Comments from Colossians (1:28-29)

So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29; New Living Translation)

Some folk say, “I pray like everything depends on God and work like everything depends on me.” It makes me smile but it also reflects a biblical tension.

TensionOn the one hand, many Christians do little to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). They live so passively or apathetically that faith seems of little or no consequence. If anything is going to happen, God will have to find a supernatural way to pull it off on His own. No help from these people. Their faith is personal and private. They have families, careers, and hobbies to attend to. They might slip into a Christmas or Easter service but not much beyond that.

On the other hand, other believers just work their hearts out. They volunteer for everything in the church and attend every major event. They always raise their hands when things need to be done. They work tirelessly, it seems; Christian Energizer bunnies who “work hard in the Lord” (Romans 16:12).

But there IS a tension, and should be.

The Apostle Paul tells the Christians in Colosse, “That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Hang on a minute! Paul is working and struggling hard, but at the same time he depends on Christ’s mighty power that works within him? Whose strength is Paul really using or relying on?


The journey of faith is neither apathetic passivity not frenetic activity. It’s partnership. Anything less than our best effort is unworthy of our calling. But self-reliance dishonors the Presence and power of Christ..

Some days I put my shoulder to the wheel FOR Him, and while the results may impress others, the effort usually drains me or draws attention to me. However, when I put my shoulder to the wheel WITH Him, I discover that indeed “His yoke is easy and His burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

When the journey of faith feels exhausting or futile, when we feel disillusioned or depleted it may be that we’re struggling hard in our own power. Similarly, when we assume that everything depends on Christ, with little discipline or devotion on our part, we may feel distant, disconnected, and dissatisfied.

Can we struggle hard for the Cause of Christ while also depending on (and appropriating) His mighty power? We must. But His power flows from His Presence. Only as we abide in Him will we bear much fruit.

May God grip us, guide us, and go before us today as we surrender “all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength” (Mark 12:30) to Him.

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Distance & Desolation

Some days we feel the Presence of God as tangibly as a hand on our shoulder. Other days we’re traipsing alone through Death Valley under a scorching sun. Spiritual distance and desolation may come our way for a day, a week, or sometimes a season.

OasisChristians throughout the ages have grappled with this common reality. St John of the Cross wrote his famous Dark Night of the Soul in the 16th century to explore this feeling and experience. What are some of the possible factors? St. John concluded that “desolation” is a purging experience produced by God to make us hungry again for Him, to move us beyond spiritual immaturity and towards union with Him. Perhaps so, but consider the following, too.

Desolation can derive from rejection. Not the Father’s rejection of us, but our rejection of Him. Contrary to popular belief, God is not disgusted by us or quick to abandon us. He is not the angry God who punishes, but the loving God who grieves. But He also allows us to choose rebellion and sin. We reject Him…and it withers the soul.

Desolation can derive from false expectations. Many Christians have assumed that the journey of faith means a joyous road to bliss and well-being. We have no theology of suffering that allows for bankruptcy, illness, accident, unemployment, persecution, or failure. So when we face such things we may feel abandoned, even though Christ quietly enters our pain.

Desolation can derive from failed fellowship. God created us for fellowship with Him, with each other, and with all of creation. Any collapse in this fellowship moves us another step away from Him. When we fail to abide in Him, we build distance. When we harbor enmity, bitterness, or even indifference towards others, we build distance. Indeed, dare I suggest that when we are out of touch with creation itself, we can’t be in touch with the Creator himself. Violence and violation of the created order shatters intimacy with the Creator.

A parched soul produces a languishing life. None of us enjoy such blight. But in truth, we’re not alone. Be assured, the Father neither turns His head nor withdraws His grace.

If you are facing a day or a season of this kind, come again right now to the well. Jesus said to the woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)


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“Is a day without achievement a day well-lived?”

The question makes me uncomfortable. I don’t mind swapping the workplace for the home, but I’ve got lists of things to do in each place. And the more I’ve checked off my list, the better I feel. “It’s been a good day.”

UnhurriedEver feel that way? Busyness seems to give meaning and purpose to my life. Busyness makes me feel needed and valuable. Busyness — racing from meeting to meeting, or from person to person, or from task to task — says I am organized and significant. But this can be like cancer to the inner life.

Spiritual directors throughout the ages have declared that when we abide most deeply and richly in Christ, then our lives look and feel unhurried. Interestingly, nobody in the Gospels ever said of Jesus that he was hurried or busy. Perhaps he would have seen that as something less than a badge of honor, while we might consider it a great compliment. Instead, he stopped, listened, withdrew, paid attention, got engaged in the interruptions … and trusted the leading of his Father.

“Is a day without achievement a day well-lived?”

Perhaps we might also ask the corollary questions: “How do we learn to be with God, when we’re not great at being with anyone?” Or perhaps “Am I in the business of Jesus, or abiding in Jesus?”

Unhurried does not describe how I spend hours or minutes. It describes a state of heart. Unhurried comes not from forced breaks, but from chosen stillness. Unhurried is not what happens when I’m not busy, but a commitment to manage and view busyness differently.

If today took an unexpected turn, if your lists remained untouched, if you couldn’t be “productive,” would you be unhurried or stressed?

The unhurried living Christ invites us to abide in him, to walk with him, to embrace his leading and his way, to find rest and hope and purpose and significance in him. You may be facing a full day, but busyness is a state of the heart (as much as hurry is). Live into the fullness, but not into the busyness. As we become less hurried, our days will be better-lived…and more.

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The Next 10 Minutes

Many of us live sufficiently far in the future that we lose sight of the present moment.

The “go-getters” make plans, set up calendars, have appointments, and organize their schedules. Always another meeting to attend, another place to get to, another activity to participate in. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Busy lives (exhausted lives), bouncing like pin-balls.

On the other hand, the “worry warts” tend to mull over what might happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Dark clouds and doom. What if? What about? What when? We might find ourselves rehearsing a conversation we need to have with a friend or family member tonight after work. Or perhaps we’re dreading the arrival of the credit card statement.

Ten MinutesI recently listened to Jan Johnson speak, and was struck by a simple question: What would it look like to love God for the next 10 minutes?

The next 10 minutes? We usually talk about following Christ for a lifetime…and lose sight of the next 10 minutes.

I imagine it might look rather different for each of us. You’re taking two or three minutes to read this blog post, but what about the seven minutes after that? How might we love God more in those few minutes?

What if we came back to that question several times a day? What if that question started to take over our days?

I’ve no doubt that if we took the question seriously, there would be times when we’d work harder, or speak more truthfully, or refrain from saying something hurtful or selfish. Other times we’d be more attentive to the people we’re with. Yet again, we might discover that we’d pick up His Word a little more. Or pray a little more frequently. Or give a little more generously. Or serve a little more willingly. Or complain a little less.

What would it look like to love God for the next 10 minutes?

The journey of faith is truly a journey of small steps not massive leaps. Perhaps we learn to trust Christ better in 10-minute increments, than in six-month programs. Ten minutes sitting in the doctor’s office waiting to be seen. Ten minutes with the kids in the car on the way home after school. Ten minutes on the phone with a friend. Ten minutes while showering and getting ready for the day. Ten minutes between meetings (or in meetings) at work.

No new activities; no new obligations; no extra time in our schedule; just a new way to think about some of 10-minute chunks of life His grace affords us.

What would it look like to love God for the next 10 minutes?

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Spontaneous Sin

Sin is rarely spontaneous. Vice usually has a history.

When we “fall” it’s usually because we’ve been dragging along the bottom for a while. Picture the iceberg. The 10% tip that floats above the waterline belies the 90% of ice that sits just beneath the surface.

IcebergHow often do we think of sin in terms of an action, thought, or word in the moment? Something spiteful slipped out of our mouths or something evil rose up within us. We regret it; perhaps even apologize for it. In our minds we just “repented” of it. But deep down we know this is likely to happen again, so our repentance feels shallow, hollow, or both.

If sin is rarely spontaneous, then what does this mean for repentance?

Sorrow for a moment of sin is a starting point. But it rarely absolves the heart, and almost never resolves the deeper issue.

Biblical repentance calls us to deeper self-awareness and deeper reflection. My words, thoughts, or actions today are likely the fruit of many days, months, or years. What you see or hear in me is most often the overflow of my life. If I live with brooding anger or constant hurt and feed my mind on violence, then I’m more likely to speak sharply and give a certain salute when other drivers offend me. Similarly, a life of peace, tranquility, and faith (irrespective of suffering) will produce fruit consistent with it.

An angry moment is really not “because I’m tired.” A bitter spirit is not because “someone mentioned that name again.” Malice comes from a history of woundedness. Sexual lust often has more to do with power and disconnection than a passing billboard.

The challenging work of spiritual formation involves the intentional work of self-examination. And true repentance may mean that we need to pause and ponder more deeply. A few tears, a fleeting moment of guilt, and a quick apology may place a band-aid over the wound for a moment. But these things are not the marks of true repentance. True repentance looks up longer, looks back farther, looks in deeper, and commits to the work of real formation.

As our Lenten fast continues, we have a glorious opportunity to be spiritually shaped. It’s life-changing. Our formation happens not by painting over old layers with platitudes and apologies but by stripping the old layers off and getting back to the bare wood before the Craftsman begins the restoration.

His grace sustains us in this gritty work, if we’re serious about becoming different men and women for the sake of our friends and families, and for the glory of God.

Sin is rarely spontaneous. What history has contributed to your vulnerability today?

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Little Faith

The night had not gone well and sometime between 3am-6am, they found themselves out in the middle of the lake (Galilee) straining against a strong head wind. Dark. Windy. Water spraying up over the boat. And here came Jesus. Walking on water.

Walking on WaterYou may know the story. The disciples, exhausted from straining at the oars, are suddenly terrified by what they believe to be a ghost (Jesus). But not Peter. He apparently stands in the rocking boat and says, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” said Jesus. And Peter commences to set the unbeaten world record for walking on water.

I don’t know if Peter took 3 steps or 30. But at some point he notices the driving wind and finally “was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). He cries out “Lord, save me” and Jesus immediately stretches out His hand and takes hold of Peter.

Then comes the punchline I may have misread for years. Jesus says to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

I’ve always imagined a bit of a sigh in Jesus’ voice. The sigh of disappointment. That sigh that reminds Peter he’s failed again. The sigh of weariness or perhaps a hint of disdain.

Plenty of times in my life I’ve seen the wind, dropped my gaze from Jesus, and sunk a little. A time or two I’ve sunk a lot! And when I’ve cried out Hosannah (“Save me”) Jesus has immediately responded. But in my spirit I’ve hardly made eye-contact with Him. Ashamed, I can hear the sigh again (and again): “O you of little faith.” It’s a gentle chiding, a little salt in the wound, the vocalization of my failure. Not nice…but understandable. I’ll try harder next time. I’ll try to have bigger faith in the next storm.

But I may have misheard the text.

“Little faith” in the gospels is not a criticism but a commendation. Jesus told His disciples that if they had faith as small as a mustard seed (that’s very small) they could move mountains (Matthew 17:20) or uproot mulberry trees with a word (Luke 17:6). Little faith is not a bad thing; no faith is.

Indeed, Peter’s little faith saw him walk on water. The story is not so much about Peter’s failure — which is how we tend to read it — but of Christ’s grace, power, and responsiveness to faith of any size. Perhaps the tone of Jesus’ voice was not frustrated disappointment but gentle admiration.

Feel like all you have today is little faith? Don’t beat yourself up. It’s enough for you to walk on water. Just keep your eyes on Jesus, and not the waves. Watch what He can do.

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A Progressive Fast

Lent has launched.

This past Wednesday (yesterday) was Ash Wednesday, and millions of Christians around the world have now begun a fast; not as a way to get God’s attention, but as a way for Him to get ours. Fasting serves to sharpen our focus and our attentiveness. It can quicken our spiritual sensitivity.

FastingBut this year, I’m planning something different…a progressive fast. I saw the idea recently (thanks Laura Anderson) and thought it sounded creative and helpful, perhaps especially for those of us who have engaged in Lent for many years and would find motivation in something fresh.

Here’s how it works. It’s ever so simple.

Start with something simple right now (e.g. Diet Coke; snacks; pre-work social media), then next week (or in two weeks) add something else, then the following week (or two weeks later still) add another item. By the time we get to Holy Week — the week before Easter — we’re at our full fast. I love the idea.

The “progressive fast” saves those of us who tend to start too big and find that we can’t go the seven-week distance. It lets us build up. You could “up the ante” every week (that would be ambitious), or just every other week, or just plan a single upgrade at the halfway point. Whatever suits you best. I’m opting for just two “escalations.”  🙂

Note that this is not a replacement plan, but an addition plan. In a progressive fast we don’t drop or exchange our first item of fasting; we add to it.

If you didn’t get started yesterday (Ash Wednesday), you could start tomorrow, no problem. There’s nothing magical about 40 days. Better to catch some of the fast than none of the fast. In fact, it might be a valuable part of the discipline (for perfectionists) to not get in all 40 days. That will stretch you.

If you like this idea and want to give it a shot, post “I’m in” in the comments. Perhaps we can compare notes and encourage each other as we face the transition points. Here’s a mantra for the season: Start simple; finish strong.

I’d love to hear your stories along the way of how you’re experiencing the Presence and work of Christ in your life.


Front Cover ImageBy the way, thanks to the many of you who have purchased copies of my Lenten devotional Reflections Through Romans. That’s very kind of you, and I hope you find it a helpful companion during this season.

If you’re just thinking about joining the Lenten community right now — we’ve only just begun — you can still get a copy of the 40-day guide here. Blessings.

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“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.” — R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God

Ralph Sproul pulls no punches. He calls it like he sees it. “Sin is treason!”

SinI recently asked an 18-year-old High School senior what he considered to be the greatest challenges facing his generation. At the top of his list? “The normalization of sin.” What a powerful insight.

When we minimize, rationalize, or normalize sin, we settle for slavery and bondage. Sin does not mind being misdiagnosed. Sin will not complain when we think less of it. Indeed, to lull us into complacency or apathy might be sin’s greatest victory.

Of course, those who experience the deepest darkness have no illusion about sin. They have experienced its destructiveness. They know its utter ruthlessness. They’ve felt its violence. They have witnessed its devastating impact.

But others of us have been far less concerned. We entertain sin with fascination. We can’t imagine that sin will eviscerate us. To the contrary, it titillates us. We gamble, tease, flirt, steal, gossip, and lie. “Minor infractions,” we tell ourselves. Yet, all the while, sin grips us ever more firmly in its talons.

Ralph Sproul’s declaration startles us. “Sin is treason!” But we have come to believe that sin is about us; about our woundedness, our brokenness, our weakness. Sin is about us; our choices, our actions, and our thoughts. We  think of sin primarily in terms of how it hurts us. But Sproul will have none of that. Nor did King David of old.

In Psalm 51, King David laments his sin. Stricken by his sexual immorality (with Bathsheba) and his deadly violence (against her honorable husband Uriah), David writes: “Against you and you only have I sinned, O God, and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4) But Bathsheba has endured shame, birthed a child that died, and buried a husband who was murdered. Is David’s sin not chiefly against her and her husband?

How do you think of sin? The story of the Bible is the story of God dealing with our sin, our rebellion and destructive willfulness. Our sin separates us from Him, and rips our lives asunder. It ruins our friendships, our marriages, our families, and our lives. It sucks dry our hope and joy, and afflicts us with guilt and shame instead.

“Sin” may be one of the Bible’s shorter words, but it’s one of the biggest words of our lives.

Three thousand years ago, King David continued his song, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

Sin is no small thing. We trivialize it and normalize it at our peril. But when we confess it and die to it, we can have great confidence that Christ hears us, cleanses us, and empowers us for freedom. Ash Wednesday invites us to these deeper reflections.

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