Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?


Excluded!

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.


Unfaithfulness

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.


My Best Friend’s Girl

The sun was peeking over Long’s Peak and spraying its resplendent rays along the western slope of the Devil’s Backbone. I had spent the sweltering summer day hiking with my children through Lory State Park. Upon the completion of our hike, we pensively watched teenagers jump from the red cliffs into the refreshing water of Horsetooth Reservoir while we waded along the shoreline. Even though all three of us wanted to join the teenagers and plunge into the cool waters, we abdicated the idea, jumped into my Chevy Metro, turned on the air conditioner, and drove home. It had been a great day.

As we rounded the curve, just past Masonville, “My Best Friend’s Girl” by the Cars started to resound over the airways of my Metro’s state-of-the-art stereo system. I turned it up and began to “jam out.” My children watched with mortified looks. I, however, knew that—deep down—they were impressed with my Napoleon Dynamite skills. Upon the song’s conclusion, I turned down the volume and my daughter simultaneously asked, “So…is that song about a guy who used to date his best friend’s girlfriend?”

“It sure is!” I answered.

“Did you ever date your best friend’s girlfriend, Dad?”

Taking over, my son answered her saying, “It’s just a song. Dad’s only had a couple girlfriends. Shoot. He doesn’t even have a BEST FRIEND!”

BAM! DOUBLE BURN!      …and from my own son!

My son’s burn was true…and I have only myself to blame. I named him after the Old Testament prophet, Micah. The role of the prophet—then and now–is two-fold.  The prophet’s inspired by God’s Spirit to analyze his culture’s contemporary situation and “state the obvious.” In addition to cultural analysis, the prophet also provided his society with a futuristic perspective of either judgment, hope, or a combination of the two.  My son—named after a prophet—analyzed his father’s current state of affairs. It can be debated as to whether his analysis was of divine origin, or whether it was just THAT obvious. Unfortunately, my son didn’t provide me with gifts of clairvoyance. He didn’t impart any resemblance of hope for a future girlfriend…or SHOOT….even a future best friend. My son is halfway to becoming a true prophet and fulfilling the prophecy of his given name.

It’s December 1st.  For the next 24 days, as we sojourn through the Advent season, we’ll reflect upon the prophets of old and their divinely inspired assessment of their contemporary cultures, as well as their futuristic insights of Messianic hope, peace, joy, love, and reconciliation, which was—and continues to be—fulfilled in our Immanuel, the Prince of Peace.

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”

—Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7


The First Suicide Bomber

Back when I worked for Group Publishing, we received a customer complaint stating that our Hands on Bible, a children’s Bible in the New Living Translation, contained too much sex. Unfortunately, for this particular customer, we weren’t in the habit of removing inspired words from God’s Holy Scriptures just because we (or our customers) found certain words, phrases, paragraphs, or even books of the Bible risqué. The Bible is full of content that is morally offensive and dangerous to our children if taught incorrectly—it is up to the teacher to use proper discernment when teaching from God’s Word.

Yesterday, as I wandered through the children’s library at my church, I noticed several videos and books that featured the biblical Hercules, Samson. Samson is habitually taught in Sunday schools throughout the world because our children, who are often intrinsically drawn to the “superhero,” are impressed by Samson’s prowess. Samson is the Hebrew Superman, all the way down to his Kryptonite…his long flowing locks. Technically speaking, Samson had more than one Kryptonite. Samson’s mother promised to raise him as a Nazirite. A Nazirite was required to not only follow the basic Levitical Codes, which included touching animal carcasses and deceiving one’s neighbor,  but to also refrain from cutting his hair, eating grapes or raisins, drinking wine or other fermented drinks, and staying clear of any dead bodies. According to the Nazirite precepts, if a Nazirite even came near a dead body, he must shave his head and make a sacrifice in order to be cleansed.

It is disturbing to read about Samson, but even more troubling in this light. Samson’s encounter with Delilah was not the first time he violated his Nazirite vows. Samson continuously deceived his Hebrew brothers, he ate honey from a lion’s carcass, he maimed and killed, and he never shaved his head or went through the necessary cleansing rituals after encountering dead bodies. If he had, Samson would have been perpetually bald. Samson fornicated with prostitutes, married the daughters of his enemy, and disposed of them regularly. One time, he caught 300 foxes, tied them tail-to-tail in pairs, fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torch on fire, and set them loose in the grain fields. Who does that? Can anyone say, “serial killer?” Samson’s life ends tragically, when he commits suicide by toppling over the load-bearing pillars of the Philistine temple in order to kill his enemy as they reveled in victory.

Why do we teach this story to our kids?

Samson’s presence in Scripture demonstrates God’s outrage against ungodliness. Like Joshua and the walls of Jericho or Saul and the Amalekites, God commanded His people to rid themselves of anything and everything that could potentially cause them to stumble. Reflecting on Scripture in this manner, can possibly provide one with a certain level of understanding as to    1) Why Islamic extremists detest Western civilization in the manner in which they do and 2) Why they do whatever it takes, including suicide bombings, in order to cleanse their world of depravity. The best way to understand and eventually touch the lives of these extremists is not to tell the story of Samson in the way in which we normally do. But instead, discover the redeemable shadow in Samson, and lead them to Jesus.

There are redeemable elements to the Samson saga, but they’re not the elements we teach our kids. Samson is the antithesis of Jesus Christ.  Like Christ, Samson was announced by an angel and miraculously born of a womb that was incapable of bearing children. Like Christ, Samson was to pursue a life of holiness and save his people from tyranny. Where Samson committed suicide in a vengeful manner in order destroy his Gentile enemy, Jesus died and rose again to save the very people who nailed him to the cross. Samson’s death is tragic; Jesus’ death and resurrection is victorious.

Samson illustrates human frailty…our inability to be holy based on our own merit. Samson illuminates our desperate need for God’s grace and intervention. Samson—with all his strength, flowing hair, and bulging muscles—failed to deliver his people, and all the nations his people were called to reach. Without a true Savior—without the Son of God—we are vengeful, angry, lustful creatures with no hope whatsoever.  Samson sent his people back down into the cycle of sin and redemption that is SO evident in the book of Judges—rebellion, retribution, repentance, and rescue. Samson exemplifies everything we are NOT to be, and Jesus IS everything we are to emulate. The redeemable lesson found with Samson is that he sheds light on our need for a Savior—for someone to rescue us from the cycle of sin…to never enter into that cycle again. Jesus is the true Superhero.

He was announced by an angel.

He was born of a virgin; a miraculous birth.

He taught us to love our enemy.

He never failed to uphold His call to be holy.

He died to save His people…including us Gentiles.

He rose again to rescue us once and for all from the cycle of sin.


The Calming Power of Prayer

Today’s post is a tribute to all the veterans out there who fought for the freedom that I enjoy every day. I specifically want to thank those veterans who are near and dear to my heart. To my father Les Vander Lugt, my uncle Marv Kempema, my cousin Russ Vander Lugt, and my good friend Eric Silbaugh…THANK YOU!

“Out of the worst comes the best. Our most cherished values are forged in the fines of trouble times. Like the seriously ill man who comes to appreciate everyday things, the prisoner who comes to prize freedom, and the soldier under fire who comes to know the calming power of prayer, I was about to make a terrible experience worthwhile.”

—H.W. Weldon, Jr. in Coming Home

After Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, He “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). It’s interesting that in this situation, the Spirit of God is leading Jesus into the wilderness and is obviously allowing the devil to tempt Jesus. The Spirit isn’t tempting Jesus, but it should be noted that the Spirit is definitely leading Jesus into a situation where temptation and testing is going to occur.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to protect us from the evil one…to not lead us into situations where we’re tested and tempted. When we stand on the fringe of a wilderness experience…when we acknowledge that upon entering that wilderness, all that we are as men and women of God will be tested to the nth degree, it is only natural for us to ask God to lead us elsewhere. This petition in the Lord ’s Prayer, is asking God to protect us…to lead us anywhere else. Of course, we’re going to pray for God’s protection, however, sometimes God says “No” to this petition. In a somewhat paradoxical way, God’s “No” to this request—His leading us into situations where temptation occurs—is complimentary.

Before God tested Jesus and refined him with the fires of temptation, God pronounced his utmost approval with his only Son:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

—Matthew 3:17

God loves us as His beloved children, and knows that occasional testing and refinement make us stronger and causes us to rely upon Him more fully. Jesus quoted passages from Deuteronomy three times to stave off the tempting advances from Satan while He sojourned through the wilderness. One of these passages in context is fascinating:

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.”

—Deuteronomy 8:2-5

Jesus obviously recognized the value in being tempted by the devil. Jesus knew that discipline, humility, and reliability on God are essential to Spiritual maturity. James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

I’m not a veteran…and I can in NO WAY understand the trials, suffering, and fear these men and women experienced while they fought night and day for my freedom. I do know, however, that the trials they endure have the potential to send the strongest soldier to his or her knees. By asking God to not lead us into temptation, we are asking God to stand beside us and protect us through the trials we will inevitably face. If anything—through testing and temptation—we discover the calming power of prayer, a complete reliance on God as our Father, and His capacity to provide for our every need.  If God will not keep us from these temptations, at least He will empower us to endure them and will be on the other end of the desert to welcome us home as His mature, able, and beloved children.