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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Accepted, Part 2

To follow up this week's post about knowing that you are not only saved by God, but accepted by God... here's a great older song by legendary Christian rock band DeGarmo & Key. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I love this video. This is what every church youth group meeting should feel like:

The thing I really like about the video is that all of the "different" kids find a group where, even though they are still different, they are accepted and loved. Every kid who walks into a youth meeting at a church should feel this way. After all, we're all "different" kids, aren't we?

And in fact, that's the whole essence of the Gospel. When we were damaged goods, different and messed up, hopeless and friendless, God loved us. God loves us. But He doesn't just love us.

God accepts us.

Think about what it means that God looks at you, cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus, and says, "Hey there! You! Yeah, you! You know what? I like the looks of you! Why don't you come hang out with me and my gang for a while?" It's so important for people to understand that God doesn't just "put up with" us. God doesn't just "rescue" us, like someone might rescue a stranger who was drowning just because we value human life, not because we know and care about that individual. God knows us and loves us. He loves us, even though He knows us.

But He doesn't just "love" us. God likes us. He accepts us. He wants to have us around. He picked us for His dodgeball team. He invited us to His birthday party. In fact, he asked us to move into His house with Him!

Listen... people who don't know God yet often think that God doesn't like them. They think that God is looking for a reason to keep them out of Heaven. They think God wants to send them straight to Hell if He gets a chance. They think they are essentially worthless to God. What could He possibly see of value in me? I'm nothing. God wouldn't give me the time of day, except to knock me down and squish me with one thumb.

You know what? There is NOTHING further from the truth. When you realize that you are special, you are desired and treasured and accepted by God, then you are able to understand that you're not some annoying insect buzzing in the ear of the Almighty God. You're not junk that needs to be hauled out to the dump. You're not something that needs to be swept, scraped, scrubbed, or flushed away.

To God, you are Gold.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Know The Author

834244: Losing Big: The Incredible Untold Story of Danny and Darci Cahill
In my last post I mentioned a new book written by a couple named Danny & Darci Cahill. Danny is best known as the winner of Season 8 of the United States edition of TVs The Biggest Loser. But Danny's story doesn't end, or even start there... like everyone else, Danny has a back-story that begins in childhood; his explains why he wound up so obese he could barely walk. And there are of course others in his life whose stories intersect with his, one of the most important being his wife Darci. Their book Losing Big is a double autobiography, a kind of team effort where their childhood narratives are told up until the time that they meet, and then their two stories are weaved together from that point throughout their marriage to the present. It's a very interesting way to write a book, laying out the whole tale in the third person so you never know who actually wrote the specific part you are reading. It almost has a voyeuristic flavor to it, as though you are looking at them through a window instead of having their story told to you by them personally, but it retains the flavor of having been written by the couple themselves. It is at times exciting, at times heartbreaking, and at times joyful... just like real life.

But for me, the book is a little different than it might be for you, because I am actually acquainted with Danny and Darci. And not via emails, phone calls, or interviewing them for a Web site... my wife and I know them personally, and have for several years (even before Danny went on The Biggest Loser). We sang on a church worship team with Danny playing bass. My wife taught Vacation Bible School with their daughter; my son and their son are friends. We've had a chance to interact with them socially. We already have an idea of what they are like, so when we read the book, we see it a little differently. Because we know the authors.

As a Christian, I know a lot of people who read the Bible, or at least who are familiar with parts of it. I've discussed it with people, and I've read other books discussing parts of the Bible. I've blogged about it here, of course. But there is a problem with reading the Bible: you can't truly understand what it is trying to say unless you know the author. Okay, okay, I know that pen was put to paper by Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, various disciples, and maybe a couple dozen prophets and other people, but as a Christian, I believe that the whole of the Bible was inspired by one single author, God Himself. The Bible is one one level an anthology of writings by many writers, but the whole thing is a narrative about God's redemption of humankind. That bigger story cannot be fully appreciated, or maybe even comprehended, until you become acquainted with God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ.

I perceive Losing Big differently because I know Danny and Darci (by the way, Danny does speaking engagements quite frequently, so check his calendar and you may get a chance to meet him too!). I'd like to think that I understand their book a little better because I know them, and maybe I understand them a little better because I've read the book. The Bible is the same way, and this is why prayer and personal worship times are so critical: when you know Jesus, you can understand God's Word better, and when you know the Bible, you can understand God a little better. Either without the other gives you an incomplete picture. Experience without knowledge only goes so far, and scholarship without intimacy only goes so far. Both are critical to live a balanced and successful Christian life.

Have something to say about knowing "the author" of the Bible? Do you think personal communion with God is more important than Bible study, or vice versa? Have I been name-dropping Danny too much? (I probably should tell him I've been blogging about him!) Sound off by clicking the "Comments" link below this post!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Faithlife Study Bible FREE - and win even more!

There will be a new full-fledged post tomorrow morning, but I wanted to share something I just ran across in my emails. Logos is running a contest to give away a digital Bible study prize package containing almost 2,000 Bible study books! They say it's $100,000 worth - that's a LOT of materials! And just for entering, you get the chance to download the Faithlife Study Bible for free... it's a pretty cool concept in electronic Study Bibles which I mentioned in a previous blog post. To enter the contest and download the Faithlife Study Bible, visit I know I entered!

Actually, the Faithlife Study Bible is currently free anyway, at least on the Android platform... I haven't checked the others. I do understand they plan on charging for it eventually, and it's a pretty amazing resource, so get it while you can!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Trade Up

Last Friday I go where few grown-ups have gone before: I attended our church youth group's small group.

Well, now I've made it sound like it was intimidating! I have a son who just turned 13, and he's involved, so it was totally legit for me to come (in fact, he asked me if I would). However, I do think that we adults can have a tendency to shy away from groups containing more than one or two teenagers at a time. Maybe we think that, I don't know, acne is contagious, or that they will call us "old bald person" or something (although the Bible tells us that if they do, God will avenge us... just kidding!) Anyway, the kids in the youth group at our church are the greatest kids ever; I actually enjoyed the evening quite a bit!

'Just Another Manic Sundry' photo (c) 2009, David Goehring - license: of the things we did was a game where each team (we had three) was given a plain old can of soup, and we took it around the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking to trade it for something. We could trade it for anything we were offered (well, anything except for a human or animal!) but the idea was to try to "trade up" - get something more valuable than what we were offering. The story is that in the past, teams who have played this game have traded up to quite valuable things, like cars. We didn't expect to get a car, but we did our best to get something cool!

My team actually had the most interesting story to tell when we got back. We traded our soup can for a real, whole pineapple. Then we traded the pineapple for a pretty cool CD carrying case; it was made of red plastic, and it could open on both ends and folded out like an accordion. We traded that for a ceramic statue of three ducks with an umbrella; the umbrella actually had a solar cell on top, and under the umbrella it was supposed to power a little light; we couldn't get the light to work. In our last trade, we got a racketball racket with good strings but a kind of sticky handgrip for the ducks. When we got back, the response from the other teams was, You had CERAMIC DUCKS, and you traded them for THAT??? Apparently, the other teams thought we had traded down on our last trade. The ducks were cool, and they might have won the game if another team hadn't traded up for a working Keurig coffee machine (!), but in my opinion, a racketball racket is actually useful. A broken duck lamp is not.

My wife likes to go to the grocery store on the weekends. I still don't really understand why she wants to do that and take up time we could be doing something as a family (or resting!) when she could go during the week while the kids are in school and I'm at work, but that's how she likes it so that's what we do. Usually she goes by herself, but sometimes for various reasons she asks me to go along. Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say that I'm happy to go or that I don't put up a fuss to get to stay home, but if she really wants me there, I go with her. I push the buggy sometimes, I load the stuff into the car, I take it up when I go home. She's my wife, and she needs me. I can afford an hour or two for that.

We have a friend named Danny Cahill. Now Danny is quite famous, but we did know him before he was in the public eye. In the autobiography he and his wife co-authored (it came out a few months ago), Danny talks about how as a young man he dreamed of being a professional musician, but because of some errant ideas he was taught growing up, he believed that when he got married and wanted to start a family, he needed to give up those dreams and (basically) "get a real job." When he gave up his dreams, he gave up on himself, and wound up weighing 460 pounds with a crushing gambling habit. (After years of struggling with his weight, he scored a spot on season eight of "The Biggest Loser", a "reality" game show in which very overweight people compete to lose the most weight in a certain number of weeks. Danny lost 239 pounds and won the show!)

The point of the game we played in the youth meeting was to think about making trades. The team who wound up with the coffee maker obviously traded up from a can of soup. We and the other team (who ended up with a case of bottled water) traded up too, but most of the teens thought we had gone backwards with the racketball racket. After everyone told the group about their adventures, we discussed the story about Esau trading his birthright (the right to become the head of his clan after the death of his father) to his younger father for nothing more valuable than a single meal at the end of a long day. It's pretty clear that Esau did NOT "trade up." We talked about making choices that we later discovered (or knew all along) amounted to trading something valuable for something less valuable - choosing to hang out with friends at the expense of studying for an important test in school, choosing an exciting-but-no-good boyfriend/girlfriend over a better-but-less-flashy one, and so on. Teenager-level stuff.

But later I got to thinking about things that happen to adults. Danny had traded the most valuable thing a person can have, a dream that gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning, for a lie. Later, he traded that lie, which had brought him to a point where he was so unhealthy that he was very likely to die young, for the truth that hard work can lead to extreme results; in the process he got his health back, and he even got to play a song he had written on national television. Now Danny is a recording artist and a motivational speaker; look him up on Facebook sometime!

I haven't done anything that extreme, but I have given up little things for what seems at first like a lesser reward. Giving up my Friday night, for example, for the opportunity to go tromping around a neighborhood trading soup cans for ducks. Trading part of my weekend afternoon to push a shopping cart around for my wife. Even giving up my chance to watch a TV show I like so my kids can play a video game, or not buying some electronic gadget I've got my eye on to pay for dance lessons for my daughter or a band trip for my son. As a married person and as a parent, there are so many things that you sacrifice, knowingly and without hesitation, and it doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all; it's just what a parent does. Danny does that too; I know his wife and his children, and he would do anything for those guys. But Danny went one step too far: he sacrificed a destiny God had given him for the sake of a picture of a family man that was not what God intended for him. If he were standing here right now, I know he would tell you that was the wrong choice. Some things, things from God, should not be sacrificed.

Don't get the wrong idea: I do not think that an adult should sacrifice his family on the altar of his career either. After your personal relationship with God, your career should take distant fourth place to your spouse and to your kids. But if God has put something in your heart, God knows how to make it happen without causing suffering for your family. In fact, if you are honestly chasing God's plan for you and for your family, they will flourish because of it.

Don't trade something precious for something hollow. Plan your course, but let the Lord order your steps. When you do, every trade will turn out in the end to have been a trade up!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stranger on the Shore

Cooking seasoned fish I've always been fascinated by the final chapter of the Gospel of John. John is the Gospel where Jesus is revealed as Deity, where His "God-ness" is most at the forefront. The final chapter has always struck me as mysterious, mystical, and full of questions. I think it's positively mesmerizing. What's so interesting about it? Let me fill you in on some of the things that came to mind last week as I was listening to an audio reading of it.

By this time, Jesus has been crucified and resurrected, and has revealed Himself to the Twelve Disciples personally at least twice. Chapter 20 ends with verses 30-31: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." Sounds fairly final, doesn't it? It sounds like John is signing off. So the first big question about chapter 21 is: why is it even there at all?
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  (John 21:1-3 ESV)
When Jesus first called the Disciples, most of them were fishermen. He never told them to return to being fishermen, at least not fishers of fish. Don't they sound discouraged in these verses? They seem at a loss as to what to do with themselves, so they decide to go back to what they know. Why were they so discouraged? Jesus had risen from the dead! The text doesn't really say... all we can do is speculate.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21:4-6 ESV)
Why would the Disciples obey such stupid advice from a stranger? Granted, it had worked for them once, but in that case they had been listening to Jesus' teachings and may have had some idea that He was something special. This was just some stranger yelling at them from the shore... why would they even entertain the idea of doing what he was saying? They didn't even realize it was Jesus yet:
That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. (John 21:7 ESV)
Why didn't anyone but John (he calls himself "That disciple whom Jesus loved" in his Gospel) figure out that it was Jesus? It was so like the other time that Jesus had given them a miraculous catch that it should have been unmistakable. I also wonder if Peter might have been thinking that maybe he would be able to walk on the water again, but then when he didn't got too embarrassed to just climb back into the stupid boat!
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” (John 21:9-10, ESV)
Where did Jesus get His charcoal? Did He buy some on the way? Did He materialize it out of thin air?

How did He start the fire? Matches? Lightning?

Where did Jesus get His fish? Did He go fishing and catch them? Did He call them out of the sea and they just jumped out? Did He materialize them out of nowhere when He materialized His charcoal?

Why didn't He bring enough fish? Why did He need to get some from the Disciples' catch?
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. (John 21:11 ESV)
The risen-from-the-dead Jesus Christ is sitting there with them cooking them breakfast. Who's the nut who's counting fish?
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 ESV)
"Do you love me more than these..." what? Other disciples? Tasty fish sandwiches? I wish I could see what Jesus was pointing at when He said that.

(I won't even TRY to sort out all of the interpretations of why Jesus used different words for "love" and "lambs/sheep" in the Greek version of this passage. That ground's been covered a zillion times already!)

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 ESV)
Isn't it weird that John recorded this? It seems like a rather personal moment to me. We have historical accounts of the fates of the Disciples (including Peter), but the Bible doesn't really record them. I wonder if the whole reason this chapter is even in the Bible at all is because people had heard that Jesus said John would not die until Jesus returned (see the next few verses) and John just wanted to set the record straight.
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25 ESV)
Now, what's more mysterious than ending a book about Jesus that way? "There's a lot more to tell, but I'm going to quit right now. Good luck finding out the rest of it!" And maybe John is hyperbolizing a little bit, but I think back to my life (and I'm older than Jesus was when He died) and if someone managed to write down everything that I've ever done, the book would most definitely not fill up the entire world. So either this is a bit of an exaggeration, or Jesus was a much busier fellow than anyone has realized.

But you know, I think the mystery is perfect for the last chapter of the last of the Gospel accounts. It's a good reminder that although we can know lots of things about Jesus, we're never going to know everything. There's always going to be something we don't understand, because Jesus is God. And God is something more than we are. Even if someone did write that world-filling book, and even if we read it cover to cover there would still be more to know. Jesus Himself was a mystery which was revealed (see Ephesians 3:1-13) but I think the mystery that is Jesus probably always going to be a little bit bigger than our created human brains can handle.

That's OK with me. I love a good mystery!

(This post was named after a Michael Card song (Listen on Spotify or Rhapsody) which I think captures the mysterious flavor of the story quite well!)

Is this chapter mysterious to you? Do you have questions about it that I haven't answered, or answers to my questions? A personal theory about the sheep and the lambs, or Peter's prophecy, or Jesus' charcoal fire? Sound off below by clicking the "Comment" link!