Mobile Phone Addiction

Here’s an article I can relate to. I ditched my i-Phone in March 2017. For a few months, I used a flip-phone to help me stay away from an endless supply of information, whether news around the globe or scrolling through an old friend’s facebook page. I was drawn deep into the world digitally operating on a screen in front of my face at the cost of ignoring the world that was physically operating literally in front of my face. That physical world in my literal face had inhabitants like my spouse, children, neighbours, church family. I am much less anxious these days, not being as connected as I was. You may think typing a blog is a bit hypocritical. Well, I’m not typing for me. I’m typing for anyone reading this post between midnight and 6am. I hope you read the article. 

The Morning After

 Psalm 77.4-6
“Are You listening God?
You’re preventing me from getting sleep;
I am troubled and have no words.
I think about what’s happened in the past and today.
I’ve stayed up all night strumming my guitar trying to find words for my heart to sing.”

I’m a singer-songwriter. Not necessarily a good one, but I, and most children for that matter, fit the definition: We sing songs we write.

Some songs are extemporaneous: born alongside a specific moment in history only to fade into silence with the memory of that moment, never again to be heard.

Some songs are years-long in the making, usually inspired by life experience or the romanticized ideal. [And what a gift when the two meet!]

Shortly into my 30s I reached a milestone in adulthood. I was suddenly more aware of people’s troubles, including my own. Of course I knew sooner or later everyone had trouble, and some more than others, but I was unaware that some people’s burden was heavy and permanent.

This epiphany was rather embarrassing.
Jokes I’d previously made about hard life situations were no longer funny. They were stupid and inappropriate.

Speaking carelessly about the life experiences I never had was proof I was immature and unseasoned. I used to think the silence from the 40/50 year olds meant they didn’t get what I was saying. I was the one who didn’t get it.

When I began to see the heaviness and permanence of people’s trouble, I felt like I had arrived late to a party. I wanted to leave and find my way back to the land of Blissful Ignorance. However, the other partygoers graciously welcomed me and invited me to eat and drink. The food and drink was different. It was  satisfying. They taught me empathy. They taught me it’s a different kind of party.

My songbook had songs of angst but not lament.
Those are two different songs.
Angst is matured by the song of lament.

I didn’t have songs to sing when marriages fell apart. Or when death paid an unexpected visit, especially to babies. Or when careers were shattered and families uprooted. Or when the poor were oppressed and there was nothing I could do but watch.

What songs could I sing?
Sure there were songs of lament out there, but they weren’t my songs. It’s hard sometimes to follow the tune of someone else’s heart.

So I started writing songs of lament and started using a line in my preaching “there are two types of people in the world: those who suffer and those who will suffer.”

So today, 24 hours after three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers were gunned down on a quiet, sunny, Sunday morning, the heartache and headache we’ve experienced the last nearly two weeks has morphed into a heavy burden. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

What song can I sing?
What song can we sing?
What songs did our human ancestors sing when the burden was heavy and seemingly permanent?

Psalm 58 and 77 have provided comfort.

(Psalm 58.6 – God, kick out the teeth of all the bad leaders who keep biting us!)

God knew Humanity would need songs of lament to cope with reality. We must learn how to lament, to grieve deeply as individuals and a community.

Why learn to lament? Because our days are not always free of the cares of this world.

Having carefree days are nice, but it’s not always reality.

The one who expects everyday to be carefree won’t know how to handle a day of trouble.
Such a person will be filled with angst.

Angst leads to cynicism.
Cynicism leads to apathy.
Apathy leads to the destruction of a city.
And when a city is destroyed her people are left abandoned and without hope.
No hope is death.

Lament is the path to hope.
Hope is the path to life.

And where there’s life, there’s a party.

It’s time to put down the kid juice of angst and learn to drink the wine of lament.

Welcome to the party.
Invite the others in.

Christ, have mercy.

Peacemakers, make peace

It’s been a wearisome few days. Hard to get a full night’s sleep. Heartache. Headache. Not many words to say. The police officers in Dallas showed full integrity in their vocation in the face of tragedy (see yesterday’s post). 
Yet, it’s another day. I must get out of this bed. I have a lunch appointment. But first another challenge to myself:

Prayer without action is ineffective prayer.
This is what God says:

“If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.” – Holy Scripture, James chapter 2

It is right to ask/pray/think/desire peace and healing in our families, cities and world. 
A true prayer for peace results in change. 

A change to stop the turmoil. To prevent further violence. To bring understanding. To unite and heal our community. To keep our families safe. To change systemic injustice. To alleviate generational poverty. To provide access to education and healthcare. To provide avenues to create wealth. 
Yet when our voice calls for change, the first ears to hear must be our own. 
Uh-oh. You mean I might have to be part of the process? 
Yes. Peace comes through peacemakers. 

The one who sees turmoil and offers prayers/thoughts/desires for peace, yet does nothing, has dead faith. It is an ineffective prayer/thought/desire. 
Living faith breeds action. 

Action proves living faith. 

What does peacemaking look like for you? Only you know and God know your heart. 
Maybe it’s time to finally pursue that diplomat position to help countries negotiate. Maybe it’s time to start that NGO to help alleviate poverty and suffering. Maybe it’s time to build that health clinic or school. Maybe it’s time to engineer designs for better farming and more effective food distribution. Maybe it’s time to join a demonstration. Maybe it’s time to fight for integrity in your vocation. Maybe it’s time to offer a smile and handshake to a colleague or to someone who represents a segment of the population you scorn. Maybe it’s time to finally meet the neighbour. Maybe it’s time to offer “Welcome” to a refugee trying to establish a new life in a new culture. 

These are some ways to answer the prayer for peace. 
Maybe you’re upset and thinking “God is powerful enough to bring peace without me! Let’s not forget that God is God!”
Yes, as the Maker of all things, God All Powerful. 
However, God does not sprinkle fairy dust upon the Earth to bring about peace. God uses peacemakers to bring peace. They are blessed and called children of God. 
Our cities will not magically change apart from people. Spiritual change occurs in people. And people build cities. People are responsible for the life or death of their city. I am challenged to reflect on how I contribute to the flourishing of my city. I am challenged to ask if I am spiritually awakened and matured by God to be a wise peacemaker. 
Jesus said the Church is the salt of the Earth and the light of the world. 
Faith without works is simply dead faith. 

The thought of wanting peace without the willingness to make peace is an empty and vain thought.

— Christ, when I asked You to bring peace, I asked in the hopes that You would do it quietly, without interrupting my life and status quo. While turmoil occurred around me, I had hoped I could avoid being inconvenienced and keep the plans I made for myself. But what an invasive surprise You are! I asked You to bring peace and You told me to go make it in my home, community, city, and world.

You gave us peace when You gave Yourself. Now in Your peace we peacemakers go. Christ, have mercy.

Alton Sterling: a pastoral reflection

Baton Rouge: our City, our Home

In light of Alton Sterling’s death, I sent the following to our congregation.

I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night. My eyes are swollen from grief; they grow old because of all my enemies. Depart from me, all evildoers, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 
Psalm 6.6-8

You already know today is going to be a long day for our city, our home.

I wanted this to be in your inbox before you woke up. It’s a short reflection for our diverse congregation to read. I hope tone and instruction conveys pastoral care and concern. Writers more skilled than I will provide fuller commentary. My intent is to shepherd us: Grace Mid City. Let this be food for thought as we process today and pray before engaging in social media and water cooler talk. Let us walk and speak in wisdom from above.

Today will be a long day for the bereaved family and friends of Alton Sterling, a resident of our city whom our Coroner said died after being shot multiple times by the BRPD. I don’t know Alton Sterling personally, but I know he – like all humans – is an Image-Bearer of God created by God for relationship with God. As his family and friends mourn his death, he awaits – along with all those departed – Resurrection and Judgement. Any death is tragic.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for the two police officers involved in the death of a fellow human being. Whether it was outright murder, an arrest gone terribly wrong, or officers following standard operating procedure, these men took the life of another man and will have to give an account of why they took such action.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for our city leaders. They woke up early this morning (if they even slept) and had breakfast (if they even ate) knowing an international news media stage awaits. It is no secret our nation is embroiled in tension as the world watches – and we now experience in our own city – the conflict between black citizens and white police officers. Earlier this morning I drove to the corner store where Alton Sterling died, to pray for his family and our city. It’s less than two miles from my house. The corner was empty. Three or four cars were in the parking lot. Two or three people were standing silently by the table in front. No traffic but me, no noise but the truck engine. The calm before the storm? Soon we’ll hear from our black mayor-president and white chief of police. May they lead us well.
Christ, have mercy. 

It’s going to be a long day for the Church in Baton Rouge. Most of our city’s congregations are homogenous. It’s been said our city is segregated most on Sunday mornings. I don’t know the numbers, but I do know we tend to describe congregations as being a “Black Church” or “Korean Church” or “Hispanic Church” or “White Church” or “Vietnamese Church” or some other ethnicity. Right or wrong, it’s a reality. Our reality is that Grace Mid City, albeit mostly white, is a multiethnic congregation. As such, we must – for Christ’s sake! – hold these two realities:

1) Of utmost importance is our unity as Brothers and Sisters in Christ Who, by grace through faith, has brought us into the eternal family of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God has gathered us, different walks of life and all, to be a local expression of the Body of Christ. We, in our diverse backgrounds and views, are united in the communion of saints.

Our unity is made in Christ.
Our unity is held in Christ.
Our unity is our witness in Christ.

2) Different ethnicities react differently for different reasons. Maybe it would be easier if we all reacted emotionally the same way about the same things, but we don’t. That’s okay. Our different backgrounds and experiences affect how and why we react to certain situations. This hasn’t changed in all of human history (Eve blamed a snake, Adam blamed Eve). Preserving unity in Christ is hard. It requires heavenly wisdom, heavenly empathy, and earthly action. Followers of Jesus, both black and white, will be vocal today. Some will speak in wisdom from above, and some will speak in wisdom from below. [Listen to the last two sermons for context of those phrases.] The pages of the New Testament are replete with calls for unity to be upheld among Christians of various backgrounds and experiences. Let us be sensitive to understand the complexities of our city, and let us be empathetic toward those who are hurting and questioning…on both sides. These deep issues are not going away anytime soon. Our enemy would like nothing more than to distract the Church’s mission and divide the Church’s unity.
Christ, have mercy.

Today will be a long day for you and me. Baton Rouge is our city, our home. This horrible situation adds to the already deep repairs our home needs in the areas of Education, Healthcare, Tax Reform, Business, Roads, Infrastructure, Overflowing Prisons, Fractured Families, the list goes on and on. Where do we even start? With the psalmist, I’m weary from my groaning!
Christ, have mercy.

On Baton Rouge, our city and home: Christ, our True Hope, have mercy.


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“tenderly cradled in freefall” by Kayla Jean Mueller

Kayla, a prisoner of ISIS, died in a recent Jordanian airstrike. Below is a copy of a letter to her family. Though Kayla was imprisoned, I was moved by her description of being free and resting in the sovereignty of God….”by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free fall.”


“Everyone, If you are receiving this letter it means I am still detained but my cell mates (starting from 11/2/2014) have been released. I have asked them to contact you + send you this letter. It’s hard to know what to say. Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact); I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.

I wanted to write you all a well thought out letter (but I didn’t know if my cell mates would be leaving in the coming days or the coming months restricting my time but primarily) I could only but write the letter a paragraph at a time, just the thought of you all sends me into a fit of tears.

If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness.

I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.

I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another…

I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation. I have had many a long hour to think, to think of all the things I will do w/ Lex, our first family camping trip, the first meeting @ the airport. I have had many hours to think how only in your absence have I finally @ 25 years old come to realize your place in my life. The gift that is each one of you + the person I could + could not be if you were not a part of my life, my family, my support.

I DO NOT want the negotiations for my release to be your duty, if there is any other option take it, even if it takes more time. This should never have become your burden. I have asked these women to support you; please seek their advice. If you have not done so already, [REDACTED] can contact [REDACTED] who may have a certain level of experience with these people.

None of us could have known it would be this long but know I am also fighting from my side in the ways I am able + I have a lot of fight left inside of me. I am not breaking down + I will not give in no matter how long it takes. I wrote a song some months ago that says, ‘The part of me that pains the most also gets me out of bed, w/out your hope there would be nothing left…’ aka-­-The thought of your pain is the source of my own, simultaneously the hope of our reunion is the source of my strength.

Please be patient, give your pain to God. I know you would want me to remain strong. That is exactly what I am doing. Do not fear for me, continue to pray as will I + by God’s will we will be together soon.

All my everything, Kayla”

Morning Lesson – Deception

A tough morning lesson from the book of Genesis (“genesis” means “origin). This is a tough lesson because it will strike at the core of our being. We will be faced with the reality that we think we’re wiser than God. The reality is, God loves us and provides His wisdom to us in Christ Jesus. I am weak, but He is strong!

“The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” chapter 3, verse 13

SCENE: The Woman (Hebrew word = “ishshah”) and the Man (Hebrew word = “adam”) have eaten the fruit of the tree they were commanded not to eat. Their act of disobedience against Yahweh, the Creator, has changed things forever. The Man (“adam”), has acted cowardly and childlike. He has failed in his responsibility to Woman, and, like a child, blames someone else for his irresponsibility. In this case, he blames Woman and God.
Yahweh asks Woman, “What is this you’ve done?”
She replies, “It was the serpent. He deceived me, and I ate.”

LESSON: Deception is subtle. Deceived people believe they’re making good decisions.

The Woman and Man were not acting in a rebellious fit of rage against God when they ate the fruit. They were deceived. They did not wake up that morning in the garden and, over breakfast, decide to fight against Yahweh later that day. They were deceived. They did not willfully decide to wreck humanity and nature. They were deceived. Deceived into defiance. Consider the details:
After some effort (this Woman was not easily swayed!) the serpent’s seeds of deception finally take root in the Woman. She questions the truth, goodness and authority of God. Then, “The Woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that is was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
Do you see the subtlety of the deception? The Woman believed she was making a good decision. She didn’t see a tree full of poisonous berries. She didn’t see rotting fruit. She didn’t think eating the fruit would cause her to become foolish. She saw
– the fruit was healthy // “the tree was good for food”
– the fruit was beautiful // “delightful to look at”
– the fruit was beneficial // “desirable for obtaining wisdom”
When Man and Woman ate this fruit, they believed they were making a good decision. Alas, their decision, based on deception, was fatal.
They were deceived into defiance.

Yahweh clearly provided wisdom: “On the day you eat the fruit from that tree, you will die” (Genesis 2.16).
Humanity chose to act upon their own wisdom. Their wisdom led them to defy God’s design, thus putting them at enmity with Yahweh.

Whew. That’s heavy. That’s me in the garden: subtly being deceived…

If you’re being deceived today, it won’t be obvious. The deception will be subtle. There will be a series of decisions made that on the surface appear harmless, but when inspected, will produce nothing but bad. Be careful about the small decisions you make today. Let the decisions be rooted in God’s Wisdom, which is found clearly in His Word and applied to our lives through the Holy Spirit. Don’t have a bible on your desk, or can’t look at your phone all day? MEMORIZE THE WORD. And MEDITATE upon God’s wisdom during the day. He gave us His wisdom for our good.

Chances are you didn’t wake up today with plans to have an affair. So rethink that “harmless” lunch or text message.
Chances are you didn’t wake up today with plans to gossip. So rethink what you’re going to do with that juicy information in your possession. Chances are you didn’t wake up with plans to deeply resent and fight with your co-worker, teacher or boss, so pause before engaging in the usual passive-aggressive words or actions. Chances are you didn’t wake up today with plans to throw a fitful rage of rebellion against our merciful and loving God. So be careful that you’re not “drawn away and enticed by your own evil desires.”

When we’re deceived into thinking our wisdom trumps God’s wisdom, then we’re on the road of defiance headed to the city of destruction.

Thanks be to God that His kindness leads us to repent from our foolishness and that in Christ Jesus, we have all we need for life and godliness!

Remember how our Lord taught us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Hallelujah! What a Saviour!


The Lenten season both scares me and excites me. It is a grueling, humiliating, repenting, life-giving, soul-grieving, sin-confessing, grace-ridden, mind-transforming, Holy Spirit-empowered, hesed-saturated six weeks of my life. Every year I like this holy season less and less. So what’s exciting about enduring a suffering season? The fruit of the suffering? No. Think about it. How sweet and tasty is fruit grown in barren land?

The fruit of barren land is not tasty. Nothing is tasty, that is, if you can cultivate anything at all.

However, the Lord is good. Taste and see that the Lord is good. I AM the Bread of Life.

The Bread of Life does not need a field to grow wheat, nor a millstone to crush grain or a baker’s kitchen to produce a delicious loaf. The Bread of Life is the Person of Christ Jesus. God in flesh, bone and spirit. What’s exciting about enduring a season of suffering is that one is able to share in the very essence of God; His holiness.We share in this holiness through a personal relationship with the Bread of Life, Jesus. His disciples utterly trust every crumb is sufficient to sustain. Even when taking six weeks to follow Him into the deserted wilderness.

To blindly follow the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted will crush and destroy 99.99% of all humans. [The 1% not to be destroyed – but is crushed, Isaiah 53 – is God Himself. See the fourth chapter in Matthew’s gospel.]

We enter into the desert not blindly, but equipped with the presence and Person of the Light of the world. God is light. In Him there is no darkness. If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Annually, this spiritual desert highlights two fronts at work in the life of the disciple:

1. God relentlessly defines our mission.

2. Satan relentlessly defies our mission.

A book could be written on those two concepts alone.

On the first concept, Scripture abounds regarding God’s sovereignty, faithfulness, compassion, relationship, intentionality to build His Church, extending a measure of grace to each of His children for the purpose of edification, and even preserving His people – through physical death! – so that we enjoy Him forever. On the second concept, Scripture teaches of a fallen angel working to destroy creatures made to be in relationship with the Creator, forces of darkness waging for our joy in Christ, a spiritual lion on the prowl looking to devour the weak and selfish, an adversary standing to condemn us and keep us paralyzed in our past; preventing us from living an abundant future.

Putting the book outline aside, God has encouraged me in a couple of ways this Lenten season. He continues to graciously reveal areas of weakness, selfishness, and sin. His continual kindness is leading me to repentance. It’s difficult. However, Jesus is the sweet fruit, the Vine. He is the sustaining Bread of Life from heaven.

God has also taught me that when in the desert, Satan will attempt to defy God’s work. See Matthew 4 for the physical, mental and spiritual temptation of Jesus. In the final temptation, Jesus was tempted to have all the reward (Kingdoms) without the cost. I wonder if this is why Jesus called Peter an “adversary” in Greek = Satanas, Satan. Get behind Me, Satan! Jesus had just announced that His God-given mission was to suffer, die and resurrect on the third day. Peter says to Jesus I won’t let this happen! Peter basically infers to Jesus that the reward should be all His sans the cost. Jesus had seen this temptation before…in the desert…in a much deeper way. So when the temptation pops up later, Jesus recognizes that Peter’s (good?) intention does not serve to define Jesus’s mission, but rather to defy. Thus, Jesus can say I’ve seen this before. Get out of here, Satan. You didn’t win in the desert, you certainly won’t win here.

There are people in my life who have (good?) intentions to shape me into their own image. They don’t like the mission God has given me, thus they attempt to defy this mission. Some prefer I remain a musician only in the Church. Some prefer I go back to sales. Some prefer me to adopt their particular brand of religious tradition and Bible interpretation. Some prefer I adopt their method of loving my wife or raising my children or tending my garden. Some prefer I work with this charity or that. There are people in your life who do the same. They want to define your mission. Only God has the authority and ability to define your particular mission within His mission of global redemption. Some people, however, will work to defy the disciple’s mission. They (sometimes knowingly) are being used by forces of darkness. They desire to see disciples distracted and destroyed. Such desire is rooted in darkness. They desire to keep disciples paralyzed in their past. I’ve seen this before. Get behind me, satan. You’ve got no more power over me. Go ahead and throw your darts at me. The Lord Jesus now fights my battle. I abide in Him. And HE through me, bears much fruit.

The suffering will not end on this side of the parousia of Jesus. You and I must wipe away our tears for now. But on the day Jesus returns to make all things new, He will wipe away every tear and remove every ounce of pain, grief and suffering!

There’s one week left in this holy season. Stay focused on Him. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. If you feel like you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t lose sight of the reality: you’re walking through the shadow of death. The shadow is not the substance. The shadow disappears when light comes. The True Light who gives light to everyone has come into the world. The dawn of Resurrection Sunday is one week away. The power of the Spirit of Jesus provides all the power disciples need to focus on God and the mission to which we’ve been called in Christ Jesus.

Endure discipline/teaching. God is dealing with you as His full-blooded child…He does it for our benefit, so that we can share in His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but healed instead. Hebrews 12.