Chisels for Priorities

This is the first sermon I preached at Brazospointe. The series was Chisels: Scriptures that God has used to shape us. I chose the Gibeonite story from Joshua 9 because it shows clearly how the enemy can use good things over time to take territory from the Lord in our hearts.   

Listen here:

Here’s the video:

Here’s the text for the sermon:

My son Kasen is a Jr at Brazoswood now, but he gave me permission to tell you about when he was 6. From early on He was very physical and sports came easy to him. He rode a bike without training wheels the same week that he turned 3. He was always one of the best athletes in every sport he played. However, when He tried out for the swim team at 6, it all changed. To make the team, he was supposed to swim across the pool with a “recognizable stroke.” He jumped confidently into the pool and . . . well . . . let’s just say it was not very “recognizable.” OK, It was bad, but it was fine with me. I didn’t really want to give up all our Saturdays for swim meets. If he made the team, it would have been great, but if he didn’t make the team, it still would have been great.

I didn’t really care, but Kasen was ready to quit. He wasn’t the best swimmer in the pool and it was hard, so he was discouraged and he was just done. In that moment however, something changed in me. I didn’t want a kid who quit anytime something was difficult. I didn’t care about the team, but I cared about my son and I knew this was a teachable moment – a formative moment. I wanted him to learn how to work for something – how to have a little grit. He agreed to practice every day for the next two weeks and when he tried out again, he killed it. He joined the team and then went on to so much more. He went to the State swim meet that same year. He currently holds the state record for 8 and under backstroke, and even got gold medals at a National swim meet a few years later.

More importantly, he knows how to work for something. He doesn’t quit when things are tough. He has grit. This summer, he is actually working as a swim coach on that same team.

Swim has been a good thing for our family. It has been one of the tools God has used for shaping us, and we are grateful for it. I couldn’t let Kasen quit, ‘cause I recognized how that moment could shape him and be important to his future. And it has been.

As the new Discipleship Minister at my church writing about chisels and spiritual formation . . . man this is like music to my ears! This is what my job is all about. And I think it’s important to remember that we are being formed, shaped, molded, and changed all the time. Something is formed in us every day – both good and bad. If I had let Kasen quit that day, it would have formed something in him too – just not the formation that I, as his father would have chosen for him.

We can’t avoid change. Spiritual formation is guaranteed. We will be formed. The question is not if we are being formed, it’s who has the chisel in hand. While God works to make us more like Him, this world aims to chisel away and distort the image of God within us. God wants one thing, the world tears it apart. God will win that battle every day that we abide in Him and give Him the space to work.

On the other hand, if we place our lives in the hands of the world, if we are apathetic about it, or even if we aren’t intentional, we are putting ourselves in danger of being formed into something other than God’s highest and best. This is where it gets tough though. I mean, this moment with Kasen was obvious to me. It was easy to see with his reaction to just give up. It was a clear moment that he could learn something. I saw the moment and I responded well (which I don’t always do.) But it’s not always so simple and easy. These moments can be tough to spot.  Sometimes they aren’t so obvious. Sometimes they’re subtle. Sometimes I miss it. I don’t recognize all the ways I’m being shaped. There are things that creep into our lives. Subtle things. Things that are good things. Things that gradually, bit by bit, grab tiny pieces of our hearts. And if they get too many of those pieces, they can begin to control us. In this way, these good things can become like little “g” gods without us even realizing how it happened. Good things that become like gods are bad things.

I’m going to share a story from the Old Testament today, that I believe is a similar situation. It’s a story about a formational moment that God saw for his children. You see, for 400 years, His chosen people in the Old Testament, the Israelites, had been shaped and forged into slaves in Egypt. God saw them there, as they were, and loved them, but He wanted more for them. He wanted them to represent Him to the entire world, so He miraculously rescued them from slavery and had a plan to bring them into a new land for a new start. Unfortunately, with their slave mentality, they weren’t going to represent Him very well.

God needed to form them and shape them to look more like Himself. (That’s the point for us too.) All of this meant they had to be holy – set apart and spiritually pure. So God had to keep them to Himself. He had to be their only influence. He had to keep them away from distractions or anything that might hinder their holiness. So as they entered the new promised land, God told them not to make any treaties with the people that occupied the land. He even told them to destroy them. . . Destroy the kings and idols that they find in the land. Destroy the distractions.

By the way, this is still God’s desire: You and I are still called to destroy the kings & idols that are found in our hearts.

Destroy the distractions that hinder our holiness.

Now, let’s think a minute about these distractions – the kings they were to destroy. What is a king? Kings hold authority over a specific location or people. They are sovereign within a certain territory and hold power over its’ people. God tells Joshua, (He’s the leader of God’s people at this time.) God tells him to remove all the kings in the land and to destroy them because God Himself would be the only King. He alone is King. He alone is in control. He will not share His authority. If they were going to represent Him to the world, He had to be first place in their lives.

An English writer from the 1800s named John Ruskin says,

“God will put up with a great many things in the human heart, but there is one thing that He will not put up with in it – a second place. He who offers God a second place, offers Him no place.”

As Christ followers, we must remove all the kings and idols that once occupied territory in our hearts.” We must clear the land and offer our hearts to Jesus, the one and only King and then continue to protect and defend God’s territory.

Our church uses a resource called, “Rooted” for small groups. Week 5 is the “strongholds” week. The whole evening is focused on some of the obvious kings that need to be removed from our hearts. Things like fear, pride, bitterness, control, despair, sexual immorality, insecurity, deceit. . . These are clear and easy to spot. As he entered the promised land, Joshua had won battles against some obvious enemies like this at Jericho and Ai. They were strongholds. They were obvious enemies. They were hard to miss.

But the ones I want to talk through today are less obvious. They’re subtle enemies. They are kings that pretend to be friends. These subtle kings are much harder to spot.

Before reading he Scripture below, remember that God is forming His people under the leadership of Joshua. They are former slaves who need to become holy so they can represent God Himself. God has told them to destroy the Kings and idols in the land. At this point in the story, they have done well. Joshua has listened and obeyed God at every turn. They have defeated both Jericho and the city of Ai in some miraculous and incredible ways. Joshua and the people are in a good place when all this goes down. 

Joshua 9: 1 Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things . . . 2 they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel. 3 However, when the people of Gibeon (who also live in the Promised land) heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, 4 they resorted to a ruse: (They disguised themselves) They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. 5 They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. 6 Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.”

7 The Israelites said to the Hivites, “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”

(remember: God said no treaties)

8 “We are your servants,” they said to Joshua. (These are lies. They really want Joshua to serve them.)

But Joshua asked, “Who are you and where do you come from?”

9 They answered: “Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan—11 And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, ‘Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, “We are your servants; make a treaty with us.”’ 12 This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.”

14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. 15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

Wait!?! What?!?! Joshua is a Bible hero. He’s not supposed to do this. He’s supposed to do it right and be our example. Yes . . . but he was deceived. He was tricked. The Gibeonites weren’t obvious kings. They were subtle kings. They deceived Joshua by pretending to be from another land.

Did you notice how he messed up? Where he made his mistake? Did you catch it? Look at vs 14.

Joshua did NOT inquire of the LORD.

Joshua undermined the whole thing by just powering through on his own. The Lord had given him success in two huge victories. He was confident. He was on a winning streak. He thought he was in control. He relied on himself.  He relied on himself.

Alright. So. . . let’s get personal here.

What are the deceptive kings in your life?

Who are your Gibeonites? What is fighting for more territory in your life? If you’re a Christ follower, then Jesus is the one and only King over it all. It’s all His territory. What kings have tricked you? What relationships or habits or activities have crept into your life and consume you? These aren’t “bad” things. They might even be good. These aren’t obvious kings. These are Gibeonites – the subtle deceivers.

I’ve got more of these than I care to admit, but I’m gonna tell you about one.

Actually, in some ways I’ve already told you about it. My story about Kasen and the swim team is where it all started. Over the years, that amazing formational moment with swim has grown into a Gibeonite king. Today, that king goes by another name though: Waterpolo.

Don’t get me wrong. We love waterpolo and the community of people that we have become a part of is amazing. It’s just that it’s not always a great and Godly endeavor either. Both school and club waterpolo have occupied territory in our lives that was once the Lord’s.

We have missed worship services for tournaments. We have spent money on hotels, food, gas, and fees, for tournaments, and practices, and waterpolo experiences. That money could have been used for eternal/kingdom purposes. We have spent emotional energy, shed tears, and been angry over waterpolo drama – not to mention when a ref makes a bad call. I will jump out of my seat screaming and waving my arms around like a fool. I can get caught up in the moment and completely lose control of myself. Just last season, I found myself yelling at a ref so obnoxiously that from the deck of the pool, he yelled back into the stands at me saying, “You think you’re a better ref?” Then he pulled out a little notebook to tell me what dates I could come to referee training. But, it didn’t slow me down. I just kept yelling. When the game was over, a friend said, “You know it’s a bad call when the guy wearing that shirt is screaming.” I looked down at my shirt. It said, “Be Kind” in big bold letters. I felt really small. I didn’t exactly reflect Jesus to that ref. I am a walking contradiction.

Anyway, a bad call is like the fast track for anger to become my king. Anything that can do the things that waterpolo can do to me, probably occupies more of my heart than I really even know.

To be clear, waterpolo is not all bad. There are great and Godly things that have happened too. God has used waterpolo to form us into His image.  We’ve had spiritual conversations with people who aren’t church people and we’ve been able to be a steady and consistent witness with many people in that community.

What I am saying is this: We’ve been on both sides of the line between what glorifies God and what doesn’t.

My guess is that this has happened to you too. It’s probably not waterpolo, but there’s some sort of Gibeonite in your life too. Maybe it’s another sport, or a relationship, maybe social media, or a habit, or something that has become an addiction. I don’t know, but whatever it is, it’s a subtle slope. Slow and seemingly unpredictable.

My family was shaped by a series of tiny decisions. When we started, there were no games on Sundays. However, as my kids got older, schedules got more demanding and one Sunday, we said, “The team is counting on us. We can’t let them down. It’s just one week. Our kids are still connected to the body of Christ.” We justified it. Each decision was small enough that it was easy to write it off.

Like Joshua, we were deceived and like Joshua, I didn’t “inquire of the Lord.” I thought I didn’t need His help ‘cause it seemed like such a small decision. I relied on myself

Author, Mark Lawrence says,

There’s a slope towards evil, a gentle gradient that can be ignored at each step, unfelt. It’s not until you look back, see the distant heights where you once lived, that you understand your journey. (from Emperor of Thorns)

That’s where I’m at right now. I’m looking back where we’ve come from and where this path is headed. This is my fault. I can see it clearly now and I’ve got to do something different.

So where do I go from here? How do I fix it? Do I tell my kids it’s over. We’re done with waterpolo? Do we kick waterpolo out of our lives? Sometimes, I think that is the answer, but this time, I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it’s more complicated and nuanced than that. It’s too nuanced for me, so let’s go back to Joshua. What did he do?

After he figured out how he had been deceived: That very same day.

Joshua 9:27 “That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the need of the altar of the Lord.

Do you see it? He didn’t go back on his word. He didn’t break his treaty. He didn’t kick them out. Instead, Joshua made them servants of the Lord. It’s genius really. 

He put God back in His rightful place as King. He put the Lord over the Gibeonites!

I think that’s my answer. I think it’s your answer – the answer for all of us. No matter if your Gibeonite is waterpolo, or social media, an addiction, a relationship, or whatever.

Man, we gotta put God back on the throne. We gotta make Him King over it all. He deserves to sit in His rightful place, which is never 2nd place. In the ways your Gibeonite serves Him, you’re good. In the ways that it doesn’t, well. . . those are tougher decisions, but they are decisions that we know the answers to. They’re just decisions that we don’t like. We’ve got to repent and turn back to God. The issue here is more about having the courage to make the right decision. How will we choose to be shaped in those moments?

Will you choose the chisel in God’s hand or the one in the hand of your Gibeonite?

Here’s what I know. We’ve got to do something different. We can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We’ve got to be intentional. Like my son Kasen, it’s gonna take hard work and grit. When God swings the hammer at His chisel, it will be painful. It hurts to cut these things out of our lives, but they will be worth it. We will look more like him as we create new practices and habits so our reflex is to make Jesus King.

There are things we can learn from Joshua’s mistake. We must:

  • Be Wise: Inquire of the Lord. Don’t be deceived.
  • Be Ready: Refuse to rely on yourself.
  • Prioritize: Make Jesus King over everything – especially your Gibeonites.

This is our church core value: Jesus over Everything. Right?

By the way, I should finish the story. In the next chapter, the Gibeonites call upon Joshua to protect them. Who do they think they are? They want him to serve them because of a treaty they tricked him into. Joshua doesn’t abandon them. (which is what I would have been tempted to do thinking now they’ll get what they deserve now) Instead, Joshua comes with his whole army and defends the very people who deceived him. That’s crazy to me. But Joshua did what Jesus would do years later.

As the true King, Jesus rescues you in spite of your sin. Even if you come to Him pretending you’re someone else, He forgives you and saves you and protects you. He isn’t fooled. He knows every part of you and still makes an irrevocable treaty with you. Are you hearing me? He knows every part of you and still makes a treaty with you. This treaty is authorized by His work on the cross and it’s signed in blood. It’s an everlasting treaty and it gives you full rights as a child of the King. The King who will rule and reign forever. If you invite other Gibeonites into His territory, He will subdue them. In Him, there is only victory. Let Him be King of your heart and your life. It’s the best decision you’ll ever make. Jesus is King! Jesus is King! Jesus is King!


Dear God, We thank You and praise You that You are King. You rule and reign over everything. The heavens and earth declare Your glory. The planets were formed and move around their orbits at Your command. The wind and the waves, they listen to You. All of creation responds to You with a resounding, “Yes!” And yet Lord, when I look at my own heart, full of kings and idols, hardened and distracted. I have the audacity to tell You “No.” Lord, forgive me. Turn me from these ways, back to You. Teach me to inquire of You at every turn. Give me courage to choose the chisel in You hand. Send Your Spirit to lead me to destroy the distractions so that I might be holy and represent You well. Lord, You are King over everything. Today, may You be king over my heart too. AMEN. 

Esther was Trafficked

Esther was Trafficked!

Esther is remembered for standing up to a foreign king on behalf of her people. She is regarded as a hero and rightfully so, but most of the time that her story is told, we skip over the fact that she was trafficked. Think about it. Originally, Esther was a humble little girl who was mistreated and forcefully placed into an environment where she would be trafficked for the pleasure of a powerful man, the king.

Let’s go back and consider this part of her story a little more. It actually starts with a decision by Queen Vashti.

Esther Chapter 1 describes a 180 day feast hosted by King Xerxes for all his nobles, governors, officials, and servants to display his greatness.

Does it really take 6 months of partying to demonstrate your power or is this guy a little self-centered? Or maybe he’s using this feast to compensate for some sort of insecurity?

Anyway, a 6 month party is pretty extravagant. After this party, he throws another 7 day party for all the people in the city. It’s a high-brow affair with very over-the-top food, drink, décor, golden vessels, couches, marble, and all the finery. The wine was being distributed freely without any restrictions on anyone. It was an open bar for everyone.

It most likely devolved into a drunken brawl rather quickly – a week long tailgate.

Queen Vashti (Xerxes’ wife) had a smaller feast for the women in the palace during this time too, but she was interrupted on the 7th day by a request from her husband. He was “merry with wine” and wanted her to come to his “feast” wearing her crown so all his drunken “friends” could see her “beauty.”

This sounds like an insecure man to me again – drunk and insecure so he had to bring her in so others could gawk at her and be “impressed” that he had such an incredible woman.

There’s something else you miss here if you don’t study the culture. You see, the custom of the day invited wives to these banquets too, until the time when the men began to get drunk, and at that time the “dancers” would come in to “entertain” them. Wives typically left the banquet when the “dancers” arrived. When Xerxes asked her to come to the banquet, it seems obvious that she had already left the party. Most likely the men were already drunk and the “dancers” were busy “entertaining.” Also, when Xerxes asks her to come wearing her “royal crown,” most Biblical scholars understand this to mean that he was asking her to appear before them all wearing ONLY her crown. Xerxes was asking her to appear naked in front of a bunch of drunk men who were in a party environment where they were free to touch and play with all the other women “dancers.” She knew her husband. He was insecure and was just trying to show her off in front of these other men. She understood the danger that she would be putting herself in. He is equating her with the “dancers.” At this point, he is no longer treating her as his “wife.”

Queen Vashti refuses his invitation. I mean, it’s no wonder she refused. What self-respecting woman would have appeared? Right? When she refuses to join him, she is actually risking her life. King Xerxes, of course, is angry and so he goes to his “yes” men to have his ears tickled and get the emotional support that he needed. Again, we see his insecurity playing out in these behaviors. They basically say, “Forget her. Let’s go find you ‘the most beautiful girl in the world.’” Queen Vashti is banished from the kingdom and Esther Chapter 2 begins with a description of the process of the search to find a replacement wife for King Xerxes.

Now, Esther was a young woman who lived with her older cousin Mordecai because she had lost both of her parents. He loved her “as his own daughter.” When Xerxes’ order was proclaimed, she “was taken” into the custody of the man in charge of the harem. She was forced out of her home. In time, Esther impressed him and won the favored position among the girls. During her preparation time in the palace, Mordecai walked around the courtyard so he could keep his eye on her. He truly thought of her as a daughter and was concerned for her safety and well-being. He had warned her not to let the king know about her lowly Jewish heritage.

It must have horrified him to imagine the things she would have endured and the abuse that awaited her as one of the girls in the king’s harem. As her adopted father, it must have pained him greatly knowing that there wasn’t really anything he could do to get her out of this awful situation. In spite of the way this is often taught, this was no beauty pageant with a scholarship and glamorous travel schedule awaiting. In reality, it was a series of events that started with a forced removal from their homes and ended in sexual assault. These girls were taken away from their families and homes, isolated from the relationships that rooted them, denied the practice of their faith/beliefs, pressured into changing their appearances and mannerisms, stripped of any self-expression so they could conform to the whims of another, and they were eventually sexually assaulted with no other intention than to pleasure the king until he had chosen a bride. Esther wasn’t a pageant girl. She was an innocent young woman who was forced into sexual submission by her circumstances and a king with an inferiority complex and low self-esteem. He was using her to fill his own emptiness and desires. Esther was trafficked. And there were countless others who not only allowed it to happen, but encouraged it and aided in the process.

After abusing Esther as well as many other young women, King Xerxes eventually chooses her to take the place of Vashti and be his wife. From our vantage point it may appear that there were some privileges and advantages to the title of Queen, but that’s what a trafficker does. He makes “the life” appear to be a great opportunity. The reality however, is that none of those things could give back her innocence. None of those things could heal the trauma or fill the void left by the abuse that she had endured. She may have had the title of Queen, but she was damaged, hurt, and broken by this forced relationship and the constant suffering of the continued abuse.

However, as the book continues and the story develops, we find Esther to be a wonderful example of a woman of faith. In the midst of her circumstances and her abuse, God was with her. She may have been damaged, but as one of God’s chosen people, she still found her identity in the Lord. When a plot to kill the Israelites (her people) is revealed, she risks her own life and goes before the King to save her people. There are at least 5 risks she took.

  1. Initiating a conversation with the King broke the law and could result in death.
  2. In order to make her request, she had to reveal that she was a Jew.
  3. Laws were irreversible in the Persian Empire.
  4. Haman was 2nd most powerful man on the earth.
  5. Esther had to be extremely gentle and careful with her speech because the King had so many insecurities. It’s difficult to get someone to change their mind without offending their pride.

In spite of her lowly heritage, Esther uses her position of influence and her relationship with the king, to stand up to him, and save her people. Rather than asserting power and making demands, Esther works behind the scenes relationally to influence and lead the people around her. It is her quiet strength that influences the evil king.

Esther and Vashti are both women to be admired. Both stood up to injustice.

Vashti represents one way of handling the evil requests of ungodly men. She starts from a position of power and stood for what she believed was right, but she also had to be willing to sacrifice her power/position to make her stance.

Esther represents another way. She starts in a humble position and plays along working behind the scenes to build an influential relationship. Out of this relationship, she stands up for what she believes is right as well.

Both women are guided by their conscience. Esther is empowered by her faith.

Now let’s be clear: In spite of how this passage is sometimes taught. God did NOT put Esther in this situation. It was NOT God’s intention for her to be trafficked. Human sin, and specifically King Xerxes and his men are the abusers/traffickers here. God however, is able to reach into any and every situation and rescue us or use us for His glory and His purposes. As Genesis 50:20 describes, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” When we experience evil, we must recognize that God can turn it around and make good of it. As a loving father and one who is all powerful, He is able, and He is willing.

What does this mean for us? How should we respond? I’d encourage you to ask yourself several questions:

Like Vashti, is there some evil that you need to stand up against or a wrong you could make right? Are you willing to pay the price of your own reputation, wealth, or social standing to do the right thing?

Like Esther, what kind of influence do you have with the people who surround you? Is there someone who could serve as a Mordecai for you who encourages and supports you through your difficult circumstance? Do the people around you notice your Godly demeanor? In what ways do you stand out from everyone else? Is Jesus’ name lifted up? Are people encouraged? Are people being treated well or even rescued/saved due to your influence? Is there a way God could use you in a difficult situation? Is He calling you to be involved in His work?

Esther was trafficked, but you and I have been too. God created you, but sin has coerced and convinced us that it has a better way. Its intent is to enslave us where we will be used and abused for the sake of its own glory and satisfaction. The world wants to use and abuse us for its own purposes. It seeks to isolate us from those who truly care for us so it can have us all to itself. Sin “crouches at the door and desires to have us.” (Gen 4:7) It will use us and destroy us just as Xerxes did to Esther. Like her, we have been trafficked.

There’s good news though. In the midst of her enslavement, God made a way for her people to be saved. Esther suffered through all kinds of abuse, but eventually God used her to save His people. In the midst of our enslavement, God has made a way for us to be saved too. Jesus’ blood on the cross is evidence of the suffering He endured, but through this suffering, God has provided a way for us to be rescued as well. Jesus is our rescuer. He is our Savior.

Esther was trafficked.

You have been trafficked.

Esther was used by God to save others.

Will you allow God to use you?


PS – If you’d like more information about Human Trafficking, check out  Refuge for Women .

Love and Prostitutes

I was able to share a message about God’s love based on the Book of Hosea to a group of teachers at my school . These are my notes:

When Miranda and I got married, our pre-marital counselor said we need to learn to “Expect nothing, and appreciate everything.” He was right. I can’t tell you how many arguments we could have avoided if I had been better at this. I’m too selfish to notice everything Miranda does and so I’m not very appreciative sometimes. I’m also so self absorbed that I start expecting things out of her that are not her responsibility. My expectations can become unreasonable really quickly. I try to do better, but Love is hard. It just is.

I saw this quote on social media yesterday:

Ann Voskamp – “I mean, it’s everywhere, the songs and the reels and Kool aid that Love is all the pinnacle, posed moments, the glam and roses and framed moments, the high moments when we are about walking on air. But truth is: Real love isn’t made on the heights but made in the depths, real love isn’t a peak experience, but experienced in the pits, and real love is found strong right at rock bottom.

The love you’re looking for is found in the last place you’d look: in the valleys, and in the pits, and when everything else gives way — and one person reaches out and gives you their hand. Love Himself saves you not because you earned it at the mountain top, but because He holds you at Rock bottom.”

Rock bottom. I’ve witnessed rock bottom. As you may already know, my wife has taken on a new role as the Executive Director of the Refuge for Women Gulf Coast. They offer trafficked women a 2-year program to empower and equip them with the Gospel. They offer aftercare and support with the goal of giving them a fresh start by helping them develop a true relationship with Jesus as well as working through issues caused by their trauma. Miranda and I developed good relationships with several of the women in the house through a Bible Study that we led. They won our hearts very quickly and had such a deep hunger for God that our time together was truly something we treasured. With their past trauma, they had been starved for healthy relationships, and so once they recognized that we could be trusted, we had their hearts too. Anyway, through our experiences with these women, Miranda and I have come to see the Book of Hosea in a new light. The story centers around a man of God (Hosea) and a prostitute named Gomer. God chose Hosea and Gomer, the prostitute, as the central figures to bring His message of love to His people. Miranda and I feel the same way about the women we have met. Anyway, in case you don’t know it, here’s the story.

Hosea 1:2-9 – “When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” 3 So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
4 And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, (which mean “Judgement is Coming”) for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. 5 And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
6 She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. 7 But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”
8 When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. 9 And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

In chapter 1, God asks Hosea to marry a prostitute. Yeah – you heard that right. This probably isn’t one of the Bible stories you were taught as a kid in Sunday School. God tells him to marry a prostitute, but it’s more than that. He is also supposed to love her. To truly love her.

Hosea was a Godly man, so in spite of how he probably felt about this, he obeyed. Think about what this would do to his reputation as a prophet of God. Anyway, he chose to take Gomer as his wife, and he chose to love her. They have 3 kids. Their first son is, Jezreel (means “Judgement is coming.”) Then they have a daughter named “No Mercy,” and finally another son named, “Not my people.” Most scholars believe that Hosea was probably not even the father of this one. Gomer had been coming and going back and forth between Hosea and her previous lifestyle. Like the girls I know from the Refuge for Women, she had probably been trafficked from an early age and hadn’t known any other way of life. Can you imagine? Hosea is supposed to love her like God loves His people. No matter what she did. In spite of her behavior, he had to choose to love her. In spite of his own feelings, he was committed to love her and to act on her behalf always seeking what was best for her. Hosea worked really hard to provide a great life for her. She had everything she could ever really need, but she continued to go back each night to her old habits – her old lifestyle – her old sin. Chapter 2 tells us that each morning when she returned, Hosea had gifts waiting for her. He loved her and cared for her even while she was hurting him. She happily received his gifts, but then gave them as sacrifices to another God. As parents we put up barriers and fences to get out kids to stay within certain boundaries. Hosea did the same thing and tried putting out thorns and obstacles so the path back to her sinful life would be more difficult, but she still trekked through. She was willing to hurt herself in order to get back to her sin. It represented who she believed that she was. Her identity was wrapped up in this old lifestyle. She didn’t really know how to be anyone else. So no matter what Hosea did, nothing he did seemed to work. She still continued to go back to her sin.

So. . . . what do you do? If you’re the parent here? What do you do when your kids keep making the same sinful choice over and over again? How do you respond when they keep going back to their same old sin. If you’re the teacher here, what do you do? What do you do when that same student continues to do the same wrong things over and over again? When they’re purposefully trying to push your button, what do you do?

Well. . . . here’s what God asked Hosea to do:
In chapter 3, she has hit rock bottom again. She has left Hosea and her children and has been living in her sin long enough that she has become a slave. When Hosea shows up in town he finds her on the auction block. He pushes his way through the crowd and looks up at his bride. She’s a mess, broken, battered, beaten, disgusting . . . and she chose this life for herself – over the life he had offered her. She probably can’t look him in the eye. She has broken his heart and abandoned their children. She had been with countless other men. His anger pushes to the forefront of his mind as he thinks about all that she has done – the pain both he and his children have been through. Is there a part of him that feels justice has been served as he draws closer to the auction block? Does he think she’s getting what she deserves? Does He push through the crowd and demand the divorce that everyone would have respectfully granted him? No!! Instead, he humbled himself. He pushes back on his anger and his pain and chooses to love her. He puts her first and he knows what would best serve her. He bore the cost and paid the price to buy her back. She was already his, but he bought his wife back. He chose to love her in spite of what he was feeling. In spite of what everyone expected him to do. He had every right to a divorce, but His understanding of God’s redeeming love, compelled him to a different decision. He chose to act on behalf of her eternal good in spite of how he probably felt. He chose sacrifice and humility. He chose love.

The impossible never ending compassion of God to his people. After they forsake him again and again and again, He restores. He loves “in spite of.”

Not only does Hosea take her back. He also offers her hope and a future. Check out these other verses:

Hosea 2:14-15 – “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
and I will say to Not My Peoplei ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.

This whole story is really just a picture of what God has already done for his people. Think about it. God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and then on Mt Sinai with the 10 Commandments, he made a covenant with them. (They were enslaved, He rescued them. They got married.) Now, when God brought them into the promised land, they rebelled. They took the things He gave them in their new land, and then they offered them to other gods. God could have divorced Israel, but instead He continued to rescue them and restore them and renew their covenant. No matter what we do, He still chooses us. He still loves us.

It’s the same today. The Hosea/Gomer story is our story too. He loves us. We rebel with our sin. And He still chooses to love us. His is a “redeeming love.” Hosea bought his bride, but Jesus bought us too. The price of our sin was death, and He chose to pay that price on the cross. We have been bought.

By the way, no one buys something and then walks away leaving it in the store. When you order from amazon, you expect to receive the package. When you by something, especially something that you paid a high price for, you get to have it. Does Jesus have you? Has He received you? You’re like the amazon package here. Have you placed yourself on Jesus’ doorstep so He can use you? Like Gomer, are there gifts He’s given you that you are using in ways that would not make Him happy? In what ways are you living your old sinful life? What habits are killing you softly bit by bit? How long before these things accumulate in such a way that you find yourself up on the auction block? How can you find your way back to Jesus now? How can you settle into His arms and recognize His great affection for you today? How can you begin the new life He desires for you? What habits do you need to develop so you can live with Him?


A Teacher Prayer for the End of this Year – 2021

Like Moses standing before the Red Sea with Pharoah’s army at his heels, last August we stood before a school year with Covid restrictions and virtual students and we were overwhelmed. We were trapped with an ocean of obstacles ahead and Covid at our heels. “Impossible,” we thought. But you Lord. . . . but YOU LORD, have brought us through. As we bravely determined to march ahead, You moved the waters. You went before us and made a way where there was no way. Digital technologies made virtual learning possible. Masks allowed students to return to regular classes. Teachers worked together to find good strategies for teaching in this new learning environment. We see Your hands at work in all of these things.

You LORD brought us to THIS DAY! Today we celebrate You for guiding us through the depths of destruction of Covid and the barriers to teaching that were literally strapped to our faces. In the desert, You miraculously provided manna and water for Israel. As we marched through our educational desert, and in spite of the odds, we had virtual students who actually grew and learned new concepts. You refreshed us in those moments. Now, at the end of this long trek, today we celebrate how You brought us to the promised land of summer break and we remember the depths from which we came.

You provided everything that was needed for Israel to be free from slavery in Egypt so they could become the people You had called them to be. . . . . your people. . . . . people who would represent you to the world. As teachers, you have brought us through our struggles for a purpose too. You are calling us to represent You as well. These struggles have shaped us. They have brought us together and strengthened our relationships. They have forced us to let go of some of our own burdens and begin leaning on one another. You have brought us to this place today so we will be “better together” . . . . . so we will be able to represent You to our students. Lord, continue to guide us to become the people (and teachers) that You have called us to be.

Lord, today we are excited for summer break, but we also remember all that You have done and we celebrate You! You are worthy of all our worship, not because You brought us through this crazy year, but simply because You are God and because You have loved us so greatly. Your son, Jesus is the full expression of Your love and for Him, we give You thanks and praise. It’s in His name that we pray.


Arrows – Be Brave

Steve’s Word:
I am very blessed to have my children. God has shown immense and undeserved favor to me in bringing my kids into my life. I feel humble and inadequate for the task of raising them to know Him and to bring Him glory, but by His grace, empowered by His Spirit, I will. Notice, I did not say “try.” Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” And that is very appropriate here. “Trying” is not good enough in this monumental endeavor. It’s not enough to “try” to raise them as God has called. I must “do.”

God’s Word: 

Psalm 127:4 – Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

Steve’s Word:
According to this verse, my kids are my arrows, but what does that mean? What do arrows do? Answer: They are launched into the world by the archer (the Father) in order to advance His army into enemy territories. It is my prayer that their young lives will be spent “becoming” arrows and that as they grow, they will be launched into the world to “take ground” from the enemy so that God’s army can be advanced. The arrow’s purpose is to help Him with His purposes for His Kingdom and His glory. Arrows also go into dangerous places – enemy territory. They take risks for a greater purpose and penetrate the darkness with light. Arrows are aimed at specific targets, not just thrown out randomly. The archer “plans” his shot. God is a skilled archer, He has a plan and is able to place you in the exact place He needs you to be.

My children are the only arrows I have and I pray that they will be all of these things. It will take bravery, but they are children of God who I pray will be empowered by the Spirit of God when one day they choose to honor Him and give Him their lives.

God’s Word:
Romans 8:31b – If God is for us, who can be against us?

Psalm 45:5 – Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.

Famous Words:
“With God, you are stronger than your struggles and more fierce than your fears. God provides comfort and strength to those who trust in Him. Be encouraged, keep standing, and know that everything’s going to be alright.” – Germany Kent

“Playing it safe is risky. The greatest risk is taking no risks.” – Mark Batterson

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Khalil Gibran

“Life is like an arrow. The farther back you are pulled, the farther forward you will end up.” – Unknown

“A single arrow is easily broken; a quiver of ten is not.” – Japanese proverb

“Jesus didn’t die to make us safe, but to make us dangerous.” – Mark Batterson

“You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” – Billy Graham

Personal Story:
I haven’t had the pleasure of launching my children out into the world just yet, so the only story I can tell is about some of my students from when I was in youth ministry. One of my greatest joys is watching my ex-students who have grown up and continued to follow Jesus into their adult lives. I have old students who have done mission work all over the world. Off the top of my head I can think of students who have served in Egypt, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Liberia, Scotland, South Africa, China, and Thailand. I have also been able to download sermon podcasts from some of my old students who are pastors. Others have been involved in youth ministry, music ministry, church planting, and other local church ministries. I can think of at least 15 of my ex-students who have served in ministry in a full-time role. There are countless others who are serving in other ways. I even have connections with a couple of my old students who are living out their faith in Hollywood. One is in the modeling/acting world and another is a musician. Both travel all over the world regularly and share their faith in each of those places.

One of my favorite things is when there is some sort of event that brings these people back together. A couple years ago, we got to attend a retirement party for our friend Jon Godbold and we had the chance to see and catch up with a lot of those students. It’s truly a joy for me to watch how they are serving the Lord and to know that God was working among us during our times together to lead them to those places. If that’s how I feel about ex-students, I can’t imagine how great it will be to watch my own children grow into the people that God has planned for them to be. I’m excited to watch as they are launched into the world and take ground for His kingdom. As the verse says, I am blessed to have some arrows in my quiver.

Not the Place

You may see a group of cabins and a firepit, but I see people too. . . . friends gathered around that fire singing songs and sharing some of the deepest parts of their lives. The sound of that door springing open unleashes thoughts of 80’s hair bands blasting through a jambox and floods my heart with joy and the emotions I experienced in those cabins. I can smell the wind as it carries laughter through the trees, and in spite of my attempts to describe it, you will never be able to hear that laughter. And how could I blame you? You weren’t there.

I love being in certain places. There are places that conjure deep emotions for me and some that make me feel light and free. Each of these places is filled with memories.

As much as I try, I have found that I can’t really ever go back to those places though. I mean. . . yes. . . I can be in the same space and I can enjoy being there and remembering, but it’ll never quite be the way I remembered it. What I remember is not just the place, it’s the people who were with me and the circumstances around my life that shaped the way I experienced that place. Even if the place has by some miracle stayed the same, the people and circumstances around my life have changed and so I experience it differently.

David Wilcox says, “The measure of that place is the pleasure on your face.”

It’s not the place that makes it special – it’s the people and it’s God. What makes certain places stand out and become memorable to us is God’s hand stirring our hearts and guiding our thoughts/emotions as we interact with others in the space that we’re in. (By the way, even if you’re alone in the space, God is still with you.)


Train Up a Child

Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I don’t know what you hear when you read this verse (or hear someone using it to tell you how to raise your child), but this is what I hear: “Raise your kid right. Teach him all the rules about how to live a Godly life and how to treat other people and when he is old, he will live that way. Train him to be a Godly man, and he won’t go down the wrong path. Whatever you teach him or forget to teach him, will determine how he will live and if he will be a productive member of society.”

Well..I hear something like that anyway. However, this is NOT what the Scripture says. I’m not going to debate all the ins and outs of what I hear, but I do want to point out what the verse actually says. Charles F Boyd says:

“The phrase ‘in the way he should go’ does not refer to some prescribed path that every person should follow. In the Hebrew language, the phrase is better rendered, ‘according to his way.’ And the Hebrew word for ‘way’ is derek, which literally means ‘bent’ and refers to a unique inner design or direction.” 

This verse is not about rules and a path, but about a relationship with my children. It means I’ve got to learn how God made them – their spiritual gifts, their skills/abilities, their passions/heart. I need to work at God’s side. God designed my children a certain way for His specific purposes and my role is to watch them closely, to recognize God’s handiwork, and then to join Him to strengthen and grow those gifts within them. I need to pay attention to the people in their lives and the opportunities that God presents to them. All of these things can be pieces to discovering God’s will for their lives. In order to “train them up in the way they should go,” I’m going to have to know something about the way they should go. Building close relationships is my best chance at getting that part right.

In the world we live in, it’s clear that people are able to accomplish more when they operate in the their strengths. That’s what this verse is about: finding our kids “strengths” (spiritual gifts) and then training them to develop those gifts to their full potential.

Worst Dad

Kesleigh told me I was her “Worst Dad.” She went on to explain that her other dad was God. I guess that means I’m OK with being her “worst dad.” Maybe that should even be my goal? Keep propping up God and showing her how great He is so that I sort of fade into the background of her life. Wow….it’s hard to say that, but that’s truly what I want. I want her to be so in love with Him that I’m secondary. I want her to know that in Him, life goes on and she can find everything she needs with or without me.


The word “love” has been hijacked by our culture. It’s misused all the time. We “love” certain foods and as culture defines it, “love” changes with our emotions. This is why divorce is accepted and rampant. Even with all the talk about it and obsession with it, we don’t know what “love” is.

When Jesus left the earth, it was his “presence” that He expressed to us, not his love. I wonder, “Is presence the full expression of love? Jesus presence on the cross in our place – His presence in our sin.” The people who have the strongest marriages our our world are those who have been “present” with each other the longest. When my own marriage is at it’s best, it’s when we are fully “present” with each other. The closest relationships I have in this world are those people who I have been with the most – That includes both family and friends. Maybe “presence” is more important than love? (Probably not, but considering the way our culture has defined love, maybe this is a better way to think about it?)

I wonder what our world would be like if we started valuing “presence?” Would our marriages last longer? Would we put down our cell phones more and be with the ones we’re with?

In times of grief, Jewish people “sit shiva.” They just make themselves present with those who are mourning. They aren’t expected to say anything or do anything – simply “be” with each other. This is an example of valuing “presence.”

In his story “The Places Outside the Maps,” Doug McKelvey speaks of a man who has gone through many struggles and says of him, “It had never been answers he had sought in his sufferings, but presence, and that presence was here and was itself the thing that had always stood – from the foundations of the world and even before and even after – in the place that answers could not. Before the questions had been asked, the presence had already been given.”

I’m really just asking questions today. This idea was thought provoking for me.

What do you guys think?

Quiet – The Internet Can’t Do This

Quiet – The internet doesn’t do quiet. It’s good for a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. The internet overflows with information. It is loud and noisy. It’s a million voices. It’s full of people. (Many who would never be so obnoxious in person.) This can be a great thing. Sometimes, we need sensory overload and we need to fill our brains. Only then, can we sort through it all and make sense of the world around us.

Unfortunately, we need quiet for that part to happen. We can’t live our lives fully online, ’cause the internet doesn’t do quiet. When we’re online, we don’t see the long, quiet, thoughtful moments where people wrestled with themselves or with God or with other people. No one communicates the deep unsure quiet space where they work through things…..where they pray or where they seek guidance, but we need these times to sort through all the noise and settle in on the quiet where we find the “still small voice.”

I studied under Mike Ayers in college and he used to say, “A leader needs time to sit and stare out the window.” We’ve all got to have time to stare and imagine what life “could” be like and maybe more importantly, how it “should” be. Staring out the window gives us a chance to imagine and create a way to get to these new places, how build something new, to develop a new strategy. It allows us space to dream. Maybe daydreaming should be a bit of a discipline? When we need to make big/important decisions we need space and margin. We need quiet. Internet can’t do this.

Confession: Quiet is what I need. Soccer games, and football practices, and dance classes, and church responsibilities, and work, and family, and lifegroup, and, and, and. It all just overwhelms me. My life seems like a lot of noise. Then I come home to the internet……and it’s just more noise, more information, more, more, more. The stress builds and just piles on. I feel like screaming. I just want it to stop. I need quiet. I need margin and space so I am working on it. As a family, we are taking January off from sports – no soccer games or practices. We didn’t sign up for basketball. We’re planning to go camping. I’m also refraining from tv and much of the internet – planning to read more and write (on this blog) – to contemplate and sit and “stare out the window.” Pray for me.

I’d also encourage you to do the same – take a break from the internet. Disconnect and I believe you’ll find real connections – deep connections which the internet cannot provide. Get quiet. Listen to God. He is so much better than the internet. He has real answers without the booming voice – without all the sensory overload and confusion. He is the “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)