Surprised by a Suffering Servant: The Man Who was Nailed Down to be Lifted Up

In 7 BC, Jerusalem lived under the oppression of an occupying army, so it stands to reason when they read the Scriptures, they looked for a Messiah who would overthrow the hated Romans and reestablish God’s kingdom. Based on their circumstances, it absolutely makes sense that they were focused on a Messiah who would deliver them. However, there were several prophecies that pointed to a suffering servant, a Messiah completely different than they expected…

Here’s one of them: “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:13-15, NIV)

Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah being a suffering servant probably didn’t make much sense to devout Jews in Jesus’ day. Chafing under Roman rule, they were undoubtedly looking for a Deliverer along the lines of King David, a dynamic and attractive ruler with a godly heart and a warrior spirit. The notion that the Coming One might be disfigured and appalling to many would have been unthinkable. And the idea that He might be lifted up in crucifixion rather than in earthly glorification would have been shocking and offensive. Yet Isaiah said the Messiah would be disfigured and “marred beyond human likeness”. He foretold that the Messiah would be more like a suffering servant than a conquering King.

suffering servant

In Isaiah 53 he said: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

Isaiah’s vivid language pointed directly to the cross, just as Jesus did in John 12:31 when he said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” John clarified what Jesus meant in the next verse: “This he said, signifying what death he should die.” When Jesus spoke of being lifted up, he wasn’t talking about being a celebrity, he was talking about being nailed to a cross…

Matthew says, right after Jesus revealed his true purpose to his followers, that “From that time forth Jesus began to show to his disciples how he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” (Matthew 16:21, NKJV) Jesus did not scheme with his disciples about politics; he acted like their servant and told them about his suffering. They didn’t want to hear of it, and they certainly didn’t think of Isaiah 52.

But Isaiah’s prophecy was well-known to Jesus, and it provided a foreshadowing of his mission and his purpose. Jesus remembered Isaiah’s words and wanted to make sure we all understood what he meant by being lifted up. That’s why he quoted Psalm 22:1 from the cross, in order to call attention to its graphic description of the Messiah being lifted up in the agony of crucifixion. He wanted us to get it, to understand that He knew what his mission was and what his sacrifice would accomplish. He came to earth, not to be a slick-talking sovereign but to be a suffering servant.

According to Isaiah, it would touch “many nations”, sprinkling them with protective sacrifice for sin. The Messianic mission will ultimately silence both critics and kings, because they will see and understand that, to Jesus, being exalted meant something different than it means to earthly monarchs; that he’s not famous because he was good-looking, or celebrated because he was superior; He is exalted because he came as a suffering servant rather than as King, and he gave himself as a sacrifice when he didn’t have to–just so you can see what you were not told, and understand what you had not heard. Don’t override God’s revelation with your own assumptions and expectations. Look. Listen. See. Understand.

Messiah. Lord. Almighty King. Deliverer. Ya’ll, but here’s the thing,
He didn’t come for earthly gain, or to Jerusalem to reign;
He came from way out in the sticks; he didn’t enter politics.
Instead, he served, and took the cup. He said, “I will be lifted up”,
But not the way a Caesar would be; Jesus offered hope that could be
Freely offered from the cross. What others may have seen as loss,
He used to come to earth and bring a different kind of earthly king.
Some men dreamt of victory in toppling mighty Rome;
Jesus came from glory just to bring his children home.


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Heavenly Thoughts: In A World Full of Low Places, How High Can You Go?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Oh, wouldn’t that just be heavenly!”? The Apostle Paul probably used that phrase from time to time, and since he had once been caught up into heaven in a vision, he knew what he was talking about. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on heavenly things, not on earthly things”. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV) What do heavenly things look like? What would life be like if we could set our hearts on heavenly things?

Stop and think: are there options heaven offers that you haven’t thought of yet? What would you want that you don’t want now, and what would you cease to want that you DO want now? What if there was something far more valuable than money, way more satisfying than pleasure, and much more comforting than food? What if this fallen world provides the merest shadows of what our Father actually intends for us to have?

heavenly things

Take time, for instance. It is almost impossible for us, so wrapped in finite time, to imagine eternity. How much longer will it be? How will infinite time change our perspective, broaden our horizons, and expand our potential? The heavenly view of time will change everything, and we will perceive such a gap between our old earthly sense of time and our new heavenly one that we will consider the earthly view of time laughably outdated and inadequate.

If you can stretch your mind to make that comparison, then apply the same differential to everything else. Our concept of pleasure will totally change, replaced by its infinitely greater counterpart. Our ability to experience comfort and joy and love will be multiplied exponentially, and we will find that our limited view of life itself will explode into an infinitely more fulfilling one, the one that God intended us to have.

Our understanding of intimacy and relationship will expand as well. Paul hints at this in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, when he says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” God wants us to know Him as he knows us; and He wants to replace the incomplete and transient with the perfect and eternal.

In “The Weight of Glory”, C S Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Paul tells us in this to set first our hearts, and then our minds on higher, greater, heavenly things. The good can be the worst enemy of the best. Don’t keep aiming too low. First, connect your passion to the living God. Sing! Dance. Rejoice in honest prayer and test the purity of repentance. Open your heart to eternal possibilities. Then, set your mind on things above. Instead of hungering for the things of this world, discover heavenly wisdom and truth that will change your trajectory. You may just find that you’ve been aiming too low.

Shootin’ Too Low

On top of Ol’ Smokey, all covered with snow,
When winter time comes, Friend, why, that’s where I’ll go.
There’s nothing that brings a man laughter and cheer
Than to go out and hunt in the cold time of year;
When the snow covers all with a blanket of white
And the brisk, bracing air makes a man feel just right;
There’s nothing I know of that so entertains me
As a hunt in the snow—why, my Friend, it sustains me!
There was no better thing, I don’t mind tellin’ you
Than to hunt for some game with my Old Hound Dog, Blue…
You see…Blue was much more than a dog, or a pet:
In all of my life, he’s the best friend I’ve met:
A companion, a soul-mate; much more than a friend,
And it just broke my heart when old Blue met his end.
We were huntin’ on top of Ol’ Smokey one day
When a turkey just happened to flap out our way;
Well, Blue pointed him up, and he stood there stock-still,
When the turkey flapped over the crest of the hill,
And I, in my haste to taste fresh, roasted game,
Pulled my shotgun right up to my shoulder, and aimed,
And, as I was gettin’ that turkey in sight,
I may have been dazzled by all of that white,
when I fired at the turkey, cause something went wrong,
And I saw that shot go where it didn’t belong—
An explosion of white from a snow-covered log,
Made it hard to see Smokey, or turkey, or dog—
And I waited to look, when the powder had cleared
When my eyes were exposed to a sight that I feared…
For the turkey flew down from the snow-covered hill,
But my good old dog Blue lay there, breathless and still.
Yes, there on the ground was the dog that I loved,
For it seems that my aim was just not high enough.
On top of Ol’ Smokey, all covered with snow,
I lost my dog Blue from a-shootin’ too low…


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Wisdom is Tricky: A Fool Thinks he is Wise; a Wise Man Knows Himself to be a Fool

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5 NIV) All true wisdom, just like all true love, comes only from God. It is part of His character, a reflection of who He is and what He is about. It may come indirectly or be claimed by someone else along the way, but it all comes from Him alone. Apparently it is readily available for the asking, even though people don’t display it much. The book of Proverbs says, “Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares.” (1:20)

wisdom cries

Even Shakespeare pointed out that she is available to all who seek her, and yet so many lack her stabilizing presence. God is wisdom’s only source—and James says here that the Lord is willing to give it generously… So why aren’t all men wise?

Well, first of all, you have to realize you don’t have it. That’s tougher than it sounds. A lot of people think they are wise but, well… perhaps they really aren’t. (Kinda like American Idol try-outs. A lot of people think they can sing, but, well, not so much!)

Second, you have to ask for it. And you have to ask God for HIS wisdom, rather than being egocentric and wrapped up in self-acquired knowledge. Asking for help implies assuming a subordinate position, and it’s amazing how many people are just too proud to do that. (And really, that’s what it almost always boils down to. We tell God, “Lord I want wisdom, but I want it on MY terms”. We want God’s plan handed to us the way WE want it; but isn’t that precluded by the fact that it’s HIS plan??)

Third, Proverbs says that fear (respect, awe) of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but that fools despise it (and Him). If God is real, you’d be a fool not to fear Him. After all, this is the God who created the universe, who upholds all things by the word of His power; this is the God who weighs the nations as dust in the scales, holds the keys to life and death.

But this is also a God who requires faith, who gives evidence but not irrefutable proof, and who allows all men to choose how they will perceive Him.
1 Corinthians 8:2-3 says, “If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet that he ought to know; but if any man loves God, the same is known of him.” To see God properly and become wise requires that we assume the right perspective. We have to see God as He is, not as we’d like Him to be.

Perspective requires that we humbly acknowledge where true wisdom comes from and ask the Creator for what only He can give. Back in the heyday of boxing, Mohammed Ali said, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, you can’t hit what you can’t see.” I think he was describing his own speed and elusiveness, but he could have also been talking about wisdom: if you can’t see it, you can’t hit it.

A lot of people out there dodge and weave through life, proud of how smart they are or how much they have—even as they make foolish choices or head down destructive paths. They may be rich or famous, they may even be smart, but somehow wisdom has eluded them. So, next time you encounter a fool, you’ll know what their real problem is. And next time you act the fool instead of making wise choices, well—at least now you know who to ask, right?

Wisdom wanders in the streets, and even calls aloud,
While millions pass her by because they’re just too smart or proud.
Wisdom, see, is not just facts that people learn in schools,
Or being bright, or having lots of intellectual tools;
(In fact, some who believe they’re wise are really still just fools!)
Some think wisdom is acquired, and work hard at the task,
But James says that it comes from God; we only have to ask!
The next time life requires some wise advice to help you live it,
The Book of James says ask the Lord for some: He’ll surely give it.


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When the Disciples Asked Jesus About His Politics, His Answer Surprised Them

The disciples were curious about politics. They had been following their Rabbi, watching his growing popularity, and they wondered when he was going to make his move. “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6, NIV)

When Jesus had risen from the dead he spent 40 days with his disciples, teaching them about the kingdom of God. At the end of that time, they asked a question that tells us volumes about why the Hebrew people did not see Jesus as the Messiah: “Lord, NOW are you going to throw off the Romans and make Israel great again?” In a way you can’t blame them at all. Instead of hearing Jesus’ message about the heavenly Kingdom, they wanted to know about his politics and his plans. They were a people living under the thumb of an occupying army.


They had to submit to external control. Because of the law, they had forged a culture that had remained stubbornly unique for centuries, and the oppression and disruption the Romans forced upon them threatened their ability to follow the law and thus attain eternal life. Perhaps no other people on earth chafed as much under foreign control. As Jesus’ ministry unfolded, they were still looking at events around them, still focused on political freedom, and still hoping to restore the Kingdom of David and the glory of Israel to the Promised Land…

Perhaps the number one reason people fail to achieve relationship with God is that they persist in their own expectations, rather than asking Him about His. It had to freak them out a little bit to hear the Master talking about serving to lead, dying to live, and forsaking worldly things to find spiritual reality. They had earthly business to take care of! Do you come to God on your own terms, or are you willing to submit yourself to His?

It is instructive that Jesus didn’t give them a political answer, and that he didn’t point them to political revolution as a means to gain power. Instead he said, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Verses 7-8)

As he always did, he put the focus back on the Father, and reminded them that his kingdom was spiritual, and that their place in it was to go out and spread the Gospel. I’m not saying that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, because after all we have the right as citizens to be involved in our political process; but it sure would be interesting to see what the world would be like if church goers put all of their political energy into helping the poor and dispossessed, spreading love, and changing peoples’ hearts with active faith. When every Christian in America makes that their priority, THAT would make America great again.

If you want to see change, be changed. If you want to see a more loving culture, be more loving. And remember, as you sometimes feel heartsick while looking at the changing world all around you: the kingdom of heaven is not out there, in the world. It’s right THERE, in your heart, waiting to take the throne…Submit to the Father’s authority, and you’ll discover a whole new political platform to support!

Jesus said it’s not for us to know the Father’s plans,
But we’ve replaced that with a lot of energy on man’s!
He wouldn’t set a final date for when the world would meet its fate;
He didn’t even hesitate, but told them they would have to wait!
Perhaps today we can relate in terms of our political slate:
We focus on our candidate, perhaps they’ll make America great,
Or have another Watergate, or battle with the media’s hate,
Or like the Patriots deflate for greed or power in the state.
But Jesus said to concentrate
On this: “Be witnesses to me.
Just start at home, then let the nations see
What being with the Father can be worth.
Go. Tell your friends. Tell everyone on earth.



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Deliverance: Sometimes You Get It FROM the Stones. Sometimes, Though…

Deliverance apparently has different meanings to different people. Generally it means being rescued from a threatening situation. To some, it might bring the old Burt Reynolds movie to mind (Two thumbs down, by the way). But most of us would be happy to receive deliverance if we were in danger. The Apostle Paul had some notable experiences and he wrote to Timothy about it: “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (2 Timothy 3:10-11 NIV)

As a missionary, Paul was no stranger to persecution and danger. He experienced some incredible trials and hardships on his journeys as recorded in the Book of Acts. He mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11 that he was flogged, imprisoned, and shipwrecked (among other things). He traveled the world on foot and by sailing vessels in conditions that were primitive at best..

While writing here to Timothy, he speaks of being rescued at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra during his First Missionary journey. There’s an interesting detail to note about this: Paul rejoices in his deliverance by the Lord in each place. Sure enough, at Antioch and Iconium, he escaped angry mobs and persecution. They left Antioch and “shook the dust off their feet”. At Iconium, opposition was stirred up, but Acts 14:6-7 says, “…they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country where they continued to preach the gospel”.

At Lystra, the deliverance Luke describes is very different. Acts 14:19 says the mob caught Paul and STONED HIM and left him for dead. Yeah, you read that correctly: they hit Paul with big rocks until they assumed he was dead, and yet Paul includes that in his list of places where the Lord delivered him.


Maybe Paul’s definition of being rescued is different than mine, but I would normally classify being pelted with rocks and left for dead as a loss rather than a win. Not so for Paul. What he teaches Timothy is far more profound. He basically says that sometimes God delivers us FROM the stones, and sometimes He delivers us THROUGH the stones. Faith enables us to see that deliverance is not always the absence of hardship or pain, but it’s finding God’s comforting presence in the midst of them.

On your journey through this world, I hope that the Lord may give you a present of pure escape, and that He protects you from calamity or misfortune. But the next time you are being pelted by the stones of life, remember that when you don’t receive His presents, you will definitely receive His Presence. And perhaps like Paul, you will have a broader definition of “deliverance from” and “deliverance through”.

Paul said there were many persecutions he endured,
But every time, he said, the Lord’s protection was assured.
In Antioch he left the presence of an angry crowd;
He shook their dust beneath his feet and walked off strong and proud.
Iconium’s unbelievers turned into an angry mob,
But Paul escaped before they had a chance to do the job.
At Lystra, Paul said God delivered him; but read the text:
You may have missed where Luke described what happened next!
The angry caught up with Paul; the Riot Act was read,
And Paul was taken up and stoned (with ROCKS!) and left for dead.
And yet, Paul says, he was delivered from the persecution,
Including Lystra, where they carried out his execution.
The stones of life will come, Paul said, so here’s what you must do:
Remember God delivers FROM. And He delivers THROUGH.


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Leadership, God’s Way: the Wrong Kind of Leadership in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

There are lots of books and blogs about leadership; apparently God hasn’t read any of them. Instead of dominating His way into men’s affairs, He chose to place Jesus into His Kingdom like this: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…” (Philippians 2:6-7 NIV) As you consider what Paul is saying about leadership, here are a couple of observations about these verses: First, Jesus left his position in the heavenly realm and became a man.


Take a moment and just try to imagine the gap between where he was and where we are. He came from the right hand of God the Father, a position of heavenly power and glory. He left all that to come to earth. He did not arrive here as the reigning monarch, but he allowed himself to be placed into the tiny form of a helpless baby. He traded the omniscience of deity for the vulnerability of manhood. He left the security of his kingdom to go behind enemy lines, wagering everything in history on not his Father’s might, but His Father’s love…

He took no unfair advantage over the powers of this world, and yet he challenged them utterly with nothing but his Word and his life. He was very God of very God, and yet he demanded no riches, no opulence, no glory… Compare that with Roman Emperors, who used every advantage, leveraged every bit of power they could grasp, and even claimed to be gods! Jesus, refusing the trappings of the world, came to a common family, far away from palaces and politics. As “Jesus Christ Superstar” once pointed out, he came to earth before the printing press, mass communications, and even before social media. Quick: how many Rabbis do you remember from the first century? How many Roman Emperors? Rulers of Persia, Egypt, China? How many people who were crucified by the Roman government?


The Roman Empire is long gone, yet Jesus established a kingdom on earth that people everywhere still recognize, and his story had been told throughout history, throughout the world. His organization did not follow any earthly blueprint for success: he didn’t go to the best schools or have earthly wealth; his recruits were fishermen, tradesmen, students, and even a traitor; he came as a servant and always gave glory to someone else; he was vulnerable, honest and forthright; and he was killed at a young age by men who wielded earthly power. Yet in spite of all of those things, his kingdom thrives today, twenty-one centuries later…

Which leads to observation #2: His leadership was totally counter-cultural. Even though he was GOD, He humbled himself. He didn’t leverage deity to try to be important, as Caesar did; he came as a servant and served. The contrast between the way Jesus led and the way our leaders do is still dramatic. How many of our Congressmen and Presidents these days are wealthy? How many of them ACTUALLY serve anyone?

Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Maybe our criteria for leadership is a bit flawed… If we only selected leaders with humility who are willing to serve, I bet the world would be a better place. I bet it would look a lot more like the place that Jesus left in order to come here.

Leaders lust for power, fortune, fame, and for renown;
God took earthly leadership and turned it upside down.
Earthly leaders like to strut, but God threw them a curve,
And sent a spiritual king whose only mission was to serve.
What if leaders acted like they all were heaven-sent?
Would it change the Congress, or the current president?
Jesus was a servant. You just think of that, because
I wonder how our world would be if EVERY leader was?
For Jesus that’s only way a leader is defined;
Sadly, servant leadership is pretty hard to find;
(It’s not the way our leaders or our culture is inclined)
But if you’re called to leadership, then please keep that in mind.


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Wake Up and Live Today! Don’t be One of the Walking Dead

Lazarus had died, and it seemed to everyone that his good friend Jesus had arrived too late to help him live. But like he does on so many occasions, Jesus offered a different perspective: “These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” (John 11:11, NKJV) And of course the rest is history. Lazarus was raised from the dead and was given new life! Have you ever thought about how Lazarus must have felt AFTER Jesus called him out of the tomb? We know how much his sisters loved him, and I can only imagine the joy when their family was reunited in such a dramatic way.

John described Lazarus’ post-resurrected celebrity as well as how the Pharisees felt about him in John 12:9-11: “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.” Different people had different motives for wanting to get a glimpse of Lazarus. Some wanted to confirm that their friend was newly risen from the dead; some were just plain curious.

The Pharisees had a different motivation. They wanted to kill him. They had been planning to kill Jesus, but they figured they better get rid of Lazarus, too, since he was living proof of the Master’s work. It’s kind of amazing to think that not everybody was happy with Lazarus’ new life. But I bet Lazarus was! Do you think he lived each day with heightened appreciation, with a greater sense of joy and purpose? Surely he did, because he had been brought back from the dead by the Living God. He had new life! He was given a second chance! He went from being one of Jesus’ friends to perhaps his most devoted follower. Of course, that brings up a couple of questions.

1) Have you been given new life by the Son of God? Theologically, that’s the position and experience of everyone who follows Jesus. Paul says in Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin are death, which means we can be spiritually dead even while we are physically alive. However, once we decide to accept God’s grave by faith, Paul says this: “God has made you alive, who were dead in your trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1)

We can live a fresh new day of our eternal life TODAY! So, do you live each day with a heightened sense of appreciation, and with greater joy and purpose? One of our daily themes at Eagle Lake Camp was, “I will live today as if it were my last!” Perhaps we can learn from Lazarus, who truly knew what that meant.

Come to think of it, what would life be like if you took the inverse of that and said, “I will live each day as if it were my FIRST!”? What if you looked at life today as if it were brand new? What if you saw the world today as if it was a brand new experience? What if you were experiencing love for the first time? Laughing? Meeting and interacting with people as if was your very first day? Lazarus did, and so can we. If you’ve been the recipient of new life, act like it!

2) Are you a member of the walking dead, or are you awake like Lazarus? Are you living proof of the Master’s work? When Lazarus came forth, do you think he had a new vision and a new set of dreams? Did people around him look at him differently, and did he change his behavior, breaking free from his grave-clothes to walk towards new life and new possibilities? Paul Valery said, “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.” It happened for Lazarus. It can happen for us.

live Lazarus

Jesus wept. His good friend Lazarus lay there in the grave,
And everybody mourned the man who Jesus came to save.
They’d all come for a funeral, from the south and from the north;
But Jesus prayed and then he cried out, “Lazarus, come forth!”
And somewhere, from within the grave a rustling sound was heard;
From within the darkened cave a walking man had stirred!
Lazarus, blinking in the light, was walking! People froze,
Astounded at the man who stumbled in his burial clothes.
Lazarus must have paused and wondered how this came to be;
So Jesus said, “He lives. Unloose his bonds, and set him free.”
You might think this miracle was something rare to see,
But I was dead; and Jesus also said those words to me!


To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
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Fear and Worry are Actually Little gods. Don’t Worship Them

This passage is for everyone who has ever experienced fear or worry: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10, NKJV) Isaiah 41 warns about impending judgment, and warns against worshipping useless idols. (Interesting how often those two things intersect in Scripture…)

God consistently warns against worshipping idols, and calls us to leave them to follow Him. So, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you live in fear and worry, you are an idol worshipper, and here’s why: Everyone has experienced the insecurity of walking into the cafeteria on the first day of middle school; but the fact is that most of us get over adolescent fear and become pretty self-sufficient. We are taught from early on that we need to work to provide for ourselves, and we live our daily lives under the assumption that we control the outcome by what we do. Indeed, the Bible encourages us to work hard, to honor God with our effort, and to be good stewards of our time and resources.

But be aware that self-sufficiency has a dark side. It gives us the feeling of control (probably like Eve felt for a moment as she took a bite of the apple), and it provides a brief illusion that we have power. At some deep level, when we think we are in control. we feel like God. It’s inevitable, though, that in spite of our best efforts, there are times when life reminds us that we are not in control, and that perhaps our strength is not enough. These kinds of times can cause us to be discouraged and cynical.

fear and worry

If I know anything about life, I know that every one of us will experience something difficult and heart-wrenching. In some season of life you will encounter a time when events are more than you can bear, and you are assaulted by fear and insecurity. At some point you will lose your confidence in the way you assumed things were supposed to happen, in circumstances, perhaps even in yourself. This is a natural response when disaster or tragedy enters our lives and turns our world upside down.

So, how do people deal with insecurity? You’ve heard the old saying that came out of World War II, “There are no atheists in a foxhole”. Even people who ignore God on a daily basis will seek Him when they face uncertainty or danger. Isaiah’s claim about God has been meaningful to millions of people in the midst of their pain, suffering, or affliction. It makes sense to turn to God when life is overwhelming.

But consider this: Isaiah 41:10 was not meant to be rolled out only when life is tough, or when misfortune strikes. It also works pretty well in the hum-drum activities that happen everyday… Think about how often you actually experience anxiety, all of those little times when you assume control, or worry about something that hasn’t happened… This verse is for THOSE times. Anxiety and worry are little idols, and it’s scary to think of how often we worship them instead of God.

When we assume control or when we worry, what we are really saying is that God is not sufficient to meet our needs. Jesus spoke of worry in Matthew 6:26-27, 33: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Isaiah is saying the same thing: when you are fearful, when you doubt, when you are dismayed, God offers you his strength and his help. That assistance is available not just when tragedy strikes, but every day when we experience doubt, anxiety or worry. You are not in control, but fear not! The God of the universe offers you his strength, and here’s what His Word tells us to do: “Cast all your cares upon him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). Stop worrying. Start casting.

Fear thou not, for I am with thee, just as I have gone before
With Moses and with Gideon, and with David, and with countless more.
I understand your desperate need to handle things, to take control:
But follow me, and I will give you peace within your anxious soul.
Fear not! And be not anxious for the many things you have to do,
But cast your cares on me, because I deeply care for you…


To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here:
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Evil Days Demand Wiser Ways. Be Careful out There.

“Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV) Stop for a moment and think about the world around you. Is the world getting better and better? Is mankind evolving upward towards better values? Is our culture more wholesome and encouraging than it was ten years ago?

I used to hear older people talking sadly about how there seemed to be more evil in the world now than there used to be, and they would reminisce about the “good old days”, when neighbors were more neighborly, it was safe for kids to play “down the street”, and you never heard a cuss word or saw nudity on your TV. And that was over 40 years ago! Now I AM one of the older people, and I feel the same way, but even more so.

Look around. Standards have changed. A Jack in the Box commercial on TV just last night was selling their new bowls by using phrases generally applied to male anatomy, making a poor play on words at best, and a comparison that doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy a pair, SMH… (That’s “Shaking My Head” if you’re not up on internet acronyms.) The “poop” emoji is now on billboards as if it has marketing value.

Not only has decency begun to disappear, but so has truth. Journalists and politicians lie so subtly (and so constantly) that you don’t know what to believe anymore. Half-truths and accusations are disseminated so frequently as facts that they are often accepted as true. Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels said that if you tell a big enough lie, and tell it often enough, it would become accepted as fact. His words could be applied to the bipolar partisan atmosphere in America today, where people will gladly ignore integrity and truth to get their own point of view across.

evil days

Today’s values and standards are definitely different than they were “back in the day.” Commercials on TV reach out to consumers by saying “Break the rules!” Abortion is considered just another birth control option. High school kids go to movies that promote sex and violence, even as youth groups take a stand against human sex trafficking. Our culture is extending legalization of marijuana, so that better living through chemistry can become even more common. Gambling is available to anyone who wants it.

Our children (and our neighbors) have internet access to virtually anything, and are bombarded with everything from non-stop materialism to hard-core pornography.
Music (which weaves its way into our brains forever—quick! How many songs do you remember from when you were a teenager?) is full of stories about breakups, drugs, sex, and casual relationships. Hip hop and heavy metal are full of anger, abuse and violence. Interpersonal relationships are changing rapidly, falling away from the personal touch of conversation and affection to on-screen interaction, where it is easier to lie, misrepresent, and misunderstand…There were evil days in 60 AD (when Paul wrote this), and they are evil still…

How do we respond wisely to them? James 1:5 says if you want to be wise, go to the source: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” If you would truly like to make the most of every opportunity in this life, then ask the Lord for wisdom. Apply it to your decisions about what you watch, who you listen to, and what you believe.

“Be very careful, then, about how you live.” Put another way, Paul is encouraging you to be full of care, to care deeply about how to live. Avoid evil and choose good wisely. Ask the very source of Wisdom to give you some, and study it in His Book. When calamity strikes or when opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready. Evil days surround you. don’t be unwise.

Be careful how you live, because we live in evil days,
And evil tries to infiltrate our lives in many ways.
There’s no regard for gender, creed, infirmity, or youth;
It challenges our decency, integrity and truth.
Stop and look around your world, and don’t believe the lies.
Be careful how you live, and make an effort to be wise.
Do you want to find some wisdom? Here is where to look:
You’ll find it when you talk to God, and study in His Book.
Allow your heart and mind to join with His in Holy unity;
Be careful, then and make the most of every opportunity.



To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here:
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here:

To Misquote Garth Brooks, Maybe You Have Low Friends in High Places

In the ancient Middle East, there were worship centers called “high places”, where all kinds of pagan ritualistic mischief took place. The key word here is “pagan”, and it’s safe to say that it is probably hard for the average person reading this blog to imagine what went on there. (Think: really bad.) Since they revolved around polytheism, sex, and drug use, the one true God of Israel naturally condemned both them and anyone who used them.

“In the seventh year of Jehu, Joash became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem forty years. His mother’s name was Zibiah; she was from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.” (2 Kings 12:1-3, NIV).

Read through 2 Kings sometime. It describes a society full of treachery and deceit, with murder and betrayal on almost every page. The Kings of Israel and Judah were a dangerous bunch, and the good ones were few and far between. Joash became King over Judah at age seven, and actually had godly counsel around him. He did right in the sight of the Lord during all of his 40 year reign, but did not, however, remove the high places.

“High Places” is a somewhat euphemistic title given to the pagan worship centers out in the mountains and countryside in Israel. Idolatry, pagan rituals, illicit sacrifices, prostitution, and all kinds of carnal activity took place there in the name of “worship”. The high places were sort of secret men’s clubs, somewhat hidden and off the beaten paths–but every man in Israel knew what went on there. Pagan rituals encouraged men to substitute a spiritual walk with sexual ecstasy as they worshipped the goddess of fertility (known variously as Ashtoreth, Ishtar, Astarte, or Asherah).

high places

The High Places were holdovers from the nations and cultures Israel defeated to take the Promise Land, and the reason they weren’t torn down is because guys liked to go and sin there. Funny how so little really changes with men over all these years… Men don’t necessarily call it worship, but they still go to particular places where the allure of feminine sexuality is powerful and seductive. Even church-going men will check their Bibles at the door to enjoy the atmosphere, just like the pagans did at the high places.

Funny thing, when you take away men’s pet sins they will insult you, call you names, and even resort to violence to keep being able to do them. When Gideon tore down his father’s Asherah pole, the Bible says “The people of the town demanded of Joash, “Bring out your son [Gideon]. He must die, because he has broken down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.” (Judges 6:30)

Hebrew men were so involved with pagan worship that they were willing to kill to preserve it. They loved doing low things in high places… In later times, a couple of the good Kings brought reform to Israel and helped turn people back to God; but that was the exception rather than the rule; all too often the high places remained. They were a secret, “pet” sin that men kept in reserve, so they could go there to “worship”.

At first glance it may seem hard to believe that any form of spiritual revival could take place when such sinful sanctuaries remained. How could Israel outwardly worship the Lord but then keep on sneaking around to wallow in such dirty sins? How could they love God but hold on to some carnal pleasure in reserve? Can you imagine? Acting religious but harboring evil desires?

Upon reflection, it’s pretty easy to see, isn’t it? It’s not just them, but it is US. We love God outwardly but secretly worship other, carnal, false gods. (And before you women feel too smug about men’s obvious weaknesses, remember that lusting for material things, status, or control are just as much of a carnal sin as sitting in the men’s club…) We may sometimes feel moved to have revival, but then we fail to remove some of our “high places”. (And apparently the Lord would have us choose between those and HIM.)

What are your pet sins, your secret sanctuaries? Do you ever live outwardly as a Christian even while you are at the same time judgmental, greedy, lustful, selfish, hateful, critical, anxious, bitter, covetous or proud? The concern that crosses our minds over Israel’s idolatry is the same concern we should have about ourselves. Do you have any high places? Take an inventory of the secret sanctuaries you harbor, and consider tearing. Them. Down.

High upon the mountain, or way back among the hills
There were pagan temples where a man could get some thrills.
Temple priestesses would stimulate the men’s virility
Calling them to worship with the goddess of fertility.
Participants who worshipped there were very normal men
Who visited high places and then just went home again.
Improbable, you say? These hypocrites could not be saved,
When claiming to love God while they are secretly depraved!
And yet that is my story. I love God, and want to win,
But there are idols in my life. I harbor secret sin.
Lord, when there are idols in my heart that make you frown,
Help me feel your love, and Jesus, help me Tear. Them. Down.


To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here:
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here:
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: