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?

Jesus and Politics

I am very troubled by the Christians of different political parties today treat each other with contempt and dismissiveness. I see this division as a massive forgetting of our shared love for and loyalty to Jesus. Here are 30 Theses that share my view for how our allegiance to Jesus should shape our political zeal. I offer them up for discussion and debate.

1. Jesus Christ is the promised child to be born and son to be given (Isaiah 9:6). We owe him our allegiance.

2. Jesus’ kingdom is spiritual. It is not a physical place or nation or ethnicity. Our allegiance to him is loving him with all of our mind, soul, heart and strength and obedience to his commands.

3. The citizens of Jesus’ kingdom are scattered amidst the nations, tribes, peoples, languages and political parties of the world. We are united to one another by our faith in Jesus, love for Jesus, and allegiance to Him and His Kingdom.

4.Jesus’ kingdom is open and offered to all who will enter by faith in Him, live a life of repentance, and reorder all their loves beneath their first love for Him.

5. Jesus’ kingdom expands in his citizens as their love for Him grows (Isaiah 9:7), as their mind more fully grasp the joy of his gospel, as their will is more devoted to His commands, as their lifestyle moves more in line with His values, as their habits more rigorously reflect His Spirit’s guiding, and as their other allegiances become secondary to their allegiance to Christ the King.

6. Jesus’ kingdom also expands as people accept the verdict of His Word that they are sinners and the offer of grace and pardon through His cross. Baptism is the mark of their new identity as citizens of Christ’s kingdom and allegiance to Christ and his kingdom.

7. For the citizens of Christ’s kingdom, all of their other loyalties and allegiances – to family, race, tribe, nation, political party and political ideology – are trumped by our allegiance to Him and his kingdom.

8. For the citizens of Christ’s kingdom, our political zeal for a party and patriotism for a nation must never be more passionate or devoted than our zeal for Christ and his kingdom.

9. For the citizens of Christ’s kingdom, neither political zeal nor patriotism should ever move us to despise, hold in contempt or divide us from other citizens of Christ’s kingdom with whom we share the deepest unity in our love for Christ and loyalty to his kingdom. Our political differences and party allegiances are minor loves compared to our major Love and Loyalty to him.

10. When citizens in Christ’s kingdom despise each other, hold each other in contempt, or are divided from each other, it is because our love for Christ and allegiance to his kingdom is diminished by forgetting the Bible’s doctrine of Christ and his kingdom.

11. The Bible says that there are two kingdoms both ruled by personal beings: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan. All sons and daughters of Adam and Eve bear the image of God their creator but are born into the Kingdom of Satan, the dominion of darkness.

12. God has made his invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, known to the citizens of the Kingdom of Satan in creation and in their conscience, yet they suppress this truth and love and serve created things rather than the Creator.

13. We are not able to free ourselves from our love for created things over the Creator. Our own desires, loves, and will enslave us to things that lead to death. Apart from God’s rescue we are lost sinners, doomed to physical death and the spiritual judgment of separation from God’s holy presence.

14. God sent his Son to rescue us from the dominion of Satan and bring us into the kingdom of God. Through his incarnation, obedience life, sacrificial death, resurrection, ascension and gift of the Spirit, Christ has made a universal way open for all the citizens of the Kingdom of Satan to enter the Kingdom of God: acceptance of the verdict of God that we are sinners and faith in Jesus’ person and finished work for us as Savior.

15. Being a citizen of the Kingdom of Satan does not mean that one is a bad person. Nor does being a citizen of the Kingdom of God mean that one is a good person. Citizenship in those kingdoms is marked by allegiance, by what one loves.

16. The citizen of the Kingdom of God loves Jesus and swears allegiance to Jesus, seeing the ugliness of their soul and need of a Savior. The citizen of the Kingdom of Satan loves themselves or some other created thing rather than Christ, not seeing their ugliness of soul and need of a Savior.

17. What distinguishes the citizen of the Kingdom of God from the citizen of the Kingdom of darkness is the confession of their ugliness of heart: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between parties either – but right through every human heart – through all human hearts.” (Alexander Solzenitsyn)

18. Another distinction is that the citizen of the Kingdom of God sees the beauty of Christ and confesses that Christ alone is righteous. The citizen of the Kingdom of God has even learned to repent of their best deeds seeing them as filthy garments because they tempt their heart to rely on self and have pride in their record. They glory only in Jesus’ Christ and his righteousness. For if righteousness could come from our good works, Christ died in vain.

19. This faith in Christ, the Promised Savior and the Crucified King, crushes human pride which is the great enemy of peace on earth. All citizens of the Kingdom of God did nothing to deserve their status. They are saved by God’s grace, his action, his love, his work and not their own merits.

20. Citizens of the Kingdom of Christ are the only nation or society that is not based on geography, or ethnicity, or language but founded on and united by grace.

21. The reign of Christ in one’s heart does not erase personal, ethnic, cultural, and national differences. Christ exalts the good and heals and redeems the bad, but unites all his citizens through a shared love of and loyalty to Him.

22. The reign of Satan in one’s heart erases personal, ethnic, cultural and national differences into the collective, the mass and group think. Or it exalts those differences causing alienation and divides. Collectivism and Division are both the work of the Devil.

23. Only in submission to Christ the King is a person set free to be fully who they are made to be for God’s glory.

24. Our self-rule is in opposition to Christ the King and stands against the advance of the Kingdom of God.

25. Important as our ethnic, cultural, national and political differences are, there can be no peace until we share an ultimate love and allegiance. By faith in Christ, the Christian participates in peace on earth.

26. When Christians treat other Christians as the enemy for their different political ideology or political allegiances, when we hold each other in contempt for our views, when we act towards each other with dismissiveness, we demonstrate not the reign of Christ but the reign of Satan. Satan always divides.

27. Christians may differ in ethnic and national identity, political ideology, political allegiances, but they can never differ in their ultimate love for and allegiance to Jesus Christ, their loyalty to his kingdom, and their shared identity as citizens of the kingdom of God.

28. To exalt any other political leader or party over Christ is to leave the faith.

29. Christian’s love for Christ and allegiance to Christ, their biblical doctrine of the sinfulness of the human heart, and their hope in Christ’s coming Kingdom, allows them to differentiate themselves towards themselves and their political party and political zeal.

30. Christians are able to discern good in other political parties and bad in their own. Their zeal for their political party and ideology never outpaces their zeal for Christ and His kingdom.

This post was originally written on December 20, 2020. Reposted here on January 18, 2021, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Telling the Truth

NOTE: I wrote this on Saturday, January 9, in response to the desecration of the Capital building. In it I try to tell the truth about myself. If we can’t tell the truth about ourselves, how can we tell it about others?

Today we see the devastation caused by the lie. I do not speak of the lie that the president won the election though certainly that lie has wreaked devastation, but the ancient lie of Satan that God is not good and can’t be trusted.

It is possible to grasp cutting-edge political truth while remaining ignorant. This ancient lie is the real cause of the devastation at our capital, the devastations in your life and the devastations through mankind’s history.

To expose, and condemn political lies without exposing and condemning the Lie-beneath-the-lies, is like arranging the chairs on the Titanic as she sinks or placing a fresh band aid on the arm of a cancer patient and saying “that will do.”

This is of the utmost relevance today because only the person who is confident that God is good, that God’s word can be trusted and that he or she is loved by God can dare to witness to the truth and not tell lies and shift blame.

Since that moment when our first parents acted on Satan’s lie and lost trusting intimacy with God, mankind has told each other lies about God (that we could hide from God and cover our shame) and attacked and blamed each other. We do not tell the truth about ourselves.

The truth is that just as our capital was vandalized and desecrated, you and I have desecrated and vandalized a much more sacred and holy thing: people made in his image, immortal souls: “Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals who we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.” (C.S. Lewis)

The truth is by my words and by my deeds, by my actions and inactions, by my lust and gossip and greed and selfishness and jealousy and cowardice and pride and bitterness and anger and deceit, I am responsible for great devastations done to others and myself.

The truth is that even my most righteous acts and my most zealous witness to truth – whether that truth is religious our irreligious, political or pious – became strongholds of self-righteousness and pride from which vantage point I hold others in contempt.

The truth is that I am self-centered. Instead of laying down my life for others, I use them for my own purpose and pleasure. The truth is that you are self-centered too.

The truth is that no political victory, political leader, or political ideology can cover your shame or hide you from God. You and I are accountable.

The truth is that that we hate God and each other.

I can only bear witness to the truth about myself by the cross of Jesus. On the cross, Jesus Christ exposed the lie of the devil. He trusted God’s word and clung to God’s goodness even as he became the sin bearer. In the devastation of the cross, I see the full reality of my wickedness.

Jesus Christ exposes that we are all people of the lie. He exposes the lie of the irreligious that there is no God and that we do not need God to live a fully human life. His undeniably beautiful life was by trust in God’s word and dependence on God’s love and goodness. And he exposes the lie of the religious that we can cover our shame and atone our evil apart from the sacrificial death of Christ.

Jesus Christ also exposes the political lies that might makes right and that a political leader, party, ideology, media platform or even a nation can be trusted. Only God is worthy of the trust of an immortal soul.

At the cross of Jesus, I see the truth about my evil. But I also see the truth of God’s word, goodness and love. At the cross of Jesus, the promise of God to our first parents to send a Savior is fulfilled. At the cross of Jesus, God demonstrates his love for me and I receive the gift of his loving presence, his Spirit of truth that dwells in me.

Now by the Spirit who assures me of God’s love, I name and repent of the ways I desecrate and vandalize others and myself. Now by the Spirit, I bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control confessing that this fruit comes from God and not self.

Now by the Spirit who opens my heart to God’s word, I trust in God and not any man or woman, political party or nation, not even myself. I am calm and fearless in times of chaos, national upheaval and the unknowns of the future, because God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Now, by the Spirit who calls me to responsible action, I boldly witness to the ultimate truth of God in Jesus, discern and speak proximate truth to power, and forgive and love the other, even my enemies, as God forgave and loved me the great vandal and desecrater of his sacred image bearers.

Jehovah Jireh

A story from your family’s past can define your family. It may be from the distant past, like the story of how your grandparents immigrated to America or from recent history, like your parent’s divorce and the devastation that brought. Our move to Camano Island in 1969 for Dad to be a full-time artist was defining for our family in terms of where we were from (Camano Island, WA) and what we do (art).

Genesis 22 tells the story of God’s test of Abraham. God tells Abraham to take his only son, his beloved son Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and to offer him there as a burnt sacrifice. Abraham knew that God had the right to require Isaac bear God’s judgment for his family’s sin. And Abraham knew that God had promised to bless the world through Isaac. He believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard describes the anguished obedience of Abraham as fear and trembling and every parent who reads the story enters that anguish to some degree.

When they come to the place of sacrifice, Isaac said, “My Father.” “Here I am, my son.” “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” And there alone with his son before the face of God, Abraham built the altar, put the wood, raised the knife. Then the angel of the LORD called out “Abraham, Abraham, do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” Abraham lifted up his eyes and “behold, behind him was a ram, caught in the thicket by his thorns. And Abraham…offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The LORD will provide.’

Rembrandts painting of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac

The story of God’s holy demand, Abraham’s anguished obedience, and God’s gracious provision defined Abraham’s family from then on. God was “the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac” (Genesis 31:42, 53) and “Jehovah Jireh” the LORD will provide. (Jehovah, or Yahweh, is a translation of the Old Testament’s primary, personal name for God: LORD). For the Jews, Abraham’s faith was the touchstone of faith, allegiance, and obedience to Jehovah. Until Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, God paid the debt of sin owed by all the families of the world. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac foreshadowed God’s ultimate sacrifice. As a Christian your heavenly Father’s sacrifice of his beloved son Jesus, IS THE DEFINING STORY of your life. If God will PROVIDE for you in this ultimate way, can’t you trust him for your daily needs?

Walk today knowing that God is Jehovah Jireh who has and will provide for you.

But God remembered

When I was a boy I would listen for my dad’s feet on the stairs to my attic bedroom. I hoped he would remember to tuck me in and kiss me and say goodnight. I wanted to be remembered.

Deep in our hearts is the longing to be remembered. We want to be on the mind and in the heart of someone, somewhere. We want to be loved, valued, treasure: remembered.

Genesis 6-8 recounts the story of God’s judgment of the world, and his salvation of the world through his servant Noah. In Genesis 8:1 is the turning point: “But God remembered Noah.” God’s remembering Noah combines the idea of faithful love and timely intervention notes Derek Kidner. Old Testament scholar Brevard Child says that “God’s remembering always implies his movement toward the object of his memory.”God wasn’t absent minded or too busy. Nor had he abandoned Noah in any way. No, God’s remembering Noah means that he moved towards Noah in love and help.

Do you long for someone to remember you? Do you long to be treasured and cherished and thought of? You are. God asks his people, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb.” Of course not, the answer is. “Even these may forget,” the LORD God continues, “yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:15).

Live today as one who is remembered by God.