Hey Everyone ~

Just wanted to let anyone who checks this blog know that even though I've been "offline" a few weeks and will continue to take a short break from regular blogging for personal reasons, my blog will be back soon. The name will change, and probably some of the content, but I'll most likely be back up and posting sometime in January, so-- check in, watch the changes, and... I hope you stick around. 

Surrounded By Grace,

BEEF JERKY FOR THE SOUL ~ Guest Blogger (My Dad)

My Dad is a general surgeon who has served as a missionary doctor in the wilds of Gabon, equatorial Africa for over 34 years. Recently, he began writing regular letters to my siblings and I-- small, blog-sized chunks of wisdom he has entitled "Beef Jerky For The Soul." Today, I've decided to share his latest letter with you.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "We don't have a soul. We are a soul, and we have a body."

Most people in America, as reported by those who do polls about these issues, believe that everyone who lives on the earth--except for really evil people--have a soul that will end up in some kind of heaven after dying. Most secular intellectuals, depending on how you define them, don't believe in either the soul or the afterlife. According to them, we are nothing more than complicated organic machines. All our consciousness, self-awareness, creativity, personality, awareness of God, and emotions are simply the complex physiologic workings of our brains.  

If the secularists are right we won't even be aware of it when we die. If C.S. Lewis is right and the real "we" is our soul and not our body, then our souls won't die when our bodies give out and the implications become huge.  Who created our soul?  How did he do it?  What is he like?  How will he react if I live my life as I please and ignore him?  What if he wants me to stop doing things I want to do and do things I don't want to do? Where can I find out about him?

There is an exponentially growing body of evidence in our world, in the stars, and in our own bodies that the Creator is quite real, very much alive, and fully aware of His creation. There is compelling historical evidence that God has been communicating with people since they appeared on the earth. And there is Jesus, a real historical figure who came to earth supernaturally, healed thousands of people supernaturally in front of eventually tens of thousands of witnesses, and answered all of these questions in considerable detail.  Not until all the witnesses to his life, miracles, death and resurrection had died did skeptics succeed in challenging what his followers had written about him.  Thousands of those witnesses died violently, preferring torture and death to renouncing what they had seen, heard, and experienced.

And what evidence do the secularists have that there is no soul and no afterlife?  Well…none. Seriously. They're simply gambling everything and hoping that it works out for them. Why would anyone be willing to take that kind of risk?  Could it be they have…proof? I think not.  

There is another reason they're willing to gamble, and it's because each person can write his own moral rules for living. Each person can live for himself, and nobody can tell him it's wrong and that he's going to pay for it later, as long as he doesn't break the law. Meanwhile the person who believes that we are a soul that will continue to exist in the afterlife has to worry about pleasing God and when being good isn't maybe good enough. 

I'll take my chances with Jesus, the miracle worker, the God-man who's miraculous arrival on earth, message, suffering, death, burial and resurrection were all predicted in detail in the oldest book in the world, several hundred years before it happened.  To receive my soul as his own and give me a beautiful new body that will live forever, He doesn't want me to follow a list of rules. He only requires my open love and my trust.

I am an eternal soul, I have a body, and when it wears out and I die, God will give me a new one.  Now that's something worth living and serving Him for!  


SHOCK VALUE ~ 11/22/11

was reading today about how so much of the original power and shock value has been lost in our understanding of the Biblical parables. The author compared it to a joke that loses its humor when you have to explain why it’s funny.  We're just so distant from the cultures and contexts of so much in the Bible that without a lot of hand-holding, we simply don't get the joke. Or at least, not at the gut-wrenching level that was intended.
To make his case, the author then retold a very well known parable with modern points of reference. Read the Biblical set-up, followed by the re-telling, and then see how you feel; if you finish the story with a knot in your stomach, you've proved his point!

'And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' 
He said to him, 'What is written in the Law? How do you read it?'
And he answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.' 
And he said to him, 'You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.'
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'
Jesus replied,” (Luke 10:25-30a)

"A family of disheveled, unkempt individuals was stranded by the side of a major road on a Sunday morning. They were in obvious distress. The mother was sitting on a tattered suitcase, hair uncombed, clothes in disarray, with a glazed look to her eyes, holding a smelly, poorly clad, crying baby. The father was unshaved, dressed in coveralls, a look of despair on his face as he tried to corral two other youngsters. Beside them was a run-down old car that had obviously just given up the ghost.

Down the road came a car driven by the local bishop; he was on his way to church. And though the father of the family waved frantically, the bishop could not hold up his parishioners, so he acted as though he didn't see them. 

Soon came another car, and again the father waved furiously. But the car was driven by the president of the Kiwanis Club, and he was late for a statewide meeting of Kiwanis presidents in a nearby city. He, too, acted as though he did not see them and kept his eyes straight on the road ahead of him.

The next car that came by was driven by an outspoken atheist, who had never been to church in his life. When he saw the family's distress, he took them into his own car. After inquiring as to their need, he took them to a local motel, where he paid for a week's lodging while the father found work. He also paid for the father to rent a car so he could look for work and gave the mother cash for food and new clothes."
-- Gordon Fee & Douglas Stewart

'Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor...?'

OUCH, Jesus; play nice.

Surrounded By Grace,

HIJACKING HALLOWEEN; A Seasonal Re-post ~ 10/18/11

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 those feelings-- only you can decide if that applies to you (and, to be fair... you're not allowed to decide if that applies to anyone else). What follows below, however, is a brief history of the origins of Halloween, and the reasons why The Outpost office will be open on Halloween night, handing out invitations to a Thanksgiving meal along with lots of high quality candy from a tastefully decorated space by a group of loving people. What follows below are the reasons we want to make sure Jesus makes an appearance on Main Street 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, a 'Vulcan Mind-Meld' kind of blending between these two distinct entities.  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 immigrations 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. Pastor Bill has mentioned this in past sermons 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:
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.Nothing 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 redemptive opportunity to take advantage of in order to advance the Kingdom of God.  But that's me; you decide.
Surrounded By Grace,
Josh (written 10/30/08)


A message about the conditional promises of Psalm 91 I was privileged to give this past weekend at Neighborhood Church of Redding.

HIKING, WITH A GUN (Part 4) ~ 9/28/11

I’ve discovered in the last 4 years that there are two basic mindsets when it comes to blacktail hunting in the Trinity Alps. The first mindset says, “There’s no way I’m going to shoot some tiny little forked-horn after all the work it took to hike all the way in here!” The second mindset is slightly different: “There’s no way I’m going to pass up a forked-horn and leave empty-handed after all the work it took to hike all the way in here!” As it turns out, pain is its own sort of truth-serum. A conversion experience from the first to second mindset is a common occurrence somewhere along the mountain and mile-infested quest.

I think part of this drive to shoot a deer, whether big or small, is a product of entitlement. If, as a hunter, you have success harvesting (killing) a buck a couple years in a row, you almost begin to expect this same result each successive year. It’s really quite easy to become so accustomed to a privilege that we make it a right. And then, slowly, in the dark blindspots of time unnoticed, what began as a gift can become to us an idol.

I once heard someone define an idol, at the core, as ‘anything we don’t think we can live without.’ I really like that definition; it’s a fantastic (though uncomfortable) self-diagnostic tool. For instance, ‘what’s behind my ferocious drive to bring home a buck each year?’ I often have to ask myself. Is it to provide, to save money on meat, to enjoy a connection to the land on which I live, or is it really to satisfy some idolatrous right I’ve erected in my heart as something my year can’t be complete without? Do I hunt to challenge myself and to become a more responsible master of my environment, or do I fixate on actually ‘getting a buck’ because I’ve let that accomplishment become something I can’t live without, something I depend on to define who I am, more than I depend on the words of God?  I don’t know, maybe these are questions only unsuccessful hunters have the time or thought to ask themselves. My guess is they’re questions still worth asking.

The end of day 3 found me setting up camp in a small clearing off the main trail. I laid out my sleeping bag on lush tufts of grass that pushed their way up through a thick bed of pine needles. These had accumulated over the years under a bank of tall timber, standing patient guard next to a spring that bubbled its way through bright wildflowers before spilling into Bear Creek behind me.

When you’ve been outside, in the wilderness, alone and for some time, strange things begin to happen in your head. For instance, stumps and rocks start to look like animals. Or worse… people.
I was boiling some water early that evening when I looked up and almost fell backwards in fright. There, not 100 yards away, a person sat stock still between the trees, staring at me.
“Hey, YOU!” I shouted (You tend to do everything loudly when you’re alone). The watcher did not move. “Hello?” (a little more tentative this time)-- Then, irritated at the rudeness of the gypsy girl for not responding (because the stump looked like a hunched gypsy girl wearing a shawl), I shouted again—“AAaaaAAAHHHHH!” Nothing. Seeing now that it was only a stump, I went back to watching the water boil and talking to the fire. The gypsy stump haunted me all night.

The morning of day 4 was my last in the Alps. In the dark again, I picked my way slowly up a boulder-strewn slope and discovered at the top a small bowl with good feed, hidden from lower view.  Two hours after settling down on a watching rock, I’d seen the fleeting rump of one mystery deer and two bears, which had gradually wandered and fed their way to within about 70 yards of my stand. Bear are great fun to shoot at when you have a tag. When you don’t, they become scenery with teeth. When the smaller bear got within the general area of my comfort bubble, I stood up and stepped into the sunlight.
“HEY!” I shouted. He stopped and looked around, slightly befuddled.
“Are you kidding me?” I said, taking a step towards him. “Helloooo.” That’s when he saw me. It was hilarious. He started suddenly like a cat does, crouching for a split second before tripping backwards over his own feet. Off balance for a moment, he fell sideways into the oak brush he’d been feeding on before finally regaining his footing and scrambling his way straight uphill at full gallop. I watched him ascend the near vertical slope for the next five minutes, stopping his loping gait only long enough to look back and behind him in laughable dread. The other bear, only 90 yards away, pretended not to notice his embarrassing cousin and continued to shovel paw-fulls of acorns into his mouth as I headed back to break camp.

As you’ve read my adventures of four days spent in the woods, you may have noticed I don’t have a whole lot of stories about actual hunting. There really wasn’t a lot here about animals, about stalking, about tense shots over long distances at trophy kills. That’s because when I headed out into the wilderness with a fire in my belly and hunting on my heart, despite my best efforts and gut-wrenching wishes, the trip ended up more closely resembling hiking, with a gun. In addition to the near 15 miles of walking on trails alone, I estimate I hiked at least an additional 10 miles ‘cross country.’

Arriving back at the trailhead late Monday morning, I collapsed into the car and relished the joy of sitting comfortably for the first time in days. There simply isn’t much about nature that’s comfortable. Putting the car in ‘drive,’ the miles now melted away effortless behind me. Contemplative as I drove, I almost didn’t notice the two does standing dead still in the middle of the road until I was about 30 yards away. Then, instead of trotting back off the way they’d come, they spooked at my approach and began running down the center line away from me. On their right was a cliff face and on their left a drop-off, and if I’d stopped, I'm pretty sure they would’ve simply slowed down and watched me pass. But… I could tell that as long as I kept idling along behind them they’d just keep following the road in a panic, the way deer do when you catch them out in the open for a change. I made ‘em run a ways.

HIKING, WITH A GUN (Part 3) ~ 9/26/11

‘Bob ‘n weave,’ I thought to myself in the dark—‘As long as I’m a moving target, maybe the mountain lions won’t eat me.’

We’re taught from a young age to conquer our fears of the dark, especially in the presence of other men, where these and other childhood hauntings are downright dismissed. Unfortunately, this stoic indifference is greatly diluted in the absence of company. The pre-dawn morning was inky black, a teeth-filled netherworld writhing with menace just beyond the reach of my tiny headlamp. Ahead, a dark tunnel of mystery yawned open through the choked, acorn-studded brush, and behind me, the same. This is your world in the dark of the woods: one beam of blessed light, one direction at a time. And in the back of your mind, always, always, the quiet, nagging question—‘What’s going on in the direction I can’t see?’ Some days it takes longer for the sun to rise.

After leaving my friends the day before, I’d turned East and set out towards the back end of Granite basin. The trail climbed steadily, leading me through unexpected meadows of flowers so tall I was dwarfed by their polin-heavy stalks. I told someone later I half expected to see the entire cast of the Sound of Music, frolicking their way across the trail out before me. Much to my relief, this did not happen. Instead, the meadow gave way to a steep switchback trail carved into the valley’s backstop of decomposing granite and snaking its way towards the summit. I spent the last hours of daylight gasping for breath as I chased the sun over the saddle, its rim slung just under the shadow of Seven-up Peak. That night I camped with a fire.

Now it was morning and I was trying to make my way to a good hunting spot in the unfamiliar new basin, alone and in the dark. It was proving difficult. Finally I settled on a large rock favoring a north-facing crag with sparse pines and shale scales to my left, and, to my right, a more gentle slope that led down to a high mountain meadow. The morning was uneventful until, suddenly— I caught the unmistakable sound of pounding hoof beats carried to me on the rising valley thermals. Like a scene out of The Man From Snowy River, four horses, led by a black mustang, charged up the switchbacks from the valley below and closed the distance to my spot. I had my camera out and snapping as they swept past, majestic, free and—no, not wild. As I discovered later, one of the horses had chewed through its lead rope and incited the defection with a certain amount of mischievous gusto. I watched as he led his groupies all the way to the saddle above, where they stopped, finally, to look back in a dramatic pose as the sun rose behind them and illuminated their manes with fire. Trudging up after them, I enjoyed the first conversation I’d had out loud in a day (with something other than myself), and they joined me at my campsite until their owner appeared, several hours later, exhausted and extremely grouchy. I was sad to see them go.

One final note about the rest of day 3, which eventually led me down 3,000ft. into neighboring Bear Basin, a valley to the northwest and over the ridgeline from Granite: To the makers of Hi-Tec shoes… please stop engineering your hiking boot treads to look exactly like large deer tracks at first glance. It's depressing... and a little bit cruel. 

HIKING, WITH A GUN (Part 2) ~ 9/24/11

There's no realm in which I more fully understand the frustration of works against the unfairness of grace than in the realm of blacktail hunting. This is because in blacktail hunting, as with the Christian faith, ‘victory’ is not based on output of effort. There simply is no promise of getting what you want, based on the best you can do.

Certainly, effort helps. There’s a great degree of truth in the ancient Seneca quote that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Every year, about 4 months before bow season starts, I begin running, lifting weights and watching my diet with extra care. I do inventory on my hunting gear and repair what needs repairing and when possible, purchase what needs purchasing. I set up a target range and try to familiarize myself with my hunting equipment by practicing everyday. I pour over topographical maps and satellite imagery for potential hunting spots. Constantly, I’m guessing at ranges and distances, forcing myself into ‘heat of the moment’ hunting scenarios, where quick thinking gets the job done. Yes, there’s a great degree of truth in saying that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I know each year as the season approaches that when opportunity comes, I’m as ready for it as I can be. The thing with hunting is… we don’t control opportunity.

I woke to a waning moon bright on my face and rose as a falling star fell. My alarm was shrieking obscenities at a peaceful world as I struggled with clumsy fingers to undo the zipper of my sleeping bag. ‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’ I muttered frantically. I always wake up panicked when I’m hunting, convinced the ‘monster buck’ will be scared away by my freakishly loud digital travel clock. Who knows… maybe he was.  

Even in California, mountain mornings are cold. I know, not as cold as wherever it is you hunt, but, whatever, it was cold. We stumbled around the camp to get warm and wake up, making final preparations to our packs and for the hike to our stands for first light. When things were ready, we split up and began our hour-long hike to the ridge-rock bowls where we hoped to see buck herds like bison.

In the dying light of dusk, the granite thresholds of Gibson Peak seem to weep rivulets of liquid silver, but it’s only an illusion. Really it’s nothing but the last bit of sun, reflecting off hundreds of tiny feeder springs that trickle down to the lake below and hardly make a ripple. But this wasn’t dusk; it was dawn, and with every breath I battled gravity and time to beat dawns early light to my spot on the ridgeline. When finally I made it to my outcropping perch, Venus was swinging low from the moon like the old wooden seat strung up from the mango tree by my childhood home. But for all the beauty of my killer view, the deer did not come.

The sun rose quickly, changing the landscape from blue to gold, and what deer there were, though invisible to us, bedded down for the day along with hope and opportunity. Our group returned to camp near noon before going separate ways. They went back out the trailhead, one of their young men nauseous and cold. I ventured further up the valley, alone but intrigued at the thought of new vistas filled with deer. I had two days left to hunt.

I know, each year, when opportunity comes, I’m as ready for it as I can be. The thing with hunting is… we don’t control opportunity. We can’t earn it. It comes like the wind, refreshing but unmastered, unpredictable but real, and is no respecter of persons. Which is why there’s no realm in which I more fully understand the frustration of works against the unfairness of grace than in the realm of blacktail hunting. Because in blacktail hunting, as in the Christian faith, ‘victory’ isn’t based on output of effort. There simply is no promise of getting what you want, based on the best you can do. In hunting, as in the Christian faith, success depends on unmerited favor. You prepare, you sweat, you work —but not before you risk a prayer for help in submission to the God of opportunity.

HIKING, WITH A GUN (Part 1) ~ 9/21/11

The morning was cool, with a rising fog that flanked the foothills of The Trinity Alps with an aura of mystery and the hint of Fall. It was a spectacular dawn.  I took up the rear in a procession of four, accompanied in my hunt by a friend and his sons on a trail not one of us had previously hiked. It was the morning before opening day and adventure was in the air.

The trail was wide and well groomed, and followed the raucous flow of a creek called ‘Swift,’ which, over the years, had cut a deep gash through flecked walls of cold stone. Our destination was a meadow just short of what turned out to be one of the most popular tourist destination in the Alps—Granite Lake. The lake sat in a cleft of stone, a dew drop in a rock navel, perched calm at an elevation of about 6,500 feet where it birthed its own creek from a 300ft. waterfall. This bleeding flow then shattered to bits on the boulders of a jagged basin and slowed its pace to a crawl before making its way through the hard pack and grass tufts of Gibson Meadow, far below. It was there, in the shadow of Granite and God, that we made our first camp.

The sun set slowly over Gibson Peak, so slowly it gave me time for a dip in the creek after scouting my morning stand. The waters were still and clear, four deep by ten feet wide, and, plunging suddenly, I immersed myself in the shocking cold wet. I sputtered a bit as I came out, surprised at the sting, and as I did, glanced to my left in time to see a small tree frog leap from the thick willow brush and into the water with a splash. Apparently I’d inspired him. I wondered idly if he was sputtering somewhere too.

Changing into a fresh set of clothes, I wandered through the lush meadow grass to a flat rock bathed in sunset and took a nap, hat pulled down over my eyes. I woke to a rising moon and the onset of a mountain chill that sent me jogging back to camp. There wasn’t much talk that night around our awkward meals and eccentric rituals; tomorrow was on our minds, and the luck it might hold. We dreamed each one of triumph and glory, meat and horns and the legends we hoped to embody by our deeds. As usual, the best dreams were the most elusive ones, and sleep conceded defeat to an unsettled delirium. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not adrenaline or testosterone that fuels the die-hard hunter. No; whether awake or asleep, the drug of the hunter is hope, and in these parts, we’re all heavy users.


I was privileged to share the gospel with a 92yr-old woman today. We sat together on a porch painted black and shadowed by wind-teased oaks. Geese played nearby in a man-made pond stocked with bluegill, bass and fat brown catfish, and all the bucks I’d been looking for all season lay sleeping in the lawn under low trees heavy with apples and shade. We sat together on a porch painted black and the woman said, “The days just seem to fly by faster and faster,” and it made me think of the words of Moses in Psalm 90, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”  What does it mean to ‘number our days?’

Author Sandra Felton tells the story of a man who, based on his best guess at how many days he could expect to live, filled a jar with marbles, one for each week he had left. The man would remove a marble from his jar and carry it around in his pocket all week long. Then, each Sunday, he would remove the marble from his pocket and give it to a child at church. In this way, he metered out the days and weeks of his life, one marble at a time.

Maybe you find this just a little bit grim. But for this man, each marble served as a concrete, visual reminder of something the rest of us work very hard to forget—that we are not long for this world. That like milk or a green leaf in Autumn, we have an expiration date in the land of the living. There’s a principle in money management that says money, for many of us, is like water in our hands, and if we don’t keep track of where we spend it, we’ll be forever asking where it went. So, too, with life. “The days just seem to fly by faster and faster,” she said, moving to a chair more fully in shade, which had shifted since we’d first sat down.

The words of Moses here are a prayer, a prayer “that God would teach us to number our days, as if the present one was the last; for we cannot boast of tomorrow,” says John Gill in his exposition of Psalm 90.We know not but this day, or night, our souls may be required of us.” To ‘number our days’ is to live in the awareness that our sunrises and sunsets will not go on forever; it is to live each day as our last, because the tricky thing about death is… we don’t know God’s schedule. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Why does numbering our days get us ‘a heart of wisdom?’ Do you know, when a person pauses to number his days, there’s a door opens up a bit wider in the heart towards the things of God…

The preceding verse in Psalm 90 says this—
“Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. There’re several different Hebrew words translated “fear” in our English Bible, but they don’t all convey identical meaning. In the case of the word ‘fear’ in this passage from Psalm 90, the word is yir'âh. Where other Hebrew words for ‘fear,’ and ‘the fear of God’ have to do with dread or abject terror, the word yir’ah conveys the meaning of admitting your vulnerable smallness in the presence of God’s overpowering vastness,  similar to what you would feel if you stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon and looked out. The word here means a recognition of and submission to the all-encompassing authority of God.

This verse, then, is very clear: God’s wrath towards people at the end of days is ‘according to’ their recognition of and submission to His authority. And do you know that when a person pauses to number their days, facing his or her mortality, there’s a door opens up a bit wider in the heart towards submission to the things of God— and the choice to submit to Him is ‘getting a heart of wisdom.’ “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10, Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, Job 28:28, etc.).

So what does “the fear of the LORD” look like for us, today? What is a true “God-fearing” man or woman? It is a man or woman who submits their life to Jesus. Jesus, through whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16), Jesus, God in the flesh (John 1:1-5,14), Jesus, the perfect man who took our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), Jesus, the innocent man who took our punishment (1 Peter 3:18), Jesus, who rose again to life (Acts 2:29-32), Jesus, who personified salvation (John 3:16), Jesus, who claimed all the authority of God in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), JESUS—and this is His gospel. Have you submitted your life to Jesus? When you do, it’s a healthy fear that purges the abject terror of God’s wrath, because “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

Whether or not you’ve ‘numbered your days,’ your days are numbered, and most of us won’t be blessed with as many todays to ‘get a heart of wisdom’ as the woman I spoke with on the porch painted black. Take it from someone who knows— ‘the days will just fly by faster and faster.’ So to you, I repeat the appeal of St. Paul in the New Testament book of 2 Corinthians, chapters 5,6—“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him (Jesus) we might become the righteousness of God. Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

I was privileged to share the gospel with a 92yr-old woman today. We sat together on a porch painted black and shadowed by wind-teased oaks. When I’d finished explaining what Jesus did for her, and that salvation required submitting to Christ through belief, I looked at her and asked, “What do you think about what I’ve just told you?”
‘I believe this!” she said with feeling, and eternity unfolded before her, even as the shadows forever fled.

Surrounded By Grace,


Sometimes, there are just days when you sit up and say, "Well, why not?" Last Friday was such a day. Why not make a music video? About hunting? A rap music video about hunting? I mean, come on... why not? And so we did. 'Cause that is how we roll.

A DAY & A LIFETIME ~ 8/22/11

There’s an old and well-known Chinese proverb adopted by the Peace Corps that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” And this is the work of the Church. We believe in feeding the man. The whole man. Not just ‘Man as soul,’ but Man as he is portrayed in the Bible, as a body-soul fusion that cannot be dissected into separate parts. This means we believe in social work. We believe in soup kitchens and in homeless shelters. We believe in recovery programs and halfway houses. We believe in jail ministry and digging wells and food drives and Christmas boxes in Africa. We, the Church, believe in social work. Not because it is a clever tool to manipulate people into exposing their souls, but because we believe you cannot truly love a person’s soul without also caring for their body. Because the two are inseparable.

So the question will be asked, “Why are you doing this charity work or that social work? Are you trying to convert them?” What are we to answer? We are to answer with the truth: ‘Yes.’ Yes, we want to convert them. Yes, we want to save them. Yes, we want to lead them to the freedom they were created to enjoy. We want them to be rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son. Because otherwise… if our goal is not to change the man but only his circumstance, what does all our social work ultimately accomplish…? It feeds the man for a day. And that just won't do. Because we believe you cannot truly love a person’s body without also caring for their soul. Because the two are inseparable.

Lesslie Newbigin, a Church of Scotland scholar, bishop and missionary to India,
wrote that,
Even the works of Jesus were not self-interpreting. They needed the words in which he proclaimed the reality and the character of the reign of God. Much more do our faltering and ambiguous deeds need interpreting. One of the decisive experiences of my own life was a long vacation spent during my student days as part of a team of workers among the unemployed miners of one of the South Wales mining districts. The members of the group with which I worked were deeply convinced that they must confine themselves to social work, and that anything in the way of religious activity or preaching must be completely avoided. I was not at that time a Christian. But I could not fail to see that our social work was not meeting the deepest needs of these men and women who had rotted in unemployment for more than a decade. They needed more than food and games and education. They needed hope. They needed something to love and long for at a time when the world seemed to have no use for them. Our social work programmes alone could not communicate that: it needed the word, the word about Jesus and his Cross. It was in that situation that the death of Jesus first became a reality to me.

We, the Church, believe in feeding the man. The whole man. We do not believe in treating Man as a disembodied soul, but neither do we believe in treating Man as simply a machine of flesh, needing nothing but regular tune-ups and oil changes to function well. We believe in doing more than feeding the man for a day. We believe in teaching the man something. We believe in sharing a message with the man, a hope, a shout from the courts of heaven, a song from the lips of angels, a Gospel from the One who has gone ahead and forged a way to a freedom that will actually change the man, and not just his circumstance. And what is this Gospel? What is this 'good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people...?' “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6)

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is the work of the Church. We believe in feeding the man. The whole man. Not just ‘Man as soul,’ but Man as he is portrayed in the Bible, as a body-soul fusion that cannot be dissected into separate parts. This means we strive always to feed the man for a day—his daily needs are real, and important, and vital. But it also means we never forget also to feed him for a lifetime. And by ‘feed him,’ I mean preach the Gospel, and by ‘for a lifetime,’ I mean… for the sake of his eternity.

Surrounded By Grace,


There’s a sadness to reunions, the good ones, the ones you actually look forward to. It’s a predictable sadness, a welcome sadness even, because the truest joys are known only by the deepest contrasts. The shadow proves the sunshine. There’s a sadness to reunions, and it is the ache of fixed sepia memories, reexamined in the fading light of short-lived todays. We recycle the past and look to the future, but we struggle to master these fleeting todays. They’re slippery things, filled with the clutter of our tangled timelines and a tide of fickle feelings. The past is predictable and the future is not, but the present is where we’re left to work out what it all means. And sometimes, when what you’re working out is the best of times with the best of friends, there just aren’t enough of these precious todays to string along together.

There’s a sadness to reunions, the good ones, the ones you actually look forward to, and if we were honest with ourselves instead of nostalgia’s willing accomplices, we’d admit up front we knew some form of the sadness was inevitable.  But we lie to ourselves. Because sometimes it’s just the shove we need to enjoy the gift of a today spent sharing the past, as fleeting as it may be. ‘It’s better to have loved and lost,’ as they say, ‘than to never have loved at all.’ I don’t know that anyone makes that kind of ‘better’ their goal in the dealings of love. No one goes intentionally looking for pain. But we do search for joy, deep joy, and for the things that matter and last, and what we soon discover in this search is that these very things are impossible to know without the risk of pain. When it comes to reunions, the good ones, the ones you actually look forward to, the intersection of the predictable past and the passing present means lots of smiles, lots of laughs, lots of joy, and then… sadness. That yesterday is history. That today is quickly gone. And that tomorrow just seems so far away.

My reunion is over, and I ache in a way tonight that I have not hurt in many years. Some will not understand this and think me strange, or perhaps oversensitive. Some will laugh and shake their heads. Some will quietly think I am too stuck in memory, and others may admit it’s the very reason they did not come at all. But for all the pain now, I'm glad I came. The reward was worth the cost. The joy was worth the heartache. And I, for one, will come again.

Thanks for memories, Class of ’96. I love you guys.



The trust of a child is remarkable.
I took my two older boys to Redding today. It was hot. So, as any good American parent would do, we headed for the nearest air conditioned facility with free entertainment. In our case, it was the mall, domain of the tweens. I was terrified.

I parked near the closest entrance to the kids play area and we headed in, sons, pulling me forward reluctantly. A man with black lipstick opened the door for us. 'See,' I thought, 'it's what's inside that counts.' My oldest son wanted to know why that girl looked so manly. "Nathan," I said, "it's what's inside that counts."

The kids play area was remarkably quiet compared to 'normal.' Only a small handful of exhausted moms leaned heavily against the cushioned walls for moral support. Not for the first time did the words 'padded room' float uneasily through my brain. After helping the boys take off their shoes, I joined the exhausted moms.

The trust of a child is remarkable, but the trust of a child towards other children is nothing less than stunning. Total strangers, when children, could be lifelong friends. 
No ego.
No fear.
No pretense.
No prejudice.
Everyone's included.
Everyone's smiled at.
Everyone's important.
Everyone's accepted.

For about an hour, I watched my boys interact, play, plan and laugh with a dozen other little strangers with near perfect ease. It was a bit convicting to watch. Something about these young kids was just... so different... from so many adults. I don't know that I'm putting my finger on it exactly, but I think it has something to do with trusting the best in another person before assuming anything else. 'See,' I thought, 'it's what's inside that counts.'

Dear God, change me on the inside and make me like a child towards You and towards others. I know I need the wisdom of Christ, but give me also the trust of a child.


The porch light winked through the wind-tossed boughs of a creaking white cedar. “You’ll wish for this place once you’ve left it,” the night whispered, and I nodded a silent assent. In Ezekiel chapter three the prophet ate a bittersweet scroll, and as the sun dimmed fast over the north valley floor, I drank in a sweet Summer evening.

It had been a full day, and rich, but now I stole more, having ducked from the noise of the crowded house in search of reflection and quiet. We’d made the journey again, my family and I, down the serpentine mountain in two separate vehicles, churning and burping and false-starting our way eastward from the cool to the heat with a reunion on our hearts. My brother-in-law was back on a two-week leave before returning to Iraq, “Fourteen days,” he told me, “from when the wheels touch the ground.” It didn’t seem very fair. Then again, neither did bullets.

My wife had gone on before with two of the children in our air-conditioned car. Nathan, my oldest, kept me company in the passenger seat of the infamous old Ford, which will be celebrated when sold, but mostly mourned, and probably only by me. The windows all down was great ‘til it wasn’t, and the west-listing sun burnt what fun there was left clean out of my 6yr.-old passenger. He sat there sweltering in a pool of his own sweat. “I wish I’d gone with Mom,” he said tragically.

We arrived late in Willows to a ragtag tangle of family and friends in a park on the outskirts of town. There, fruitless mulberry trees formed a vaulted canopy that diffused the late afternoon heat into sporadic sunbeam swords, thrusting their way through and downwards towards the soft belly of earth where we sat sprawled on lawn chairs, laughing. Many had traveled hours to come— it was worth it, worth seeing each other, each other’s maturing children, each other’s maturing idiosyncrasies. I watched my warrior brother-in-law push a swing set to the limit with his three high school buddies, saw them goad each other towards nausea on a vintage green merry-go-round and enjoyed their arm wrestling on a concrete picnic bench. He was a kid again that day, free for a moment from the weight of his country, and honor, and of the responsibility for life he wears like a flak jacket every moment he’s ‘over there.’ It was good to see him laugh. He’d become so frightfully brave.

I remembered the camping trip, how many years was it now—?— on the coast with my in-laws, in tents. The warrior was a boy then, just a kid climbing trees. I had been by the fire, reading, when I heard his sharp yelp from behind me. Turning, I saw him, the boy warrior, slumping in the crook of a tree, knife in hand. He dropped the knife as I ran, and I saw a small cut on his hand. There wasn’t much blood, but enough to bring fear, and he asked me to help him get down. It was a small thing, to lift him, to set him down, to brush him off and steady him there. He was fine in minutes. But it floors me that this is that boy. There’s a comfort in knowing such change is possible in a man, such maturity.
But that day it was good just to see him laugh; he’d become so frightfully brave.

The crickets thrummed loud but the bull-frogs struck back, and the air was alive with the battle. A wax moon rose bright and early, urging corn-rows to stand up and the sun to lay down. The light all around was a hopeful blue. It was quiet out there by the fields, and spacious. Greedily, I drank it in. “You’ll wish for this place once you’ve left it,” the night whispered, and I nodded a silent assent. Laughter came suddenly from the warmth of the house, and light, and the cry of a baby. And when silence returned it seemed darker, but calm and I heard a flag snapping in the breeze. 
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~