I sit in the smallish, red coffee shop and stare at the dead screen of my computer. For the last couple days it’s been doing this; humming along with typical Macintosh efficiency before—*BLINK*-- drawing the shades on my magical cyberworld beyond. Before, it always came back on after a few tense moments. This morning, however, I sit staring into the blackness like a rescuer at a mine collapse, desperate with hope to see even the tiniest little pinpoint of light or life from within. Nothing happens. What a lousy way to start a Friday.

Behind me I hear the raucous laughter of three Red House regulars. They’re middle-aged men, rough and raw and real, and brimming with the kind of humor that strips paint from old walls. I suspect it’s also the kind of humor that’s helped them survive the kinds of lives they’ve lived. Their conversations are full of deep-throated grunts and guffaws and salty quips about prisons stints, political idiocy, Harleys they’ve owned and x-wives they’ve long left behind. Despite myself I smile at their mirth. I instantly like these guys.

My grin fades as I slouch back into the aging IKEA chair and force my eyes up to the ceiling; I’m tired of staring into blackness. I know what this means— it means an hour-long drive “to town.” Because that’s where the technology wizards live— in town. I let out a heavy sigh and begin packing my things. So that’s it then; my noble quest for the day. Sorry, ‘to do’ lists that have been pre-planned and on the agenda for two weeks straight—a new priority has arisen, a closer fire is burning, another arch-nemesis of efficiency has raised its ugly head and is shaking its clenched fist in my general direction. Onward.

The feeling of lousiness percolates inwards as I drive down the mountain. The darkness of the computer screen, like a late spring storm front, threatens to define not just my mood, but my entire day. The trip is uneventful—until I pass some friends on the side of the road with their hood up. ‘What’s the matter?’ I say as I jump out of my truck. ‘Overheated,’ they say. We shoot the breeze for a few minutes while things cool down enough to add water. That’s when they tell me they’re pregnant. Smiles break out at the broke down car and we all share a bear hug. Then, Corolla and quest back in gear, we caravan the rest of the way into town. Sometime later I remember I probably should have congratulated them.

I finally make it to the wizard’s lair. To be fair, only one of them actually looks like a wizard with his white hair and beard. He squints at me over the top of his steel rimmed glasses as he straightens up from the cart of starchy treats a local baker has wheeled by to peddle at this magical Macintosh hot spot. I struggle for a moment to purge the image of the Keebler Elf from my mind.

“Hmm” the Wizard says, and “Okaaay,” inspecting my laptop carefully with an accompaniment of disapproving sidelong glances as I relate my problem. This must be what confession feels like. When I finish he says, without any obvious connection to what I’ve just explained—“You know, you really shouldn’t put sticky notes all over your laptop. I mean, what are you thinking--?” Coming here always feels like going to the dentist. I sigh and can’t help but think it must be what coming to church feels like for a lot of people too.

The real fun starts when the Keeb—er, wizard, runs a simple diagnostic test on my computer but suddenly thinks the motherboard is dying. In this dark moment of doom, does he comfort me? Does he offer me assurances of his knowledge and expertise? Does he at least look at me calmly and offer a kind lie? No. “Everyone, come here quick!” he shouts excitedly at the rest of his ill-tempered, over pastried minions— “His motherboard’s frying…you’ve got to come see this!” So here I stand, a lone and frightened hobbit, rooted in horror outside a gaggle of wizards, huddled together in an impromptu ceremony of religious awe to watch my computer die. They dissipate like flustered vultures only after one of them realizes they’ve mistaken the normal effects of the diagnostic test for what they hoped was a rare occurrence of SCDS (Sudden Computer Death Syndrome). Their disappointment is almost palpable. “We’ll order the part and fix it in a day,” the lead wizard mutters darkly. I sigh with relief and head for the nearest coffee shop. I need a drink. I also find myself wishing the mirthy biker men were around to tell me a salty joke.

I find a seat at a small round table. They’re better for quick getaways because they have no sharp corners to catch you in the gut when you go to run. Don’t ask. The air smells like caffeine and I’m watching people now in an attempt to decompress. A couple sits down a few tables away with some contractors, looking at blueprints of what appears to be a house. They seem happy, expectant. An elderly man comes in with a young teenage boy and they sit down to play a game of chess together. ‘It must be his grandfather,’ I think. The young man’s cell phone rings at least three times while I watch them play. Without flinching even once, he pretends not to hear it. ‘What a good kid,’ I think.

Eventually I leave the overpriced coffee shop and begin the twisty drive home. I’ve felt a bit like Don Quixote over the past six hours; like the whole ordeal was a wasted day on a quest to nowhere. ‘So much for productivity’ I think. ‘Which is overrated’ I remind myself. But still… it’s hard not to link self-worth with accomplishments. It’s hard not to review a day filled with scuttled plans and dripping irritation, long waits and unchecked to-do lists, simmering impatience and wasted solitude and still feel… godly. Holy. Worthy. Spiritual. It’s so easy to get sucked out to sea by a legalistic undertow and fed into the cycling, crushing waves of self-pity that whimper, “I’m sorry I didn’t do anything spiritual for you today God… I’ll do better, or more, or nobler things tomorrow so you’ll be happy, happier, or happiest with me.” The coffee isn’t working so I turn on the radio after slapping myself a couple times and hear a worship song that reminds me God loves me as much today as He ever has or will—because of how holy JESUS is. Because of what JESUS did. It’s funny, I think to myself as I lift my frustrated voice and sing along—I’ve done nothing for God today but… He still loves me on my lousy Friday, just the same as Sunday.


It’s the 1st day of the week. Some of the women have seen angels. Some of them even claim to have seen Jesus. Two of the most trusted men attest to the emptiness of the tomb. At least one of them already believes Jesus to be alive. The others are not so sure.

A politically sanctioned and religiously motivated execution has taken place. A leader of men and a friend of sinners has been silenced. But now things have taken an unexpected turn for the worse. A tomb guarded by official soldiers has been disrupted. Emptied. This is an embarrassment that must be managed. A cover-up is launched. It’s remembered this rabble-rouser Nazarene has followers. For them, there are sure to be repercussions.

The friends of this same rabble-rouser huddle together in a locked room. Here are the co-conspirators. Here sit the accomplices. Here gather the rebels against Rome and religion. They find themselves in a bewildering place of fear and uncertainty. What are they supposed to do? Unsure, they do the hardest thing of all, the thing we all do when choices thin out like the oxygen at 30,000 ft.—they wait… unsure of outcomes.

‘What are they waiting for?’ I wonder as I read John chapter 20. I want to say they’re sitting there in a prayer meeting, waiting for Jesus to show up. And maybe they are. But the part of me that knows human nature is pretty sure they’re also kind of waiting around for the other shoe to drop—When will their quiet whispers be interrupted by the loud pounding of fists on heavy door timbers? When will their hiding, their running, their denials, when will they finally catch up with them? When will their dreams to change the world end behind bars?

I feel for these guys. Most of the time, I’m one of them. Whether I’m sitting in the bottom of a deep hole I’ve dug on my own or watching as things beyond the scope of my control grow from molehills into mountains that block out the sun, there’s always that dark room of fear and uncertainty along the way where I find myself waiting and wondering, ‘What’s next?’ What’s next?

What’s next is that Jesus shows up. Man, this guy’s sneaky post-resurrection! Creeps up behind Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Smiles and disappears mid-meal after a long hike to Emmaus. Scares the living hummus out of His best friends behind locked doors in a dark room—and then has the nerve to greet them with these words—"Shalom aleikhem!" “Peace be with you!” Ah, Jesus… don’t tell me You weren’t having fun messing with them.

Some have said we shouldn’t read too much into these first words addressed to His assembled followers. ‘It’s just the traditional greeting,’ they say. But… then Jesus says it a second time.21”Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.’” Why did He say this a second time? I think the answer is pretty simple: He wanted them to know this was more than just a greeting. These words were literal. Up to this point, the words in this traditional greeting were like a waiting dream, a verbalized hope of a promise that had all but lost their meaning after centuries of thoughtless repetition. Think the “Bless you” we mindlessly dole out when someone sneezes. But now, suddenly, much like the appearing of Jesus out of thin air, this hope for peace had materialized—‘it’s actual,’ Jesus is saying, ‘it’s fulfilled.’ Peace with God. Peace from God. Peace sustained by God—realized in real-time at long last because of the death and resurrection of JESUS.

I asked the guys in our men’s Bible study the other night how it was possible for peace to “be with them” in the midst of so much fear? Without hesitating, someone said “Because Jesus was with them.” Bingo! Peace could be with them because Jesus was with them. The perfect sacrifice Who had propitiated the just wrath of Almighty God against all of humanity was with them! Can you imagine Peter walking into the room and going “Hey guys—peace be with you! No seriously— PEACE… be with you!” Yeah Peter, thanks… you’re definitely the embodiment of peace on earth. Hey, would you mind putting that sword away? Sweet, thanks man.

We have a peace unlike anything the world gives (John 14:27). Our peace is not the absence of trouble—Jesus was very clear about that (John 16:33). Our peace is the promise of the presence of God in the midst of trouble. He is with us. Emmanuel.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Peace is with us because Jesus is with us.

As you 'walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil'-- for God is with you. Peace... be with you.

Surrounded By Grace,

BELONGING ~ 5/11/10

As a missionary kid, I’ve frequently struggled to find my place of belonging. Born in an African country, but not African (My Gabonese friends always wondered about my freckles. Were they a disease? No, I say, they are delayed blackness; when I’m older they’ll all grow together and I’ll be black like you.). Possessing an American birth certificate but feeling homesick every second away from African soil. Able to speak French and sing “Born in the USA” but able to claim neither French heritage nor the right to sing that thoroughly American song. My parents weren’t even born in the U.S.A, for goodness sakes. Neither was one of my grandparents.

Where do I belong?

I was not born here, but now I live here. And so someone innocently asks me, “Where are you from?”—this… is the dreaded question. Eyes glaze over when I bring up Africa, so let’s just say I stick with the continental U.S— which state do I claim? The one my great-grandparents came from? The one where I went to college? The one where I went to seminary? Or the one where I spent my summer vacations while my parents continued their ministry overseas?

Where do I belong?

Either way, I’ve been told I’m living in the wrong state. “You’d probably fit-in better in Alaska,” one person said; ‘maybe in the summers,’ I think. I’ve had people tell me I was born in the wrong time. “You should have lived back in the days of Livingstone,” someone said to me once. Well… as cool as that would be, it doesn’t help me find belonging; dead people have a cold way about them. Someone else even told me I was born in the wrong generation. Now technically, I think I’m part of Generation X, but according to this person, it was clear I related better with the Baby Boomer Generation. ‘Wow,’ I remember thinking—‘I don’t even have a generation.’

Where do I belong?

Maybe you feel this way sometimes. Maybe you feel adrift, or alone, like you don’t fit-in or like you’re not part of anything that matters, part of a loving community or a family that looks like the Norman Rockwell prints on the walls of Hometown Buffet. Maybe you’re a missionary kid like me, or perhaps a pastor’s kid, maybe even a military brat. Maybe your parents moved a lot and you never put down roots. Or maybe you never had a stable family at all. Perhaps you did have a good family, lots of friends, but you’ve burned so many bridges behind you you feel there’s no way back. Your talents aren’t valued, your opinions aren’t respected, your passions aren’t recognized... you feel isolated, and alone.

Where do you belong?

Have you read Romans 7 lately? There’s a simple little verse there, stashed away between several great monoliths of soteriology, that grabs the tossing ship that is my life and anchors me, every time I read it. It goes like this…

4”So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

I belong, and you belong, but none of us belongs primarily to a place, or a time, or even to a generation… Primarily, what matters before anything else and shapes everything else and informs everything else about me— who I am and who I will become— is that, as a Child of God, I belong to a person. If you are a Child of God, You belong to a person. And His name is Jesus.

I "belong to another." I belong— to Jesus.

Surrounded By Grace,


I went on a jog this morning. I needed to clear my head, and the gunk out of my joints, and the cobwebs from my molding athleticism. A blast of cold hit me when I opened the front door. I almost chickened out. Almost.

Things felt clean outside. The birds sounded happy. There weren't any dogs barking. It's true that warmth has come to the valley an hour to our southeast, but the trees in these mountains only recently sent out leaf scouts to test this news. Starting my first, reluctant trots, I look up, and it's clear they've since spread the word.

I'm moving better now. Gaining some momentum. This is pretty much how I operate in general; starting is hard for me, it's painful to watch me pick up speed, but once I'm in motion-- well, it's still not pretty to watch. But it's not easy to stop me, either. I'm a juggernaut of hunting dreams, and the first steps up the mountain-- come hunting season--begin here, this morning. Tally-ho.

I'm almost to the end of our road-- and a rooster crows. A rooster. And a switch in my head is quietly flipped. The gentle rush of East Weaver Creek to my right becomes the swollen roar of the dark Louetsi. The sterilized air is infused with thick moisture. Another rooster crows somewhere in the distance and the brushed pavement melts into a dusty track of red gravel cutting through a tangle of green. Trees turn into people, friends from long ago, coming out of their mud-brick houses as I jog past to holler a cheerful greeting or wave. Closer friends follow their greetings with good-natured insults. I laugh. They laugh.

Looking down, I cringe. My Nike basketball shorts and running shoes have morphed into frightfully immodest camo cut-offs and Pony high tops. I'm also wearing a fluorescent pink tank top. The memory is worth this small humiliation, I decide. So I go with it and keep jogging.

By now I'm not seeing the snow-covered peaks of the Trinities as they rise from a hazy horizon to meet me. Instead, I see an African sun mounting over the sleepy town of Lebamba, I hear the sound of approaching thunder, smell the familiarity of wet earth and diesel, and dread the uphill climb back home.

I went on a jog this morning... and I'm still not back.
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~