a song David wrote for continual praise before the presence of God. That particular verse is part of a stanza describing the nature of God; he concludes that “joy [is] in his dwelling place”.

Knowing that joy is in the presence of God brings me no closer to knowing what it is that brings joy to God. Looking to the New Testament, Hebrews 12:2 appears to be the clearest clue to the mystery.

“For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Having just left Easter week, the passion (suffering) that Jesus endured should be fresh in our minds. It is clear that he considered the shame to be nothing in comparison to the coming joy. The author of Hebrews makes it clear, in the logical case building to this point, that “sitting down” is an indication of a completed work, a resting from labor. So what followed the cross, and was utterly completed?

You! God’s purpose in all of creation, his willingness to humble himself, taking on human form, enduring the cross, was to provide the way of salvation. God’s great joy is to provide for a sinful and rebellious creation the means of being reconciled to him, and restored to the relationship he intended in the first place.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t get it. I don’t know how or why that brings God joy. But it very much should bring us joy! And if it doesn’t, then consider afresh this verse from the Horatio Spafford hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Strength

Having a somewhat better handle on what “the joy of the Lord” is, how can it be my strength? How can the fact that God delights in saving sinners make me stronger?

Again, impersonating a Bible scholar, in Nehemiah the Hebrew word for “strength” is מָעוֹז (mâʻôwz). It has more of a sense of “stronghold” or “fortress” as opposed to personal power or might.

A fortress is a place of refuge; a place to hide from enemies that might attack. The security of the fortress is that it can withstand whatever the enemy might throw at it; as long as you are inside, you are safe.

Coda

Now, at last, it all comes together! Knowing that God delights in providing salvation is something that I can run to when I’m feeling assaulted. When I stumble and fall, when the enemy whispers in my ears that God can’t possibly forgive me this time, when all the voices around me scream my worthlessness, I have a fortress that can withstand the onslaught. Knowing that Jesus was so excited to make the way of salvation for me, that he scorned the pain and shame of the cross gives me security. The lies of the enemy cannot overcome the joy of the Lord. My salvation is secure because it does not depend upon me. Jesus sat down because the payment was made in full … including whatever it is that I have just done (and no matter how many times I do it).


Poverty

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:1

My wife and I just spent an interesting day with Jenny from CrossPurpose. First, some background.

CrossPurpose is a local Denver area ministry that is seeking to eradicate poverty, one life at a time, through extravagant investment in individuals. From their web site,

CrossPurpose equips unemployed or underemployed adults to become self-sufficient through job training and personal development. In six months, program graduates will be earning $15/hour or more in a meaningful career.

I first became aware of the ministry when I heard a BreakPoint podcast about them. So much of this ministry is different from the traditional ways Christians have dealt with the poor. The vision and the results of this organization have touched me; being in my back yard, I was convicted to partner with them.

The follow-up e-mail was unusual, but not too surprising; a small ministry tends to be closer to their donors than bigger ones. It was the phone call that caught my attention. The thing I remember about our conversation was that she said, “I really just want to get to know you and your wife and understand where you are coming from.” She wanted to schedule a time to meet us (that’s never happened before). It wasn’t a particularly good time; I was in a hotel on a business trip, we were coming up on the holidays, so we agreed to try to get together after the new year.

Time went by, and I had let it all dribble out of my brain, when one day my phone rang. I was sitting in the airport, waiting to board a flight (I see a trend!); I didn’t recognize the number but my phone helpfully offered “may be Jenny”. As soon as I answered, I remembered why that name looked familiar. Again, it wasn’t a good time, but I put her in touch with my social director and they scheduled today for us to meet and tour the facility.

Jenny said something as we walked, which is really the point of this blog. She said, “Everyone comes through these doors with their own poverty, whether it be financial, relational, or spiritual.” That thought has been sticking with me.

Financial poverty is the easiest to recognize. You know when you have more month than money; when life is a constant struggle to juggle the unpaid bills; when you have to prioritize heat over food and clothes will just have to wait. It is cruel, demeaning, demoralizing, stripping people of dignity and leading to hopelessness and despair because of the inability to provide for oneself and one’s family.

Relational poverty is just as rampant, although there are no statistics gathered, no government programs, very little acknowledgement of its existence. It is rampant in white-collar communities where people live isolated lives, leaving their safe little boxes only by means of their boxes on wheels that take them to other boxes where they work in isolating cubicles. It is possible to have all the trappings of wealth and be impoverished inside, for the lack of meaningful human interaction. Relational poverty is also demeaning, as the loneliness eats at your soul, until you wonder if anyone actually cares that you are alive.

Spiritual poverty is the most prevalent of all, since we are all born into this condition. We are born with nothing in our spiritual bank, nothing to offer to a holy God. Perhaps because we are born this way, most people are at best numb to their poverty. The need does not feel as pressing as physical poverty; the pain is not quite as poignant as relational poverty. But I assure you, it is the most desperate of all poverties.

In financial terms, income is the input to your (financial, relational, spiritual) system and expenditures are the output. When income is insufficient for your necessary expenditures, poverty exists. When output is greater than input, this creates debt (financial, relational, spiritual). While deficit spending is possible for a while, eventually the debt becomes crushing.

Fortunately, spiritual poverty is the easiest to solve. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because the first key to spiritual riches is a humble acknowledgement of your utter spiritual destitution. Only when you give up being good and declare spiritual bankruptcy can you find the solution to your problems. Jesus said,

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
John 3:14-15

In classic Christian buzz-words, “He paid a price I could not pay to satisfy a debt he did not owe.” But just as financial poverty can’t be eliminated by a lump sum payment, and a party won’t heal your relational poverty, simply having your sins forgiven isn’t enough to end your spiritual poverty.

No, the solution to poverty lies in eliminating the underlying causes. At its simplest, it requires increasing input to the (financial, relational, spiritual) system in excess of any increase in output. When income exceeds expenses, there is a surplus, which is the seed of prosperity.

God has provided the ultimate increase in your spiritual input: his own spirit living in the hearts of his people.

“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
  after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
  and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
  and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
  or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
  from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
  and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah 31:33-34

My friends at CrossPurpose have a pretty good strategy for addressing financial poverty. And, as it turns out, the real key to success is to work on relational and spiritual poverty at the same time. Because, as it turns out, Jesus really is the answer to every question.

Bev

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us
Hebrews 12:1

She was a woman of substance. Tall, elegant, confident, beautiful; when she was in the room, you knew it. She wasn’t brash or obnoxious, but gentle and loving. Yet she would not back down from the truth.

If you spent five minutes with Bev, you would know that she had three great loves: Jesus, her family, and Muslim people (generally) and the people of Tunisia (specifically). She lived her life passionately devoted to these loves. She would be uncomfortable reading this, if she were alive, because she was keenly aware of her faults and shortcomings and uneasy accepting praise.

Love of Jesus

There was nothing more important to Bev than knowing and serving her lord and savior, Jesus Christ. She was passionate about sharing the gospel with anyone and everyone who needed to hear it. This isn’t to say that is was always easy or comfortable for her; she described how terrifying it was to go to the food court in Park Meadows mall and share as she was led. But her passion for obedience overcame her fear of people, rejection, or even personal safety.

As we studied the Bible together, she longed for a deeper call on the lives of Christians. Not content to simply “play church” and be comforted by soothing platitudes, she hungered for a radical commitment to the things of God in the truth of scripture. She keenly felt the demands of God’s word for personal holiness and selfless surrender. She knew that salvation was not purchased at the priceless cost of the death of Jesus so that we could live comfortable lives of mediocrity. Her passion was, like Oswald Chambers’ wrote, to give “My Utmost for His Highest”.

Love of Family

Bev loved her family more than anything else on earth. She was faithfully committed to her husband. This is not to say that their marriage was perfect; who among us can claim such a thing? No, broken people in relationship together will have issues. But she always stood by her husband. I never heard her say anything disparaging or derogatory about him, even when I suspected that she didn’t agree with his decisions. They stood by, supported, loved each other as they walked through life together.

She loved her children. Her heart was constantly towards them and when they hurt, she hurt. I had the privilege of praying with her and for her (and them) as each one went through various trying times. She was vulnerable to her friends, unashamedly weeping as she poured out her heart to her God on behalf of her children. She longed for her children and grandchildren to know her savior as she did.

Love of Tunisia

When the Missions team at Grace Chapel brought a challenge to the elders and congregation to “adopt” a particular people group, to commit to and focus on growing the indigenous church, Bev was among the first to “spy out the land”. Through multiple trips, prayer walks, and relationships started, God gave her a tender heart towards Tunisia and its people.

As her calling to Tunisia grew, Bev decided to learn French so she could communicate more effectively. She researched Muslim apologetics and cultivated relationships with Muslims both at home and in Tunisia. Her life became punctuated by the annual trips to Tunisia. Her heart had been gripped by the love of God for the people of Tunisia, and she longed for many to come to Christ.

She returned year after year, developing relationships, showing God’s love, patiently explaining the hope that is in Christ to anyone who would talk to her. In between trips, she had countless social media conversations with her Muslim friends; loving them, encouraging them, challenging them with the truth of God’s word.

Other than surrounded by her family, there was no place on earth that she wanted to be more than Tunisia. So it is fitting that, at the end a trip to love and serve the people of Tunisia, after enjoying a stroll along a beautiful beach, she stepped into eternity.

So What?

If you are wondering why I’m writing this tribute, you aren’t alone, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. While I would say that we were friends, we weren’t close. Although you might now know it from the way I described Bev, I can’t say I knew her well. We’d spent many years in the same Sunday School class, but I don’t think we’d ever been in each other’s homes. I’d characterize our relationship as “intimate acquaintances”.

My heart is for her husband and children, and I pray for them nearly daily as they grieve and navigate their loss and what life looks like after Bev. I know she was a key figure in the family dynamic.

Yet, her death has hit me hard. It’s not because we are about the same age, and her death reminds me of my own mortality. Death holds no fear for me (nor should it for any follower of Jesus).

In some way, the notion that she is in the presence of Jesus seems surreal to me. And that really bothers me. It seems that I’ve stopped thinking about, longing for, eagerly anticipating my redemption. I’ve gotten a little too comfortable here.

Thinking about her being in the presence of God reminds me that “well done, good and faithful servant” is not a given. It requires, well, actually being a good and faithful servant. And, as I am all to painfully aware of my own shortcomings, I know I need to live like she did: fully aware of my calling and fully committed to God’s purposes in my life.

And Now?

Chances are good, unless you are part of my church family, you didn’t know Bev. Her death, to you, is less impactful than President Bush’s. However, I would hope that you are encouraged, in light of the testimony of a life well lived, and recognizing that Heaven is not just waiting, but watching, to renew your commitment to your call.

And if you don’t know what I’m talking about; if Jesus is not the ruler and king of your life; if in any way you are unsure about your eternity; the best response you can have is to let me introduce you to my savior. Then, one day, you can meet my friend Bev in eternity. Nothing would make her happier.

SDG

Heaven Can’t Wait

Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.
Romans 8:23-25

The e-mail in my inbox was almost beyond belief.

Design Your Model 3

If you know me at all (or have been following my blog for a while) you know that I have hoped and longed and dreamed for the day when I would own a Tesla. It wasn’t a question of “if”, only “when”. We talked about the day I would have my dream car as if it were a certainty.

However, it had been years of waiting, and months of delays and slips “to the right”. While I knew of a certainty that one day I would own a Tesla, I had become comfortable in the future nature of it. Someday, I would own one. Someday. But not today.

Yet there it was. The promise of the promise becoming a reality. A sense of the surreal began to envelop me as I clicked on the link, and worked my way through the configurator (there really weren’t many choices… color, wheels, auto-pilot). I had used Tesla’s configuration tool countless times before, building a dream Model S. At the end, I would get the car just the way I wanted it, then see the price and say… “yeah, no. Never gonna happen. I’ll wait for the Model 3.”

To be sure, Elon Musk’s promise of a consumer ($35,000) car was not yet realized. Early adopters have the privilege of paying for certain mandatory upgrades (extended range battery, premium interior), adding another 57% to the “base” price of the vehicle. And enhanced auto pilot (EAP) adds another 17% (but you can’t have a Tesla without auto pilot). The price was a bit higher than I was hoping. And all-wheel-drive wasn’t (yet) an option.

As I finished the configuration, I found myself face to face with the most terrifying thing I’ve seen in recent memory: “Submit order”.

You need to understand that my personal theology (what is expressed in how I live my life, not just in my words) tends towards the ascetic. I am firmly rooted in the belief that this world is not my home; that I am a steward of God’s resources, and that all financial decisions are spiritual ones. I don’t have a problem being generous towards others, or giving my wife her dream. But spending money on myself is extremely difficult for me.

My wife wasn’t home at the time. As fear began to grip my heart, I questioned if this was the right thing to do. A quick check of the bank account showed (surprisingly) that there was enough money in savings to pay for the car in full. No need to move money around, sell investments, consolidate assets. It was right there. Nevertheless, it was a lot of money. For a car. Was I really going to do this? Surely God would not approve.

Many of you have no clue why I struggled with this. Perhaps it’s because such a thing is so far from your reality that it’s all hypothetical. Perhaps you are quite comfortable enjoying the pleasures of this life. Perhaps you are well versed in accepting God’s blessings as they come along. Whatever the reason, I want you to try to understand the depth of my self-doubt and fear.

This was a nice dream, but surely God has other plans for that money. You don’t need the car of your dreams; there are plenty of other ways to get from Point A to Point B. How can you be so selfish, indulging your pleasures like that? What would Jesus do?

No, maybe you can’t resonate with my angst. But I wonder, are there other dreams that you have become comfortable in just dreaming? You want the dream, to be sure, but it’s so far out of reach that you make peace with the “someday” aspect of it and relegate it to that somnolent part of your brain so it doesn’t clutter up the day-to-day realities.

As a believer in Jesus, is heaven such a dream for you? Your creed dictates that it is a future reality, but here on earth there is no time for that. There are kids to raise, and bills to pay, and real world problems to solve. Yes, a dream of someday, where there is no more sin, pain, and death; where every tear is wiped away; where we can be reunited with loved ones; and even being in the continual presence of God (whatever that means); such a dream would be nice. Sometime. Someday.

My story doesn’t end yet. When my wife got home, I showed her the configuration, told her the bottom line, and waited for her to confirm my fears. I completely expected her to agree with me that this was just unrealistic, and we should give up on this foolishness.

Instead, she said, “OK.”

What? No second guessing? No hand-wringing? I tried to communicate my doubts, my fears. She looked at me like I’d lost my mind (probably they way you have been reading this). “You’ve waited for this; we can afford it. Do it.”

So I did. It took a few days for the shock to wear off, that I had actually ordered this car. After ordering, the web site said to expect 3-6 weeks for delivery. Nine days later I had my car.

The applications of this experience are numerous. Don’t let the future nature of a the Kingdom of God keep you from stepping in to the fullness of what he has for you today. Heaven is not just pie in the sky, by and by. Jesus said that he came that we might have life, and that more abundantly. The promise is for today, if you will enter in.

I bought this car, sight unseen. I’d never laid eyes on a Model 3, much less driven one, before I took delivery. People who have never driven a Tesla don’t understand what the appeal is. It’s like trying to explain “purple” to a blind man. Or as Chris Rice put it, it’s like trying to smell the color 9. If you don’t know the love of God expressed through the forgiveness of your sins through the atoning death of Jesus, I urge you to believe those of us who have gone before.. it is so worth it.

Short of buying a house, I’ve never spent so much money on anything. God offers you to accept on faith that eternal life is so much greater than anything you have ever known that it is worth everything. In the parable of the pearl of great price, the merchant sells everything he has in order to possess it. Jesus said, what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? Heaven, eternal life, new life in Christ is worth whatever you are holding on to, whatever is keeping you from entering in to whatever God has for you.

Once I took the leap, things happened much quicker than I thought. Heaven is closer than you think. No one knows the number of their days. Don’t put off being reconciled to God. You may think you have time, but sometimes things move fast. There is no time like the present.

Don’t let your hope wane. While I was convinced that I would someday own a Tesla, I had stopped anticipating it. We should live in the eager anticipation of the coming promise of the Kingdom of God. Don’t let your love grow cold; don’t let the cares of this life choke out the fruitfulness of the word planted in you. Don’t give up on God. Someday is sooner than you think.

My Tesla (red Model 3)
SDG

Forge On

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Matthew 5:30

No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Timothy 4:4

Many of you won’t have a clue what this is about. The idea of sitting in front of a screen clicking on things and building virtual worlds sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry. I’m sorry about that; if you can stick it out, there may be something for you here. This blog is mostly for my on-line compatriots, to whom I am bidding farewell.

I have enjoyed a variety of on-line games for many years. In fact, I first started on Facebook to monitor my kids but I stayed for their games. The games I find most appealing have a strong social / teamwork aspect to them. When there is a team/mob/guild/alliance and we have to work together to accomplish our purposes, I enjoy the games most.

However, there is an aspect of my personality that makes these games dangerous to me. I am obsessive. I care less about time, responsibilities, sleep, pretty much anything else, than I do about “one more, faster, better, stronger.” And that’s where I get in trouble.

The first game I really got into was Mafia Wars. It was more or less an individual effort, until they introduced a new time-based feature that required interaction from your friends. I quickly saw through the social aspects of the game design, that it was intended to keep you on-line as much as possible. I felt the draw, almost irresistible, to play continually to finish the missions and get stronger. Realizing my weakness, I abandoned Mafia Wars entirely.

During roughly the same time, I also played Mob Wars. The game was slow and uninteresting until I joined a very active mob. We had a Skype chat room (several, actually, for leadership, alliances and wars, etc.) and I left Skype up on my computer 24×7. I took a fast or two from the game to curtail my activity, but it remained my primary non-work enterprise.

(I should note that for most of my career, I’ve worked in places with no access to smart-phones and game web sites are blocked by the company firewall, so I haven’t been dragged into my obsession during the day. Good thing; I haven’t gotten fired yet).

However, as the game aged, it lost players. The social aspect of the game very much depends upon involved people. As it became more boring, I happened to click on one of the ad links and on a whim started a new game, Forge of Empires. Over the past three years, this game has become my new passion. And my downfall.

I know this game consumes my time. One Lent, I gave up the game, for 40 days, just to prove I wasn’t addicted. But as I joined an active and fulfilling guild, and I had mentors who generously helped me grow, I spent more and more time on it. I used to spend 2-4 hours on a weekend writing a weekly activity report for the guild. I tracked everyone’s progress and contributions. I had spreadsheet upon spreadsheet. This was on top of the 4+ hours I spent every night building my city and helping my guild.

There was a crisis of leadership in my guild, and all the senior people ended up leaving; the two key leaders quit the game entirely. I wasn’t willing to throw it all away, so with the help of my game best friend, we took on keeping the guild intact. It was a slow process, but we rebuilt. Not to the former glory, but we did manage to achieve the #1 guild ranking on the server. We also succeeded in bringing about the demise of the hitherto untouchable #1 guild. There was much to be proud of. For a clicky game.

However, for many months I have been wrestling with the call of God for me to use my time differently. I have good intentions. I also have bad habits. I sit at my computer, open my browser, and my evening is over. Nothing productive happens. I tried cutting back my involvement. I eliminated all my other cities and guilds in the game, and I took a major step back for many weeks. But when I finally came back, the old ways resumed.

For some people, the idea that God speaks is hard to accept. Joy Behar became infamous for calling people who hear God speak mentally ill. However, for the child of God, who has trained himself to be attentive to his voice, it should not be weird or unusual. In fact, the primary motivation for prayer, for me, at least, is not to bring my laundry list of requests to my doting grandfather in the sky, but to hear from my heavenly father. Frankly, what I have to say isn’t that interesting.

So this Sunday, it wasn’t at all odd or dare I say “mentally ill” when God spoke to me clearly during the morning worship service, and said, “It’s time to leave the game.”

The thing for me about hearing from God (and no, I don’t hear an audible voice; I live in my thought life and that is where he meets with me) is that there is no denying that it is real. This wasn’t “it probably would be a good idea for you to stop playing this game”. No, it was an unambiguous command. So as a child of God, a Christ-follower, a man who longs (or at least claims) to do God’s will, I have no choice.

I want to make this perfectly clear. I love playing this game. I have forged relationships with people around the country and around the world that I treasure. From time to time, God has even used me, in the game, to speak words of life. The game is not evil. I’m not bored. There is just more.

So for me, it’s time to take the axe to my right hand. It has to go. I have a higher calling, a greater purpose. Fun is fun, but it’s not what we were created for. It’s not what I was created for.

What’s next? I imagine I will spend some more time writing. There are lots of ideas that enter my head. I wonder if I really need to say them, if someone hasn’t already said them before, and better than me. But I also realize that I have an audience. You are reading this, where you might not be reading someone smarter than me. And I do believe that God uses what I write to speak life to those who read. But the main thing is that I need to make my actual priorities line up with my stated beliefs. My games have become an idol, and it’s time to tear them down, and give all of my worship to the one who is worthy of it.

If you don’t know God, if this whole concept of God speaking as if he is a real person is foreign to you, I’d love to introduce you to him. He has no greater desire than for you to be translated from the kingdom of darkness (where you were born) into the kingdom of light. He is so passionate about this cause that he sent his son to become human, to live among us, and to die the death that you deserve for your rebellion and hostility towards your creator. He did all of that so you could know him too, and learn to hear his voice.

If you do know God, is there something that he is calling you to lay aside? Not that it is intrinsically bad, but something that is getting in the way of you being more? God did not save you to mediocrity. Jesus died so that you could have life, and that more abundantly. Are you experiencing the abundance of life? If not, what is getting in the way?

Hearing God is one thing. Obeying him is another. I’ll miss you guys. Forge on!

Soli Deo Gloria

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

I don’t know how I missed it all these years. It is clearly there, but I never saw.

Everything God has ever done, from the creation of the world: his covenant with Abraham, his calling of Israel, the Exodus, Moses, Joshua, the prophets, Saul, David and the other kings, Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection, the early church, and on until today has been for one purpose. All of it has one common thread. And if you have ears to hear, it just might rock your theology to the core.

The church today has become perilously “me-centric”. Jesus died for my sins. He is my savior. He hears me when I pray. He provides for me, protects me, gives me comfort and purpose. My identity is in Christ. Listen today to the most popular songs either on Christian radio, or perhaps sung where you worship. Count the number of times you year “I” or “me” and compare it to how often you hear “you”. It’s enough to give the impression that we are the ones to be worshiped.

Well, here’s the thing. All those phrases above are true. And yet, they are dangerously incomplete. Yes, God has done all those things, and we, as undeserving sinners, are the astonished beneficiaries. But here is the completion of the truth. He did all those things so that he would be glorified.

Let me say it again. God’s underlying purpose from Genesis to Revelation is that he (himself) is glorified. Let that sink in for a moment, and reflect on what you know.

Why did he create the world? For his glory. Why did he make man in his image, or as a reflector of himself? For his glory. Why did he make a unilateral covenant with an insignificant, childless Chaldean named Abram to bless him and make him into a great nation? For his glory. Why did he take a deceitful, scheming man like Jacob and change his name to Israel and make him the father of twelve tribes? For his glory. Why did he take an adolescent shepherd out of the pasture in into the battlefield to slay a giant? For his glory.

Why did Jesus abandon the bliss of eternity to take on human form, live a live of self-denial and obedience, suffer an agonizing (physical) death, bearing the brunt of all God’s pent up wrath for sin? Why did he rise from the dead, appear to many witnesses, and ascend to heaven? For his glory.

Why does God invite you and me to receive the free gift of salvation through the atoning death of Jesus, to be reconciled to him, and to walk in newness of life? Why does he indwell us with his very own Spirit, empowering us to live as more than conquerors over sin and death? So that we can feel good, and be fulfilled? No, a thousand times no! It is for his glory.

To be sure, we are (and have been, since the fall) depraved sinners in desperate need of a savior. And in the cross, we find an unbelievable gift, beyond what any of us could hope for. Walking with God, through redemption in Jesus and in the fellowship of the Spirit is beyond fulfilling. Jesus said that we could have life, and that more abundantly. Mission accomplished.

But when you understand that, like all of creation and all of history before you, everything is for God’s glory, when you willingly enter in and take your place in the grand pageant, and say like Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” when you realize that the chief end of man is the glorify God, then your perspective changes eternally.

No longer are challenges, difficulties, unpleasantness and pain affronts to my will, to my plan to live a comfortable life and enjoy the good things of this earth. Rather, they are opportunities for us to see God at work for his glory. If he chooses to deliver us, then all glory to God. If not, then we endure in faith for the glory of God.

Johann Sebastian Bach is widely known to have signed most of his pieces “S.D.G.”, for Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone). Despite his immense talent and success, the composer adopted a position of humility and deference to his creator and savior. Who am I to do less?

S.D.G.

Preacher

“Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Unless you’ve be living under a rock, you are probably aware of the passing of William Franklin “Billy” Graham, Jr. Affectionately referred to as “America’s Evangelist”, Billy Graham was the face of the Evangelical movement for decades. Most Americans over 40 have probably heard, seen or attended a Billy Graham crusade. His impact for the Kingdom of God has been profound.

I found myself (through the mystery of YouTube auto-play) listening to the entire celebration of Billy Graham yesterday. If you are interested the ceremony at the Capitol is here, his funeral service is here, and the interment is here. I have a few observations born of watching the honor bestowed upon this man.

Watching the Capitol ceremony, the first thing that struck me was that when you honor someone, you often have to wait. The video begins with the hearse pulling up in front of the capitol. The morticians get out of the car and wait as events unfold. Standing by the Capitol steps is an honor guard, standing at attention. Who knows how long they had been waiting. Next, a bus arrives and the family disembarks they are guided up into the Capitol where they wait until all is ready. Then, the family is directed out of the Capitol and arrayed at the top of the steps to observe the arrival of the guest of honor.

Finally, the honor guard marches with precision to where they receive the casket and march to the Capitol steps. Then, one step at a time, they ascend the Capitol steps, always holding the casket level (I would really have hated to be the guys in the back). The 5 minutes it takes seems like an eternity. At last, they reach the top of the steps and enter the building, followed by the family.

Inside are various government leaders, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell; Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan; President and Mrs. Trump and Vice President and Mrs. Pence. These are important people, not used to being kept waiting, yet they have been inside for at least 20 minutes if not longer.

Here is an application. The importance of a person is indicated by who waits for him. The President of the United States does not typically wait for anyone; people wait for him. Yet by their willingness to wait as this ceremony unfolded, these powerful people declared the importance of Billy Graham.

There is no one greater than God. Sometimes, we are called to wait on him. Prayers are not answered at the time or in the fashion we would have wanted. Plans don’t work out they way we intended. Justice is not immediately received. Reasons are not forthcoming. Waiting patiently on God’s timing is an act of worship, declaring that he is more important than we are. Note that his importance is not defined by our waiting, we simply demonstrate our agreement to it.


Mitch McConnell’s eulogy, on behalf of the United States Senate, began by stating, “The man we recognize today shared the Gospel with more people, face to face, than any man in history.” In other words, Billy Graham is important, worthy of the honor being bestowed, because of his faithfulness in sharing the Gospel.

Billy Graham had just one message. It was simple, it was timeless. It basically goes like this: God loves you. You can be restored to right relationship with him if you repent of your sins and believe in the name of Jesus Christ, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.

One of the things reiterated by his family was that the Billy Graham they knew at home was the same Billy Graham who preached before thousands. He didn’t have a public persona different from his private one. He was the genuine article.

The question I’m left with is this: Billy Graham was great because of his faithfulness in proclaiming the message of God’s love and redemption. If that message is true, do you believe it? If not, why not? If it’s not true, then was he really great?

The Gospel cannot be proven empirically, except for one way; the way the Billy Graham has gone. By the time you know for sure that it is true or false, it will be too late to do anything about it. That is why it is necessary to receive the gift of God by faith.

“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to Heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to Heaven because of what Christ did.”

Advent

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:6-7 (KJV)

Newborn Baby

The song “Mary Did You Know?” was written by Mark Lowry and has been performed by countless artists. Our favorite is the 2014 rendition by the acapella group Pentatonix, although this 2016 performance by Mark is pretty good. It asks the question of whether Mary fully comprehended who she had given birth to, and what he would accomplish.

A few days before Thanksgiving, my daughter gave birth to her first child. This girl has wanted nothing more than to be a mommy at least since she was 12, so the culmination of this time of waiting has literally been a life-long dream for her. She enjoyed (almost) every moment of being pregnant, but when “the days were accomplished” she willingly left pregnancy behind and welcomed her son into the world.

The day after thanksgiving, she sent me this text, “Not intentionally listening to Christmas music (yet) but Mary did you know totally takes on new meaning for me now.”

If you are a mother, you are probably nodding your head, saying “uh huh”, thinking back to when you first held your precious one. The intangible bond formed in the womb now realized as you were able to hold and stare in loving awe at the miracle of life that came out of your body.

If you are a father, you may remember looking at this little life and suddenly being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the responsibility you now had. You may have been filled with hopes and dreams of all that this helpless infant might become and accomplish.

There is no question that the pathos of the Christmas story touches us at the core of our humanity. It is easy to identify with these newlyweds, even if the circumstances of their expecting are unfamiliar. And while we tend to focus on Mary (and to a lesser extent, Joseph) as they navigated the uncharted waters of being parents to the son of God, there is another parent in this story that we don’t often think about.

This father had perfect knowledge and understanding of all that was about to happen in and through his son. He knew about the joys of first steps and first words; the tears of skinned knees and smashed thumbs. He knew his boy would sit and discuss the holy books with the old men, astounding them. He knew that his son would feed a multitude, walk on water, give sight to the blind and raise the dead. What could make a father more proud?

But he also knew that his son would be rejected by the people he loved with all his heart. He knew that only a few would follow and believe, and that his son, his only son, the pride and joy of this father’s heart, would be beaten and tortured to death. But the worst part was that this father would have to turn his own back on his son and pour out all his wrath over the evil of the world upon him.

Even now as I try to comprehend this, I fall short. To be sure, my sons have known my wrath but it was always because they deserved it. Today, they are fine men who bring much joy to my heart. Could I unleash the full weight of my fury upon them, anger that another deserved? Could I enter into a situation, knowing beforehand that my son would have to die by my hand for the crimes of another?

Whether Mary knew or not what lay ahead of her precious baby, the Father has known from eternity past and chose to create us anyway. Defying all logic,

But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Merry Christmas

Seriously

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us
Hebrews 12:1 (NET)

Are you serious?

This question is most often uttered with a tone of incredulity, as in, do you actually believe the nonsense that just came out of your mouth? Are you really so stupid that you actually did what you I just saw? Surely there is a joke here somewhere, and I’m waiting for the punchline.

Five hundred years ago this week Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the All Saints Church in Wittenberg. The initial reaction of the theological establishment was a form of “are you serious?” Luther’s challenging of the status quo, with particular impact on the pockets of the sellers of indulgences, was unthinkable. A year later he was put on trial for heresy, and ultimately excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Today, we celebrate his boldness and the Reformation that gave rise to Protestant Christianity. In the hindsight of history, few even think to question. Yet Luther himself said that had he known what would follow from his actions, he probably wouldn’t have taken them.

There is a second, more probing form of this interrogative. It calls into question your commitment, your dedication, your willingness to sacrifice to achieve the goal. In one form or another, probably every athletic coach has challenged the athlete to give more, push harder, commit more completely.

Similarly, students engaged in rigorous academic study may be questioned on their commitment. Any time hard work is required, the casual adherent is likely to fall away; only the most dedicated stay the course. Let’s face it, hard work is no fun; there are less costly and more pleasing uses for my energy.

The leaders of the American Revolution, signers of the Declaration of Independence were under no illusions about the significance and the consequences of their actions. The last sentence of the Declaration states their commitment: And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Recently I have found myself being challenged in my faith. I remember as a young man in college searching for the meaning of life. My question to God was, “Am I just supposed to be a good person, love and provide for my family, or is there something more you are calling me to?” At the time, I found myself encouraged to be radical, steeped in the words of Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, and Keith Green. If these names are not familiar to you, they are worth getting to know. They are each dedicated men of God with an unwavering commitment to His kingdom and glory. I concluded that such a radical love as Jesus demonstrated to me in purchasing salvation demanded a radical life in response.

But along the way of living life, loving and providing for my family, I fear I have slipped into being just a good person. It is said that “life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” Other things, other interests, other desires fill my mind and my heart, leaving little room for knowing, pursuing, loving my savior.

I look around me, and I don’t find many role models pushing me harder, encouraging me to live radically. The pretty good facade I have developed seems to be about all that is expected, even in the church. If someone were to ask for more, expect more, demand more, I probably could give it. But this sure is comfortable.

I hear a voice from the recesses of my heart, in that place where the Holy Spirit is still welcome, coaching me quietly, insistently, probingly, challenging me to dig deep, to give my all. Maybe you’ve heard that voice too.

Are you serious?