Don’t tell me what to do!

Our obedience forms the backside of the tapestry of God’s plan for the world. I’m sure you’ve looked at the back of a beautiful weaving where the strands of different colors run every which way with little purpose or order. We are called to obey the voice of our Shepherd even though we often do not know why nor do we see the purpose in such obedience.

Elizabeth Elliot once wrote about her visit to a Welsh sheep farm where she saw a champion Scottish collie at work. “This is what Mack (the dog) had been trained for, and it was a marvelous thing to see him circling to the right, circling to the left, barking, crouching, racing along, herding a stray sheep here, nipping at a stubborn one there, his eyes always glued to the sheep, his ears listening for the tiny metal whistle from his master which I couldn’t hear….Sometimes, tearing at top speed around the flock, Mack would jam on the brakes, his eyes blazing but still on the sheep, his body tense and quivering but obedient to the command to stop. What the shepherd saw the dog could not see–the weak ewe that lagged behind, the one caught in the bush, the danger that lay ahead for the flock.”

I am reading through Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and there is one thing that stands out to me. Over and over we read, “The word of the Lord came to the prophet—do this, do that.” Rarely did this word come with an explanation; perhaps that came later, but the prophet was expected to obey–just like Mack, and just like us.

There are two essential things to realize about such obedience. First, it is intimately entwined with trust. It is not a blind obedience based upon fear, but a willing obedience based upon faith. We trust the voice of our Shepherd; we believe that he gave his life for us and would never abuse us or lead us to destruction. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:11, 27, 28).

There is a second essential thing about obedience about which we hear little. Our obedience affects other people. To put it succinctly; your obedience affects me, and vice versa. We do not live to ourselves in our own private little world. We may think we do and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can do what we want and it’s nobody’s business—bull. There have been a couple of incidents on the Wheaton College campus this past week which you may have read about that illustrate how the actions of one person can seriously affect many.

Just think of the damage I could do to you if I went off the tracks.

Abram could have stayed in Ur of the Chaldees; Moses could have retired in Pharaoh’s court; Joseph could have taken advantage of the perks in Potiphar’s house; Jeremiah could have quit in the pit; Ezekiel could have taken a compassionate after his wife died; Jonah could have run from God (Oh wait, he did); Joseph could have divorced Mary; Paul could have gotten a little place on the Mediterranean after he was stoned (with rocks) and left for dead at Lystra; Jim Elliot and his four friends could have chosen to stay with their families instead of going to evangelize the Auca Indians of Ecuador; and Jesus could have stayed in heaven! All of these obeyed God’s will because they trusted him. Their obedience were the threads on the backside of the beautiful tapestry of God’s plan for the world by which all of us have been affected.

Elizabeth Elliot asked the sheep farmer whether Mack had any idea what was happening with the sheep. She was told that the dog “did not understand the pattern–only obedience.” And so she concluded, “There are those who would call it nothing more than a conditioned reflex, or at best blind obedience. But in that Welsh pasture in the cool of that summer morning, I saw two creatures who were in the fullest sense in their glory: a man who had given his life for the sheep, who loved them and loved his dog, and a dog whose trust in that man was absolute, whose obedience was instant and unconditional, and whose very meat and drink was to do the will of his master. ‘I delight to do your will,’ was what Mack portrayed. ‘Yea, thy law is written in my heart.'” (The Glory of God’s Will, Gateway to Joy Press)

And shall I pray Thee change Thy will, my Father,
Until it be according to mine?
But no, Lord, no–that never shall be, rather,
I pray thee blend my human will with Thine.
(Amy Carmichael)


“Say It Ain’t So!”

That was the headline of the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, February 12. It referenced the news that the Jackie Robinson West Little League team was stripped of its National Championship title because the adult leaders of the team “knowingly violated Little League International Rules and Regulations by placing players on their team who did not qualify to play because they lived outside the team’s (district) boundaries.” They were accused of using a falsified boundary map for their 2014 tournament team. The leaders cheated and it cost the kids the great joy they had brought to themselves and to the South side of Chicago. So very sad…

Wes Stafford, former president and CEO of Compassion International, once wrote of his experience growing up as a Third Culture Kid on the Ivory Coast. His folks were missionaries among the Senufo tribe; a people of hunters, fishermen, and farmers. Every Wednesday he and his friends would walk into a nearby village for Market Day where the different tribes would buy each others’ goods. A tribe of craftsmen would always arrive early and set up their kiosks under the shade of a grove of mango trees. This shade was a luxury as the temperature in the sun would often reach 120 degrees F. Unfortunately, these craftsmen were also “crafty” in other ways and would try and sell cracked and split wood carvings which had been filled in with wax and covered over with shoe polish; the defects hardly noticeable to the unsuspecting eye.

However, Stafford and his friends had watched the adults shop and had learned from them. They would always ask in French, “Est-ce sans cire?” Literally, “Is this without wax?” “Is it sincere?” Of course the shop-keeper would always fake being insulted, but then the discerning customer would threaten to take the carving out in the sunlight for a closer look. The craftsman would suddenly become very gracious and offer a special deal on something else lest the sunlight melt the wax revealing his insincerity.

Where are the sincere and honest leaders; not perfect, but honest? Where are those genuine women and men who look the same in the sunlight as they do in the shade? Where are the authentic newscasters, dads and moms, and coaches of Little League teams who impart to their children true character and not one that “melts from scrutiny and drips with deception.” (Stafford)

“I will walk with integrity of heart within my house” (Psalm 101:2). Oh God, help me to be that kind of person; a man without wax.

Last Minute Hints For Valentine’s Day…

Many of you, unlike me, are totally unprepared for Valentine’s Day (tomorrow). So I am re-posting and updating an earlier blog just in time to give you some ideas of what you can get your sweetheart before they even know you forgot. (You folks in Australia are on your own because Valentine’s Day is already upon you.) Anyway, I have organized my gift ideas according to the stage of relationship you happen to be in with your sweetie. Here goes- you may want to print this out as a valuable resource to be passed on to your children and grandchildren:

Pursuing a crush: Maybe there is someone at work, school, or at church whom you like and want them to know that you think they are special. Why don’t you gift wrap a slightly roasted marshmallow (one of those big ones; white for a guy, pink for a girl). Include with the gift an invitation to a campfire meal finished off by making s’mores. Girls, a guy will be so impressed that you know how to make a campfire; and guys, a girl will be so impressed you know how to make something so extravagent. (Hint: wait till the weather gets above zero before the date.)

You are dating but have not yet DTR: Perhaps you have not yet “defined the relationship” and so you want to keep the gifts casual, but useful. For a guy, get him a sock. Yep, a sock. He’ll love it and will no doubt already have a match for it as he scrounges around in his sock-drawer. He will see all those single socks and will suddenly be struck by the fact that he is single and he may have found his match right there in his hand. (God did a similar thing with Adam using socks with animals on them to wake the guy up to the fact that he was alone- er, something like that.) Trust me, it works all the time. For a girl, get her a DIY cupcake paper planter kit from It’s only $15 and it is actually made of concrete so it is easy to carry in her purse. It also comes with potting soil and sunflower seeds. She will love it and it is guaranteed to define the relationship.

You are a couple now: It is public and all over social media that you two are an item, so now you are ready for more specifically romantic gifting. Every guy loves music, even if he can’t sing, so buy him a capo (short for capotasto, which means linguini). A capo that’s the thingy which goes on the neck of a guitar in order shorten the playable length of the strings and therefore raise the pitch. However, it doesn’t matter whether your guy plays the guitar or not; every guy needs a capo. Besides, you can subtly start your attempt to change him into a more cultured person. Guys, every girl loves jewelry (except my wife), so get her a shark-tooth necklace. These are so cool. You can get one from for only $39 and it comes with a little lip balm container attached (clam flavor) so her lips will always be kissably soft.

It’s been more than a year now and you are waiting for the ring: OK, this is the time for a strategic gift. Remember the sock, girls? Well, buy a really nice pair of leather gloves for your guy, but only give him one and you keep the other one. Guys are very relationally astute and your guy will get the clear message that when you get the ring he gets the other glove. It is not manipulatory at all, it is biblically symbolic (?). Guys, if your girl is dragging her feet about getting engaged, my suggestion for a gift will definitely push her over the edge. Give her a Nordstrom cubic zirconia nose ring which can be ordered at for only $46. Give it to her in a little ring box. This is where you need to be very observant guys; if she looks disappointed or has that questioning look at all, it is time to go ring shopping. If she likes the gift and looks relieved, dump her. I am speaking from a vast experience of dealing with lots of women; well, actually only one.

You are newlyweds: Get your guy a pocket knife. Every guy needs a pocket knife so he can come to the rescue of people who on a daily basis ask, “does anyone here have a pocket knife”? For him to say, “I do” will help rewire his brain to be a good provider. However, it will also remind him daily of his covenantal marriage vows and that if he ever forgets them you will use the pocket knife on him. And for your beautiful young bride, think through the things you didn’t get as wedding gifts for the kitchen and buy her something she would love. Perhaps an electric toaster, or a Joroushi electric bread maker, or if she needs a place to sit while she reads gourmet menus you can buy her an electric chair. You can get a refurbished one at for only $150; certainly worth the price.

A veteran couple: You are in this for the long haul and you want something special for that incredible person who is willing to sacrifice his/her life to be married to you. You have to give it some thought- especially you guys. A couple of minutes the night before Valentine’s Day doesn’t cut it. It won’t give you the time needed to think creatively and sensitively. You need to start at least two hours the night before and be willing to commit at least a focused span of 5 minutes, which by the way is more than a lifetime of a gnat- or so I’m told. For her, especially for these cold nights, let me suggest a New England Patriot (Super Bowl Champs!) flannel night shirt to replace your old football jersey that she’s been wearing since Ron Paul was a first-time candidate for president; only $44.95 at And for him; this is an amazing suggestion ladies- get him a pair of cherry red one-piece flannel pajamas with feet. Yep! The kind with a drop-seat- O yeah! And if he gives you any gas about why there’s a flap in the back and nothing in the front, tell him that if he is smart enough to have married you, he’ll be able to figure it out. You can get those at Land’s End (no pun intended) for $22.99.

I hope that my pastoral insights have been helpful to you. Let me know if you need counseling.

The Sounds of My Groaning…

“Because of the sound of my groaning, my flesh sticks to my bones. I am like a desert owl, like an owl among the ruins, I stay awake; I am like a solitary bird on a roof” (Psalm 102:5-7) There is a sleep related condition called catathrenia in which a person makes a groaning sound that can last up to 40 seconds in one exhale, ending in a sigh or a grunt. It is not related to snoring (an inhale issue) and it doesn’t interrupt sleep, except for the person with whom the groaner is sleeping.

The Psalmist, however, depicts a circumstance in which his groans were the result of deep suffering and affliction accompanied by an inability to eat or sleep. In addition, he felt isolated and alone, much like an owl whose very appearance seems downcast and who seeks habitats of desolation. While we do not know the situation which generated the writing of this Psalm, v.18-20 may provide a hint, “that He (God) looked down from His holy height…to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.”

Perhaps the writer had a Dostoyevsky-like experience where he was rescued at the last moment from a firing squad. Whatever the circumstance, the beauty of his lament is in its focus on the eternity and faithfulness of God. Though the earth and the heavens will wear out like an old garment, God will remain the same, “and your years shall have no end.” This has led someone to say that we can only truly praise God when we can trust him with our lament.

When was the last time you groaned before God? Maybe you were facing bitter disappointment (a Seahawks fan perhaps?), enduring chronic or acute pain, or enduring personal struggle or tragedy. Such situations tend to isolate us and make us feel like barn owls while everyone around us seems to be happy, healthy, and successful. Such is a value of the Psalms of Lament: “They reduce the sense of isolation that grievers might feel as they realize they are in concert with a long line of sufferers.” (Terry Smith) The Psalms of Lament also give us a framework so that our sadness does not become a barrier but a bridge to God who loves us, but who also allows evil to exist so that he can use it for his good purposes.

Let me suggest that you investigate some of the Psalms of Lament: 4, 10, 12, 13, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 102, 123, 126, 129. Pray through one these out loud and use it as the sound of your own groaning. When you do this, you will realize that you are not alone in your lament; you will join a vast host of saints throughout the ages using this very Psalm. It will also be an opportunity for you to affirm the character of God that you see revealed therein and revel in his love for you in Christ.

Through your groaning, the Holy Spirit will also articulate your deepest needs to the Lord Jesus Christ who will intercede for you before the Father. (Rom. 8:26, 34)

“Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).