A Good Day in the Flowerbeds

Today was mulching day at our house. Right before that it was trim-back-the-stems day for our numerous perennials (mostly tulips and daffodils), followed by weeding as much as possible before the placement of mulch. I wouldn’t say that my thumb is entirely green, yet, but I’m incredibly happy with how it all turned out.

  • The rose bushes have begun to flower.
  • The rhododendron bush has begun to pop. 
  • The zinnias have adapted after transplant.
  • The petunias (most of them) are doing well.
  • The jacks in the pulpit are now free to spread out.

Alas, one of the azalea bushes needed to be removed because of disease. Additionally, the dogwood tree will probably need to be removed this fall. For the past three years we’ve been trying to nurse it back to health, but it seems to have run its course. A handful of petunias didn’t take root, either, so I’ll be replacing them next week.

The good news is that I’ll probably be getting my Japanese maple this fall, along with another dogwood tree and some new landscaping at the southwest corner of the house. I also saw some geraniums at the seminary golf tournament this past week, and they looked marvelous, so those cuties might have a future in our flowerbeds, too.

Growing up in a city row home never allowed for this kind of cultivation, but I’m digging it now. (Sorry, cheap pun intended.) Seriously, the beauty of creation is inspiring, and Pennsylvania seasons are the best.

Puddles the Popsicle (and Some Family News)

Note: Here’s a personal journal entry from November 1999, with a bit of family news at the end.

How could I explain the sacrificial death of Jesus to a child? Rather than slogging through the theories of well-meaning theologians, here’s a simple story I told my seven-year-old daughter Bethany a few weeks ago. Nearly every night when I tuck her in, she asks me to either cuddle with her or tell her a bedtime story. I always give her the option of reading a story or making one up. On this particular night, she asked me to make one up. I wasn’t really prepared for that, so I sent up a quick S.O.S. to the Lord in prayer and asked him to help me communicate something that would draw Bethany closer to him. Here’s the gist of what came out.


Once upon a time in a place called Candy Land, there lived a family of four M&Ms. There was a red one, a blue one, a green one, and a yellow one. Two of them were the kind with a little nut inside. The other two were plain, but still delicious. Their names were Slippy, Drippy, Tippy, and Pippy. The Candy Maker who made them, loved them, and wanted to protect them, so he told them to stay out of the sun. “You will melt if you stay out in the sun,” he said.  “In fact, you will die.”

But sure enough, the four M&Ms didn’t obey the Candy Maker. “We want adventure,” they said. “It’s a beautiful day outside, and we want to experience the sun in all of its warmth and beauty.” At first, nothing happened. They just got a little softer inside, but the hard candy shell kept everything hidden. “We’re o.k.,” they said. “Nothing’s going to happen. Besides, this is kinda fun!” 

But over time, the M&Ms started feeling sick. Eventually, they totally melted on the inside, and they were about ready to die. They were scared and started calling out to the Candy Maker for help. “Please, Mr. Candy Maker, please, we need your help!”

And even though the Candy Maker was saddened by their behavior—and a bit angry that the M&Ms had disobeyed him—he loved them so much, he decided to help. With a firm commitment to the safety of his M&Ms, he sent his favorite treat from the candy shop to go rescue them, Puddles the Popsicle. 

Puddles was a frozen, squeezy kind of Popsicle, the kind that comes in a plastic tube. Puddles loved the M&Ms just as much as the Candy Maker. In fact, Puddles was just like the Candy Maker in every way. They seemed to think alike about everything.

So Puddles the Popsicle came to where the M&Ms were lying in the heat, melting and suffering—about ready to die. And Puddles, in love, lay down beside the M&Ms, wrapping his frozen body around them to shield them from the sun. It sure was a hot day, but Puddles was able to transfer all his chill from himself to the M&Ms so that they could become firm and hard and safe again, just like before.  

Sadly, however, in the process of saving the M&Ms from melting, Puddles himself started to melt. In fact, he completely thawed out and became nothing but a lifeless tube of popsicle juice. There, beneath the blazing rays of the mean old sun, the benevolent Puddles died for his friends.

This made the M&Ms very sad. Certainly, they were glad to be alive themselves, but they were now terribly sorry for not listening to the Candy Maker in the first place. But the Candy Maker was so pleased at the beautiful thing Puddles the Popsicle did for his M&M friends, that he blew some fluffy white clouds in front of the sun. And then he caused the temperature in Candy Land to drop quickly, all the way down to below freezing.

When that happened, Puddles the Popsicle became frozen again. He came back to life! And everybody was overjoyed. In fact, they were all so happy that they decided to get together once a week and celebrate what Puddles had done for them. Twice a year they especially celebrated, remembering with food, fun, and music the day Puddles came, and the day he came back to life again. 

In time, Puddles went back to the candy shop to be with the Candy Maker. (They were so much alike, you just couldn’t keep them apart.) But he promised to come back again one day. In fact, he was such a wonderful Popsicle, it was like he had never left in the first place. And everybody in Candy Land lived happily ever after.

Not the labors of my hands / Can fulfill Thy laws’ demands
Could my zeal no respite know / Could my tears forever flow
All for sin could not atone / Thou must save and Thou alone.

Bethany got the point of this little story. I know she got the point because I asked her to draw a picture of what it meant. And she drew for me the four M&Ms and Puddles the Popsicle, and the blazing sun. And there in the middle of the page she drew a diagonal line, on the other side of which was a portrait of Jesus. My seven-year-old got the point. Do you?


I suppose I need to start brushing up on my storytelling abilities for children. In about six and a half months, Lord willing, Bethany is going to deliver her first M&M. I’m eager to meet the child. I’m even more eager for the child to meet Puddles the Popsicle.

“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him [or her] to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28a).

The Lord’s Prayer for Us: Why and What Jesus Prays for His Followers (John 17:6-24)

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow at 3 p.m., what would you do tonight at 9 p.m.? Who would you be with? How would you spend your time? What would be the final memory you give yourself before stepping into eternity? That’s the situation we find in John 13-17, the account of Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room. 

Jesus knows he’s going to die in about 18 hours. He doesn’t have the privilege of ignorance like we do when it comes to our own departure. Most people don’t usually know when they’re going to breathe their last, but Jesus knows exactly when he’s going to die. He also knows that he’ll be betrayed by one of his followers. He knows he’ll be unjustly tried and rejected by his own people. He knows he’ll be mocked, flocked, and crucified like a common criminal. 

In the face of such an ordeal, Jesus decides to spend his last night with his closest friends. He wants to be with them so he can prepare them for his absence. To that end, he will teach them, encourage them, love them, and pray for them. Yes, pray for them! What must it have been like to be the subject of Jesus’ prayer? Many people have heard of the Lord’s Prayer, but John 17 records the Lord’s Prayer for us—not the prayer we pray to him but the prayer he prays for us, his followers. The prayer unfolds in three segments:

  • In vv. 1-5 , Jesus prays for himself.
  • In vv. 6-19, Jesus prays for his first-century disciples.
  • In vv. 20-24, Jesus prays for his future disciples.

Speaking to the heavenly Father, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

If you are a follower of Christ, be encouraged by the fact that you were on the Lord’s heart and mind the night before he was executed. Moreover, Jesus has not stopped praying for you. Hebrews 7:25 teaches that Jesus “ever lives to make intercession” for his people. What that means for us today is that the Christ to whom we pray is also praying for us. Naturally, we can conclude that the prayers of Jesus work! They get through. They get the job done. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” and they don’t come any more righteous than Jesus. He was the sinless Son of God!

While the text of Jesus’ prayer is virtually inexhaustible, this particular message focuses on WHY Jesus prays for his followers (17:6-11a) and WHAT Jesus prays for his followers (17:11b-24). It can be a tremendous source of encouragement for believers to know that Jesus is praying for us at this very moment.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Holy Trinity Church in Oxford: Where C. S. Lewis Worshiped and Is Buried

The magic of England never fades for the true Anglophile. I posted earlier this year on our trip to The Kilns: Where C. S. Lewis Lived and Wrote, but I didn’t include pictures of Holy Trinity Church in Oxford, where Lewis worshiped and is buried. At long last, here are those pictures.

Our tour guide was a good friend of Lewis’s back in the day. He was also a Royal Air Force Veteran of World War II, which gave us plenty to talk about. We thanked him for his bravery and service, but he said it was the United States’ entry into the war that saved the world from the evil Nazi delusion. He had wonderful “Jack” Lewis stories to share that don’t usually make their way into the biographies and textbooks.

Lewis died at the Kilns on November 22, 1963, the same day as Aldous Huxley and President John F. Kennedy. Few people attended the Lewis funeral because they didn’t know he had passed. His brother Warnie went on a bender to soothe his depression, rendering him incapable of spreading the word. Moreover, the print and radio news cycles were dominated that week by the assassination of the American President. 

Lewis’ final years were happy ones. From charity and common literary interests grew a deep friendship with American poet and pen pal Joy Davidman. Her acquaintance with Lewis led to his underwriting the boarding school education of her sons David and Douglas. Eventually agape became eros for this charming if improbable couple, and they were married in 1956.

Joy was nearly 17 years Lewis’s junior, which only served to enrich the happiness of their marriage. Experience, enthusiasm, and an array of common interests combined to provide the needed chemistry. A savage case of cancer, however, cut short their life together. After several years of reprieve from an earlier and nearly fatal bout with cancer, Joy Lewis passed away on July 13, 1960.

Still, Joy’s entry into Jack’s life brought much happiness. As he wrote to one friend soon after their marriage, “It’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in their twenties . . . ‘Thou hast kept the good wine till now.’ ” 

Lewis is buried beside his brother (who lived ten more years) in the cemetery of Holy Trinity Church, Headington Quarry, Oxford. His letters and books, and the lives these writings touch, are his enduring legacy.

The gravestone for Lewis and his brother, Major Warren “Warnie” Lewis, reads, “Men must endure their going hence,” the Shakespeare quotation on their father’s calendar the day their mother died. 

Time to Plant the Annuals

Mother’s Day is the calendar marker for planting annuals in the flower beds around our house, so I’ll be getting my hands dirty this week. We’re trying some new things this year, and we’ll see how it goes. Pictures of the real flowers will come later. The ones below are stock photos showing the ideal.

For the front and side flower beds, I got red and yellow Zinnias to plant, with a few lavenders poking through. They stand about 12” tall right now and supposedly do well in the sun. I chose them to match the color and vibrancy of the tulips, which I adored while they were here. Hopefully they’ll do just as well.

In front of the Zinnias will go the shorter red and white petunias. Last year’s impatiens didn’t do very well, so we’re giving these a try. The flowers are a bit larger than the imaptiens, so if they thrive, the beds will look nice when they emerge.

For the hanging baskets (4 on the front porch, 4 on the back patio, and 2 on my mother-in-law’s patio), we’re trying red, white, and purple wave petunias this year. It will take a while for them to start “waving,” but they’re much cheaper when you assemble the baskets yourself. I suppose it will be my lesson in patience this year. Alas, like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka, “I want it now!”

My mother-in-law will also get a bed of yellow French marigolds. They are her favorites, and we think she may still have enough capacity to putter around and enjoy them this year.

Below are some unrelated pictures that recently caught my eye. The first is my summer home. 🙂 The second is my summer transportation. 🙂 And the third is a brain teaser. Can you tell what it is? (If you get stumped, turn your phone, tablet, or laptop upside down.)

Have a great week!

Here Comes the Judge: How and Why We Celebrate Divine Judgment (Psalm 98:1-9)

Christians sing it every Christmas season, even though it’s not primarily a carol about the birth of Jesus. It’s much broader than that. The words are familiar to believers in English-speaking countries:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing 

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy 

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love

So wrote Isaac Watts, who lived from 1674 to 1748. Significantly, his inspiration for “Joy to the World” was not Luke 2 but Psalm 98. In fact, Watts himself said, “I have formed out of the 98th Psalm…what I esteem to be the first and chief sense of the Holy Scriptures.” In other words, it’s all here—the whole gospel, the overarching message of Scripture, and it leads to jubilant worship. Historically, the church has called Psalm 98 the Cantate Domino (“O Sing to the Lord”). Similar to Psalm 96, it calls for jubilant praise to God, and it provides a compelling rationale.

Psalm 98 divides nicely into three stanzas. In the first stanza, the author instructs the people of God to worship the Lord because he has been a GREAT SAVIOR (vv. 1-3). “Sing to the Lord a new song,” he writes, “for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” Over the centuries, Yahweh has been to Israel “the God of rescue,” most prominently in the great exodus from Egypt and the great return from exile in Babylon.

In the second stanza, he tells the covenant people to worship the Lord because he is the REIGNING KING (vv. 4-6). He writes, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music…shout for joy before the Lord, the King” (v. 4, 6). Moreover, all kinds of instruments are to be used to supplement the music and shouts in order to celebrate the King (vv. 5-6).

In the third stanza, the author says to worship the Lord because he is the COMING JUDGE (vv. 7-9). As the Apostles Creed says, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Specifically, the psalmist calls for all of humanity and all of nature to celebrate this Judge and his coming judgment. But that’s what makes this composition seem a bit odd to us in our day. We don’t usually think of divine judgment as an event to be celebrated. Rather, we think of it as an event to be dreaded. Consequently, some people have dismissed the idea of an end-time judgment altogether. But that only leads to other problems we don’t like.

On the one hand, if there is no future judgment, what hope is there for the world? Evil stands, the scales of justice remain unbalanced, and all the horrors, abuse, and trauma inflicted on us during this life go unanswered. It is helpful to remember, however, that one biblical image of the future judgment is that God is the Judge, and we are the plaintiff. He hears our case. He rights the wrongs done to us. He satisfies our deep desire to have all things properly settled in the end.

On the other hand, if there is a future judgment, what hope is there for me? Haven’t I committed certain acts of evil during my life? Haven’t I transgressed God’s law at some point in time? Haven’t I committed sins against God and other people who are made in his image? If so, how can I escape the punishment due me? It is sobering to remember that one biblical image of the future judgment is that God is the Judge, and I am the defendant. The prospect of a cosmic trial, then, can be frightening.

But great relief can be found woven into the psalm itself, not to mention the trajectory it creates. There is hope for the world collectively and hope for me personally precisely because the coming Judge is also the historical Savior. In fact, the ultimate biblical image of the future judgment is that God is the Judge who has taken his people’s judgment himself. It’s the picture of a judge pronouncing the sentence, and then coming down off the bench to take the sentence he just imposed so the guilty party doesn’t have to. As Psalm 98 indicates, the Judge and the Savior are the same God.

When Mary, the mother of Jesus, learns that she will bear the Savior of the world, she hearkens back to portions of Psalm 98 (along with other sections of the Hebrew Bible).

Cantate Domino (Psalm 98) Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1)
“Sing to the Lord a new song.” (1a)“My soul glorifies the Lord.” (46)
“For he has done marvelous things.” (1b)“The Mighty One has done great things for me.” (49)
“His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.” (1c)“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm.” (51)
“The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.” (2)“His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” (50)
“He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel.” (3a)“He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful.” (54)

In doing so, Mary alerts us to the intended fulfillment of Psalm 98 in her own Son, Jesus Christ—the Savior of the world to whom all final judgment has been committed (cf. John 5:22). The only way to celebrate the God of future judgment is to know him as the God of past salvation. Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior—the one who has taken your judgment on the cross? If so, you have every reason to celebrate.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

And Here Come the Azaleas

Here’s a teeny life update with a few extras—for no other reason than that I need a brief diversion from proffing, pastoring, lawyering, dissertating, and websiting. Life is good; it’s just a little thick right now. 

1. The brilliant petals on the tulips in our front yard have finally dropped. They lasted slightly longer than last year, but they’re naturally transient, so I had to bid them farewell. Fortunately, our azalea bushes are now popping. These flowering shrubs are admirably carrying the color torch passed on to them by the tulips. I dig ’em, even though they’re not my absolute favorite. I hope to get a Japanese maple some day, along with a replacement dogwood tree. I also love trees with white bark (see below). The grass in our neighborhood right now is a thick, lush, deep green. Heavenly.

2. I’m thoroughly enjoying my new Ford Edge. I finally learned how to use the display and all its apps. The moonroof is super cool, too. I’ve never had one of those. I can also open the hatch with my foot (as long as I have the key fob on me), which has come in handy several times already. It also closes at the touch of a button. Very convenient. My youth like to pile into it whenever we go for a McDonald’s run during Sunday school. But my cars haven’t always been on the newer side. When I was in high school, I drove a hideous 1973 Mercury Comet. Its color was indecipherable, but it was somewhere on the spectrum between Gulden’s mustard and burnt pumpkin pie. It had 4 doors and a brown vinyl top—a real chick magnet for a teenage boy. But, hey, it had a 302 engine. The only other car I had with that kind of pickup was a Mercury Grand Marquis with an 8-cylinder engine.

3. Our Keurig recently bit the dust, so I had to go get a new one. The upsides of the new unit are that (a) it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be, and (b) I like this one even better; it has more cup sizes and a bigger water reservoir. It also looks more stylish. No, I’m not addicted to coffee. I just drink it for the protection of those around me in the morning.

4. Our bathroom renovation project is slowly coming to an end. The list of missteps and mishaps is too long to mention, but soon it will be fully operational. Fortunately, we have two others to use in the interim—which has lasted eight months now instead of one. And these are the professionals doing it! That’s not a bust on them; it would have taken me a decade to do it myself given what they were up against. The latest mishap was their knocking over the medicine cabinet and shattering one of its three glass doors. The good news is that everything they’ve actually done or installed so far looks amazing. 

5. I preached the other week on Psalm 23, so I riffed on the cluelessness of sheep for a bit, underscoring why they (we) so desperately need a good shepherd. This brief video clip makes the point much better than I ever could.

6. This week’s song of the week at TNL, which I post every Monday, is Lauren Daigle and the Hillsong team singing “How Great Thou Art.” Lovely.

7. Charles Wesley’s “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is required singing on Easter Sunday morning. Here’s a contemporary version with an added bridge. Not bad. 

8. Here’s the best thing you’re likely to see all day. A group of special folks recite Psalm 139 for us. As someone who was unplanned, unwanted, and unloved from the day of my conception until the day of my adoption 22 months later, I have always been moved and encouraged by the words of King David in this beautiful psalm. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Before we ever had a place in this world, we had a place in God’s heart.” Amen.

9. It’s been a long time since I published a “Just between You and Meme” post. I’ve been collecting good stuff, but I haven’t had time to pull it together. So here are just a few clippings that recently made me chuckle. (I’ll save the really good stuff for later.)

10. I’ve been working out at the local YMCA lately (cardio, weights, and swimming). I figured that since we all have to wear masks while on site, the rescue dummy should have to wear one, too. So, yesterday I gave him mine to use while I was in the pool. He didn’t resist. (BTW, that’s my new Batman towel at the bottom of the one picture. My mother-in-law got it for me for my birthday. When I use it, I feel invincible. Haha!)

11. I spent two decades loathing the mainstream media, but I think The Babylon Bee has a better approach. Just mock them mercilessly. Loathing takes too much energy, and it’s all negative energy. Sheesh, why bother? Yes, the Bee crosses the line sometimes, but the national mainstream media try to play us every single day. They’re just contemptible.

12. Supremely encouraged by so many blessings in the last five years. Of course, it helps when your spouse’s kingdom gifts are not only recognized but compensated. The best part is being able to give more. Home renovations are an added benefit. I can’t help thinking of Jenn Johnson’s song, “Goodness of God.” 

13. A former ICL student stopped by yesterday and expressed his appreciation for our ministry to him and also to enroll in seminary. He said thank you with Wilbur Buds. I wanted to say you’re welcome by eating them, but I’m trying to behave right now. Goals and all that. But how “sweet” of him to express his gratitude in that way. As my students have heard me say many times, “Chocolate is proof of God’s existence. Peanut butter is proof of his power. And the two together are proof of his goodness.”

And now…

May the Fourth be with you.

(And also with you. Hehe!)

Have a great week!


UPDATE: Mother’s Day is the time we usually plant impatiens in the front flower bed. Last year we did red and white, but the white ones didn’t do very well. We may try petunias this year. Any other suggestions?

Why Shouldn’t I Be Baptized? The Holy Spirit’s Role in Conversion (Acts 8:26-39)

The account of Philip and the Ethiopian is one of the great conversion stories in the book of Acts. Luke, volume 2 records how Christianity took hold in the 1st century world—a culture that was as resistant to the gospel as ours is today. In chapter 8, we have the case of an African being converted to Christ. In chapter 9, we have the case of a Jew being converted to Christ. In chapter 10, we have the case of a European being converted to Christ. And that’s just the tip of the ethnic iceberg. These conversions show us that Christianity is transcultural. That is, the gospel is for everyone, regardless of nation, race, people, or tongue. The gospel is for everyone because everyone needs the gospel.

Philip shares this gospel, and the Ethiopian official accepts it, but neither of these figures is the hero of the story. Philip is an obedient servant, to be sure, and thank God for it. But he and the other deacons in Jerusalem aren’t sitting around figuring out where the gospel should go next. They’re not developing strategies based on logic and demographic studies. They’re not having an evangelistic thrust because of some great burden for the lost. Something else gets them moving in a missional direction. Neither is the Ethiopian official the hero of the story. He’s an interesting and sympathetic figure—a foreigner to Israel, a wealthy and educated man, a high court official back home, and a person truly hungry for God—a man who has traveled nearly 2,000 miles to the temple in Jerusalem to worship the God of the Hebrews! But he’s not the hero of the story, either.

The story doesn’t begin with Philip or the Ethiopian. This story, like every story of salvation, begins with God. Verse 26, 29, and 39 all indicate that the Lord is the causal agent of everything good that happens in this encounter. Specifically, it’s the Holy Spirit—the third Person of the divine Trinity—who’s the hero of this story. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the hero of every conversion story. The Holy Spirit is the life of God on planet earth, accomplishing the divine will. God the Father is in heaven, seated on his throne, ruling the universe. God the Son is at his right hand, serving as High Priest and Advocate for his people. God the Holy Spirit is on earth—executing the plan and purpose of heaven. 

God certainly uses his people to share the gospel with others, but it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared them to share it. And it’s the Holy Spirit who’s prepared people’s hearts to receive it. From beginning to end, then, it’s the Holy Spirit who orchestrates everything in a person’s conversion to Christ. That’s why churches must renew their dependence on the Holy Spirit for all that they do in seeking to fulfill the mission that God has given them. Including baptisms.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Rest, the Lord Is Near: Combating the Stresses of Life (Psalm 23:1-6)

Psalm 23 is one of the most popular texts in the Old Testament. Charles Spurgeon called it “the pearl of Psalms.” James Montgomery Boice called it “the most beloved of the 150 Psalms in the Psalter.” And J. P. McBeth called it “the greatest poem ever written.” It’s often read at funerals, or during times of profound grief and sadness. That’s appropriate, but King David’s composition is a psalm for life, not just death. Indeed, we likely need this psalm now more than ever.

Stress is a prominent reality of modern life. Never before in history have people been more anxious and overloaded than they are today. Life has always been hard on a fallen planet, but it seems to be getting harder. We live in an age of exploding technology that’s hard to keep up with; information overload that threatens to overwhelm us; political polarization that breeds cynicism and disillusionment; media manipulation that makes it hard to trust anything we see on our screens; a cancel culture that keeps people captive to the fear of other people’s judgments; a global pandemic with widespread disagreement over how best to navigate it. And, as many people have discovered, stress takes its toll physically and emotionally. As one book title says, The Body Keeps the Score.

What is stress? It’s the pressure, strain, and tension we feel whenever a situation or event demands more from us than we think we can give. The tell-tale sign we’re stressed out is when we find ourselves saying, “I just can’t handle this right now!” A well-mannered, kind-hearted young woman can turn into a screeching bridezilla in the run-up to her wedding. A tender, warm-hearted young man can turn into a cauldron of bitterness when there are more deadlines than time to meet them. People routinely suffer chronic stress as a result of financial woes, work pressure, bullying, relationship troubles, or the challenges of parenting. All of it can cause anxiety, irritability, depression, headaches, insomnia, and other serious physical or psychological symptoms.

How do we cope? How do we survive? How do we overcome the taxing stresses of life? How did King David do it? How did he cope? How did he overcome? After all, the “sweet singer of Israel” spent several years of his life being pursued by his enemies. On more than one occasion did a spear whizz by his ear and twang into the boards where he was lodging. Most people have never been on the receiving end of that kind of incoming enemy fire (police and military personnel excepted). And most of us have never spent a great deal of time living as a fugitive, running for our lives. David did. And yet he had a way of rising above the stresses of life. 

Psalm 23 gives us a clue as to how he did it. The composition is a declaration of trust and confidence in God despite all that was going on around him. Two main metaphors drive the poem: (1) God as David’s Shepherd (vv. 1-4); and (2) God as David’s Gracious Host (vv. 5-6). Together these metaphors paint a stunning portrait for us: God is the ultimate Shepherd-King to his people. People are the sheep of God’s flock and the guests of God’s kingdom. Now, sheep are essentially helpless and not particularly bright. That’s not a good combination, as the following video clip indicates:

People and sheep have a lot in common! They both desperately need a good shepherd! Thankfully, believers have one in Yahweh, the God of Israel. If David were here today, he might say to us, “Rest in the Lord who is with you and good to you.” Specifically, he might tell us to rest in the PROVISIONS of the Lord (vv. 1-3), the PRESENCE of the Lord (vv. 4-5), and PROMISES of the Lord (6). God is the caretaker and protector of his people, and he will ensure that they do not lack in basic needs as they navigate the stresses of this life. Rather, he pursues them with goodness and covenant love all the days of their lives (v. 6).

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Scarred for Life: Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Body (Luke 24:36-49)

The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus can come across as elusive or even mysterious at times. Over the span of 40 days, the risen Christ shows up for a brief period, and then he’s gone without a trace. He appears in the flesh momentarily, but then he suddenly disappears. This dynamic raises the question, “Why does he linger?” We have 11 or 12 unique postmortem episodes recorded in the New Testament, but establishing a pattern or rationale for these “peek-a-boo” appearances can be a challenge. Their fleeting nature seems odd. Yet, upon closer examination, there are some clear indications of what Jesus may have been up to on this side of the empty tomb.

First, he appears to his friends, not his enemies. With the resurrection being the greatest “I told you so” in history, the rest of us may have been tempted to gloat in the presence of our enemies. Jesus’ character, however, does not allow for such a self-serving spectacle to take place. Second, he engages in conversation not just proclamation. With the resurrection being the greatest display of authority in history, we may have been inclined to do all the talking. Jesus certainly does some instruction, be he also gets other people talking, mostly about their hopes, fears, expectations, and disappointments. Indeed, he functions as a “Wonderful Counselor” (cf. Isa 9:6) after the resurrection. Third, he does what is needed on a case-by-case basis to help his friends believe in him. With the resurrection being the greatest display of power in history, we may have been predisposed toward belittling unbelief, but Jesus is “merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 22).

In Luke 24:36-49, Jesus labors to persuade his disciples that he really is back from the dead. He demonstrates that he is both a physical and a hyperphysical human being in his resurrection state. That is, there is both continuity and discontinuity between the body that went into the tomb and the body that came out. It really is Jesus, but now he’s a glorified Jesus. To convince the disciples of these realities, he eats in their presence and shows them his crucifixion wounds—something a spirit, ghost, or phantom would never be able to do. In his resurrected body, Jesus was scarred but healed, which provides an inspiring and hopeful lesson for us today: Like Jesus, believers can use their scars to advance the gospel. Because of the risen Christ, our mess can become our message, and our misery can become our ministry. Even our wounds can become trophies of his grace. In short, Jesus lingers because of love.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Blooming Boldly

Ralph Walderson Emerson once said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” If that’s true, then my front yard is howling with delight right now. I’m so thrilled with how our red and yellow tulips have flourished this year. I had to take some snaps earlier today since they don’t last very long. Fortunately, new and different blooms will come after the tulips have had their day.

Off to celebrate my son’s birthday. And pretend I can sing. (There’s something magical about a karaoke microphone, right?)

Have a great weekend!

‘You Don’t Have to Be a Star, Baby, to Be in My Show’

It was Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. who sang that line, “You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show.” It’s a good thing, too, or I’d be up the creek without a microphone. Indeed, I discovered last night that the best way to kill a classic is for me to sing it. But, oh, the “song-icide” can be so much fun. 

We’ll be hosting a birthday party for our son this weekend, and the main activity is a karaoke event with his friends. Last night he came over, and we set up the equipment in our family room to test it and make sure it all works. One thing led to another, so for nearly three hours we added song after song to the queue, and we sang ourselves raspy over the course of the night. My selections included:

  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen)
  • “My Heart Will Go On” (Celine Dion)
  • “Theme from the Brady Bunch” (Sherwood Schwartz)
  • “Footloose” (Kenny Loggins)
  • “New York, New York” (Frank Sinatra)
  • “Y.M.C.A.” (Village People)
  • “Climb Every Mountain” (The Sound of Music)
  • “Kiss the Girl” and “Part of Your World” (The Little Mermaid)
  • “Somewhere in the Night” (Barry Manilow)
  • “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston)
  • “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” (Billy Joel)

And that’s just the tip of the iceburg of all the songs we attempted. Worse than my singing was the misguided attempt (by me) to dance during “Footloose.” All digital evidence of the spectacle has been destroyed. But the funniest moment was injecting Scuttle’s throaty little descant into “Kiss the Girl.” I may have ruptured something laughing at myself.

I didn’t realize how much fun karaoke could be, or how much I needed to blow off a little steam after the crazy schedule I’ve been keeping lately (not to mention the awfulness of the pandemic year). As King Solomon once said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17:22). 

All my life I’ve wanted to be a singer in the worst possible way. I can finally say that I’ve reached my goal.

Image Credits: CuteWallpaper.org

Easter Message: Running on Empty (John 20:1-31)

Jesus’ empty tomb sends people running on that first Easter Sunday. Everyone is dashing through the cemetery, but why? They’re running to find answers to their questions and help with their confusion. They don’t know why Jesus’ body is not where they had put it the day before. The confusion is understandable. If I were to go to the gravesite of my parents, and I saw nothing but a big hole in the ground with no vaults or caskets, I’d be asking questions, too.

So, the disciples are running around confused. Most of them are slow to believe in the resurrection—despite the fact that Jesus had said repeatedly it would happen. But here is the good news for them (and us): every time the risen Christ meets people after the resurrection, he helps them to believe in him. That’s amazing because the last time Jesus saw these guys in action, they were blowing it big time. They were denying and deserting him. But when Jesus finally appears to them face-to-face, there’s not a word of rebuke on his lips. Correction, yes, but not rebuke. Quite the opposite. He helps them believe.

In fact, the risen Christ deals with all of his followers personally and uniquely—according to their own needs, experiences, weaknesses, and hard-wiring. The attentiveness of Jesus to everyone in this story is remarkable. And what was true 2,000 years ago is still true today: Jesus gives people time and space to wrestle with—and then plenty of reasons to rest in—his resurrection from the dead. Consider the figures mentioned in John 20, and how Jesus interacts with them—both before and after his resurrection:

JOHN is the portrait of an EASY-COMING faith. His personal struggle seems to be, “I need significance in my life.” And John discovers that the risen Christ gives his people a new identity and purpose. PETER is the portrait of a GUILT-RIDDEN faith. His personal struggle seems to be, “I need forgiveness for my sins.” And Peter discovers that the risen Christ gives his people a new freedom and power. 

MARY MAGDALENE is the portrait of a GRIEF-STRICKEN faith. Her personal struggle seems to be, “I need comfort for my despair.” And Mary discovers that the risen Christ gives his people a new intimacy and hope. THOMAS is the portrait of a SHOW-ME faith. His personal struggle seems to be, “I need irrefutable evidence to believe.” And Thomas discovers that the risen Christ gives his people a new assurance and confidence.

Because of his humility, Jesus does not coerce faith, but because of his authority, he deserves it. The risen Christ still gives open-minded and tender-hearted people what they need to believe in him. What is it that you still need to believe?

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

A Few Updates at the End of a Glorious Week

1. Holy Week 2021 was a rich and meaningful time for our church family. In the midst of building a new church website, processing all the paperwork for a new corporation, assisting in a friend’s baptism and commissioning service, learning a new educational learning platform, and getting a helpful education on important legal matters, we held the full range of traditional Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services and activities. I was blessed, challenged, and encouraged by getting to lead and participate in these incredible worship experiences. They always give me so much to “treasure” and “ponder” in my heart, as Mary did while watching her Son in action.

2. Somewhere in the middle of all that activity, I turned another year older, and my family and friends spoiled me. It was a week of visits, gifts, and feastings on top of an otherwise excellent year of health. I’ve been walking, swimming, eating right, and losing lots of pounds. If I can get back on track first thing tomorrow, and resume my disciplines without any more splurges, I may be able to see my abs by July. I know—that’s such a guy goal, right? But I haven’t been able to do that in decades, so I’m going for it. I usually collapse right about now in the journey, so we’ll see how it goes. Thanks in advance for cheering me on!

3. My daughter and I went to Hobby Lobby on Tuesday to get a bunch of knickknacks for the lighted bookshelves in our newly renovated living room. That project went a lot better and took a lot longer than we had originally thought, but nothing compares to the marathon bathroom renovation project that’s now in full swing. Our goal was to have it done by Christmas when the extended family gathered last December for the holidays, but only now is it finally getting close to being finished. The upside is that I wound up getting some cool recessed lighting in my home office as a side benefit. If all goes well, the bathroom will be done in three weeks, and then we can turn our attention to the basement library/podcast studio.

4. My 2013 Ford Edge SEL was on the verge of turning 100k miles, so I replaced it last Friday before it lost its trade-in value. It had a mineral gray exterior and a black interior with heated leather seats. It was a good car, and I enjoyed driving it for three and a half years. Last week I got a 2018 Ford Edge Titanium at a great price and less than 20k miles. (Hey, I like Edges!) It has a shiny white exterior, a cool moonroof, and a two-tone interior with heated leather seats. It’s loaded with features and handles well. I’m looking forward to connecting my devices, learning the display, and discovering all the features I’ve read about but haven’t gotten to try yet.

5. For years I’ve described myself as “an incurable Philadelphia Phillies fan,” but I may have just found the cure. I’m thoroughly disgusted by what the MLB pulled in re-locating the All-Star Game because of Georgia’s new voting law. What lunacy. I’m delighted that the Phils swept the Braves this weekend, but my interest in professional sports has taken a deep nosedive over the past decade. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I’m tired of politics in sports and will no longer support the industry. There are plenty of other things I can do with my time. For example, my son just got me a training session at the local gun range for my birthday, so we have that to look forward to—in between binging on episodes of the Sherlock series (Cumberbatch/Freeman). Then it’s on to the local Rod & Gun Club to improve my skills.

6. So as not to end on a down note, I’m finally re-energized to go “all-in” on the research and writing of my second dissertation. Those things are just painful to write, but I love my subject matter, and my upcoming schedule should allow for some serious progress. If I’m not on here a lot in the coming months, that’s the reason. But I’ll still read as many of your comments and posts as I possibly can. 

Be blessed, one and all, in the risen Christ. You are at the heart of God’s heart.

Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time

“Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Image Credits: narnia.fandom.com; geeksundergrace.com.