A More Excellent Way

A More Excellent Way


I care deeply for a very diverse group of people. They are teachers, doctors, lawyers, sales reps, caregivers, homemakers, service professionals, counselors, artists, pastors, pastors’ wives; heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals, former homosexuals, still-haven’t-figured-it-out-sexuals; agnostics, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, liberal theologians, Reformed theologians; Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and a few who have never voted; former child molesters and abusers, and those who are healing from the effects of molestation and abuse; drug addicts, and those who, by the world’s standards, have never made a wrong decision in their lives.

And I love them all.

One of the reasons that I love them all is one common trait they all possess: loving respect for all of humanity, even those who are very different from them.

The last few months have seen some of the people who I love dearly caricatured and stereotyped, then brutally attacked with both the written and spoken word, either directly and individually, or because of a particular group with whom they identify.

And in case you missed it, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can permanently damage.

While I was doing yard work this evening, a phrase continually rolled through my head: “A more excellent way.”

You see, friends, there is a more excellent way than the way humanity is treating one another in this season of time. We have drawn sides, demonized all who disagree with us, and agree only on the fact that all issues fall under a “Take No Prisoners” rule of engagement.

So Christians attack Muslims. And vice versa. And heterosexuals attack homosexuals. And vice versa. Republicans attack Democrats. And vice versa. Creationists attack Evolutionists. And vice versa.

But there is a more excellent way, shared with us by the Apostle Paul. Regardless of how you may feel about the Bible, or about Paul, or his theology, or his sexuality, or his missions strategy, we can all agree that his way is, indeed, more excellent.

24b …But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it… 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
1 If I speak in the tongues[fn] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[fn] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12-13

Simply put, let’s grow up and love one another.

I’m Every Person


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Observations from sermons on the parable of the Good Samaritan from Morris Hill Baptist and St. Peter’s Episcopal today. Yep, two sermons, two denominations, same Gospel passage, two different perspectives, one Truth. God has a point for me to get today.

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25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coin and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” ~Lk. 10:25-37

“The lawyer realized that the only way he could possibly fulfill the Law’s demand was to limit its demand.”

Do you just fulfill the letter of the Law, or compassionately, do you go the extra mile to serve your neighbor who needs mercy? 

Faith is not a noun, a definition understood; but an action, a show of behavior like that of our divine Father. We are chips off the Divine block. And we should behave in such a way toward those our Father places in our path each day.

My takeaways:

We are all the lawyer, desperately seeking in vain to fulfill the law in our own strength.

We are all the broken man in the road, rejected by someone at sometime in life.

We are all the priest and the Levite at times, holding on to prejudices and selfishness, putting ourselves, our beliefs, and our rituals above others.

We are all the Samaritan, people made in the Image of God who are capable of inconveniencing ourselves, motivated by compassion and mercy, to reach out and show love to the ones we are least likely to show love to naturally.

In the words of singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan,

Who is my neighbor? Anyone the Lord leads you into contact with! The person who lives next door…the mailman…that checkout clerk at Walmart…your waitress at IHOP…your child’s basketball coach…the man begging for food…the person you sit next to at the theater …your plumber…you get the idea…those you have any type of relationship with! Ministry does not require that you have expertise in a person’s field any more than it requires that you have experienced their particular sin or hurt. But ministry does require a few things.

Ministry requires that you love your neighbor as a potential new creation in Christ and, if they are a believer, to love them in spite of your discomfort with their particular struggle. Love does not require the other person’s agreement. You can love someone without agreeing with their political, spiritual, or moral beliefs.

To save the lost around us, we must establish relationships with them – loving people how they are, where they are.

So, who is the neighbor you need to go out of your way to love today?

“Before I Was Even Born?!?”


This is the very first book I bought for Arwen. I bought it for her at the Smithsonian while on a school trip, the week before she was born. I’ve never been nervous to travel. In fact, I have a dose of wanderlust in me that can be difficult to contain at times. But this particular week, I was terrified to travel. Terrified because my sister-in-law’s due date was quickly approaching and I did NOT want to be in Washington, DC, while my niece was coming into this world. I called every day to check on progress and effacing and dilation and had back up plans for flying home if needed.

But I made time to buy her a book. And not just any book. An Alphabet book of cool paintings and weird animals. A wicked expensive book because I bought it at the Smithsonian. Her first book.

Tonight I was hanging out with her at her house. She knows I love books as much as she does, and we straighten up her bookshelves and talk about her books and read a few of them every time I go over there. At the bottom of the shelf I found this, and it made me smile thinking about how long it took me to find the first book for the firstborn of the next generation of Masons.

I spent nearly a half hour looking through all the options they had. I read them and thought about which one I wanted to be a family heirloom. I pondered the quality of the books, thought about how it should really be gender neutral so it be enjoyed by all other future kids. It needed to be educational, not just entertaining, special and not hokey, and as theologically sound as a book can be when you’re buying it from the Museum of Natural Science at the Smithsonian. Thus the reason we ended up with a hardback Alphabet book.

As I held the book in my hands, Arwen came and sat in my lap and said, “That’s my animal alphabet book.” I told her, “I know! Did YOU know that it was your very first book?”

“My very first book?” she replied in complete amazement.

“Yes,” I said. “I bought it for you before you were even born.” And I then proceeded to tell her the whole story about being in DC, about taking SO much time to pick out the perfect book, just for her, about the snow storm that threatened to keep up snowed in up in DC, and about how nervous I was that I wasn’t going to get home in time to be there when she was born.

She sat perfectly still (a RARE feat these days) and listened to the whole story. When I finished, I fully expected her to, with all the depth and reflection and appreciation of a two year old, to just ask me to read it to her.

Instead, she looked at the book, looked back up at me and said, “You bought it before I was even born?”

She was absolutely dumbstruck that I thought about her before she was born. Not only that I thought about her, but that I took the time to pick out something just for her.

Before she was born. She was loved. Thought about, planned for. Dreams were dreamed for her. Lives were imagined. Books were bought. She was chosen and loved well before she was born. And she simply couldn’t believe it.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…”
~Jeremiah 1:5 ESV

She was loved before she was born. But so was I. And so were you. And not just by your family. Before you were born you were loved. You were set apart. You were created with a specific and unique calling. You were chosen. Thought about. Looked over. Anticipated. Before the foundation of the world, the God of the universe knew your name, numbered your days, considered your ways and set them before you. Before you were born.

I am dumbfounded and amazed by that, and sometimes, like Arwen, I simply can’t believe it. But as much as I poured all the love and affection I could muster into that present for that child I had never met and yet loved, God has loved me with an infinite, unending, unwavering love, from before time began.

She was amazed by the love shown to her through a book. I am amazed by the love shown to me through a Book, too.

Grace, Karma, & My Students


Last week I blogged about my first period class laughing at me and my sock monkey hat hair. The next day I read it to them as an example of how a change in perspective can lead to a change in your entire day.

Well, knowing they’d been blogged about was more than they could handle, so they’ve asked me each day since then when I was going to write about them again. Here ya go, sweet kids.

The other morning I had another slightly rough start to my day (this is becoming a theme), and was a bit down as I headed to class after morning carline. As I round the corner to my room, I see my first period in two lines, arms in the air, whooping and cheering like cheerleaders to my starting basketball player.

I’ve never been cheered into class before. Amazing boost to my soul and reminder of one more reason I love my job so much.

But as I smiled and sat down to take roll and start the day, I silently asked the Lord, “What did I do to deserve this?” To which He replied, just as quietly, “Nothing, my child.”

And He took me back over some of the highlights ofmy stellar high school career:

Once, on a below freezing morning, a teacher in a fully lined wool pants suit asked me to remove my sweatpants from underneath my skirt because wearing them was a uniform violation.

With all the respect I could muster for the following statement, I replied, “I’ll take my pants off when you take off yours.”

It did not go well for me.

If you came to class unprepared, you received an Academic Progress Report sent home. Three of them equalled a Saturday school. I collected so many for missing assignments and forgotten folders that my dad once asked me if I realized most people only went to school five days a week. He was convinced I was running for President of Saturday School.

I nearly failed 2nd quarter of freshman English on principle because I thought Jane Eyre was the most ridiculous book I’d ever read and I refused to finish reading it.

I struggled to get any assignment turned in that was both on time and up to my ability, and often received progress reports about living up to my potential.

I got caught smoking cigars in the hot tub at Disney World on my Senior Trip.

I did absolutely nothing to deserve the precious kids who love me and let me love them. I was a middle of the road student with a rebellious streak a country mile wide.

See, that’s the thing about Karma. The world looks at our messed up world around us and KNOWS it’s wrong. The concept of Karma (what goes around comes around) makes sense to the human mind. Scripture even tells us we will reap what we sow.

But grace trumps Karma. Every day.

Grace knows my calling is to pour my life into those kids, to connect with them, to not waste my own pain and problems by using them to help them understand they don’t have to make the mistakes I’ve made. that they can serve the God of grace in their lives right now.

If there’s nothing else in my life I want them to “get,” it’s that we each have a responsibility to listen and to learn and help other make better choices themselves. Christ died to make a way for us to keep the Law that condemns. Knowing what it says is good. Doing what it says is even better, but being who God created you to be is the best of all.

So there, kiddos, I blogged about you. Love and blessings to you all! 😊

The Faces of Islam


In recent days, there has been so much violence in the Middle East directed toward Americans. And our reaction is, understandably, to take a defensive position. I want to defend myself and my friends, shout from Twitter and everywhere else that not all Americans are “like that” (whatever “that” may be). Whether the riots are about the anti-Islam movie trailer or not, I want them to know that some Americans watched and thought it was horrible. Horrible acting (at the very least), horrible caricature of their culture, disrespectful, most likely offensive.

But I also want to say, “Violence is certainly not the way to protest a cheap movie that portrays your faith as violent.”

I want to say those things to them. But I have no way to make contact with the Muslim world. I do, however, have the ability to make contact with the American, Christian world. And with this tiny little platform I have here on the Internet, I want to remind you that while this may be the face of Islam we think is blowing up the world today…


(Photo Credit, Mohammed Abu Zaid, AP)

…these are the faces of Islam that rocked my world and flipped my perspective upside down when I spent time in Kabul and Dashti Barche, Afghanistan, in 2007.

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Don’t let the face of Islam overshadow the faces. Remember the faces.

Pray for the faces.

Pray that the Prince of Peace will continue to make Himself famous in the lives of these precious people.

Pray that Christians in America will remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness.

Pray that we will see these people not as our enemies, but as prisoners of war who are held captive by our spiritual enemy.

Pray.

Give Me Jesus


Psalm 63:1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. 4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. 8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

How would our lives be different as believers if we consistently walked out the truth of verse three? We are told here that there is nothing in this world that is better than the steadfast, covenental, unconditional love of our God. We may be told this treasure of truth a hundred times, but as we quickly stray to other things that catch our eye, we prove that it is difficult to really believe that there is nothing that outshines Jesus.

We try to find something. From the very beginning of time, we have believed much more easily that God is holding out on us and that surely there is something missing from our lives that we must attain. The only thing missing from life with Jesus is sin. And pain. And heartache.

But God knows how prone to wandering our hearts may be. In fact, Psalm 34, he practically dares us to just try him. So I offer the same dare. I dare you try Him, “taste and see.”

Do you believe that the love of Christ is better than anything this life has to offer? Are you willing to sacrifice the contentment, happiness, love, approval, worth, acceptance, friendship for just Jesus?

The greatest blessing of walking with Jesus is that, when we trust him, we don’t “sacrifice” those things to him; he willingly blesses us in return!

Can you sing this song as a sincere prayer to God?

The Sins of Our Youth


Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O God! Psalm 25:7

This was the daily verse that appeared in my Twitter feed this morning. Thinking on some things I knew were coming up today, I was reflecting on the past a bit, and I was in a regretful frame of mind. My knee-jerk reaction to reading it was, “‘Remember not the sins of my youth.’ That must be nice. I can’t seem to get away from them.” Not exactly a heart of thankfulness to a loving and forgiving God, but I’ll blame it on the fact that I hadn’t had my coffee yet, and being awake definitely helps my spiritual well-being.

There are times in which it would be nice to be able to forget the sins of our youth. Some choices we make really do stay with us for a lifetime, even when we want to shake them off, be free from them and literally move on. But what we must remember is that Christ, by remembering not our sins, does allow us to move on. Those choices cannot be changed, and the consequences remain, but there is freedom from the condemnation of those sins. The word remember here isn’t the opposite of “forget” but means “don’t hold it against me”. The psalmist is saying, “I’m not that person anymore, please don’t hold my past over my head anymore.” And he makes a case to God for why God should not hold his sin against him.

First, the psalmist says that God’s love is everlasting. A loving God forgives sins, never to bring them up again. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Isaiah says that in God’s love he took our sins upon His back, delivering us from a pit of destriction (Is. 38:17). Love doesn’t throw us back in the pit.

Second, the psalmist tells God that no longer holding our sin against us is for the sake of His goodness. How is forgiving our sin good for God? One way is that it enables us to join Him in His work. Now, does God really need us to do His work? No, but in His plan, He asks us to join Him in His Kingdom work. Makes sense to me; work is always easier when you’re doing it with people you love. But what the psalmist is saying is that, when our sins are forgiven and we are able to stand up from underneath their oppressive load, we can then take upon ourselves His easy load of service for the Kingdom. We can’t carry our sin and His Kingdom simultaneously. When we allow Him to take the sin, and the accompanying secrecy, shame, guilt, condemnation, it frees us up to serve Him like He has called us to serve Him.

A prime example of this is found in the life of Peter. I relate more to Peter than to any other person in Scripture, and he is a great testimony of being set free from the sins of his youth for the ultimate goodness of God. In Luke 22, Jesus tells Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,  but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Jesus knows that Peter is about to fail Him miserably. He says, “I’m praying that you won’t. But when you do…” Have you ever had a conversation with someone like that? Has anyone had that conversation with you? “I’m warning you. I know where this is headed, and it’s going to be bad. I don’t want you to, but I know you’re going to anyway.” That’s pretty much what Jesus tells Peter.

But He adds something to the end of the statement. He adds hope and purpose to the failure. He tells Peter, “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

So why does God forget our sins but not allow us to? One reason is because we can’t use past failure to connect with and strengthen others if we act as if it never happened. God trades in our beauty for ashes, He restores the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25), and He works all things together for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). And for Him to be able to make the worst decisions of our life beneficial, they must be exposed to the light and applied to the lives of others.

My ashes couldn’t have been traded for beauty if there hadn’t been people who had previously been sifted by Satan like wheat and then obediently strengthened this sister. Same goes for me. When I want to forget my times of sifting and “move on” with life, I remember that those times are a waste if they are not used to strengthen those behind me who are still spinning from their own sifting.

So I am thankful that God remembers not the sins of my youth. But today I am equally thankful that He makes sure I never forget them.