Summer In the Psalms

In CS Lewis’ classic book The Screwtape Letters a demon, Screwtape, is training his nephew on how to tempt humans. He writes, “whatever their bodies do affects their soul. It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: In reality, our best work is done by keeping things out.”

Here is truth.

If Satan can keep the Word of God out of your mind, he will be successful without putting one thought in.

So, how about getting in the Word this summer? I wrote a little devotional called Summer in the Psalms—Book One, which you can download from our church home page. The book of Psalms is divided into five different books, Book One is chapters 1-41.

The purpose is to get everyone us into the Word of God this summer, whether you are camping, watching services from home, or going to a church building. By getting into the Word, I mean into the Bible, not into sermons, not into commentaries, not into YouTube. I love what others have to say about the Bible, but this summer we want to get into the Word. Period.

Warning: This will be more difficult than reading a devotional.

When you read a devotional, someone else has gone through the joy of getting into the Bible, finding cool truth, cutting it up into bite-sized morsels, and feeding it to you. It’s easy eating, but you miss something.

You miss hearing the steak sizzle on the grill. You miss the wonderful smell. You miss cutting in to see the perfect color. You miss biting in.

There is nourishment in pre-chewed steak for sure. But for the joy of discovery, for a renewed relationship with the Author of the Scriptures, nothing beats getting into the word for yourself.

Here is how it works:

Starting MAY 30, we will start going through the Psalms, Book One together. Each week we will go through just one Psalm in detail, then read two or three more over the weekend. Week one we will examine Psalm one. Each day is one small step in evaluating that Psalm so that at the end of the week you can list your discoveries. Each month we will use a different Bible Study Method to go through that one Psalm in detail. The Psalms are printed out in the booklet for you in the NIV, but feel free to use other versions to compare in your study.

Some help for you:

I figured this would be new for many of us, so I put an example of a week’s study below. I chose the first eight verses of Psalms 119, (A Psalm we are not doing this summer) as most of the Psalms we are studying are pretty short.

OK, below is the Psalm just like you will find it printed in the booklet. Then I put the booklet questions in bold type, with an example of possible answers in italics.

Example: Psalm 119:1-8

Ps 119:1 (NIV2011)  Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. 2  Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart— 3  they do no wrong but follow his ways. 4  You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. 5  Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! 6  Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. 7  I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. 8  I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

DAY 01: Observation: Read Psalms 119:1-8 three times. Don’t try to make conclusions or applications yet, just observe the story. Then either

  • Paraphrase it; that is, rewrite it in your own words, or
  • Outline it

So, here is my outline

  1. Blessed Are
    1. Those who are blameless
    1. Those who walk according to God’s laws
    1. Those who keep God’s laws
    1. Those who seek God
      1. They do no wrong
      1. They follow God’s ways
    1. Your ways are known and to be obeyed
  2. If I would be steadfast in obeying your decrees
    1. Then I won’t be put to shame when I read the Bible
    1. Then I will praise you as I learn the Bible
  3. I will obey, don’t give up on me.

OR, if I was going to do a paraphrase instead, this is what it might look like:

I’m blessed when I know God’s word and do it. Therefore, I need to know His word and follow it with all my heart. God took the time to tell me how to live, and I will be blameless if I will just follow it. I must persevere in obeying what I learn so that I don’t embarrass myself when I do these devotions. Thank You, Father, for giving me Your laws. I’m going to do what You asked, I know you won’t give up on me when I mess up.

DAY 02: Observation: Write your observations for each verse. Ask yourself, “What is being said?”

Verse 1: I’m blessed and blameless when I follow God’s word.

Verse 2: I’m blessed when I follow with all my heart–not partly but completely. 

Verse 3: I can’t do anything wrong when I am following God. That’s pretty cool to know.

Verse 4: God’s laws aren’t suggestions.

Verse 5: If I would just follow consistently that would make all the difference in my life.

Verse 6: Gods word should be encouraging not embarrassing.

Verse 7: I will worship as I do these devotions.

Verse 8: I will obey, period. God will be there to help me, even when I mess up.

Day 03: Interpretation: Write the meaning of each verse or section. Ask, “What does this mean? What is being taught?”

This is the hardest step for me. I would write something like…

I noticed that in the NLT the word that the NIV translates “blessed” is translated “joyful.” So, I think what is being taught is that those who study God’s word and put it into practice bring joy and blessing into their lives. The blessing doesn’t seem to be material or success, but a clean conscience, of following the Spirit and knowing you are pleasing God. It even brings joyful worship as we obey and as we study. As a result, it is foolish not to know and follow the Word of God.

Day 04: Correlation: Find cross-references for what you think is being taught in this Psalm. Is it taught anywhere else? You can use the little notes or references in the margins of your Bible to help.

The first I thought of was the rest of Psalms 119. Every verse seems to have some emphasis back on the Word of God and how it helps us. I also thought of Proverbs, those verses about God’s wisdom, and Deuteronomy 6 about training our kids in God’s word. Then I cheated and googled “obeying God’s word verses.” A few I found that seemed to really fit were;

  • Dt 28:1 (NIV2011)  If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.
  • Jn 14:23 (NIV2011)  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
  • Jas 1:22 (NIV2011)  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
  • Ro 12:2 (NIV2011)  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Day 05: Application: Start three sentences with “I will…” You can also try praying the Psalm, it may be easiest to pray your paraphrase.

I prayed my paraphrase. Starting with; Heavenly Father I know I’m blessed when I know Your word and do it. Therefore, I will keep up this study this summer and follow with all my heart…


It may look like a lot but remember this is five days’ worth of study. It really doesn’t take that long. And remember, you only need it to impact you, no one else. This isn’t for a grade; it’s for relationship.

Here is truth.

If you can keep the Word of God increasing in your mind, you will be successful without worrying about what you need to keep out.



The Rest of the Story

[picture by Alessandro Cerino on Unsplash]

When I was a kid, my dad would listen to a radio show by Paul Harvey called The Rest of the Story. Paul Harvey would tell a story but at a key point stop and say, “In a minute you will hear the rest of the story.” Then they would go to the commercial break.

It was mean, really.

Anyway, after the commercial, he would give the shocking end and say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

When a radio station says, “we will be right back, don’t move that dial,” you know what I do?

Yup, I move that dial.

Call me a rebel.

But never did I do that with Paul Harvey. I knew the best was coming.

Thankfully, so did Dad. So, we would wait.

Living in the Commercial Break

I don’t remember ever liking the commercials making me wait for the rest of the story. But, had there been no commercials, there would have been no story.

Before Paul Harvey, the New Testament writers used the story of Israel going to the Promised Land and waiting in the wilderness as their metaphor. As Israel was rescued out of slavery in Egypt through the blood of the lamb and was baptized in the Red Sea, so too we have been rescued from sin by the blood of the Lamb of God and been baptized into the body of Christ. (1 Cor 10, Hebrews 3-4) God was with Israel through the pillar of fire at night and cloud by day, and we are indwelt by the Spirit of God. But God’s blessing and presence in the wilderness was not the end of the story for Israel.

They had to pass through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land. Once there, due to disobedience, they had to wait for another 40 years for the rest of the story. In a sense, God being with them was their promised land as they waited to enter the physical Promised Land.

And we too are waiting, but as with Israel there is hope. In a sense, God living in and through us is our promised land as we wait for the rest of the story, the Promised Land when Jesus returns to rule.

The Stockdale Paradox

I got a book at a leadership conference years ago called Good to Great by Jim Collins. In it he tells a story of Jim Stockdale who was an America Vice Admiral during the war in Vietnam. Stockdale was captured, imprisoned, and tortured for over seven years.

How did he make it through?

What seems counterintuitive is that he said the first people to die in captivity were the optimists, who assumed they would get out quickly. They “died of a broken heart.” He later said, “I think there was a lot of damage done by optimists… the problem is, some people believe what professional optimists are passing out and come unglued when their predictions don’t work out.”

Stockdale believed that the key to survival was to combine realism and hope. “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Putting it all together, when asked how he survived when he had no idea if he would ever be rescued, he said: “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

How great it is to know the end of the story. We are not yet living in the Promised Land. But the One who is returning lives within us today. And for today, that’s enough. That’s our today promised land.

The Promised Land by TobyMac does a beautiful job putting music to this truth, combining realism and hope. I hope you like it.

Waiting for The Rest of the Story

  • Romans 12:12 (NIV2011)  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
  • Psalms 27:14 (NIV2011)  Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
  • 2Peter 38:-18 (NIV2011)  Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
    • 10  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
    •  11  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12  as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
    • 13  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. …
    • 18  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

This Sunday at AnchorPoint we plan to be in Matthew 16:21-27, the instructions from Jesus on how and why to follow Him as we wait for His return.

Thanking God we know the rest of the story,


God and Luck

JoLynn and I enjoy the monthly hot date at Costco. Usually, we pull in on a weekend and the place is packed. Still, I’ll find a nice spot close to the handicapped parking. She says, with jealous disdain, “You’re so lucky.”

I reply, “Yeah, well, I had my devotions.”

Is God like that? Does he reward us for following him and make us park a mile away when we don’t? The believers who are having to leave their homes behind in Ukraine as they run for their lives, is God punishing them for something?


Circumstances are not a sign of godliness, or of sin.

Still, I think we all have a bit of Voodoo in us. We believe God will make us lucky. That’s why the baseball player will cross himself before coming to the plate. Or the crude comedian will kiss the cross around her neck before going on stage. Neither may follow God, but they both want luck. They want a 4-leaf clover God.

Who doesn’t want a bit of luck on their side?

One time I took a small group of sharp High School kids to Monterrey, Mexico to do some outreach and construction projects. We loaded up our old 15 passenger youth van in Lake Charles LA with about a dozen youth and sponsors and headed south. We broke down just this side of the border (this side was good), and after wasting a day trying to fix it ourselves, we left the van in the incapable hands of the mechanics at the local Dodge dealership (incapable was bad). We were able to obtain another van for our final 150 miles of travel in Mexico. 

Once in Monterrey one of our students decided to run away. In Monterrey. In Mexico. It was supper time, and I asked, “Where is Phil? Has anyone seen Phil?” PANIC. After hours of searching, he showed back up. I didn’t know whether to hug him or kill him.

Parents can get weird when you don’t return their kids.

And then, after spending a couple of weeks in Mexico, we drove north, picked up our “repaired” van from the dealer, and made it a total of 50 miles before it broke down again. After another two days of “repairs,” a couple of folks from our church in Lake Charles drove the 8 hours to Brownsville, TX, and towed us back.

Did we have all those problems because we didn’t have our devotions? Was God getting us back for some hidden sins?

It’s possible I suppose that God wanted to get our attention. He gave us a few extra days together. We learned how to experience inconvenience as a team and not kill each other. Phil learned that Monterrey is a terrible place to choose to run away from home.

So, did God work these tough times for our good? Certainly. Did we go through them because of some hidden sin? Certainly not. God allows challenging times to happen, and it is up to us to choose to follow Him through those times.

I don’t know of any Bible passage that promises that living right will bring good luck or bad living bad luck. There are some verses that show that living righteously can bring temporal blessings, but these are usually proverbs, saying how things normally work. They aren’t promises saying that if you do X, God must cause Y to happen. In fact, you can find plenty of illustrations that following God is just as likely–if not more so—to bring difficult circumstances rather than good ones in the short run as we follow Him.

Take our passage for church at AnchorPoint this Sunday, the parable of The Rich Man and the Beggar, from Luke 16:13-31. In it, a poor beggar named Lazarus is living in front of a rich guy’s house. It’s a gated community, so Lazarus lays in front of the gate, with dogs licking his running sores. But the rich guy was the pagan, and the beggar was the one who followed God. What’s up with that? Why was the rich guy “blessed” and Lazarus unlucky?

Then both Lazarus and the rich guy die, and the rest of the story you can read on your own, or on our Facebook site.

Jesus told us to “pick up our cross and follow,” not “hop in your Ferrari and stay on my bumper.” Jesus promised to forgive us, guide us, and love us into eternity. Unfortunately, there is nothing in there about lucky lottery numbers.

Or Dodge vans.

I like the way the writer of Psalm 73 wrestled with this issue. It’s like he was stuck in Brownsville with a dozen High School kids and a broken-down van when he wrote it.

Ps 73:13 (NIV2011) “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. 15 If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. 16 When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply…”

Then he comes to his senses and says “21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22  I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. 23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

The Psalmist gets it. There is no promise of a lucky life if we follow God. Instead, we follow God because He is always with us, forgiving us, holding our hand, guiding us, and finally taking us into glory. Righteous living does, generally, bring good results, if only temporarily—but the real reward is knowing and enjoying God, starting now, and lasting for eternity.


Lost in Chicago

I got off the “L” in Chicago (short for elevated railway), and said to myself, “self,” I said, “I don’t know where I am, but it looks like the worst slums in America, and I’m pulling a suitcase. This could be a bad day.”

It almost was.

It had been one of those weekends. The year was 1997. We were living in Tucson, but I was taking modular classes at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. Back then, you couldn’t receive an accredited degree unless there were 40-hours of in-class instruction for each 3-hour semester class. As a result, Moody structured their master’s classes so that you could do pre-class work, fly up and get all your hours in one week, and then go home for your post-class assignments. A very gracious friend and United Pilot supplied me with “friends and family” tickets to complete my degree. There was just one hitch.

The tickets were “standby.”

This meant that I never knew if there would be room on a flight for me (there was no online check-in at that time). I also had to pack everything that I needed for the week, including my books, into my carryon, as I couldn’t check any baggage. It was good Haiti training.

I had a class starting on Monday, so I went to Phoenix after church on Sunday and tried to fly out to Chicago.

Nothing doing. All the flights were full. All day.

At the end of the day, I took a flight to some bigger city in California to try and fly out from there. That worked, but it was a redeye flight to Chicago. I landed around 6am with no sleep, and, trying to save some money, I decided to take the L for the first time in my life instead of calling a Taxi.

Lack of sleep can make for low IQ decision making.

There was no one on the L except for one African American guy the size of a Suburban, and he hadn’t an ounce of fat on him. He just stared at me like, “This is my train boy. Sit if you dare.”

I was tired. I dared.

Now is when my issues started. I knew where I was going, but I had no idea how to get there. The maps on the side of the train showed all kinds of “blue lines,” and “green lines” and places to switch trains to different lines. It was worse than trying to figure out our governor’s Covid color restrictions. By the time I realized I knew nothing about Chicago except that Moody was somewhere close to Lake Michigan, the train had started moving. I was stuck.

I figured the announcements might be of some help.

I figured wrong.

The announcements sounded like someone talking with their mouth full of marshmallows, played back at full distortion, speaking Arabic. By now the train was getting packed with people, but they were city people going to work. They didn’t look like folks you wanted to talk to. Besides, I’m an introvert. So, I did the next most logical thing I could think of.

I stayed on until I could see the lake and things looked kind of familiar and got out the next time the train stopped. It turns out I wasn’t too far away from Moody; I was just several blocks Northwest of the school.

But Northwest of Moody was Cabrini-Green.

If you are unfamiliar with Cabrini-Green, count your blessings. It was a massive high-rise housing project that started in the 1940s. The city put aside the money to build it, but not to maintain it. It became known as “Little Hell.” For decades it was in the media for gangs, drugs, rapes, murders and was called, “one of the most feared places in America.” In 2000, Chicago decided to tear it down, and the last building was demolished in 2011.

But I was there in 1997.

So, I, a skinny white guy, got off the L in the middle of one of the most dangerous projects in America, pulling my suitcase behind me. I was the first one off, and I assumed the only one who got off. That’s when I realized I was lost. I had no idea which way Moody was located. The high-rise apartments all around me made it feel like walking in a canyon. The smell and look of the place made me realize I was in a dangerous place. The streets were silent and empty. All I knew is that I should start walking. Fast. I went down the street and took my first left. And there he was.

The mountain of a man who was on the train when I first got on, was standing about six feet in front of me, like he was waiting for me to turn left and run into him. I never saw him get off the train. He was sitting behind me, so he would have had to have gotten off after me, but he never walked past me.
And yet, here he was.

“You’re lost, aren’t you boy?” he asked.

Gee, how did you know?

“Yes, this is Cabrini-Green?” I asked.

“Yes, we need to get you out of here. Where are you going?”

“Moody Bible,” I answered, “Do you know where it is?”

“Yup, come with me,” he answered. You don’t argue with mountains when they give instructions. He walked me around back to an underground station, didn’t kill me, and instead got me through the ticket thing and told me to get off on the second stop, I think. Anyway, it worked.

This week I’m speaking at Anchorpoint about the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin from Luke 15. Lost people matter to God. And if they matter to God, they should matter to us also.

I’m sure glad this lost, tired suitcase-pulling idiot mattered to someone else. I still wonder how he got past me, or if he was an angel (Heb 13:2). Either way, he was an angel to me.

What Would You Do if God Called You to Haiti?

I was sitting in a Pastor’s meeting when one of the guys suggested, “How about we go around, and each say how God called us to ministry?”

All I could think of was, “Please, no.” That and, “God, please call this meeting to an end.”

He didn’t.

I would love to have one of those “Burning Bush” stories of God calling me into ministry. Rahab’s deliverance is dramatic. Paul’s going blind isn’t bad either. My story is more like Jesus’ disciple Thaddaeus.

Who was Thaddaeus?


This Sunday, I hope to give some suggestions on knowing and following God’s call on our lives, even if it is to Rio Rancho. The call of God is how ordinary people become extraordinary.

But today I have a question for you.

What would you do if you thought God was calling you to pick up your “normal” life in the USA to live in Port-au-Prince Haiti? What would it take to move you from our wonderful, magic flush-and-goodbye waste system to one of the largest cities in the world without a central sewage system, a non-system which would also mean moving from safe tap water to “Haitian Happiness” on tap, and from fresh air to yuck? Of course, you would also be moving from city electric to a generator when diesel is available, from A/C to fans when the generator runs, from safety to danger, from English to Creole, from, well, I could go on. What would it take to move you there and bring your family?

A divorce for starters? OK, let’s assume if you’re married that both of you agree. Sorry kids. You think a low IQ would help? Sorry, the quotient doesn’t go that low. It would take a clear call from God to convince most of us to make a move that drastic. But, if it is from God, then it’s worth it, because God’s will is best, all the time.

It may be hard to swallow, but it is always best.

This Sunday at church Byron and Shelley Tlucek, our Haitian missionaries will be here. The plan is to interview them at the end of the service for a few minutes, and after church to let you ask them questions on your heart. This will be a wonderful opportunity to dive into Byron and Shelley’s answer to God’s calling, what they’ve faced and are facing, and how they have overcome the obstacles that appear to be beyond overwhelming to most of us. You should be able to get the YouTube Livestream, or on Facebook Livestream at 10am New Mexico time, or watch the replay after Sunday on our website.

For more on their ministry in Haiti, or to donate, click here.

Needing a Miracle

If you could buy God one gift, what would it be?

I’d get Him a watch.

I want to get God on my time. I want Him to see things like I see them. Am I the only one who has wanted to shout, “God, can’t you see what is happening here? Help out already!” God on our time would be handy, no?

To illustrate, here is what happened to my mother, in France, in the ‘50s.

After WWII my parents went to France as missionaries with my oldest brother and sister. The picture is of my mother and older brother David and sister Janice. The country was still rebuilding from the war, and things were… difficult. My mother remembered two things in the French language. One was she could always quote John 3:16. The other was “Don’t poop in our yard!” Difficult times. While there my folks had two more daughters born in the American Hospital in Paris, but my parents lived in the smaller towns of Dijon, St. Michele sur Orge, and Arc-sur-Tille.

After some years of living in France, my dad developed a severe case of pneumonia. They had dad hanging almost upside-down to help with postural lung drainage. It got so bad that it looked like they were going to have to remove a lung, something the hospitals in France were ill-equipped to do. Their mission board sent plane tickets (they had gone over by ship) to fly the family back to the States so dad could have surgery. Dad was under care at the hospital in Paris, but my mom, brother, and three sisters were in Arc-sur-Tille. All four kids were under eight years old.

Thankfully, no one had thought about me yet.

My mom was stuck with having to pack up all their belongings and close the apartment. She got everything ready to go except for one thing she could not do.

They had no money to get to Paris. As in NO money.

But she packed up anyway, knowing they needed to be ready. It seemed impossible God would leave them without help. How my dad was supposed to get to the airport without help I don’t know. How mom was supposed to live in post-war France without dad I have no clue.

First, the good news. The day before mom was to leave for Paris, she checked the mail. Sure enough, God made sure the money was there. Her sister and brother-in-law, who had promised to support them while there, had, for some reason, not been doing it. Now they took three years of back financial support and sent it by one check. Had they been sending it all along, my parents probably would have spent it on immediate needs. Now it had been saved for them and it arrived at what seemed to be just the right time.

But it wasn’t the right time from my mother’s perspective.

The bad news is that when mom went to cash the check at their local bank, they told her they would have to put a hold on it. The check was from the United States after all. It would take weeks or months to clear, and they had no way of knowing if it was valid. She tried other banks with the same result. I still remember mom telling me how defeated she felt walking back to the packed-up apartment with four kids in tow.

I bet she wanted to give God a watch.

Had that check just come in a month earlier, how different she would have felt. And being human I bet mom was praying, “God, can’t you see what is happening here? Help out already!”

On the way back to the apartment she thought of the American Consulate in Paris. Was this a God idea? Would they back the check? They had no reason to back it, but still, it seemed worth a try. It was closing time at the bank, so she went back as fast as she could. The bank called; the American Consulate was still open. They backed the check, somehow, they got dad through the airport and to the plane in a wheelchair, and my parents and siblings flew home together.

A little side note, my sister Judy, the youngest at the time slept in a hammock in the plane made for infants. It would sway as the plane flew and rock them to sleep. Brilliant! Well, until you hit turbulence anyway. There might be a reason we don’t have them anymore.

And side note number two, when the plane landed in the states and everyone got off, they were spraying around it. I have no idea why. What I do know is that my brother David loudly said, “THEY MUST HAVE KNOWN WE HAVE FLEAS.” Mom was mortified.

Maybe they did know?

Still, I love that mom trusted God enough to pack up with no clear way forward.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”

I’m convinced that peace comes from trusting in the love (God wants what is best for us), wisdom (God knows what is best for us), and power (God can bring about what is best for us) of our giving God.

Life is hard.

God is amazing.

You need these verses

Sometimes I have difficulty getting into the skin of what verses in the Bible are trying to say. So, I go into my fancy Logos Bible program – or jump to Bible Hub or Blueletter Bible on my phone – and took up the word-for-word translation. After some study, and stealing from other translations, I attempt to write my own paraphrase.

Here is my Simplified Cooley Version of 2 Corinthians 4:4-9.

2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (SCV) The storehouse of God’s power is inside me. I’m fragile but his power is great. That’s why I’m troubled but not crushed, perplexed but not giving up, spiritually terrorized but never abandoned by God, hurled down but unbroken.

Good News.

Would You Like to Live Off the Grid? Do You Like Kids? HAVE I GOT AN OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU!

Imagine this for a minute…

Imagine having no city water or sewer, but you do have an electric-powered well and a septic tank. You can’t drink the water because it is dangerously polluted, so you use it for bathing and order your drinking water delivered.

You have no dependable city power, but you do have a generator and some solar panels for partial power.

You teach in an old-fashioned one-room school for preschool through grade five. Life is difficult but rewarding.

Then the world goes berserk.

Gangs go to war against each other. They aren’t zombies, but they are evil. It’s no longer safe outside of your walled property. There is no more gas, so you can’t get around by driving with windows up and doors locked. Walking is a sure ticket to being kidnapped or killed. The city is weirdly silent with no traffic, no generators, and businesses boarded up. The water company closes as they can’t make deliveries. Your generator is out of gas, so the dirty well is also dead.

You smell. You are thirsty. You are stuck.

What will you drink? How will you eat? How can any children come to school?

What do you do?

Welcome to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the last 15 years, but never in circumstances like today. But, if you like living off the grid and like kids, I bet our friends at Maranatha Children’s Home have some openings. If you don’t want to go, can you pray for them?

Here are the most recent requests from our friends at Maranatha Children’s home.

Will you please be praying for us as we look for God’s help to overcome the following challenges?

  • Safety for all of our staff, including our US staff in Haiti. As one of our students said…..people with your color of skin are being stolen right now. It seems everybody is at risk of being a target.
  • The safe return of the 18 people, including 16 US citizens, 1 Canadian, and 1 Haitian, who were kidnapped last month.
  • The gangs will permit the fuel trucks to deliver fuel to the gas stations. Culligan water company has closed, and many of the businesses are only days from closing. They do not have electricity and are unable to obtain fuel to run their generators.
  • Our weather will include lots of sunshine. Our solar panels are our main source of power right now, and they don’t provide much power on cloudy days.
  • We will be sensitive and obedient to God’s direction as it pertains to our US staff remaining in Haiti.
  • Wisdom and safety as we locate food to feed the children at school, the children’s home, and the orphanages.
  • We will be able to keep the school open and functioning.

Thanks for your prayers.


You, Me, and Vaccine Mandates

Chances are, if you aren’t being required to be vaccinated for work, you know someone who is. Even if you, like me, have been vaccinated, we should care for those who are being required to do something in violation of their conscience. This is something that is a special concern to me as a pastor. When asked, should I write a “religious exemption?” If so, why? If not, why?

I wrote a blog for AncorPoint Church last week to help answer these questions, called Vaccine Mandates: What You Need to Know About Vaccinations, Religious Exemptions, and My Personal Bias.

I put that blog below, in the hope that it may help some know as believers how to navigate through these difficult times, and maybe even help a pastor or two make wise decisions as well.

Here it is.

I’ve been taking a totally unscientific poll, and AnchorPoint is a real mix of vaccinated and not. About a year ago I had a pastor ask me if AP had people on the extreme (I’ll let you guess which side) side of the COVID debate. I said yes. He said he didn’t want folks like that in his church.

I do.

Here’s why. I believe Satan enjoyed Jonah’s utter disdain of the Ninevites, James and John wanting to nuke the Samaritans (Luke 9:51-55), and Peter being too good to eat with the gentiles (Galatians 2:11-21). I don’t want to make Satan smile.

Pick your side. I want you here. Vaccinated or not. In fact, I think having different opinions and still being able to worship together is a sign of health.

Paul put it this way Eph 4:1 I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV2011)  

One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism. Many politics.

This is an unprecedented time of opportunity. I believe it could be a direct answer to the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Jn 17:20 My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22  …Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (NIV2011)  

But now, just as the election and mask disagreements begin to fade, COVID-19 vaccine mandates are increasing. This gets even more complicated due to the legal issues surrounding religious exemptions.

Here is one illustration of the dilemma from WORLD Magazine:

“One Christian with concerns is Whitney Buck, and OB-GYN in Michigan. When her employer mandated the COVID-19 vaccine, she and her husband, Taylor, a physician at the same hospital system, sought a religious exemption. ‘As believers, we trust the leading of the Holy Spirit and decided it was medically not indicated or necessary for us.’ They are young, healthy, and low-risk for morbidity or morality if infected. She said they didn’t want to take on the risk of side effects, no matter how infrequently they are reported. She also said the push for mandates by the media and politicians gives them pause.

Both Whitney and Taylor received an automated email response from their employer denying the exemption. The Bucks are praying about what to do next. ‘I felt from a very young age that the Lord prepared me and equipped me to be a physician,’ she said. ‘I do not want it to be my pride that costs me my vocation.’”

This is a nationwide struggle, as we Christians decide how best to keep our families and community safe and at the same time respect the decisions of others. Reinaldo has been sending me articles from Christianity Today and other sources about religious exemptions for the last six months or so. In this blog, I have stolen from Christianity Today, WORLD Magazine, Carey Nieuwhof, (John Piper) and other sources. I’m no attorney, but I thought it was time we gave you some help to start thinking through this issue.

But know this: I believe God is more concerned with your growing relationship with Him, and with others, than He is about your decision about getting vaccinated. If struggling with the decision brings you closer to Him, great! And it is great regardless of your final decision.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but we don’t all have to agree when it comes to “Hearing God.” As always, we start with God’s Word and prayer. Some things are clearly black-and-white. When it comes to committing murder, adultery, gossip, God has told us His will. But there is a lot that God left up to us. In 1 Corinthians 8, some folks felt guilty if they ate meat that could have been sacrificed to idols. Others like Paul had no problem with it. Paul’s answer to the division?

Rather than argue, Paul extended a lot of love and grace. He didn’t try to convince those who felt guilty eating idol meat to eat it. Instead, Paul said if it bothered them, that he wouldn’t eat meat either. He joined them! It wasn’t a sin to eat the meat, but getting them to eat in violation of their conscience, that would be sin.

In other words, everything that is a sin for me may not be a sin for you.

More on “Hearing God” in next week’s blog.

About Vaccines

If you are thinking about getting vaccinated, please do so, as Piper says, “with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”

If you believe you should not get vaccinated, please do so, as Piper says, “with a good conscience and judicious medical warrant.”

In other words, make your decision from the best medical advice you can get, and from a clear conscience having spent time wrestling with God on the issue.

Before God we are free to get a vaccination and free not to be vaccinated. We fear God, not man. We obey God when man tells us to do what God has forbidden us to do. The mandates of God are supreme. But there are no Biblical mandates about vaccines any more than there is about what movie is OK to watch or what meat is OK to eat. There are principles (think about what is pure and right, honor God, protect life) but no direct commands. God wants us to wrestle with this issue, and with Him.

Not with each other.

Let’s extend one another a lot of love and grace. 1Pe 5:5 (NIV2011) All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Remember: God is more concerned with your growing relationship with Him, and with others, than He is about your decision about getting vaccinated.

As different media outlets swarm around us, all telling us that they know what is right, know this. Your time with God is right. Wrestling with the decision and with your Savior is right. Honoring family is right. Making a biblically informed decision out of love is right—no matter which way you decide. God does not lead each of us to identical behavior (1 Corinthians 8). He leads us each of us to the identical Savior.

2: About Religious Exemptions

You probably know that on Sept. 9 the President signed an order mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for executive branch federal workers. He also announced the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates for the private sector requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to get the vaccine or submit to regular testing.

As of my writing, the OSHA rule has not gone into effect yet, but many employers have already started mandating the vaccine on their own. The question is, “If I don’t want to get the vaccine, can I use the ‘Religious Exemption’ to get out of it?” The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Currently defined, a “religion” is a “sincerely held belief.” As I understand it, this means your “religion” doesn’t have to be about God or the church, but it does have to be a system of beliefs that you can demonstrate you have held even before COVID.

IF you decide not to get the vaccine, and your employer is requiring the vaccine, here are some questions to answer:

  1. Would getting the vaccine be a violation of a belief system I have sincerely held in my heart for some time? If the answer for you is, “Yes,” I believe you should stand by your convictions unless God leads you to do otherwise. However, your employer may want to determine if you are telling the truth. You may need to demonstrate that this isn’t a new position you have taken for political reasons. A note from a pastor or church should not be required, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be, or that it would not help.
    1. Example 1: You have not taken any vaccines for a long time and can prove it.
    2. Example 2: You refuse to take any medications that have used down-line fetal cells in manufacture or development. However, this could get messy, as they have been used in many medications, cosmetics, even spices. Plus, the two mRNA vaccines technically didn’t use down-line fetal cells in manufacture or development, but in post-development testing only. You can read that old blog here.
  2. Will the courts help me? You will have to roll the dice on this one. In the 20s when vaccines were mandated and objections came up, they were not religious objections but more “my body my choice” objections before that was a saying. The objectors lost; the vaccines won. In the 80s, religious exemptions got more teeth, and the state needed a “compelling state interest” to deny any religious exemption. But, in the 90s a Native American church wanted to use peyote and went to court for a religious exemption. They lost. Now? Well, it doesn’t look good.

The US Supreme Court just ruled on Oct 29, 2021 against a religious exemption to Maine’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. You can read about that here. I wish we had a “Conscientious Objector” option as we have at wartime. My dad was saved at 16, then went into WWII at 18. Before God, he had no idea if he should carry a gun or not. He ended up being a conscientious objector and became a medic instead. Unfortunately, that option isn’t available right now with this issue. Now if you would just elect me dictator…

  1. Is the “reasonable accommodation” an accommodation I can live with? Unlike government employees (state, local, federal), private employers must give you a reasonable accommodation so that you can avoid taking the vaccine if they determine that you are honest in your religious objection. That could be anything from working at home to mandating regular testing, etc. Employers who refuse to give an accommodation will likely be taken to court. Most of what I have read has suggested that they will lose—that the courts will expect employers to make individual exceptions for each person. But will it be reasonable enough for you to want to keep your job? Only you can answer that one.
  2. Will my pastor sign my Religious Exemption? If I am asked as a pastor to sign a note stating that taking the vaccine is against a person’s belief system, I would need to know that it is indeed against that person’s belief system. I can’t violate my conscience either. If you don’t believe in taking vaccines, then your life should demonstrate that belief. If you don’t believe in taking medications derived from down-line fetal cells, then your life should demonstrate that belief as well. So those I can sign. But…

If you don’t like the idea of taking the vaccine because you think it was developed too quickly and it may have unknown issues, like that Hummer you purchased in 2002, I can certainly understand that. It makes sense, but it isn’t a religious exemption. I can’t help you. If you think the vaccine is a type of The Mark of the Beast due to it being forced on us, then I can help with what I think is a better understanding of Revelation 13. But, even if you don’t agree with me I doubt your view would qualify as a religious exemption. If you object on political grounds and feel that the government is being too aggressive and you want to push back, I get that. Still, that is a political not a religious reason. I can’t help.

3: About My Bias

Bias #1: My wife JoLynn works at Rust Hospital. As a result, JoLynn has access to more information than I would normally get. This is information I trust. Over 70% of NM has had at least one dose of vaccination, and yet for most of this year, over 90% of the hospital patients with COVID have not been vaccinated. Those numbers are starting to change, so this may not hold. And, yes, I know this is a tiny sample. Yes, I know it is not scientific. But it is also a statistic I know is true.

I also know our hospitals are dangerously full due to a backlog of patients and other illnesses besides COVID. The last I looked right at 300 NM Hospital beds were filled with COVID patients. That number doesn’t sound high until you realize that our ICUs remain at 100% with only 11 beds available as of Oct 18, 2021. We are in what is called a Crisis Standard of Care, which means we need every bed we can get.

So, I get the concern, and I’ve been vaccinated. But, I still believe it is wrong to force someone to do something against their conscience. This new mandate is forcing employers of over 100 people to enforce the mandate, including churches. It’s a bit of a mess. You can follow the legal battle about churches here.

Bias #2 Funeral service: I recently did a funeral service for a previously healthy man in his mid-thirties who died of COVID. He left behind a grieving wife and four children without a father. He was unvaccinated. Yes, I know–vaccinated people die also. But, when the vast majority of hospital COVID patients are unvaccinated, it makes sense that the majority of deaths are of the unvaccinated (98% by one AP account). I know—you may not trust the numbers, and you may be right. And I know—this funeral is just one case, and it emotionally affected me, and it may have clouded my judgment.

That’s fair. Right again.

But I did call this “My Bias.” It’s not scientific. It’s just my story.

I hope we can keep extending each other a lot of love and grace. I love you guys and am thrilled that we don’t have a church that is all white or black, all gentile or Jewish, all republican or democrat, all pro-vaccination or anti-vax. Then again, if I could convince you to all be 70s-music-listening, Jeep-driving, dark-chocolate-eating, Jesus lovers, well, I might go for that.

Hope to see you Sunday, and if you would like to see if I can sign a religious exemption for you, please contact me at


3 Ways to Attend Church

  1. In-person inside (please bring a mask) or outside (please bring a chair)
  2. On Facebook Livestream
  3. On YouTube Livestream