A Cup of Love

Then Jesus came near… Matthew 28:18

What would it look like for you and me to follow Jesus? In what ways, can you empty yourself of your time, emotional energy, and material possessions to serve others and give glory to God?

Like when you are in an argument, and you decide to let the other person get the last word—like Jesus did before Herod and Pilate. That is when you are following the humble King down into greatness.

How about when you are tempted to walk down another aisle at your local grocery rather than come face-to-face with a person who has harmed you and you meet them in the produce section and say, “Hi” and give them a hug? That is a person who is following Jesus down as he loves God and serves others.

Perhaps instead of holding onto your loneliness like a security blanket, you seek out others that are lonely and at every opportunity, you get to make them feel as if you have been waiting all day to see them.

About nine years ago while we were living in the Seattle area, I was going through a difficult time and our church was really struggling. A man in our church invited me to get a coffee with him. And so, I met him at a coffee house and after shaking hands, we took our seats.

“How are you doing today, pastor?” he asked.

“I’m doing Okay, Gene,” I said.

“You seemed a little discouraged last Sunday,” he said.

“Yeah, no pastor spends hours preparing a sermon only to preach it to more chairs than the people he loves.”

“It was a good sermon, pastor. I needed to hear it,” he said.


Then for the next hour, we talked about the stuff of life.

Gene was about ten years older than me, maybe more than ten years. He had a shock of white hair, and a soft and smooth face, and spoke with a deep and warm Texas drawl. He laughed often and deeply. There was no posing, no pretense—just the simple, quiet presence of a good man.

We didn’t talk about politics, theology, or literature. We skipped from topic to topic in a random and ricocheted way and told each other stories from our lives.

That day, in that coffee shop, I needed an old soul to sit with me for a while.

Later that evening I mentioned to Lynette about the coffee and said how encouraging it was to me.

“What did he say that picked up your spirits?” she asked.

“Actually, nothing,” I said.

Gene didn’t try to cheer me up. He didn’t give me plucky platitudes. He didn’t quote scripture to me. He didn’t even buy my coffee! I’ll tell you what he gave me. He gave me his presence and his time. And that made all the difference. A small grace of the presence of Christ through the voice and skin of a Texan named Gene Smith.

I’m sure Gene would not remember that coffee, but I do. And now you know about it. Never underestimate the grace of your presence. You don’t have to fix anything. Let the presence of the lord of Lords seep out of your soul into the sacred space between you and someone who is hurting.

Spend some time with this ancient poem by Symeon the New Theologian,

We Awaken in Christ’s Body

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

That’s how Jesus comes near, and how He touches this world…through you. So, who needs a cup of coffee with you?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Phill 2:5

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Ways to Give Thanks

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. Psalm 100:4 (NKJV)

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. Luke 17:15-16

“Here ends another day during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me and tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two?” ~ G. K. Chesterton

Well, Mr. Chesterton, some people aren’t given two—and yet, life is good. Life is a gift from God. It is painful sometimes because we live in a fallen and sinful world, but life is a precious gift. I’ve learned that there are some ways I can position myself to be more grateful.

Appreciate imperfect gifts

Have you ever received an imperfect gift? In this world, that’s about the only kind you get. If you are married, you are married to an imperfect gift. (And they are too, so don’t get cocky.)

If you wait until your kids clean their rooms perfectly to praise them, you will never praise them at all. Your body is a gift. How many have perfect bodies? We go through life thinking if our body was different, if I had someone else’s body, then I could be grateful. Your body is an imperfect gift, but it’s a very good thing to have. Appreciate it.

It’s the same with my home, my friends, my work, my church, and my life. If you are waiting for a perfect gift…you will never be grateful.

Allow anxious moments to give you perspective.

There is a link between anxiety and gratitude. You find a lump; you go for tests. Word comes back from the doctor that everything is OK. You are flooded with gratitude…which you wouldn’t have experienced if it wasn’t for the anxiety.

Many years ago, while browsing in a bookstore with my wife and oldest and only son at that time my wife said, “Watch him I’m going to another part of the store.” With an open book in my hand, I grunted something in the affirmative. A few minutes went by, and I looked around to see where he was. He was gone. I began to walk among the stacks of books looking, then calling, then walking faster and calling louder. The store was inside a mall and my first-child panic meter started red-lining. I stepped out of the store and looked down the mall just in time to see him waddle into the adjoining store. I quickly grabbed him, hugged him, and scolded him for doing what two-year old’s naturally do. I felt such deep relief and told him to never mention this to his mother.

When I found him, my sense of gratitude was unbelievable. In one sense nothing changed. He was safe all along, but anxiety taught me…it’s a gift.

Openly express gratitude even if you don’t feel like it.

I have a little file in my desk, and it has notes from people who have expressed sincere words of appreciation. Those notes often come at just the right time in my life. They keep me going.

Think of somebody in your world who needs a note or a phone call or a gift or a lunch. It might be a friend, parent, child, grandchild, co-worker—it could be anyone. They need to hear from you. They matter to God. Tell them that they matter to you.

Prime the pump by expressing it; even if your heart doesn’t fully feel it and after a while, you discover that your heart will begin to feel what you have already started to express.

Develop the discipline of noticing.

I can position my heart for increased gratitude when I notice the infinite number of gifts that God is sending, my way, and all the time…the sheer goodness of my life.

It is easy for many of us to become blind to the goodness of being alive. A few years ago, I spent ten minutes and journaled things for which I was grateful. I was a little blue when I began journaling, but by the time I finished the exercise my heart was buoyed even though my circumstances had not changed a single jot or tittle.

The first sip of the first cup of coffee of the day.

The laughter of my grandchildren.

The taste of my smoked salmon chowder.

The coarse texture of a lichen-covered rock under my fingertips.

The cold water of an alpine lake.

The feeling just after I have finished writing a sermon.

The prayer of a new believer.

The prayer of a very old believer.

The prayer of a child.

The first night of sleeping on clean sheets.

The aroma of my wife on Sunday mornings.

The gift of the perfect word for a sentence.

The loyalty of a friend.

The art of my son Clinton.

The humor of my son Caleb.

The passion of my son Cole.

The prayers of my father.

The love of my mother.

The poems of my brother.

The finish of a long walk.

The first night sleeping on the ground above timberline.

The first page of a Wendell Berry book.

The forgiveness of my sin.

The stories of the Bible.

The compliments for a good meal.

The view of Crestone Needle from Deadman Lakes.

The dirt in my hand scooped up from the driveway of my boyhood home.

The feel of the worn and yellowed pages from my favorite Bible.

The song “Blame it on my Youth” sung by Jane Monheit.

The look on a man’s face when he understands for the first time that God is much better than he ever imagined.

The shared stories between old friends.

The full-grown man-hugs from my sons.

The hands of my wife.

The gift of sight.

The gift of touch.

The gift of smell.

The gift of hearing.

The gift of taste.

The love of a congregation.

The worship of Jesus.

The prayers of the Puritans.

The movies “Gladiator,” “Les Miserable,” and “The Last of the Mohicans.”

The jazz music of the 30’s, 40’s and 50′.

The weight of a pack on my back.

The feel of a Bible in my hands.

The smell of a baby’s hair.

The Quaky Aspen.

The gift of lovemaking.

The taste of vanilla ice cream, chocolate, and salted peanuts.

The rock and roll music of the 70’s.

The view of Mt. Princeton from my deck. 

The geological marker on a fourteen-thousand-foot peak.

The tears of repentance.

The sound of sizzling of bacon on the stove.

The smell of bread in the oven.

The smell of bacon on the stove.

The crackle of a campfire.

The taste of bacon.

The songs of Cole Porter.

The voice of Allison Krause.

The sweet smell of summer rain.

The pulsing glow of a firefly.

The memories of my childhood.

The piercing clap of thunder in the mountains.

The memory of the graveled voice of my grandfather.

The promise of heaven.

The comfort of the Holy Spirit.

The artistry of God.

The gift of my calling.

The prayer of a sinner becoming a saint.

The compassion of God.

The sacrifice of Jesus.

The presence of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of my belovedness.

Oh, to be loved by God. To be given the most precious gift, His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for me.

What do I say?

Tomorrow morning when I wake up and my eyes work to view another day, what do I say? When I look into the eyes of someone who loves me despite my imperfections, what do I say?

When the same Jesus, who comes to lepers, to white people and people of color, to grieving and oppressed people—suffering people—and throws His arms around us and says I love you and I died for you, and I want to be with you forever…

What do you say?

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Bullet Points for Pastors

  • Never allow your politics to hijack your faith.
  • Never decide anything on a Monday.
  • Never stop being curious.
  • Never stop laughing…at yourself.
  • Be fully prepared to preach on Sunday morning, with no excuses.
  • Write your sermon out word for word, you aren’t smart enough to wing it.
  • Quoting lots of Scripture does not make a sermon Biblical, the Devil did that.
  • Tell us what God told you in your study, not what He told your favorite celebrity pastor.
  • Your spouse is more important than your Church.
  • Your spouse is the judge of the veracity of the above point…not you.
  • Your spouse is the primary way the Holy Spirit speaks to your blind spots.
  • Your spouse’s spiritual life is the best metric of your success as a pastor.
  • God rarely gets in a hurry about anything.
  • Your private life has a proportionate impact on the Kingdom.
  • Be content with obscurity. (Jesus was)
  • Being present is more important than the “Amen’s” you might receive for your sermon
  • When someone says “several people are upset” that means me and maybe my spouse.
  • The reasons people say they are leaving are rarely the real reasons.
  • Sometimes losing a battle in organizational leadership is winning the war in pastoral care.
  • Just because people fawn over you does not mean you are attractive; the pulpit distorts aesthetics. 
  • Never assess a church based on her potential—that commodifies her.
  • Never leave a church based on her failure—that shames her.
  • Never stay at a church because she is your “project”—that objectifies her.
  • Always love a church based on her intrinsic value—that edifies her.
  • God doesn’t do pyramids
  • There is no such thing as a designer Ephod
  • Today is more important than tomorrow
  • You are not a celebrity.
  • Never underestimate the sacrament of a shared meal
  • Never preach while you are cursing.
  • Always pray while you are serving.
  • Never lust while you are loving.
  • Always trust while you are hurting.
  • Never value preaching over pastoring
  • Never value knowledge over reflection
  • Never value achievement over constancy
  • Never value vision over presence
  • Value wisdom over knowledge
  • Value prayer over preaching
  • Value solitude over meetings
  • Listening is more important than telling.
  • Weeping is more important than winning.
  • Staying is more important than leaving.
  • Praying is more important than achieving.
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Ancient Paths

A cairn is a man-made pile (or stack) of stones raised for a purpose, usually as a trail marker or as a burial mound. The word cairn comes from the Scottish Gaelic: càrn

A few years ago, I spent a week in the wilderness up North Colony canyon in the Sangre De Cristo range in Colorado. Traveling on Rainbow Trail across the base of Humboldt Mountain and then following a faint trail up North Colony creek. Several miles up the drainage, as elevation is gained, you find yourself above timberline and a vast alpine valley stretches before you. A patchwork of waist-high willows, tall mountain grasses, and lots of talus rock. The trail disappears into the rockslides and yet you know that there are several small alpine lakes up the valley to the back of the cirque.

That’s when you have to look for the cairns.

If you want to fish the last lake that is carved out of the side of the mountain slope at nearly thirteen thousand feet above sea level, you have to follow the cairns that have been placed in the talus fields. It is an exercise in patience to stand and scan the tawny stones in the distance to spy the stacks of stones marking the way others have traveled in the past.

If you are patient and follow the cairns to the upper bench lake, you will find rest for your soul—and cutthroat trout. Lots of trout.

I have always loved what the ancient prophet Jeremiah tells us in one of his writings.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.'” Jeremiah 6:16

Stand. What an interesting place to start. In other words, seeking God’s direction starts by stopping. Just stand. Be still. Be present, fully present. Be present first to God within you and then to God around you. Or, in other words, show up. Show up with God and show up with others. That’s where it all begins.

Look. Stand at the crossroads and look. Pay attention. Look for God. Look deeply for him in whatever, or whoever might be in front of you at the moment. Look past the surface. Look into the depths of your heart and soul, as well as your world. Search. Seek. Seek him in all things, you never know who or what he might use to speak to you.

Ask. Specifically, ask God. Ask God, “What are you up to? What are you up to within me? What are you up to around me? What are you up to in this circumstance? What are you up to in the life of the person in front of me?” Ask.

Ask for the ancient paths. The cairns in North Colony are sometimes shy and hard to find. The markers for the ancient path can be the same way—hard to find in our modern world. But once found, those ancient paths are well-worn paths that lead straight to the heart of God. Those paths that multitudes of other saints, poets, and pilgrims have traveled well before us. In fact, whenever you see someone walking deeply and intimately with God you need to take note because that person has found these ancient paths, and watching them can show you the way into the heart of God. They include things like solitude, silence, prayer, and Scripture. All of these things are part of the good way.

Walk. And finally, once you have stood and looked and asked, it is time to move. Walk in it is the phrase Jeremiah uses. Walk in the good way, whatever that may mean. For once we have received our direction and guidance from God, it is time to enter into whatever he is doing. It is time to move toward him, and his work, whatever that may be. Sometimes it will mean speaking a word he has given us to speak, and at others, it will mean keeping our mouths shut. Sometimes it will mean simply being present, and others it will mean reaching out to embrace. But whatever it is, you can be sure of its power, substance, and authenticity because it has come directly from his heart and not merely your own.

And the beautiful result of it all is that you will find rest for your soul. What a promise! And isn’t that what we all most deeply long for?

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Handling God’s Word—Literally

One of the reasons I love Lectio Divina is the oral nature of the Scripture. The Bible was meant to be heard, and I love the way the Word feels on my tongue. (Revelation 10:9)

But handwriting the Scriptures will cause you to linger over a phrase longer than you might if you just read the same phrase aloud. Maybe just long enough to sense something the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to you. Instead of hurrying over familiar texts, this method of “sacred reading” will cause you to feel the words through your fingertips. (Galatians 6:11) I have come to call the practice, “Scriptio Divina.”

 What to expect:

1.     Expect the process will be slow.

Hand copying is intended to be slow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. When we read, we often read quickly, as if we are driving. But the whole goal of hand copying is to slow us down to a “walking pace” through Scripture. Don’t rush. Take your time and learn to enjoy the journey more than the destination. The goal is not to check the box that you completed the book; it’s to engage deeply in the Scriptures to see what the Holy Spirit might want to teach us about God’s story through the redeeming work of Christ.

2.     Expect to see details that you’ve never noticed before.

Seeing details, elements of dialog, and/or additional elements of a story you might have read before is common with hand copying. As I engage with this I continually find myself thinking, “Wow, I never noticed that before!” I also find myself asking questions about the text for the first time, oftentimes catching myself mid-sentence thinking “I wonder why…” or “Could it be that…” I personally found the repetitive use of a semicolon to be incredibly irritating. (But I am grumpy that way.)

3.     Expect your hand to cramp up from time to time.

It’s okay. It happens. In the digital age, we’re not used to handwriting so much. Just take a break and start again tomorrow.

4.     Expect God to meet you on this journey.

This has become one of the most important ways I encounter God in Scripture. Jesus meets me in this process is powerful – and oftentimes unexpected – ways. Expect him to meet you in this experience as well.

Practical tips:

1.     Decide on a translation of your choice. Some people choose a translation they are familiar with; others choose a new translation so they can “hear” Scripture differently than they are used to. Whatever you choose, just stick with your translation all the way through.

2.     Start with a fresh notebook. When I start a new project, I like to have a fresh journal or notebook. Several asked me what notebooks I use. You can use whatever notebook or journal you want.

3.     Choose a pen or mechanical pencil you like. For some, any old pen will do. I use a high-quality mechanical pencil .07 grade lead. I also use a separate retractable eraser. I always mess up what I am doing and so I like to erase the mistake and get it right. The eraser that comes with the pencil wears out too quickly for me.

4.     Make a grace-filled commitment to write out ten verses a day. Just ten. Some people get overwhelmed and discouraged because they make a commitment to do a chapter a day or five chapters a week. That’s a lot! Take your time, slow down, and enjoy the journey. If you do less than ten verses a day, that’s fine. If you end up doing more than ten, that’s fine, too.

5.     Find a dedicated place and time each day. I like to hand copy each morning, right after I make my coffee. I do it either in my reading chair or, when the weather is nice, outside on the deck. Having a grace-filled rhythm helps me engage with it more easily on a daily basis.

6.     Invite others to join you. It’s more fun to take a journey with others. Why not invite friends, neighbors, people from church, and/or family members to join you (in person or online)? It can add another rich layer to experiencing God’s Word.

7.     Before you begin each time, say a simple, heartfelt prayer. I usually whisper a short and simple prayer: “Lord, teach me something new today.” I am not doing this simply to write out the book; I want to encounter the living God through His living Word. I want to make sure I am centered and oriented with an openness to receive from Him as he speaks to me through the process. Consider a simple prayer of humility, anticipation, and openness to the Lord meeting you in the process as you begin each day.

8.     Find – and settle into – your own hand copying “personality.” Each one of us will find we have our own hand copying rhythm and process. It took me a bit to figure mine out, but I learned that I write best when I move through the text phrase by phrase. I say each phrase out loud…and then copy it down. Then I say the next phrase aloud…and copy it down. This is what works for me, but find what pace, rhythm, and style works for you.

A Final Word:

The pressure’s off. You don’t have to have beautiful penmanship. You don’t even have to have a perfect script. The purpose is not perfection or legibility, but engagement.

You can start small if you wish. If you want to start smaller, consider starting with a shorter book – maybe Ruth, Jonah, James, 1, 2, 3 John, or Jude. I started with Philippians and found it to be so invigorating that I decided to do the Gospels next. As of this date, I have hand-copied Matthew, Mark, and Luke and am currently beginning chapter six of John. (see the picture below from this morning)

A surprising benefit: I have three adult sons. I am hand copying the entire New Testament in a leather-bound sketchbook–one for each son to be given to them when I pass from this life to the next. A friend of mine is going to do this for his two young children to be given to them upon their graduation or on the day they get married. Be creative with what you might do with your copy.

Or give it to no one. Let it be a secret discipline between you and the original Author.

Whatever you do, remember this is God’s Word—His life-giving and accessible gift given for us to encounter, understand, and join Him. He wants us to participate in His over-arching story of compassion to redeem, renew, restore, and reconcile humanity back to Himself through the person of Jesus Christ. So, don’t be surprised if you are swept up into this story.

Expect God to show up in beautiful and surprising ways as you journey through the book that we love.

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The Face of an Enemy

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

Could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.

That’s kind of our own situation in this messed up world where we find ourselves. That’s your life. That’s my life. In this world that there has been a great fall. Something is messed up and broken . . . not just broken but shattered. We want it set right, but we can’t seem to get it right.  

Relationships need restoration.

This has been a painful week for me. Within twenty-four hours I received two texts from two different men that were very threatening and hostile.

I tried to mediate a conflict between two Christian men last year. It didn’t go well. But last week I sent one of those men a compliment after not having any communication with him for months. He had really helped a mutual friend of mine and I sent him a text expressing my gratitude for how God had used him in my friend’s life. But the old wound that I had tried to mediate was still open and he sent me the following correspondence:

“Joe, you stopped me from confronting [Name]. I should have never let you do that and will not make that mistake again. I invite you to put me out of your mind and move on.”

A ministry leader in another state reached out to me because he had heard that I can help pastors who are hurting. I invited him to come to Colorado so that we could spend some time together. We set that up time for him to come. I knew a relative of his and told him, “Tell your “relative” I said hi.”

The next day I received a long text from the “relative” after not having spoken to him for nearly two years:

“I received your message via my [family member]. Do not ever mention that you know me via my family and do not ever correspond to me through anyone we know. You are a dangerous person and I have a responsibility to protect the innocent and vulnerable. You have a hidden agenda.”

I went to my woodshed to pray about these hostile encounters and as I sat quietly, listening to the birds sing and the wind slip through the boughs of nearby pines, I sensed the Lord say something like, “What do you see reflected in the faces of your enemies?”

That led me to ask a few questions about myself.

  • Where did I best reflect Christ in my relationship with my brothers?
  • When did I least reflect Christ with them?
  • What made these moments so difficult?
  • How badly do you want your relationships to be restored?

What I came to see in my own soul is that I looked upon each of these men as small-souled and immature. I thought of them that way, and that probably meant that I treated them in that way in hundreds of ways that no one might really notice except me and them.

What I have come to know is that I cannot reflect the love of Christ to my brothers and hold them in contempt at the same time. I want to do both, but it is not possible.

Contempt is a fouler form of hate. It is worse because it assumes personal superiority. It is the opposite of humble love. It is antithetical to being the kind of person who would, without manipulation, remove an outer garment, gird themselves with a loin cloth, pick up a basin of water and a towel and wash an enemy’s dirty feet.

I found a prayer that has encouraged my heart by John O’Donohue. Perhaps it will yours as well.

I have a long way to go before I reflect King’s love for my hostile brothers. But at least now I know what needs working on in my own soul. For that I am grateful.

What do you see reflected in the face of your enemy?

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Mount Princeton—Buena Vista, Colorado

Even mountains need to rest from their work

of shouldering the sky, of bearing cumulous

buckets on the slanting yoke of treeline

where snow and ice teetered all winter.


So on this cloudless summer morning,

you crack your ridged back to release

tension from each knobby vertebra,

stretch out your rocky legs and cross

one green-timbered ankle over the other,

then lean back with hands behind your head

to admire the endless blue of this good view.


At some point you doze, and all I see are

bony elbows jutting to either side of your

barrel chest, a shadow of scrub grass

in the craggy folds of your armpits.

I watch your ribs expand, contract,

inhaling and exhaling sunlight as your

collegiate majesty welcomes Sabbath.


Amy Nemecek

July 2022


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Open the Eyes of My Heart

Lectio Divina is a way of reading the Bible that is over 1,500 years old and means “divine reading.” It’s a simple way of slowing down enough to interact with a specific scripture passage while asking the Holy Spirit to use the reading to speak to your heart.

In the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, readers are encouraged to read the same passage on a daily basis and listen to it again and again. This allows you to reflect deeply on one passage. Use the same four questions with the same verse every day. This approach to listening to God may be new to you. If so, great! This opportunity may open new doors in your relationship with God. Enter in and see what might change in your life.


Read the passage slowly.  What stands out to you? The first question leads you to read the text again and see what it says to you. Is there a word or a phrase that stands out to you? Something that “shimmers”


Reflect on this point. What comes to mind as you reflect on the passage? The second will require a little more time so you can meditate and ponder what you are seeing in the passage. What do you see, hear, feel, or taste? Put yourself in the story. What emotions arise as you see the scene unfold?


What is the invitation from Jesus? What is He inviting you to do? Pray the point. Turn any insight you have into a prayer. In response to the third question, think of a way to pray the Scripture, asking the Lord to do in you what you are seeing in the passage.


Read it one final time with a posture of receiving fully what you have heard and seen. Rest in the presence of God with you during this time and what He has spoken to you. Go forward into your day, taking with you the consolations you have received from this time of reading and prayer.


Many people find it helpful to write down their responses to these questions. The point is to reflect and listen. You are not looking for a “right” answer. These questions are meant to help you connect to God and listen to what the Spirit might be saying to you.

Reading the Torah
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Living with a Bruised Heart

I dedicated him to God when he was a chubby little bundle of joy. I helped him pray to invite Jesus into his little heart when he was waist high to me. I stood in the waters of the baptistry and prayed over him before lowering him into those waters. I watched him grow to love DC Talk and other Christian bands when he was a teenager. And then I watched him walk away from the faith of his youth. He no longer considers himself a Christian.

His mother, grandparents, and I pray for him very nearly every day. For parents are only as happy as their saddest child.

But what do I do?

Pray, that’s what I do. Pray. And weep.

As I sit here looking out at the morning sun splashing Mount Princeton a rosy pink from my mountain home, I am seeing faces that make my heart grow sad. Not just my own children, but I see the faces of congregants; people who are trying so hard to find their way in this world without Jesus. Oh, they come to church. Some come regularly, some intermittently but they are in my flock, and I am their shepherd. And while I am delighted with our church family and I am at peace with Jesus, I am also very aware that my sense of melancholy is tied to the saddest member of my church.

I am careful about boundaries. I am quite willing to let people feel the full weight of the consequences of their sins. These consequences can be their best tutors. But, oh this weight, this cloud, this dull and throbbing ache for the people for whom I have been given charge is relentless.

When I was a young man, Anwar Sadat was president of Egypt. He was in the news a lot due to the complications of the Arab and Israel conflict. He had a small dark spot high on his forehead. I asked my father what that was, and he said it was a perpetual prayer bruise. Said that Sadat knelt and faced Mecca five times every single day and touched his forehead to the ground in prayer to Allah. It was a bruise that never went away because of his devotion.

The longer I live and the more I work caring for the souls of pastors, I have come to believe that pastors who are faithful to be present to the people in their communities are going to have bruises on their hearts. Those bruises will come from criticisms, misunderstandings, betrayals, and sometimes the meanness that sheep have towards their shepherds.

But what do I do? Pray, that’s what I do. Pray. And weep.

Matthew tells us that Jesus felt this heaviness, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

The Apostle Paul commands all Christians to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:4)

I wonder if this sadness is part of bearing the burden. I wonder if, in bearing, we are more present. I wonder if being more present with them leaves open the opportunity to run to them when they “come to themselves” and realize all that is waiting for them in the Father’s house. 

But what do I do? Pray, that’s what I do. Pray. And weep.

I believe this sadness keeps a father on the front porch looking down a long and dusty road for a broken and sad boy to come walking home. And when he sees the familiar stride of his child, to be quick to leap off the porch and run down the road to embrace his son. And it is this sadness that makes a pastor stand on the porch of a little church every Sunday morning looking at a parking lot for that troubled family to drive up.

So, I wait, watch, and pray—ready to run to both my son and you.

For I am a pastor and I am learning to live with a bruised heart.

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Faith in the Darkness

Then God said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah…” Genesis 22:2

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy The Road describes the journey south taken by a young boy and his father after an unnamed catastrophe has struck the world. The man and the boy, who also remain unnamed throughout the entire novel, travel through the rough terrain of the southeastern United States.

The conditions they face are unforgiving: rotted corpses, landscapes devastated by fire, abandoned towns, and houses. These two travelers are among the few living creatures remaining on earth who have not been driven to murder, rape, and cannibalism.

The father and his son struggle to survive in the harsh weather with little food, supplies, or shelter. Along the way, they must escape from those who might seek to steal from them or, even worse, kill them for food. Despite their hardships, the man and the child remain determined to survive, reaffirming to themselves that they are the “good guys” who do not seek to harm others.

The father over and over again reminds the boy that they are the ones that are “carrying the fire.” The boy in particular retains his unquenchable humanity against all odds, consistently seeking to help the tattered remnants of living humans they encounter.

The relationship can be summed up in a sentence at the beginning of the novel:

“Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

Anyone who is a parent knows how true a sentence that is. In this story, God appears to Father Abraham and asks him to give up his world entire. To extinguish the fire of his life.

It is a dark road, this road to Moriah.  It’s dark because it means Abraham is losing his son, whom he loves. But it’s not just that. It’s dark because it means losing his dream, for Isaac was the promise of God. Isaac was the promise that Abraham’s life would lead to a new community, and he was losing his dream. But it wasn’t just that.

It was dark because he wasn’t just going to lose Isaac. Abraham was to destroy his son at the command of God. So what do you do when you have to walk in the darkness, and God seems distant or remote or silent?

Abraham at this moment is stepping out into what could be called “the road of godforsakenness,” when it seems like God is contradicting himself when it seems that God wants to stop the salvation that he’s begun.

This is a story about darkness, most of us at some point or another in our lives; understand what it is to walk in darkness. Faith is about hanging on in dark places.

Faith is not about doubt-free certainty. Faith is about tenacious obedience at all costs.

We all have dark times. When it looks like the God whom we serve is not cooperating with the script we have written for our lives.

Elisabeth Elliot told about a time years ago, visited a sheep ranch in Northern Wales. One day she saw a shepherd pick up a sheep and take it to a sheep dip which is a large vat of liquid insecticide and fungicide, and put the sheep into the vat, and the sheep frantically fought for air. Then the shepherd pushed the head down, but the sheep kept coming up, and the shepherd kept pushing it down because all the surface of the sheep had to be coated with the solution to keep it from getting ill.

She said, “I wondered what it’s like to feel like your shepherd is trying to kill you. Then she remembered the death of her missionary husband at the hands of the very people he served and said, “Oh, I know.”

If this story of Abraham tells us anything it tells us that sometimes your shepherd, who is trying to save you, will feel to you like he is trying to kill you. And that is a dark time, indeed.

I don’t know what it looks like for you, but I know this: Every human being that ever lived has walked in darkness sometimes.

This story teaches us that we can trust God when we don’t understand God. You can trust God’s heart when you can’t trace His hand. When your life is hard. When following, Jesus means suffering something like a death in your life. When your future is uncertain you can look to the cross in the meantime.

And even though you may not have every one of your questions answered you can be sure that God was willing to go this far to be faithful to you, to love you, and to rescue you.


One of my favorite artists is the Dutch master, Rembrandt. I have a print of his version of The Return of the Prodigal Son hanging in my study. I love that image. But a close second is the backstory of Rembrandt’s rendition of this story in Genesis. A piece entitled Abraham’s Sacrifice.

Early in his life, he depicted this story in an epic painting. He was a celebrated and prodigiously gifted artist who, in his own personal life, was living far from God, but he painted this story for a patron. He used a huge canvas and painted this action moment that is really nothing more than murder in progress.

There is young and innocent Isaac bare-chested and sprawled out on a rock with old Abraham’s left hand pressing the boy’s face back, as if to expose his throat, his right hand extended to reach for a knife. All the while an angel has flown up behind him, with panic on his face, and grabs his right hand, knocking the knife from Abraham’s hand.

That’s his painting of this story as a young man.

Abraham's Sacrifice
Abraham’s Sacrifice

But then decades later in life Rembrandt knew what it was like to lose a child in death, he lost several children, in fact. He came to be convinced of the love of God for him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and he began living as a follower of Jesus. As an old man, having lost children of his own leaving him with only one son left late in life—he paints this scene again.

He does it differently. He does it on an etching plate. And in that version of this scene, Abraham shelters his son, Isaac with his arms around his son, cradling him to his chest and covering the boy’s eyes. The expression on Abraham’s face is one of sorrow and love.  And behind Abraham, there is a strong, sheltering angel who cradles this father as the father cradles his son.

This version of the story was done by someone who knew how far God was willing to go to embrace us. Our heavenly Father was willing to lose a Son, so that He might gain people like Rembrandt and me back into his forever family.

This is our good news. That God shelters and cradles us even when it seems that we are walking into the unknown darkness where the fire has gone out. And because of Jesus, you and I can say to the Living God, even at our darkest times, “Here I am.”

So, may you learn to trust God even in the moments that you don’t understand God. Then and only then will you be each the other’s world entire.

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