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Lost in a good story

Could you imagine trying to read a great novel 3 paragraphs a day? Or, even 3 pages per day? You’d die a thousand deaths of boredom. You’d never understand the characters or plot. And you’d put the thing down within two weeks (or in the first 30 pages!). Forget it. Novels are stories and we read them as such: devouring it, hooked by the plot’s unfolding.

When you think about reading the Bible, don’t you try to squeeze in a few verses today (rushed!), and quickly think about them, pray and move on with your day? At least God has to bless you – you’ve spent time in Scripture. But, truth be told, it’s not that compelling, is it?

The bible might seem kinda boring or confusing, and you never really get to know the plot or characters. It’s like trying to read a John Grisham ten lines at a time. Or, it’s like trying to watch Rogue One in ten minute increments. A horrible way to get lost in the story!

What if you read Scripture and let the stories draw you in. Joseph’s story is Genesis 37-50. Read it over 2 days instead of 20. You’ll see Joe’s life and trials and triumphs with crystal clarity.

Or, Daniel’s story. Daniel 1-6 is the action in that book (7-12 are the visions). Read 1-6 in one sitting and you’ll discover God’s message of why his life matters for us.  Abraham – Genesis 12-25.  The book of Acts. Each of the Gospels. Stories, all of them.

Or, take 1-2 Samuel. There are 56 chapters that you could spend 2-3 months reading bit by bit. But, it’s the single story of David’s life. Why not spend a good week or two motoring through it? Watch as God unfolds big themes and grand plot-lines.

You get the idea. Yes, there is a place for slow, methodical study line-by-line and verse-by-verse, and pondering. But there is also a needed place for simply getting lost in the story. Changing your scenery from your life and burdens and worries, into the life and times of Peter, Ruth, Isaiah, etc. And, you discover by entering their story that God meets them… and will meet you too.

One of the great things about a novel or movie is that we can escape our lives for a time. Do that in Scripture. Let its stories be your escape, and the change of scenery that is so helpful to living life.



If you can talk to God, he can talk to you

“Prayer,” as a word, doesn’t communicate great things.  It’s tragic. The fact is, you and I hear that word, and we think (1) I don’t do it enough; (2) dull prayer meetings; (3) does it even work?  Prayer as a concept engenders guilt, boredom or failure.

How tragic.

Today is the National Day of Prayer.  Prayer, in reality, is THE strongest weapon in our arsenal in spiritual warfare (Eph 6).  It is THE doorway to a life of fulfillment, meaning and purpose. And it is THE vehicle by which God gives us peace in all things (Phil 4).

Moreover, think about this: If you can talk to God, he can talk to you. Prayer is THE conversation between you and the Living, Eternal, Gracious, Majestic, Holy & Kind God. It’s the two conversation. Your heart to his heart. Your mind to his mind. Your will to his will. Your mouth to his ear, and his mouth to your ear.

At this morning’s Prayer Breakfast, Pastor Anthony Lawson noted three things about prayer:

It is Talking to God. Think about the person in history you’d most like to talk to, or have a conversation with. I’m fascinated with John F Kennedy. I think it would be a blast to spend the afternoon with him. Or, Henry VIII. Or, Mother Teresa. Or, Martin Luther. Why? Because these people are historical figures, they have mattered, and have accomplished things or witnessed things. How much more so is God. Prayer is that ‘afternoon spent with the famous person’. Do you think of prayer like that?

It is Getting God’s Wisdom. How many times in life would you have made a different decision, taken a different course, said a different word… if you had just that one more piece of information? We see it in hindsight, but we didn’t see it in the moment. Prayer is getting that piece of information, that God-originated wisdom for our moment. “In all your ways acknowledge him (ie., look to him, seek him, pray!), and he will direct your paths.” (Prov 3:6). You can hardly find a clearer promise in Scripture for our daily lives. And yet, so many of us go from Sunday to Sunday without really praying.

It’s Accessing God’s Power. When a 2 year old cries out for help to her dad, that dad jumps into action. That dad brings his 200 pounds of muscles and strength to protect that little 35 pounds of weakness. That dad puts his life experience, his financial resources, his authority and his loving heart into action on behalf of his daughter. Don’t you see? That 2 year old ‘prayed’ to her dad – called out to him. And the did responded.  “Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). It just doesn’t get any clearer than this.

This National Day of Prayer, may God’s gracious gift to us of calling out to him, and talking to him, and learning from him be our theme all day long.

Lord, we love you, and rejoice that you invite us to talk to you, praise you, ask of you, give thanks to you, and give ourselves to you. Help us to pray. Teach us to love talking to you, and banish all thoughts of guilty, boredom or failure. You are worth it! Find us on our knees often today and every day, we ask in Christ’s Name. 


“Can you earn love? Can you exhaust grace?”

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. And we will never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace.

Think about that. Read it again. We need this message because people relate to God all wrong. You might be one of them. (I don’t mean to offend you! Just startle you.)

Some relate to God as if they are trying out for a baseball team: Going above and beyond. Fielding every ball. Swinging hard in practice. Running the bases with abandon. All because you have to secure a spot on the team. You gotta prove you are worth it.

Here’s the thing: baseball tryouts and the Gospel are totally at odds. The Great and Good News of the Gospel is this: we will never be good enough to earn God’s love. You can stop ‘trying out’ now. If God loves you, it’s not because of your performance or accomplishments. It’s because he has set his love on you, even when you are unlovable. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) That is great news.

Even with all our good works, our regular church attendance, faithful service in the Nursery, giving money, time or anything else, we are still filled with selfishness, pride, pettiness, and inner-heart-ugliness. (Again, I don’t mean to offend you!) But God loves you anyway. God sent his son to rescue you, in spite of your sinfulness.

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. The pressure’s off. Coming to God is not at all like going to a baseball tryout. The coach wants you to make the team; all you have to do is ask from the bottom of your heart!

Similarly, you can never do enough to exhaust God’s grace. This astounds us for two reasons. First, we can’t fathom limitless grace. We get frustrated with someone (our kids, an employee or co-worker) who falls short repeatedly, and still asks for another chance. Why? Because our ‘grace’ is not limitless; it has an end point. God’s doesn’t. Everything about God is infinite. And, that includes his grace and love.

In fact, the enemy of our souls does not want us to believe this: he’d rather we hide from God when we sin. He wants to keep us isolated from the source of infinite grace. So, he speaks lies into our heads: “God won’t forgive you.” “Again? You did that again? For the 500th time? Don’t you think God is sick of you?” Lies like that.

Just remember God’s grace is infinite – for the humble heart who comes to God in humble confession and repentance, there is nothing from God but grace!

Second, we can think: “but someone will take advantage of it?” Well, yes. That’s the risk of grace. If God didn’t want that risk, he would have structured reality differently. Grace means you risk of being taken advantage of. I think this is why we don’t love to extend grace in our lives—we don’t want to be ripped off. But, that’s the vulnerability of grace.

We will never be good enough to earn God’s love. The pressure is off! Live in response to that love. We will never be bad enough to exhaust God’s grace. The pressure is off! Live in willing confession and his increasing power to live for him, and risk extending grace to others. In this way, we’ll watch our community be transformed.

Good Friday Devo April 14

Read Lamentations 1:12, and consider that Jesus could say this from the cross.

  1. Now, read Matthew 27:26-46 and replay the many sorrows of Jesus. It hardly seems possible to endure so much.
  1. Truly, in the Last Supper, Jesus was right: “this is my body broken for you… this is my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Give thanks for his body and blood.

Pause to worship Christ Jesus for the cross! Use this simple communion prayer, by Horatius Bonar:


Here O My Lord, I see thee face to face,

Here would I touch and handle things unseen,

Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,

And all my weariness upon thee lean.


Here would I feed upon the bread of God,

Here drink with thee the royal wine of heaven,

Here would I lay aside each earthly load,

Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.


I have no help but thine, nor do I need

Another arm save thin to lean upon;

It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed—

My strength is in they might, thy might alone.


Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness,

Mine is the guilt by thine the cleansing blood;

Here is my robe, my refuge and my peace,

Thy blood, they righteousness, O Lord, My God.

Thursday April 13 Devo

Read Psalm 22:1-8 & 14-19. Jesus quotes the first line of this from the cross.

  1. What do you think David (as he writes this Psalm) is going through? Do you think he is enduring quite as much as he writes?
  1. Sometimes poetry (or song lyrics with music) give us a voice that we would not otherwise have. What Worship music is most meaningful to you? Give thanks to God for that gift.
  1. Which of the lines of Psalm 22 are also true of Jesus at the crucifixion? Note them, and meditate on them. (If you need to, refer to Matthew 27:26-50)
  1. Look at Psalm 22:19. It’s true of David, but not of the Son of David. Ponder what Jesus was going through as he hung there for us.


Sing/pray this song of adoration to Christ:


O Sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down,

Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, they only crown,

How art thou pale with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn!

How does that visage languish Which once was bright as morn!


What thou, my Lord, has suffered Was all for sinners’ gain:

Mine, mine was the transgression, But thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;

Look on my with thy favor, Vouchsafe to me they grace.


What language shall I borrow To thank thee dearest Friend,

For this thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me thine forever! And should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never Outlive my love for thee!

[Attr. to Bernard of Clairvaux]

Astounding an Egyptian News Anchor

We have learned with horror of Palm Sunday’s attack on an Egyptian Coptic church and cathedral. We have prayed for their families and their country: that the roots of the gospel will sink deep and bring eternal redemption and reconciliation for millions of Egyptians.

The gate-keeper at the Cathedral in Alexandria stopped the bomber from entering, and suffered martyrdom, but saved hundreds. One life to save many.

Is God at work in this? Take two-and-a-half minutes, and watch the astonishment and the comments of a Muslim News Anchor after an interview with gatekeeper’s widow. This aired on Egypt TV in the last couple of days. Click here.

The following letter comes from my friend Ramez Atallah, General Director of The Bible Society of Egypt.  He references the News Anchor below.

Dear Friends,

Thanks to all who expressed concern and prayers following the tragic bombings in the churches of Tanta and Alexandria.

Palm Sunday is one of the busiest days on our church calendar. Egyptian Christians carry intricately woven palm branches. They chant “Hosanna to the King of Kings.” It is a day of joyful celebration.

Then the first bomb exploded.

Instantly, many robed chanters participating in the liturgy exchanged their now-bloodied, earthly robes for martyrs’ robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). A few hours later, the second bomb exploded in Alexandria as a suicide bomber detonated his explosive device outside Saint Mark’s Church. Altogether, 46 people went from celebrating by faith to celebrating by sight, meeting their savior face to face. Many more were wounded.

The funerals were a mixture of wailing and rejoicing, as a bishop explained:

“True, we love martyrdom. But we also love life. We don’t hate life on earth. God created us on earth to live, not die. The fact that we accept death doesn’t mean our blood is cheap, and it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to us. We do not commit suicide. But we witness for Christ, whether by our lives or by our transition to heaven. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.”  

Social Media is abuzz. In many instances, Muslims who are outraged at the blind and evil hatred of this atrocity, have expressed frustration with Christians in all their talk of love and forgiveness.  As with previous attacks, the sense of revenge is minimal as families embrace martyrdom as a gift from and to God. [Witness] the Muslim interviewer’s astonishment with the widow of the gatekeeper who prevented the suicide bomber from entering the Alexandria church yard, thereby saving countless lives. What is happening in Egypt is not a 2000-year-old legend, but a modern, living testimony to the power of the Christian faith.

Please pray for the Church of the Martyrs, as they seek to faithfully apply the teachings and example of Jesus to forgive and carry on.  Pray for patience in the midst of sorrow and grief.  Pray for victory over bitterness and anger. Pray for our church and government leaders.

And as you celebrate this weekend, may you be inspired by the witness of many Egyptian Christians whose faith epitomizes the true meaning of Easter.

Sincerely in Christ,

Ramez Atallah, General Director, The Bible Society of Egypt


Friends reading this blog post: be in prayer for Egypt. Visit to see the work there. Perhaps a short-term mission trip from Grace is in our future?!

Pray for us believers here… We’re not in physical danger, so we are lulled to sleep. I don’t hear the kind of radical forgiveness from Christians in the West. “Radical forgiveness” = gospel forgiveness. Rather, I hear us complain and murmur, and try to squeeze Jesus into a busy life, and wring our hands at the decline of our cultural norms, and yearn for ‘days past’.

But I think we need to dive into the life of radical forgiveness & radical devotion to Christ exhibited our Egyptian brothers and sisters. We need their leadership to help us grow.  I wonder how we are short-circuiting God’s deeper gospel work in our culture?

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Wednesday April 12 Devo

Read today the final segment of the Servant Song – Isaiah 53:7-12

  1. vv.7-9 speak of the Servant’s responses to the unjust affliction. What are they? Why do think that is important?
  1. In v.10, what are the two aspects of God’s will mentioned here?
  1. In v.11, we see the outcome of the “anguish of his soul”. What is it?
  1. v.12 describes the end of the matter. Consider what we learn here. Jot it down, and ponder it. How does it reflect or echo the opening line of the song, 52:13?


He was wounded for our transgressions,
He bore our sins in His body on the tree;
For our guilt He gave us peace,
From our bondage gave release,
And with His stripes,
And with His stripes,
And with His stripes our souls are healed.

He was numbered among transgressors,
We did esteem Him forsaken by His God;
As our sacrifice He died,
That the law be satisfied,
And all our sin,
And all our sin,
And all our sin was laid on Him.

We had wandered, we all had wandered
Far from the fold of “the Shepherd of the sheep”;
But He sought us where we were,
On the mountains bleak and bare,
And brought us home,
And brought us home,
And brought us safely home to God.

Who can number His generation?
Who shall declare all the triumphs of His Cross?
Millions, dead, now live again,
Myriads follow in His train!
Victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord,
Victorious Lord and coming King!

[Thomas Chisholm]

Tuesday April 11 Devo

Yesterday we began to read the “Isaiah 53” Servant Song. Today, we’ll read the central portion of it. Read Isa 53:4-6 at least two times.

  1. Circle every time you see “we” “our” “us”. We are in this.
  1. List everything it says Jesus does on our behalf. Then, beside each item, write down what you think it means.
  1. v.6 says that we did one thing, and God responded unexpectedly. What is each?
  1. Write a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for v6.

Reflecting on this, we see in v4 that Jesus picks up our sorrows, in v5 that Jesus stands in our place, and in v6 that Jesus bears our guilt. Everything is “for us”.


O love how deep, how broad, how high! Beyond man’s gift to prophesy—

That God, the Son of God, should take Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.


For us baptized, for us he bore, His desert fast and hungered sore;

For us temptations sharp he knew, For us the tempter overthrew.


For us he prayed, for us he taught, For us his daily works he wrought—

By words and signs and actions, thus Still seeking not himself, but us.


For us to wicked men betrayed, Both scourged and mocked—with thorns arrayed,

He bore the shameful cross and death—For us gave up his final breath.


For us he rose from death again, For us he went on high to reign;

For us he sent his Spirit here To guide, to strengthen and to cheer.


To him whose boundless love has won Salvation for us through his Son,

To God the Father glory be, Both now and through eternity.

[Latin Hymn, 15th C, Trans. Benjamin Webb—altered]


Monday April 10 Devo

For the next 5 days, take a few moments each day to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice, and worship him for it. These daily devotionals are designed to take about 15 minutes, and to be Scripture based. At the end of each, I’ve included a hymn to do with that day’s passage. Lyrics (aka poetry) can help us worship too – pray them to the Lord, &/or sing them to your soul!

There are several Old Testament passages that point clearly to Christ’s passion. This Holy Week, We will dwell in 3 of them.

Read Isaiah 52:13-53:3. This is the first section of the greatest Servant Song in Isaiah. (The other 3 Servant Songs are 42:1-4, 49:1-7, & 50:4-9.)

This one deals with the details of Servant’s suffering, and the why behind it.

  1. Verse 13 gives courage and hope. What outcome does it promise?
  1. Jot down as many referents to Jesus’ life and suffering in 52:14-53:3.
  1. Starting at 53:2, “we” play a part in this. What is that role?
  1. How have you been like the “we” lately? Where have you seen that in yourself?


“Man of Sorrows” what a name For the Son of God who came

Ruined sinners to reclaim! Hallelujah, what a Savior!


Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned he stood—

Sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah, what a Savior!


Guilty, vile and helpless we, Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement can it be? Hallelujah, what a Savior!


Lifted up was he to die, “It is finished,” was His cry;

Now in heav’n exalted high: Hallelujah, what a Savior!


When He comes, our glorious King, All his ransomed home to bring,

Then anew this song we’ll sing: Hallelujah, what a Savior!

[Philip P. Bliss]

How Christians disagree (and when they can’t)

Christians, it seems, love to disagree. Maybe not ‘love’ but we tend to disagree over all sorts of issues. The why is simple: As Christians we want to please God. Scripture says so much, and yet it often doesn’t say enough! So we do our best to think and live honoring to him. (Also, we still deal with sin inside of us, which leads both to errors and to stubbornness. This also causes disagreement!)

This blog post serves to follow-up “Grace is the Grease in the Gears”. Click here to read that. This will help us think through where we can disagree, where we cannot, and why.

Consider the following questions. They require different answers and for different reasons: Did Christ really rise from the dead? Can I sleep with my girlfriend? Should you have a beer? Can they use guitars, drums, etc., to lead worship? Is Christ the only way to God? Should I speak in tongues? What schooling for our children? Can I use ESV, NIV, NASB, NKJV?

They each fit into one of four levels of processing.

Level 1: Matters of truth and error, of reality itself.

Christ’s resurrection is a matter of reality, and thus of truth or error. There’s no margin for a believer to discount the historicity of it. All of eternity hangs on whether or not Christ rose from the dead. Also, “is Christ the only way” falls in this first level. If you believe there are 10 ways to God, one of which is Christ, then you are not within reality.

The Classification here is Truth / orthodoxy / reality. The central tenets of our faith: Trinity, Authority of Scripture, Incarnation are good examples.

When someone disagrees on a matter of truth: Deal with them with grace. Since they are claiming Christ, ask them to use Scripture to make their case. Scripture is all that matters.

Level 2: Matters of doctrine

One step down from “truth/error” are matters of doctrine. These are extremely important in every believer’s life and each church body. Doctrine is “what the whole bible teaches us today about some particular topic.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. P.25)

The goal here is pleasing God by putting the puzzle together properly. The Puzzle being the teaching of Scripture. Rodney Stark explains that Scripture—written as it is by ~40 authors—is an anthology. It demands that we think as we piece together the nuances in teaching between the different authors. (He lays this out in The Victory of Reason.)

Doctrine is extremely important, but Christians can come to different understandings on doctrinal level questions and still be one in Christ. For instance: speaking in tongues—equally devout Christians come to different conclusions about Scripture’s teaching on this point.

The “sleep with your girlfriend” question is ultimately one of doctrine: Scripture is clear that sex is God’s gift reserved for marriage. However, the believers engaging in pre-marital sex have not lost their salvation. Their actions are deeply displeasing to God, are endangering their souls, and require his gracious discipline. But this is ultimately a question of what their beliefs are and how they are living them out.

Other doctrinal questions are: “Reformed” or “Arminian” answers to questions of salvation? What roles and offices are open to men and to women? What are the events of the End? What happens at Communion? What is the church’s stance toward Politics and Government? My answer to each of these is a reflection of what I believe Scripture is teaching.

Level 3: Matters of conviction or conscience

The third level is even more practical: how we make decisions in life. The classification here is “wisdom”. Mike Pence recently made the news for his ‘life-rule’ of not having dinner alone with a woman, other than his wife. (It’s the “Billy Graham Modesto Manifesto” rule). This is his conviction; he wants to protect his marriage, his heart and his wife’s. For him it’s a choice based on Wisdom.

A Christian’s use of Alcohol or school choice fall in this area. It’s where Christians live out their faith in the day to day. And we will come to different conclusions. It’s what Romans 14-15 (and 1 Corinthians 8) are all about.

How do we disagree here? We remind ourselves that differing is to be expected within the body, that everyone is living to honor God, and trust that he is leading someone to a different conclusion than he led you to.

Level 4: Matters of taste or preference

Finally, there are matters of taste: which translation of Scripture, musical style, or dress for church. Or, some guys just might not like to go on men’s retreat—does it mean they are sinners or lacking conviction? No, they just are so uncomfortable that they don’t do it.

You get the idea. Level 4 items that matter for eternity, nor even really for someone’s discipleship. I remember one grandfather saying to me, “I don’t love the loud music of today’s worship, but I figure I get to set aside my preferences for the younger generation’s growth.” I suspect there are many grandparents who are living into Ephesians 5:21 like this: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”


Notice is that there is some overlap between the levels. What for one is a matter of taste, for another is a conviction: one may not drink alcohol because she doesn’t like it while another convictionally abstains. Or, what one classifies as a ‘truth/error’ issue, another may consider a Level 2 doctrine issue.

By the way, the more a church demands full agreement on Levels 3-4, the more ‘fundamentalist’ they are. The more a church discards unity on Levels 1-2, the more ‘liberal’ they are. The dance is to keep the right balance of full unity on Level 1, deep cohesion on Level 2, true mutual respect on Level 3, and a generous spirit on Level 4.

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