We’ll See You Again!

Yesterday, in an honest tribute to my mom, my brother said, “Mom was always present in the moment and perfectly content. She dreamed and aspired, but she was never discontent with the circumstances that life presented.” Even upon the horrible diagnosis of stage four pancreatic cancer, Mom didn’t complain. Mom embodied contentment. Both my brother and I have lived a significant portion of our lives in a state of permanent discontent. We cast our eyes over the proverbial fence and convince ourselves that the grass always looked, smelled, and probably tasted better on the other side.

Discontent, feelings of inadequacy, and hopes of a better life lead us to dig, and dig, and dig for something to fulfill that emptiness—something to sustain us and give us a full and meaningful life. The more we dig, the more we sacrifice those things that are more important in life. We ignore God, our families, and our friends while we dig for more money and more possessions. We ignore our spiritual and physical health while we dig into our addictions and unhealthy habits. Mom never ignored those things that are important in our life, resulting in her absolute contentment. Remember when God turned the water of the Nile River into blood. Remember when the people of Egypt clawed along the banks of the Nile desperately searching for fresh water—they kept on digging for that sustenance—that life (Exodus 7:24). Mom didn’t claw along the bloody rivers for life, because she knew where to find true life, joy, sustenance, and contentment. Mom found these essentials reading to and loving on her grandbabies, holding the hand of her Love, always being present with her children, and drinking readily from the well of Living Water—her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, he said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:4-14).

Mom was content and present and didn’t claw for water because she found Living Water; Mom found life to its fullest; Mom found the Good Shepherd; and she is now living with Him forever in His safe pastures.

We love you Mom! We sorely miss you Mom!

We’ll see you again!

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Vigilance

“Be vigilant; guard your mind against negative thoughts!”

—Gautama Buddha

I have never in my life been angrier with God than I have been this past year. I shouldn’t be. I’m blessed beyond measure with an amazing wife, great children, a job I love, and a close-knit family where support, compassion, and joy is immeasurable. I feel selfish that my anger focuses on God’s inaction by allowing my mother to suffer through a tumultuous battle against terminal cancer. This blog post is a way for me to gain some perspective, sort through my anger, diminish negative thoughts, increase my vigilance, and find some peace in the arms of my God. Mom’s found it…she’s more in love with Jesus now than she’s ever been. Isn’t that typically the case?

The warm sun pours through the eight-foot-high windows of the west-wing of the Orange City Area Heath System—the hospice wing. I grab the corner pillar, glower up God, and weep uncontrollably. My daughter comes over to me and gives me a long hug and her love pulls me from my grief temporarily. My son asks if I’d like to play a game of chess. I agree with hopes of diverting my mind from where it’s dwelling onto something less morose.

I’m horrible at chess. I am exceptionally unobservant and I’m tactically impaired. Within a few moves, my son had already annihilated me. Why? Because I lack vigilance. My brother recently mentioned, during his best man’s speech at my wedding, that I’m a dreamer. Or as my dad so graciously put it, I—at least on occasion—have my head up my butt. My former coworker nicknamed me “The Happy Wanderer”. My head is always in the clouds because I dream…and I lack vigilance. There’s a proverb that reads: “At the end of every victory procession lies an open manhole.” Meaning, even when you think you’ve accomplished victory, don’t become over confident, throw your nose up in the air, and ride high on your horse, because you’ll fall straight down the manhole at the end of the parade route. Be prepared. Be vigilant. I know that I need to be more observant in preparation for that eventual manhole waiting for me at the end of my parade route.

After my embarrassing defeat to my teenage son, I tip my king over, lean back in the chair, and begin to listen to a conversation occurring between my siblings.

“Makes you wonder if you should have a scan performed every year just to make sure everything is okay,” my brother says to my sister. “Maybe these horrible things could be avoided if we did. Maybe doctors could catch these things sooner. Maybe we could prevent disaster, avoid tragedy, keep a careful and diligent watch for danger, disaster, and attack.”

Again…Vigilance. I think the biggest problem for me is I confuse vigilance with worry. There is, nonetheless, an enormous difference between the two. Vigilance is tactical, controllable, practical, and effective. Worry is impulsive, irrepressible, unviable, and incompetent. How unfortunate for me that I’m a proficient worrier who lacks vigilance.

As I read through my next passage in the book of Judges, I’m struck by a peculiar passage. Judah and Simeon start attacking the Canaanites to possess the land God promised them, and they chase down the Canaanite king, Adonibezek. When they catch Mr. Adonibezek, they cut off his thumbs and big toes, take him back to Jerusalem, and hold him there for an indefinite time. Later, while in Jerusalem, the king dies. Seems cruel to me, but this was an act of mercy. They would amputate thumbs and toes to incapacitate soldiers and impair them for future service. It’s difficult to swing a sword or pull a bow string without thumbs. It’s even more to march on the battlefield without your big toes (Judges 1:1-7). Judah and Simeon were vigilant instead of cruel here. They were saving the life of the king, while protecting their kingdom from future attacks. Win-win! Vigilant and merciful.

How can I learn to be vigilant without sacrificing the personality God so distinctly created to thrive within my own soul? How can I continue to dream while increasing my preparedness for inevitable evil and pain? How can I learn to be grateful for God’s providence and blessings amid grief? How can I prepare for danger, guard my mind and heart against negative thoughts, avoid worry, and dwell in peace? How can I, like my mother already has, dwell peacefully in the presence of God—this same God with whom I’d currently like to “THROW DOWN”!?!?


Listening Stones

It’s that time again—time to gather together with friends and family to celebrate a year gone by and anticipate a new year. We will all watch the ball drop at midnight tonight and say goodbye to a year many of us would like to forget. For me, this past year brought with it heartbreak, illness, new love, companionship, family bonding, political turmoil, fear, and hope for a brighter future. As I watched the end of Rogue One, I was touched by the message presented. In the midst of darkness, there is always hope and that’s one of the main reasons we continue to get out of bed in the morning: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Regardless of how we feel about 2016, I think the consensus is we all have hope that this new year will bring with it love, faith, joy, comradery, and peace—regardless of where we stand. This past year, some of us said goodbye to old lovers, mothers, fathers, friends, a unified, intelligent, and trustworthy country, and favorite singers. Most of us said goodbye to political leadership we can trust and cringe at the thought of what’s to come. In 2016, many of us welcomed into our lives new friends, new beginnings, new relationships, and new hopes. In 2017, we look forward to what these new relationships will become and we always pray that there is light in the midst of darkness and that we can trust in a God who cares for us, and has a plan and purpose for our lives, and the lives of those we love.

At midnight tonight (or earlier for those of us with small children), many gather together and make promises, oaths, and resolutions. Typically these resolutions are bundled up in packages of hope. We make promises to ourselves to exercise more, pray more, love more, care more, save more, shop more with Mom, fish more with Dad, shred more pow, and eat less. We typically start off really well. That’s why, during the first two weeks of January, you can’t find an open treadmill or weight machine at the gym. Once the Resolutionaries use up their free one-week trial memberships, they substitute pushups for pudding cups. According to Statistic Brain, only 8% of us are successful in sticking to our guns when it comes to resolutions.

Last year, I made three resolutions (probably two too many). Fortunately, I kept one of them. I promised myself I would join a CrossFit gym and stick with it throughout the year. In hindsight, I discovered a few helpful secrets that helped me keep that one New Year’s resolution.

First, I called someone who had achieved a similar goal, asked her how she accomplished that goal, and conversed with her in order to summon the courage to begin something I was unfamiliar with and stick with it for the year. Last December, I called up my friend Sherie. Sherie and Eric started something similar to CrossFit several years ago and I knew they looked and felt great. The conversation I had with Sherie helped convince me that I too could accomplish a similar goal.

Second, the fact that CrossFit actually costs a significant amount of money helped me stick to it. Planet Fitness promotes their gym every year by telling people they can join and use their equipment 24 hours a day, every day for only $9.99. While that is awesome, it doesn’t provide a significant amount of financial obligation. Your financial commitment to exercise can easily be rationalized away. “Do I do squats today or do I watch Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets? Well, it’s only 10 bucks and I really like the part when Hermione freezes after seeing the giant snake in her mirror.” The fact that I would waste $100 if I didn’t work out forces me off my couch and into the gym.

Third, and most importantly, I told as many people as I could—even those who didn’t want to listen. Having friends and family members who hold you accountable to your resolutions will increase the percentage of keeping those resolutions by 70%.

After divvying up all the conquered Promised Land to the twelve tribes of Israel, Joshua stood before the people and said, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).

At this time the people of Israel made a resolution. They agreed to serve the Lord and promised one another to hold each other accountable if they failed to keep that resolution. After making their resolution, Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.” He then took a large stone and set it up in front of the people and continued by saying, “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

Joshua and the people had a listening stone to hold them accountable to their resolution. Today, I’m going to use the few individuals who actually read my blog as my listening stones.

This year, I promise to write one page in my novel each day. Since this is my resolution, my blog posts will be few and far between. To be honest, it wasn’t like they were more and close outside this past year anyway.

So there it is! Happy New Year everyone! I hope and pray 2017 brings with it continual healing for my mom, deeper and more meaningful relationships with Jesus Christ, Jaime, my children, Jaime’s children, my family, and my friends, and a peace that surpasses all understanding.

 Shanah Tovah Umetukah  


Stop the Son

We are indeed going through a great trial — a fiery trial. In the very responsible position in which I happen to be placed, being a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father, as I am, and as we all are, to work out his great purposes, I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid — but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise. If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it.

—Abraham Lincoln, October 26, 1862

Wow! Do you remember when our leaders could write and speak eloquently? I woke up this morning to the brilliant rays of the sun blaring through my window—yes the sun rose this morning as my cousin Brian pointed out—and I was filled with a pleasant warmth and some hope for our future. I wasn’t hopeful because I was pleased with the outcome of our most recent presidential election—absolutely not. I was filled with hope because the sun did in fact rise and I was reminded that, as President Lincoln pointed out, “he who made the world still governs it.” The orange buffoon our country elected does not and will not!

I obviously have my opinions regarding our new leader as well as the state in which our country is now heading. I’m worried for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for another blow to the progression of our women, for the oppression of our friends of color, for the valid fears present in our Hispanic family members, for the now potential marginalization of our brothers and sisters in the gay community, for the misguided direction of our churches, for this push for freedom under the guise of bigotry. Yes, I possess these same fears. I’m afraid that what some refer to as “great again” is simply a regression to a day when white American men controlled the direction of our culture—and in my humble opinion that wasn’t a “great” era. These are my fears, and it wouldn’t be honest for me to stand on this small, insignificant platform that I’ve provided for myself and share how I have hope without expressing my anxieties and apprehensions.

That being said, I revert to the fact that God is ultimately in control and I’m inspired by these wonderful words of Abraham Lincoln: “I have desired that all my works and acts may be according to his will, and that it might be so, I have sought his aid — but if after endeavoring to do my best in the light which he affords me, I find my efforts fail, I must believe that for some purpose unknown to me, He wills it otherwise.”

How often do we drop to our knees and ask God to to govern this world? How often do we seek God’s aid so that all our works be according to his will? How often do we accept that governance and providence with humility regardless of whether we comprehend it? Today, I’m faced with a decision. Do I accept God’s mysterious and unknown purpose and pray that he continues to govern this world according to his perfect and pleasing will, or do I collapse in fear and trepidation because our country appears to be going to hell in a handbasket?

Our good friend Joshua doesn’t refrain from asking God to govern the world—even when that governance defies the laws of physics. In order to have more daylight to fight the Amorites, Joshua asks God to cause the sun and moon to stand still for an entire day (Joshua 10:12-14). This story isn’t about how God stopped the rotation of the earth and still managed to maintain the planet’s gravitational pull. It’s about God’s ultimate control of the universe and our part in God’s providence. God wants us to trust in him and in his sovereignty so much that we can expect God to turn yellow into blue or a circle into a square. If God can make a duck sink (Monty Python reference), he surely can protect our world from the inevitable mishaps of Cheeto Hitler. Yet, we must do our part. We must unremittingly seek God’s aid and PRAY, PRAY, PRAY that we are lined up with God’s will—even though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it.

I’ve been talking about prayer a lot lately, and it is still on the forefront of my mind. Joshua prayed to God for an extra day of sunlight and God answered Joshua by defying the laws of physics. How much more will God answer me when I pray for the healing of my mom, the healing of our nation, and the healing of our leadership. My friend Brent sent me this great quote by Andrew Murray this morning, “We must begin to believe that God, in the mystery of prayer, has entrusted us with a force that can move the Heavenly world, and can bring its power down to earth.” I’m not praying for the sun to stop, but I am praying for the Son of God to stop and look around. I’m praying for the Son to stop to shine his face upon me, my mother, my country, and my world. I’m praying for the Son to stop and remove the plague from my mother’s organs. I’m praying for the Son to stop and remove the plague of divisiveness and hatred that is taking over this country. I’m praying for the Son to stop and fill this world with His redemption in all areas—bringing us together in love and unity. I’m praying…

Son! Stop! Look! Listen! Help! Heal! Redeem!


Bothering God

I was convinced that I fell in love for the first time in the summer of ‘95. She was strong, sexy, kind, and hung up on her ex-boyfriend. Perhaps I was once attracted to women with more issues than a magazine rack. My mom can probably attest to the truth in that statement. Melissa never reciprocated my affections, but she did convince me to change from briefs to boxer briefs. In hindsight, this undergarment recommendation was far more beneficial to my well-being than her love would have been.

Melissa and I worked together for the University custodial department. We had deep and meaningful conversations while washing carpets and cleaning toilets. I recall one conversation in particular. Melissa had trouble sleeping. Her ex-boyfriend had moved on to another and didn’t want anything to do with her. That caused her stress and anxiety. She couldn’t relax and suffered from insomnia. I spoke with her that day about prayer and how when I pray before I go to bed, it helps calm my spirit and releases some anxiety. That night, after working a shift at Walmart, I prayed that God would help Melissa overcome her anxiety and give her a good night’s sleep.

My faith journey has endured several peaks and valleys, as is the case with everyone. College was definitely a time of mountaintop experiences, when my faith in God and my conviction in the effectiveness of prayer was at its highest.

That next morning, as Melissa and I were gathering our cleaning supplies, I exclaimed without an inkling of doubt, “You slept well last night, didn’t you!”

Surprised with my absolute assurance, Melissa inquired as to how I knew.

I answered her by simply saying, “I prayed for you.”

This of course sparked a week-long discussion about God’s will and the power of prayer. Discussions where Melissa brought up numerous situations where God doesn’t answer prayers—prayers she so earnestly wanted God to answer as well as questions as to why God would give a flying rats behind about her self-imposed restless nights or not care about suffering victims of abuse or starving children in the Sudan.

As I reflect on that day, I realize that I used to bring everything—and I mean everything—to God in prayer. Furthermore, I was convinced God was listening and that God cared.

Last week, my mom reminded me of a time when I was young and we were visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska. We were so excited for our day, but unfortunately God decided to rain on our parade. Convinced that God and I went way back and God would surely grant my wishes, I proceeded to step inside the ape exhibit, fall to my knees, and pray. I asked God to break up the clouds and postpone this rain storm for another day—a day when other kids wanted to enjoy the zoo, but not us. After an intense prayer session—I’m sure I was sweating drops of blood—I stepped out into the rain, held my hands out, and waited for the rain to stop—which it did. I simply looked up at the sky and shook my head in affirmation. Of course God answered my prayer. We went way back.

Today, a restful night for a neurotic 21-year-old and a sunny day at the zoo seem to be ridiculous prayer requests. To me, it’s like bothering God to help the Vikings defeat the Packers this Sunday night. We all know God’s a hockey fan anyway, right?

That’s where I’ve come. I pray for important things like my mother’s health, for my friend to find a job, or my kids to become functional adults who adore Jesus. I figure why bother God with the mundane or the things I can take care of myself. If I need some sleep, I drink a beer, take a hot shower, and go to sleep. If it rains, I reschedule my trip to the zoo. What happened to my faith in God’s providence for all things as well as my conviction in the strength of our relationship?

After Joshua and the Israelite army defeated the town of Ai, all the kings west of the Jordan came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel. However, the people of Gibeon decided that a different approach was necessary in order to live, and I have to say, they were brilliant. They decided to dress up in worn old clothes and patched up sandals. They loaded up their donkeys with worn-out sacks and old wineskins that were cracked and mended. All the bread in their food supply was dry and moldy. They then went to make a treaty with Joshua telling him they decided to travel from a distant country after hearing about their fame and the power of their God.

If you recall, God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to kill and destroy all the people in the Promised Land. Therefore, one could conclude that anyone from a distant country could be spared. After inquiring of these people, they showed Joshua their moldy bread, old wineskins, and shabby clothes. Apparently—and to the relief of the Gibeonites—the Israelites ate their moldy bread, but didn’t pray about it, so Joshua let them live and made a treaty of peace with them (Joshua 9).

It seemed obvious to Joshua and the Israelites. These people had shabby clothes and moldy bread. “Why should we pray in this situation? It’s common sense.” Joshua decided to make a treaty with these “obvious” foreigners without praying to God about them first. This was a mistake. Apparently, God wants us to pray about the big stuff, the small stuff, the obvious stuff, the mundane stuff, and the annoying stuff.

I’m reminded of a parable Jesus told his disciples in order to illustrate the importance of persistent prayer. Basically, a widow kept bothering a corrupt judge until he finally caved and gave her what she needed. Jesus pointed out that if this corrupt judge—who didn’t care about anything—gave the widow what she needed because of her persistence, how much more would God—who is just and compassionate—give us what we need when we are persistent (Luke 18:1-8).

Obviously, God doesn’t always give us what we want or think we need. If this were the case, there would be 31 Super Bowl champions every year (that’s 31 because MY God would never help the Packers win), no one would be sick, everyone would have well-disciplined kids and super awesome spouses, and we’d all be millionaires. This fact doesn’t mean, however, that God wants us to give up or just pray about those things we feel are suited for God and take care of the “minor” issues ourselves. We’ve been discussing this topic—for what seem like forever—in my men’s Bible study group every Friday morning. As we continue to mull over these difficult issues surrounding prayer, I’ve found some understanding in these words of Dallas Willard from page 242 of The Divine Conspiracy: “Prayer is never just asking, nor is it merely a matter of asking for what I want. God is not a cosmic butler or fix-it man, and the aim of the universe is not to fulfill my desires and needs. On the other hand, I am to pray for what concerns me…”[1]

Prayer still confuses me, and ten years from now when my men’s study group is working through page 250 of The Divine Conspiracy, I’m sure the muddied waters won’t be any clearer. One thing I have concluded is God wants to walk with me and talk with me, and by conversing with God, the two of us can begin to understand one another. I can begin to understand God’s will for my life and God will understand my needs, passions, and concerns. Through this intimacy, I hope I can make sense as to why people I love suffer or people who don’t deserve it thrive. So even if everything in life seems as meaningless to me as it does to the Teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:8), I will follow the Teacher’s lead and continue to fear God, walk with God, and “in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [my] requests to God.” Because when I do, God promises me “peace” that will “transcend all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7).

And that’s pretty cool!

[1] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 242.


A Tale of Two Cities

“Be back here by 5:00 so you have time to shower before supper!” Mom exclaimed as my brother Chad and I leapt off the front porch, landed in a leg-extended gait, and sprinted to the barn.

“We will!” we screamed.

The farm had a plethora of exciting adventures in the offing. We could spend countless hours building forts in the hay mow, collecting tadpoles in the ponds of the pastures, sing to the heifers (always a captivating audience no matter how awful the performance), or play in the grove. The grove offered two attractions. We could play in a tactically built treehouse that offered ladders, ropes, and swings or we could venture into the forbidden areas of the grove—a heap of garbage and an old hole under collapsed concrete (The remnants of an underground bunker my uncle Verlyn had accidently bombed from the inside from the fumes of cattails soaked in gasoline). The treehouse was safe and fun, but it lacked some of the adventure and excitement that one could easily encounter in the dangerous bunker or the heap of garbage. While Chad swung from the rope in the treehouse, I ventured over and started sifting through the garbage heap. Chad immediately joined me. It was forbidden; it was unsafe; it could cause injury or even death; it was exciting; it was an adventure! What is it about the human spirit that compels us to abandon the safety of the treehouse for the ambiguity of the garbage heap?

The night before attacking the city of Ai, Joshua chose five thousand of his best fighting men and commanded them to set up a place of ambush between the cities of Ai and Bethel. The next morning, when Joshua attacked the city, he planned to retreat and draw the king of Ai and his army away from the city, so the ambush to the west of the city could attack and overcome the unguarded city. The plan was successful, and Israel conquered the city of Ai and set it ablaze (Joshua 8:1-29).

This isn’t the first time we encountered the city of Ai in Scripture. Only weeks earlier, Joshua and the Israelite army underestimated the power and influence of Ai and they were routed by Ai’s army when they attacked the city (Joshua 7:3-5). Several centuries earlier, Abraham received a call from God to pack up all of his belongings and move to Canaan. Upon arriving in Canaan, Abraham first settled directly between Ai and Bethel—probably the exact same location the five thousand Israelite soldiers lied in ambush the night before the attack of Ai (Genesis 12:8; Joshua 8:9).

It’s peculiar to me that Abraham and the Israelite Army set up camp between Bethel and Ai—not committing to either city. The word Ai means a heap of ruinsand the name “Bethel” means, “The house of God.” Why do we neglect God’s desire to live within our hearts, and instead ogle the heap of runis on the horizon while anticipating the eventual ambush of the city and rummaging through it for treasures? I have to confess, there are several seasons throughout my life where I would rather dwell upon a heap of ruins than allow God to live and thrive within my heart. I fear that God’s presence will drag me down, prevent me from experiencing a life filled with fun and adventure—the life I frequently believe exists upon that heap of ruins.

We often underestimate the power that heap of ruins has over our hearts. God instilled adventure, excitement, love, romance, hope, and joy in every human heart. Like Abraham and the Israelite army, the illusory safety and boredom often associated with the house of God deters us from pitching our tents in Bethel. Instead, we are tempted to camp on the garbage heap of Ai. Often, the dangers and stench that comes from the death and destruction of Ai overcome our hearts, so we set up camp somewhere in between. We don’t commit to either, so we ebb and flow our way in between the life of Bethel and the death of Ai. Where did we go wrong? Who taught us that a life in the Kingdom—a life walking side-by-side with Jesus was uneventful and unsatisfying? Why do we envision a life within the presence of God to be dreadfully boring—lacking in adventure? Why do we perceive a life upon a garbage heap to be exciting and fulfilling? Who planted this notion that Ai was a place of treasure and Bethel a place of misery?

I have my theories. When I hear a boring sermon, endure the judgmental ostracizing from an elderly parishioner in a dying church, or suffer through a barrage of litanies while praying for the end of the service, I get why we avoid Bethel. When I witness people who claim to live in Bethel while spewing racial slurs and following bigots, I camp closer to Ai than Bethel. When the citizens of Ai are kinder, gentler and show more compassion than those in Bethel, I find myself pitching my tent upon the garbage heap.

Unfortunately, these “pseudo-citizens” of Bethel have given it a bad name. Arguably, God can’t dwell in the hearts of judgmental bigots, war-mongers, and merciless savages. Their hatred caused their hearts to harden, thereby impeding the Holy Spirit from finding a home within. True citizens of Bethel experience love, joy, adventure, and the thriving Spirit of God within their hearts. Imposters have prevented us from experiencing the joys of Bethel, thereby sending us to Ai to find an alternative that pales in comparison.

The treehouse in the grove can provide everything our heart desires. Joy, adventure, and true love can be found among its limbs, ladders, and rope swings. My prayer for today is to no longer oscillate between these two cities, and allow God to enter my heart to live in Bethel for eternity.

I want to dedicate this post to my uncle Verlyn—a man of God and true citizen of Bethel. Verlyn Vander Lugt discovered adventure, love, joy, hope, and excitement; not in Ai (a bunker filled with the fumes of gasoline-soaked cattails) but in Bethel (the Holy Spirit living and thriving within his heart).


Achan for More

While living in California, I ached to own a home of my own. I felt like I wasn’t providing for my family. Seeing as the purchase price for a small, two-bedroom bungalow was over $500,000, that dream could never come to fruition…especially if I continued to work for a young Christian publishing company. I often felt sorry for myself and lived in a state of permanent discontent. I coveted what others had and was rarely satisfied or grateful for the many blessings I had already received from God. I had a loving wife and two adorable, healthy children, a career where I could implement my creative gifts every day, incredible friends, and a great little home ten miles from the Pacific Ocean. Yet, I couldn’t cease from coveting the things I didn’t have. I would desire more, recognize the sinfulness within my own discontent, and then hide it deep within my heart. The aftermath was destructive. By internalizing my discontent, I became depressed. My wife, children, friends, and career were deprived of the attention and time they deserved because I was too self-involved. By hiding and internalizing my sin, others suffered.

You would have thought that by moving to Colorado and buying a home, I would no longer covet. That just wasn’t the case. The problem with coveting—and it has been the problem since Eve coveted the forbidden fruit and gave it to Adam—is that once you get what you covet, you end up coveting something else. For several months after my divorce, I would sit in church and watch other couples. I would tear-up as I coveted their lives, their apparent happiness, the love and affection they shared. I coveted nuclear families and the fact that their children would never have to endure the pain of divorce that my children had to endure. Their ostensible functionality made me sick; I even stopped going to church for a while because I couldn’t prevent feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t circumvent my own sins to focus on the real purpose for being there. Then there was Facebook. Research suggests that social media can be associated with depression. On Facebook, we see these enhanced and premeditated images and status updates of other people’s lives, when quite often they’re far from reality. In fact, the images that ran through my mind at church were most likely false ideals. What happened, though, is I compared my own life to the embellished ideological lives I saw in church or online, and I envied these people while feeling sorry for myself. Once again, I internalized my discontent and began the downward spiral that only lead to darkness and despair.

There was only one solution; one way to escape—one door through which I could discover hope, light, and contentment. I had to repent and ask the Lion of Judah, the one and only Redeemer to remove my discontent from my heart before it forever dominated my existence.

God promised the nation of Israel a beautiful land of their own—a land flowing with milk and honey. By the time the walls of Jericho came tumbling down, that promise was the real deal. The Israelites were at an all-time high; they had everything they could have possibly wanted and more. Like I said before, the problem with wanting, is that once you get what you want, you end up wanting something else. It was during this all-time high where a man named Achan, from the house of Judah, repeated the folly of humankind. Achan wanted something he couldn’t have, so he took it, and then he hid it. Achan’s sin didn’t just harm Achan, it harmed the entire community. Soldiers died, Israel injured her reputation, and Joshua reached his lowest state of desperation. When Achan hid his sin, others suffered. Because Achan caused so much trouble, the Israelites took him, everything he coveted and stole, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, stoned him and his family to death and buried them and their possessions under a pile of rocks. Therefore, that place has been called the Valley of Achor (which means “valley of trouble”) ever since (Joshua 7:24-26).

Several years after this rather unfortunate incident, the prophet Hosea wrote, “There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt” (Hosea 2:15). Hosea was speaking of a day when we will no longer receive our deserved punishments for our sins. Instead, we will enter a door of hope. We will get to hang out in vineyards, drink wine, and never be discontent again. Hosea was speaking of Jesus. Someday, Hosea promised, another man from the line of Judah will open up a door of hope for all humankind. Where Achan failed, Jesus will succeed. Jesus will provide us with that escape from our downward spirals. Jesus will open that one door through which we can discover hope, light, and contentment. Jesus “will rescue [us] from this body that is subject to death” (Romans 7:24).

I’m relieved I have a Savior. If not, I’d be under a pile of rocks somewhere in East Bellflower, California. I’m not saying I’m completely free from discontent. Unfortunately, the enemy still holds that carrot of coveting out in front of my nose and coerces me into periods of self-pity and envy. Yet, Jesus is always there inside a doorway of hope, welcoming me to enter into his presence and offering me a peace that surpasses all understanding. And instead of aching for more stuff, I’m aching for more Jesus—because our stuff just gets buried with us under a pile of rocks in a valley of trouble.