Pastoral Couples Cohort

A recent Christianity Today article that was shared on Facebook by my friend, presbyterian pastor Ray Cannata, says that 38% of pastors are considering leaving pastoral ministry. The last couple years has been intense for pastors. The article talks about the questions pastors are asking today:

“All the chaos, all the pressure, the magnifying glass of social media, the pandemic, the politics, the hyperdigital context, it makes sense that you have a lot of pastors saying, ‘Is this really what I signed up for? Is this what I was called into?’”

Recently the seminary I attended, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, reported on a study of PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) pastors on three tensions that impact pastoral wellness:

(1) Relationships: Pastors view relationships as vital for their spiritual maturity and self-care. “A group of friends can provide the relational safety, vulnerability, and accountability that lead to growth.” However the study reported that 38 percent of surveyed pastors struggle to find safe, trusted friends with whom to process life.

(2) Identity: “Building an identity based on one’s pastoral position in the church versus building one rooted in Christ can significantly affect wellbeing.” Pastors are famous for basing their joy, meaning and worth on how well their church is doing, not on how much their heavenly Father loves them and who he uniquely made them to be.

(3) Systems: The church is a body. So every member, every part, is connected to the other. Learning how interconnected the body is, learning systems, helps pastors to shepherd and lead their flock well. Learning about these systems and how to navigate them, and nurture their health, often happens through conversations among pastors as we learn from one another.

In light of this, I am hoping to gather a cohort of PCA pastors and their wives and walk together through the Identity Mapping journey. In this journey we will share our stories and lives in a confidential and safe group. We will learn more about who God crafted and redeemed us to be, and even come to embrace God’s workmanship in Christ. And we will grow in our understanding of the particular callings God has appointed us. But most of all, we will be a community of grace for one another as we walk through the sorrows and pains of pastoral ministry as couples.

Jenny has a burden for Pastor’s wives. She knows that the number one factor in a church plant’s success is – believe it or not – the health of the pastor’s wife. If the pastor’s wife is flourishing, the church will flourish. If the opposite is true, the church or church plant will struggle. Jenny has coached over 100 church planting spouses and pastor’s wives who are working all over the world. She finds their struggles to be very much the same.

The 2022 Pastor’s Cohort begins in January and runs for 16 weeks. We will meet on Tuesdays, from 4:00-5:30 PST. You can learn more about the cohort – and sign up – here.

Letters to Melanie: Intro

I have decided to publish letters between myself and a parishioner of a congregation I pastored many years ago. When they were written, I was a young pastor with all my road before me. The congregation was bursting with young families and a host of kids. Those children are grown and gone. I’m gone from that church too. The woman who wrote them – I will call her Melanie – passed away years ago. Her widower gave me permission to share her letters.

In her letters, Melanie expressed struggles many people have but cannot name. They challenged and pressed my faith. Writing helped me think through the relevance of the good news – what we preachers call “the gospel” – of Jesus. I hope my letters helped her. I was young and confident and overflowed with counsel. I didn’t have the wisdom that life’s sadnesses and sufferings teach. Still, I did my best to share the real-world value of the gospel that I treasured then and still rejoice in now; that I knew then intellectually, but now know existentially; that I intensely believed then, and believe just as intensely but, I hope, more kindly. I have not edited her letters or mine. I can dare to be exposed because my shame is covered by the grace of my Savior. She see Him face to face in glory. I’m sure she does not care.   

I also share them – if I’m honest – because I feel the incoming tide of inevitable death rising. Or to use the metaphor of the puritan preachers, I’m wading in the Jordan river. I can see the fair shore and sparkling lights of the heavenly city beckoning. Sometimes I think I can even faintly hear heaven’s songs. My hair is white. I feel my age. Where once I ran the race of ministry, now I plod. Maybe I publish these letters so that my heart will be engraved in ink; so that I won’t be forgotten, so that my memory will not be washed away, vain pastor that I am.

“Heavenly Father, you know the motivations of my heart. Yet you love me. Forgive that old sin of mine, my lust for glory. Use these letters to humble me. I offer them for the good of others and for your glory. I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ my Savior, Amen.  

Melanie first wrote me during a sermon series I preached on the book of Hebrews. I started that series in Advent of 2008. For many years I had wanted to preach from Hebrews. In a conversation with a pastoral colleague named Dan something clicked. I saw the relevance of Hebrews for my people.

Dan had been a successful pastor at a church in Cincinnati, Ohio for seven years. Then he had been called to go the mission field. He told me about the litany of trials being a missionary had been: moving in with in-laws to save money; grieving the loss of their earthly possessions and the memories they represented; being displaced as pastor from the church they loved; learning a new job and not seeing much success at it; experiencing a degree of poverty; their kids having a difficult time adjusting; his own faith being assaulted like never before; the tremendous strain all of this put on their marriage; and the struggle of raising support as a missionary. One or two of these trials would have been difficult by themselves.  But what happened to Dan is that they came at him all at once. His life began to fall apart. 

Dan shared how he had been a Christian for twenty-two years and had never seriously considered leaving the faith until then. He had been married almost twenty-one years and had never felt such a terrible strain on their relationship. Dan explained that the gospel as he understood it just wasn’t working for him. It wasn’t helping him. It wasn’t healing him. Up to that point, Dan’s grasp of the gospel was limited. He understood it solely in terms of sin and guilt, forgiveness and justification: that Jesus’ blood cleanses our sin and washes away our guilt; that Jesus removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west; that Jesus takes our guilty record and dies in our place and gives us his perfect record so that stand holy and blameless before God.

Dan had preached the amazing truth of Jesus’ forgiveness every week. As a good presbyterian pastor he proclaimed to his congregation, “my sins for Christ’s righteousness!  There is no hope for me or for you apart from this!” He taught that Christians that they were righteous not because of their good works but because of Jesus’ work on their behalf. That through faith in him, Christians were justified, declared righteous before God, based on the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to them. But in spite of all the preaching and teaching of justification by grace through faith, when this time of trial and difficulty came Dan unraveled.

Dan told me that he had had a conversation with a missionary friend that revolutionized his understanding of the gospel and revived his own spiritual life. Dan’s friend, who had served for over thirty years as a missionary to Muslims, shared with Dan that every culture and every person is motivated by one of three things. They see the world and perceive themselves and relate to others in one of three ways.

First, there is the cultural motivator of guilt/righteousness.  A transcendent moral law, doing right and avoiding wrong based on that law, and a guilty or righteous conscience, has been the motivating force in the west for over a millennium. But as Christian consciousness wanes, less people are motivated by it. Fewer people will be able to hear the gospel if we present it exclusively in terms of guilt and righteousness. A second cultural and personal motivator is fear/power. This is to be motivated to do something because you are afraid of the consequences of doing otherwise. You fear the people in power. The fear power dynamic is prevalent in tribal societies and it is becoming pervasive in the west. A third cultural and personal motivation is shame/honor. Asian cultures are known as shame and honor-based cultures. In such cultures you don’t want to lose face or damage the family’s honor. Today’s “cancel culture” is another example of a shame/honor approach.   

Dan’s missionary friend pointed out that as America becomes post-Christian, people won’t hear the gospel unless we bring it to bear on all three cultural and personal motivators. He said that the dominant culture in America is moving toward shame-honor. 

As his friend talked, the Holy Spirit opened Dan’s eyes to see his own heart. He saw that at the deepest level he wasn’t motivated by guilt and righteousness, but rather by shame and honor. He saw that part of his shame was the feeling that people remembered things about him. They knew his deep, dark secrets – the sins, behaviors, compulsions, attitudes, values, and behaviors that he hated in himself and he hated himself for and that he hoped and wished that nobody would ever know. He felt shame.   

Dan saw that he had totally missed how the gospel deals with shame.  He had pronounced the forgiveness of sins from behind the pulpit of the church every Lord’s Day for seven years, but often it didn’t make much difference in his relationship with God.  Often, he felt nothing but bondage, alienation, and isolation. As a pastor, he tried to avoid shame by doing things that he was gifted in and competent at so that he would be successful and so that people wouldn’t be able to say that “he didn’t measure up.” But in the tasks required to go to the mission field, he was not gifted in or competent at.

Dan’s fear of shame had become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fundraising took them much longer and was much less fruitful than they had anticipated. Moving to a new church where they had no standing and had to take all of the initiative to build relationships left them feeling alone. When their mission agency moved them from the mission field they had originally planned to serve in to another, this left them temporarily without a place to minister. To make matters worse, during this time Dan had struggled to lead his family in worship and to nurture his marriage. This made him feel like even more of a failure. By God’s grace Dan saw he was covered in shame. The feeling that all of his troubles and failure brought was shame not guilt!

Shame is different than guilt. You feel guilt when you have done something wrong. Shame is the feeling that you are wrong. It’s not about a specific wrongdoing. It is a  general, negative feeling of being wrong. It’s a sense worthlessness, inferiority, of lacking value, of being a failure in the eyes of others. Shame is negativity that sucks joy and life right out of you.

Dan had been a Christian for twenty-two years. He was appointed to be a movement leader on the mission field of an area almost the size and population of the United States! But he had been ready to throw in the towel. The gospel hadn’t seemed like good news to him because he hadn’t brought it to bear on his overwhelming feelings of shame.  But now he had begun to apply the grace of Christ to his shame. I noted a joy and freedom in Dan, a new attitude and confidence that hadn’t been there before.

Then Dan said something that “clicked” and compelled me to preach Hebrews. He said that he had discovered the epistle of Hebrews addresses shame. The cultures of the ancient world, and, in particular, Jewish culture, was a shame-honor culture. Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were experiencing shame. As followers of Jesus, they no longer offered sacrifices at the temple. Now it seemed on the outside as if they might have made a mistake. The “real church” was the temple with its ancient and venerated the priesthood, the daily and annual sacrifices, the ceremonies and tradition, the “smells and bells,” the magnificent architecture of the temple itself. It looked as if the Christian church was a small, clannish, insignificant group devoid of buildings, priesthood, sacrifices, ceremonies. Besides this, some of their members were actually being persecuted – losing possessions and losing face – because of their faith in Christ. There was even the potential of a shameful death as a Christ follower. For these Jewish Christians, it seemed as if the temple might be the answer to their shame. They were seriously thinking of apostasizing. 

The author of Hebrews insists that it is only Jesus who is able to cover our shame. He is God’s ancient and final Word much more holy and revered than even the temple. He is much superior to priests and the sacrifices. They are only shadows. He is the substance. Jesus makes it possible to go into the holy of holies, which was never possible in the old ceremonial system. Christians could have confidence, that is, be unashamed in God’s presence, because they were cleansed by the perfect sacrifice of Christ. He warned that to turn away from Christ is to be left in your shame.  

Now I knew why I had to preach Hebrews! Shame and honor are motivators of my heart and I knew that shame was a pervasive and powerful, even if unconscious, motivating dynamic in my people’s hearts.  I also knew that shame and honor were dominant motivators for my friends and neighbors who were not Christians. I began to study Hebrews. The letter came alive to me in a new way. It spoke to me with a new force.

After my first sermon on Hebrews – a general introduction to Hebrews – Melanie wrote her first letter. I wrote back. Each week followed this pattern. A sermon. A letter from Melanie. A letter back to her from me. At first, I saw myself as her pastor and shepherd. But over time, Melanie’s letters drew me out and forced me to look into scary places, the shame in my own heart. In a mysterious way, Melanie became a pastor to me.

My prayer is that these letters written so long ago would help those who read them track down shame in their own heart and apply to their shame the shame-covering grace and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, for whose honor I write.


Reverend Jason Dorsey, November 8, 2021

Author’s Note: I first drafted these letters between myself and an imagined congregant (Melanie) in 2008. I am putting them into final form now.

Two Identity Mapping Cohorts Launching in January 2022

Do you struggle to embrace who God crafted and redeemed you to be? Do you want clarity on your purpose? Would you like to set goals for 2022 and for the years beyond?

Beginning in January 2022, Pastor Jason Dorsey will lead two Identity Mapping cohorts on a sixteen-week discipleship journey. Identity Mapping (IM) is a discipleship path that Jason has walked since 2003. Since 2008 he has guided Christians on the journey. Read more of the history here.

IM’s focus on knowing yourself from the vantage point of the Bible’s story and with growing clarity, its holistic theology of calling, and its practice of setting annual goals that have helped many Christians grow in embracing their God-crafted identity and God-appointed calling for the glory of God’s Name.

There are seasons where Identity Mapping is especially relevant to one’s life. The Identity Mapping journey is especially helpful for people who:

  • young people who want clarity on who they are and what their calling is.
  • people going through life transitions and want direction.
  • all people who are ready to process heart wounds and want healing.
  • all who are serious about leveraging their great strength for Jesus’ name

We have space for up to twelve individuals/couples to join each cohort. Cohort #1 is designed for pastors and their wives. Cohort #2 is open to

The cohorts meet via ZOOM, weekly on Tuesday evenings. The first meeting is on Tuesday, January 4. Cohort #1 will meet from 4:00-5:30pm Pacific Standard Time. Cohort #2 will meet from 7:00-8:30pm Pacific Standard Time. This first meeting will be an orientation to the curriculum and a chance to get to know members of the cohort. Besides this first meeting, we will meet sixteen times on Tuesday evenings over the course of nine months:

  • January 11, 18, 25
  • February 1, 8, 15, 22
  • March 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
  • April 5, 12, 19, 26

Each session lasts for 1.5 hours. During each session we discuss one chapter from The Name and the Tool that goes with that chapter.

The cost is $125 per person. This covers the sessions and the basic discipleship curriculum of Identity Mapping, The Name, has 14 chapters plus a prelude and postlude. Each chapter is followed by a tool to help you apply its teaching to your life. There are over fifty illustrations. We encourage you to color these “theological illustrations” to help you process the content of each chapter. There is room on each page to take notes, and places throughout the handbook to make journal entries.

You can reserve your place in a cohort at our store here:

Chosen by God

The deepest identity and security of Christians are found in these words: chosen by God. We know that none are worthy of God’s choice. God doesn’t choose the “good guys.” No! The lost, the worthless, the weak, the insignificant, the moral train wrecks, the foolish of this world are the ones our God delights to call his own. Here are some of my reflections on the doctrine of God’s sovereign and gracious election of his people and what it means for our identity and security. Woven into my reflections are songs and hymns of the church that rejoice in that life-changing truth.

Chosen by God

If they knew me who would love me? But God knows me, knows all of me. My deleted history, the skeletons in the closet, my rationalizations, every bed that I’ve slept in, every lie I’ve told, every animosity and exclusion and act of violence. He sees the blood on my hand. And he sees what I have not done. My fear. My insecurity. My silence. All the times that I have not acted in love and courage. He sees it all and all of me, and yet did not wait for me to make the move. He, the holy, majestic, wonderful, awesome and unspeakably beautiful God chose me. He moved first.

God Chose Me

God chose me, the particular and uniquely depraved person I am. This truth destroys all pride. I would never had chosen to follow Christ by my own will and desires. Besides my sins of commission and omission, I’m just an average, unspectacular, run-of-the-mill, average bloke, less than a blip in the mass of humanity. Still, long before I was born, in the eternal ages before creation and in the sovereign mystery of his freedom, God chose to love me and rescue me and send his Son to die for me to make me holy and blameless in his sight and most amazing, to be his son or his daughter. I chose Christ because he first chose me.

Chosen By Grace

The Christian identity is the only one that is based on grace. Not my family of origin, race or ethnicity, good deeds or moral fitness, economic status or cultural impact, none of this was the basis of God’s choice. He choice to love me based only in his free love and pleasure and nothing in me; all that he found in me required God to send his son to die the death my sin deserved. My salvation was not determined by my free choice or wise insight or spiritual acuity. No! It is traced back to God’s free and sovereign choice of me and love for me; his insight and acuity about me required the sending of his own Son to save me.

Chosen as God’s people

God chose me, the particular man that I am. I’m not chosen to be isolated but rather to be part of a global community of grace. The church is the only human community where belonging and status are based on grace and no identity marker, moral resume or religious attainment. In this community pride and self-righteousness are shattered by the doctrine that we are loved by God for nothing in us and only for his pleasure and praise. Here I can dare to be the broken man I am and walk in the light of truth and have fellowship with the other broken sinners, my brothers and sisters.

This is why the Christian church is a singing community. We cannot not sing. We must sing! Joy erupts from our hearts. Wonder overflows from our lives. Jesus never tires of us, or quits on us, our rejects us and so we never tire of the wonderful grace of Jesus. Here is a new arrangement of hymn “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” by my friend, Worship Director Nathan Partain.

The wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin; How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin? Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free; The wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

The wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching a mighty host, By it I have been pardoned, saved to the uttermost, Chains have been torn asunder, giving me liberty; The wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

More patient than my fight, more faithful than my doubt, Persistent though I run, O how his grace abounds! Broader than my sin, deeper than my shame, Stronger than my evil, O praise Jesus name!

The wonderful grace of Jesus, reaching the most defiled, By its transforming power, making him God’s dear child, Purchasing peace and heaven, for all eternity; The wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.

More patient than my fight, more faithful than my doubt, Persistent though I run, O how his grace abounds! Broader than my sin, deeper than my shame, Stronger than my evil, O praise Jesus name!

The wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin; How shall my tongue describe it, where shall its praise begin?

Chosen as the Bride of Christ

Chosen “in him” the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1:4. God gave to his son a vast multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language to be redeemed, bought back from the curse of death and slavery to sin and following the dark ways of this world and allegiance to the Prince of Darkness, to be his bride. Jesus in love came for his bride, lived for his bride, died for his bride, bled for his bride, covered his bride and now waits for his bride.

This song by Nathan Partain sums the beauty of the church as the bride of Christ that in response to the love of her husband now waits and lives for her husband.

She has saved her whole heart for you Lord, She has kept her eyes pure for you Lord. She has waited and waited, while her hungers were raging, To taste only the love of her Lord.

She has set her delight in you Lord, She has stayed all her thoughts on you Lord. She has stilled her desires, all her tossing and straying, She has put all her hope in you Lord.

You have washed her for the day of her wedding, Promised yourself, by your Spirit abiding. In the earthquakes and war, Lord, can you hear her singing, Her arms are raised high, she is radiant, she is holy, Your beloved is ready.

She has shut out the greed of her soul, Scoffs at scarcity, rotting and mold. She has given so freely, to the mean and unworthy, She’s so loved that she cannot withhold.

She surrendered her fight for control, She has waived every right that she holds. She wiped out all the debts that she’d demanded from others, Cause she knew that she’d owed so much more.

You have washed her for the day of her wedding, Promised yourself, by your Spirit abiding. In the earthquakes and war, Lord, can you hear her singing, Her arms are raised high, she is radiant, she is holy, Your beloved is ready.

She has torn up her murderous laws, Her comparing and searching for flaws. But you’ve made her so humble, holding others so highly, That her joy has been filled to the full.

She took off her pretense for you Lord, She confessed all her shame to you Lord. She came out of her hiding, to be know so profoundly, She's so free she can dance for you Lord.

You have washed her for the day of her wedding, Promised yourself, by your Spirit abiding. In the earthquakes and war, Lord, can you hear her singing, Her arms are raised high, she is holy, she is radiant, Your beloved is ready.

You can listen to the song here:

Chosen Forever

Nothing can rip me from God’s hand. Never will I be condemned. My sin or the sin of others will not destroy my place in God’s heart. My current hubris or future moral implosion will not make God’s love waver. I have a bright future, to be a child loved by God in the presence of the God of beauty and God’s people, delighting there with my brothers and sisters, each of us sharing the beauty we see and taste with the others.The potent doctrine of God’s choosing of wicked, broken, sinful people to be a bride for his son, to be Redeemed by the mighty acts of Jesus, to be indwelt by the Spirit, to be inheritors of eternity is the deepest comfort and security of the Christian.

When did the revolutionary doctrine of God’s electing grace first shine the light of your need and God’s love for you? I first learned it reading the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, and feasted on it in the writings of St. Augustine and the Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, and the Puritans Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. In seminary I sat under professors like the irenic Dr. Harold OJ Brown who gave me a vision for the the catholicity and practicality of this truth.

Grace Brown, Jenny and Jason Dorsey, and Harold OJ Brown at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Tonight at our church’s Reformation feast we will share stories of how God’s electing love for us in eternity past broke into our life in the present, rescuing and redeeming. And we will laugh, and sing, and probably cry too, and long together for our homeland. The song “What has God prepared?” by Nathan captures that love and longing well.

No eye had seen,
The Spirit o’er the waters,
The Light no one could enter,
The all consuming fire.

No ear had heard,
The breath of every being,
The Word from the beginning,
Until the birth of Christ.

What has God prepared for those who love him?

Who understood,
The judge would be our savior,
Our King dressed like a beggar,
The humbled Great I Am?

Who could conceive,
That Love would join creation,
The Holy incarnation,
The final Paschal Lamb?

What has God prepared for those who love him?

No one had known,
So hopeless our infection,
So ruined our condition,
That we must be reborn.

No one foresaw,
The righteous being rejected,
The wicked being forgiven,
The children given a sword.

What has God prepared for those who love him?

You can listen to the song here:

Two Impossible Prayers

In The Name I tell the story of how God answered two “impossible prayers” Jenny prayed. In our recent Identity Mapping cohort Jenny and I had the joy of learning more of the specifics of how God answered her prayer in the life of Tyler Kneiss.

The story starts like this.

In July 2004, when I set my set my goals I wrote: “be a voice for justice in IPS [Indianapolis Public Schools]?” I put it as a question because I didn’t know what I could or should do. But I was open. In November, a letter from the IPS superintendent, Pat Pritchard, asked parents to attend a meeting at the school district building. The night of the meeting it was a rainy, stormy, miserable. Only a handful of parents showed up, maybe fifteen. A representative of Schmidt and Associates, Debbie, shared that Phase Two of the restoration of IPS facilities – that included basics like air condition and accessibility – was being challenge. A petition campaign between the two sides would determine if Phase Two would move forward or not. Volunteers in support of IPS would need to carry petitions. Five regional coordinators were needed to coordinate the petition carriers. They would all need to be volunteers, not paid IPS staff. Debbie asked the ragtag group of parents if anyone would be willing to be a regional leader. No one raised their hand. Then I remembered my goal. I raised my hand. That thrust me into a position of visible leadership in IPS advocacy and renewal.

The petition drive was successful. IPS got overwhelming support. One man, a retired neighbor, told me that his mom had been a single mom; that if it hadn’t been for public schools, he wouldn’t have been successful in his life. There was a groundswell of support. I thought, We need to keep this momentum going. I started a grassroots group called IPS Renewal to catalyze the moment and which I led for a couple of years. We worked to get out a positive message about IPS. I also served on the G.R.A.D.E.S. council made up of leaders from IPS, IUPUI, the Red Cross, NCAAP, and the city who came together to hold IPS accountable and encourage academic excellence. I sat on the Yellow Ribbon Task force that addressed the high drop out rate. By then, Dr. Eugene White was the superintendent. I was impressed with his leadership. He assumed responsibility for where IPS was rather than blaming others. He said it was on him to solve these issues. 

Even though I was involved in social activism, my heart’s passion was moving from public advocacy to wanting a more personal and spiritual impact. I coached baseball for four years at Arsenal Tech High School, the high school nearest our home. Jenny and I helped launch an urban Young Life program at Tech. One school year I served as a lunchroom supervisor. I greeted students, monitored the lunch line, cleaned up trash, and broke up fights. By this time my sons Jacob and Julian were at Tech. I saw firsthand its challenges. Sometimes I wondered if we were crazy to send our kids there. We were willing to be on the front-lines, but we longed for more of our friends at Redeemer to join us in weaving their lives into IPS, standing in solidarity with IPS, and working for the good of IPS. 

Yet, in spite of these challenges, Jenny and I valued the education and opportunities our kids got in IPS. Jacob went to Harshman Middle School and had the opportunity to be in their Science-Bound program with Purdue University. He went on to graduate as valedictorian of Tech with a full-ride to Purdue in the mechanical engineering program. He thrived under the tutelage of master teacher Dr. Mark Blachly, another committed Christian, who taught math and science. He enjoyed working backstage with the Tech Drama crew led by Mr. Arnold. He ran track and cross country and participated in swimming.  Our sons Julian and Judah attended the new Crispus Attucks Medical magnet for their middle school years, transferring to Tech for high school. Julian played basketball for the first time in the 7th grade at Attucks which was cool with its storied history. Oscar Robertson had won the Indiana high school basketball championship in 1956.  I loved walking through the halls at Attucks seeing the pictures of the graduating classes. Attucks was started as an all-black school built next to the town dump, to segregate the black from the white kids. But what a school it was in its hey day. I later wrote a poem and painted a watercolor about that history. I donated the painting to Attucks. Last I know it hung in the school office. Judah transferred to Harshman for his 8th grade year. My daughter, Jackie, also went to Harshman. 

Over the years, friendships with other IPS families were forged. But we still felt alone in our choice of IPS among our church family. Even though it was a large church in the heart of the city, our kids were almost the only kids that went to IPS schools. They felt excluded from the kids that attended the Oaks. None of our IPS friends attended Redeemer. Our two worlds, church and school didn’t converge.

Jenny began to pray two impossible prayers. She said to God, “Heavenly Father, please have a family from Redeemer send their kids to Tech to be with our kids. Or, if you can’t do that, please bring a kid from Tech to be part of our Redeemer church family.” She felt either would be a miracle, and hoped God would answer one or the other.

He did the impossible and answered both.

Redeemer members, Phil and Francois Edwards, sent their daughter Lauren, who was a gifted math student, to Tech as part of the Science-bound program.

Around that same time a young man named Tyler went off to Young Life Camp. God did a mighty work in his heart, and he came back changed. Tyler started attending Redeemer Indy, even though sometimes he had to ride his bike there. Tyler became a friend to our kids and our family and even joined us on one of our epic road trips out west.

Tyler met a beautiful young lady at IU, Bloomington, and I had the privilege of serving at their wedding.

Jenny and I had the joy of having Tyler, and his wife Anastasia, join an Identity Mapping cohort. Last week I asked Tyler for his side of the story and here is what he wrote:

“It was in the summer after my freshman year at this high school that God would come for me again, taking me by surprise. My best friend Eric was tangentially involved with a group of Christians known as Young Life at this high school. This group was a missionary effort supported by a local PCA church called Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, which sought (and still seeks) to bring the light of the gospel to the children in the local public schools. Eric called me in the middle of the night and told me that this group was going on a week-long trip to Georgia, and that some of the cool kids were going, and that they had a spot open for me at the camp. I woke my mother up and asked her if she would mind if I were to travel to Georgia for a week with a Christian group from school. She was okay with it, and we hastily threw a bunch of my clothes in the washing machine. Later that evening, at 4 a.m., a hulking man, a football coach, knocked loudly on my door. We threw my mostly wet clothes in a duffle bag and he stuffed this bag into his trunk, and he sped me off to school, where the bus was waiting for me, the latecomer.

   This camp was a kind of collision for my spiritual life. I was hurtling off in one direction until I collided with a body more substantive than my own. The volunteers at Sharptop Cove in Georgia and the leaders of our group of high schoolers were all devoted to Christ. The days were full of activities and entertainment, but the evenings were devoted to the preaching and discussion of the gospel of our Lord. I heard once again the tenets of the faith, that I was a sinner in desperate need of a savior, that God had given His only-begotten Son to atone for my wickedness and ransom me, that as a Christian I now shared in Jesus’ inheritance and am adopted by my Father in Heaven. I realized I had been living a self-contradictory life. While pursuing my own interests, I had neglected the Christian life entirely. I was not praying, not reading His Word, not attending Christian worship. I was living unto myself and drastically needed to adjust my course before revealing myself to be a hypocrite. Of course in hindsight I know my status was as immutably certain as the promises of God Almighty, but I now see this Divine Intervention in my life as my Heavenly Father calling me back to His people. After returning from camp, my life changed drastically. I learned where most of the leaders were attending church and asked my mom to drop me off one Sunday morning. I walked in and sat by myself, listening to the preaching of the Gospel and the singing of praise to God and my heart was stirred to worship; truly the author and perfecter of my faith was continuing a great work in me.”

What impossible prayers are you praying as you step boldly into your calling?

I Matter

On Tuesday evening we wrapped up two Identity Mapping cohorts. We started the Identity Mapping journey in January and we traveled together reading and discussing a chapter and tool from the The Name each week. This was the first time that Identity Mapping cohorts met via Zoom. It worked. Participants came from all over – Bloomington, St. Louis, Phoenix, Chicago, Denver and the Seattle area – to journey together for seventeen weeks.

At our last gathering we processed group closure. It was sweet but sad. We talked about the stages of our group: from how we joined with some apprehension, to how we grew to trust each other, to how we then shared our hearts and lives and struggles and breakthroughs with each other, to how now we were saying our goodbyes. Everyone expressed how meaningful the cohort had been. Sweetest of all was when participants shared about how each person had brought their special “thisness” to the group, how special they were. We ended by celebrating God’s grace and glory in each other.

One young man summed his experience up in this way. He said something like, “It sounds kind of sappy, but the biggest thing I got from this group is that I matter.” Yes, he matters. And you matter too, you matter immensely to God!

Our Maui Adventure

Thirty-three years after we first held hands on Valentines Day, 1988, Jenny and I spent ten magical days on Maui. We had recently learned from the Prepare and Enrich marriage assessment tool that the lack of leisure time was the weak link in our marriage. Ben, a friend from college who debriefed us on the tool, invited us to Maui to focus on us and have fun.

Here is our Maui adventure.

Monday, February 8

Flying into Kahului Airport I was amazed at the bright turquoise blue water. After a long wait in a long line to show our negative covid test results we picked up our Kia Sorento, shopped at Costco and headed to The Sands of Kahana resort on the northwest side of Maui. Thanks to one of Ben’s contacts, we got an incredible deal for the two-bedroom condo with spacious kitchen, dining and living room. It had a great view of the ocean from the balcony that opened from the master bedroom. For exercise we took the stairs up the four floors. Dinner that night was tamales, refried beans, lettuce and fresh salsa. When we didn’t eat out, this was our staple (For breakfast we added an egg).

At sunset we walked the beach hand in hand. I was surprised that it was dark by 6:30pm. There’s nothing like falling asleep to the sound of the crashing waves through the screen and the warm ocean air our blanket.

Tuesday, February 9

I woke early, painted in my art travel journal and waited for the sunrise at 7am. After a breakfast of tamale, eggs and salsa, Jenny and I read the morning Psalms for the day, walked on the beach and swam in the Pacific: it was cool enough to be refreshing, warm enough to stay in all day, and salty enough to float without expending much energy. We shopped in Lahaina, visited the massive banyan tree that fills an entire block, enjoyed lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise, then raced back to our condo for two Identity Mapping cohorts on zoom. We finished our day in the hot tub laughing at the jokes a three (or so) year old boy was making off the top of his head. He reminded us of our son Jacob. We realized that this is the first time we have been away together without our kids for more than a couple of days since our honeymoon, June 1992.

Wednesday, February 10

I enjoyed my morning coffee and watched the sunrise that warmed the hills behind our resort, then let the sun warm my body stretched out in the sand. Nothing in the world is more relaxing (to me) than laying in the sand listening to the pound of the waves. Ben’s wife Sharon works at the 808 Moped shop, and she set us up with the best-possible-deal on two cute mopeds: FREE! Ben met us at 9:45am and took us for a tour of northwest Maui. We drove through a few of the nine climate zones on Maui. After a tour of his and Sharon’s cozy condo with its incredible view, our next stop was at Napili beach, then north to Dragon’s Teeth, an dramatic teeth-like rock formation with waves crashing against it. We drove by golf course where the Pros play, the Plantation Course at Kapalua Bay, and the five star hotel where Ben works and the rich and famous play. Ben took us on a walk through the jungle to a beach with good snorkeling and up to the blowhole at Nakalele Point. It was a short hike and impressive reminder of the force of nature.

Ben left us to drive back on our own. We stopped for the first of three loaves of banana bread (having relaxed our Daniel’s diet for our stay in Maui). On the way back we took pictures that I later painted in my travel journal. We stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant Ben recommended. After Jenny finished up a coaching call with a pastor’s wife, we decided to take the mopeds to get shave ice that everyone had told us was a “must do.” It was a little bit nerve wracking to take the highway to Lahaina, racing there and back before the sun set. The shave ice was totally worth it and we survived the adventure! That evening when Jenny and I went for a walk on the beach to watch the sunset, someone called my name.

Jenny and I turned and saw Mike and Cathie Braziel. Mike is one of the pastors at Camano Chapel, Camano Island. Mike and Cathie were staying at the same resort as us. They have stayed at this resort for over a decade. We had a fun time catching up, talking about Maui and how important it is for pastoral couples to get away. We decided to grab coffee in the morning.

Jenny and I watched a few shows of The Bay, a BBC mystery series before crashing.

Thursday, February 11

After breakfast and dropping off the mopeds, we enjoyed coffee and with Mike and Cathie. Then we tried our hand at snorkeling. A friend had bought us great snorkels and fins. It was amazing to see the bright colored fish. Later I learned that snorkeling had been scary for Jenny, who felt like she was about to drown. From then on she left the snorkeling to me. Jenny wasn’t feeling great so we went home where she napped. I swam, napped, and read the wonderful book Art and Faith by Makota Fujimura. I was surprised by how many new ideas this small but potent book opened my eyes to see. Jenny felt better in the evening. Friends bought us a gift card for Dukes, a fancy restaurant off in Ka’anapali. We watched the sunset while waiting. It was a delicious and romantic dinner.

Today was a reminder that Jenny and I have many friends who care for us through thoughtful gifts, insightful writing, and most importantly their presence in our lives.

Friday, February 12

One of the things I treasured most on Maui was early mornings on our balcony reading Scripture, sipping coffee, studying the greens and gold of the palms, the pinks, greys and blues of the ever-changing pacific and shooting whale plumes with the Island of Molokai in the distance. I learned of Molokai by reading about Father Joseph Damien, the Catholic priest who in 1863 had gone to minister to the leper colony there. He immersed himself in the life and struggle of the lepers, loving and serving them. He eventually contracted leprosy. He began his sermon on a Sunday morning in 1885 with the words, “we lepers…” He died on Molokai in 1889. Likewise, I hope to serve Christ in a sacrificial way in the place he planted me.

Ben and Sharon picked us up for whale watching on the Gemini. It was an incredible experience to be so close to the humpback whales that are bigger than a school bus, that come to Maui to mate and give birth. We got lots of video of these majestic creatures. The whole morning was magical: to be on the water with friends amidst the glories of creation.

We had a plate lunch for lunch: two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, and an entre (we usually ordered fish). This became our local favorite dish. We spent the rest of the day visiting art galleries and shopping in Lahaina. It was fun to buy gifts for each of our kids. We sat under the big banyan tree and waited for the sun to go down. When it did the birds stopped singing and all was still.

Saturday, February 13

A major snowstorm hit Seattle. Redeemer’s leaders scrambled to figure out what to do for worship while we relaxed in the sun and played in the water. I’m so thankful for each one who made it possible for us to get away for some R & R. We spent Saturday slowing down, enjoying our last full day at our condo, and soaking in the sun.

In the afternoon I painted in my travel journal. In the evening we visited the three mile long beautiful Ka’anapali beach. The sunset that night was glorious. We ate outdoors at Leilanis. It was so romantic. And it wasn’t even Valentine’s Day yet!

Sunday, February 14

We watched Redeemer’s online service. Jim Gibons led the liturgy and Dave Irish led worship. Jordon Lewis did a great job preaching his first sermon. It was nice to be with our spiritual family even while so far away. This was our last day in the condo. We packed our bags, tidied up, grabbed coffee and headed to Ben and Sharon’s for lunch. Ben picked up lunch plates, poke bowls and a bottle of wine. Jenny and I, and Ben and Sharon, swapped stories of our ministry journeys. Ben and Sharon pastored in Salem, OR for twenty-six years before taking a breather in Maui. Ben senses a calling to care for pastoral couples who are weary, hurting and needing R & R, like we were. It was a sweet time of fellowship.

We drove south along the coast to the Days Inn in Kihei on Keawakapu Beach. We watched the sunset from Kalama Park and enjoyed a Valentine’s dinner at the Kihe Cafe where we listened to music, danced to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran and ate fish and chips. Enchanting. Jenny did look perfect tonight. It has been life-giving to spend this time with her.

Monday, February 15

Today we lounged on Keawakapu Beach. I snorkeled in the morning, watching the many colored fish in the coral reef. We spent the day rotating between reading on our beach towels and playing in the water. I finished Makoto’s book and ended the day a more colorful red than they pasty white I was when we arrived.

The sunset was spectacular: the soft pinks and grays of the sky reflected on the cerulean water was framed by the ivory black rocks. When the sun goes down on west Maui life slows down, even stops, like the lull in the birds singing at the banyan tree in Lahaina. Everyone comes out to watch the sunset, to pay homage to creation’s beauty, and some, to worship the Creator of beauty.

Tuesday, February 16

Tuesday was our most active day. We left the Days Inn at 3:00am to watch the sunrise on the summit of Haleakala. At an elevation 10,023 feet, the drive up the mountain was scary because it was pitch black. When we looked to the side all we could see were stars. We imagined sheer cliffs on the side. But we made it. At the summit we got out of the car and looked up. I’ve never seen stars so bright. The sky was lit by them. The drive was worth that sight. It was super cold. So we got back into the car and waited. At about 5:45am we climbed to the lookout with the fifty visitors lucky enough to get a pass and waited. The sunrise was breathtaking, a reminder of how beautiful and vital light is.

From there we headed to Paia. We stopped to take pictures of the Holy Ghost mission church in Kula, one of the many churches I photographed. I hope to paint them as part of my series of churches around the world. We had sandwiches, shave ice and coffee for breakfast, then explored Paia and worked up an appetite for a delicious lunch at Flatbread Pizza.

Jenny wanted to see a turtle. But so far we hadn’t had any luck. She spotted her first turtle – actually ten of them – on a popular surfing beach just north of Paia. We moved into our Air B & B just in time for our Identity Mapping cohort calls (at 2 and 5pm).

For dinner we ended up with our go to lunch plates from the Paia Fish Market because we hadn’t made reservations at the fancy Mama’s Fish House. They were delicious and a third of the price which made Jenny happy. She likes a bargain!

Wednesday, February 17

We left at 8 AM to take the famous road to Hana. Friends told us to get the APP and it was worth it. The drive is not about reaching the destination but the pilgrimage along the way, with its noteworthy stops and remarkable history.

The Arboretum was interesting. The windy drive down to Nahiku, where George Harrison of the Beattles had once lived on secluded 63-acre estate, was probably not worth it, though the church was charming and picturesque in the rain. I love how many of the churches on Maui keep their doors open to members and visitors. The BIG avocados at the fruit stands along the way, reminded Jenny of the ones she had eaten when she was a girl in Peru, South America. The whole experience of Maui felt familiar to her, like being home.

One of my favorite stops on the road to Hana was Honokalani Beach with its black sand and stunning views and crashing waves. How do you describe the lush veridian greens against the lamp black rocks and the translucent phthalo blue and payne’s grey waves? My most favorite spot was a waterfall just off the road. It took a minute or two to walk to it. There was one other couple there. I could tell the guy wanted to swim in the pool and so did I. I said, “If you go in, I’ll go in.” The water was deliciously refreshing. It turned out that they live in Sammamish, a suburb next to us in Redmond. We exchanged phone numbers. Maybe we’ll have an adventure back home.

Thankfully I navigated the windy roads and we made it to our charming place in Hana. After unpacking and grabbing lunch from a food truck we headed further southeast. Our first stop was Koki Beach. The sun peeked from a rain cloud lighting the red cliff, red rocks and emerald green waters.

Further south we hiked in the Bamboo Forest and the seven sacred pools of O’heo’. On the way back to Hana, we stopped at the church where Charles Lindberg is buried. The Road to Hana was spectacular. How do I pick a favorite stop? For dinner we enjoyed (what else?) lunch plates from Poke Bobs food truck on our balcony. Our hearts overflowed with thankfulness for adventure on Maui, overflowing like the streams and rivers would be on our drive home the next day.

Thursday, February 18

It stormed Wednesday night through Thursday morning. When we dropped off our keys, the clerk cautioned us to watch out for flash floods and water on the road. Boy was she right. The streams had become muddy rivers, and the rivers crashing torrents of water. Thankfully the 50 bridges we crossed all held true. We stopped to visit the congregational church in Haiku and stumbled upon famous Auntie Sandy’s. It didn’t take us long to gobble up the warm banana bread. We made it back to Paia for one last lunch. Jenny found the Hawaiian hula girl bobble head doll she wanted as a souvenir. I got an blue hoody I absolutely love. We arrived in Seattle at midnight none the worse for wear and grateful.

Two words were repeated throughout our time in Maui. Aloha and Mahalo. Aloha is the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy. It is used when you greet someone. Mahalo expresses gratitude, thanks. We are thankful for the Aloha, the hospitality shown to us on Maui. Jenny and I want to say Mahalo to all who made this such a special and renewing time.

Mahalo to Ben and Sharon who welcomed us and ministered to us. Mahalo to our kids who rejoiced in our chance to get away and especially Jacob who held down the fort in Redmond. Mahalo to the friends who supported and guided our visit. Mahalo for the leaders at Redeemer who made this time away possible. Most of all, Mahalo to our heavenly Father who brought us together so many years ago, who calls us to serve his name, and who leads us on our earthly pilgrimage till we enter our eternal rest in the presence of the Creator of all beauty, the glory of which our time in Maui was a faint picture of.

The Weak Link in our Marriage

“The weak link in your marriage is…” our Certified Facilitator and friend Ben said, “and it is serious.” We were on the phone with Ben two weeks ago to debrief our Prepare and Enrich survey results. Prepare and Enrich is a premarital and marriage assessment tool that has helped couples enrich their relationship for the last 35 years.

Before I tell you what Ben said the weak link in our marriage was, let me tell you why we took the Prepare and Enrich Assessment.

Jenny and I at Western Baptist College in the spring of 1988

Jenny and I first held hands and were officially a “couple” on Valentines Day 1988. There were a couple of messy breakups, but basically we have been together since then. We were married in Redding, CA, on June 20, 1992. So we’ve been together a long time.

Through our marriage we’ve developed a philosophy that a good marriage takes a lot of hard work and upkeep. The way Jenny puts it is “they lived happily every after with a lot of of hard work in between.” The way I put it is that we need to “renew and always be renewing our marriage.” In the Identity Mapping ministry we emphasize that the marriage is the most important relationship, the foundation of the family. And that is deserves and requires attention, work, caretaking. We’ve tried to live that over the last 29 years.

But as I shared in a recent post, Jenny and my marriage was hurting, strained, limping along. So I set as my one goal for 2021 to “love Jenny accurately.” I knew we needed to slow down, focus on our relationship, take time for ourselves. Part of that slowing down was to schedule a trip to Maui with just Jenny and I. Our trip would take place 33 years after we first held hands on February 14, 1988.

I contacted Ben Bryson a friend from college who had served twenty-six years as a pastor and who now lives with his wife in Maui. He set us up with an awesome place to stay. And he shared that he feels God is calling him to a ministry to pastors and their wives, a ministry of encouragement, renewal, counsel and care. He shared that he was a Certified Facilitator with Prepare and Enrich, and asked if we would be interested in taking the assessment. Jenny and I thought that sounded great. And that is why Ben was telling us what the assessment indicated was the weak link of our marriage.

Leisure activities

“The weak link of your marriage,” Ben said, “Is the lack of leisure activities that you do together. It’s important not to write this off. This is serious, and it’s something to pay attention to. What do you think about that?” Ben asked.

We both affirmed the assessment. Probably more than most couples, Jenny and I work together on so many things. We work closely in my work with the church. Jenny is my main ally and helper in my pastoral ministry. We work together to care for our kids, and help our families. We work closely in running Sunnyshore Studio, our art business. We both work out of our apartment in Redmond, WA. Basically we do everything together, apart from Jenny’s coaching business. But we don’t take much time just to have fun, for leisure activities, for us. Jenny has been saying for the last couple of years that all we talk about is work and that we don’t have fun together. We don’t have hobbies, adventures, things for just us to do. So when Ben said that we weren’t surprised. We agreed that it was an important issue to work on in our marriage.

Then Ben challenged us. “I want you to ‘Date your Mate.'” He said. He told us that he wanted us to come up with a plan where once a week we had a date. There is a page in the Biblical Workbook for Couples on the Prepare and Enrich materials on Leisure Activities that we will have in hand when we leave for Maui on Monday, February 8th.

This Monday, February 8, Jenny and I will board a plane in Seattle and fly to Maui. We’re spending seven days in Lahaina, near when Ben lives. And then will drive the winding road to Hana and spend three days there. We’re going to unplug from social media, and focus on having fun, on renewing our marriage, rediscovering each other, and entering into the “empty nest” chapter of our married life on a solid foundation.

No matter where you are at in your relationship to a significant other – dating, engaged, married – I encourage you to commit to doing the hard work of cultivating your relationship. I pray that by God’s grace you will “live happily every after with a lot of hard work in between.”

My One Goal for 2021: To Love Jenny Accurately

I set one goal for 2021: to love Jenny accurately. It got me in a little bit of trouble. But that got all worked out. Let me explain.

Since 2003 when I first wrote out what I thought my identity and calling was, I have made a list of annual goals that cover every sphere of my life. They are always quite extensive. I set personal goals for my walk with God, physical, emotional and mental health. I set family goals, laying out what I hope to do in my relationships with my wife Jenny, my kids Jacob, Julian, Judah and Jackie, my siblings and their families, and my extended family. I set work goals under the “big rocks” of my pastoral ministry: prayer and preaching, leadership, making disciples, presbytery, and so on. Also under work I included goals that I felt God had called me to do but that I wasn’t paid for, my contribution to the common good. I set goals in community for my friendships, for the church community, and the many different communities that I was a part of. Finally, I set goals for place where God had planted me and other places I loved or had responsibility for: our home, neighborhood, city. Our dreamed of studio on Camano. My connection to Russia. I wrote out my goals by hand. They filled up about 5-7 pages which I kept with my calendar. At least quarterly, often monthly, I pulled them out to assess how I was doing. I hit many of the goals, many I did not. Those were carried onto the next year.

But when I made my goals for 2021, I felt I needed a change. My life for the last few years has been crowded. Overbusy. Stressed. I knew I needed to slow down. Breath. Enjoy. I also realized that by now my work in each of these spheres of responsibility was locked in. Things were clicking along. I was doing the work I needed to do. I really didn’t need to set more goals. Lastly, I realized that there was one place where I did need to focus, give attention, “plant a rally flag” or have a “rallying cry” as Patrick Lencioni puts it: my marriage.

Don’t get me wrong. Jenny wasn’t threatening to leave me. Our marriage wasn’t on the rocks. At the same time, the last few years of busy, stress, crowdedness had taken a toll on Jenny. She was weary, burned out, and missed being the apple of my eye. I was having fun with my multitude of projects, but she was sucking wind. And I knew that the problem was ME. I could choose to invest in Jenny and my marriage, or keep the status quo and let her slowly die inside. It was that serious!

As 2021 approached, I thought about making just one goal; one that focused on Jenny and our marriage. It made a lot of sense. After all, we are together almost 24/7. Not having an office, I do my pastoral work from home. And Jenny is my great ally and help in church ministry. Besides living together, we raise our kids together, run an art studio business together, and pretty much do everything together. By making Jenny my one goal, every area of my life would be impacted.

But what should that goal be? It should be to love her well, of course. But I wanted a better descriptor. I landed on the word “accurately.” For me to love Jenny accurately really gets to where I have been lacking. I have not listened to her needs, her burdens, her heart well. I have not repented of my selfishness by re-orienting my life to my life companion’s needs. To love Jenny accurately meant that I would put her first before my agenda; that I would say NO to projects and plans to say YES to her, and so on.

“Quite proud of myself, I wrote down my one goal: “Love Jenny accurately.”

Then I shared it with her. That did not go so well. Jenny wasn’t quite as taken with the descriptor “accurately” as I was. She preferred words like sacrificially or passionately or devotedly. Accurate to her felt cold, measured, sterile. I tried to explain what I really meant, but it was clear that even in my first goal I had missed the mark. I had fallen short. Still, over time, Jenny has come to accept the word. “If it works for you, fine,” she says.

Love Jenny accurately in 2021 it is. What has that meant so far?

Well, a number of things.

First, it means for both of us to get physically healthy. As I write this, we are on the last day of a seven day water fast that we’ve done with some family and friends. We needed to reboot. Our eating has not been healthy. After going off the water fast, we plan to go onto a Daniel’s Diet. Hopefully we can get our bodies back to where they should be in terms of weight and exercise, and stay there. These requires slowing down. Removing some of the things that bring stress into our life, will help us not use food for comfort. It will also mean taking more time to prepare meals that are healthy, and, for me, eating smaller portions.

Second, it means for us to focus on our marriage. In February we will spend 10 days (the first part of the sabbatical I am taking this summer) in Hawaii. We’ve never been there and are absolutely looking forward to the adventure of exploring a new place, lounging on the beach, reading books, napping. But we’re also being pro-active about our marriage. An old friend from college who was a pastor for 26 years in Salem, OR, Ben Bryson, is taking us through the Prepare and Enrich material. He lives on Maui and we will be meeting with him a couple of times to talk through where our marriage is at and get his counsel and encouragement.

Third and finally, it will take doubling down on the regular rhythms of our life that help our marriage flourish. Reading Scripture and praying together. Going for walks along the river. Taking time to calendar. Talking through the detail of our day. Helping each other with administrative details. Being patient, kind, forgiving, gentle and self-controlled. And most of all, to live in the joy and grace of the good news of Jesus Christ, strong in our identity as a son and daughter of God through his work on the cross, and cheerfully serving shoulder to shoulder together.

To love Jenny accurately is my goal for 2021? What is yours? In what relationship, role or area of your life do you need to plant a rally flag in?

When I see the blood, I will pass over you

Many people are offended by Christians belief in God’s judgment. They think Christians believe that they are the “good guys” and everyone else are the “bad guys” who will be judged. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The story of God’s rescue of Israel from slavery in Egypt teaches truth about God’s judgment. You may remember the story. Joseph rescues his father Jacob, his brothers and their families from a famine, providing them refuge in Egypt. They dwell in Egypt for four hundred years, multiply greatly, and, eventually, are forced into slave labor to the Egyptians. But God sends a deliverer, Moses, to set his people free. Through Moses, God sends plagues on the Egyptians. After each plague, Pharoah hardens his heart. He does not let God’s people go. God tells Moses that the tenth plague will break Pharoah’s will and bring glory to Him. “I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast” (Exodus 12:12). In ancient culture, the firstborn represented the family. By executing judgment on the firstborn, God declares every family under his judgment due to sin. But God gives a way for his people to be delivered from their deserved judgment. Each household is to offer a one-year-old male lamb without blemish, slaughter it, and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts. “For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your homes to strike you” (12:23).

You see, none of us are exempt from God’s judgment. Christians don’t believe they are good guys and everyone else are bad guys. We believe that all are bad, sinful, deserving of God’s righteous judgment. But we also believe that there was one who was upright. The Passover lamb is a pointer to the ultimate Lamb of God who was slain to cover our sins, Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus took on our sin and bore the judgment we deserved. By faith in Christ, his blood covers us from God’s judgment. Do you and your family trust in the blood of Christ or do you have another plan to escape the judgment of a holy God who someday will call every family to account?