Yesterday I had a chance to go into some background of the Halloween Holiday, but never really finished talking about how you could celebrate it worry free – how you could “hijack a holiday.”  There are different approaches to this if you’re a business or visible, public office space, vs. what to do on Halloween as a family, privately. Let’s take a brief look.


Businesses have a unique opportunity to make an impression on Halloween, especially in a place like Weaverville where the kids come to us.  Here’s what we’re doing at the office tonight.  Weather permitting, we’ll have our door open, with worship music playing. We’ll have a beautiful display, complete with hay bale, tastefully carved pumpkins, free coffee and hot apple cider, as well as, of course, lots and lots of candy.  We’re pre-packaging the candy in sandwich bags, and including an Outpost business card in each.  In short, we’re allowing kids to have fun while setting a wholesome example.  But even more than that, I believe by just being in the midst of that celebration, we bring to the downtown area the presence and kingdom of God in a very real and powerful way that would otherwise be lacking. ‘It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’


So what are your options?  It seems like in Weaverville you’ll probably have several: trick-or-treat along main street.  Trick-or-treat in your own neighborhood.  Go to a holiday-related church function (a.k.a. “Harvest Festival”) or stay home.  Let me just repeat what I said in yesterdays letter – I think any of these options are fine, none will get you ‘in trouble’ with God unless you are acting against a conviction He’s put in you.  I think the basic rule of thumb no matter how we choose to celebrate Halloween is to remember that there will always be non-Christians watching us, whether as a family or a business or a church -- and we have an opportunity to demonstrate godly fun.

One last thing ~ please don’t judge any other family at the Outpost for the option they choose this Halloween… non-Christians are watching that too.

Surrounded By Grace,


This is a touchy time of year for many Christians.  And because it’s a touchy time for Christians, it’s automatically a touchy time for Churches.  How should Christians act on a holiday I’ve heard referred to as “Satan’s Birthday?”  Should we let our kids go “trick-or-treating?”  Should we let them dress up in costumes?  Should we let them out of the house at all on October 31st?  How much cooperation with this holiday does it take before we have compromised our status as “called apart ones?”

Ultimately, how your family chooses to treat this day is your own decision, and should be decided according to Scripture, but also conscience.  There were things mentioned by Paul in the New Testament that were okay for a Christian to do, but he pointed out there would always be Christians for whom certain things would continue to feel uncomfortable – their conscience did not allow them some freedoms. If that is you in regards to Halloween, please don’t go against that feeling -- but only you can decide if that applies to you. What follows below, however, is a brief history of the origins of Halloween, and the reasons why The Outpost office will be open tomorrow night when the kids come calling.


Here is a super condensed summary. “Halloween” is the name of the night before an official Church celebration called “All Saints Day” (Celebrated Nov. 1st).  All Saint’s Day was a celebration which began about 300 years after the life of Christ, to honor the many Christian martyrs, known and unknown, throughout the years.  It later came to include honoring ‘all saints,’ or all believers that the Church viewed as exceptional Christian examples. This celebration was also called ‘All-hallows’ or ‘All-hallowmas’ -- from Middle English ‘Alholowmesse’ meaning “All Saints' Day”.  Just like Christmas Eve has become an important night before the actual Christmas day, so the night before “All Hallows Day” became important – and was called ‘All-hallows Eve,’ eventually, ‘Halloween.’ 

So that’s where the name comes from.  What about the costumes, the candy, the carved pumpkins? From all the sources I’ve looked at and studied, the prevailing consensus is that many of the external elements of our modern Halloween holiday have come to us through the Celts, later, the Irish.  Apparently they celebrated the end of their year on October 31st (Nov. 1 was their New Years Day) by lighting huge bonfires during a festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in).  On that night “it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth” ( and that they caused trouble and damaged crops while there.  Some believe the Celtic priests and druids wore costumes made of dead animals and offered sacrifices during this festival, but there is disagreement on much of the details.

Those are clues about the “what” of Halloween, but what about the “how?”  How did these two celebrations get so mixed up together? Some have claimed the Church purposely changed its celebration date of All Saints Day (It did change the date, but for another reason) in order to take away the “devil’s monopoly” of that day. Whatever the reason, the facts show that having both major celebrations so close together started a slow-motion chain-reaction of syncretism.  This ‘merging’ of traditions started in Europe and was transplanted in colonial times in the Americas, but it reached critical mass during the large-scale imigrations of Irish to the U.S. in the second half of the nineteenth century. “These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing Ireland's potato famine of 1846, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally”(

'In what ways?,' you may wonder... Take, for instance, the origin of the “trick” in “trick-or treat.” Playing pranks and causing mischief on this night almost certainly comes from the Celtic belief of supernatural spirits roaming the earth on Oct. 31 and spreading trouble.  Interestingly however, the “treat” portion of the phrase seems to be repeatedly traced back, once again, to “All Saints Day,” when children and the poor would go “souling” from house to house, singing songs and praying for the dead.  At each home they would be given small round cakes called “souls.” “Each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory” (Wikepedia). Obviously not a doctrinally sound idea, but it’s still interesting to note this comes from a Church tradition. Incidentally, the first time these two words were put together as “trick or treat” in print was in 1927, during community-backed efforts to offer an alternative activity to the pranks which were becoming increasingly destructive in the United States. This alternative activity, at least in theory, now gave home-owners the opportunity to avoid a ‘trick’ by giving a ‘treat.’ All of which to say – “trick-or-treating” as it appears today is an American hybrid of mixed traditions.

There is nothing evil about a pumpkin, carved or otherwise (the Irish carved potatoes and turnips, not pumpkins… potatoes aren’t evil either).  Neither is there anything inherently evil about a date on a calendar, like Oct. 31st.  Bill mentioned this a couple sermons ago when he reminded us that what really matters is not the environment, but the invironment. So did Jesus.  In Mark chapter 7 Jesus defends his disciples from the legalistic Pharisees,  so externally oriented (works, actions, appearances) that they accuse Christ’s followers of sin because they aren’t performing the traditional ceremonial washing of their hands and utensils before they eat.  Listen to what Jesus says:

14 ”Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean."

Every day we Christians are exposed to objects, ideas, people and activities that are part of a fallen world.  And the truth about us, throughout all ages, has remained the same – we have been called, just like Jesus, to be “in” the world (Jn. 17). We don’t have to be afraid  to hijack our cultural traditions as tools to reach lost people; Halloween, like anything else in this world, has only as much power over us as we choose to give it, by the grace of God.  We are children of the King – and “..the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”(1Jn. 4:4). We are not defined by what we come in contact with externally,  but by Him who lives in our hearts. To me, Halloween is just another day, just another opportunity to take advantage of in order to advance the Kingdom of God.  But that's me; you decide.
Surrounded By Grace,


Ever wanted to hide? I have. I loved those TV commercials that ran for a while, featuring some incredibly embarrassing situation followed by the tag line – “Need to get away?” Like the lady who looks at the belly of another lady in the supermarket and asks cheerily, “So -- when are you due?” The other woman just looks confused and sputters, “But I’m… not pregnant!” Ouch. ‘Need to get away?’

There are other times when the need to get away is not so funny. Life can be overwhelming.  The children are driving you crazy, your house is a mess, important friendships are on the rocks, and you just can’t seem to get along with your spouse.  Then there’s that financial situation you can’t get control of.  Or maybe at work, expectations seem incredibly high for the resources at your disposal.  You’re under pressure to perform, people are watching you. Maybe there’re even times you wonder if you’re sacrificing your dignity and principles for the sake of keeping your job -- and speaking of time -- there just never seems to be enough of it… ‘Need to get away?’

I know I do.  That’s why verses like this one are so encouraging, especially when just ‘getting away’ becomes its own problem – when there’s no one you trust to talk to, when you don’t have the money to physically travel away from the chaos, when you’re out of vacation time or when there just aren’t any baby-sitters to relieve you for a moment of breathing room – the verse I’m talking about is Isaiah 32:2.  A man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a cover from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”

“It is not enough that I should be pointed to a far-off heaven, where there dwells an infinite loving God,” said a man named Alexander Maclaren -- “I believe that we need more than that.  We need not merely ‘God is my refuge and my strength,’ but ‘a man shall be a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest’” (155  Sermons Preached in Manchester). What he’s saying is that we need someone who can both meet our every need and relate to us in the hard times -- and Jesus alone is that man.  Come to me,” He welcomes, “all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Life is a hurricane; go to Jesus the storm-cellar and experience calm, quiet, peace.  Life is a desert; go to Jesus the freshwater spring and take a deep, cool drink.  Life is a sun-burned wilderness; go to Jesus the shade tree and get refreshed, get revived. How do you “go” to Him? How do you “hide” in Jesus? Talk to Him.  Pray. Tell Him what’s wrong. Ask Him to hold your burdens for you, and then to hold you too.  And as you pour out your heart to Him, He will pour Himself into you.  

Surrounded By Grace,

'ROCK BOTTOM' PEACE ~ 10/17/08

A couple of weeks ago Bill gave us a very profound reminder – “It takes two cups of coffee to be holy.” Well, he said that too, but the profound statement I had in mind was that “The Gospel is for everyone – we proclaim it to the saved as well as the lost in order to remind us of our peace with God. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).

I rediscovered this wonderful verse just a few days ago which seems so appropriate during our time of financial and emotional unrest. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails 
and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior(Hab. 3:17,18). For those of you without a 'Bible-speak' decoder implanted in your brains, this verse could perhaps be read like this: "Though the value of the dollar tanks and my retirement is postponed, though my house is worth less now than when I bought it, though I can't afford a full tank of gas and my job application at Tops is now one of one thousand, still I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior."

The ‘peace with God’ regarding all our sin -- past, present and future -- the ‘peace with God’ that is the result of Jesus settling the eternal score of Holiness vs. Evil on the cross – that peace is the root and source of all other peace in our lives. When everything else, economy included, is failing around us – even at our worst moments, we as Christians have the assurance that we can never fall below this spiritual safety net, never fall below the “rock bottom” that is ‘peace with God’ because of Jesus 'my Savior.’ Are you 'still rejoicing?' Remember -- joy and peace aren't parasites on the shrub of happiness, they're fruit on the tree of trust.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit “(Rom. 15:13).

Surrounded By Grace,

WELCOME! ~ 10/10/08

Welcome to The Outpost-it!

If you've come this far, you're doing well ~ but please don't quit now ~ this is the grand opening of our blog, and you are the guest of honor!

The posts in this blog are copies of letters sent out weekly to attenders of The Outpost, a Weaverville extension campus of Neighborhood Church of Redding, and I want to personally invite you to become part of the conversation that goes on here, to visit frequently and contribute your two cents, to weigh-in and enrich the discussions found here.  I value your opinion, and need your feedback.

Below is a link to a very short video that will put a smile on our face no matter what kind of mood you're in.  Oh, and it helps me end this introduction memorably.  Please watch...

Are you laughing?  Good.  This blog is a reflection of my thoughts ~ but I want to hear from you ~ "What are... you sinking about?"

Surrounded By Grace,

"THE SUPREME AIM" ~ 10/9/08

In the last few weeks and months, several recurring themes have surfaced in my discussions with people, popped up in my book readings and seeped in during random musings.  Each of these recurring “themes” are individually important and have numerous applications, but taken together they apply directly to The Outpost.  One theme was spiritual gifts.  Another was evangelism.  The final one was Membership.

“When Nehemiah built the wall, some carried stone, some brought water, some mixed mortar, and some laid the stones in place.  All were controlled, however, by the overriding purpose – all were building the wall.  The supreme aim guided the entire enterprise.  Stones and mortar arrived at the wall in the right proportions at the right time to guarantee maximum wall-building” (42,43 McGavran).  This to me prompts an underlying question that ties all 3 themes together: what is our “supreme aim” at The Outpost?  What are we building?  Are we just a Christian club? -- we get together once a week, hold our meeting, we hear a speaker. We smile, we wish each other well, we go home to live ‘till the next meeting.  If we looked at these meetings over a long period of time, what would we see?  If the Sundays of numerous years were plugged into a graph or chart, would we see a bunch of disconnected dots, or an upward spike progressing towards a clear goal? 

Donald A. McGavran, heralded as “the dean of church growth studies and prophet of church growth importance and practices,” defines that clear goal or “Supreme Aim” of every church this way: “In mission today many tasks must be carried on together; yet the multiplicity of good activities must contribute to, and not crowd out, maximum reconciliation of men (people) to God in the Church of Jesus Christ.  God desired that men be saved in this sense: that through faith they live in Christ and through obedience they are baptized in His name and live as responsible members of His Body (The Church universal, Church with a capital “C”) ”(McGavran, D.A.  Understanding Church Growth).  That is our supreme aim at The Outpost – our purpose is to do our part to make that happen to as many people as possible in Weaverville and Trinity County, the areas entrusted to us by God as His adopted sons and daughters in Christ.  How?  There are many ways, but let’s look at how the 3 themes I mentioned play a role in that supreme aim:

1)     Spiritual Gifts ~ As quoted above, “some carried stone, some brought water… but all were building the wall.”  Every Christian has been given special gifts by God.  Each of you has one or more, and each one, though different, is of vital importance because each gift is given to “build the wall” ~ to aid in the work of reconciling men to God.  Your gift is important and needed if our “Supreme Aim” is to be accomplished with maximum efficiency!

2)    Evangelism ~ We’ve already said it – there are many legitimately ‘good’ things a church can get involved in and do in a community – but there is one ‘best’ thing: ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’  “The greatest enemy of the best is the good,” and Dr. McGavran addresses this most slippery trap, warning that “some are so deeply impressed by the physical needs of man – and who can deny their urgency? – that meeting these needs becomes for them the highest present purpose of God and the Church” (43  Understanding Church Growth).  We will always be concerned about the “felt needs” of people, but when push comes to shove, the “truest mercy” and greatest priority is communicating the good news of salvation unflinchingly.  Unless we’re doing this, we’re a club, not a church.

3)    Membership ~ “Is ‘Church Membership’ found in the Bible?” No – at least not as we understand it today in our Western Culture.  So why do so many churches make it a big deal? Mainly because there is an underlying Biblical value behind “church membership” that Donald McGavern refers to as ‘living as responsible members of Christ’s Body.’  As you look at this sentence, the word to emphasize is “responsible,” not “members.” All throughout his letters to various churches, Paul emphasized unity and commitment to a body of believers.  Why?  Because the most responsible stewardship of the gifts God has given you, and your personal role in helping to accomplishing the “Supreme Aim” of the Church are both rooted in consistent fellowship with other Christians. These are trusted friends who aid in accountability while you mature in the faith, “as iron sharpens iron.  They know what’s going on in your life, making them able to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” 

In the Biblical sense, you are automatically a “Member” of the Body of Christ simply by virtue of being saved.  Biblically, the emphasis is a committed involvement with a group of Believers. In the Western cultural sense, ‘Membership’ (or ‘Partnership’ at NCR) is more of a tool to help reinforce responsible stewardship to that body of Believers. For some, it’s very helpful to sign a piece of paper in order to commit for a time to this or that church body; it’s a tangible “stake in the ground.” But I understand why others prefer to show their commitment by simply getting involved at their church of choice.  I admit that many times at the Outpost I’ve been overly concerned about a signature of commitment when a person’s actions are already communicating the intentions of their heart – and I’m sorry.  Here’s the point… we want you to get involved, one way or another, because you play a unique role nobody else can fill in accomplishing the “Supreme Aim” of The Outpost. 

Surrounded By Grace,

BURNING DEEP ~ 10/3/08

Throughout Scripture, fire is one of the main symbols used to depict and represent the presence of God the Holy Spirit.  But I was always a bit troubled by the analogy… after all, I grew up in the rainforest, and it didn’t take much to put out a fire there.  Then there were all those childhood songs -- “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” we sang cheerily – “don’t let Satan ‘poof’ it out, I’m gonna let it shine…” Good grief, I used to think, if all it takes is a ‘poof’ to put out the work of God in our lives, we’re in trouble!  It’s no wonder people would want to “hide it under a bushel” – better to at least have the power of God at work in your own life; you’ve gotta protect that kind of weak flame, forget sharing it – that just makes you more vulnerable!

I learned a fascinating bit of trivia today -- It seems fire is able to hide from snow.  Apparently, a fire that has started in the forest can begin working on a stump, consuming it and eventually burning down, down, down, even below ground!  In this manner, a fire that has begun in August or September -- though put out by fire crews, or rain, or time -- can actually continue to stubbornly burn on, even throughout a winter, as it slowly eats it’s way through the vast root systems of a long dead tree… only to rekindle a new fire above ground the following year. Wow.

Oswald Chambers writes, “Faithfulness to Jesus Christ is the supernatural work of redemption that has been performed in me by the Holy Spirit – ‘the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…’ (Romans 5:5).  And it is that love in me that effectively works through me and comes in contact with everyone I meet.”  Did you get that? We are able to be faithful to Jesus because of work that has been performed by the Holy Spirit – what is that work? – ‘the love of God has been poured out in our hearts.’  If the Spirit of God is a flame, the love of God is like holy oil – ‘poured out in our hearts!’ -- and oil fires don’t snuff out easy.  Even when we get in the way of God, His fire in us is still burning.  Even when we mess up and make bad choices, it’s still there burning.  Even if we try our hardest to remain undercover Christians – still burning.  The love of God for the people around you is already in you, ready to ignite, ready to work through your life as you come in contact with others – but the oxygen for ignition is your willingness.  Go on, get out above ground and let Christ be contagious through you – go start a forest fire. 

Surrounded By Grace,


Earlier this year I wrote an article about feeling God’s tug on my heart to reach out in partnership with some other churches in our community.  Below is that article, and as you read, know that the Prayer Tent this Saturday is the next step in the unfolding work that God has begun in this area.  The Outpost will always be my primary responsibility, but God also calls us all to unity wherever possible for the sake of reaching lost people… And it’s hard to go wrong with unified prayer…

“Leave me alone Lord,” I grumbled… “I’m comfortable in my bunker.  Don’t make me stick my head out there.”   Oddly enough, God didn’t listen.  Week after week I felt the tug of the Spirit on my heart, prompting me to step out and reach out from under my Jonah-like shade vine (a.k.a., my church office) in order to connect with other pastors in prayer for the sake of our community.  Again and again I retreated to the safety of that shady bunker and tried to out-wait God. 

In the book of Jonah, God was ready to save a city.  So was the king of that city – and all the people too!  The only one who wasn’t? Jonah, the very one God sent to “preach” to them.   Near the end of the story it’s obvious the city will be saved, and yet Jonah, out of sync with God’s plan, forges ahead with his own work and his own agenda, building a shack on the city outskirts so he can observe the Justice of God in action.  When God graces him with additional comfort via a “shade vine,” the Bible says Jonah was more concerned about that little vine than he was for the city of “more than 120,000” people that was his true charge.

On May 1, 2007, I joined 4 other pastors and a mixed group from various churches in response to an invitation to meet at our town center on the National Day of Prayer, to intercede for our small mountain community.  It became a wonderful time of unified worship, prayer and purpose: the transformation of our small “city” for God.  I don’t know how far God would have gone in “withering” my own ministry focus had I continued to ignore the urging of His Spirit to partner with other pastors in unity.  I do know that until I took that first step in May, I was not permitted to feel rest.  As our church makes plans for increasingly cooperative efforts to reach our town and county for Christ, I’m constantly challenged to look beyond my immediate flock and see the bigger picture: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  We cannot reach them alone.

As I said before, you are my primary responsibility – I have been brought here to “equip the saints for ministry,” and you are one of those saints!  We do, however, share in the same ministry as every other God-fearing church in Weaverville – to seek and save the lost. And we’re starting with prayer.

Surrounded By Grace,


I was recently reading a sermon written and delivered over 100 years ago in Manchester, England, on the nature of “The Old man’ that is replaced by the “new creation” when we accept Christ.  This is the part of each one of us human beings that, although it is no longer fundamentally “us” after we are saved, nevertheless flirts with us still each day to return to it and its ways.  Before we became joined with Jesus, we were slaves to this nature – we had no choice but to obey its demands.  The difference now is that it holds no power over us other than what we choose to give it.  We are free in Christ, but even free men and women are able to ignore the voice of our Chief shepherd and seek our old ways that can be more comfortable because they are more familiar… and yet those ways will always be deceitful, because they will never fulfill like they promise to.  The following is excerpted from the above mentioned sermon… perhaps you’ll find it interesting.

“These desires are, as it were, the tools and instruments by which deceit betrays and mocks men; the weapons used by illusion and lies to corrupt and mar the soul.  They are strong, and their nature is to pursue after their objects without regard to any consequences beyond their own gratification; but, strong as they are, they are like the blinded Samson, and will pull the house down on themselves if they be not watched.  Their strength is excited on false pretences.  They are stirred to grasp what is after all a lie.  They are “desires of deceit.”

Nothing is more certain than that no man will get the satisfaction that his ruling passions promise him, by indulging them.  It is very plain that the way never to get what you need and desire, is always to do what you like.  And that for very plain reasons.  Because, for one thing, the object only satisfies for a time.  Yesterday’s food appeased our hunger for the day, but we wake hungry again.  And the desires which are not so purely animal have the same characteristic of being stilled for the moment, and of waking more ravenous than ever.  He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again.’  Because, further, the desire grows and the object of it does not.  The fierce longing increases, and, of course, the power of the thing that we pursue to satisfy it decreases in the same proportion… And so, the longer I go on feeding my desire, the more I long for the food; and the more I long for it, the less taste it has when I get it…”  -- Alexander Maclaren, 1905

The tough thing about faith is believing that the narrow, windy road God directs your life down will, in the end, actually satisfy your deepest longings and bring you the life of fullest contentment that the “desires of deceit” promise a shortcut to on that other, wide road.  Remember -- nothing worthwhile is easy.

Surrounded By Grace,

YOU CAN'T GO BACK ~ 9/9/08

In desperation this weekend, after having canceled our cable service, I watched two “chick-flicks” in a row.  They were not new movies; we’ve had them for a few years now, and they were perfectly content collecting dust in some ergonomically pleasing DVD travel case until I called upon them in my moment of escapist need.  Neither were they especially my “type” of movie -- I’m more of a  “Jeremiah Johnson”/ “Matrix” kind of guy -- but never mind, they got me through, and interestingly, even echoed a similar theme at points: “You can’t go back.”

Okay, so it wasn’t really the theme of either movie, but at different points it came up… In “13 Going on 30,” the main character wakes up one morning to what her life is like at age 30.  She doesn’t like the person she’s become, and the results of bad decisions she started making around age 13 terrify her.  Knowing she’ll never be able to “go back” to age 13 and fix things, she attempts to undo the damage right where she’s at.  Of course, at the end of the movie she actually does get to go back and do things over – but… just ignore that part.

The second movie was called “50 First Dates.”  In this film, the main actor (even though she’s a “she,” it’s now politically incorrect to call her an “actress…” Sad, but true.) is plagued with an odd, if not tragic problem – every night, as a result of a car accident, her memories of the day she has just lived through are erased, causing her to wake up thinking it’s the same day she just finished – over, and over, and over.  Drat, I guess the point of that movie is that under the right, tragic circumstances, you actually can go back… again and again and again.  Hmm, I guess technically her problem is she “can’t go forward…”  Oh never mind -- she can’t go back to the way life was before the accident, how’s that? The point is – you really can’t go back – for better or for worse.

You can’t go back home where you grew up and have it really feel exactly like home.  Too many people are gone, circumstances changed, or whatever.  In Africa with Bill, it was a very bittersweet thing – showing him around places I played during a truly golden time in my life, and seeing the physical changes in the landscape – as well as the clear absence of my friend’s voices echoing off walls and trees and hillsides… it’s an empty place now -- Acts 17:26
 …and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” – because my time for that place has past.

Not being able to go back can be a good thing too.  There are many things that need to stay “back there” in the past – hurts, frustrations, lost opportunities, habits, hang-ups.  Leave ‘em there.  Don’t keep making pilgrimages back to what might have been, re-living them and breathing new life into them, re-kindling the regret and the anguish, re-stuffing your backpack with old guilt, then trekking it back to the present where it has no rights to be if you are a child of God – leave it back there.

The past is one of Satan’s most useful tools, so don’t let him use it to keep you shackled in any of his 3 favorite dungeons: Guilt, Shame, Fear.  The Bible promises that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1)!  Cherish the lessons learned, but break up with guilt by dealing with the sin that’s the source, once and for all -- 1) Confess it; say what it is. 2) Crossify it; “Thank you for the cross that paid for this sin.”  3) Contain it; remove the means that allow one sin to lead to another.  4) Cancel it; Cancel your date with a guilt trip. 

Finally, don’t worry about God getting tired of you coming to him with the same issue or the next issue – Just like “50 First Dates,” while you sleep, something is erased and prepared again for each new day – God’s “memory,” and His “mercies” (Lam. 3:22,23).  For God’s children, these are new every morning -- great is His faithfulness! Your time in the past has past; let God do a new work in you today.

Surrounded by Grace,


You’ve probably all heard it a million times – “You’re blessed to be a blessing.” Maybe you’ve got that all figured out and know exactly what it means, but while in Africa with Bill I had to re-think a few things…

Bill spoke 9 times in 4 days to the missionaries of Gabon at their annual conference, specifically on the book of Ruth.  He made it a point to show that the first example of this dynamic of blessing can be seen in the relationship between God and us.  The Bible is clear that “every good gift comes from above,” every blessing in our lives is from God – they can all be traced back to His providence (not chance, luck, karma or fate) – and all of this is a product… of GRACE.  What is Grace?  Among other things, “It is that quality in God by which he gives, at his own expense, and without regard to our merit, that which we need most deeply and long for most desperately.” 

“You are blessed to be a blessing.”  I realized as Bill went on that this cliché didn’t just have to do with God giving me nice things for which I was responsible to be a good steward, in order to recreate an experience of blessing down the line for someone else – that’s part of it, but here’s a bit more.  God blesses us with food, with shelter, with clothes, with friends, with family, with forgiveness, with hope… and we bless Him by receiving it!  And that’s the dynamic we usually fail to recreate when we attempt to re-enact this experience for someone else.  We’re thinking that to bless, we must always give

“You are blessed to be a blessing.”  One reason I want to re-examine this phrase is because it can be used as a convenient smoke-screen by Christians who are great at giving… but terrible at receiving.  Yes, this can be due to genuine contentment or not needing what is being offered, but all too often it can also be due to deeper, root issues such as self-judgment, self-loathing, self-pity, self-absorption, or even a subtle pride that masquerades as self-sufficiency.

Remember your parents telling you each Christmas “It’s better to give than to receive” – true, they probably told you that to keep the peace and answer one of the many “why” questions you hurled at them as a kid, but the reason it’s a cliché is because it holds a kernel of truth, which in this case is that the giver always receives the greater blessing!  The simplest way to “be a blessing” is to receive something from someone else – to allow someone else to be the giver.  Boiled down, it looks like this – “If you want to be blessed, you give – but if you want to be a blessing, you receive.” Stop trying to deserve all the nice things God wants to do for you – you bless Him and those He uses by receiving it!  No “ifs,” no “buts,” no counter-offers – receive the compliment, receive the money, receive the thank you, receive the grace.  You are a blessing just by allowing yourself to be blessed.  What a thought!

Surrounded By Grace,


What is your “first seeking?” Where do you turn first when trouble comes?  When you’ve had a bad day?  When you’re discouraged, or tired, when you’re sick or depressed, when you feel hopeless or disillusioned or cynical or overwhelmed or dry? What gets honored as the steering wheel and what gets treated as the spare tire? What is your “first seeking?" 

 ’And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who diligently seek him’ (Heb.11:6). We read this verse and tend to see “you don’t have enough faith” – but what this verse is saying is that a person wouldn’t seek God unless they had faith – they wouldn’t seek God unless they believed some basic things, like the fact of His existence and that coming to Him would make a measurable difference in their lives, for the better.

Not to be overly basic, but here’s what I get out of this verse.  1) You don’t have to muster up some “Apostle-like” measure of faith before God will be pleased with you.  If you have faith enough to come to Him with your needs, with your pain, with your praise, with your questions, knowing that He is able (has the power) to do something with each, it’s faith enough. 

2) We have here an amazing promise – that when we diligently seek after God, He rewards us for it!  What are the rewards?  Here are just a few mentioned in the Bible: “perfect peace”/ emotional stability (Isaiah 26:3), physical benefits/ “health to your body” (Prov. 3:5-8), clothes, food, drink (Matt. 6:31-33), a mature faith (James 1:2-4).  Let me briefly address this last one as an example.

Christian Maturity is not something we accomplish, but it is the result of something we are to do.  We don’t achieve our own sanctification—that would be works – and the Bible tells us that the grace that saved us is the same grace that sanctifies us (Titus 1:11,12) – it’s God’s doing; The Holy Spirit is responsible for teaching and enabling our spirits to learn each lesson of spiritual maturity – but we have a responsibility to diligently seek God.  The word to encourage you today is that when you set your life to purposefully seeking God, He promises to reward you – with peace, with hope, with health, with discovery.  Seek, and you will find…” What have you discovered about God lately?  He’s waiting to reward you. 

Surrounded By Grace,
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~