After reading several bedtime stories to my son by Dr. Seuss, I inadvertently overexposed myself to a heavy dose of Johnny Cash, which then 'inspired' me to write a notably shoddy western tale. Pictures have been added to ease the severity of the pain.

From the mountains of Sin
I came galloping in
To the small town of Jimberly Lane
It's a place folks avoid
Like third cousins named Floyd
And a haven for the criminally insane.

Well, I was tying my horse
As a matter of course
Since I don't much enjoy to go joggin'
When a window broke out
Of the local saloon
And I glimpsed the big man who was brawlin.

Well, I'd heard them all talk
And the townsfolk squawk
'Bout a man they called 'Blarney Jim.'
And by the looks of things
And the way he was
I figured this man must be him.

And I'd looked at them
As they'd looked at me
And I'd said, 'Well, how bad could he be?'
Now they looked at me
As I looked at him
And they said, 'Well, I guess you's gon' see.'

Blarney Jim, Blarney Jim
Couldn't see themselves
When they looked at him

Blarney Jim, Blarney Jim
Couldn't see themselves
When they looked at him

And, speaking of gawkin'
Blarney caught me a watchin'
And with that I was starin' at his belly.
Which is when he spoke up
In a voice thick and gruff
And suggested he turn me to jelly.

Well, I smiled best I could
And excused myself good
And pretended to turn me around
Then I cursed Aunt Lucinda
And Grandma Jammima
And swung hard-- all this, with no sound.

Well, my fist first connected
With soft solar-plexus
My knee followin suit in his gut
Then some elbows went flyin'
'Till you'd thought he was dyin'
As he sputtered in pain like a pup.

'Sis Lucinda!' He hollered,
'Ma Jammima that hurt!'
But it wernt' 'till he invoked cousin Floyd--
That I knew with a start
In the pit of my heart
Blarney Jim was my Pa, 'n I his boy.

Blarney Jim, Blarney Jim
Couldn't see themselves
When they looked at him

Blarney Jim, Blarney Jim
Couldn't see themselves
When they looked at him


I apologize for the poor video quality. My suggestion? Activate your pretty screen saver and just listen. Thanks for your patience while we sort out our technical issues. Enjoy!

Surrounded By Grace,

PRAYER IS WORK ~ 1/21/10

I learned the most marvelously diverse sayings in the three and a half years I worked construction; it was amazing, I can't even begin to tell you. No seriously... I can't tell you. Some of the more 'PG' tidbits of wisdom, however, I've actually found to be useful enough to share with just about anyone. Like, 'If you're cold, you're not working hard enough' (which I'm saving up to use on my oldest son someday), and-- 'If it's half right, it's all wrong' (which I believe is a shorter version of something my teachers used to say about tricky multiple choice questions). Another favorite: 'If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.' Which, improbable as it may sound, always makes me think-- of prayer.

Prayer is work. Which is to say, it's not easy. If it was... well, there ya go. Prayer meetings might struggle to handle capacity crowds. The Bible backs up this claim of 'prayer as work' on many fronts. Consider the Old Testament example of Moses in Exodus chapter 17...

The context: Israel is camped out in the desert, right next to perhaps the only fresh water in the entire area (miraculously provided by God, through Moses). The Amalekites have come to attack them. Moses tells his protege Joshua to "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites." While Joshua leads the battle down below, Moses will be elsewhere-- "Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands."

The work: While Joshua fights (also necessary work), Moses raises up his hands to heaven, a clear sign that he is interceding in prayer before God on the behalf of Israel's army. And God responds-!- 11 "As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning." Now, why in the world would Moses go and lower his hands if it meant forfeiting the victory to the enemy? This is better answered through demonstration. As you keep reading this, pick up the two thickest books in your house, one in each hand, and raise the books up with your arms outstretched until they are just higher than your head. Now hold them there for 10 hours. Come on, you sissy-- if it was easy, everyone would be doing it! Get it? Interceding for his people was WORK. His arms drooped because they were tired. He had to sit down. Then his support team had to literally prop him up to keep his arms in the air. [Sidebar: Moses only had 2 guys at his prayer meeting & Israel defeated the Amalekites. A little faith > a lotta numbers.] Prayer is work.

Or how about this New Testament example... 12 "Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ, greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect (mature) and complete in all the will of God." (Col. 4:12)
Do you see the words, "laboring fervently?" Here's the original Greek word: agonizomai. What English word does that look and sound like-? 'Agonizing.' Epaphras was agonizing in prayer on behalf of the Colossian church. Prayer is work.

Much of this discussion on prayer has a specific context. You see, from January 17th- February 17th, I've challenged our church to do two simple, yet powerful things:

1) "Look to Heaven At Seven" (*Sometimes cheesy is memorable)
Simply put, I asked people from our church to set their alarm clocks to 7am so that one of the first activities of our day, for a month, would be turning our bleary, sleep filled eyes towards God in a labor of prayer, to seek the help of heaven. At seven.

2) Fasting at lunch, Thursdays
Guess what day it is as I write this? Yup: Thursday. For some unknown reason, Thursday lunches seemed the least threatening to me out of all the meals in the week to purposely miss. At least, it seemed non-threatening until today, when I accidentally brought a stack of leftover danishes to the office 'for my visitors.' They're taunting me as I type.

I've called for this month of united prayer after the example of King Jehoshaphat's response to uncertainty in 2 Chron. 20, and in light of the stand-still I sense in our growth as a church. Tensions at our current location, wear & tear on our equipment from the constant load/ unload cycle, and hitting wall after wall in our attempts to secure a facility of our own are only the start. Likewise at a plateau is our attendance which, let me be quick to say, is not so much a concern in regards to numbers as it is in regards to the turnover rate. I'm troubled when I see so many new visitors come one week and not the next. Where do they go? What could we have done differently? Maybe nothing. Maybe lots of things. And we could drive ourselves crazy trying to second-guess this stuff, but instead, before anything else... I want to pray. Here's why:

"Every time the church has set herself to praying there have been stupendous movements... If we should but transfer the stress of our dependance and emphasis from appeals to men to appeals to God-- from trust in organization to trust in supplication-- from confidence in methods to importunate prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit, we should see results more astounding than have yet been wrought.

There is... too little simple looking unto that real source of success, the power of God in answer to prayer, first to open doors of access, then to raise up and thrust forth laborers and then to break down all opposition and make the truth mighty in converting, subduing, saving and sanctifying." -- A.T. Pierson

I was feeling pretty alone today, fasting away in quiet self-deprivation, when just a moment ago an Outpost mom stuck her head in the door of my office and said "I'm really, really hungry right now. So I'm chewing gum." I laughed hard in the sudden atmosphere of camaraderie and told her my hunger-numbing drug of choice was caffeine. "I'm drinking cold coffee," I said. She laughed back, waved, took her kids to the karate class next door and, with that-- I felt propped-up. I felt supported. Prayer is work, the most important work-- but many hands make the labor lighter. Thank you Outpost, for joining me in prayer; we're already experiencing the victory!

Surrounded By Grace,


Wow. Talk about painting a target on your back. If you haven't seen or heard it yet, click here to check out the blundering remarks made by Pat Robertson a couple days ago regarding the disaster in Haiti. In all the eruption of reaction since then, author Donald Miller has penned an interesting response to Mr. Robertson's remarks. Without going crazy on all of this, here's my take.

Without question, the timing of Pat Robertson’s comments was deplorable. Perhaps his theology wasn’t much better. I do see three things:

1) God should be allowed the opportunity to speak to us through any circumstance, whether blessing and gain, trial or disaster, either personal or large scale. “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis; The Problem of Pain, 1940). I am not pointing fingers at Haiti. I am pointing fingers at all of us. Me too.

2) God has not changed. I say this in response to reading one part of Miller's blog. There seemed to be an implication of some difference in God's character between Old Testament & New… “We live in the New Testament, not the old. Lets spread God’s unconditional love.” Just as God required a faith response in the Old Testament in order to experience the full benefits of what Jesus would do in the New, He still requires this today. This means that to some degree, we have a choice in how we will experience the unconditional love of God. I am not pointing fingers at Haiti. I am pointing fingers at all of us. Me too.

3) God’s unconditional love has not changed. Just as God loved people in the Old Testament, so God continues to love everyone on earth today, despite how they react to Him, and Matthew 25:35-36 ("For I was... and you gave...") continues to be the way Christians are to echo the compassion of God. We can be sure that the suffering in Haiti breaks God's heart. And that He is there.

Father, we ask that you would manifest your mercy-- spiritually, physically, emotionally, in the lives of the Haitian people right now. Heal sick bodies. Perform miracles. Expedite rescue and relief. Glorify your Son. In Jesus' name, and for His sake, Amen.

Surrounded By Grace,


Once saved, always saved? Is our salvation secure once it is received? Does “eternal security” really exist? If you sin bad enough or lapse long enough can you ‘lose’ your salvation? Maybe you have questions about how sure you can be of your salvation. Maybe you wonder if you can lose it. Well, can you? The nature of our salvation is a crucial doctrine, if for no other reason because so much else in our faith is built on it— for instance the nature of our sanctification, or the nature of our forgiveness (if salvation can be ‘lost,’ so can forgiveness; if salvation is potentially temporary, so is forgiveness. If salvation is secure, however, affecting a permanent change of status once received, then so is your position before God of being eternally, ‘once and for all’ forgiven). What I come back to again and again is that, when examining the nature of any doctrine, what must be established first is the nature of God.


A.W. Tozer once said that “A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God” (Tozer, p.2 The Knowledge of the Holy).

Theology is the study of God. As we study God through His Word, the Bible, which is God’s authorized and inerrant means of self-disclosure, we can’t help but notice that He has taken great pains to put His character on display in story after story after story. In light of this standard, this plumb line— the revealed character of God as it is found in the entirety of Scripture— our doctrines are judged to be ‘true’ or ‘untrue.’ When we understand what the whole Bible has to say about the nature of God, we can better interpret and understand the whole council of God, specific doctrines included (salvation, sanctification, prayer, forgiveness, etc.). The central key to understanding any specific doctrine of Scripture is first understanding the character of God.


One of the most amazing statements about God’s nature/character that I’ve ever heard was spoken by Dr. R.C. Sproul. It went something like this--‘God always reserves the right to temper His threats of justice with mercy, but He never tampers with a promise of mercy by withdrawing it and replacing it with justice’ (R.C. Sproul, summarized). This statement about the character of God, about His justice, His grace and His faithfulness, has helped me understand many otherwise troubling passages of scripture. When I apply this to the doctrine of salvation, for instance, I see that the promise of grace, once given by God to us both temporally and eternally, could never be withdrawn and replaced with judgment (= justice). God is simply not like that. God is faithful; if He saves you, He keeps you saved.

But maybe R.C. Sproul is not enough of an authority to satisfy your doubts on these particular character traits, or on the example of eternal security. Which is good. Don’t take his word for it. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t even take pastor Bill’s word for it. But please, take God’s word for it… Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1:6).” (See also: 1 Thess. 5:24,1 Cor. 1:8)

-- “a good work” = regeneration/salvation. When God saves you, He is responsible to follow through with your life. The grace that saves you is the same grace that keeps you saved and maturing (Titus 2:11-12).

-- This is a promise. God does not break promises. If He did, would He still be God?

God’s Promise of an eternal inheritance, once received (as a free gift-Rom. 6:23) cannot be set aside or added to. 14”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. 15Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.” …29”If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3). We don’t inherit redemption, eternal life and the gift of the Spirit according to our behaviors, before or after our salvation, but “by faith,” and according “to the promise” of God. Like Abraham and many others listed in Hebrews 11 who received God’s promise of a savior and an eternal inheritance as a gift, we are encouraged to accept this same gift by faith, living our lives with the assurance that we already and permanently possess what has been promised. 1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)

How can we have this assurance of a gift and a covenant (Salvation through Jesus Christ) that is unchangeable and certain? Because our faith is placed in and dependant on the character of a God who does not break promises. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19)

As if the character of God wasn’t enough to assure us of His intentions, God has added grace to grace by leaving with us a permanent reminder, comforter, counselor, empower-er…13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13-15)-(See also 2 Cor. 1:21-23).


So that the composite, box-top picture of your salvation that emerges from the puzzle pieces of scripture begins to look like this…

Find “YOU” (#2) in the above diagram. Does your position seem vulnerable, or protected? Within you is Christ, united with you in marriage, and He’s guarding your soul from the inside. But not only is He within you, Christ is also around you, like a strong hand, a protective older brother. But there’s more—you and this strong hand that surrounds you are likewise surrounded and sealed in—as if by a waterproof glove—by the Holy Spirit. And it doesn’t stop there. As if that’s not enough, Christ in you, Christ holding you and the Holy Spirit surrounding you are all likewise grasped and hidden away in the almighty Fort Knox of God. Jesus echoes this picture of security in John chapter 10- "27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one." You and your promised inheritance are triple-sealed inside the secure vault of the everlasting Father, which is locked from the outside-- and no one but Him has the combination. Can you lose your salvation? Sure… if it was up to you to keep it safe. Thankfully, Biblically, it isn’t.

Jesus is both “The Promise” of God to humankind, as well as THE promise-keeper. Proclaimed from the Old Testament to the New Testament, He’s ‘The Promise’ that God still offers today. Only through Jesus can we have peace with God, and only through Jesus can we possess and experience a fabulous inheritance from God. Once we choose to believe & accept the promise that is Jesus, it’s an eternal transaction resulting in an eternal ceasefire and an eternal homesteading. Jesus is not a squatter. He’s not a nomad. He may have had no place to call home while He walked on earth, but when you invite Him into your life, He’s there to stay. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). Can you lose the promise of Jesus? Sure… if it was up to you not to leave Him. Thankfully, Biblically, it isn’t.


9After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice:

"Salvation belongs to our God,

who sits on the throne,

and to the Lamb."

Can you lose your salvation? Sure… if it belonged to you. If you were responsible for it. Thankfully, Biblically, you aren’t.

“…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Jn. 8:36)

Surrounded By Grace,


It doesn’t start with a plan” is a sentence which stuck in the back of my head this week like a strand of stray jerky gets stuck between those back teeth you can’t quite reach with your fingernail. Fetching imagery, I know. What’s important is that it was a statement about peace. ‘Peace doesn’t start with a plan,’ the person said. Interesting… because I always act like it does. I see in front of me a host of circumstances I feel or know I can’t handle, and I lose my peace to fear. So what’s my next step? I try to fight my fear by planning; I try to plan my way out. I wrestle with mental schematics, I juggle schedules, I scheme and second-guess and obsess about what I can or could have done better, about what might be or what might have been. But still… no peace. Why?

As I write this, it’s day 7 of 2010, we’re exactly one week into a new year, and for many, the months that stretch ahead are a dark mist of frightening uncertainty. Will you still have a job by the end of this year? Will you be able to pay rent each month? Will you ever figure out who you are and what you were made for? Are you doomed to repeat last year’s failures, or is there hope in 2010 for change? These are the footprints of fear. In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, there is a story that captures, in 26 verses, the perfect response to fear of any kind. In this story, Jehoshaphat king of Judah discovers a plot by a multitude of rival peoples to overthrow his kingdom. His reaction? “And Jehoshaphat feared…”

Maybe instead of trying to fight fear head-on like me, you deal with it by ignoring it. My son used to think, since he couldn’t see me when he closed his eyes, that I couldn’t see him either… That tactic works until the thing you think you’re hiding from walks over, picks you up and throws you over its shoulder. Or, another tactic—we water reality down by calling our fear ‘anxiety’ or ‘worry.’ But that’s like arguing the differences between a maple leaf and an oak leaf— they’re both leaves! The truth is, we all have to deal with fear, on a daily basis. Until the day we die, fear will stalk us, trying to cripple us and all we do by coaxing us to focus on it. Fear is real. The real issue is – if freedom from fear doesn’t start with a plan, what does it start with? What do you do with the fears in your life?

I used to play a lot of soccer growing up. That was before my feet grew into skis. Anyway, unless you’re in the position to shoot a goal, you really only have two options when playing soccer. You can dribble or you can pass. Dribbling is the more glamorous of the two because it draws attention to one person’s valiant efforts. But passing is wiser, because it increases the odds of success and better distributes the responsibility (as well as the ball). Back in those pre-ski days, I vividly remember a game when I played halfback, which in soccer just means the coach is mad at you and wants you to run twice as much as everyone else. As we scrimmaged that day, my team pushed the ball up towards the opposing goal until one of our forwards got stuck trying to dribble through everyone on the right side of the field. Meanwhile, wide open and right in front of the goal for a center pass was our striker. He waited and waited for the pass that could have produced a goal, but no pass came. Finally, in frustration, he shouted out the lyrics of a song we used to sing in chapel, with a minor change: “Isn’t it amazing,” he screamed off-key, “what a PASS can do?”

In reality, that striker could have left in the original word of the song, ‘PRAYER,’ and conveyed the same meaning, because victory in the face of our fears doesn’t start with a lone-ranger dribbling effort, it doesn’t start with you, coming up with a plan— it starts with a prayer. When you try to dribble your way through obstacles, you’re on your own. Meanwhile, God stands alone and unnoticed, waiting for a pass that could change the game. Let me spell this out for you: When it comes to dealing with fear, prayer is a pass to God.

Here is what King Jehoshaphat did when he faced obstacles of uncertainty in his life: “And Jehoshaphat feared -- and set himself to seek the LORD(2 Chron. 20:3)… He prayed. Verses 6—11 chronicle this prayer, which ends in verse 12 – “O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” And what was God’s response?

17 ’You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged' "

Our peace doesn’t start with a plan. It starts with a prayer— and it really is amazing what a prayer can do. “The Lord is at hand,” says Philippians 4, He’s open, He’s waiting for you to pass your needs, your concerns, your fears to Him. You can dribble the ball all you like, take on your fears with bravado even, but God knows you’ll fail. Wrestling with your fears is God’s job. You do not have to fight that battle. He is in charge of outcomes, and He’s already promised they’ll be ‘good.’ Your job is to pass the ball. Your job is to pray. “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” And do you know what happens then? When you give Him the ball, He passes you back something in return: peace. Name your fears to God, the ones 'out there' and the ones you feel you deserve. Own your mistakes and the consequences they'll produce (confession), but then stop trying to control what happens next. Take your fears and lay them all on the table and then pass them across to Him, “And-” in return, “-the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Phil. 4:5-7). Peace in your heart, that 'all things will work together for good.' Peace of mind, that the battle belongs to the Lord. Kind of makes me want to go play soccer.

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