WORDS OF LIFE ~ 2/26/10

I have a new favorite commercial. It involves a man, a boat, diamonds and a horse. Yes, I’m aware this sounds exactly like that joke you heard once in high school. Except this isn’t that joke, because I’m pretty sure the commercial was about Old Spice. Anyway, it’s completely ridiculous and also ridiculously funny, and every time I see it I find myself wishing I could keep a straight face like the guy in the commercial while declaring, “The tickets are now DIAMONDS--! – I guess you’d have to see it. The point of all this is to mention the challenging tag-line at the end of the commercial: “Be a man, man.” I like that.

In Colossians 4:6, Paul instructs the believers-6"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

Now it's true, by the simple fact of a Christian presence in the neighborhoods and communities and workplaces and spheres-of-influence God has placed us in, we act as "salt"-- we are a spiritual preservative. When we're around, the Holy Spirit brings unsolicited conviction that in turn, affects the behavior of the people around us. This is a good thing! But obviously, we‘re also to intentionally act as salt by the way we live and serve while in the world. We function as salt by the way we handle disappointments or respond to pain in a righteous way. We function as salt by the way we live out compassion and patience and forgiveness and by putting others first. These are readily embraced and traditionally accepted ways of being salt in the world. But then there’s that other way we're salt, the way referred to in Colossians, that way that gets downplayed a lot these days. It's that way that's fallen out of vogue and lost popularity because it's seen as being offensively intolerant, or because it's seen as having an agenda, or because on the surface it appears to be shallow. In reality, it is earth-shatteringly powerful. I’m referring to being salt by the words we speak.

I love words, although I prefer writing them to speaking them. And yet, so often I’ve found that it’s really, really easy to say a lot without helping at all. Those are the horrible moments when you finish expounding the profound and look up to see a blank stare from the other side of the table. Those are the awful moments when you’re talking into a microphone and suddenly you’re looking down at yourself from above and you can’t quite make out what you’re saying, and that’s troubling, because… you’re still talking. Why won’t you stop talking? “STOP TALKING!” you try to scream at yourself from your vantage point somewhere in the rafters, but it’s like you just had an asthma attack and all that comes out is one of those tickling wheezes that makes you want to cough. And the idiot with the mic keeps talking. When you don’t know what to say, where do you go to mine the words that will comfort or proclaim or counsel?

I love words, but sometimes they just seem to get me into trouble, and sometimes, they can seem so hollow. My knee-jerk reaction when I'm embarrased by my words is to throw the baby out with the bath water. This looks like me concluding that 'talk is cheap,' and going to the opposite extreme where I'm willing to do many redemptive things without ever speaking The Redeeming Message. I become satisfied with feeding people salt tablets and neglect to show them the water! Maybe you don’t have a microphone. Maybe you don’t have conversations with hurting people across tables on a regular basis. But I’m willing to bet there have been lots of times you’ve hesitated to speak words of Life to people because you’ve felt inadequate or foolish or because your words, like mine, have too often felt hollow, tasteless. And when you get to that point, like me, you're tempted to just shut your mouth for good so you don’t have to feel vulnerable or so you can avoid the risk of offending others. Whenever I get to that point, I’m reminded of Peter in John chapter 6. Jesus has just spoken some hard truth, and many of his disciples have simply walked away. So he turns to his closest companions and asks, "Do you want to go away as well?"— To which 68”Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”

I’m hungry for those words. I need them, not just to minister, but to make it through my day! I need those words to renew and regenerate me regularly, to work the supernatural, moment-by-moment mini-resurrections in my body, mind and spirit that foreshadow that final resurrection when my Savior will come in the clouds and in glory and with the sound of the roaring, triumphant trumpets. When that day comes, I’ll meet my Jesus in the air, but for now, I meet Him in His Word. When that day comes, I’ll see my Jesus face-to-face, and He’ll speak to me the words I live my whole life to hear—“Well done, good and faithful servant.” But for now, I see Him by faith, not by sight, and I build my confidence and my hope on the words of life He speaks to me daily from the pages of His living word.

When you don’t know what to say, where do you go to mine the 'gracious words, seasoned with salt,' that will comfort or proclaim or counsel? Do you wander away down tentative rabbit trails of hunch, down bland foot paths of common sense and personal experience, or do you first run to Jesus in a desperate appeal for wisdom? Jesus has the words of eternal life. His words have the power, His words form the promises, His are the words that dying, hurting people most need to hear. They are the most salty, preserving, evil-eradicating force on the face of the earth. Jesus’ words heal bodies, hearts and souls. His words bind demonic forces and release blessing. His words instruct, rebuke and reprove. His words command and inspire. His words heal the broken-hearted and set the captives free, His words. And we speak them most easily, most naturally, when we have them stored up in our hearts. When His written word is alive there, the Holy Spirit is alive there. His words become stored up in our hearts when we read them, and meditate on them. And we read them, we find these words of eternal life, in the Bible. ‘You are the salt of the earth,’ Jesus said-- and your saltiness comes from Him. He has said something to you in the Bible, so that He can say it again through you to someone else later on. I don't have a boat, I'm not on a horse, and I've got no diamonds to speak of, but I do have a challenging tag-line: Be salty, salt!

Surrounded By Grace,


After wondering where to begin for about five years, and after enough prodding to qualify me as a harassed cow in dire need of a P.E.T.A. intervention, I think I've found my start. I'm talking, of course, about the book I've always wanted to write. Yeah, one of those. I'm sure you understand. Now I just need you to feign interest too.

With that, here is a rough draft portion of Chap. 1. Enjoy.

The staircase was green with age, limestone and mortar encrusted with moss, ancient steps, dropping down into the mouth of a dark jungle. Two boys, standing motionless atop a natural threshold of wild grass, looked intently at the place where the steps disappeared into the trees. After a long pause they glanced at each other, almost simultaneously. One of the boys nodded his head. A decision had been made in the silence, a pact of quiet courage. Without the need for further discussion, they turned back to the discovery before them and began their descent into a graduating gloom...

For the rest of the sneak peak, check out my writing blog here.


CONSPIRACY THEORY #3: Toothpaste CAUSES Cavities ~ 2/11/10

Think about it. Who pushes toothpaste on parents and kids? The dentists. And who benefits the most from the cavities that form in the mouths of parents and kids? The dentists. From as far back as I can remember, I have been suspicious of ‘the dentists.’ Suspicious of their perfect smiles. Suspicious of their meticulous waiting rooms stocked with jarringly outdated reading materials. Suspicious of the brightly-hued-new-toothbrush-that-changes-color-under-the-faucet bribes they sent home with my mother. The whole thing smelled of bubble-gum flavored trickery. It reeked of cool-mint subterfuge.

I remember one dentist who, after the routine and ritual torture treatment in ‘the back room,’ would give me a tube of toothpaste wrapped in a dollar bill as a parting gift. Because I was never sure if the dollar was a bribe designed to keep me ingesting his toothpaste or a favor designed to further indebt me to him, I always received the back-handed token with fear.

When I was a bit older there was another dentist who, in addition to the usual mind tricks and guilt-therapy, actually tried to convince me I had negatively affected the physiology of my face by breathing through my mouth as I slept at night. No, it’s true—he told me this seemingly innocuous habit had worked to narrow my nasal passages over time, thus producing a thin and pointy nose. As you can imagine, I couldn’t thank him enough for his helpful and clearly relevant observations.

My gnawing suspicions about dentists finally chewed their way to the surface like so many Trojan cavities when my five-year-old son, who eats nothing but celery sticks, carrots and organic apples (why is my nose suddenly getting longer and thinner…?), was diagnosed with as many rotting teeth as years he’s been alive. That’s five, in case you weren’t paying attention. And yet I had carefully brushed his tiny teeth every night! This left me with only one possible culprit. In a flash of insight so obvious it was shocking I’d never seen the connection before, I realized with horror-- the toothpaste was causing the cavities. This, my friends, is the grinning face of white-collar job security. This is the denture-bearing sneer of dishonest dentistry. Here’s my theory:

Smoke-screen tactics ‘The Dentists’ use to hide the real purpose of toothpaste:

Tactic #1: Use big words.

The following quote was lifted, verbatim, off the tube of toothpaste in my bathroom:

Crest has been shown to be an effective decay-preventative dentifrice (??? -- Emphasis mine) that can be of significant value when used as directed in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care.” – Council on Scientific Affairs/ American Dental Association"

Okay… do I even have to say it? “Dentifrice?” Really? That word has to be made up. I know I’ve never heard it. I’m mostly sure you haven’t either. Seriously? How would that even be used in a normal sentence? “Hey Bob, your teeth look dentifrific!” Puh-lease. I looked it up on my laptop’s built-in dictionary and it told me the word didn’t exist. Just in case my computer doesn’t know everything, I Googled it. The result? “DENTIFRICE: A substance for cleaning the teeth; toothpaste.” So, basically, it’s a made up word that sounds more fancy than ‘toothpaste,’ but actually means… toothpaste. Shameless trickery.

Tactic #2: List complicated chemical ingredients.

Active Ingredient: Sodium fluoride- 0.243%

Fair enough; sodium fluoride has indeed been shown “to enhance the strength of teeth by the formation of fluorapatite, a naturally occurring component of tooth enamel” (wikipedia). But I have to ask, if that’s the ‘active’ ingredient, what’s making up the rest of the percentage? I mean, doesn’t that leave like, I don't know… 99.757% ‘inactive’ ingredients making up the difference? Now I’m no scientist, but ‘inactive’ ingredients don’t sound very helpful. My hunch? Ninety-nine odd percent of that toothpaste is made up of sugary sweet stuff so that the dentifri—er, I mean the toothpaste-- is even remotely palatable. Oh, and so it can cause the cavities it’s supposed to be preventing.

Tactic #3: Manipulate with threats and shameless fear mongering.

If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”

Do you know why they say this? I think there was a CSI episode a while back where a lady died, frothing at the mouth, after being force-fed too much toothpaste. My guess? The idea behind this tactic is an ‘a fortiori’ argument—that if half a tube of accidentally swallowed toothpaste can poison a child, just think how much more damage “a pea-sized dollop (the suggested dosage)’ can do to a cavity! The parent, now equally terrified and convinced of toothpaste’s magical powers, dares not consider other alternatives. Sickening subterfuge.

Tactic #4: Deflect close scrutiny by adding superfluous, distracting and otherwise demeaning product instructions.

The following advice is boldly emblazoned on my toothpaste tube in bright red letters:

For best results, squeeze tube from the bottom and flatten as you go up.”

Feeling humiliated and oddly empowered at the same time, I quickly avert my eyes every time I see this clever suggestion. Which has always kept me from reading everything else on the tube... until today.

I’m officially convinced toothpaste causes, instead of prevents, cavities. It’s a diabolical conspiracy that targets and manipulates some of the most helpless among us. Anyway that’s what I think. You?



Maybe you’ve never felt this way before but… I’ve often envied the saints of old who are already Home. Those Christian men and women who’ve run the race ahead of us and have already crossed the finish line. Their work is done. Their tests are passed and in the past. Their home is now where their hearts always were, in the presence of their King. The author of this Psalm longed to be in the place of blessing. So do I. But then he mentions another blessing, one not just for those who ‘have arrived,’ but for those still on the journey--! And while there’s much more to this Psalm than these few verses, the next full stanza is the one that impacted me the most today…

5Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

Here’s what I notice:

1) There’s an available blessing.

2) It doesn’t belong to the comfortable homebody, the independent, the self-sufficient, or the self-strong.

3) It does belong to the deliberate traveler, to the desperate, the humbled, the dependant, the self-weak & the weary.

4) It’s not a blessing based on geography but on cardiology—on the condition of the heart. The qualifying inner condition is a heart tattooed with God’s roadmap home.

It makes me wonder… did the Psalmist still have birds on his mind as he wrote about the passing pilgrims? To me, ‘highways in the heart’ conjures up images of the geese I see flying over my in-law’s house in the late fall, following some mysterious internal compass Southward, towards more amiable country. Like giant arrows in the sky, they pass overhead, a formation with purpose, pointing the way home; aerial pilgrims, sojourning towards the tug of some silent call. We’re not Home yet, but the setting of our hearts is telling. Are we aimless and stationary or deliberately heading for something? Objects are either in motion or not; the same is true for hearts. Here, the Psalmist seems to be saying that a heart which trusts in God for all strength is a heart on a journey ever closer to Him. And if the terrestrial pilgrims of psalm 84 meet this qualification? What exactly is the blessing made available to them?

6As they go through the Valley of Baca

 they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

7They go from strength to strength;

each one appears before God in Zion.

Remember, this part is a promise for the journey (6As they go), and for the pilgrim on his or her way to Jerusalem, tiring of the road-trip as they passed through the desolate Valley of Baca, this stanza announces a blessing of reprieve, a blessing of respite and relief in the midst of pain. Reprieve was a welcome thing in ‘the Valley of Baca;’ after consulting several commentaries, most translate this name to mean ‘the Valley of weeping,’ or ‘the Valley of tears.’ Several others said the word “Baca” actually refers to a thorny Balsam or Mulberry-type of shrub that grew with great abundance in dry places like this valley, hence the name. Still another tried reconciling the two by suggesting that weeping was the logical result of walking through a large quantity of thorny shrubs…! As much comic relief as this brings my sophomoric imagination, I believe the basic idea is that this was a particularly dry, difficult and dangerous valley that could not be avoided on the way to the blessings that awaited in Jerusalem. The reprieve for these Zion-bound pilgrims was that, though their route passed through an unavoidable and desolate valley of tears, it was nevertheless a trail dotted with wells, dug in advance for those who would come. Who dug the wells? Previous pilgrims, perhaps, or maybe the permanent dwellers nearby. The point was that even during the journey towards blessing there were blessings of reprieve waiting to be found.

Reprieve is a welcome thing in our Valley of Baca as well. Life can be a valley of tears. And yet-- ’they make it a place of springs’ …is a classic statement of the faith which dares to dig blessings out of hardships,” says Derek Kidner. There are waters of reprieve waiting for you if your trust for strength is in God. Always, we have to dig for it—in the Scriptures, on our knees in prayer, in the company of other pilgrims in progress— but the promise is that reprieve will be there waiting, like the water of a spring, waiting to be uncovered so it can bubble up from below! “Also,” however, ‘in addition’-- we can expect to receive downpours of reprieve from above, like low spots of land receive and gather the rain, unmerited and effortless blessings that shower down. What does this look like in our lives? “Some manifestation of his gracious presence, some promise coming with power to the soul, some testimony of saving interest in the love and blood of Jesus, some smile from his countenance, some word from his lips, some encouraging testimony that the feet are upon the Rock, is given” (J. C. Philpot). These are but a few raindrop examples plucked out from potential showers of God’s blessing.

When your hope for strength is in the LORD of hosts, though you feel weak day-to-day, yet you will “go from strength to strength (v.7a)…!” “We grow as we advance if heaven be our goal,” says Spurgeon of this phrase—“If we spend our strength in God's ways we shall find it increase. Though the world sees only a valley of tears, from desert oasis to desert oasis you can travel, ever encountering the provision of God. We cannot avoid the Valley of Weeping; Jesus Himself told us that "In this world you will have trouble" (Jn. 16:33). And yet, never will you be left resourceless or powerless in the pilgrimage Home, and ever will you be increasingly strengthened," strength to strength," "glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18)—to such a degree that the valley of Baca(weeping) will become the valley of Beracah (blessing). And as if that wasn't enough, here is the wonderful side-effect of a heart that seeks His strength—your passage leaves an impression filled with Life for those who can’t find a well on their own. When you lean on God, He guides you from pool to pool through the valley of tears, and where two walk, a trail is more easily followed.

Dear Saint of God, the blessing of Psalm 84 is the promise of water in barren places, life in the valley of the shadow of death, wellsprings of reprieve in the valley of tears. This is a blessing that benefits you now. Yes, blessings await you upon arrival, both in heaven and, as a foretaste, every Sunday among the assembled pilgrims of God. But blessings are also waiting for you on the way, right now, to be dug up and received, enough for each day between Sundays and eternity. And then, one day, you’ll be Home.

Surrounded By Grace,


How does this day find you, dear Saint of God? Cheerful and filled with joy, ready for the day and week ahead, or-- weary-- and longing for strength, direction and refreshment? May the Spirit of the living God encourage you, as He has done with me this morning, through a brief look at Psalm 84. If you are reading this, it is because God wants to bless you.

Disclaimers are never a good way to begin, but I feel the need to say that this Psalm deserves a sermon, not a blog post. There’s just so much wealth to mine here. But this is the time we have. So LORD, in the same spirit of this Psalmist, who seems to wish he was in Jerusalem, but is not, “give ear,” and “bestow favor and honor” to us as we meditate on Your Word, wishing we had more time, but do not.


1How lovely is your dwelling place,

O LORD of hosts!

2My soul longs, yes, faints

for the courts of the LORD;

my heart and flesh sing for joy

to the living God.

Charles Spurgeon, often called the Prince of the Preachers, referred to Psalm 84 as “The Pearl of the Psalms”(Psalm 84, The Treasury of David). It is a poem—set to music—about one of the annual journeys of outlying Jews to worship God in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem was the Ark of the Covenant, which at this time was most likely still housed in the Tabernacle, it’s temporary home, prior to the construction of the temple. Either way, here on Mount Zion, in the City of David, was located THE specialized, geographical, officially recognized spatial location of the presence of God—making Jerusalem the destination for blessing. Which is why the Psalmist wishes he was there—to be in the presence of the LORD, with the assembled people of God.

I love that he mentions envying the swallows, which didn’t have to journey towards God because they constantly lived in His presence. That resonates with me… but in my case I envied their freedom more than their dwelling place. The church where I grew up attending had fifteen-foot tall arched windows—with no screens. As a boy I coveted the carefree existence of the swallows, swooping in and out at will over the course of the three hour worship service, bringing grasshoppers and katydids to the young nestled snug in their hardened mud homes, high out of reach in the rafters, sanctuaries within a sanctuary.

3Even the sparrow finds a home,

and the swallow a nest for herself,

where she may lay her young,

at your altars, O LORD of hosts,

my King and my God.

4Blessed are those who dwell in your house,

ever singing your praise!

With twigs and mud they set their homes where their hearts were, sticking their nests and staking their claim to the dwelling place of God Almighty. ‘Such wisdom,’ marvels the Psalmist, ‘and such a blessing…’ If the Psalmist was David, as some believe, exiled by his son Absalom and thus prohibited from entering the place of blessing, his envy is understandable, and his sorrow almost palpable. As a child, I envied the freedom of the swallows to go out of the sanctuary. Whoever the Psalmist is, he clearly envies their freedom to go in…

We who are saved also travel on a pilgrimage to the place of blessing, to a “…city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). We’re on a highway to heaven. Only it doesn’t feel so much like a highway at times… as it does a goat path. It’s twisty, it’s a steep grade, and it seems as though landslides are constantly obliterating the way. But even if it were a highway… who likes to be ‘on the road’ forever? Road trips are fun, but let’s face it, they’re a lot like that new CD you put in the car stereo as you first pull out of the driveway. It still sounds great at mile ten, but five-hundred miles later it’s getting a bit old. That’s about when we feel the first twinges of longing for an end to our travels, for our home, for the refuge it represents, for its safety. For the place where we take off our shoes and stop living out of suitcases. Where we lock the day out and surround ourselves with the rewards of having again survived the winding goat trail that got us there. We long for our home.

Maybe you’ve never felt this way before but… I’ve often envied the saints of old who are already Home. Those Christian men and women who’ve run the race ahead of us and already have crossed the finish line. Their work is done. Their tests are passed and in the past. Their home is now where their hearts always were, in the presence of their King. The author of this Psalm longed to be in the place of blessing. So do I. But then he mentions another blessing, one not just for those who ‘have arrived,’ but for those still on the journey...!

*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~