Author Archives: Shawn Vander Lugt

Weak and Cowardly

I’ve been extremely discouraged lately. I’m one punch away from throwing in the proverbial towel on my love life and my church life. I’m disappointed in women, in love, in church, in church leaders, in the policies and political platforms of Evangelical Christians. I’m exhausted from trying to argue against the hatred and bigotry rampant within Christian circles. I’m sick of going out on dates, trying to convince a woman that I’m worthy, trying to find the love-needle in a haystack full of manure-saturated straw.

Those who don’t know Jesus, are confused as to who He truly is. I’m wearied from trying to introduce those who have questions to the loving, accepting, compassionate One—the Lord who recognizes the epidemic of loneliness and hurting and welcomes all people into His loving embrace. The simplicity, hypocrisy, and outright idiocy of the right is pushing me so far left, I’m about to fall of the spectrum completely. I’m tired, I’m lonely, I’m weak, and I’m afraid to face the world I call home because it’s a world that values hatred, anger, outward appearances, and disdain. I’m too weak and too afraid to cross the Jordan and engage this world that doesn’t seem very Promising anyway.

Therefore, I’m content to stay in the Wilderness and avoid the other side of the river completely. I’m grateful for the arrival of the football season and eventual snowboarding season to distract me from the loneliness, hatred, greed, materialism, bigotry, systemic selfishness that has become the identity of the world that exists on the other side of the river. So why shouldn’t I be afraid? Why shouldn’t I be weak? What does this Promised Land have to offer us anymore? I just can’t face this abysmal world alone…I can’t!

I honestly believe that this is exactly where Joshua was after his leader and mentor Moses died on Mount Nebo. Joshua had witnessed the futility of the world. He knew these people couldn’t be trusted. He doubted the value of the Promised Land and he was weak and afraid. He knew that the Israelites valued hatred, anger, outward appearances, materialism, bigotry, and selfishness. It doesn’t say that exactly in Scripture, but the fact that God had to tell him seven separate times to “Be Strong and Courageous” seems to suggest that God had some convincing to do (Deut. 31:6, 7, 23; Josh 1:6, 7, 9, 18).

I’m sure Joshua—like me—would rather sit in his chair east of the Jordan and watch the Minnesota Vikings embarrass themselves at Levi’s Stadium or shred the Gnar Pow on Mount Nebo than enter his world and embrace his calling. Joshua needed to know that he wasn’t about to face his abysmal world alone. Joshua needed an encouraging word from the all-powerful God and that is exactly what he received:

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

—Joshua 1:6-9

God’s redundant persistence shouldn’t go unnoticed here. God had to drill the assurance of His presence into the mind and heart of Joshua. Not only that, he had to repetitively encourage Joshua to avoid the temptation to remain weak and cowardly and instead embrace the strength and courage that can only come from God’s Spirit. God had a task and purpose for Joshua. Without God, Joshua was afraid and discouraged. With God’s presence, strength, and courage, Joshua could overcome those fears that plagued him, embrace his purpose, and cross the Jordan into the Promised Land—a land that may appear abysmal, but held promises and hope beyond the reach of Joshua’s expectations and imagination.

I’m still going to suffer through a dismal shellacking of the Minnesota Vikings every Sunday. I’m still going to partake in the thrill of shredding eight inches of powder in the Montezuma Bowl at Arapahoe Basin. I’m not, however, going to let those distractions dominate my existence. I’m still going to reach into that manure-saturated haystack in search for that enigmatic needle of love. I’m still going to trudge into church in search for that community of believers who still worship the Jesus I follow, love, adore, and try to emulate. I’m still going to combat the hypocrisy, hate, and bigotry that’s become annoyingly prevalent amid many Christians today.

But I can’t do it alone.

Thank goodness the Lord my God will be with me wherever I go…so I don’t have to.

My Chicken Valentine

Back in March, I told you about my daughter’s chicken question:

“Dad, how come we can eat some eggs and other eggs have baby chickens in them?”

…and my brilliant answer to that question:

“Married chickens have baby chickens. If the chicken isn’t married, it has eggs we can eat.”

In The Parlement of Foules, Geoffrey Chaucer writes:

For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
For me to stonde, so ful was al the place.

Isn’t that beautiful?

I guess I wasn’t so far off. Who knew that the romantic pursuits of our feathery friends would have SO much bearing on the interaction of lovers in the 21st century?

Valentine’s Day was first recognized as a day to commemorate martyrs of the third century. They called these martyrs “Valentines.” In the 14th century, Chaucer suggested we observe the mating habits of birds and make them our own. If the birds are doing it…and the bees are doing it…so should we. In the 20th and 21st centuries, Hallmark and ProFlowers suggested we send people cards that involved no thought whatsoever on the part of the lover, waning flowers in pretty vases, and mysterious chocolate candies in satin-covered, heart-shaped boxes in order to profess something to our lovers we should probably profess every day of our lives.

On a side note: Thank you ProFlowers for reminding me every day—if not twice a day—to send flowers to the girl who broke my heart shortly after Valentine’s Day last year…Thank you! OK…so she didn’t break my heart necessarily…but I still don’t need to be reminded every day for a month how I once loved and lost.

What was once a day to honor those who died because they adamantly confessed their faith in Jesus has literally become a mockery where we imitate birds and initiate our spring mating practices by sending a card, a dozen roses, and a heart-shaped box of chocolates to our prospective chickens.

Love was the true motivation of these martyrs who are supposed to be memorialized on this holiday. These martyrs loved sacrificially in the name of Christ, and Valentine’s Day should still commemorate how their sacrifice helped spread the love of Christ throughout the world.

I’m not suggesting giving up Valentine’s Day as a day to love those who mean the most to us. This is just my suggestion…take it as advice from someone who failed miserably in this area and has learned a little from his mistakes:

Tomorrow, instead of following the example of a chicken or a barn swallow, follow the example of these “Valentines” who gave their life so that the world may know true LOVE—the love of Jesus Christ. Give sacrificially to your lover. If she desires quality time and you have difficulty sitting down for more than five seconds…sit down with her for more than five seconds. If he loves it when the house is clean but you’re no June Cleaver…clean the house for him. If she’s into gifts…put a little effort into the gift you’re giving. Sacrifice something for the sake of your love…be a martyr…be a Valentine.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

—John 15:12-13


I spend my Sundays leading the children’s ministry at my church and occasionally I make it upstairs for the early “traditional” service to worship and hear God’s Word. It’s difficult for me to engage in worship with traditional hymns and liturgical prayers. I realize that true worship has more to do with me than with the music or the style, nevertheless, it’s still challenging to find my groove. As a response to that challenge, I worship at Timberline’s Wednesday night service while my children attend their Rangers and Missionettes programs. Last night at Timberline, Pastor Dick Foth referenced Mark Batterson’s new book The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Your Greatest Fears and he had us write out, or reflect upon, our biggest dream and greatest fear, and then circle them with our prayers.

I was praying within seconds. It didn’t take me long to determine my biggest dream (true contentment) and my greatest fear (failure as a father, husband, and servant of Christ). As a divorced father of two, I often feel as if I’m already dwelling within my greatest fear. I’ve failed as a husband, I feel as if I’ve failed as a father by making the lives of my children more difficult in a divided household. Furthermore, when I read certain texts in Scripture, I feel like I’ve failed as a follower of Jesus. As I continue to circle my fears with prayer, I’m realizing that the two are connected. I can never reach my dream of contentment until I overcome my fear of failure. Once I completely circle my fears, I can move toward circling my dreams. I’ve also come to the realization that God hasn’t been perpetuating my fears. He’s confirmed—time and time again—through the affirmation of others, the emotional stability and resiliency of my children, the health of my relationship with their mother, my strength and compassion as a man and future husband, and the growth and maturity of my relationship with Jesus Christ—which has grown exponentially since my divorce. God has answered my prayers…it’s just sometimes it’s not the answer for which I’m looking; the contentment I desire seems to emanate from my failures. As David Checkett said, “Success builds character, failure reveals it” I’m not entirely pleased that God chose to answer my prayers to overcome my fear of failure by allowing me to fail and grow through it…but I recognize
it as such.

“My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve been studying the patriarchs over the past month and one thing I’ve noticed is how often these men—who were chosen and blessed by God—failed epically. Abraham doubted God’s promise that Sarah would have a child, so he slept with his maidservant Hagar in order to manipulate the situation. Abraham and Isaac tried to pass their wives off as their sisters. Jacob lied to his father and stole his brother Esau’s birthright and blessing. Jacob had two wives, who were sisters, and two concubines. Levi and Simeon avenged the rape of their sister Dinah and murdered the inhabitants of an entire city. Reuben slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Jacob showed favoritism to his wife Rachel and their sons Joseph and Benjamin. Jacob’s sons with Leah and his two concubines sold their brother Joseph into slavery. Judah slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar.

In Judah’s defense, he did mistakenly think Tamar was a prostitute.

By the time I reached Genesis 50, I didn’t feel so bad about my own failures. If God can provide true contentment for that group of misfits…he surely can provide it for me. I’m still not thrilled when God answers my prayers through my own imperfections and failures. However, I realized that I do tend to grow more through my failures than I do through my successes.  And like Gandhi, I consider them blessings and intend on laying them directly at the feet of God!

Things Ugly People Say

You’re watching 25,000 Pyramid, and the contestant starts bellowing out the following:

“Being single helps me focus on my spiritual life.”

“Being single provides me with more opportunities to serve.”

“Being single helps me better myself as a person and disciple of Christ.”

“Being single saves me money.”

“Being single provides me with more opportunities to spend quality time with my children.”

Her partner just can’t figure it out. After the time runs out, Dick Clark leans over and says, “What if she said, ‘Table for one please!'” Quickly her partner responds:

 “Ummm…things ugly people say!”

That is definitely funny! But it’s just not true. I’m not going to complement myself right now…but I have several single friends who have made similar statements, and they are extremely attractive. OK…I changed my mind…I’m also extremely attractive, and I’m about to make similar statements as well.

Since my divorce, I’ve struggled with singleness. At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the single life. I missed my wife, our friendship, our common bond and partnership. I missed having someone who, as Reese Witherspoon says at the end of the movie, Sweet Home Alabama, “I can kiss anytime I want.” As the years have transpired, however, I’m finding singleness more and more appealing. Recently a friend of mine said the following when I asked her if she was dating anyone (I’m paraphrasing):

“I’m not dating anyone; I’m living for myself right now and loving it. It’s great! You get to spend more time on making yourself fabulous!”

I found what she had to say about singleness intriguing and appealing. The Apostle Paul wrote the following about singleness:

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

—1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Paul and my friend are amazingly insightful as to the benefits of singleness. Since my divorce, I’ve had more time to dedicate to my relationship with Jesus Christ, my relationship with my children, and my relationship with myself. I’ve grown in all these areas because I wasn’t distracted with—as Paul put it—“the affairs of this world.” I have to say—after years of counseling, self-improvement, and one-on-one time with my Lord and my children—I’m definitely more fabulous now than I was three years ago. I definitely wish I knew then, what I know now.

This blog post isn’t only an isolated encouragement to the singles out there. I’m also not—in any way—advocating divorce or never getting married. Singleness provided me with the opportunity to seek Jesus, the betterment of myself, and assess the things that—and the people who—are most important in my life. One’s spouse IS—and always should be—one of those individuals who are most important in your life. Hindsight is typically 20/20, and as a single guy hind-sighting—please take my clarity of vision to heart.

Someday, I hope to find another spouse, with whom I can commit my life, share my faith, and walk this world together. Whether God still has many years of singleness left for me, or whether that person is right around the corner is yet to be determined. At this point, I really don’t care…whether single or married…I’m thrilled to be living in His world and will continuously strive to fulfill my call as His ambassador to it!

Hungry and Thirsty

The mission of my former employer is the following:

“We equip churches to help children, youth and adults grow in their relationship with Jesus.”

That’s a mission I can really get behind…but that’s not what I miss! I can still carry out that mission…and I do regularly in all five of my current jobs.

My co-workers were incredible people, and I loved working with them. I visited with many of them two nights ago at Group’s Bombastic Bingo and it was great catching up. That’s not what I miss either. I can still meet them for lunch and chat with them on Facebook…and I do that regularly as well.

What I miss most since being laid off is a small group of guys who met every Friday morning for Bible study and discipleship. This handful of co-workers kept me fed; they helped me gain insight, wisdom, and understanding. They helped me grow!

The layoffs sent two of us walking. The others were left behind to pick up the pieces. We tried to continue by hooking our small group up to life support—meeting at a friend’s house every other Friday morning. Nevertheless, with the odd scheduling of our new lives causing various complications, we eventually “pulled the plug.”  I miss that weekly feast. Since then, I’ve been hungry and thirsty, with nothing to satisfy my desperate need to increase knowledge and wisdom—to dig into the Scriptures and let them reveal to me the glorious mysteries yet to be discovered. There are other ways to gain insight, and I’ve sought those out…this blogging site was one of them and remains one of the greatest modes through which I eat and drink. However, nothing compares to seeking wise teachers, to listen to them, to learn from them, to ask them questions, and to answer their questions. This is where the best learning occurs…this is how one increases in wisdom.

When Jesus was twelve years old, He traveled with his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. On their way home, Joseph and Mary came to the realization that Jesus wasn’t with them…a sort of Home Alone reenactment. After searching Jerusalem for three days, “they finally discovered him in the Temple sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46-47).

God is omniscient…He knows everything. There is no need for God to increase in wisdom. …and Jesus is God. However, when Jesus came to earth as flesh…as a helpless child…as a servant, He emptied himself of those things that made him equal to God (Philippians 2:6-7). When Jesus was twelve years old, He sought out wise teachers, He sat with them, He listened to them, He learned from them, He asked them questions, and He answered their questions. By doing this, Jesus increased in wisdom. In the final scene from His childhood, Jesus provides us with a model to follow. Jesus is showing us that no matter how educated one is…no matter how wise one is…even if you were—at one time—the Omniscient Almighty God, everyone could stand to sit among wise teachers, to listen to them, and possibly learn from them.

This new year, many of us have made resolutions to eat less fast food, drink less soda and beer, and exercise more. I’m loathing my trip to the gym this afternoon because every well-intentioned resolutionary will be monopolizing the equipment. If we DO stick to these resolutions, we will definitely end up hungry, thirsty, and sore…which is fine…because I know those well-intentioned resolutionaries will be gone by next week because of that very fact.

Perhaps this year, my resolution will be to eat and drink more and to exercise my mind…to find myself some wise teachers, sit with them, learn from them, ask them questions, perhaps answer some of theirs, and increase in wisdom!

2012 is SURE to be better than 2011. I’m sorry 2011, it’s just you majorly sucked! It just isn’t much of a competition!

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Serendipity or Destiny?

Is there such a thing as “destiny?” My grandmother believes in destiny—or to her…providence—to such a degree that she vehemently proclaims that luck is a pure illusion. Over Thanksgiving, I recall Grandma telling my brother, “Luck doesn’t exist!” For my grandmother, everything happens for a reason and is preordained by God. Grandma’s faith in God’s sovereignty and providence supersedes any other element of control in the universe. Chance, luck, serendipity…these forces do not exist.

In the movie Serendipity, Kate Beckinsale’s character, Sara, is a lot like my grandmother. She’s completely confident that if something is meant to be…it will be. Her faith in destiny is overpowering and alluring. For her romantic counterpart, Jonathan, her convictions are extremely frustrating. Logic, comprehension, control are all necessary components for Jonathan. He has feelings for Sara and wants to ensure that those feelings develop into a relationship. Sara, however, is perfectly content leaving the development of their relationship in the hands of destiny.

According to Simeon, Jesus Christ was destined to bring joy to some and revelatory darkness to others; some would follow Christ, while others would oppose him.

“Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, ‘This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.’”

—Luke 2:33-35

For Simeon, holding the Christ child in his arms that day was not serendipitous. It was definitely pleasant, but it wasn’t an accident. Simeon expected it! God had promised him that someday he would lay eyes on the Messiah…the Savior of the world…the Light to the Gentiles. Simeon knew his destiny and he knew the destiny of Jesus. He also knew that the joy Jesus would bring to us would come at a high cost. The joy we receive would accompany a sword that pierces the soul of Mary, the side of Christ, and the heart of God. Jesus was no accident, and neither was his death upon a cross.

Is a confessing faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior serendipitous? Is one’s faith a pleasant, accidental discovery? Or, is one’s faith an intentional directive from God? Do I get to choose whether I am one of the many who fall or one of the many who will receive joy?

I, like my grandmother and Sara, believe that God is ultimately in control. I believe in destiny! I’m not going to stand idly by, however, and assume that life is simply a chess game and I’m a mere pawn only advancing forward when God so chooses. Here’s my answer to this conundrum:

  1. I whole-heartedly agree with the following quote from Serendipity: “Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences. Uh-uh. But rather, it’s a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan.”
  2. Some of the events that make up that tapestry require me to act.

Therefore, I’m going to trust that my faith in Christ is predestined…yet I will daily choose to actively pursue Jesus with passion and vigor.

…and YES, I’m still going to ask her for her phone number.

The Perfect Gift

When I was thirteen, I went through a phase where I desperately searched for a hobby—something I could claim as my own…my identity. I wanted people to look at me and tell their family and friends, “Hey! Do you know who that is? That’s Shawn Vander Lugt, the renown coin collector or model railroader or stamp collector or latch hook expert or toilet paper tube collector.” Yes…I admit it:

“Hi, my name is Shawn Vander Lugt. When I was thirteen, I collected toilet paper tubes.”  

I distinctly remember what launched this frantic need for a self-defining hobby. The Christmas before my thirteenth birthday, my brother received an art set, pads of paper, charcoals, art pencils, and so on. My brother is an artist…and an extremely gifted one. He would show off his work at family Christmas gatherings and everyone would “Oooh” and “Ahhh” at his latest masterpiece. God blessed my brother with a gift…a talent that far exceeded anything of which I was capable. My brother embraced this gift from God; he uses it regularly and is productive with it. I have no doubts that when God holds my brother accountable, God will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).

I was proud of my brother’s gift, and never jealous of it. However, I wanted to possess my own gift, a gift that I too could embrace…one for which I could be held accountable. I wanted to make my God proud. Ergo…on that great and triumphant day, when I fall on my knees before my Lord, I wanted to show God my impressive collection of toilet paper rolls. I wanted God to say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few toilet paper rolls; I will put you in charge of a million toilet paper rolls.

Wouldn’t that be AWESOME?

I eventually gave up my impulsive pursuit for a hobby and later discovered my perfect gift. The gift for which someday I hope God will say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men from the east paid Him a visit. Upon coming to the house, they saw Jesus with His mother, bowed down, and worshiped Him. Next, the wise men presented Jesus with three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

These three gifts weren’t just random Christmas presents. They were more like my brother’s art set. They embodied Jesus’ identity and ultimate purpose. They were the perfect gifts. Hebrews summarizes Jesus’ purpose and his fulfillment of these gifts most eloquently:

GOLD: Jesus, the King of Kings

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”

—Hebrews 1:3-4, 8

FRANKINCENSE: Jesus, the Great High Priest

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

—Hebrews 4:14-16

MYRRH: Jesus, the Savior of the World

“He [Jesus] did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

—Hebrews 9:12-15

Every Christmas, we remember the perfect gifts Jesus received from the wise men. These gifts embodied the Gospel message in its entirety. Corresponding to Jesus’ royalty and authority over the world, His position at God’s right hand as our mediator and High Priest, and His authority over sin and death through His death and resurrection, the gifts of the wise men were perfection. The wise men NAILED IT!

This year, when you’re out doing your last-minute Christmas shopping and you have that new vacuum cleaner for your wife at the checkout stand, think about the message you’re giving. Is this gift the best expression of your wife’s purpose? What gift embodies who she is as a person? What gift embodies who you are as a person?

 What is your gold…your frankincense …your myrrh?


When I was in Jr. High, one of the “cool kids” threw a huge birthday party. Everyone who was anyone was invited. When I didn’t receive an invitation, I was devastated. The weekend of the party arrived and I floundered at home in my own self-pity.  Winning the lottery couldn’t have made that weekend any better. Whether someone doesn’t invite you to a birthday party or picks you last for a kickball team, exclusion is devastating to one’s self-esteem.

Evangelists proclaim the Gospel and boast that it’s for everyone—everyone who believes. The problem arrived when “authority”—whatever that may be—began to dictate who believed and who didn’t and thereby excluded those who they assessed didn’t believe. Heresies developed, Synods responded with disciplinary action, dogma became authoritative, Scripture and the papacy were exonerated. Christianity became a religion just like all the others and it no longer was a faith for “everyone.” Because of this fact, Christianity is often –and rightly so—accused of being an exclusionary religion. Christian dogma mandates faith in Christ—his death and resurrection—as the sole requirement for inclusion. If one doesn’t believe, one is not included in the community of faith. My question is:

Who instilled the authority upon us, as Christians, to determine whether one truly believes or not?

The Apostle Paul writes:

“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

—1 Corinthians 3:5-7

I wish Paul had added one more function to the end of this passage. Who harvests? From other Scripture passages, we know that God is the one who harvests the wheat when it is ready. Unfortunately, over time, the Church has assumed the harvesting responsibility. When we begin to decide who’s in and who’s out, tragedies such as the crusades, the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, slavery, apartheid, and exclusive measures the Church embarks upon.

I’m just as guilty of judgment as the next person. Where did we, as Christians, go wrong? When did grace take second place—or even third or fourth place—over condemnation? When did we renounce our divine commission to plant the seed and water it in the fields, and instead take on the harvesting responsibilities?

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, an angel appeared to the destitute and impoverished shepherds in the fields nearby. The Lord’s glory radiated about the shepherds, and they were afraid. The angel comforted them saying, “Don’t be afraid! I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master” (Luke 2:10-11—The Message).

These evangelists are right-on. The Gospel is for everybody, worldwide. God loved everyone so much that he sent his Son into the world to die, so that anyone who believes in Him has eternal life. Sure, after God harvests the crops, the wheat is definitely separated from the tares. Yet, whether one truly believes is for God to decide and no one else. As Christians, we are called to emulate the shepherds, go out into the world, and tell everyone what we see and hear—to testify about our own experiences with our Lord and Savior.  Like the shepherds and like the Apostle Paul, we plant the seed. We are also called as Christians to make disciples, to teach others about Christ and the wonders that lie within a genuine faith in Jesus. Like Apollos, we are to water the seed. Let’s leave the growing and the harvesting to God.

It breaks my heart to see condemnation, exclusion, and hatred spewing from the mouths of Christians—especially during Christmas. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, a joyful event for EVERYBODY…worldwide.

Augustus Gloopitis

My daughter is currently learning about the Roman Empire in school. Thereby, her weekly spelling words surround this topic. Last week, one of her spelling words was Augustus, the emperor of Rome when Jesus was born. I quiz her daily on her spelling words. As I state the words—instead of using the word in a sentence—I attempt to use the word in a song. I had trouble with Augustus, so as an alternative to singing, I quoted Luke 2:1 in the King James Version: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” My daughter immediate realized that I didn’t contribute to her quiz by singing the word in the lyrics of a song and began to sing the first line of “Augustus Gloop!” From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!

I knew the next line…so I continued:

The great big greedy nincompoop!

She was impressed…especially with the word “nincompoop!”

Here’s the complete song from the movie:

Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!
The great big greedy nincompoop!
Augustus Gloop!
So big and vile
So greedy, foul, and infantile
‘Come on!’ we cried, ‘The time is ripe
To send him shooting up the pipe!
But don’t, dear children, be alarmed;
Augustus Gloop will not be harmed,
Augustus Gloop will not be harmed
Although, of course, we must admit
He will be altered quite a bit.
Slowly, the wheels go round and round,
The cogs begin to grind and pound;
We boil him for a minute more,
Until we’re absolutely sure
Then out he comes! And now! By grace!
A miracle has taken place!
A miracle has taken place!
This greedy brute, this louse’s ear,
Is loved by people everywhere!
For who could hate or bear a grudge
Against a luscious bit of fudge?”

My daughter’s quick modification from the biblical reference of Caesar Augustus in the prologue to Jesus’ birth to Augustus Gloop caused me to take pause. Is there a connection here? Of course there is! And if there isn’t…I’m going to create one.

Augustus Gloop was a nasty, greedy, gluttonous pig…and his parents facilitated and enabled him. Augustus represents Christmas spirit gone awry. This year’s Black Friday commenced the Christmas season with pepper spray in the Wal-Mart electronics department, burglary in the Wal-Mart parking lot, trampling at shopping malls, and all-out madness. The enabling parents of the Augustus Gloops of the world were trying to save a few pennies. In so doing, they were perpetually contributing to the greed and gluttony of their progenies.

When Augustus Gloop falls into the chocolate river and is whisked toward the fudge room, he’s beginning the process of refinement. Augustus Gloop is transformed from an undesirable, brutish, dog into a loveable, unselfish child. Willy Wonka assures us that Augustus will be just fine.  In fact, by some miracle, Augustus Gloop will be changed…he will be “loved everywhere.”

Jesus’ humble birth—his being wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger—is  a true representation of the desired Christmas spirit…the spirit that seems to have been lost in the disarray of flat-screen televisions, Apple products, and innovative gaming systems. Jesus’ incarnation is Almighty God in the form of a helpless baby with only straw for a bed. God could’ve come as the Roman emperor, the High Priest, or a general in the Roman infantry. He didn’t. God didn’t perpetuate the concept that riches, possession, power, and success were necessary in order to transform the world. Instead, God did the exact opposite. In Jesus, we see humility, faith, compassion, a giving spirit, and sacrifice as those necessary qualities. Faith in Jesus—his death and resurrection—is transformational. The true spirit of Christmas is to believe in the purpose of this humble baby and become transformed through Him. Jesus’ Spirit will help us combat the symptoms of Augustus Gloopitis, and embrace the love, purity, and transformation of Christmas.


Very few things in this world are more traumatic to the integrity of one’s heart than unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness can drive one to murder another human being, murder one’s self, or spiral downward into severe depression. A broken heart is devastating.

Scripture testifies to the heartlessness of unfaithfulness with the mandate found in Leviticus 20:10: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” Wow, just think if we still enforced this precept today. We definitely wouldn’t have a population problem…and unemployment? Forget about it!

According to Jewish tradition, Joseph and Mary were as good as married. After Joseph proposed his intentions to Mary, he had to serve Mary’s father for a specified period of time…a poor-man’s dowry. During this time, Joseph and Mary had to abstain from intimate relations, but they were considered married for all intents and purposes. Joseph was waiting patiently—or quite possibly, impatiently—for his wedding night with Mary, and then BAM…one day she shows up preggers. Talk about a smack in the face. Joseph knew about the Levitical mandate when he discovered that his fiancé was pregnant. Joseph knew he could legitimately have her executed. Unfortunately, he didn’t know who the culprit was, and Mary wasn’t fessing up. In fact, Mary had concocted some far-fetched “conceived by the Holy Spirit” mumbo jumbo. In a valiant display of grace and mercy, Joseph decided to divorce Mary quietly in order to avoid the public stoning of the woman he loved. Joseph’s heart was breaking. The love of his life had been unfaithful.

We know today that Mary didn’t develop a fanciful story regarding the conception of Jesus; we know that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless…for the fun of it, let’s put ourselves in Joseph’s sandals for a second. Perhaps a visit from an angel in my dreams confirming my fiancé’s alibi would convince me to stay with her, but it wouldn’t completely heal my heart; it wouldn’t eradicate all doubt. Even though Joseph married Mary, he was probably still nursing the aftermath of his broken heart.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and the Magi from the East presented their gifts to Jesus, Joseph’s favorite angel paid him another visit in yet another dream. I can hear Joseph saying, “Oh great…it’s you again!” The angel said to Joseph, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.” Matthew tells us that Joseph got up, took Jesus and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. Joseph stayed in Egypt until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Matthew 2:13-15).

Many skeptics argue that this particular prophecy from Hosea wasn’t speaking of Jesus (God’s Son), but of Israel. Upon reading the verse, Hosea 11:1, one would have to agree with the skeptics. Hosea 11:1-2 reads: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.”

There’s really nothing to be skeptical about it. Matthew wasn’t an idiot…he knew exactly what he was doing by referencing this verse. Joseph’s trip to Egypt—with Mary and Jesus in tow—and then back again wasn’t the fulfillment of some literal interpretation of Hosea 11:1. Instead, it was the fulfillment of the essence of Hosea’s prophecy…in its entirety. The book of Hosea gives us a visual image into how God feels when his people are unfaithful. God commands the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute who, even after she marries Hosea, continues to cheat on him with other men in public. God tells Hosea to do this so that Hosea could feel the way God feels every time His people put their trust in other gods. Hosea 11 is a window into the very heart of God. God wants nothing more than to deliver His people from the slavery of sin and desolation. Even when the love of His life is unfaithful, God remains faithful to His commitment—God’s love never ceases. God never gives up wanting to save His people, even when they find comfort in the arms of another. At the conclusion of this passage, God expresses His love for His people in this sonnet:

 “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I treat you like Admah? How can I make you like Zeboyim? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities. They will follow the LORD; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come from Egypt, trembling like sparrows, from Assyria, fluttering like doves. I will settle them in their homes.”

—Hosea 11:8-11

God sent the heart-broken Joseph back to Egypt to illustrate the true purpose of Jesus. It wasn’t so Jesus could fulfill Hosea’s prophecy by traveling from Egypt back to Israel. It was so Jesus could fulfill Hosea’s prophecy by redeeming a people who perpetually broke God’s heart through unfaithfulness. Jesus is the final solution through which God will deliver His wandering people from the slavery of sin and death that is so often equated to the bondage they experienced in Egypt.

Jesus, the Lion of Judah, roars upon his victory over the grave. Jesus’ victory delivers us from our Egypts…from our Assyrias…from all those places in our lives that hold us captive. Even though our unfaithfulness breaks God’s heart, through Jesus, God calls us (his sons and daughters) out of Egypt…out of sin and death and He redeems us. Now we can flutter like doves, and settle in our homes…in our homes with the Lord.