Archive | April 2015

Taken: Abram

Another Face in the Crowd

Another Face in the Crowd

The quest for an identity begins early on in a man’s life. It begins with things like action figures, big wheels, and Tonka trucks (and for the younger readers they used to be made of metal and were way cooler). Overnight it changed to girls, sports equipment, legos, video games, and bikes. High school brought girls, cars, sports feats, buckles, and video games. With college came girls (have you noticed a pattern), cars, video games, buckles, saddles, and money. Then after college, when the real world starts, identity shifts to wives, career, house, money, kids (and their accomplishments), trucks, trailers, buckles and saddles.

We are pretty convincing about the good intentions of our pursuit of identity. Rationalization comes pretty easily. Like the old cowboy proverb says: “The biggest liar you will ever have to face, watches you shave your face in the mirror every morning.” If you’re like me, my pursuit of identity is still just action figures, big wheels, and tonka trucks. It’s just that they cost more now.

Identity is rooted in a fear of irrelevancy and a fear of being a nobody. We pursue things because if we don’t we think we will be relegated to an also ran, an extra, another face in the crowd. I will never forget the time I showed up to fight bulls for the first time with a guy I had never met. After he pointed out my store bought belt buckle, he informed me that I didn’t belong there. I was another face in the crowd.

Abram was another face in the crowd at one time. He grew up in Ur [Gen 11.31], one of the oldest cities on Earth as part of the oldest civilization on Earth. Ur had been around for centuries by the time Abram had arrived on the scene. Their civilization was advanced, their worship was organized (and extremely polytheistic [Joshua 24.2]), and their society was growing. In the center of town was a huge ziggurat that rose high above the surrounding city and surrounding lands. The title of the architect of this great structure, Ur-Nammu, stamped his title and his name on the bricks, as a testament of the great building feat. It rose 70’ high in its day with a base 200’ by 150’.** In front of the monumental artificial mountain where worship would take place was the market where people would gather and mill around exchanging goods and food. Worship, community, and society were foundational to city life in Ur. Abram was just a face in the crowded streets.

But God took him, a man in the crowd, and made him the “father of nations” (Abraham means ‘father of many’).

Abrams story beings in Genesis 11. He, alongside his father and family took off from Ur to the north and west, to Haran. Stephen, in Acts 7.2-3, indicates that the call of the first few verses of Genesis 12 took place while Abram was still in Ur. Moses apparently felt it best to wrap up Terah’s story with his death in Haran before moving on to Abram’s, but that is beside the point. God has chosen Abram to do His work. Just take a look at some of the verbs in the first few verses of chapter 12:

  • “the Lord had said [to Abram]…” [hb. ‘amar]
  • “I [the Lord] will show you [Abram]…” [hb. ra’a]
  • “I [the Lord] will make you [Abram]…” [hb. ‘asa]
  • “I [the Lord] will bless you [Abram]…” [hb. barak] – 2 times
  • “I [the Lord] will curse those who curse you [Abram]…” [hb. ‘arar]
  • “So Abram left…” [hb. halak]

The first five were the actions of God and the last one of Abram. Abram was taken on the ride of his life. Going to an unknown place, with a brand new [to him] God. He grew up in a polytheistic nation (meaning many gods were worshipped), when the Lord called him out to follow where He is leading. Abram has one job…to follow. A face in the crowd in Ur, Abram is asked to go where God is leading.

With this single act, Abram will be forever remembered.

“Abraham believed the Lrod, and he credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15.6)

This verse summed up the way he lived his life. He garnered more mention in the New Testament than any other person aside from Moses. It was his faith that gave him his identity and made him what he was known for. He would be renamed Abraham, which means “the father of many”, in Genesis 17.5, but his identity would forever be cemented long before that.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going…” (Heb. 11.8)

The author of Hebrews (Heb 11), Paul (Rom 4, Gal. 3), James (2.21-23). and Stephen (Acts 7) all understood Abram as a man of faith; a faith that leads to righteousness. When it comes down to it, Abram could have remained in Ur and lived his life as another face in the crowd. But God, who made the move and took the initiative, took Abram from the crowd of Ur, into the land that he chose. Abraham needed faith.

All too often we attempt to make and manufacture our own identity instead of letting God do what he does. It’s interesting that the people who amazed Jesus were not the intellectuals, the super-religious, or the most successful. Jesus’ amazement was directly correlated to a person’s faith. The centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, not by attending to him, but by a word, he amazed Jesus with his faith (Mat 8.10; Luke 7.9). It’s also clear that he was taken by the faith of the Canaanite woman, who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. His answer to that request: “Woman, you have great faith!” (Matt 15.28) It is fitting that Jesus was also amazed at the absence of faith. When he spoke to the people of his hometown and they took offense to him, he was “amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6.6) A Roman Centurion and a Canaanite woman, forever remembered in God’s word because of their faith, just like an ancient face-in-the-crowd.  That’s what I want to be known for, not buckles or awards, things or titles, but faith.

We can get so bogged down in trying to make a name for ourselves here on this earth, but Abraham shows us that if we are faithful, God provides us with an identity. It reminds me of one of my favorite poems growing up by Walt Huntley that reads:

Your name may not appear down here 

In this world’s Hall of Fame.

In fact, you may be so unknown 

That no one knows your name;

The Oscars and the Praise of men

may never come your way

but rest assured God has rewards

the He’ll hand out someday.


This Hall of Fame is only good

As long as time shall be;

But keep in mind, God’s Hall of Fame

Is for eternity

This crowd on earth they soon forget

The heroes of the past.

They cheer like mad until you fail

and that’s how long you last.

But in God’s Hall of Fame

By just believing

on His Son

Inscribed you’ll find your name.

I tell you, friend, I wouldn’t trade

My name, however small,

That’s written there beyond the stars

In that Celestial Hall,

For any famous name on earth,

Or glory that they share;

I’d rather be an unknown here

And have my name up there.


**Unger, Merrill F. Archaeology and the Old Tesatament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954) 107-112


Can an Insect Change the Life I Love?

locustIn effort to avoid wandering around the store aimlessly by my wife, I picked up this months issue of Popular Science to peruse while waiting to purchase my pizza lunchables and spaggetti O’s. Midway through the issue, I came upon an article entitled “The Incredible Edible Insect” (Wired ran a similar article 2 years ago), that caused me to question the future of agriculture, ranching, and the life that I so dearly loved. It read:

“the global population, now at more than 7 billion, may grow to 9 billion by 2050. Already, nearly 1 billion people regularly go hungry. Insects–a source of protein that requires a fraction of the land, water, and feed as livestock–could help alleviate the looming crisis.”

Insects are the future of agriculture…which hardly makes sense because since the beginning of time they have been the bane of agriculture. Exodus reads differently if Moses is “bringing in the herd” (Exodus 10.1-20); the day of the Lord is less menacing and more all-you-can-eat buffet (Joel 2); and John the Baptist is only slightly less peculiar (Matthew 3.4) They devastated crops and land, leaving bareness in their wake and now we’re supposed to be raising them/

Should it prove true, that grasshoppers and insects prove to be the world’s solution to protein, what would become of cowboys? It’s not like they are going to become extinct. Cowboys are like cockroaches, they adapt, survive, and overcome. A pack of hotdogs, coffee, and a saddle is all that is needed for survival. Some can rub two pennies together and get a hundred dollar bill (Lucas Littles, Doug Reser) and others can do the same and end up with one penny (Me); but the story remains the same, the cowboy way of life isn’t in danger of dying, but think of how this insect thing could change it.

  • In terms of land use, three acres in Eastern Kansas would feed a cow…but how many grasshoppers. You could pack’em tight. That old saying “make your fence bull strong, horse high, and chicken tight” would have to be changed, but after all it is an old saying and old sayings sometimes need revision.
  • Working stock. The cowboy’s choice of tools has traditionally been a lariat, but like I said earlier, Cowboys are nothing if not flexible. A butterfly net might not look as punchy, harder to attach to a saddle, and not as cool to do tricks with, but it can be just as handy. It’s going to be tougher to look cool and a little more humbling, but I can catch butterflies better than I can rope calves.
  • Winters are hard on cattle herds (and I preface this by saying I’m not an entomologist), it seems like winters would be even harder on a grasshopper ranch. Feed bills would be lower, but all your stock would be dead so there really isn’t any headway.
  • I wonder how much priority will be placed on free range vs cage reared grasshoppers. Could one really tell the difference between a wild locust and a bug zoo locust? I bet you never hear someone say: “that grasshopper was delectable…not gamey like the free range one I had the other day. I mean the stress placed on the free range type really reduced the marbling of the thorax!”. I bet you never catch the comment: “I only eat the free range ones after that bad experience I had with the hoppers from the jif jars.”
  • FFA will have to now include insect judging. Instead of looking at cow and determining desirable breeding qualities, there will have to be 14 students huddled around a six legged insect trying to determine if the grasshopper is knock-knee’d. Who wants to listen to that debate. “I felt like locust one had a tendency to paddle with its front end because of its pigeon-toe-ed-ness” or “This locust will never be sound because it’s hind legs are too vertical” would be the standard arguments. See how silly this sounds.

Changes may be in store and I don’t know if grasshoppers will replace cattle in the future as the major source of protein to Americans, but I do know this: the second Doug Reser purchases bug zoo’s, I’m goin’ all in!


DSCN0923The basis of a story is conflict and the transformation of a character through it.  Lane vs. Red Rock; farmer vs. drought; angry mama cow vs. elusive cowboy.

An old cowboy walked into the diner with a noticeable limp one morning after checking his cows.  His buddy asked him the common question: “How’d you hurt yourself?”  The old cowboy responded.  “I was feeding cows this morning in one of my lower pens when a young bull came at me like a runaway locomotive!”

“Is that how you hurt yourself?” his buddy asked.

“Nope.  I dodged as he slipped right before he hit me.  So he came at me again.  Same thing happened.  He slipped right before he got me.  A third time he ran at me and I got around him as he slipped by.  Then I jumped over the fence and landed on my hip.”

“I can’t believe that”, said his buddy.  “If I was in your shoes I would have soiled myself in fear” he said with a laugh.

To which the old cowboy responded: “What do you think he kept slipping in?”

Conflict and Transformation make great stories.  Brian, in Hatchet, has lived a sheltered life and, after being taken, is now forced to survive a in the harsh Canadian woods.  Buck, in Call of the Wild, was a house dog in California and, after being taken, is forced to adapt to a sled dogs life during the Alaskan Gold Rush.  Or Willy, in Stone Fox, who decides to enter a sled dog race to pay back the taxes on his family land.  They all lived life on an arrow.  Arrow’s denote movement and direction.  Arrow’s show progress and advancement.  There is nothing more exciting in the Biblical Story, than a narrative of Conflict and Transformation, of movement and direction, and of “being taken”…taken by God.  If you were to illustrate “being taken”, you would need to include an arrow.  Look at some of the arrows, the stories of being taken in scripture:

  • Adam was taken by God and put in the Garden to work it.
  • Abram was taken from Ur where he was a face in the multitudes, to Canaan where he would become the father of a multitude of nations.
  • Joseph was taken from favored son to Midianite slave to Pharaoh’s servant; thenEgyptian prisoner, to high ranking public official, to his familial protector.  He was taken on a ride.
  • Gideon was taken from cowardly farmer to charismatic leader.
  • God took David from Shepherd to King
  • God took Elisha from plowboy to prophet.
  • God took Paul from chief of sinners to chief of Church planting; Peter from loudmouth fisherman to loudmouth preacher.

And how many other stories could be jotted down from scripture.  Stories where God takes someone on a journey, to a place far beyond what their dull, short-sighted minds could have every imagined on their own.  For the next few weeks, I want to take a look at the “Taken” stories of the Bible, where God does incredible things through ordinary people in routine situations.  I do this because I too am asking “where is God ‘taking’ me?, where does His arrow now point me?”

Graduation Gift Ideas

“There are three types of men: those that learn by reading, those that learn by observing, and some just have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” — Cowboy Proverb

Graduation is about celebrating those that are in the first two groups…the readers and observers. The third group is a little harder to shop for.  Graduation season is coming upon us and if you’re like me, your graduation gifts are usually forgotten until party time. I should tell you upfront that my love language is gifts; just ask my wife. She is a “words of affirmation” person, but has been given far to many gifts and not nearly enough words. Gift giving is the way I show people I care about them. Doughnuts, books, dinners, or whatever, I love giving gifts. But in the same sense, I feel enormous pressure giving gifts. So if you are in the same boat, here are some quick ideas for Graduation gifts to take the pressure off:

  1. Passport…most people need them at some point and it is a pain sometimes to get one in a short time. They are good for 10 years. Give your graduate a visa gift card for a hundred and fifty dollars with the forms and let them get their picture taken. Suddenly studies abroad or mission opportunities become much easier to enter into. Giving your graduate a chance to serve and experience another culture can be a life long gift.
  2. A timely book…Andy Stanley’s book, Ask It, is a great choice.   It is about asking the question based in Ephesians 5.15-17: “How do I live a wise life?” John Piper wrote a book called Think, that focuses on the life of the mind to glorify God by exegeting Proverbs 2 and 2 Timothy 2. Jon Acuff’s book, Start, is an incredible book on the perspective of life. A simpler read than the other two, Acuff provides a view on life’s stages and encourages the reader to control the starting line of his or her life.
  3. Quarters…seriously. If practicality is what you are going for, there is a high demand for quarters in the life of a college student! Laundry, late night snack, and countless other things are purchased with silver…so don’t underestimate all those state quarters you have been saving like beanie babies because you thought they would be worth millions by now.
  4. A magazine subscription. You might be cringing right now because of your Pro Bowling Quarterly, Herbs Today, or Extreme Crocheting subscription you bought from that overzealous boy scout three years ago, that you still haven’t stopped getting, but a subscription to a Faith-based magazine like Relevant, World, or Group, will give your graduate something to think about every month. Even an apologetic magazine like Credo or Salvo might be the difference between doubt that turns as student away and doubt that helps a student reinforce their faith.
  5. An Experience…Perhaps the most appropriate gift for your graduate is not a gift at all but an experience. Instead of giving them something tangible, maybe it’s a letter from significant people in their lives put together in a scrap-book on their special day. Maybe it’s a ceremony of prayer and dinner in their honor with the elders at Church.   Make it a ceremony, make it real, and make it spirit filled for graduation day.

Graduation day is one month away. It’s time to start thinking about what to get students. It was one of my least favorite times as a youth pastor because we usually had so many graduates that we worked on a limited budget. But with enough planning and time, with a personal touch, graduation can be an unforgettable celebration.

What the Church could learn from Legos

Cowboys in Church thanks Jason for the Legos

Cowboys in Church
thanks Jason for the Legos

The appeal of a miniscule, plastic, studded block has stretched the limits of kids’ imaginations, challenges the latest technology in sales, and plagued parents walking barefoot to the kitchen at 3 am. There are few things that match the pain of stepping on a lego brick laying isolated on a hardwood floor. As “play” becomes more and more passive and sedentary, with an influx of apps and screen games, the little brick has managed to not only survive, but thrive. It’s fitting that a company that makes blocks that stick together, would be able to hang on in the rapidly changing entertainment market. They, Lego, would call it “clutch power”, the ability to stick together. Much has been written on how the Church is a lego-like community. Lego’s, like Christians, weren’t meant to be alone. Have you ever played with a single lego? But I can speak from experience that the Church has struggled to think in “clutch power” as it comes to service, specifically when it comes to men.

A recent Popular Science article claims: “it has been calculated that there are more than 900 million possible combinations for six eight-stud bricks.”* Nine-hundred million combinations for six bricks? Creativity has no limits. I preface that by saying some men are well connected to the church in both belonging and service, as long as they are gifted properly. Simply take a look at the places to serve in the church and most of them appeal to women. They are places that women are naturally gifted, skilled, and experienced; often times outside of direct leadership and teaching from the pulpit. The areas of the churches greatest need are often areas of men’s least experience: hospitality, communication, compassion and empathy. These skills are nearly universal to most area’s of church service and also things that a lot of men either struggle with or are unconfident in. I am not absolving men from service to the church, but if we want more men to serve, we need to think honestly about giving them places to serve where they feel gifted, confident, and utilized.

8 studded brick

8 studded brick

“It’s been calculated that there are more than 900 million possible combinations for six eight-stud bricks,” according to the Popular Science article. (84) As I said earlier, we were meant to be connected, but the possibilities for connection (and service) are endless. At some point in the history of the church, there became standard area’s of service and no more. For years the church has asked men to serve, but in the same old ways. David Murrow, in his book Why Men Hate Going to Church, came to the same conclusion in his observations stating:

“Generally speaking, men’s gifts and abilities do not match the ministry needs of the American congregation…most jobs in the Church require verbal and relational skills that men may not possess. They demand proficiency with children, music, teaching, hospitality, or cooking; areas where women typically have more experience. A woman is so much more valuable in Church than a man because her natural gifts and life experiences enable her to fill so many slots.” **

It is my contention that men desire to serve, but are searching for a place to. We want a place that our gifting and ability can be used, that success is measurable, and we will be encourage through service. So how does the Church get men to serve? Just a few thoughts:

  1. Be concrete. Men are concrete thinkers and want concrete results. We enjoy areas of service that are task oriented because we are task oriented. The Church can help us out by giving specific descriptions of opportunities including: duration, time commitment, the type of work being done, and who it involves. Where as most women can deal with a certain amount of ambiguity, men strive under clear direction. Communicate the vision, the expectations, and the task upfront and help men out.
  2. Be Man-minded. We like competition, fun, and activity. We work best side by side as opposed to face to face. When helping get men involved in service, allowing them time to work alongside others can change the service experience for the better. Putting together tasks, projects, and goals can make the difference between a bad experience and a good one. There is a reason men congregate to mission trips, work days, and other activity minded projects. The church needs to think about how to incorporate these things into their weekly routine. Have a small group competition ever week; find small service projects (that can be done in an hour) during Sunday school; give men something to do as they are teaching (so that they aren’t face to face with their students)…try different things which leads me to the third one.
  3. Be ready to say yes. The common paradigm of service has left most men in the dust. Many want to serve and have ideas on what they want to do, only at times to be shut down by the modus operandi. Some ideas will be wacky, or uncommon, but it doesn’t mean they lack substance. Say yes!

When men lead in the Church, they become better leaders in the home. When men lead in the home, they become better leaders in the Church: it’s a cycle. The greatest servants in the Church that I know are also the men who exhibit that leadership in the home. Jason Hildebrandt and Aaron Jones are two guys who lead our youth group. They served alongside me, challenged me, challenged the youth, and set the direction and vision for the ministry. We grew alongside one another, became better men in our homes, and more connected to the Church. Aaron came alive watch the UFC, teaching our youth to do yard work, and teaching Sunday School. Jason led the most eclectic group of middle school boys you could envision. He came alive when he was playing games, talking lego’s, and ultimate Frisbee. These were two men, with very uncommon ministries, each finding a unique way to serve. They will someday lead the Church as elders because of what they learned from their students serving in the youth ministry. When men serve, they gain experience to lead. The final result is a healthier and more vibrant Church. Women outnumber men in most Churches.  Men show up when they have a vested interest.  Men show up when they are serving.  Without men serving, the Church struggles to become all that God intended it to be. Leadership should commit itself to helping get men “connected” to service, but to do so we need to think differently about it.

The Corinthian Theatre made out of legos.  Jason Hildebrandt and I made the City of Corinth out of the plastic bricks for a lesson one time.

The Corinthian Theatre made out of legos. Jason Hildebrandt and I made the City of Corinth out of the plastic bricks for a lesson one time.

*Paterniti, Michael. “Everything is Awesome and Mysitcal and Made Out of Plastic Bricks.” Popular Mechanics Apr, 2015. pg 84.

**Murrow, David. Why Men Hate Going to Church (Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 2005) 38.

Verse 4 Friendship

Lately I been thinkin’

Bout all those friends of mine

That I’ve accumulated

Through the stands of time.


I lost some pretty close ones

Watched other struggle on

Seen some make big decisions

Watched them weak and watched them strong


From late night meals at taco bell

To stories b’hind the chutes

Late night drives and camping trips

Our bonds turned into roots.


From trials of life

And experiences of pain,

Your stood beside me through it all

Much to my dismay.


As you deal with separation,

Divorce, cancer, and despair

With all the things that life can throw

A friend responds with care.


Just as you endured

Through all the trials of my life

I turned to you as times turned bleak

And you withstood the strife.

Through the combination

Of both your problems and mine

I appreciate the fact that

The basis of friendship was an order of divine.

As life came rushing in

And struggles succumb to strife

I was reminded how you as my friend

Had invested into my life.

I was challenged this week by all the stuff that my friends were going through. I lost one of my buddies this week to a massive heart attack. Bob died a week ago today. Another friend of mine got engaged in Chicago. Congratulations Tyler! At the same time, I have friends who’s parents are going through a divorce, another who’s battling cancer, and another whose marriage needs a lot of prayer. I spoke on the phone with each of them. It’s crazy to think about how these guys, guys who I respect and admire, whose friendship’s I cherish, are going so much as my life has been relatively peaceful. I am reminded of what a friend is and what a friend does.

I am reminded of David’s relationship with Jonathan. In 1 Samuel 18-20, there is the account of David and Jonathan. Their friendship has been documented throughout history, but I am amazed at how pertinent it is to today.

  • Friendship is sacrificing. Saul is the King, that means Jonathan is the second in command and the future King. In 1 Sam 18.4, Jonathan gives all of his identity, power, and prestige to David. His robe, tunic, sword, bow and belt were given to David. Why? Because friendship is sacrifice.
  • Friends speak well of you. No matter Saul’s issues with David, Jonathan spoke well of him (19.4). Always his advocate, Jonathan stands up for David. When it comes to friends, I most often have better than I deserve.
  • Friendship wants the best for the other. Jonathan in 20.4, says “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.” Jonathan sees the outcome clearly before him. David is the next King. Instead of the supposed future king (Jonathan) being upset about the new future King (David), he devotes his allegiance to David.

When I comes to friends, I have better than I deserve; good men, who honor and serve their wives and kids; men who take the teachings of friendship from Jonathan. Now in their times of trial and triumph, I hope that I have learned the lessons that they have taught me.

Dawn Sunday

"Moment of Impact" Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010

“Moment of Impact”
Cushenberry Memorial Bullfight 2010

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20.1)

I felt great going into a freestyle bullfight one time, until I saw the others there. Kyle Lippencott, one of the best freestyle bullfighters I had ever seen, was in Manhattan that night as well. I should have just handed my $100 entry fee to him and saved the Rodeo Secretary the time. I was beaten before I ever tied on my cleats. But it was my own misconception that hurt me that night. I wasn’t going against Kyle, but a little cross-bred bull of Matt Williams (happy birthday today by the way). One common mistake that people make about Rodeo is that you are competing against another person. If I couldn’t beat my bull, there was no way I could beat Kyle. Subsequently I got run over a bunch and he ended up winning anyway. Still, we look at competition as me vs him, but really its me vs the animal. Sometimes faith can look like that. Belief isn’t a contest between two people. Each person’s journey with God takes on a different pace. On the Sunday morning in John 20 the first guy to the tomb was going a different pace than the second.

Peter and John raced to the tomb that morning. They both got word from the women that the stone had been rolled back and the tomb was empty. In a footrace, John dominated. “The other disciple outran Peter.” (John 20.3) John was that other disciple and frankly I am impressed that he didn’t brag on that point in his book. I would have made a major point of my dominance. Anyhow, they ran to the tomb and John beat Peter. John looked in the tomb, cautiously, but Peter, in a way that is completely in his character, walked right in. He never was a bashful one. After he had taken in all the sights of the tomb, John followed him in.

It is advantageous for us at this point to understand a little bit about John. He was most likely the youngest of the disciples. He was from a fishing family, until Jesus had called him to follow. He was a witness to the proceedings concerning Jesus, as he had some kind of connection to the high priest (john 18.15). He stood near the cross, seeing Jesus first hand and even spoke to Jesus’ death in his final breaths (John 19.26). He was “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

Peter’s last 48 hours were very similar in John. There seems to have been a weird “envy”, which is probably too strong of a word, between Peter and John. If you recall the Last Supper, Thursday night, Peter asks John to ask Jesus to clarify some of his remarks (John 13.22). It is out of character for Peter. He hadn’t had any problems asking questions before. Maybe he had used up all of his question tokens with Jesus earlier in the night (John 13.6ff). Even Jesus had to be getting to point where he wanted to tell him “Dude why don’t you set the next few conversations out.” Still, Peter followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest during Jesus’ trial where his path and John’s differ. Peter, 3 times deny’s knowing Jesus. (John 18.15-16, 25-27) In the grand scheme of things, with all that has happened since, it seems like forever ago that Peter stood in the darkness of pre-dawn Friday and dis-associated himself with Jesus. Now with the news the women brought Sunday at dawn, the promises Jesus made coupled with the actions of Peter are brought to the forefront.

At Mary’s word, a footrace ensues. Knowing John, the careful crafting of his book, and the reflective nature of his account, its is likely that the foot race in verse 4 was foreshadowing the events of verse 8.

John did to Peter what Usain Bolt did to the field at the Olympics. He cruised to the tomb. John may have had foot speed, but in his arrival at the tomb he proceeded like he does with his book, methodically taking in all the evidence and feeling his way around. Peter, though slow of foot, was never slow to act (or speak for that matter). He arrived after John, but busted right into the tomb.   Verse 9 says this:

“They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.”

The question is who is the “they”? John made his way into the tomb and instantaneously believed [pisteuo]. Three different words for “see” are used in the greek text for what they did when they came to the tomb…they “looked” [blepei] at the wrappings; they “saw” [theorei] the strips of linen; and John “saw” [eiden] and believed. For John seeing was believing. Think back to the blind guy in John 9 and his story. Think ahead to John’s purpose of writing this book;

“These things have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20.30-31)

The 7 signs were meant to bee seen. The people were meant to be encountered. The speeches were meant to be heard. For John seeing is believing and how much more true it was when he reached the tomb. Over half the uses of the word “believe” [pisteuo] in the New Testament from John’s pen in this book. He has been trying to get to the end of the story from the beginning.

For Peter on the other hand (as well as the women), they are the “they”. John was the first to the tomb in the race and he was the first to put together Jesus’ words and the empty tomb. Peter and the girls…not so much.

Belief is easy for some of my friends. In the midst of struggle, temptation, crisis, or mockery, their faith is constant. They heard about Jesus and instantly believed and never have struggled. They are like John. Their quiet times are vibrant, their trust grows daily, and their faith is assured constantly. They are winning the foot race.

My faith is more like Peter’s. Some of it is guilt that I hold onto for not being more faithful. Some of it is doubt that I can’t quite find answers for. Other times it is fear or worry that stands in the way of my belief. It may not be a pace that can win a foot race, but it will get me to the finish line. That is what Peter is dealing with. He may not have set a world record, but he did finish the race. Peter, who failed Friday morning, struggled at the empty tomb Sunday morning, 40 day’s later would wow a crowd with his faith in Acts 2.

Regardless of pace, both ended up at the tomb and regardless of the splits each arrived at belief in the Risen Jesus. Whichever one you associate with, what ever pace you are running, don’t let other’s pace dictate your race.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” (John 20.1)


DSCN2824“The next day, the one after Preparation day…” (Matthew 27.62)

When things fall apart, we return to the familiar. It is human nature. That is why when a bullfighter gets pushed out wide, the first thought is to run away (that gets you run over); but for the experienced (like Chris Munroe, Daniel Unruh, or Lucas Littles), they get to the shoulder, make their circle and make it through. When a new bullrider gets in trouble, the familiar, their inclination, is to look off or get on the end of their arm. But for the experienced, those who have retrained their mind and their body on the drop barrel or the mighty bucky, they are able to execute the moves to get them back into position to make the ride. It is no different for any other sport or skill. When the game plan falls apart, how do teams respond? Mike Tyson once said, “everyone’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” The disciples had a plan. Jesus was going to take on the Romans, reinstitute the physical kingdom of Israel, and they were going to live their lives free of Roman rule. But the arrest and subsequent crucifixion, hit the disciples in the mouth.

It was the Sabbath, so no one was working, planting, traveling, or playing. It was a day of mourning for the followers of Jesus, but a day of liberation for the rest of the Jews. Thousands of years ago, on this day, they were released from their bondage in Egypt. Now they look out their windows, watching Roman soldiers wandering by as the occupying force, the ruling overlords, and they asked when their next liberation would come. Like I said, that was for most of the Jews. Those that followed Jesus, however, were questioning the way they spent the last three years.

It was Saturday and the disciples were questioning. John depicts the disciples hiding in an upper room scared of what might become of them; the ones who were duped by the condemned and executed “Messiah” (John 20.19). Life would go on in a while when they returned to fishing or other jobs. It was familiar for them to return to. With the events of the last 24 hours, the routine would be welcome. Their plan had fallen apart and there was nothing left but to return to the life they had before they became disciples.

It was Saturday and the Leaders were questioning. They had heard that Jesus had said that he would rise from the dead. They had Jesus arrested at night to avoid an uprising. They had him killed to avoid a riot. Now, if his body turned up gone, all their work would have been in vain. Pilate had been such an accommodating ally over the last 24 hours that they felt they could ask one more favor. They wanted guards at the tomb to make sure the body remained there. Pilate would give them what they asked for, stationing soldiers at the tomb and sealing it with his authority.

With the fast paced events of the last 24 hours, Saturday seems like a let down. Outside of the 4 verses that Matthew writes at the end of chapter 27, the day is undocumented. For the key characters in the story, Saturday was familiar, the old familiar. Pilate was looking out for his career, the Jewish leaders were trying to squelch those who would try to usurp Moses, and the disciples? They had a great 3 year ride, seeing things unexplainable, learning things they never thought they would be privy too…but now they went back to wondering. There was something that Jesus saw in them when he called three years ago. Following him had become their purpose. Now they sat…questioning.

There are Saturday’s in our lives; where the familiar looks more and more appealing. When stress hits at work, the familiar beckons. When a bad diagnosis arrives, the familiar seems more pleasing. When family strife takes place, the familiar is alluring. The familiar could be alcohol, porn, deceit, envy, or any other number of things.

Saturday was a 24 hour period, the Sabbath the Jews called it, where rest was prescribed. A reminder that the world was created in 6 days and God rested the 7th. It was an object lesson that God would provide…if the Jews would just rest in Him; a reminder that if humanity takes a break, the world will still function. On this Sabbath, it the disciples questioned. Sunday seems so far away, but God was asking, just as Jesus asked them to trust in Him and his words. He told them that Saturday would come, but Sunday would make it worth it. When Saturday comes, what will we do? Or will the familiar take a hold.

“The next day, the one after Preparation day…” (Matthew 27.62)


529293_10150920001125754_1493193119_n“So as evening approached…” (Mark 15.42)

As the pressure increases, the true identity of a person shines through. When situations get punchy, the true motives and identities show through. The old cowboy proverb says: “If your guts have turned to fiddle strings, it ain’t good for you and it aint safe for me.” When situations get tense, your first inclination is acted upon. When a bullfighter gets in a tight spot, if his focus is on the bull he will step around it. But if his focus is on self preservation its on stepping up on the fence. When Jake Joeckle is on a bronc, if he is about saving his skin, he double grabs; but too many times I have seen that kid lift on his rein and goes to spuring one. Why? Because safety-ing up is not in him and when situations get tense, he is going to give it his all, even If it means a little pain. When situations get tense, our heart tends to come to the forefront. Sometimes it means an action different from normal and other times it means our first inclination shines forth. In the situation of John 19, the true colors, outside of the political and social concerns, is acted upon.

The last twelve hours have been a blur. For Joseph and Nicodemus it has been a long and eventful day. The disciples have been a no show for quite some time. They deserted when the crowd showed up to arrest Jesus. Peter and John followed from a distance, but ever since Jesus arrived at the doorstep of Pilate before dawn, they have made themselves scarce. At the end of the passion narrative two guys come into the spotlight. For the gospel writers, they are not completely unknown characters but they certainly haven’t been central to the story. Now they and their character are in the spotlight. Their contrast is striking.

On the one hand, there is Joseph of Arimathea. He was part of the Sanhedrin (Mark 15.33; Luke 23.50), but a dissenter in the case of Jesus (Luke 23.51). Apparently, he had not made a big plea in the case for Jesus before the Sanhedrin. It was, after all, a case in the early morning, a late night, and he was apparently in the minority. Despite his view, Jesus was destined to die with the vote of the Sanhedrin. From the wording of John it would seem that Joseph of Arimathea did not make a real strong push to get Jesus out of his sentence of death. He was a secret disciple. Usually the greek word for “secret” is translated as “hidden”. A disciple in hiding until…

Nicodemus, on the other hand, is a vexing character in the book of John. He makes three appearances, which is uncommon for a minor character in a book that is clearly well thought out and planned.   He visited Jesus at night in John 3. John never uses words without a plan and the night meeting was recorded to show something about the true identity of Nicodemus. For the remainder of his acknowledgments in the book he would never slip that meeting with Jesus at night. In chapter 7 of the book, as the Pharisees are discussing Jesus rise, Nicodemus tries to vouch for Jesus without tipping his hand. But even then he is introduced as “the man who had gone to Jesus earlier”. (7.50) He tried to stick up for Jesus in a way. Now he shows up at the cross with Joseph of Arimathea. John says that he was “the man who visited Jesus at night” (John 19.39). Can you imagine your life being defined by the worst thing you have ever done?

They are two men who similarities abound. They both are members of the Sanhedrin; both with money; both invested in the honoring of the deceased criminal Jesus (Joseph giving his tomb [Matt 27.60]; Nicodemus with a significant amount of spices costing a great deal [John 19.39]); and both putting their reputations on the line burying a condemned criminal.

The burial had to done in a hurry. Jesus died around 3 pm and the sun was setting soon. His death, the quickness of it, took Pilate, the Centurion, and most other people by surprise. Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t have a lot of time to ponder a method of action. They went to Pilate and asked for the body. They wrapped it in linen, packed it with spices, and laid it in a tomb. This was all done by dusk so that they could still celebrate the Passover.

It is amazing how, when we don’t have the time to spare to think about how we will be perceived, our actions are true to our beliefs. Nicodemus has live the true politicians life; by remaining ambiguous on key issues, hiding his beliefs from the ruling class, and acting in secret. The abbreviated schedule, the approaching dusk, and the quick death of Jesus has brought him to decision time. What does he truly believe about Jesus? Is he worth honoring? Is what he said true? As a member of the Sanhedrin, he was privy to the scope of Jesus ministry, now how would he respond? Still, fear seemed to stand in his way. Despite his visiting Jesus after his death, one cant help but feel that Nicodemus missed the boat. Fear kept him from seeing all of Jesus. In the same way that Pilate traded a political career for a relationship with Jesus, so too Nicodemus seemed headed down the same path. As Mark Moore said, “the biggest thing Nicodemus ever did for Jesus, was bury him.”

Joseph, by all indications was different. He was a disciple “in secret” only by John’s account. He feared repercussions from the Jews by John’s account. But in the haste of the situation and the rest of the Gospels, his true understanding of Jesus was brought forward. Joseph, by all other gospel accounts, was a disciple of Jesus. He has no negative comments amongst the other gospel. Despite John’s description of him as a secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea was waiting for ‘the Kingdom of God’ (Luke 23.51) and ‘a good and upright man’ (Luke 23.50). He faced his fear, risked his political career and asked for the body of Jesus!

In haste our true understanding, faith, and belief shine through? When quick decisions happen, how do you respond? Are you faithful when its easier to forget? Do you trust when its easier in the spur of the moment to turn

Joseph trusted in Jesus…his approach of Pilate, offering the tomb, and taking the body shows. Nicodemus, as it reads in John, seems to have missed it. His accolades, resume, wealth, and standing aside, missed it. Joseph, by testimony of the other gospels saw the truth in Jesus where Nicodemus hid behind his fear.

In times of haste, the truth shines through.

“So as evening approached”, two men carried the body of Jesus, but only one man knew him.

The Ninth Hour

ethan hugPairing youth ministry and ranching has always been one of my passions.   I believe there is an awful lot to be learned by urban youth on a ranch. Most times it goes well. They have learned to use a chainsaw and cut down trees, ridden horses with me, set fence posts, and even gotten on a bull (and rode it!). But there is always that one time.

I had just run about 150 ft of barbed wire between a couple end posts. I had stretched it tight, and wrapped it snug around the two h-braces at both ends of the field. All my line posts were set in place, all that was left to do was to drive a staple into each post to finish off the strand. I thought I had given plenty of direction and guidance. I am a firm believer that most of the time middle school students don’t follow expectations or understand what to do because I am not explicit enough with instruction and direction. This was not the case this time. I went to another part of the property and began to set some more posts in the ground for our next run. About 30 minutes later, I hadn’t heard any hammering from his direction. I crested the hill to see him laying down on the job. I was upset, until I got closer. He had managed to make himself the fillings of a barbed wire burrito. He had become a human spool for 12-guage-4-point-barb-wire. The only word that I could muster between laughs was “how?” His answer: “Mr. Travis it all happened so fast…”

The question of “how” makes a few assumptions. In the first place, “how?” Implies that there was a process involved. “How?” never happens in a vacuume. Anywhere between 2 and a million steps take place for a “how” event to occur. When you tell a person about how you have three broken ribs, both a sprained ankle and ego, and make a cracking noise when you walk, in the same sentence with your kid-broke gelding, the question is not of why? but how?. When your farm truck is upside down in the ditch with a bovine dallied off on the bale spear, the question is not of why? but how?. For the record, the why? question often has great bearing on the how? and often provides great insight and background information to making the how? answer that much more entertaining.

Secondly the “how?” question is much more convenient to ask. Why? often deals with philosophies, worldview, learning, cultural influence and personal perspective. Asking someone why they’re a poor cowboy? begs the answer that generations ago they settled the land and many years down the line it was inherited by the poor guy being interrogated. Its been years since he had any desire to do a 9-5 job that pays well. Asking someone how they became a poor cowboy? The answer is simple: when his buddies went to college to be accountants, he spend $50,000 on an education in ranch management, then he bought a horse trailer and went to rodeoing. Not really much Greek philosophy in his answer, though it does bear resemblance to a Greek tragedy.

The “how?” question is quite intriguing and a statement of “how” is equally so.

At the 9th hour, the world has been dark for three hours and Jesus time on the cross is approaching six. For the guy standing at the foot of the cross in Mark’s gospel, this has been an interesting experience. He is a centurion, a leader in the Roman army. He is not at the front of the Roman legions conquring unknown territories, expanding the glory of Roma, and gaining honor battling foreign nations. He is stationed in Judea on a peace-keeping mission. The days are long, tiring, and boring. It is easy to see that the soldiers need to find entertainment. Crucifixions are a common occurrence in Judea. So common that the soldiers have to find ways of spicing it up by gambling on the victim’s clothes, mocking the condemned and playing games with those sentenced. This centurion has undoubtedly seen many crucifixions in his lifetime and presided over a good many. Seeing another Jew die is just part of the job.

Mark says this about the guy: “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15.39) This death-hardened soldier knew something was different about this execution, but what was it?

At the 9th hour, Jesus lets out a loud cry and dies (Mark 15.37).   Was it Luke’s “Father into your hands I commit my Spirit” (Luke 23.46) or John’s “It is finished” (John 19.30)? Mark doesn’t say what the cry was, just that he let out a loud cry. Jesus has made three statements in Mark’s gospel since he was arrested. In front of the Sanhedrin, he answered the High Priest’s question about his identity as the Christ:

“I am and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14.62)

In front of Pilate, when asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered:

“Yes, it is as you say.” (Mark 15.2)

Jesus silence before Pilate amazed him (Mark 15.5). Mark made the effort to show Jesus as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52-53, in the depiction of his life, his mission statement (“the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” [Mark 10.45]), and now his silence before his accusers. And finally he speaks with God as he proclaims “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15.34). Could this be the “how” that the centurion saw? His silence in the midst of suffering? His connection to God in the midst of suffering?

Perhaps the “how” is referencing the miraculous darkening of the land for 3 hours (Mark 15.33). This wasn’t an everyday occurrence. The fact that it happened when the sun was supposed to be the highest wasn’t lost on him. Darkness [skotos] is referenced in Acts when Paul told Elymas that he would be blind for a time and he began to grope around in the darkness [skotos] (Acts 13.11). This is not your average nighttime darkness, this is eerie, creepy darkness that you can feel. Was the darkness and miraculous around Jesus death, the “how” that the centurion saw?

Could it be the enemies that surrounded him? Perhaps the centurion, who makes a living putting down the underdogs, was drawn to this man who was insulted by: 1) the soldiers (15.16-20); 2) those who passed by (15.29); 3) the chief priests and teachers of the law (15.31); and those crucified with him (15.32). Mark doesn’t record the criminals repentance that Luke does. Maybe the centurion sees the uniformed hatred by everyone around the scene and is drawn in by this man who seems to unite everyone against him? Could that be the “how” that the centurion saw?

In Mark’s book there are many times when the true identity of Jesus was almost exclaimed. The disciples almost got it (4.41), the crowds got close (6.2-3; 7.37), and Peter gave it an effort (8.29-32). But the man who finally got it was this Roman Centurion. From 1.1, “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” to “surely this man was the Son of God.” (15.39)   The Centurion’s “how” could be all these things, but “how” Jesus died was unique. It was a cursed mans death, but a glorified man in the eyes of the Centurion. Before his eyes, a criminal was seen to be the King.

The “how” was clear to the centurion.

I am so thankful for the “why” Jesus died. “He who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God.” But I to often forget the “how” he died? It’s a little more uncomfortable for me because the “how” he died is expected of me. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)

The centurion may not have understood the “why” but he knew the “how” better than anyone who has ever lived. I know the “why” but need so much practice on the “how”!

And this was the 9th hour when he breathed his last.