Sing About Your Unsung Heroes!

Who would you rather be — king David or his friend Jonathan, the natural heir to the throne? Both were blessed as chosen members of God’s royal family. But David received more — much more!

Everyone knows about king David. Few know about Jonathan. David left a dynasty that will last forever. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the multitudes proclaimed Him the Son of David, not the Son of Jonathan.

David lived to be an old man. In his last days, the most beautiful virgin in all the land, Abishag the Shunammite, “comforted” David in his bed. Jonathan died in his prime — a faithful soldier of Israel. He paid the ultimate price for his Father’s sin, not his own.

So why does David get all the glory?

The scriptures call David “a man after God’s heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). But was David’s devotion to God distinctive from Jonathan’s? We have every reason to believe Jonathan was just as much a man after God’s heart. He was loving and faithful toward Yahweh. Unlike David who committed adultery and then murdered his faithful captain Uriah; there is no record of any grievous sin Jonathan committed. David’s son, Solomon, born by Uriah’s wife, became the richest, most powerful king of Israel. Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, became a cripple.

The scriptures show David as courageous in battle and zealous for the LORD’s reputation.  But Jonathan was just as zealous and courageous. It was Jonathan who first demonstrated that “nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6) He defeated a fortified Philistine garrison almost single handedly. It seems David followed Jonathan’s example when he later went up against the Philistine giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

God passed over Jonathan, as the next king, simply to discipline his father Saul. Yet, Jonathan submitted joyfully to God even at great cost to his own status, safety and reputation. Like David, Jonathan never raised his hand against God’s anointed. Instead he chose to bless both David and Saul. He loved them more than himself. He risked his life for David and then died for his father Saul. Unlike David, Jonathan lost everything by loving faithfully.

David foreshadowed Jesus as a king.  But Jonathan foreshadowed Jesus as a faithful brother and dying prince — the one who “humbled himself to the point of death” and was pierced for another’s transgression.

History overflows with unsung heroes like Jonathan. For every David there are dozens of Jonathans. We must celebrate unsung heroes or we will distort the ones we normally sing about. I am thankful the Bible retains the stories of unsung heroes like Jonathan, Ruth, Boaz, and Barnabas.

Who are the unsung heroes in your life? Is it your spouse, a grandparent, a child, a teacher, a coach, a co-worker, a sibling, a neighbor, a babysitter, a counselor, a soldier…? Take notice of the unsung heroes in your life. Others will not sing their praises but you can. So sing loudly! Celebrate them, encourage them, brag about them.

Often, they are the heroes that reflect Jesus most clearly.

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Finishing My Book On Hope

Dear readers,

Thank you for your taking time to read and respond to my blog posts. They have been received better than I anticipated! Thank you for sharing posts that you find particularly helpful. I am encouraged by how broadly several of them have been shared on social media.

In order to focus on finishing my first book I will transition from blogging every week to every other week starting in January 2016. Once my book is completed I plan to return to my normal blogging schedule.

Click here to learn more about my upcoming book on hope.


Free Coupon for Great Book: The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus

The Stranger on the Road to Emma'sDo you want to understand the Bible better? It is the best selling book year after year. Explain the Bible clearly to your kids. Understand its meaning for yourself. Or consider learning more, if only, to understand the history of westernized civilization.

The book, The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus by John R. Cross is an excellent resource for fitting all the pieces together in order to see the Bible’s big picture. The author starts at Genesis and explains God’s story as it unfolds throughout history. He shows how Jesus stands at the climax of this story. I highly recommend it for personal growth or family reading.

Here is what Amazon says:

[The Bible has] been called ‘the most misunderstood book in history.’ Wars have been fought in its name, scandals have been precipitated by it, politics shaped and reshaped at its word. Theologians have both defended and reviled it. Skeptics have done the same. If you are a typical member of the human race, you have often been perplexed by all the “fuss” surrounding the Bible. The question remains, “What does it really say?” Here is a book that explains the greatest of Bible themes clearly and logically. Rather than focusing on one part—and missing the whole—the author chronologically binds together the entire text into one great universal drama, looking at events from the perspective of those who experienced history in the making. The results are sometimes comical, sometimes frightening—but always true to the intent of the text. When you are done reading it, you may find yourself believing “the Book” like you never have before. Or you may decide not to. The author’s objective approach leaves that decision up to you. “Even though I had attended church for over 30 years, the Bible never made sense to me. It was just a bunch of disjointed stories. Now the Bible all fits together in a clear, logical manner. It really is incredible.”

This book is worth the cost. If you buy it, all proceeds go to a great cause. However the publisher also offers The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus for free.  Get your coupon code to download a FREE PDF COPY of the book here.

When Hope Is Tested

As I began writing about hope, one of life’s bitter ironies became a sobering gut-check. I learned that one of my favorite actors, Robin Williams, committed suicide. It affected me more than I expected. The man famously known as “the funny guy” was plagued with sorrow. I never fully realized the extent until after his death.

Privately Robin Williams suffered from long term depression. He had an addiction to cocaine in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He reported that John Belushi’s death was his wake up call forcing him to turn to healthier outlets for relieving his depression. However, in  2010 he acknowledged his continued struggles with alcoholism. Shortly before he took his life, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. His coroner’s report showed he had diffuse Lewy body dementia which his doctor’s reportedly believe was a critical factor leading to his suicide.

My first memory of Robin Williams was his funny quirkiness as Mork, an alien from the planet Ork, who arrived in an eggshell space ship. The sitcom was goofy; a delightful distraction from my homework. I wondered about the man so accomplished at giving joy to others and yet so joyless himself for long periods in his life.

My sadness was amplified when I remembered the role Williams played in What Dreams May Come. It’s a love story about hope overcoming despair. Chris Neilsen (Williams) and his wife Annie lose their children in a car crash. Annie suffers a mental break down and the strain on their marriage leads to the precipice of divorce. On the anniversary commemorating their decision not to divorce, Chris dies in a car crash.  He wakes up in heaven. On earth Annie is unable to cope with her husband’s death. She eventually commits suicide. Chris learns that those who commit suicide go to hell, not as a result of judgement made against them, but because it is their nature to create a nightmare afterlife. “Suicidals” are driven by their pain. But, Chris insists he can rescue Annie from hell, even though he is warned it has never been done. He leaves heaven and journeys to the lowest pit of hell to find her. When he finds Annie, he only has moments.  If he cannot pull her out of hell, she will pull him in. He decides to sacrifice everything for her, even if it means taking on her pain forever. His sacrificial love breaks through her amnesia and her hopelessness. Annie is rescued from hell. The movie’s message is that hope and love can defeat even the darkest despair and pain.

As an actor Robin Williams often represented unconquerable hope.

William’s suicide was a gut-check that knocked the wind out of me.  But it has also served a vital purpose. It compelled me to examine and then re-examine my foundations and ask myself. “What am I resting my hope upon?” Surprisingly that’s an easy question to ignore. It’s easy to deceive ourselves because our conscious answer may not be our most honest answer.

Jesus says it is the key question to answer. In his most famous sermon Jesus says,

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who builds his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat against that house, and if fell, and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27

Houses built on sand hold up fine under blue skies but we need a foundation for our hope capable of enduring all of life’s storms. Our hope must rest on a rock-solid foundation that will endure — abandonment, abuse, autism, betrayal, cancer, car crashes, denied promotions, disability, divorce, dying children, infertility, financial ruin, job loss, heart disease, mental illness . . . even death.

If we have any common sense we know this hope cannot ultimately rest on us. As merely human creatures, we are made of dust. We are not rock solid. Robin Williams reminded me of that simple yet forgettable truth. He was an amazing man. But, no matter how accomplished we are in life — no matter how experienced or clever we are at dealing with life’s darker side, we are but sand. When life’s storms come, our houses will fall. So we must look outside ourselves to someone infinitely more accomplished and experienced and clever. We must look to God himself.

Robin Williams could never have lived up to all the heroic characters he portrayed on the big screen. However, when I realized those characters reflect a real life giant; my confidence returned. In What Dreams May Come I recognized the real hero implied by the writers when I noted that Chris is a nickname for Christopher (‘image of Christ’). As the Apostle’s creed proclaims, Jesus Christ is the one who actually left heaven and entered hell to win back his lost bride and give her living hope

Tested by hell, this hope remains. It’s the only foundation that will never crumble — no matter the storm.

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The Question God Used to Free Me From Depression

I did not suffer much growing up. I endured the occasional stomach bug and the less occasional flu. My dog and cat died when I was eleven, but they were old and it was their time. Apart from a few romantic break-ups and getting cut from the varsity soccer team my sophomore year in college, I never felt like what I experienced qualified as suffering. Don’t misunderstand, I could throw a great pity party for myself during setbacks but secretly I knew I had a charmed life.

My first experience with real personal suffering came after my marriage to Marty Walker in 1998. To clarify, I am not throwing my wife under the bus. We have a great marriage. I love my wife. Humanly speaking she is the major source of my joy and sanity. I am referring to the historical context of my first battle with real suffering.

We did not want to have kids right away. During the first year of marriage we committed to simply getting used to life together. But after a year, the desire for children started tugging on our hearts. At first, we started by telling each other that, if she got pregnant we did not mind. If it happened, it happened. Another year passed. It didn’t happen. Every month we grew more disappointed and fearful.

We stopped in a mall bookstore during one of our weekly date nights to glance at books on fertility. We picked one that looked user-friendly and credible. I felt nervous and ashamed walking up to the counter to buy a book that had “INFERTILITY” written in bright red letters across the top. I worried the cashier would flash me the unbearable look intended to communicate sympathy for someone who is damaged goods.

When we returned to our apartment, we read several chapters together. It seemed we met the diagnostic measurements for the label “infertility” which now seemed written in bright red letters on us. We cried together that night.

Over the next couple of days we prayed and talked. We calmed down and decided to get tested. The testing was easy but embarrassing for me. It was hard and painful for Marty. At each stage the doctors told us things looked healthy and normal. That was really good news at first! Then over time, it proved frustrating. We realized that if you cannot identify the problem it’s difficult to know what steps to take to fix it. We felt helpless and hopeless.

We decided to pursue fertility treatments. Doctors told us we were prime candidates for success! We were cautiously hopeful. Marty suffered from side effects of the drugs. Over the long months we grew weary of all the charting, and shots and doctor’s visits especially when the tell tale signs of an empty womb mocked us month after month. We also grew poor. Fertility treatment is expensive. Our job in campus ministry does not offer a high paying salary or the kind of health care plans that cover fertility treatments.

Friends and family members started to announce their own pregnancies. Months later their bundles of joy arrived. Marty’s life was filled attending baby showers for others. She longed for her own shower, but it never came.

When the same friends and family members started to announce their second pregnancies that is when the wheels came off for us emotionally. The label INFERTILITY that I hoped wouldn’t stick seemed adhered with super glue. Somehow I’d crossed a chasm and I no longer believed I had a charmed life. I was angry.

Infertility was my first experience with real personal suffering.

After 4 years Marty and I were exhausted by our struggle with infertility. We wanted to move past the pain. We longed to “get over it” but couldn’t. We were tired of feeling depressed. We were fed up with feeling hurt by people who meant us no harm by their insensitive remarks. We wanted to bury our grief, once and for all, and move forward with the same peace and joy we had before infertility. But we felt powerless to do so.

Breakthrough came around the same time for us both. Nothing had changed in our situation. Marty did not get pregnant. She never has. We had not yet adopted. But, one question lodged in our mind and pierced our hearts.  It became the final nail in depression’s coffin.

Is Jesus enough? 

As followers of Jesus the question was unavoidable. Its simplicity and directness pierced the hopelessness in our hearts. We could not linger with indecision any longer. Either Jesus was enough or he wasn’t. Period.

If Jesus wasn’t enough we knew it was illogical to continue following him. Jesus did not merely claim to be an insufficient something (simply a prophet, teacher or friend etc.). He claimed to be the all-sufficient everything — “the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13). After raising Lazarus from the dead Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25).

Every Christian must face the same question — “Do you really believe Jesus is enough?”

The day Marty and I yielded and claimed Jesus as enough our depression died and our joy was reborn.

Are you ready to answer that question? The day you are ready to answer it affirmatively is the day you will bury your hopeless grief and deadening depression. The truth is Jesus is more, much more, than enough for you.

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Author’s note: If you are wrestling with depression do not appeal to this article as justification for not seeking medical or professional help for your depression. That would be foolish. The fall (Genesis 3) damaged every area of human life including the brain and body. Medicine and treatment can help relieve the “foggy darkness” and help you think clearly and thus hope more fully in Jesus. At the resurrection, Jesus the Great Physician, will heal our minds and bodies completely. We won’t suffer chemical imbalances, tumors, etc. Until then God provides physicians, counselors and pastors as instruments for His healing work. 

The Bible and Same Sex Relationships: A Review Article

book_reviewSame sex relationships are nothing new. What is new is an attempt to show that the Bible actually supports them. Recently two books have become fairly popular — Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian:The Biblical Case in Support of Same Sex Relationships and Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation.

Tim Keller wrote an excellent review of these two books. He outlines the arguments currently being put forth by pro-gay writers/theologians and presents historical and biblical counter-points. Kellers review is well reasoned and his tone is gracious.

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