Friday, October 16, 2009


Hello fellow readers:

Just a quick note to let you know that my Cupful of Conversations blog has moved to a new domain:

You will need to resubscribe. Please continue to follow! I'll be posting new entries soon.



Friday, October 2, 2009


St. Paul wrote, "Speak the truth in love."

Many centuries later, most of us are still struggling to live this out.

There are some who gravitate toward truth without love. They are often characterized by doctrinal rigidity and moral scrupulosity. If a pastor preaches a sermon on a given passage of Scripture without explaining the meaning of every verse, they accuse him of "not sticking to the text." If he preaches, as Luther did, that sanctification is simply a matter of getting used to our justification, he is accused of "not preaching obedience and holiness." Jesus had something to say to folks like this many years ago in the city of Ephesus:

"I know you cannot tolerate wicked men.. you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not. . Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love. . . If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place." (Revelation 2:2, 4-5)

There are others who gravitate toward love without truth. They are often characterized by a desire to be relevant and inclusive. If a pastor preaches a sermon on a passage of Scripture which addresses the problems of sexual immorality, they dismiss him as old fashioned at best, judgmental at worst. Jesus had something to say to folks like this many years ago in the city of Thyatira:

"I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance. . Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality. . I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways." (Revelation 2:19-20, 22).

Truth without love is toxic. Love without truth is fluff. When you put truth and love together, however, the result is a life characterized not simply by a combination of the two, but something else altogether. In the words of Eugene Peterson, in his marvelous commentary on Revelation:

"St. John is a poet, using words to intensify our relationship with God. He is not trying to get us to think more accurately or to train us into better behavior, but to get us to believe more recklessly, behave more playfully-- the faith recklessness and hope-playfulness of children entering the kingdom of God. He will jar us out of our lethargy, get us to live on the alert, open our eyes to the burning bush and fiery chariots, open our hearts to the hard-steel promises and commands of Christ, banish boredom from the gospel, lift up our heads, enlarge our hearts."

Listen to Jesus and you will hear the truth, but you will also become a playful and reckless lover.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Spirit of Creativity

Christians often debate what it means to be "filled with the Holy Spirit." On one end of the debate spectrum Pentecostals are accused of being fanatical in their emphasis on tongue-speaking and healing as evidences of the Spirit's presence. On the other end of the spectrum Presbyterians are accused of not putting enough (if any) emphasis on the Spirit's ministry. Somewhere in the middle, Baptistic and non-denominational contemporary churches that draw large crowds of suburban Promise Keepers are sometimes accused of insinuating that emotional expressiveness in the worship service is the key indicator that "the Spirit is moving".

While these debates may have a place, it is interesting that when this topic is discussed and debated, a key passage of the Bible goes strangely unmentioned: Exodus 31:1-5.

These 5 verses deal with a man named Bezalel. Not a well known character in the Scriptures.

Who was he? The first person to be said to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

What was the result of the Spirit's filling? He became an artist. He created. He skillfully made crafts of exquisite beauty. This was his ministry, and according to verse 3, the very purpose for which God filled him.

This shouldn't seem odd to us-- after all, the first verses of the Bible make clear that as the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the earth, a cacophony of creating erupted upon the scene. And God "saw that it was good."

But why is this not discussed more often? Could it be that it seems rather uninteresting to us when compared to the thought of having an extraordinary spiritual experience? Perhaps, but isn't the pleasure of great music, beautiful art, and a well-written movie an extraordinary spiritual experience? Some would say yes, but only if the music, art, and movie is explicitly Christian. But this view hinders us from viewing all of life as sacred, and thus makes Jesus mistaken when He said that even the rocks will cry out in praise to God.

God loves creativity, and will express it through anyone He chooses.

At a little pottery studio in Baltimore, my youngest daughter painted a ceramic cat purple and pink. As her tongue crept out of the right side of her mouth, she focused on the joy of creating. It was then that I understood why Jesus told us to become like little children: For Annie, it was not about staying within the lines or getting recognized for her abilities. It was simply about the joy of painting.

Annie just may understand the Gospel better than I do.

You see, the Scripture says "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom". Freedom to create, freedom to fail, and freedom to enjoy all things beautiful. It also teaches that the primary job of the Holy Spirit is not to draw attention to ourselves or even to the Holy Spirit, but to point people to Jesus-- that they would gaze upon His beauty.

In what ways do you see the Spirit's evidence around you?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Coming Soon

Hi friends. Yes, I realize I have been in a bit of a blog lull lately! Sorry about this. I've been a bit busy with other ministerial duties lately, but I promise there will be more posts VERY soon. Stay tuned.

I greatly appreciate all of your inquiries and comments.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Moments of Grace, Time After Time

Shelley and I love 80's music.

Last night we cuddled in bed and watched VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the 80's". What an experience! We laughed at the hairstyles of The Cure, while remembering how it felt to be in junior high dancing to their hit "Just Like Heaven". We sang along with Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer", while chuckling at the fact that I still listen to them. And of course we immediately remembered Jenny's phone number as soon as the show's narrator mentioned Tommy Tutone-- 867-5309.

But near the end of the show we experienced what I can only call a moment of grace. Cyndi Lauper's hit "Time After Time" was highlighted. I've never really considered myself a Cyndi Lauper fan, but the beauty of that song is beyond words. Co-written and sung with Rob Hyman, the lyrics, the melody, and the passion with which it is performed remind us that songs like this are in existence so that all who hear it will simply enjoy it and experience a moment of grace.

If you're lost, you can look-- and you will find me
time after time.
If you fall, I will catch you-- I'll be waiting
time after time.

Moments of grace, time after time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Love Affair with Four Women

Last Tuesday morning during breakfast, the 1989 Bon Jovi hit "I'll Be There For You" came through the speakers of the kitchen radio we sometimes turn on for background mood music while we eat. Shelley and I smiled at each other. We then set down our coffee mugs, got up from the table, embraced in a hug, and began to slow dance. This was a moment of grace.

The next afternoon I was downstairs in my study when our two-and-a-half year old Annie quietly knocked on the door, poked her head in and asked, "Daddy, can you hold my hand and help me walk on the balance beam?" This also was a moment of grace.

On Saturday I had to attend a meeting all day, and just before I left, our six-year-old Carly kissed me and gave me a post-it note on which she had written: "I love you. Try not to miss us today." Another moment of grace.

On Sunday morning I served bread and wine to the many in my church who came forward to receive it. As I looked into the eyes of each individual and said "The Body of Christ given for you," I was overcome with the reality of how lavishly these amazing people have loved me, and how deeply I have fallen in love with them-- Christ's Body, His Bride. A moment of grace.

Shelley, Carly, Annie, and the Bride of Christ. Four women I love. Four women who love me.

Moments of grace.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Looseness Makes a Marriage Healthy

Brennan Manning tells the following story:

A man walked into the doctor’s office and said, "Doctor, I have this awful headache that never leaves me. Could you give me something for it?"

"I will," said the doctor, "but I want to check a few things out first. Tell me, do you drink a lot of liquor?"

"Liquor?" said the man indignantly. "I never touch the filthy stuff."

"How about smoking?"

"I think smoking is disgusting. I’ve never in my life touched tobacco."

"I’m a bit embarrassed to ask this, but you know the way some men are-- do you do any running around at night?"

"Of course not. What do you take me for? I’m in bed every night by ten o’clock at the latest."

"Tell me," said the doctor, "the pain in the head you speak of, is it a sharp, shooting kind of pain?"

"Yes," said the man. "That’s it-- a sharp, shooting kind of pain."

"Simple, my dear fellow! Your trouble is you have your halo on too tight. All we need to do is loosen it a bit."

Manning follows up the story with this statement: The trouble with our ideals is that if we live up to all of them, we become impossible to live with.

He's right, and Shelley and I have learned that nowhere is this more true than in the realm of marriage. When a person expects their spouse to be like Jesus, they eventually become angry, frustrated, and convinced that the majority of the problems in their marriage are due to their spouse not being committed or godly enough.

On the other hand, when a person accepts their spouse as a sinner loved by Jesus, they become understanding, affectionate, uncritical, honest about their own flaws, and joyful that they are loved by Jesus no matter what. They begin to realize that the sins of their past and their spouse's past have not only been forgiven by Jesus, but forgotten by him as well. They begin to realize that being a "godly example" does not mean striving to be better and avoid mistakes, but letting people see them repent and be forgiven when they make mistakes.

Two theological terms are important for us to understand at this point:

Justification is the act of being declared righteous by God. We are justified by believing the Gospel (the good news that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead).

Sanctification is the process of growing in godliness and becoming more like Jesus.

But here's the question: If justification is obtained by believing the Gospel, how is sanctification obtained? If you answered "by obeying," or "by striving to live up to high ideals," then you might as well rip Colossians chapters 2 and 3 and all of Romans and Galatians out of your Bible.

The fact is, justification and sanctification are both obtained by believing the Gospel. Living by the Law is what made Saul an angry person. He was in conflct with Christians not because they were preaching Law and morality, but because they were preaching grace and he feared that their message would lead people into a life of moral laxity and disregard for obedience. As a result, he became "impossible to live with." People were in conflict with Jesus not because he was commanding people to be like Him, but because he accepted people who were not like Him-- and for that matter, who didn't even love Him.

How intimate is your marriage? Has the romance faded? Do you blame yourself and your spouse for things that happened years ago? Have you forgotten that Jesus has justified you and forgotten your sins? Have you placed such high ideals on your spouse that you find yourself constantly disappointed in him or her? Do you find yourself thinking that if only your spouse tried harder and obeyed more your marriage would be better? Have you forgotten that Jesus perfectly obeyed the Law on your behalf, and that "He who began a good work in you WILL carry it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus"?

If so, loosen your halo and believe the Gospel. Not only will you be a lot easier to live with, but you'll be amazed at how your romance will blossom.