We love to kick at the shallow waves while walking among smooth sands on a lovely beach. Sometimes, though, God calls us go deep into the water.

I can’t let go of our recent walk on a beach on Sanibel Island, Florida, with my brother-in-law, Barry, and his wife Karen. They are dear, dear relatives and sojourners as we follow Christ. Karen is adventurous. While the other adult-minded, mature, and sensible adults walked on the beach and looked for shells (smile), Karen walked into the Gulf of Mexico to tempt sharks and boats as she ventured into deeper water and walked to a sandbar offshore. I invite you to join Karen and to step into deeper waters.

Psalm 115:3 brashly proclaims “But our God is in the heavens; he does whatever He pleases.” There are comfortable, stroll-on-the-perfect-beach words here—and there is a let’s-walk-into-the-deep-ocean opportunity, too. One writer ventured this prayer about this verse, “that we may be prevented from forming unworthy conceptions of the glory of God.”

First, the psalm reminds us of the Lord’s Prayer, where we pray as Jesus instructed us, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” How stunning it is that beyond the multitude of universes science has wonderfully unveiled to us (yes, universes), God rules everything and everyone. This is of tremendous comfort. While the world appears to be spinning out of control God is in charge. He has written the last chapter (s) of this world and our lives, and while “The mind of man plans his way,” it is joyfully true, “the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Keeping in step with the Spirit of God is our daily pursuit and joy (Galatians 5). How is that going for you?

Second, there is the challenging second half to verse three, “He does whatever He pleases.” We’re in deep water now. And while there are unanswerable, sometimes troubling questions that ooze from this verse, consider with me one of many things God has been pleased to do.
God is pleased to love us. And, He loves us in the most sacrificial, costly way—He gave His only Son to die for our sins. We should recite the gospel in one of its many Scriptural forms to ourselves every day: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Or, “Christ died for our sins…and rose on the third day.” Or, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

May we never tire of the essential, fundamental, comfort-giving, life-shaping, endlessly captivating, daily sustenance, and deep ocean of the love of God. It interests me that in Psalm 115 the wonder and works of God are contrasted with idols which are ineffective, hopeless, and futile, i.e., loveless. What are yours?

I regret not going out to the sandbar and deeper water with Karen. Next time, I will.


Vacation For The Soul

Cheryl and I just came back from a week of vacation. Whew! Sixteen hundred miles of family and fun. The piled-high laundry, wear on the car, or toll roads can’t take away the joy.

Vacations are a great time to affirm the beauty and value of loved ones and friends, to have extended time with them for slow conversations, and for slow, warm cups of coffee. Sleeping in a few times was itself a luxury and rich gift from the Father. Florida and Georgia creation glories enveloped us. Lots of time just with Cheryl was indescribably wonderful during the nine days away. This time, we again proved we are increasingly and joyfully comfortable and safe and happy just being together. I found myself constantly darting minute prayers of thanksgiving for all these things.

Vacations can provide special moments with God, too. Reading the Psalms and a commentary one morning, I enjoyed Psalm 111 and its call to remember and worship the LORD for His great works. They were constantly all around me on vacation, just as they are daily here at home. His works in creation and life are “splendid and majestic,” including His “righteousness endures forever” (v 3). These are the joy of promised relief in a troubling and troubled world wherever we live. “His wonders,” the Psalmist notes, remind us of His grace and compassion (v. 4). Fabulous!

And then an “Aha” moment came my way that marked my time away as unforgettable. In the Psalm, the unnamed author singles out the unique benefits for those who “fear” (revere) God. Yes, all creation and her creatures enjoy “common grace.” But “His people” (v. 6, 9)—people of faith who trust and worship and live for Him alone—enjoy promised provisions (v. 5), an understanding and appreciation of God’s power and promised inheritance (v. 6), “redemption” (rescue), and wisdom for life (v. 10). I especially need more wisdom, don’t you?

Let’s talk about the fear of the Lord. One commentator noted the fear in Psalm 111 is not the debilitating, trembling, elementary fear of situations and people (though that is a benefit to followers of Christ), but is the primary, “comprehensive,” overarching life of true godliness and worship of God. Our life is both gathered with others as we praise God and private when we worship in thanksgiving for the glorious works of God in us and around us. “Nothing is more profitable…than to spend [our] lives in the celebration of the praises of God.”

Only rebels live in terrifying fear of God. Followers of Christ have this promise, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

Please: Get away sometime or someplace—even daily—and give thanks to God for the works and wonders of Christ.

It will be a vacation for your soul.


This a shortened letter sent to an inmate in Georgia.

Dear Dashawn,

How great is our God! I rejoice with great joy in our salvation even though, earthbound for a while, we do not experience the fullness of heaven yet. I look forward to standing side by side with you before our Lord.

I am proud of your persistence to live out the gospel and to serve right where you are. Oh how I wish more followers of Jesus focused their life as you have and are. Though this new place is a different and a difficult place of service, God has prepared you for it and is using it to prepare you (and others) for the future. I encourage you to continue to “walk in a manner worthy” of the gospel. Even ministry to or with 1 or 2 men is Kingdom service in response to Jesus’ love and sacrifice for you. Yes, as you said, others are watching. That too is a precious honor.

Have you found a new “secret place” (Matthew 6) for your prayer ministry? That was a sacred hallway where you paced and prayed before.

It comes to mind that your separation from loved ones, the challenges of your mission field, and the aloneness are very similar to the Apostle Paul in his missionary journeys and imprisonments. Paul said he was willing to “fellowship with His sufferings.” You are in good company.

I just preached from James yesterday. We and they are strangers and exiles on earth, looking for a better country and city, longing for the presence and promises of God to be our daily reality (Hebrews 11:13-16). We are “last day” followers of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). James fusses in 1:2-5:6. His warnings are many: reaction to suffering, relating to the church family, partiality, materialism, etc.

I especially love 5:7-12. “Therefore” (v. 7) is a crossroad moment. It says in light of what I’ve taught already, now live by it. In Greek here there is an unusual use of actual imperatives. James pours it on. His strategy for last day travelers is precise: be patient v.7, strengthen your hearts v.8, don’t complain v.9, follow good examples v.10-11, and don’t be rash in your commitments and promises v.12. I think it works for both of us.

I found a compelling quote by Matt Chandler. Rather than merely focusing on what someone else called “a gospel of sin management” (an unending, unobtainable list to check off), we are more successful and joyful [when]“Christ would become more beautiful and desirable than the allure of sin.”

I closed with the question: What is your strategy?

Well, I miss the physical joy of your face and presence, Brother. I look forward to seeing you soon, “here, there, or in the air.”


They See

Ryan and Leah see things most of us can’t or won’t. They remind me of so much that is biblical and central to pleasing Christ.

Ryan, Leah, and their young child are on their way to a mission field that is difficult and, at times, hostile to the good news of salvation from sin and everlasting life through trust in Jesus Christ alone. It is a message that is increasingly, contentiously rejected in our own culture and which is sometimes met with persecution in Ryan and Leah’s new destination. They have been tested in a state-side, difficult mission field for five years. In visiting other mission fields they each have developed some health issues, so I wonder about their physical strength. I am their adoring, proud, humbled uncle, and someone who has experienced the joy of Ryan’s growing, passionate faith in Christ all his life and the riches of Leah’s heart in recent days. I want them to do everything to avoid danger and protect their health. In my mind, I have a better plan…
But is safety and comfort the way and will of God for them or for us?
They have the unclouded vision of Hebrews 10-11. They see needy souls and have accepted the cost to reach them (10:32-34). They see the futility of accumulation and the joyful life of sacrifice to others (10:34). They have seen the joy of heavenly reward in living for the will of God (10:35-36; 11:8). They have seen God’s preservation of their souls (10:39). They see the ultimate value in living lives to please God and not themselves (11:5). They see the call to a city that is better than any place on earth (11:13-16). They have seen the joy, struggle, value, and call of surrendered hearts as opposed to controlled, subdued ones that keep the heart of God at a distance (chapters 10-11).

“Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them” (11:16).

Sending them—releasing them to go—is so hard. Thankfully, they don’t go alone. Jesus Himself promised to be with them wherever they go (Matthew 28:19-20). Angels accompany them (Psalm 91:11-12). Followers of Christ are praying for and supporting them. They will have some assistance from their parent missionary organization. There are some believers where they are going. Truly, God has ordained both the means to do His work and the ends for His glory and their good.

Their call is ours. We live out our salvation right where we live, work, and play every day. Hebrews 10-11 shows up (or is absent), e.g., in the way we spend money, in our pursuits and passions, in the way we use media instead of it using us, in who we go to for joy, in what we feed our minds and souls with. Time will tell. Time tells.

Whew! With a trembling, immeasurably jubilant, nervous heart my spirit flies out with them on October 25th.

Father, help me to see what Ryan and Leah see.

The Inescapable Subject

You would love Avery. Only three, she has the biggest smile, can chatter faster than a race car, and, of course, is cute as can be. Did I mention she is my youngest grandkid?

Avery’s parents do a fine job yet, as you know, things still happen. She recently had her first visit to the emergency room because—are you ready?—a blue bead became stuck in her nose. That ER visit and a follow-up to a specialist were unsuccessful in removing the blue invader from an unknown galaxy. Surgery was next. Thankfully, she wasn’t in pain; she just kept on smiling and playing and enjoying life.

On the day of surgery her mother posted pictures of Avery, still smiling from ear to ear and, again, cute as can be in her surgical gown. I have to say, Mom looked a little bleary-eyed from her four in the morning wake-up. Avery was fine with it all until…they started to separate her from Mom to go to surgery.

All ended well, and well, they still don’t know where the bead came from.

We are not in heaven yet, are we? Even if we hide in a cave, following Christ includes tests of faith that are purposed to shape us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). What are your tests today?

Psalm 91 can bring hope (certainty) while being loved by God in unexpected, unsought circumstances. Do you remember these much loved words from God, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (91:1)? They are such words of promise that plummet deep, deeper than the colossal Tennessee River!

Verse one has an inescapable subject: God. He is “the Most High…Almighty…the LORD…my fortress…my God.” We instantly see in His name (s) He is so powerful, so much above, so much wiser than the impotent idols we create to bring help, comfort, and meaning to our circumstances. And, He is “my” God. “Men,” an older commentator said, “generally seek out a great variety of hiding-places…according [to] the calamities…which threaten to overtake them; but here we are taught that the only safe and impregnable fortress to which we can flee is the protection of God.”

There is an astounding reality-joy in verse one. We are accustomed to the call to “abide” from John 15 (stay connected; to “sit down in the High God’s presence”), but the Psalmist shatters our small views of an impersonal, distant God by declaring when we trust in Him we travel—“abide”—in His presence.

What wrangles your nerves and sets you to wondering what God is up to? If you are in Christ, nothing can separate you from the “love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:29).

Not even the hunt for a blue bead in the lovely nose of Avery.

The Herald News

August 29, 2018


“When the morning stars sang together

and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Job 38:7




   creation’s morning choir

      billions upon billions of universes and galaxies and stars

      the entire adoring angelic realm



Who Is Your Friend?

The value of friendships has been wonderfully impressed upon me lately. Will you allow me to share some Scriptural words about friendship as a crucial part of our walk with Christ, and to give personal testimony from recent weeks?

Just before our cruise in July we spent two days with long-time friends Bert and Alice. We sailed from Seattle and intentionally went early to see them. We remembered, walked, talked, laughed, talked some more, and ate lots of good food together. What hosts they are!

Bert is a long-term friend-mentor. I don’t say that lightly. Through decades of both wonderful and dark days of ministry preparation and actual service, Bert has been a reliable presence. Always available, it is amazing how he also has “just called” at crucial times when I needed encouragement. I learned much about how to teach and preach over bear claws and coffee with him—and have a souvenir mug from our hideout. A prominent ministry leader, he has drawn me into his world with a hospitable heart, confidence in me, and words of wisdom. Distance hasn’t stopped us.

Certainly, of Bert it can be said, “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Proverbs 27:9).

Bill and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary of friendship over breakfast last week. Bill came into my life at a challenging time and he has stuck by me no matter what. We have differences, but nothing gets in the way of our friendship. When we are together we talk about family, culture, the Bible, theology, health, and getting-older men stuff. I don’t know many people that have modeled a servant heart and love for Jesus before me than Bill. You should hear him pray!

Of Bill I think of Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times…”

We need friends and they need us. Yes, it takes work and intentionality. But friendship is an investment, not a liability. Singles have a unique and wonderful opportunity to pour themselves into their friends. Married folks have the privilege of experiencing the deepest level of friendship’s intimacy, trust, security, and joy as they grow together into the image of Christ. I confess to not realizing this about Cheryl for too long.

Here is an astounding reality: Our earthbound friendships mirror what Father and Son have said is our reality when we travel close to them. Abraham was called a friend of God. Can God say this about you or me? Jesus Christ said of His disciples, “I no longer call you my servants”—a statement of status, not a negation of love’s sacrifice—“but now I call you my friends” (John 15:11). Does our view of God see Him as trying to catch us in sin to inflict punishment? Does our view of the Father and Son include the intimacy and trust and security and joy of friendship?

So, have breakfast with or contact a friend. Celebrate them as God’s gift to you—because they are.

A Staggering Joy

Where the rubber meets the road the truth is: The calendar that matters the most isn’t the one that starts with January. It starts when school begins.

Grandkid update. All seven are in school now from pre-school to high school in six schools. One daughter has four kids and each is in a different school. If alarms don’t go off in the morning in their household the entire county school system goes on system-wide alert. Smile.

School days and calendars present us with staggering opportunities for joy and…worship. Surprised?

I have recently written about worship. It is the most important thing we do as gathered communities of faith in Christ (Colossians 3:15-17; Hebrews 10:23-25). Consider, also, the importance of personal worship in regular, secret offerings to God (Matthew 5:6). The former could be considered the ultimate joy; the latter our personal joy. Today, will you give thought to the staggering joy that is ours to go from our solitary place and gathered worship to a yet another arena of worship? The Apostle Paul wrote: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

Following the towering benediction at the end of eleven chapters on salvation, Romans 12 presses us to deeply consider what our salvation truly means to us (“Therefore”), and to put definite rubber on the road. Verse one continues the imagery and language of worship (11:33-36) and encourages us: What you do with your life in your actual body is an offering to God. Ouch.

There is no arena untouched. In an old timey way William Barclay offers, “A man may say, ‘I am going to church to worship God,’ but he should also be able to say, ‘I am going to the factory, the shop, the office, the school, the garage, the locomotive shed, the mine, the shipyard, the field, the byre [house or barn], the garden, to worship God.’”

The consistency of Scripture in this is stunning. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” Yes, rewards for faithful service. Yes, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Yes, beyond mere intentions, there is an evaluation for what we have actually done in and with our bodies as an act of worship. This is especially good news for those who live, love, and labor without fanfare.

Back to my grandkids. Three of my grands live nearby. I literally drive past their two schools often on the way to doctors and business. I am not perfect in this, but I usually pray for my kids, the administrators, and teachers—that right there and then they would offer to God their hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

When you drive by my house, would you do the same for me?


Cheryl and I are back from Alaska. Yes, Alaska! Have you seen it or imagined what that would be like?

Our souls still leap when we remember the beauty of what we saw and experienced. May that sense of awe never be cheapened or go away.

The glory of God in Creation, of course, shines all around us. It’s hard to beat where we live right here in East Tennessee. But oh how I love the Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound, and the Inland Passage of Alaska.

Language is a feeble friend to describe the immensity of brooding mountains, deep blue waters, the majesty of powerful whales, graceful eagles, and the delicate blues of glacier chunks.

I am using enormous words to attempt to paint a picture of Creation’s splendor: glory, awe, and majesty. Glory is the essence of God. Creation’s portrayal in Alaska and everywhere is but a small glimpse of His glory—His light, majesty, beauty, weightiness. Awe, our response to the glory of God, is what we are captured by. What startles your spirit—what grips you, amazes you, or seizes your heart and senses when you see our nearby fog-shrouded mountain, the rays and colors of sunrises or sunsets, the flight of an osprey, the dance of a deer, the never-ending variety of green colors in our trees, or the limitless shapes of leaves?

Psalm 29:1-4 and 9, note they all cry glory.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Some see the “temple” and “cry” as the language of worship, and Creation’s particulars as motivation for worship. Certainly! Creation is a start, calling us to bow before its Maker and to see—really see—some of who God is. I also note Scripture’s continual portrayal of God’s glory in creation’s elements themselves. Praying through Job 36-39; Romans 1; and Psalms 19, 33, 104, 148 bring together the sovereign act of Creation and the glory of God in and through its particulars, and will bow our hearts in reverence and joy all at once. Awe won’t be enough.

One such experience on our trip came to me through Flame. She is a humpback whale who spends summers around Juneau, Alaska. Identified by the unique identifying underside of her tail, she performed one dance after another as we shadowed her around area waters by boat—while she consumed some of her one ton of food a day. Power, beauty, grace, majesty—glory—abounded.

In the small and great things we see may we continually shout out to God, “Glory!”


Rhea Herald News, July 25, 2018


Drifting in the Mangroves

It is so easy to do.

My hobby in my teens and twenties was the sawgrass wetlands, cypress forests, and the mangrove islands of the Everglades. There, beauty, danger, and intrigue await all who will linger.

The thousands of mangrove islands on the lower west coast of Florida are my favorite. Tidally influenced by the Gulf of Mexico, the water can vary in depth and can change quickly. Oyster beds rise faster on a receding tide than a spring flood.

I will never forget the moment we rounded a corner between two islands and there before us was a good-sized boat, high and dry on an oyster bed—with a lady casually reading a book. I have no idea what happened to her companion. She had a long wait until the tide came back in.

I have been studying the book of Galatians and it presents a similar situation. The Galatians had wonderfully embraced the gospel—the good news of salvation by the grace of God, through Christ alone, by faith alone. But now, the Apostle Paul found them drifting backward to religious activity to somehow please God. False teachers had convinced some that salvation came with a price.

Of course, in a sense salvation does come with a hefty price—our lives. But “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our cheerful reception of the good news that “Christ died for our sins…and was raised on the third day” is a living faith that serves. In fact, we were designed for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

Grace is scandalous because it takes away the false security that my works turn the head and heart of God in our direction.

In chapter four Paul is both affectionate and deeply concerned. “I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain,” he says. He asks, “How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” He’s talking about a law-based, rules-based, performance-based life characterized by the insecurity of never knowing if we have done enough to satisfy God. Religion does that; a relationship with God does not.

We are reminded of the joy of a grace- life at the end of chapter three. Paul, with passion (I hear his voice rising to a high pitch), notes our sonship and startles us with God’s intimacy—urging us to the Father’s summon: call me “Abba.” Abba means Daddy. We are, in the idea of Galatians, no longer slaves but exalted, loved, accepted, embraced children of God. Follower of Christ, this is our blessed status (4:15).

Unbeliever, I plead with you to see how deep is your estrangement in sin and how great the sacrifice of Christ to open the Father’s arms to you. God wants to be your Abba.

Christ-follower, let us not drift from the grace-given salvation offered by Christ and, with delight—not duty—love God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39) since we have been first loved by God.

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