When I come across a list of names in the Bible, it’s easy for me to just skip over it and get to the more exciting story that follows. Sometimes, however, there’s a message even in a seemingly boring list of names. Take Acts 13, for example. The people listed there are from different ethnicities – some Jewish, some Roman, and possibly even an African. Each person has a different history – one likely grew up in a palace like in the fairy tales, another murderously pursued people with beliefs different than his own. On top of that, the people listed there serve the early church in different roles – some are pastors and some are prophets.

Yet despite these differences, these people are united in Christ. They serve the one church together, blessing one another with their different backgrounds and perspectives, interests and gifts.

Multicultural graphic found via Google

I love how the church of Jesus is made up of so many different people, people who maybe would otherwise have nothing to do with each other, but in Christ they (we!) are united in a bond of love. The Good News of Jesus is that He reconciles us to God, but He also reconciles us to one another; one ought to lead to the other is how I see it.

I pray that the Holy Spirit reveals God’s grace to me so that I in turn may share it with others, no matter how similar or how different they may be from myself.

Living wet

Baptism graphic found via Google

When I die, I’d like my obituary to include the date I was baptized.

I realize that piece of information is seldom included in an individual’s biography. Typically the only dates listed are one’s birth date, death date, and (if applicable) marriage date. For my future obituary, those dates – together with things such as family, education, career, and hobbies – will be helpful in knowing who I am.

But I’d like my baptism date included so that whoever reads my obituary will also know whose I am.

My baptism identifies me as a child of my heavenly Father, saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and filled with his Holy Spirit. My baptism was a celebration of God’s faithfulness, a reminder that I am part of his family. The water symbolizes how Jesus washes me clean from the filth of my sin. The water also symbolizes the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers me to live as one of God’s children.

That certainly does not mean that I’m perfect. My poor choices and dumb mistakes routinely hurt God, others, and myself. But my baptism reminds me that God, in his amazing grace, nevertheless claims me as his own which means that neither my sin nor even my death will have the last word in my life.

I once read something about Martin Luther, a famous figure at the time of the Reformation in church history. Whenever he felt discouraged or that the devil was pulling him in a bad direction, he would splash water on himself and declare, “But I am baptized!” The Holy Spirit used that reminder to propel him in the right direction again.

Every once in a while, I stand by the baptismal font in the front of the church sanctuary. Reflecting on how God is faithful to his promises prevents my baptism from becoming a dry piece of my history. The Holy Spirit uses that and lots of other things to help me continue “living wet” – as one who is a baptized part of God’s family and empowered to make a difference in his world.

I suspect that my loved ones will write an obituary for me some day that will include significant events and interesting anecdotes from my life. But I’d suggest that recalling my baptism and its meaning will be the most significant and interesting detail of them all.

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I’ve been invited to contribute occasionally to the faith column in The Rock Valley Bee and this is my first one, published this week. At first I thought I would introduce myself and talk about who I am, but then I decided it would be more interesting to focus on whose I am.

Love above order

If I have a gift of organization that can move mountains of stuff,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
– 1 Corinthians 13:2 (paraphrased)

Pile of papers graphic found via Google

Most people would call me organized. 1 Corinthians 14:40 (KJV) could be my life verse: “Let all things be done decently and in order.” It’s not uncommon for me to hear, “Thanks for keeping things organized for us.” But some have also said, “You’re driving me crazy with your organization.” I hate to admit it, but I’ve even heard the phrase obsessive-compulsive, which, of course, is actually a disorder.

As the saying goes, “Every virtue has its vice.” I’ve discovered that most virtues (if organization can be called virtuous) also have their exceptions. I’m looking at a pile of stuff that’s been on my filing cabinet for weeks. I notice that the pile has birthed a child recently. In fact, the child pile is threatening to outgrow the parent.

Dare I put the child on top of the parent and get back to one teetering pile? Is there a shelf in the closet on which I can hide both the parent and the child and thus protect my reputation for organization?

Does it really matter? Ah, there is the important question. Does my reputation for organization matter? No. Does it matter if I have a pile of stuff setting around? Probably not. Does it matter if I have two piles of stuff setting around? Maybe not. But surely there must be some number of piles that violates decency and order!

If order doesn’t matter, what does matter? Paul says, “The only thing that matters is faith working through love.” Does my penchant for organization help me express my love for others or does it hinder showing that love? It all depends. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it hinders.

Father, giver of the gift of organization, give me also the gift of sensitivity, that I might use all your gifts for the good of others.

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Believe it or not, I did not write this reflection! I post it here with the kind permission of its original author, Dale Vander Veen. Anyone who’s been around me for more than 5 minutes will recognize a lot of me in Dale’s description of his tendency to be very organized!

Now is the time

I’m co-teaching the 8th grade Sunday School class at Trinity CRC this year. The material we’re using is helping us explore worship – both Graphic found at iamradical4jesus.tumblr.com.Sunday worship and our Monday-through-Saturday worship – and this week we talked about how God is indeed worthy of our honor and praise.

I hope my students learn this easier than the Philistine god Dagon did. In a story in 1 Samuel that makes me laugh out loud, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant and put it in their pagan temple. (That’s not the funny part – it’s coming now…) The next morning, the Philistines open the doors to their temple and the statue of Dagon is face down on the floor in front of the Ark! The people quickly restore Dagon’s dignity by standing the statue back up again. But the following morning when the Philistines open the door to their temple, Dagon has fallen down in front of the Ark again – except this time the statue’s head and hands have fallen off!

I laugh at the way even an inanimate object somehow “knows” to fall down before the Lord. It’s sad, though, how long it sometimes takes intelligent human beings to realize this – human beings such as myself. It’s so easy for me to lose the focus I’m invited to have on God and bow instead to things like money or possessions or recognition. In His grace, God sometimes gently draws me back to Him. For example, it might be something I read in the Bible or the words of a song. Or, in His grace, God sometimes brings me to a breaking point to force me to wake up and realize He is God and I am not. For example, it might the painful correction I need to receive from a friend. Regardless, things always go better for me when God receives the glory.

All this reminds me of Brian Doerksen’s song “Come, Now Is the Time to Worship.” It refers to how one day all of creation will confess the sovereignty of God. But blessed are those who realize and confess and live this reality sooner rather than later! If my 8th graders grasp this, they’ll be well on their way for years to come.

The mind of God

At a recent Trinity CRC staff meeting, we looked at the doxology (a.k.a. outburst of praise) that concludes Romans 11:

Oh, the depth of the riches
of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Each of the questions posed here are incredibly profound, but it was the first question that I found particularly arresting:Graphic found via Google “Who has known the mind of God?” It’s an impossible question!

Can I know the mind of God? Of course not! He is infinite; I am finite. He is eternal; I am temporal. He is omnipotent; I am weak. He is holy; I am a sinner. I could never comprehend what goes on in the mind of God even if I were given the opportunity to know all His thoughts and ways. He is way too big and I am way too puny.

And yet…

Can I know the mind of God? Of course I can! He reveals Himself to me through creation which manifests “God’s eternal power and divinity.” I can see God at work in His world. I see Him even more clearly in His Word which is “fully reliable in leading [me] to know God.” He reveals HIs deep and unending love for me; He reveals the things that bring Him joy and the things that break His heart, inviting me to find gladness and grief in the same places.


Can I know the mind of God? At first I’m tempted to think this is a trick question. But on second thought I see it as an invitation to both view myself accurately and encounter the God who wants to be in relationship with me. Even in this impossible question, God answers with grace.

My adoption

A couple weeks ago the Nelson family spoke at Trinity CRC about the journey Cody & Breanna have been on to adopt Bongani and bring him home to the US from South Africa. Cody & Breanna have a great story and it was touching to hear Bongani pray at the end of their presentation.

Photo of the Nelson family is from their Facebook page

I’ve always resonated with the adoption language found throughout the Bible (examples here, here, and here). I contrast it with having biological children: When Monica and I welcomed our children into our home, we had no choice on gender, ethnicity, eye and hair color, health, temperament, and so on. But if we had adopted children, we may have had some say in those matters.

Knowing that God adopted me means knowing God specifically chose me. What makes that astonishing is that apart from Christ I wasn’t that great of a find! It’s not because I was particularly worthy but because of grace through Jesus that I find myself part of God’s family.

The Nelson’s presentation reminded me again of this prayer in Seeking God’s Face:

Adopting God, thank You for being not only the all-knowing architect of space and history, but also my loving Father. You have made space in Your heart for me, and I am embraced as Your child. I praise You for the wonder that You have chosen me, that I have been brought in from the outside – acceptable, accepted, and loved in Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Philip F. Reinders

Slower to anger

Anatomy of anger graphic found via GoogleAnger is a complex emotion. Things would be easy if we could just say that being angry is always sinful. But that cannot be as the Bible records instances of God becoming angry (such as when the Israelites rebelled and made a golden calf). And when Paul urges us not to sin when we’re angry, the assumption is that it’s possible to indeed be angry without sinning.

I learned a lot about anger while reading Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung. She points out how anger is actually connected to love as it can reveal what I really care about. Glittering Vices by Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoungAnger can also provide the motivation I need to make right something that is wrong. As Prof. DeYoung writes:

Anger, when it is a holy emotion, has justice as its object and love as its root. Both love and justice are focused on the good of others… Motivated by good anger, we hunger and thirst for righteousness, an appetite that depends on justice for its object, but on love for its right expression. Anger in these cases adds energy and passion to the execution of justice. The love that underlies it, however, keeps it in check, for love does not seek to destroy the other, but to set things right. (p. 130)

Vicious, sinful anger, on the other hand, Prof. DeYoung continues, is rooted in selfishness and harms others. Here’s my favorite line in her description of when this emotion gets misdirected:

Unhinged from justice, bad anger aims at another’s injury,
rather than another’s good.
(p. 130)

Put less poetically, sinful anger causes more harm than good. How I need discernment to know when my anger is righteous and when it is making a hurt-filled situation worse!

Thinking about anger reminds me of this part of Psalm 103:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
– – slow to anger and abounding in love.

God’s anger is perfect, yet He is slow to get angry. My anger is imperfect. I suspect it would most often be best if I were even slower to get angry than God!

(I’ve blogged about anger before.
It includes a classic Goofy cartoon!)