Friday, December 30, 2011

Herod's Journal

April 6, B.C.
Another one! Another one plotting against me. Look at what I’ve done for my people! And what is my thanks? My own family conspiring against me. I regrettably have had to have my three children and wife executed. I had to do this. My own family wants to take my throne. I have to be vigilant. Everyone is out to get me even after all I have done for Israel. I am appointed by God and confirmed by Caesar. The people need me and my throne, a throne that I deserve.

I thought the threats to my position were over. That is until three scholars from the East came and sat with me at dinner. They inquired of me as to the location of the newborn King of the Jews. I was shocked at their disrespect to my throne. I wanted them executed at that very moment. But I didn’t get where I am without discernment and wisdom. I knew these three could lead me to this latest threat. I must have this little one and his family killed. There will be no competition for my throne.

After dinner I gave them lodging. I immediately convened a meeting of the priests and scholars. I wanted to know where this Messiah was supposed to be born...

He cannot possibly be the Messiah! I am God’s appointed King. For the sake of Israel, I must ruthlessly defend my throne, Caesar, and God from any rebellion. I was told the Messiah would come from Bethlehem to rule and shepherd Israel. That may be the truth but that Messiah would have to come from my line. It cannot be this toddler imposter. I must find him.

Next Day
I gathered the three scholars for breakfast. I told them I had prayed and studied, and it confirmed by my priests and scholars that the child king would be born in Bethlehem.

They rejoiced and embraced each other. I smiled warmly back.

So now my new friends make haste to Bethlehem to find this child. Search diligently and carefully. Come back to me so I may accompany you to worship him.

They bowed to me and mounted their camels. I watched from my wall as they headed in the direction of Bethlehem.

I then called my soldiers and put them on alert. We must crush this rebellion to my throne. These Gentiles are proof of the false Messiah; Gentiles in search of a Messiah. Could anything be more ludicrous? God needs a strong man, not a baby worshipped by pagans. I am that man, this is my throne, and these are my people…the end.

A Prayer Against the "Herod" in Us...
Jesus you are King. You and you alone are worthy of the throne. You are King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Forgive us, Jesus, when we behave like Herod. Forgive us for believing our own press. Forgive us for trying to be "messiahs" when we are only servants. Forgive us for taking our titles seriously apart from you. Remind us, Jesus, you are Area Director, Regional Director, Committee Chair & National Director.

We have power and positions ordained by you as a gift. Like the Magi, powerful in wisdom and wealth, we bring all we are and all we have to you. We bow down to the One whose weakness is greater than our greatest strength. Jesus, we confess our Herod-like tendencies and gladly give the throne of our lives to you. In your Kingly name Jesus! Amen!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Inn Keeper's Wife

My name is Sarah. My husband is the inn keeper of this two-bit tavern in Bethlehem, though I do most of the work. Life has been a disappointment for me and I have been my husband’s disappointment.

I had two miscarriages and then finally a little girl. When my husband saw that it was a girl he frowned. He wanted a boy, and I cried. I guess I’ve become hardened. Life did not turn out as I expected. My husband buries his disappointment in his work; in this tavern. We are Jews but Yahweh has disappointed us so we just go through the motions.

As a woman, I wonder if a time will ever come that the arrival of a baby girl will be cause for as much joy as a baby boy. Will there ever be a man who sees a woman as an equal act of God and treat her as such? I have had to stuff down so much of my talents, thoughts, and opinions. There is a lot more I could do but I don’t think I’ll get the chance.

That all changed one cold night in Bethlehem when a young couple came to us seeking shelter at our packed Inn. My husband talked to them first and I came up behind him as he was shutting the door saying, “There is no room here.” I didn’t think much until I looked at the young woman in the beginning throes of childbirth. This was the night that changed my life. Let me tell you about it in my journal.

Thursday, April 13, 5 B.C.
Early evening, Bethlehem
Early yesterday evening a young couple arrived at our tavern seeking shelter. My “business as usual” husband was about to shut the door on them when I got a glimpse of the beautiful young woman in great discomfort. She was in labor. I think she was a painful reminder to my husband of having only one child, and not a son.

I blocked the door from being shut and stepped into the doorway in front of my husband, to his great annoyance. I looked at the young couple. Both had eyes filled with desperation and hope for a kind act. I felt a surge in my heart. I must help this couple. It was an overwhelming desire. More like a calling. I walked outside and took the young woman by the arm, along with her husband, shielding her from the crowds and staring eyes.

The handsome young husband politely and quietly told me, “This is my fiancée, Mary. I am Joseph.” Fiancée! And she was giving birth. I felt even more protective. Mary would be judged. I felt a mother’s protection for the young couple who were young enough to be my own children.

I didn’t know what I was going to do until I saw this donkey walking up the path with what I could swear was a silly grin. I almost thought he was going to talk to us.

Joseph in a lighthearted moment looked at me and chuckled, “That’s my donkey Good News. I count on him to bring me that very thing.”
I looked at the goofy donkey and an idea arose in my mind. I looked back at Joseph and said that I thought I had good news for him. It was not great news but at least better than the bad news he had gotten at our tavern. Follow me, I told them. We both led Mary down the path. The donkey turned around and followed us.

We arrived at the cave where we kept some of our livestock. I said it’s not much but it will have privacy and some warmth. Joseph quickly responded to my hesitating offer by saying, “Sarah, don’t worry. This is perfect.”

He thanked me repeatedly as we sat Mary down to make her comfortable. “I will be back in a minute with some blankets,” I offered. Mary groaned. I hurried back to the tavern and returned with the blankets from our bed. My husband and I will have to rely on each other for warmth tonight.

It wasn’t long before her time arrived. Joseph blurted out the strangest thing to me. He said, “Sarah, this child is special.” I smiled saying, “I know young man.”

He continued, “No, no Sarah. Special. This child is the child of Isaiah 7:14. This is the one we’ve heard about all of our lives from the prophets. He is the Son of the Most High.”

I stared in disbelief that turned to wonder as I looked into the face of Mary. She was in pain but smiled with tears, nodding her head. She said, “Sarah, believe. You will be blessed. Yes Sarah, you will be blessed as will all who make room for Him as you have.” Mary’s words were broken off by a contraction and a loud scream. Panic was on Joseph’s face. I took over. I am not a midwife but I knew what to do.

Joseph held Mary as the child began his descent from Mary’s womb. Later I would more accurately describe it as His descent from heaven. He slid into my arms as Mary fell back in exhaustion and yet she laughed through her sweat and tears; as did Joseph. I looked in wonder. The strangest thought came to me as I looked in His face for a brief second before I placed Him in the arms of his mother. I think this is the child who will become a man and bring dignity, honor, and respect to all women, to me. It was there that I determined I would follow the progress of this child and one day become His follower. If He would have me.

Mary, with joy, took her child. I quickly cleared out the manger and placed fresh straw in it and one of the blankets. Mary picked up the blanket and swaddled him. It was then I noticed the brightness of light outside.

I stepped out and beheld the brightest star I have ever seen. And then I heard something like thunder. I listened. The thunder continued. It was voices. A thousand voices singing the most beautiful song I have ever heard. “Glory! God! Highest!” These were the three words I could make out.

I turned back and entered to ask Mary and Joseph if they could hear it. But I couldn’t talk. I could only gaze at Mary as she took her baby to her breast and began to nurse him. Mary smiled at me and said, “His name is Yeshua. He is the Star Maker.” Joseph added that he has come to be with us; to bring Yahweh’s forgiveness of our sins. Mary added, “I am blessed among women, Sarah. But you are not far behind because God chose you to make room for him.”

I began to weep. I turned away. I prayed as I knelt for the first time in over 20 years. I heard footsteps and I looked up to see a motley band of shepherds out of breath and anxious. “We are looking for a newborn. He is…,” “the Son of the Most High,” I interrupted.

Yes, yes they anxiously responded. I dried my tears and said, “Come with me. I will take you to him.”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Donkey's Journal

Hi there. I am Joseph’s donkey. I want to share the most amazing story of my life. I’ve been with Joseph from the time he was a boy. He later named me Good News when he opened his carpentry store.

Joseph always talks to me but he doesn’t know I actually understand. People don’t think that animals can talk so we only talk amongst ourselves; although I have been known to give an obnoxious person or two a rise by blurting something out in the human language. My speaking always stops their speaking.

Anyway, I am getting off the point. Joseph named me Good News because he felt I always brought good news to him when we would journey together to sell his handiwork. I like the name a lot. Well I want to share my journal with you from back in 5…B.C. that is. It was early April…

April 6, 5 B.C.
Joseph was especially talkative this morning. He told me we were taking a trip to Bethlehem and that I would be carrying his beautiful fiancée Mary, whom I loved. She was quiet, reflective, and kind. I worried though when Joseph mentioned that she was close to giving birth. I knew I would have to make this as smooth a ride as possible. Joseph said something in a hushed tone that I did not understand. He came close to my ear and said, “Our lives and I think the world is about to change. Yahweh has sent the Bright Morning Star to my Mary.” He said it trembling with an anxious but joyful tone. He then said, “And you my friend will be part of this.” Like Mary I pondered this.

April 9, 5 B.C.
Our departure day arrived. Early in the morning we set out. Joseph helped Mary, large with child, on my back. I tried to bend down a little to make it easier for her but she still groaned in discomfort. We set out. I made my steps as smooth and rhythmic as possible for lovely expectant Mary. This journey would be especially difficult for a woman in Mary’s condition. Yet much of that day she sang hymns to my Maker and hers. One went like this…
I am blessed among woman
With your fruit in my womb
Come child I will nourish
The world will be your room
It sounded so sweet in Mary’s voice. I began to realize there was something special about this child. But what? “Your fruit in my womb,” she was singing this to our Maker. Who is this child?

April 10, 5 B.C.
We traveled all day and all of us are exhausted; Mary much more so than Joseph and me. She doesn’t look so good. I wish there was more that I could do. Joseph built a fire and roasted some fish. I don’t like fish but there was a delectable clump of grass and shrubs nearby. As I grazed I overheard the young humble couple.

Joseph: Are you alright Mary?
Mary: Uncomfortable love but Yahweh is my strength.
Joseph: Mary, I know He chose you but why me? What will I do?
Mary: My beloved, he will need a father. Guidance. A warm home. Love. Discipline. To be taught. Though he is the Son of God he will be our son to love, cherish, and nurture.
Joseph: You are right. How blessed we are amongst all the couples on earth. He chose us. He loves us. He has entrusted us with His son. Great is our God.
Mary: And I think, Joseph, many after us will be entrusted with him to love as we do. Do you wonder about his future? His purpose?
Joseph: His name is Yeshua. Yahweh has made a way for the forgiveness of sins. Some better way than the killing of a lamb.
Mary: He will be our lamb but we shall have to share him with all the world.
Joseph: Yes. The Lamb of God –
Mary: Who takes away the sins of the world.
They looked at each other as lovers do. They kissed. But it was more than just lovers. They had the determined look of those on a special mission.

April 11, 5 B.C.
Can’t sleep. Can’t stop thinking about what Mary and Joseph said and then my thoughts were interrupted by a growing soft but steady light. The light formed into the presence of a man. He spoke to me. “Good News, I am Gabriel sent from God. I am the angel sent to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah. And now to you.”

“You have been chosen by God to carry His son to the place the prophets foretold concerning His birth. Bethlehem. The House of Bread! And the Bread of Life that feeds the salvation starved world will be born there. Good News! You are carrying the Good News of God to the entire world. To all of creation. Mary carries your Maker who will redeem even nature and all its creatures.”

I knelt in wonder. Then he left. Redemption for the entire world. God has remembered the day He created all the world and said it was good. This baby will make it good once more.

April 12, 5 B.C.
We’ve arrived in Bethlehem. Finally. It is so cold. Looking at Mary we arrived just in time. She has been moaning for hours now. Joseph has constantly prayed through her moaning. I did everything I could to make my steps soft and light. I can’t stop thinking I am carrying the woman who carries the Son of the Maker. My work has been given great honor. I think this child will bring dignity to all who work and serve. Joseph took Mary from my back. He was in a panic asking person after person where there was room to stay. Bethlehem was packed because of the census.

I watched as Joseph appealed to the last possibility of a place to stay. I heard the discouraging words of the Inn Keeper and saw Joseph’s dejected face. Then I had a crazy idea.

I know in a place like this there are a lot of other fellow animals. They have to stay someplace. So I headed down the nearest path to the tavern Joseph was at. Bingo! I could see a small cave about 100 yards from the tavern and I saw another donkey in front tied up. So, I sauntered down to him and told him my whole story.

This donkey’s name was Searcher. And looking at him I knew why. He had only three legs. He told me that he’s wondered all his life why the Maker made him this way. When I told him who this arriving child was he excitedly declared, “Maybe this child is the answer I have been searching for! Do you think we could have him stay here with the rest of us?” I simply smiled my big donkey smile and said, “Hee Haw! That’s exactly what I had in mind.” I headed back to Joseph and met him on the way up as he was carrying Mary toward me accompanied by a pleasant looking, middle-aged woman. I recognized her. Just as I had left she came to the door as the Inn Keeper and Joseph were talking. I think she is the Inn Keeper’s wife. It is possible she has my same idea. “Maker, please make a way for this child, Mary, and Joseph, “ I prayed under my breath.

Next week: The Inn Keeper’s wife’s journal…

Monday, December 5, 2011

Joseph's Diary

June 17, 6 B.C.
Hallelujah! Glory to Yahweh! I have been given a wife, a woman of unsurpassed beauty. Her name is Mary. We were engaged yesterday afternoon. Last night I dreamt of our first meeting. I saw her struggling at the well.

“Let me help you with that,” I offered. She looked up from her jar and into my eyes and I was overcome.

Here eyes were dark as olives. Her skin was like silk, beautifully brown. I felt the silk as our hands brushed against the jar. Her lips were full with the color of a dark rose. I was captured by her beauty.

But as we went to rest under a sycamore tree, I was captured by her gentle reflective spirit. She was a woman who ran deep; as deep as the well she drew water from.

It was that day that I fell in love with this deep, beautiful, young woman who loved Yahweh like no one I had ever known. The next day I told my parents, “Yahweh has given me the woman I will marry”.

July 13, 6 B.C.
Confusion. Mary has left suddenly for her cousin Elizabeth’s home. She seemed distracted, so unusual for Mary. She left in such haste and was vague as to the reasons why. A quick kiss on my cheek and she turned and hopped onto the caravan. We waved to each other. She had the strangest look on her face. Wonder? Perplexed? Joy? Troubled? I think all of the above.

“Go with her Yahweh,” I whispered under my breath. I felt something slide down my cheek, an uninvited tear.

October 17, 6 B.C.
I looked up from my workbench to see what all the commotion was about. Then I fairly screamed for joy as I ran to the coming caravan. It was my Mary. The caravan stopped. She slid into my arms with a half smile to meet my unrestrained one. “Dear Mary. What is it?”

Joseph we have to talk. She led me to our tree. The one we had carved our names into.
“Joseph… (tears)…Joseph”…”Mary, what? You can tell”…

My hand brushed her swollen abdomen. Silence between us. The type of silence from the heart that turns inward on itself.

“Joseph, it’s not what you think.”

“And what do I think Mary? What can I think but that you could not find completeness in me? You’ve betrayed me but you’ve shamed Yahweh. Mary, Mary how could you?”

“Joseph, I understand how upset you are but please let me explain.”

She was frantic to explain to me, as her heavy tears pounded the dirt beneath us at the foot of our tree.

“Joseph, you must believe me. I have not been with any man. I would never betrayed you but most of all I would never shame Yahweh as you suggest.”

She cupped my face in her silk, brown hands. As always when she looked in my eyes I was overcome. I knew I had to listen to the Mary I thought I knew.

“Joseph this is the doing of Yahweh. An angel visited me. I am not making this up. He told me that God has chosen me to bear the Messiah. This pregnancy…my pregnancy is by the Holy Spirit. I don’t understand this Joseph but I gave myself to Yahweh in obedience. Joseph! This baby will need a father.”

I pulled back from her in sadness and disbelief. What had happened to my Mary? Was she ill?

“Mary, though I could have you stoned I will not. I could never do that to you. The woman I love. But there is no way I can be part of this with you. I cannot take on your shame. I will divorce you quietly and secretively. Your life will be spared and I will move. I loved you Mary. I still do. Yahweh be with you and have mercy on you.” I turned my back and walked away, listening to her sobbing. I wept as well.

October 18, 6 B.C.
I bolted from sleep covered in a cold sweat. I quickly wrapped myself in my clothing. I had to get to Mary immediately.

I ran the few hundred yards to her home. Our sleepy little village had not stirred as of yet. The morning sun was peeking above the hills like it was announcing the coming of a different type of light about to enter the world. And I knew the name of that Light.

I came to Mary’s window and pulled the curtain aside. I heard quiet sobbing from the left corner of the room. There sat Mary, on her mat, face in her hands.

“Mary,” I whispered as loud as I dared. I startled her. She looked up in panic. “Mary, it’s me Joseph.”

She looked around and arose, gingerly tip-toeing across the room to the front door. I could tell she was confused and a bit fearful. I took her hands in mine after I embraced her. Don’t be afraid, Mary.

She pulled back and said, “Joseph, you are sweating. Are you ill?” I smiled back at her and said, “Mary, you will make a wonderful mother. Come with me beloved.” I then walked her to our tree and told her of my visitation.

“Mary, the angel that came to you also came to me last night.” He said, “Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.”

Mary looked into my eyes with her mouth open. Then her mouth formed the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. It was a smile of Light like the morning sunrise. I saw the Light in her eyes and I felt the Light in her womb as we embraced.

She repeatedly kissed me saying, “My dear, sweet Joseph. We will make it through this. We are in Yahweh’s will though it will mean suffering. But we will make it through this by his mercies.” Her tears again watered our tree. Through my beloved Mary would the Tree of Life come back to us all.

Next: A donkey’s journal…

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mary's Diary

July 7
Yesterday something happened that I can’t explain. I don’t understand it myself so how can I tell anyone – most of all Joseph and my parents. How will they believe? I can barely believe it myself.

I went to sleep troubled. Thinking. Praying about my experience with the angel that visited me under the fig tree. I was startled by a touch on my shoulder and a heavenly voice sweetly uttering my name. “Mary,” said the angel. It was Gabriel himself. He read my mind because he told me not to be afraid.

I’ve prayed since I was a little girl that Yahweh would use me to bless and glorify Him, it’s all I wanted in life. I told Yahweh this many times.

The angel’s words seemed to answer my heart’s cry beyond what words could express. I will have a baby. He said the baby will come as the Holy Spirit overshadows on and conceives in me. He will be called the Son of God and His name will be Jesus. I was speechless. I was overcome by the magnitude of his message, yet I remembered the scripture from the prophet, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be pregnant. She will have a son and she will name him Immanuel.” How often in wonder and perplexity have I pondered those words of the Lord and how in this instant I know and understand these words! These holy words are about me! Me! Thirteen and a half year old Mary. Me! I fell on my face before the angel and said aloud, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let this happen to me as you say.”

When I awoke I wondered if I had dreamed. But then I knew, in my womb I felt conception take place. The Holy Spirit visited me. I can’t explain it but I knew. I smiled. Tears began to stream down my brown cheeks. Holy tears of joy even though I had no idea how to break this news to others. The angel didn’t give me instructions on this.

Oh Abba, what do I do? That’s when my cousin Elizabeth’s name arose in my thoughts. Yes, I must visit cousin Elizabeth to see if what the angel said about her is true. Could it really be that my aged cousin is pregnant long past the years of childbearing? If so I will know that I am not imagining this. Elizabeth has been more like a mother to me than a cousin. She is wise with Yahweh’s wisdom. Yes, I will go. I will make some excuse to my parents and go to my cousin, my Imma.

I repeated the words to Yahweh that I said to the angel. I bowed low and softly said, “I am your handmaid, Yahweh. Let it be done to me as you say. I will obey as the virgin girl of the prophet’s words.”

July 12 – October 8
The caravan stopped a few hundred feet from Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. Because of her age and all she has taught me I always called cousin Elizabeth Imma or Mommy. She liked it because she, in great sorrow, had no children. I was like a daughter to her, and she like a mother. She cherished me and I adored her.

Excitement and joy began to well up in me as I quickened my pace to her house. I saw her in the garden where she spent so much of her time. She was facing me but her head was down concentrated on her plants.

“Imma! Imma!” I excitedly called out. She stood suddenly clutching her large abdomen.

It is true I thought to myself in wonder. Elizabeth is with child. There was a holy silence between us when Elizabeth burst out, ”Mary! Daughter! When I heard your greeting the child in me leapt in my womb.”

“Mary, the Lord has been speaking to me about you but I didn’t know why. But, oh child, now I know. You are pregnant with the Most High. For months I have been meditating on the words of the prophet.

I completed the sentence, “A virgin girl will be pregnant. She will have a son and name him Emmanuel.”

Tears streamed down our faces and then Imma took me into her arms and said, “Blessed, blessed are you my lovely daughter because you took the Lord at His word. You believed in simple faith that He chose you to bear His son.”

“Why me Imma,” I asked. She replied, “Daughter look at me! Why me?”
And we laughed until we cried. It was then that I knew somehow it would be alright. I am in His hands. The handmaid of the Lord.

That night as I slept next to Imma I softly prayed in wonder and worship, ”Blessed by Your name, Yahweh. You, rich in mercy, answered my prayer of many years since I was a little girl. All I’ve ever wanted is to be Yours. All I’ve ever wanted is to know You and please. You’ve answered my prayers. I am blessed among all women.”

“Yahweh, I will care for this child, our child! I will care for Him and protect Him with all that is within me. Please teach me how to teach Him and what to teach Him until the day when I know He will teach me.

“Forgive me, Yahweh. I am worried about Joseph. About my parents….” That is when I heard His quiet voice, “Do not be afraid, Mary! The Lord is not only with you, He is in you; in your womb.”

Yes, Abba. I am the handmaid of the Lord.

Monday, November 21, 2011


“Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ I Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’ve always thought this is a verse that I would want to have with me if I was stranded alone on a deserted island.

Let’s see. What’s my agenda today?
o Be joyful all day
o Pray nonstop
o Give thanks while being on a deserted island (or whatever your trying circumstance might be.
o Know that I am in Christ

At the end of the day, before I fall asleep under my palm strands and after a mango night cap, I am content knowing I’ve done God’s will.

But, who needs an island. Let’s try it now. Want to join me for 30 days? For 30 days carry this verse and recite it once every hour and obey its directive. Share the verse with all your friends and family. Memorize it! Share it. Teach it. Live it.

To make it easy let’s start on Thanksgiving. After 30 days I wonder what I will be like. I hope to be living out a daily Thanksgiving holiday. I am trusting God to evict my whining and complaining. I want to increasingly find out that the joy of the Lord is our strength as Nehemiah tells us in chapter 10, verse 8 of his book.

Paul wrote this to Christians who had tough, stressful challenges like you and me. Not Christians with nothing else to do on a deserted island. He wrote it to encourage them to make Christ their focus rather than their problems.

So, if you are game, drop me an email and tell me you are on for the “J.P.T.” challenge of Joy, Prayer, and Thanks. I am going to practice right now.

With joy over you,
Prayer for you,
Thankfulness for you!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Jesus’ Use of Technology

He knew it before Steve Jobs did. He created it before him. These are just some of Jesus’ key innovative ideas that you see daily on your keyboard.

We have to start here, after all He is our Savior, giving us eternal life. But we can press that key at any time for any situation. Then as quickly as you can press it, like a mother comes running to her baby’s cry, He comes running to us. He saves us again and again in the sticky situations of our lives.

Ah, yes, one of my favorite keys that Jesus uses in my life. Negative attitude…oh, God, forgive me for that attitude. Then I hear the delete key pressed as my sin is deleted in an instant through the unending mercy of the cross.

Sometimes, actually a lot of times, God sends something so encouraging our way. But He always wants us to receive our gifts and forward them to those in need of our encouragement. Use this key often.

Moving a little too fast. Making mistakes. It’s not fatal. Jesus’ backspace key is the redemption key. Whenever we blow it, He backspaces making all things work together for good to those that love God; to those called according to his purpose.

This is Jesus’ rhythm key of our Christian lives. Sort of like inhale/exhale. We need to send out to others. To give of ourselves but we also need to receive from God through others. Keep your sending and receiving in balance.

Junk Mail
This box is God’s provision to focus on the “majors” and get rid of the “minors.” What are you so worried about today that you won’t remember a year from now? Throw it in the junk mail box and delete it as soon as possible.

Is there junk in your inbox? Thoughts or actions that corrupt you? Get it into the junk box and delete it as often as you need to. Then use the Philippians 4:8 as a filter for what gets to your inbox.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8 NIV)

Reply to All
I love this key. It is the community key where Jesus resides in the midst of Christians when two or three are gathered. Bring many into your life to live out your daily running Christian program.

This is the memory key. Take stock of all that God is doing in your life, and save them into an archive where you can go back often to be encouraged. God constantly told his people in the Old Testament to archive or remember.

This key is to remind you that you are out of control and He is in control. Do not use this key. Let only the Holy Spirit use it.

Open Explorer and go to God. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know is in the mind of God; wisdom for any situation when you go to Him. Lean not on your own understanding. Instead, use Google to get God’s mind on things.

I’m sure God has some new things coming out. I heard He is coming out with a Thy Phone to replace the iPhone.

Technologically Yours,
Nick, The Geek

Monday, November 7, 2011

Grief Share

On November 6th it will be one year ago since my big brother, Gene, died. This past year has been one of the most amazing years of my life. With my brother’s death I lost my past. My entire family vanished with his passing.

This past year has had two parallel tracks. One has been an unparalleled grief in my life. It has been lonely and overwhelming many times. The second track has been an unparalleled experience of the mercy and comfort of God. I’ve experienced God in a deep fathering and mothering way.

I want to share with you some of the things I’ve learned on unexpected and unwanted path. I think you will find some of these helpful in relating to our friends’ losses and anyone in particular who suffers. I offer this in humility with my desire and prayer to be a blessing to you and your ministry.

I learned in those first moments that nothing can prepare us for the shock of losing someone you deeply love and who lives in the fabric of your life. It is a painful tearing with accompanying shock. In those moments you learn to receive from others. The simple gestures of phone calls, cards, and flowers are like taking medicine to keep you alive.

Early on there were three gestures that came in the form of material gifts that God used all year long to steady me and comfort me.

My friend Jody Strathman, in Colorado, sent me the most beautiful card with artwork from a young friend who drew it just before she died in a car accident. It was three hands working to repair a broken and bleeding heart. Three hands represent the Trinity who lovingly and steadily work to do emergency surgery on our ruptured, injured hearts. In the card, Jody wrote the most beautiful and tender encouragement to grieve and let God love me. Jody was like a nurse helping me to know the way to heal. Thank you dearest Jody! ♥

My dear friend of many years, Donna Hatasaki, took me out to lunch telling me that she wants to hear everything and just listen. Donna is one of the greatest listeners I know in my life. Nothing has been more important to me than someone willing to listen over and over again. The shock of grief demands a retelling of the story to emerge into the reality of what has happened and eventual acceptance that does not have a time limit on it.

Donna lovingly listened. Then she gave me a beautiful gift that I will forever cherish and always remember my brother by. It was a gorgeous, ornate, white heart Christmas ornament. Donna told me it was for the healing of my broken heart and to remind me that God has healed my brother’s heart. I looked at it all Christmas and what Donna said was true. It was healing for my heart and comfort to know God has my brother’s heart.

After Christmas I could not put it away. I asked God what to do and then my eyes landed on an 8x10 photo of my birth mother when she was 18 years old. She was carrying me in her womb at the time of the picture. Gene and I are adopted from two different families. I found my mother but he, painfully, never found his. I hung the beautiful ornament on the top left corner of the photo saying, “Gene, I give my mother to you to be your mother.” It is by my bedside and I look at it every night knowing God has healed Gene’s mother wound. Thank you, Donna, for giving me something so tangible that has lasted all year.

Then my wonderful 17-year-old, artist son, Zack, gave me something that also has been a daily source of healing. He fashioned and painted a small clay lighthouse with a sign on the front that says, “Gene’s”. That it came from one of my precious sons at Christmas and symbolized light in darkness blessed me to the deepest core of my spirit. I have it in front of my favorite picture of Gene and me. Thank you, beloved Zack.

These gifts taught me the power of a gift in the form of a tangible object associated with the one you lose. It is just a symbol that God can powerfully use especially when you fall deep into the pit of despair.

From the beginning, my lovely Susie has walked with me. Our grief affects all those who love us and especially those closest to us. Susie has been faithful though I know many times it was hard for her. I know she needed grief relief. The comfort we give is not just to the one who has lost but to those closest to that person. Thank you, Susie, for coming alongside me and staying like the Holy Spirit does.

I learned that within a few weeks most everyone forgets about your loss, but it is just getting started for you and the roughest days are still ahead. I foresaw this and early on made an important decision. I decided that I would not hold anyone under resentment who was not present for me in my grief, realizing for various reasons that they were unable to be there. I would accept from God which comforters He decided to send me. There are people you expect to draw near you that don’t and people you never would have expected who do.

One of those was my dear friend, Jen, who lives many states removed from me. Jen is truly the angel God sent me. Phone calls, texts, cards, and emails nearly every week. She made me feel free to call her anytime. She listened, and listened, and listened some more. She never showed impatience. It was as if I had a broken leg healing and she walked alongside me letting me lean on her for support. I felt her support every day though we never had a personal time together. Thank you, Jen, for the gift you gave in friendship that I can never repay.

Then there was Shelley and Kristie, my ministry mates, who I see daily. They constantly drew me out when I wanted to withdraw. That is one of the greatest dangers of grief. But Shelley and Kristie wouldn’t let me do it. At times I felt like a club kid against the wall who didn’t want to play the game. Then Shelley and Kristie would pull me into the game for my own good.
My friend, Lydia, lost her sister 11 years ago. When I began to sink beyond the grief into self pity she, like Shelley and Kristie, would not let me. She disciplined my thinking onto Jesus with my grief to find His peace.

Yet, even with a small circle of wonderful friends it was a journey I have had to travel with God alone. I was thrust into the arms of God in mercy and grace. And did God ever show up! There have been countless visitations from God to encourage me, comfort me, and hold me up. I have learned that when we free fall, He really does catch us. I have learned as I draw close to Him how intimate He is with me. I have experienced His wooing and drawing me to Himself like the lover in the Song of Solomon. I have experienced His specific reassurance that my family is not lost to Him but He holds them in His heart. He has consoled me to know that our little story of a small, poor Italian immigrant family, living together on a farm is all a part of His larger story and is one of the millions of God’s chapters in His book of life!

I have learned that good memories can begin to emerge that start to overshadow the grief. Yet, my loved one will never be forgotten. There will be a sadness that cannot fully be healed until heaven. And yet this simply deepens the experience of life and character. For me I feel a greater urgency to love the people God has placed in my life and tell them so. I realize life is fragile and someone you love can be taken at any time. So I must be attentive to these relationships and savor them. I cannot let my “to do” list take priority over my “to be” list. My list of who I am to be present to with encouragement and attentiveness. I am taking more intense joy and gratitude at leaves falling silently in wonder this fall, in a hot cup of black coffee while sharing my life with a friend, in a family dinner, and in a card received or given. Pain is making me more sensitive to the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit.

I have had to remind myself that grief is different for everyone. My grief is unique as well as how long it takes; a fact I want to carry for the rest of my life when someone in my life loses someone. There is no one size fits all. Like Jen has been to me I want to be present, patient, sensitive, and listening to the friend who has lost someone; and to the Holy Spirit’s prompting about how to help.

One morning a couple of months after Gene’s death I had coffee and conversation with Amira. Amira and I love books, movies, coffee, and conversation. We are such dear friends. She said, “I don’t know how to ask this or if I should but how are you doing with your brother’s death?” I know Amira was concerned she would cause me pain, but it is the opposite. I told her that it meant so much to me that she asked. It freed me to talk and reminded me that I am not alone. When someone is in grief I encourage you to ask how they are. Many people don’t know what to say so they pretend like nothing has happened. That’s what makes the pain worse.

I have learned to grieve but not as those without hope as Paul says in Thessalonians. What an unsurpassable gift we have as Christians. We have real rock solid hope of eternal life. I know for a fact that I am going to reunite with my brother, father, and mother in a joyous reunion. My precious friend, Lydia, and I take a prayer walk every Wednesday. Our relatives are buried in two different cemeteries across the street from each other. We regularly go to each on our walks, talk to our loved ones while praying, and remind ourselves we have the hope of Christ and will reunite soon. The early Christians met in cemeteries and rehearsed this certain hope of unspeakable joy.

I have learned that God, rich in mercy, fills the holes in our lives. This year God has so gently and intimately spoken to me this: “I am God your Father and I am your Father in the loss of your father. I am Holy Spirit and I am mother to you in the loss of your mother. I am Jesus and I am your big brother in the loss of your brother. I am your holy family in which you belong.

There is so much more but I better stop here. Friends, go to our club kids. Go with mercy, comfort, and grace being slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen! Let the Holy Spirit make you a gracious, ever-present comforter to our friends!

In His abundant mercies,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Prayer for Capernaum

My Lord and my God! Like Thomas we fall on our knees before you. We touch your wounds – you the wounded One who is a friend of the wounded in body, soul, mind, and spirit. You, Jesus, have brought Capernaum into existence because you love the least of these. You, Jesus, are the host of the Banquet to be held in your home. You, Jesus, call the Mephibosheths of the world to dine at your table with you, the King.

You sent me your servant and all my fellow servants named Pam, Amira, Suzanne, Lyn, John, and hundreds of other servants around the world. You have sent us into the streets, the alley ways, the country lanes, and far away places to get the “crippled, the lame, the blind, and the poor” in order to give names to the nameless, voices to the voiceless, and a place at your table.

We are in awe at what you have done in 25 years. We worship you and are in wonder, like Mary, turning these things in our hearts, that by your mercy you would give us this ministry. Because of this we will not lose heart. We will continue to be among your little ones treating them gently like a mother with her nursing babies and like a father urging, encouraging, and exhorting his own children.

Good Shepherd we tend your flock. We feed your lambs and lead your sheep as you have led us. Jesus, Good Shepherd, please send your Holy Spirit to us and lead us for the next 25 years to go into the far country even if only for one lamb. Let us always seek the statistically meaningless one lamb. We lay our lives down in worship at your feet, Good Shepherd of Capernaum.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wild, Crazy and "Stupid" Ideas

“Without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18)

“Some men see things as they are and say why; I dream things that never were and say why not?”
~Bobby Kennedy

“I have a dream” ~ Martin Luther King

“The best Young Life work is yet to be done.” ~ Jim Rayburn

This morning I was reading the newspaper over a strong cup of Peet's coffee when an article grabbed my attention. It was about Israeli scientist, Dan Shechtman, who won this year's Nobel Peace prize in chemistry. The award was for his discovery of a new crystalline chemical structure that seemed to violate the laws of nature. His colleagues mocked him, insulted him, and exiled him from his research group. Shechtman said he never doubted his findings and considered himself merely the latest in a long line of scientists who advanced their fields by challenging the conventional wisdom and were shunned by the establishment because of it. The article goes on to say that the discovery fundamentally altered how chemists conceive solid matter. Since the discovery, quasi crystals have been produced in laboratories and a Swedish company found them in one of the most durable kinds of steel; now used in products such as razor blades and think needles made specifically for eye surgery.

This all got me thinking. We can learn so much from the scientific community regarding their fever pitch curiosity and relentless pursuit of the endless wonders of the created world. I find that we as Christians rarely possess a spiritual curiosity like this and that we in ministry can settle into a routine that rarely changes.

Jim Rayburn said, “The best Young Life work is yet to be done.” What if that is true? What if there are things that God is longing to show us about reaching kids and how we do ministry? He is an infinite God; the Creator of a vast universe that literally explodes our imagination to wonder and drops us on our knees in worship. What if God has so much more for us? What if we could put our agendas aside and open our minds and hearts wide to what God wants to show us in our lives and ministries?

What blocks us from a Nobel Prize type of discovery? I believe the answer lies in two primary places; in us and in others. There reside the voices of negativity. Nothing throws water on a fire faster than the “we can’t do that; it’s not possible” mentality. Some of the greatest discoveries in history were met with ridicule and even assassination. God forbid that we assassinate each other when someone brings up a wild, crazy, “stupid”, never done before idea.

I want to encourage us to listen to God for wild, crazy, stupid, never done before ideas with YL Capernaum. I want to encourage you to color outside the lines. I want to exhort all of us on how we respond to a new idea. It is so easy for us to react immediately in a negative way!

Instead, let’s listen and not respond. You know...”be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” as James tells us. Listen and pray. Maybe even take a few days to seek the Holy Spirit asking is this from you. Let’s continue to be pioneering. I believe this is in our DNA in YL Capernaum.

Has something been stirring in you that seems impossible? Don’t shut it down. Pray. Share it. Maybe even step out and try it. What’s the worst that could happen? Mocking, ridicule, exile, and failure? Or maybe God’s Nobel Prize for ministry. I’ve got to go now because I have this “stupid” idea I am working on!


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

God Disciplines Those Whom He Loves

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:1-11)

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

The heading to Hebrews 12:1-11 in my bible reads, “God Disciplines Those Whom He Loves”. And in those eleven verses the word discipline is used 10 times. It is striking to see the word so often in so few verses.

The passage begins with an exhortation to run the race before us and never give up. The writer encourages us with the fact that we are surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. The race is obviously a marathon fraught with challenge and difficulty so great that we are tempted to give up. How true to life and ministry! Over my past 28 years on staff and my 39 years in ministry I have been at the end of my rope so often. “Can I keep going?” has been a question I have asked often.

Then the writer gives us an even greater motivation to faithfully run our race. It is the way Jesus ran His race. A grueling, suffering race like no human being will ever experience. It is a race that cost Him His life and so much more. The writer encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus. We are encouraged to follow His example. To watch the way he did it. To imitate Him not only in carrying our cross but to do it for the joy set before us. The joy is that we faithfully complete our assignments and hear the Father say well done good and faithful servant.

Then the writer reminds us that we are under the Father’s discipline. We are told earlier in Hebrews that Jesus learned obedience through suffering. Jesus experienced the Father’s discipline in His ministry. Do we think for a minute if He did that we won’t?

As we faithfully engage in our ministries, God is using our ministries to discipline us, shape us, and grow us into the likeness of His Son. Mother Teresa stated that our troubles are signs that God trusts us. Then she declared, “I wish He wouldn’t trust me so much.” I relate to that. Sometimes don’t you just want to say, “Okay God, stop. Enough.” But the truth is God is a watchful, attentive, loving Father with a plan for us.

In Amos God states to Israel, “I chose you out of all the nations of the earth to be intimate but you went after idols. That is why I must punish you.” We are His special possessions: sons and daughters. We can’t get away with anything. So, 10 times the writer talks of God’s discipline that is painful and not pleasant but will also lead to our holiness and fruitfulness.

Trust that the Father loves you when it gets hard in ministry. When there is suffering. It is an active sign of the Father’s activity. Our ministries are being used by God to shape us. Take a few moments and think on that. How has God shaped you in the last year through your ministry? Then fix your eyes on Jesus and keep running the race.

Under His Discipline,

Monday, October 3, 2011

Should We Expect Someone Else?

“John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So He replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”” (Luke 7:18-23)

Dear Team!

As Jesus’ ministry gains momentum, John the Baptizer’s prayer in John 3:30 is taking place: “He must increase; I must decrease.” Another translation says: “He must become greater; I must become less.”

John has faithfully fulfilled his ministry but it has resulted in a dark jail cell on a bogus charge. It is in this dark place that John begins to doubt what his whole ministry was about. Two of his disciples come to him telling him the news of Jesus’ ministry.

His fermenting doubt rises to the surface. Did it go something like this? “I was faithful. I was sure my cousin was the One. The Messiah. I proclaimed Him loudly, relentlessly, and faithfully…and I ended up here. I know I was meant to decrease but to this point? I am sure this will be the end of my life. I’ve not only become less, I’ve been forgotten. Did I miss it? Was I wrong? And what is Jesus doing? My disciples tell me all the wonderful stories but He has not taken power. I am so confused. God did I miss your plan? Was it all for naught?”

John turned to his disciples saying, “Would you please go to Jesus personally on my behalf and ask him, “Is He the One to come or should we expect someone else?” And so they left to find Jesus.

As they finished teaching, John’s disciples approached him. “Master, we have a message from your cousin John. He asks, are you the One or should we expect someone else?” Jesus looked deep into their eyes on John’s behalf with empathy and compassion.

Then Jesus called his disciples and a handful of other followers. John’s disciples recognized some of these men and women as people who had been blind, lame, or deaf. Even one had been a leper but he stood there whole and happy.

Jesus smiled and then laughed with His friends. Turning to John’s disciples he said,
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard with your eyes and your own ears. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the Good News is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man; blessed are you my cousin, John, who does not fall away on account of me.”

John’s disciples hurried back to John where they are allowed to meet him in his cell. The sound of John’s chains rattle in his dark putrid cell. In this darkness he is given news of light. John listens intently. He hears between the lines the familiar voice of his cousin he has always so deeply loved.

John hears through a transformed mind what this Messiah is doing. He can hear Jesus say, “John my dear cousin, do not doubt in the dark what you saw in the light. You were right. The Son of Man has come announcing the Kingdom of God. And this kingdom comes unexpected amongst the least and forgotten. It will topple the kingdom of this world by what the world sees as foolish and weak. What is foolish to man is God’s wisdom. What is weak to man is God’s power. No longer doubt John. The wisdom of God and the power of God rest upon you even in your cell. Blessed are you for believing in me when there is no reason to do so.”

John sits with this in meditation. He knows now the Messiah is the One who is great and has become less in order to invade and change this world from the inside out. It is the heart that He is out to conquer rather than nations. John knows now it is a matter of time before Rome crumbles.

As I think of this, it is so true to our experience in ministry. We answer Jesus’ call. We serve like John, relentlessly and faithfully. We are ever so confident of Jesus and all that He is. Then we run into a season of the dark cell. A season that can be triggered by loss, tragedy, abandonment, plans disappointed, and we are thrust into this cell of doubt. Like John, we wonder if our ministry is a mistake. We wonder in confusion about something we were so sure about. We doubt Jesus and ourselves. We cry out to Jesus.

He turns our attention not to what we have done but what He has done. He turns our attention to the little ones in our ministries. He compassionately speaks to us and turns our attention to our own ministries. As if to say, do you not see these little ones I have brought to you? Look with new eyes on the wonder of God’s work in your own ministry. Go there and be encouraged in your doubt and darkness that the Messiah has come and you have rightly proclaimed him. Blessed are you YL Capernaum Teammate that you don’t fall away on account of Jesus not doing it the way you wish.

This year when doubt assails us and in the darkness of the cell let us return to our video highlight reel of what our Savior has done in our midst. When we gather let’s bring stories to each other as John’s disciples did to John. And let us find renewal, strength, and a renewed focus on Jesus right in the midst of our cells.

May you be encouraged by Jesus who has called you,

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eyes on Jesus

“Since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:24)

“And the things you’ve heard me say in the presence of many witnesses these things pass on to faithful women and men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

“Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (I Corinthians 4:16)

As the new school year begins and the ‘to do’ list grows, I find it really helpful to ask, "Why am I doing all this? What is the central focus of all this?" The true answer easily escapes us. Our first impulse is to say our friends. If we start here we are doomed to frustration and disappointment.

The reason we do this is first and foremost Christ. Ministry is about Christ, before who we serve. The call is from Jesus. Our choosing is from Jesus. Ministry done is unto Jesus. The power is from Jesus. The glory is to Jesus. The motive is Jesus.

The great news about this is that I will never fail when my ministry is “the ministry of the costly extravagant gift.” Meaning that ministry is the alabaster jar of costly perfume poured out on Jesus from an overflowing heart of gratitude and passionate love. When I start here I always succeed because I have blessed Jesus.

Now my numbers might not look good. I might not have enough money or leaders. I might see little fruit. I might be criticized and abandoned. Kids, leaders, committee, parents may frustrate me. But I am not doing this for them. I am living for an Audience of One.

Paul said, “I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself…it is the Lord who judges me.” (I Corinthians 4:3-4) My feelings and self esteem are not based on someone else’s opinion or my own (which is the least reliable) but on what God thinks of me, on how God evaluates and sees me. As a result we hear our heavenly Father say, “You are my beloved son/daughter in whom I am well pleased and take great delight.” (Mark 1:11)

This frees us to be unconditional in our relationships and especially with our friends. When I focus on Jesus I can focus on kids, and in my overwhelming ‘to do’ list it helps to think of one kid. Yes, just one kid. I can’t make a difference in dozens or hundreds of kids but I can go deep with one. I can pour myself out on one. I can spend a lot of time with one. I can impart Jesus in an abundant way to one.

So, as we travel on in this year remind yourself this is all about Jesus. He is our starting point, our middle point, and our finishing point. Then listen to Jesus intently tell who the one kid is. My kid’s name is Big D. Who is yours?!

With Eyes on Jesus,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Giving God The Glory

“But when Nebuchadnezzar’s heart became arrogant and hardened with pride he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.” (Daniel 5:20)

“But you Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself though you knew all this.”
(Daniel 5:22)

“They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not a man!" Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:22-23)

God will simply not share His glory. Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Herod learned this the hard way. This is very sobering to me because I think there is no greater place than in ministry for the temptation of arrogance. In YL Capernaum we see wonders weekly. We get praised for what we do with our friends.

It becomes a temptation to believe our own press. It is tempting to get drunk on the accolades of success. It is tempting to believe we pulled off a successful venture. It is easy to get our self-esteem from our ministry rather than from Jesus. But how do we know when we are doing this? Here are a few tell-tale signs we are keeping the glory from God.

Being territorial or possessive of the ministry God gave us and showing anger when someone is perceived as infringing.
Possessiveness about the donors God gives us.
Jealousy when someone else gets the credit I believe I deserve.
When I can only receive praise but not criticism.
Controlling others. My way is the only way.

There are many other symptoms but these really grab me. So does this mean we cannot have joy in our labor?

Absolutely we can! 2 Corinthians 4:1 says, “We’ve been given this ministry by God’s mercy.” It is a gift and that is the key. When I know this is all a gift it is easy to give glory and credit to the gift giver. But when I feel I earned it and am entitled then I am in trouble. I am listening to the counsel of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Herod rather than Paul.

The Lord wants us to enjoy our ministry and simply recognize it is all from Him. We will get many affirmations and those too are gifts from God. I find it so helpful to receive those graciously and in my spirit return this as a bouquet of praise and thanksgiving to God.

O God, show us your glory in Capernaum that we may glorify you back.
His and your servant,

Monday, September 12, 2011

Devotional By Nick - Recap Summer 2011

As I write it is September 1st. A new school year has begun with all the wonder of what God will do this year and the frantic preparations and pace as we invest ourselves into our friends for another year. Before it gets too crazy let’s do a “Selah” like that of the Psalms. Let’s pause, catch our breath and look back over a sacred summer filled with the wonders of God.

I know we all have amazing stories to share and I have heard some that take my breath away. I would like to share a couple with you as a means of offering thanks to God collectively.

I had the honor of being part of four different camp weeks this summer. I want to describe two of these experiences. The first was our camping experience with our YL Capernaum team in Kauai. YL Capernaum in Kauai is getting ready to celebrate their one-year anniversary on September 11th, so everything is new to this fabulous team of people led by Ana Nunoz.

We had a truly holy week with 17 friends, around 20 buddies, and a group of leaders. All of us whether kid, buddy, leader, or staff felt like we encountered Jesus in a profound way.

The moment that brought this into crystal clarity was the last night at a dessert with all of our participants, including their parents. A 21 year-old young man named Josh, who has cerebral palsy, spoke using his voice box from his wheelchair. He gave what I consider the most profound and elegant testimony of how emotionally painful his disability has been for him and his family. He then described how Capernaum is the first thing in his life to bring him hope and belief that his dreams could come true. He had us play a song that communicated what he felt.

As the song played, his parents arose from their seats and approached their son and wrapped him in their arms while weeping. Then slowly each kid that had been at day camp surrounded Josh, hugged, and held him throughout the song.

Have you ever felt like Moses encountering God in the burning bush? That is the only way I know how to describe the scene. As I watched in silent wonder, I couldn’t get over the feeling that each kid had responded to Josh in this way because he had become their voice; an articulate eloquent voice that stated clearly their struggles and beautifully their hope in Christ that they had received through Capernaum.

Glory to God!

The second experience was this past week at Oakbridge, near San Diego. Our amazing staff couple, John and Nancy Pantellas, serve in the Greater Los Angeles Region under my dear and Capernaum-loving friend Alan Smyth who is their Regional Director. They created and organized our first all YL Beyond Capernaum camp. One hundred and forty campers and leaders attended from California and Arizona. I had the privilege to speak.
What really stood out to me is our ability to go deeper with our friends and challenge them. Their response was dramatic. You could tangibly sense their hunger for Jesus and their response to Him. I have never experienced a YL Capernaum crowd listen as intently as they did, and no they were not asleep. It was a smashing success. We are going to do two four-day camps next summer and seek Pastors and church youth groups to be with us as a way of reaching our goal to more effectively move our friends towards the church.

Glory to God again!

Friends, I know this is only two stories among many. So I have this idea. I would love for each of you to send your most meaningful summer camp story and a picture with it. I would like to compile this into a small book we could use to share YL Capernaum with those around us who know little about our friends with disabilities and Capernaum. If you want to do this, just email it to me at your convenience.

There. We took a breath. We praised God! Now!

Ready!.....Set!....Let’s go!

Into a new year of wonder!
In Christ,

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

May 31 2011 - "Yes, I am coming soon."

You probably followed the news about the pastor who predicted the world would end on May 21st. Since that didn’t turn out, he is now saying October 21st, which is not a good day for me since the Giants will probably be in the play-offs.

Isn’t it amazing that someone can believe they know the date of Christ’s return when Jesus said no man knows the hour or day, including the Son of God? The presumption over Jesus Himself is truly staggering.

One thing I am thankful for though is this pastor, in his misguided way, has turned our attention to Christ’s return. The only thing worse than trying to predict the date of Christ’s return is to ignore it altogether or live indifferently to this glorious truth – Jesus is coming back. And we are told basically one thing: watch for it. Let’s live our lives and ministries in the light of this blessed hope. I personally think we don’t live intentionally enough on this one.

I love memories of Christmas approaching as a child. There was an “I can’t wait” factor that colored everything. It gave energy, joy, anticipation that we carried with us as children. It was contagious. It obliterated the drudgery of daily life with a looking forward.

What would our lives and ministries look like if we cultivated this, talked about it, proclaimed it in word and deed? Would we not be changed by this watchfulness and urgency?

What would this mean to our friends in club? I personally love to talk to them about Jesus’ return and the glimpses they are getting of the imminent kingdom and the coming King. I love to encourage them by reminding them this is not all there is. There is something more. Something better God has planned. Something wonderful on the horizon.

Watch for it. Expect it. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to expect Christ’s return. Paul said, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11)

Hebrews 10:23-25 says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Let’s look for Jesus on the clouds of heaven together every day in a way that transforms us and our ministries.

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.’” (Revelation 22:20)
In glorious day by day hope!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pentecost - May 23 2011

As we enter the final lap of the club year, many with weariness and longing for refreshment, I can think of nothing better to talk about than Pentecost. Because that’s when we were allowed to drink from the Fountain of living water – the Holy Spirit.

We sit with our 120 sisters and brothers: ordinary like us, sin-prone like us, failures in many ways like us, but we have a secret. We have seen the Risen Jesus. Our minds are spinning while our hearts fill with wonder and our spirits with joy. And we wait. What’s next? Jesus gave us our crazy mission. Go proclaim throughout the whole world, but how? We are weak, tired, and inadequate.

Suddenly (because that’s the way God moves) we are interrupted by the sound of a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire hovering over our heads. Many of us scream – I think it was John and Mary of Magdala that together say, “It is the Holy Spirit”.

And as we all open our mouths to reply in praise, words and a language that is not ours gush forth. Language, that great barrier, is obliterated as the Good News is poured out across all language barriers.

My eyes catch a crippled teenager at the Gate Beautiful. I have seen her many times, but felt only pity that she was cursed and outside the promises of God. However, in this moment the Holy Spirit has given me eyes to see into her spirit. And what I see is what my beloved friend, Lydia, always tells me; “their minds might be delayed but their spirits are not”. And I begin to converse with the beautiful little blonde girl. And she understands the love of Jesus as I talk to her. Yes, Pentecost! Yes, the Holy Spirit transcends all languages and barriers.

The Holy Spirit equips all of us to do work we would not choose, with strength we do not have. The Holy Spirit is the one who qualifies us for the mission and that means everyone. The Holy Spirit is not for certain people. The giving of the Holy Spirit puts us all on level ground. Our abilities, wealth, talents, appearance, none of this matters or qualifies us. “The hills have been brought low and the valleys lifted us”, as our brother Luke quotes. This is Good News for our friends with disabilities. What is their qualification for life and ministry? The greatest qualification of all – the Holy Spirit.

This is also good news for those of us that seemingly have all the gifts of life and privilege. We no longer define our worth by what we can do but by the Holy Spirit in us, who makes us His own through the Sacrifice of Jesus and the creative love of the Father.

What good news as we run this race to the finish line. Because it is not by glory, not by strength but by my Spirit says the Lord. (Zechariah 4:6)

Immerse us Jesus in the Fountain of Living Waters!
With you in Him,

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Theological Musings - April 29 2011

Theological Musings Continued…

What does Jesus’ ascension tell us in our ministry with our YL Capernaum friends?
First, it tells us there are times we experience Jesus’ absence. Our friends know absence intimately: absence of friends, sometimes absence of parents, absence of opportunities to experience in friendship. All of this collectively can make it seem God is absent.

Yet Jesus’ absence ironically means God’s greater presence.

“Now I am going to Him who sent me, yet none of you asks me where are you going? Because I have said these things you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth; it is good for you that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.” (John 16:5-7)

The disciples were grieved. With absence comes loss and grief. Our friends know this intimately. But God is a God who fills gaps and holes. This absence is to allow the Holy Spirit to give us a 24/7 experience of God’s presence; a presence in the depths of our being not dependent on physical presence. What great news for us and our friends. Our friends, many times, are limited in what they can do and where they can go. This creates absence and grief. But Jesus leaves and then comes the Holy Spirit with a constant, everywhere presence.

All of this influences how we minister and serve with our friends. We must live out a ministry of absence with them. We must not allow our friends to become dependent on us or addicted to us. We must combine absence with presence so they can breathe in the ever-present Holy Spirit on their own. In this way we, as we embrace Jesus’ ascension and absence, facilitate our friends’ growth in discipleship and primary dependence on the Holy Spirit.

He died for us! He was buried! He rose! He ascended!
And now He is always in us, in every moment and every place.
Easter Blessings Upon You,

Do Not Grow Weary - April 19 2011

Blessings in our Lord my dear friends,

I have been focusing on the accounts of Jesus passion in the Gospels. It portrays Jesus as resolute to fulfill His mission. To do so would mean unspeakable suffering and weariness. You can really feel this when Jesus falls and can’t go on. Simon of Cyrene has to take His cross. At this point of Jesus’ mission is a weary walk towards fulfilling His Fathers call.

In 2 Timothy 4 we see Paul at the end of his life abandoned and weary, and yet we know he went to his death faithful to Christ, refusing to bow to Caesar. It’s so easy to start something when everyone is so excited. Everyone wants to pitch in, but as days go by people start to drop off. It’s not new anymore and people are tired. The result for those who are left can be discouragement.

I am in a weary season right now with 32 days of travel out of 90 days. How do we handle weariness? How do we stay the course? How do we fight discouragement? There are a number of things we can see in the examples of Jesus and Paul.

First we have to constantly renew our call from God as Jesus did. One of the places He did this was in the garden before His arrest. He wrestled with God in honest prayer and ultimately said “yes” to His Father and was strengthened by angels.

When we are weary and fall like Jesus, we must be willing to receive help from others. We must not refuse the “Simon’s” God sends us. We must bear one another’s burdens and help carry each other’s cross by dropping our pride and asking for help.

We must endure weariness and the cross for the joy set before us as Jesus did; it is the joy of doing the Father’s will. As Paul says in Galatians 6:9, “We must not grow weary and give up for in due time we shall receive a harvest.” I know this first hand because I spent 14 years laboring to see YL Capernaum conceived in Young Life before its growth exploded in 1999. There were plenty of times I was tempted to give up but God is faithful. We must lean on Him and do this in His strength or we will burn out.

Paul was not afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. He says, “All abandoned me but the Lord defended me and stood by my side.” And for 2000 years we have benefitted from Paul’s writings because of his faithfulness. So friends as Paul said to Archippus in Colossians 4:17, “God has ordained you to your ministry. See that you complete it. I love you all and I am praying for you.”

All my love in Jesus.

A Celebration - April 3 2011

Dearest Friends in Capernaum

This past Saturday night was one of the greatest nights of my life. We held a celebration of 25 years of Young Life Capernaum in San Jose, but that celebration is truly about 25 years of Capernaum in Young Life, which means we celebrated you.

Pam, Amira, and our fabulous coordinators Suzanne, Liz, and Lyn were there personally representing all of you. I so love these dear women and all of you who labor together amongst our wild and crazy friends with disabilities.

The church was full of people from our 25 years of history. We rehearsed our history and God’s wonders. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated God’s amazing story that He continues to write. I was in awe of God’s miracles and at His people. It truly was a night of worship. One of my dear former staff friends, Valerie Bryan, cam up to me weeping and said, “The 18 months I spent here were the most significant months of my life.” I was struck by how many people who were, or are, involved as leaders, drivers, staff, committee, and donors said similar things.

Is it not for the glory and by the grace of God that we enter kids’ worlds in response to His invitation to serve and it is we who are transformed?

One of my favorite things is honoring and recognizing people who have served long and well in Capernaum.
Ken & Alice Kerley and Esther Quement – original committee
Mike & Kristie Morrison – 25 year volunteers
Joe Palermo – driver for 15 years
Robert Latone – driver for 23 years
Lee Jaramillo – Administrator for 22 years
Shelley Smith –our 2nd Area Director in 25 years, leading YL Capernaum San Jose
And my favorite – my wife Sue – lifetime achievement award for enabling me to do what I do in YL Capernaum.

What about you? How long has your ministry been running? One year? Three years? Five years? Seven? 10? Whatever it is, rejoice! Praise God for His miracles and His servants. Is it hard right now? I understand! Those 25 years were filled with hardship and tragedy. But, friends, God is faithful! He has been faithful to us and He will be for you and for your 25 years!

In awe of His grace, faithfulness, and mercy!

The Capernaum Project - March 12 2011

The Capernaum Project

It’s 3:44 am on Thursday, March 10, 2011. I cannot sleep. I am rehearsing a day that changed my life 25 years ago today. As my wife and 3 sons soundly sleep, my faithful dog Archie is up with me as I write and ponder a now 25 year-old miracle. Twenty-five years ago today I was at the very first Young Life Capernaum club. I remember it like yesterday. Will you share it with me and rejoice at what God has done from that very small beginning 25 years ago. The Lord says in Zechariah 4:10 “Do not despise small beginnings.”

MaryAnn, my supervisor and “big sister”, along with Kelly, Valerie, and I aimed at our 4th attempt to pull off a club for kids with disabilities. We had failed 3 times in the first 3 weeks. The day after our 3rd failure Kelly, MaryAnn and I met and were discouraged but decided we wanted to try again. To accomplish something that day, I suggested we name this ministry that Young Life was embarking on. I read that morning in Mark 2:1-13 of a paralytic, four magnificent friends’ faith through every obstacle, and Jesus who saw a person and not a disability. It all happened in Capernaum. I suggested we name it the Capernaum Project because of the story and the fact that we were going to be a 2 year pilot project here in San Jose.

So one week later MaryAnn, Valerie, Kelly and I acted as the 1986 version of the four Capernaum friends. We brought 5 kids in wheelchairs to the 1st club; Jim, Brett, Alison, John, and Lori. Amazingly, Lori is still with us today as a volunteer. We had a handful of my campaigner kids from the typical club I led.

We met in a small room of the Adult Independent Development Center in Santa Clara, California. That room had a hard time containing the joy and excitement that was pulsating all around us. We sang and I had never experienced such joy singing. We all made a joyful noise to the Lord. We played musical hats for the skit. The laughter, smiles, and joy at something so simple astounded me. I told kids about our club talks and that we would talk about Jesus and their challenges. I asked what they would like to talk about. They all said death. Their bus driver had died 2 weeks earlier and they were grieving.

Then we celebrated Jim’s birthday with a chocolate cake and candles. Valerie presented the cake to Jim and we sang Happy Birthday. Jim was so happy that I thought he might have a seizure. It would have been the 1st Capernaum seizure of many in the arms of loving friends.

When we finished club that day I drove kids home in our leased lift-equipped van. I’ve always, since that day, considered our van rides home as 2nd club. What a time we had for 2 hours in the van talking, laughing, getting lost, singing, and playing Mr. Radio. If you don’t know what that is I will teach you sometime. What a day it was.

Our committee of Carol Kerley, Ken and Alice Kerley, Esther Quement, and Alan Metelak were behind the scenes giving visionary support, prayer, and money. We loved each other deeply and gave ourselves to this new project in hopes of making it one in many in Young Life. Our vision was always the world and not just local.

A few months later my beloved MaryAnn asked me to be Area Director for Capernaum. MaryAnn believed in me when no one else did. I owe her my vocation. She is a spiritual mother that helped me birth Capernaum.

So here we are 25 years later. Every one of you is the offspring of this small beginning created and led by Jesus who loves kids with disabilities. I praise and worship our faithful God who got us started. I praise our miracle God who has led us today to have Capernaum around the world. But we are on our way to the next 25 years. I hope and pray to be around to see what God will do.

Lastly, I give celebration to this day in honor of Steve, Donny, Robbie, Julie, Mike, Jose, Antwon, Ben, Lucia, Herbie, Brandon, Ju, Diego, David, and others I didn’t know quite as well. They all died during our time here in San Jose. All were involved in club. All met the Lord. We will see them as ushers in Heaven.

Happy Birthday Capernaum! Let’s blow out the candles, celebrate, and go forward into all God has for us in the next 25 years.
The recipient of God’s grace!
Nick, the blessed

He Is Risen - February 18 2011

I have felt over my years of involvement in the Young Life Proclamation that we fail to give enough attention to the Resurrection. There is a very significant detail of the Resurrection that is especially poignant for our friends in YL Capernaum. I will point that out a little later in this reflection.

One of the first things of note about the Resurrection is that it’s first witnesses and evangelists were the marginalized. Women. This is astounding when you realized that a woman’s testimony would not be valid in that culture. And yet, the Gospel writers all agree on this. I find it so beautiful that the first witnesses and evangelists to the birth of Jesus – shepherds – and the first witnesses and evangelists to the Resurrection – women – are marginalized members of society. This is Good News for our friends.

The women rush to the disciples but are not believed. They are brushed away, as so many of our friends are. But these women stood in the confidence of what they had witnessed and would not deviate from their story. Their confidence was in the risen Jesus and not what the men thought of them. And we know how the Risen Christ appeared to so many of our friends and how He reveals Himself through them whether acknowledged or not. They are witnesses!

Mary of Mogdola, in tears and grief, lingers at the tomb. She runs into who she thinks is the gardener. Until she hears her name, “Mary!” That familiar voice! The marginalized are rarely known by their names. So many women in the Gospels and throughout the scriptures are unnamed. They are seen through their marginalization as non-persons, but not with Jesus. He utters a woman’s name. “Mary!” And not with our friends. He doesn’t call them by their disability: Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, and Down Syndrome. No, he calls their names: Janae, Adan, Big D, Carmela, Caroline. With Jesus the marginalized have names.

Jesus, on that first Sunday night, appears to the disciples behind locked doors. Locked doors mean nothing to Jesus. Isn’t it true that our friends have dealt with constant locked doors all their lives? Good News! Jesus doesn’t just open locked doors, He goes through them. He does this for our friends.

Eight days later Jesus appears to Thomas who does not believe. He urges Thomas to see and touch his wounds. Jesus was beaten beyond recognition on the cross. Now He is risen and His body healed…except for his wounds. His scars. A person with a physical disability can take great comfort that their Savior bears physical scars and wounds for all eternity. Jesus understands their bodies. Our Jesus is risen for all people, including our friends.

The Greatest Act of Love - February 18 2011

Dear Capernaum Sisters and Brothers!

Greetings from our Capernaum team in Kauai. I am returning from a visit where I had the joy of attending their 6th club and speaking at it. This summer I will be joined by some of our staff to help them with their 1st Day Camp. It’s a pretty perfect setting for a day camp if you like an island paradise. Pray for the team there. They are doing a great job and learning more each month.

I am writing on the eve of Valentines Day about the cross. How appropriate to share some reflections of the greatest act of love in history on a day that celebrates love.

The greatest news for all of us is that the cross is for all of us. That may seem like an obvious truth but judging by the question I am most asked about kids with disabilities it is not. “Do they get it?” My first response has always emanated from the cross. “So what if they don’t?” Does that mean Jesus’ act of love on the cross is null and void for a kid with a mental disability? For God so loved the world! All! Past, present, and future without qualification. As a Capernaum team we believe and know that Christ died on the cross for every kid we know and it is that fact that compels us to love kids for Christ’s sake.

As I have reflected on Christ on the cross and kids with both physical and mental disabilities, I see God’s amazing display of identification. If one of the characteristics of disability is limitations, then we see a God with self imposed limits, dying paralyzed by nails on a cross and doing this intentionally. Jesus knows limitations, physical pain, and mental disorientation through his pain and premature death. He is a God who understands someone with a disability.

I remember a few years ago one of our kids broke down weeping after our first club of the fall. He asked through tears why God made him the way he was. I remember thinking how his cry sounded so much like Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?!” Jesus knows the anguish of an unanswered question.

On the cross Jesus said, “I thirst”. In doing so he identifies with the deep human longings of our kids. I remember one of my dear club kids named Petey interrupting the speaker by shouting out, “I want a job. I want to get married. I want to be a Young Life leader.” Petey was thirsting. Jesus knows our kids thirst.

Jesus said so powerfully to centurions who nailed Him and those who gave Him over to his executioners, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Being misunderstood. How often do the kids we love navigate through insensitivity, ignorance, and misunderstanding on the part of others? Jesus identifies with this and responds with breath-taking forgiveness.

On the cross Jesus responded to his mother’s agonizing grief and her loss of her son who cared for her. “Woman, behold your son. John, behold your mother.” Jesus created community of two He loved who were not blood related. Is not Jesus constantly doing this among us – giving our precious friends’ mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers in a community of belonging. Jesus does this from the cross.

“It is finished.” Done! Nothing left. Perfection. And kids with disabilities are just that because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Perfect in Christ. God does not view them through their disability. God views them through their identity in Christ as beloved daughters and sons. Perfect because Christ finished His work.

And that means that Christ can say to each kid robed in His blood, you will be with me in paradise. Whole. Well. All as intended in the Garden before the tragedy of the fall.

For God so loved our friends with disabilities in Seattle, Tampa, Dallas, Baltimore, Nashville, Kauai, San Jose, Peru, Santa Clarita, Minneapolis, Kazakhstan…yes in every place we are and are not…Through His cross. Glory to God forever!

Sharing in His sufferings and power - February 11 2011

Dear Friends,
I am pausing my theological reflections to you because yesterday was my 40th Christian birthday and I want to celebrate with you. Now I know not everyone knows when they became a Christian. It’s different for all of us and valid for each one of us. But I am a dates and milestones type of guy. Things like the anniversary of the Watergate break (June 17, 1972) or Patty Hearst’s kidnapping (February 4, 1974) routinely break into my head. So this is normal for me. So, I want to celebrate with you.

Woodleaf weekend. February 7, 1971. I was 16 and told Jesus, “I want to carry my cross and follow you but I need you to do it. I am too weak.” That’s the prayer I prayed on my knees in my bedroom as I leaned over the turquoise bedspread. I felt His peace come after 5 years of despair and emptiness over my dad’s death.

Through the years I have lived out the line from Paul that “we are to share in His sufferings and the power of his resurrection.” I have lived this in countless ways.

God has been faithful in every suffering: my father’s death, my mother’s death, two divorces, finding out, at 24, that I am adopted, my birth father’s death, the deep early struggles with YL Capernaum, the deaths of more than 20 kids, struggles with depression, self-esteem, and anxiety. In all Jesus has been Immanuel – God with us. God with me.

But he has also let me live in the power of His resurrection. He gave me hope. Peace. A confidence I never had. A dream. A vision. He comforted me deeply through multiple deaths and losses. He gave me countless friends. He healed my self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. Although I am still vulnerable in these areas, he continues to teach and heal me. He chose a nobody like me to start Capernaum. He chose a nobody as a missionary to nobodies. Great is His name!

He reunited me with my birth family. He let me meet and know my mother. And fall in love with her. He “repaid me for the years the locusts have eaten,” as it says in Joel. He did this by giving me my incomparably amazing, beautiful wife, Susie and as a bonus, three incredible sons. He has fulfilled my dream for Capernaum to go around the world.

Yes, God is faithful. He loves me. I know He loves you but…He…Loves…Me! My life verse is “For He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus” Philippians 1:6 and He is doing that.

The past 13 weeks have been about the passing of my beloved big brother, Gene. Never have I felt grief like this. And yet, I have experienced the tenderness, love, and comfort of Jesus like I’ve never experienced it before. Yes, God is good!

So, yesterday I called my Young Life leaders, Johnie and Jane, and said thanks “mom and dad” for adopting a frightened 16 year old hiding behind a mask and introducing him to Jesus. Thank you Johnie for teaching me about Jesus and how to follow Him. Thanks Jane for mothering me and nurturing me and not killing me when I was so loud and obnoxious. Well, I am still loud but hopefully not obnoxious.

I told them I was speaking at club. And last night I did. I told kids my story with Jesus. And I prayed for some frightened 16 year old in club hiding behind a mask to begin a relationship with Jesus. And I prayed for that kid, 40 years from now, to be speaking to his or her club kids about Jesus and the difference Jesus has allowed him or her to make in our world.

So friends, go back and count the times of God’s faithfulness if you possibly can. And then tell the story.
His Unfinished Work,

Sin - January 27 2011

“His disciples asked him: Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind.” John 9:2
“When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the man, your sins are forgiven you, my friend.” Luke 5:20

What about sin? How does it apply to someone with a severe mental disability? The answer is most vividly portrayed in the story of the paralytic in Capernaum, from which our ministry has its name, and the answer comes from Jesus.

As this man is lowered in front of Jesus, there is a beautiful moment where Jesus looks up at this man’s four loyal “go through the roof” friends who will stop at nothing to get their friend to Jesus. Jesus sees their solid action packed faith. I’m sure he smiles and laughs and in the same breath turns to the paralytic.

It’s easy to think that Jesus spoke immediately when reading the text. But I imagine there was first a deep compassionate gaze at this man. And then he says, “Your sins are forgiven, my friend”.

Now we have no idea of the type of disability or severity of the paralysis. Jesus gives us a wonderful example as well as a theological instruction. He does not view the paralytic through his disability. He looks right past that as He looks deeply into his soul. The place of longings, hopes, fears, joy, worries, and…sin. He sees this man like all others; as one created in the image of God and that image marred by sin. Greater than the paralytic’s physical need is the need of his soul and that’s where Jesus directs his first contact.

After this he does address his physical needs by healing him and restoring him to the community. Jesus cares for both soul and body. We don’t see Jesus caring for his soul, while ignoring his body, nor do we see Jesus healing his body, while ignoring his soul. He does both, which all of us experience, especially at camp with our friends.

In this act Jesus thwarts the Pharisee’s theology which would have viewed the paralytic’s condition as the result of sin without believing there could be a reversal of his soul condition. By forgiving the paralytic, Jesus is restoring the man to full standing with God and with those in the community who sinned against him by making him an outcast to live in a relational exile.

Jesus is revealing forgiveness for sin and being sinned against. The paralytic is now empowered for new life. With God. With his friends. With the community. With himself. All because Jesus, friend of sinners, forgives the sin of all that come to him no matter ability or disability. At the end of John 9, Jesus indicates that true disability comes from refusing to acknowledge one’s own sin. All have sinned but not all recognize or believe this. Jesus offered forgiveness to the paralytic and he gladly received it.

Next week: The Cross

Cracked Clay Pots - January 20 2011

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Gen 1:26 (NIV)

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life…” John 9:3 (NIV)

As we are in the 25th year of Young Life Capernaum, I thought it would be helpful to spend some time on what I have learned biblically and theologically as I have given my life to Christ and serve my friends with disabilities. So the next few reflections I write will focus on this.

It seems to me the most basic starting point concerns kids’ identity in this world. Are they accidents and unfortunate tragedies? Are they less than others because of mental disability? This is what much of our world believes and sadly the church is not all that different. However, these perceptions say a great deal more about our culture than they speak with any accuracy about our friends with disabilities.

It seems to me there are two central verses when it comes to looking at our friends with disabilities. In Genesis 1:26 we are told that all of humankind, male and female, is made in the image of God. All. Not some. Not just righteous, saved people. Not just physically or mentally whole. All!

This is how we see our friends and how we portray them to our culture. They are created in the image of God and because of this they are no less or more than anyone else. They are people made in the image of God who happen to have disabilities, rather than disabilities who happen to be kids with the image of God tucked away somewhere inside their souls.

One question that all of us have probably heard or asked ourselves is, “Are their bodies the result of the fall?” There is disagreement on this. I know people who say they will remain this way with their disabilities in heaven because to say otherwise would be to designate them as less than.

While I don’t pretend to believe I or anyone else can know with certainty, I don’t believe this. Just as I know I would want a new body in heaven, a desire that anyone who ages would readily welcome, I believe God’s creation of us is to have bodies that work as He designed them to work.

Jesus’ statement in John 9 to His disciples counters the idea that this means they are in some way defective. His disciples assumed the blind man was born blind as the result of sin; as a result of the fall. Jesus blows this to pieces saying that he was born this way to show the glory of God. And then Jesus heals him. This chapter, along with 2 Samuel 9 and Acts 3 are whole chapters focused on a person with a disability. In John 9 and Acts 3, the content of the chapters and the dialogue are a direct result of Jesus’ encounter with a person with a disability.

Here Jesus is saying to the blind man, to His disciples, and to all of us that the blind man is not a mistake. Instead he is the vehicle through which the glory of God is revealed in his disability. Haven’t we all experienced this with our friends at club in countless beautiful ways?

When we look at Paul’s reference to us as cracked clay jars where the treasure of Christ spills out, is this not especially true for our friends with disabilities? I believe our friends are a witness to all of us that God’s strength is perfected in weakness rather than in our strength and ability.

In this understanding, our friends with disabilities become our prophets and prophetesses – turning us away from the idol worship of power, success, and appearance. They call us to our gloriously flawed humanity while recognizing God does His greatest work in the lowly, ordinary, and weak in this world – cracked clay pots.

Paul in I Corinthians speaks of the Body of Christ and all its different members. At one point he states, “God himself has put our bodies together in such a way as to give greater honor to those parts that it lacked…” He also says that we cannot get along without parts of the body that seem to be weaker, and those parts we think aren’t worth very much are the ones we treat with greater care; while the parts of the body that don’t look very nice receive special attention, which the more beautiful parts of our body do not need.

In all this our friends are whole because they are created in the image of God, and yet like us they are human, fragile, and weak. God redeems this by reminding us it’s through our very weakness and disability that He most powerfully reveals Himself.

Next week we will look at sin.