I love it when God makes His presence known to me in special ways—kisses from heaven. These kisses don’t come on a regular basis, and usually when I least expect them. But they are strong assurances that He is watching over me, He is a faithful God, well able to answer my prayers, and that to him, a day is really like a thousand years, and that He never needs to be in a hurry. They are reminders that to live the Kingdom life is like finding a pearl of great price, and that any sacrifice I have made pales in comparison to the good things He wants to pour into my life.

Well, I got kissed this week! And thinking about it makes me giddy, makes me want to laugh and throw my hat in the air—whoops, I’m not wearing a hat. What happened?? Did I win the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes? No, nothing as crass as that, nothing that involves money or personal achievement or recognition—something way more important, way bigger.

I saw redemption. I saw restoration. I saw that some prayers I prayed a long, long time ago have not been forgotten. Nothing dramatic, there were no bells or major announcements. In fact, it was something that a lot of people wouldn’t even have noticed. Something that some might scoff at, say it was just a coincidence, say it was no big deal.

So why am I so deliriously happy over something that some people would think so insignificant? Because I saw the Lord!

There is a new song we’re singing in church, one our worship leader, Eric Stark wrote. It’s a happy song, a rejoicing song, called “The Living Tree.” One of the verses goes like this:

Let’s live each day on God’s good earth
In the wonder of each new days birth
Let the sun shine hot upon your face
Be fully alive in God’s good grace
Be fully alive in God’s good grace.

Another verse encourages us to “come sing and dance with one hand free….” I love that, a nod to one of my favorite happy tunes, Dylan’s Tambourine Man,–“oh to dance beneath the diamond sky, with one hand waving free.” That’s a description of the “good life” to me—God’s good life—living with wonder, having a dancing heart, fully alive in God’s good grace.

When we live in the joy and wonder of God’s good grace, aware of and rejoicing in the knowledge that He is present with us, an ever present help in times of trouble—when we allow the joy of the Lord to lift us and carry us through the struggles of life, we live in an expectation of good things. We refuse to live a heavy, burned out, cynical life, but instead fight the good fight of faith.

So, back to my kiss from heaven this week. I saw and acknowledged God Himself at work, and thought of the words of Jesus—“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall SEE the Lord.” I saw the Lord at work in the lives of people I have prayed for. Some Bible translations even put the beatitudes this way: HAPPY are the pure in heart, for they shall see the Lord.”

And I definitely prefer HAPPY and BLESSED over the alternative! It’s a fight to stay in this frame of mind, but it is a huge part of the good fight of faith that the Bible often talks about. I’m so glad I could acknowledge what I observed as GOD AT WORK, and not a mere coincidence, not cynically doubting whether these particular people would ever get their acts together, but believing for God to be at work, believing that He is constantly at work in the lives of the people He created, constantly drawing them back to Himself through a myriad of different ways.

Thoughts on the Holy Land

Brian and I have just returned from leading our 10th tour of Israel, and we both say it was the best yet. You’d think it would be boring by now, seeing the same old things time after time. How could it be the best yet? I’ve been asked this more than once the past few days, and have actually thought a lot about how to answer.

Perhaps it’s in our philosophical approach to life—refusing to live the jaded, cynical life so many in our culture have fallen prey to, (been there, done that) but instead delighting to live in the freshness of experiencing everything we possibly can to its fullness. Israel is not a tourist destination to us, so that we can mark individual sites off a checklist, but a pilgrimage, a spiritual encounter, a fulfillment of the longing to understand the world we live in, and to comprehend some of the mysteries of the Kingdom that God created to restore all things back to their original goodness.

We have been to Israel so many times now that we’re beginning to understand a tiny bit of the complexities of living in the Middle East. We have good friends among the Jewish people. I started and finished two books during this trip, primarily in airports and on airplanes, both about the Holocaust, a subject that I have read extensively about, and will continue to do so. It is impossible for me to fathom how this horrendous event has shaped the collective consciousness of the Jewish people. Much of the intense passion to once again have a land of their own, and to keep that land, was forged in the fires of the ovens of Auschwitz. It is impossible for me to know what it’s like to know that, in modern times, there have been and still are people who diabolically want to destroy you and your family simply because of your ethnicity. One morning, having breakfast in our hotel, I watched a young family at another table—a beautiful young woman, her husband, and four little children. The boy was perhaps eight years old, and had three lively little sisters, all with beautiful long dark hair. They were Jewish. I watched them and felt tears well up in my eyes when I realized there were many young families just like them who perished in European death camps 65 years ago.

And I’ve become more aware in the last couple of years of the sad plight of Arab Christians living in the Middle East. Many people think that all Arabs are Muslim, which is absolutely not true. There has always been a historic Arab church in the Middle East—predominantly Orthodox—Greeks, Syrians, Armenian, and Coptic Egyptians. The nation of Lebanon has always had a majority population of Christians—more people identifying themselves as Christian than Muslim or Jew. Always, that is, until the last decade or so, when increasingly hostile persecution has forced them to flee the land in huge numbers.

On this trip, we met many Arab Christians and interacted with them. We met a couple who pastor a church in Northern Israel, near the Lebanese border, whose church is comprised of Lebanese refugees. We met pastors from Bethlehem, where the previously majority Christian population has also been driven away. Previously the Muslims and Christians there lived together peaceably, but no longer. We met and talked to Christian business people, some selling souvenirs to tourists, and one man who had just opened a coffee shop—the best coffee we had in Israel! We met a Christian family in another Palestinean controlled city whose previously prosperous business has suffered incredibly, simply because they are Christians. These Arab Christians desperately need the help of their brothers and sisters around the world. They need encouragement, love, and support. We would very much like to return to Israel soon, not leading a tour, but instead a trip spent ministering to Arab Christians.

And, of course, we were very aware of the heart-breaking events going on in Gaza. Jewish Israelis expressed sadness about the war—but still say it had to be done. When we were in Israel in 2006, we visited Gaza, something very few Americans can say they’ve done! We had to send photocopies of our passports two weeks ahead of time to get government clearance, and even then, knew we could be turned away when we tried to go in. It is against the law for Israeli citizens to visit Gaza, and it is impossible for most of the inhabitants of Gaza to ever leave. It IS a prison, a maximum security prison, and entering into Gaza is no less daunting than entering a maximum security prison in America.

While we were there, we met and had lunch with a Muslim man who we love and pray for frequently. He is a highly educated professional, who is no longer working in the field he was trained in, but instead has started an NGO dedicated to teaching peace to the Muslim people. He loves peace, and he is a seeker of truth, but has only seen in his life a fleeting glimpse of Christianity. Our prayer is that he will come to find Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Since the war in Gaza began, his Christian friends in Israel have had minimal contact, and the last time they spoke with him, he was hiding in his house with his wife and four children. They were very afraid. Since then, cell phones have been disabled, as well as internet. We know nothing about their well-being, and I am continuing to pray for this dear family.

When we were in Gaza in 2006, more than anything, it was a sense of hopelessness that prevailed. Families living there had no hope for a better life, struggling with massive unemployment, the most crowded living conditions on Earth, and constant fear of violence. Their captivity and separation from the rest of the world breeds further unrest and violence, just like the prisons of our country. The plight of the Palestinians is as sad a situation as I know. And the only answer for them is the Kingdom of God coming to Earth in a greater way.

And so, on this trip to Israel, I felt a kinship, a brotherhood, with the people of that land—the Jews, the Arab Christians, and the Palestineans. I love and pray for them all. And I see, more clearly than ever, that the only hope for the Middle East is the Kingdom of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ.


I’m going to try to get some pictures up from our trip…..bear with me!

Glory to God in the HIGHEST!

The last week of December has some of the shortest days of the year. It is the time of the year when darkness falls all of a sudden, as if the sun, after a day of shining with all its might, desperately but futilely trying to warm a frigid world, reaches the horizon, strains valiantly to stay up a little longer, but collapses in exhaustion down below. Darkness prevails in no time, and with it, the cold intensifies its grip.

Driving home late this afternoon, I saw at the same time three different flocks of geese flying overhead. They were each veering in different directions, somewhat haphazardly and randomly. I don’t know enough about geese. I know that they always fly in groups, always in V-formation. There is always a leader who has two different contrails streaming behind him. Why aren’t these contrails, or kite tails, ever the same length? Why is it that only the lead goose can start the V? Couldn’t any other goose randomly have two streams behind him, so that the flock wouldn’t resemble a V, but many V’s within the one V? But that never happens.

Why do the geese honk? Do they always honk while flying, or do they ever have quiet time? Where are they all going? Why now? I went outdoors very late a few nights ago, when the temperature was near zero. It was so very quiet, nothing like a noisy summer evening, as if the cold was muffling all the sounds, or maybe the snow had blanketed and soundproofed the entire outdoors. Suddenly, the stillness was broken by a flock of geese flying overhead, honking madly, flapping their wings frantically. They were going somewhere in a hurry, maybe, or perhaps just flying around trying to warm up?

There are so many things I don’t know, but I do know that the heavens declare the glory of God. The geese give glory to God. Their formations, their honking all give glory to God. The cold speaks of the majesty of God, gives glory to God. And in noticing all of this, in living on this beautiful planet He has created, I too give glory to God.


Yes, Happy Holidays! Happy Holy Days! All of them! I’m sorry that some Christian people are angry when they are greeted this way by checkout clerks while Christmas shopping. I hope they don’t respond in sanctimonious sarcasm, with their offended noses tilted in the air, “No, it’s MERRY CHRISSSTTTMASSS!!!”

I think it’s wonderful that American culture recognizes and celebrates an entire season of holy days, beginning with Thanksgiving, a day set aside for being grateful, and ending with New Year’s Day, a day of looking forward to new beginnings. Two holy days, a day of reflecting on the past year and recognizing how much we have to be grateful for, and another holy day of looking forward to the coming year with faith and hope, surround the holiest of days, the holy of holies, the day that makes the other two possible. The holiest of holy days, Christmas Day, is the day that God became a man, came and dwelt among us, and changed everything. It is this day that gives us hope for the future, for without it, life would be hopeless.

We do need an entire season to reflect on this great gift, the greatest gift ever given, the greatest gift we have ever received. Each year that I celebrate Christmas I enjoy it more, understanding a little more the mystery and the miracle that it is. The gratitude I feel at Thanksgiving is the entrance into the mystery of the Incarnation, culminating in an ever-startling revelation that because of the finished work of Christ, every day is a new beginning, every new year fresh with possibility. Christmas is the greatest wonder of all.

So, Happy Holidays! All of them! Celebrate the Trinity of Holy Days! Rejoice in the one who is able to turn sorrow into laughter, who will someday wipe all the tears from our eyes, cause all things to work together for good in our lives, and make everything new again. Merry Christmas!

Arthur and Alberta

In 1965, when I was five years old, we moved into the neighborhood I would live in for the rest of my childhood years, a home with a big backyard, lots of trees, and a long line of lilac bushes that divided our yard from the neighbors. Our neighbors were a childless couple in their late forties who quickly grew to love me, my brother, and then the little sister who came along a few years later.

Arthur was a big man with a nice smile who never said very much. His wife Alberta, who was just Bert to us, did all the talking, and she did love to talk. She talked a mile a minute, and Arthur, or Art, just smiled behind her. He worked at the local brewery, and kept his yard neat and tidy. I remember him pushing the mower around the backyard, always wearing elastic waist shorts pulled up high on his belly, no shirt, knee-high white socks, and brown leather loafers. Art had a vegetable garden, and long rows of raspberry bushes that he kept neatly pruned and weeded.

Continue reading “Arthur and Alberta”

Stopping a quick, tricky killer

That was the headline of an AP article in Monday’s Kansas City Star–all about deep vein thrombosis and the US Surgeon General’s campaign to bring more public awareness to a medical problem that kills more than 100,000 Americans a year. That’s what unexpectedly landed me in the hospital for four days last week.

I am thankful to God for the way He arranged circumstances to get me to the Emergency Room when I thought I could tough it out, and for great medical care, and the development of drugs that got me back on my feet in a hurry. I’m thankful for God’s protection and sustaining power that kept pieces of a “massive” clot from breaking off and moving to my lungs while this thing was growing for probably a month. I’m thankful for friends and family who cared and prayed and were there for me.

This article is really worth reading. And it might help save your life some day.

Read it here.

When God Lets You Down

“The deep fear behind every loss is that we have been abandoned by the God who should have saved us. The transforming moment in Christian conversion comes when we realize that even God has left us. We then discover it was not God, but our image of God that abandoned us…. Only then is change possible.” –Craig Barnes

Christian conversion–isn’t that what happens when we ask God to save us? Oh yes, but so much more–we need to continue to be converted, to be transformed, to have not only our “souls” saved, but our minds. We come to Him with such a pathetic limited understanding of who God is, sometimes even a wrong one, but He in His mercy takes us where we are, and at the same time is never content to leave us there.

Life happens. Sometimes in the most unexpected ways. It seems like only in the storms of life can we learn the truth–that NOTHING, not life, not death, not angels or demons, neither our fears for today or our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That’s good enough for me.

Book Review–The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I just finished this book….I’ll give it 6 stars on a 5-star scale. it was very impacting and timely. This is a story about a particularly hard time in American history, but it is also about the sometimes crushing effects of “progress”–what happens when government and everything else gets bigger and bigger and little people get destroyed and left behind. It exposes the ugliness of greed–getting rich by exploiting the poor. The prose was powerful and driving–invoked a sense of inevitability and urgency.

It also exposed the ugliness of religious fanaticism. There is a preacher who has left preaching behind in his disillusionment, but you begin to see that his struggle is a journey towards real life and truth. He came out of the certainty of his religion–he thought he’d become lost, but he was really finding his way. He came out of a religion that was devoid of life and finally begins to see the truth, awakes to true life and finds satisfaction in his God-given mission.

If you’ve seen the movie, it’s like reading the back cover of the book–not a bad introduction.

A Little Dream Interpretation, Anybody?

I frequently have dreams where I dream I’m dreaming. Or maybe I wake up and realize I’m dreaming? I’m not sure….like this one I had last night……

I was on a road trip, going down the interstate, all by myself, pulling a big trailer with another small trailer attached to that one. I pulled off at an exit to get a snack—it looked a lot like the Quik Trip at Platte City. I got in the truck to get back on the highway, but instead of the entrance ramp, I turned into a small lane that quickly got a whole lot smaller, was hemmed in by bushes, and dead-ended abruptly. I was stuck in the woods with that rig, and the only way out was to back it up.

What a mess. I climbed out of the truck and surveyed the situation. I knew there was a way to back up a trailer–that my son Aaron knew how. It somehow involved turning your wheels the opposite way you wanted to go. But I was pulling TWO trailers. I was stumped.

I walked around for a while, trying to figure it out. And I realized I wasn’t going to get out of there without some help. So I walked out of the woods, and was thrilled to see a pack of twelve year old boys going by on bicycles. I flagged them down, asked them to come help me. They followed me into the woods. There were enough of them that I figured they could LIFT the trailers up so that I could just back the whole thing up.

It took some time to explain to the boys what we were going to do, to get everyone organized. I was in the middle of doing that when I was rudely interrupted by the realization that this was just a DREAM!—that I didn’t have to get that rig out of there after all. That made me MAD! because I’d gone to a lot of effort to sort this thing out, and I wasn’t about to go off and leave it without the satisfaction of a job well done. So I went back and started trying to hurriedly get the thing out of there, before I woke up and ruined the whole thing, but it was too late, and suddenly I found myself lying on my back in bed wondering what in the world that was all about.

The Devil’s in my Garage??

I walked into the garage today and saw my car had a flat tire. And so in anguish I cried out with a loud voice, “O God, WHY? Why has this happened to me?” Just kidding. It was pretty apparent why this had happened to me. Closer examination revealed a nail stuck in the tire. I had picked it up somewhere. It’s not the first time. I’ll have to take it in and get it fixed. Life will go on.

Sometimes horrible things DO happen. Sometimes we do cry out, “Why LORD???” And generally, all we get from God is silence. I was pondering why we hold God responsible for the big horrible things, but just generally accept the little annoyances of life, understanding it’s just part of the way things are.

Tires aren’t evil—they keep us moving. Nails aren’t evil either—they hold stuff together. They just aren’t good together. Get a grip.