Once and for All

Genesis 15:1-6

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

What a wild passage. A man old in his age, childless, becomes resigned to the the fact that his fortune will simply be given to someone else in his household. Being childless was a very real, very clear point of pain for Abram and Sarai (who later become Abraham and Sarah). It’s a reason for doubt, pain, and strife for many people still today. What’s amazing in this passage, and the next couple of chapters, is how clearly God addresses that pain.

Here God tells Abraham that his offspring will be his heir. He then takes him outside and basically says what he says more explicitly in chapter 17, that his offspring will be many, that his descendants will be like the stars in the sky. This man, old in his age and childless, will become the father of many nations. It’s easy to offer empty condolences and hope from a text like this. We often look to passages like this for encouragement and see that God relieved Abraham and Sarah from their strife and healed the biggest sore spot they had by delivering to them a son. I want to be careful in doing that though. Lent keeps us grounded. Sure Abraham is promised a multitude of descendants, but the more important piece is that he believed the Lord. His belief is counted as righteousness and it’s from that righteousness that a promise like this is even made.

I can’t promise you that whatever suffering you might be dealing with will be healed during your lifetime. I truly wish I could. I do, however, feel confident in telling you that the perspective you have towards that thing can change the course of your life. Abraham’s belief in the promises of God alleviated his pain. For us, an eternal perspective is needed to know that a trusting belief in the work of Christ on the cross guarantees us freedom from sin and pain, not here in this lifetime, but in eternity.

This is good news for us that should prompt us into action. We, as the church, are called to continue the work of God with the help of the Spirit here on Earth, which includes tending to the sick, caring for widows and orphans, helping the impoverished. We’re called into action to help give the world a taste of the new Heavens and new Earth. We’re called as a community to help each other endure the hardships of this life with a hope pointed towards a glorious end, when the promises of the cross are realized once and for all.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray that God helps you see your points of pain from an eternal perspective. Ask for empathy in seeing the pain in others and wisdom to know how to serve them best.

Hunger, Temptation, Jesus

 Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the templeand said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’


“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

This passage is the heart of the Lenten fast. It’s where the 40 days of Lent is traditionally derived. It’s a powerful example of the resistance of temptation and the goodness of God. Jesus reminds us at each moment of temptation to shift our focus away from that temptation and back toward God.

If you’re searching for the rhythm of Lent, this is it. It’s the ebb and flow of hunger, temptation, Jesus, hunger, temptation, Jesus. Whatever you may be fasting from, the longer you go without it, the greater the temptation grows, and the more we need to lean on Christ. It’s hard, and it’s also a microcosm of the Christian life.

As the Spirit begins to sanctify us from the very beginning of our faith and begins to pare away sin from our lives, the temptation for our comforts, our old ways grows stronger. It becomes harder to resist. We’re faced with choice to remain steadfast or to momentarily lapse into our old ways and try to fill the hunger with the idols we used to carry. When this happens we enter into a different rhythm, one of confession, repentance, and belief.  We enter back into the cycle and the Spirit continues to work in us.

This is the work of the Spirit, to make us more Christlike through the rhythms of the Christian walk that are magnified during the Lenten season. Maybe think of it like a workout routine. You don’t start with lifting the heaviest weight in the gym, and you don’t start with the marathon. You build your way up to those things. The good news is that with this spiritual exercise, the Spirit guides you and helps you along the way. We don’t do this alone. Not only has He sent the Spirit to help us grow, but he’s also sent other people. We’re never alone in this walk no matter how it may sometimes feel.

If you feel like progress is slow, just know that you’re not alone and that even Jesus is served by angels at the end of this event, and at the end of ours, He’ll be there too, lifting us up in our exhaustion. He’ll be there to feed us the feast He has prepared.

Prayer and Reflection

Reflect and pray the collect from the Book of Common Prayer for this past Sunday. Also, think about what idols you need help shedding and lean into the support of the Spirit, who will guide you to truth.

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations, and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Through the Deep

Psalm 77

I cry aloud to God,
    aloud to God, and he will hear me.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord;
    in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying;
    my soul refuses to be comforted.
When I remember God, I moan;
    when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah

You hold my eyelids open;
    I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
I consider the days of old,
    the years long ago.
I said, “Let me remember my song in the night;
    let me meditate in my heart.”
    Then my spirit made a diligent search:
“Will the Lord spurn forever,
    and never again be favorable?
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
    Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
    Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah

10 Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
    to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy.
    What god is great like our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders;
    you have made known your might among the peoples.
15 You with your arm redeemed your people,
    the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

16 When the waters saw you, O God,
    when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
    indeed, the deep trembled.
17 The clouds poured out water;
    the skies gave forth thunder;
    your arrows flashed on every side.
18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
    your lightnings lighted up the world;
    the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was through the sea,
    your path through the great waters;
    yet your footprints were unseen.
20 You led your people like a flock
    by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Aren’t there times when we just seem to be inconsolable? Our circumstances seem so heavy, we feel so burdened that our natural response is one of annoyance. “My soul refuses to be comforted.” It’s hard not to get bogged down by circumstance, to feel like the Lord is the one keeping us up at night. This is what’s wonderful about the Psalms.  They give us permission to feel. They give us permission to hurt, then they encourage us to remember, to remember that we serve a God who hears us when we cry out to Him.

Sometimes God’s way brings us through hardship. Sometimes His way is through the sea, His path through the great waters, but He leads His people like a shepherd. His path might be through the deep abyss and that might scare us, but it’s the waters that are afraid of Him.

It’s always hard to do in the moment, but it’s helpful sometimes to try to view your current circumstance, whether good or bad, from a greater distance. Back up and try to see the whole picture as difficult as it can be because it always offers perspective. Try to view this one circumstance within the scope of your entire life. It always offers context, and context helps keep us grounded in the truth.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray for eyes to see the whole picture. Pray for the ability to see outside of yourself and view your life in context. See how it relates to others right now, but also throughout history.  Reflect on the truth that God hears when you cry out. He hears you.

Within You

Ephesians 2:1-10

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

As we’ve already established, to some degree, Lent is a time for us to come to terms with the human condition. The focus is often on the brokenness in each of us as well as the brokenness around us. As I’ve mentioned before, we embrace our brokenness and look for truth in the midst of it. We “endure suffering” as 2 Timothy 4:5 states. Yes, Lent is a time to crack open the shells of our lives and peer into the inner workings of who we are, but besides brokenness, what might you also see?

Is it not true that we were created in the image of God and given a task to tame the wildness of creation in such a way that promotes flourishing, to use our creativity for His glory (Genesis 1:26-31)? We may be broken, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t valuable. We may not have earned God’s grace, but that doesn’t negate our value. It doesn’t mean that God didn’t create us for a purpose or that we weren’t made with intention.

Verse 8 is clear that salvation doesn’t come from anything that we’ve done. It’s a gift from God. His grace is a gift, but just because we didn’t do anything to receive the gift doesn’t mean there isn’t something for us to do. We were created for good works. We were created to seek the flourishing of other humans, to “be fruitful and multiple.” We often think of this phrase as a commandment to reproduce, but what if it’s broader than that?  What if we’re called from the very beginning to participate in a world that promotes health and care and love for everyone?

The human condition is broken, but at the same time in our brokenness, in our death, we were loved and saved so that we could live into the good works that God planned for us from the beginning. We seek healing. We seek reconciliation. We seek justice. We seek love. We seek the welfare of the city. These things may not be perfected until He returns, but we can catch a glimpse of what His glory is like and help others do the same.

I’ve mentioned that I want to make Lent about introspection. I want us to shed the weight of our idols and see what’s left. What’s left might be broken, but it’s also the workmanship of God. He took care in creating each of us, so maybe the cracks are there on purpose. What might we see when we peer into the inner workings of who we are?  Maybe when we hesitantly peek into those broken spots, we’ll be surprised by what we find. Maybe we’ll find that we were fearfully and wonderfully made. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find the kingdom of God.

Prayer and Reflection

Pray for guidance in better understanding how God can use you for the flourishing of those around you. Pray that you will find hope, love, and value in the brokenness of your life.

but in Your Cross

This morning I’d like to shift gears and try something different. Instead of taking a look at a passage of Scripture, I’d like to share a prayer with you from the 20th century monk and author, Thomas Merton. I don’t typically use traditional devotionals in my own life. I don’t really know why, but I often gravitate towards other things like written prayers and poetry to supplement my Bible reading. They tend to be both short and reflective.

The reading this morning appears in a collection of Merton’s prayers titled, Dialogues with Silence. Hannah and I randomly came across it a few years ago in a small bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve since used it off and on for daily reflection. It’s funny to me how something so random, so seemingly inconsequential can work its way into the daily rhythms of life. If you’re in my college group, you may have read this particular prayer before, but it’s one of my favorites. Sometimes these take a second, slow reading to really catch the intimacy and details. Reflect with me.

My Lord, I have no hope but in Your Cross. You, by Your humility, sufferings and death, have delivered me from all vain hope. You have killed the vanity of the present life in Yourself and have given me all that is eternal in rising from the dead.

My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the human heart cannot feel. Therefore let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand has never touched. Do not let me trust in what I can grasp between my fingers, because Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone.

Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health or strength or ability or human resources.

If I trust You, everything else will become for me strength, health and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.


Breath of Truth

2 Timothy 4:1-5

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Whew! There’s a lot to say with a passage like this. I’ll try to make this one a little shorter than yesterday, but if you know me, you know I’m long winded. That plays itself out in writing just the same. For our purposes and for the purpose of Lent, we’re going to focus in on just a couple of key pieces after looking at the passage as a whole.

  1. Verses 1-2 have an exhortation for the Christian (and specifically Timothy, to whom the letter is written). “I charge you… preach the word.” The meaning here is simple enough. Preaching the word should “reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” and you’re to do it “with complete patience and teaching.”
  2. Verses 3-4 are a commentary on the tendency of people to gravitate towards things that suit themselves rather than challenging themselves with what is true. This is where we’re going to spend the bulk of our time because I think it’s the most obviously recognizable piece in our own lives.
  3. Verse 5 doubles back to the same charge as verses 1 and 2, just worded differently. He says “fulfill your ministry” by doing the work.  There’s also a charge to “endure suffering” which is a form of patience, a theme that will carry over throughout these posts.

Verses 3-4 are where I really want to focus for the rest of this post. Man, if we don’t all fall into this trap from time to time. In fact, it seems that for many people, finding a teacher to suit their passions is their ultimate goal and is, they believe, their God-given right. I want to offer an alternative perspective. Maybe you don’t believe in truth. If that’s you, then this alternative perspective may not say very much to you. It’s a completely different conversation that we need to have, however, for those that do believe in truth, listen up.

Sometimes coming to grips with what is true can be difficult. Sometimes it’s much easier to listen to someone who is telling you exactly what you want to hear, what you want to be true. This is where we get into to trouble. We begin to construct for ourselves a house of cards that becomes more and more fragile the higher we build it. The deeper we move away from reality, the more cards we stack on top until the smallest breath of truth sends the structure crashing down.

It boils down to the same message that I mentioned yesterday. We can’t skip the hard parts of reality and go right to what feels good. The more we medicate our lives and placate our senses with ideas that simply suit our desires, the more we become detached from reality. We build a shaky frame that’s always in danger of falling apart. We’re always rushing to plug every hole and fix every leak, and we become exhausted. Pretending is exhausting.

So seek the truth. Find comfort there. Find rest there. Find meaning there. If Lent is about anything, it’s about stripping away the things that make us believe we are independent, that we don’t need God, that we don’t need community, that we are self-reliant, and that we control everything around us. Lent is about stripping away the flashy and getting to reality, authenticity, and truth.Philosopher with a mirror

Prayer and Reflection

Pray that God reveals those things in our lives that prevent us from listening to truth. Pray that He helps us to see ourselves as we are, helps us to love ourselves as He’s created us.

Wait with Me

Psalm 25:1-10

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
    let me not be put to shame;
    let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
    they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

We come to this reading the day after Ash Wednesday, which is certainly a solemn day on the Christian calendar. Many Christians across the world yesterday received ashes on their foreheads and heard the refrain, “from dust you were made, and to dust you shall return.” You might think this sounds a bit grim, and if you’ve never actually experienced it, it might seem completely foreign. If that’s you, take a look at Genesis 3:19. It’s taken almost exactly from that passage, which is the curse of Adam after the fall of man. It’s intended to be grim, its origins are embedded in a curse for all humanity and that curse has become one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human, namely death. The point of the refrain is to force us to grapple with our sinfulness, our brokenness, and ultimately our death. While those realities are intended to be reflected upon, they aren’t intended to be the final conclusion and that brings us to Psalm 25.

This passage is to be contrasted with the paragraph you just read and the entire point of Ash Wednesday.  It offers hope even in the midst of doubt and worry.  The psalmist expresses confidence in the covenants of God but also shows moments of vulnerability and worry.

Is humanity broken? That’s a simple question and most people who work from a Christian framework would say yes. It’s really hard for me to dispute that when death and suffering is so evidently in our faces. There was a school shooting yesterday in Florida that left 17 people dead. I imagine if you ask anyone in that community or even remotely related to that event how they feel, “broken,” wouldn’t be too far off the mark. They should feel broken, and it could be argued that maybe they need to feel broken in order to heal.

I struggle with things like this because the tendency for so many of us Christians is to immediately jump to the future. We want to skip the suffering and go right to the good stuff. We say things like, “God has a plan” or “everything will be okay in the end.” We want to skip the pain and skip the hurt, but skipping the suffering can’t do anything but devalue those in pain and those hurting. It’s not even biblical. The very existence of sin, of death, of the cross stands counter to the notion that we should skip the hard parts and go right to the easy. We weren’t given cheat codes to jump to the last level. We were given a quest, which is called life and in it there will be both joys and hardships. I guess I can’t say with 100% absolute certainty, but I’m pretty sure no one has ever lived that hasn’t experienced some level of hardship.

A couple of days ago, on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, I listened to a Fresh Air interview with a Duke Divinity School professor named Kate Bowler who has incurable cancer. Since being diagnosed, she has developed a significant distaste for platitudes like those mentioned earlier and gained a new appreciation for struggle. Bowler believes that because of her struggle she has become more empathetic towards others who are in pain and seems to have a better perception of beauty. She now finds it in places she didn’t before. She also mentions that she immediately became more appreciative of Lent and highlights the desire to skip to right to Easter, but explains that life just isn’t like that.

This passage in Psalms should help those who want to offer those trite remarks see that it’s both possible to live in pain, to feel broken, and to still trust in God. Yesterday, I mentioned that we should embrace our brokenness, but maybe “accept” is a better word to use here. We accept that nervousness, fear, doubt, and worry exist.  We can feel them and still, at the same time, love God. Verse 2 is a great example where the psalmist says, “O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame.” In other words, “God I trust you, but please don’t let me down!” There’s a confidence in God, but a slight tinge of uncertainty or worry. This should be all too familiar to most of us.


Or look at verse 7, “remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness.”  In other words, “don’t remember me at my most broken. Don’t remember me at my worst. Don’t define me by the worst moment of my life. Instead, mark me with you love.”

Pain is real, brokenness is real, and loving God doesn’t make those things go away. Not here, not yet. But one of the gifts of God is community. He’s given us other people to lift us when we fall, to enter the pain with us, to hold our hands when we’re scared, and to love us when we hurt. Verse 3 promises that those who wait on God will not be put to shame but waiting can be hard. It can even take an entire life, but the good news is that he’s given us people to wait alongside us. You aren’t alone.

Rhythms of Lent

I didn’t grow up in a tradition that really celebrated Lent in any meaningful way. I knew it only as the time between Mardi Gras and Easter. I’ve since come to find myself enamored with the ideas, rhythms, and reflection that it creates. I’m not typically great at keeping a steady, disciplined fast throughout the entirety of the period, but whenever I’ve tried, I’ve been impacted. It’s helped me reflect more on my own humanity, the brokenness of the world, and helped me become more in tune with the suffering others.

It’s also helped me better understand Easter. It’s helped me understand the suffering of the cross and what a glorious victory the resurrection actually is. I can’t help but think that when we ignore Lent, we somehow minimize the gospel and truncate the work of Christ. I want to argue that we miss some of the beauty of Easter morning when it’s not contrasted with the stark austerity of Lent.

So,  I’m trying something new this season. My goal is to update this blog for 40 days during Lent. I won’t write on Sundays, but I’ll make a strong effort to do it every other day. As I mentioned before, I’m typically pretty bad at adopting a Lenten discipline, but I’m hoping that by doing something so public I’ll have the accountability I need in order to see this goal through. I’ve wanted to devote more time to writing and this seems as good a place as any.

I’ll be using this as a reflection on scripture and the situations and experiences I have during this time with the hope of pulling the shroud off the mundane and finding meaning in spaces big and small. I love adventure, and I love exploring. I like the idea of experiencing something I’ve never experienced before, but this is a different kind of adventure. It’s a reimagining of things that are old and usual. It’s looking at the Bible with fresh eyes and trying to search the world around us with a different perspective.


Sure, newness is the edge of the sun on any horizon, but this is the type of seeking that requires some digging. It embraces the brokenness instead of trying to shed it, reflects on it, and looks for what can be gleaned from it. Join me on this journey and help me gain a new perspective.