Tuesday, April 15, 2014 

Predicted Black: Fulfilled Bold

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him smitten by God and afflicted”. Isaiah 53:3-4

And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”. Matthew 27:39-40

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

And while they were eating, He took some bread and after a blessing He broke it and gave it to them and said, “Take it; this is My body.”

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks He gave it to them and they all drank from it. And He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Mark 14:22-24

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:6

But all this has taken place that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled. Then all the disciples left Him and fled. Matthew 26:56

He was oppressed and he was afflicted yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

When Pilate therefore heard this statement, he was the more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and I have authority to crucify you? John 19:8-10

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:9

And when it was evening there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who himself had become a disciple of Jesus. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given over to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own tomb. Matthew 27:57-60

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; He has put him to grief, when his soul makes an offering for guilt. Isaiah 53:10

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:11-12

When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine he said, “IT IS FINISHED” John 19:30


Tuesday, April 8, 2014 


Headline: UConn Wins NCAA National Championship Over Kentucky

It was not enough to have his favorite team lose in the NCAA Finals. He had to memorialize the loss with a tattoo. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea the weekend before the big game. He might have been a little fuzzy around the edges when he walked into the tattoo parlor but his friends all assured him it was an absolutely awesome idea. Probably not surprising that the group of buddies didn’t all follow suit. But it didn’t matter to him. What mattered was he was a proud Kentucky Wildcat. Now his mistake is permanently marked on his body. My guess is he started to regret his decision sometime during the second half of the game when he realized Kentucky was not going to be National Champions after all. Maybe he started to think about how hard it would be to change 2014. Surely the Wildcats would win sometime between now and 2020 and he would only have to have one number changed. Maybe he started wishing for 2019 since that seems like the easiest number to morph.

Anyway, he made me think of all the foolish things I’ve eventually regretted. I wonder what people would think of me if every one of my sins was tattooed on my skin. Would I have enough skin? Doubtful.

If just a dozen of my worst sins were tattooed on my skin I would pay any price and endure any pain to get the ink off. My guess is you would too. The truth is sin does mark our souls as clear and bold as a tattoo marks our skin. God sees it all. But Jesus is the one who paid the price for my sin to be removed. My sin was removed at an enormous price and excruciating pain. The sin was mine but the price to remove it was paid for by Jesus.

Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden. It was the first blemish on a human soul. Since then only God knows the number of sins that have stained humanity. On a Friday afternoon, two thousand years ago, Jesus hung stretched out on a cross. Even God could not see him under the pile of stains.  On Sunday Jesus walked out of the tomb into the light and for the first time since Adam there were human beings whose souls were without blemish. All of us have regrets. It’s Easter that reminds us that the stain doesn’t last forever. Hallelujah.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 

It Doesn’t Work Like That

“I wish it did but it just doesn’t work like that”. That’s what I wanted to tell her but just couldn’t bring myself to say it. I was on a plane and had scored an aisle seat. She was sitting one row ahead of me on the opposite side of the aisle. It was a fairly small plane. I say that so you don’t think it creepy that I noticed what she was both reading and eating. The first time I noticed her she was reading a Fitness magazine. Ok, fair enough. She didn’t look like an exerciser but who knows, maybe she was from East Germany. Throw back joke from when the Eastern Bloc dominated the Olympics. My apologies to all East Germans reading this right now. I apologize mostly because you scare me. Back to my story. The next time I looked up the woman had an industrial size box of Cheez-Its open and was munching away while looking at the articles on long distance running. It made me smile a little and gave me a hankering for Cheez-Its. I napped some and when I woke up she was reading another magazine. This one was a Healthy Diet magazine. The Cheez-It box was still at her side but she had opened a bag of what appeared to be chocolate covered almonds. She was what I call a “happy page turner”. She seemed like she was really enjoying both the magazine and the candy. She flipped the pages with a flair.

I would have said something if I hadn’t seen so much of myself in her. I’m a person of habit. I read the Bible every day early in the morning. I love the Bible. But in all honesty sometimes I treat it the way my flying friend was treating the Fitness magazine. I think somehow reading actually does inside of me what only action can do. Sometimes I wish the Christian life worked that way but it doesn’t. That’s why Jesus called people to follow him not just read about him. So, I encourage you today to read the Bible but don’t stop there. Follow him. Otherwise someone you don’t know may end up writing a blog about you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 

While You Were Sleeping

Sleep makes me curious. Why would God create us so we need sleep and need so much of it? Every 24 hours everyone, rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, happy or sad, lays down and goes unconscious for a bunch of hours. I just heard about a study that says 100 years ago the average person slept 10-12 hours. Now the average is down to 6-7 hours. But still, it seems like an astounding amount of time for a creature that will live a limited number of days. It would seem that sleep would make more sense when we get to heaven and have an unlimited number of days. Why not burn a few thousand years curled up on what I can only assume would be an awesome mattress and amazing pillow. Not to mention the thread count of the sheets. But it’s here on earth that we sleep. And I think there is a reason.

Every human being has an exaggerated sense of importance. I am no exception. We scurry around thinking about what we are doing, feel guilty about not doing some things, worry about whether we said the right or wrong thing to someone, get frustrated when our plans are disrupted. And at the end of every packed day of self-concern we flop down and go unconscious for 8 hours. Sometimes we wake up and we get all anxious about doing stuff but we lay there until our God induced “time out” is completed before we jump up, shower and begin another day filled with exaggerated importance.

Don’t get me wrong. I think God has given us things he wants us to do. But let’s not get carried away. Most of the heavy lifting for keeping the world spinning is done while we are sleeping.

The desire to be in charge of the universe is the central flaw in all of us and has been since Adam and Eve decided the garden wasn’t nearly big enough. And every day God patiently shows us He does just fine without us. We constantly want to find our value in what we do and God insists our value is from him. We are the objects of the deepest, purest affection the world has ever known. That’s what the psalmist is trying to tell us when he writes, “He gives to his beloved in his sleep”.

Sleep should do two things for us. It should help deflate us from our puffed up importance and it should remind us how deeply we are loved. If that doesn’t help you sleep better tonight then nothing will.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014 

Coming and Going

There is a certain rhythm to life. Karen and I experienced it again this past week. Our daughter Becca who is serving the fatherless in Mexico was home for the week. At least I think it was a week. It seemed more like a few hours. Now she is gone again. Toward the end of the week she began to get wistful. She missed her boys she cares for in Mexico. She was visiting us but she was not home. Home is Monterey. Massive heartbreak is not too difficult to convey in writing. A heart barely breaking is more of an echo of pain and is harder to capture. My heart has an echo now because the rhythm of life is here. Coming and going, my Becca has gone.

The rhythm has to be in that order by the way. It can never be Going and Coming. It only makes sense that the Coming is first. The heart must open first. The day you hold a baby in your arms your heart opens as wide as it was made to open. It can be no other way. The rest of your life you are feeling the pain of a child going in tiny stages. The first time you leave the child with a sitter. The first time you watch the school bus pull away with the little face pressed up against the window. The first time they pull away in the driver’s seat of a car. And finally the first time you realize home is somewhere else for them.

What they may or may not know is that your heart never closes so every time they visit they are coming home because you made a home for them in your heart the day you held them for the first time.

I say it’s the rhythm of life because it originated with Jesus. Jesus calls every one of us to himself first.. He bids us to come to him and he opens his heart as wide as a heart can open. Eventually Jesus sends each of us out. “Go and tell, Go and be my disciples” he says. And we go.

But make no mistake, his heart never closes because Jesus made a home inside himself for us.

When I think of my love for my children I’m reminded of the love of Jesus. My love is like a candle compared to the blazing glory of the sun itself. So today I bring the echo of my heart to the heart of the one whose love for me is better than life. Coming and going. It’s the rhythm of my life and I would want it no other way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 

Wax On, Wax Off

Seeing yourself in your children can be enlightening. If you have children you are in them, probably a lot. You just need eyes to see.

I was talking with my youngest daughter yesterday and I saw me. She has always been in a hurry to grow up. That’s understandable for the baby of the family. I think having older siblings makes you feel you are missing out on most of the fun stuff because you’re just not old enough. Now Becca is grown but still feels it isn’t going fast enough. She is in a hurry to see what her life will really be like when it is all fleshed out.

I remember when I was her age feeling like I was made to be a lead pastor of a church and I remember being in a hurry to get there. Instead God took me the long way. The long way included several stops I never saw coming. One was a six year stint teaching Bible at a Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. Looking back those six years were better preparation for being a lead pastor than seminary. Those students taught me how to make the Bible come alive not just for them but for myself. Teaching one lesson five times a day prepared me to preach the same message four times in a weekend. They showed me how the Bible speaks to every day life or it doesn’t speak at all. God did all this in a way I never expected.

It reminded me of the movie Karate Kid. In the original movie Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel Laruso karate. Mr. Miyagi makes Daniel do what seem like random chores including waxing a dozen cars. Daniel sees no connection but ends up learning exactly what the master intended for him to learn.

I told Becca the story of Karate Kid yesterday. It’s my story. It’s probably your story too. It’s what Paul the apostle was talking about when he said that God causes all things to work together for good.

Becca needs to relax. God makes Mr. Miyagi look like an idiot. She just needs to pick up the rag and remember, “Wax on, wax off”. God will take care of the rest.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 


In the Chronicles of Narnia there is a witch who put the land under a curse of eternal winter. I think after she was cast out of Narnia she resettled here in Northeast Ohio. This is the toughest part of the year for me. Today the gray sky moves seamlessly to a gray landscape making my soul a little gray as well.

But I remind myself that it’s March and the silent rumblings of life are happening and soon the gray will give way to an explosion of color.

I remember hearing Tim Keller say there is enough life in a single acorn to cover the whole earth in wood. What he was saying is that inside an acorn is a tree waiting to explode to life. That one tree will produce thousands and thousands of acorns. Inside of every one of those acorns there is another tree. Hold an acorn in your hand and you’re holding a forest trembling to get out.

You simply cannot overestimate the power of life. I drive by parking lots and see blades of grass that have pushed their way through the asphalt. A blade of grass that I can reach down and snap off without a thought is strong enough to push its way through a parking lot.


Jesus was born into a gray world. He walked the gray streets under a gray sky. There were many prophets who came before him. The prophets would all talk of a world that was coming bursting with color. But it was Jesus who said, “The Spring has come. I have come to give you Life. Come to me and let my Life set you free”.

Then Jesus planted the Holy Spirit like a seed inside of his followers. And the Life began to spread. Within 300 years it had covered the Roman Empire with Life.

If you are a follower of Jesus then that Life is within you. As gray as your world may seem, God is always rumbling deep down.

Frederick Buechner said, “All the death that has ever been when set next to life would scarcely fill a cup”.

Whatever is going on in your life right now, stop and listen to the rumble. Spring is coming. Jesus has brought color to this gray and lifeless world. There’s enough life in you to cover the whole world with disciples. Life.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 

The Three Pages

I have two grandsons. Connor Joseph is my namesake and was born on my birthday a little over 2 years ago. He is a little ball of energy and has two states of existence; complete flat out, pedal to the metal full speed and unconsciousness. That’s why it was such a surprise to find out that he will sit still for me to read him books. His favorite is the story of Adam Raccoon and the Race up Victory Mountain. The Adam Raccoon series is designed to communicate biblical messages with a wise and gracious lion named King Aren. Adam is every man and King Aren is Jesus. I substitute Connor’s name for Adam Raccoon so it becomes personal.

Anyway, last night we were reading the story together. We got to the place where Adam Raccoon is tempted to disobey King Aren’s instructions and attempt a shortcut up Victory Mountain. We were right between pages. One page was the act of disobedience, the next page was going to detail the consequences. All of a sudden Connor put his little two year old hands over his eyes and said, “I can’t bear to watch”.

He said it twice. It made me laugh out loud but it also made me think.

Many times there is a gap between disobedience and consequences. In between those pages we can feel it coming and we want to put our hands over our faces and say, “I can’t bear to watch”. We know it’s going to be bad.

Connor sees it coming because we’ve read the book a dozen times together. There are three pages that happen one right after another. The first page is the temptation. Adam Raccoon sees the shortcut but also remembers the instructions from King Aren. The second page Adam convinces himself that the short cut really does make sense and he heads down the path full speed. The third page takes Adam to a place he never wanted to be. Adam acted more surprised than he should have been.

We always do. The book is intended to help little boys like Connor see the connection between all three pages. If there was another book where Adam Raccoon resisted the temptation then Connor would look forward to the pages between the action and the consequences instead of hiding his eyes every time.

My hope is I will be watching Connor years from now and look forward to every page. My Father in heaven is hoping the same for me today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 

Being Bumped

People love telling a story with a moral. These are intended to be little life lessons. Usually they don’t make much of an impact on me. But there is one that continues to change the way I approach life. It’s the story of the poor man with a beautiful horse. Everyone in town told him he was a fool for keeping the horse. One day the horse ran away and the town people said, “You see old man. You are a fool. Now you have nothing”. The old man said,”You don’t know if this is good or bad. All you know is my horse is gone”. Later the horse returned with 20 wild stallions in tow and the people of the town said, “You were right old man. It is good you kept your horse. Look what you have now”. But the old man said, “You don’t know if it’s good or bad. All you know is my horse is back and has 20 horses with him”. Later the old man’s son fell off one of the wild horses and broke his leg. The town people said,”Your were right again old man. It is bad your horse came back and now look what happened to your son”. The old man smiled and said, “You don’t know if this is good or bad. All you know is my son fell and broke his leg”. Later a war broke out and all the sons had to go to fight except the old man’s son who had broken his leg. And all the town people said…

You get the idea. It’s hard to tell what is good and what is bad. Anyway, I was flying yesterday and my flight was 3 hours late taking off. Instead of getting upset I sat and thought, “I don’t know if this is good or bad”. I missed my connecting flight but as I walked to the customer service desk I thought, “I’m tired but I don’t know if this is good or bad”. The lady at customer service told me the next flight to my destination left in a little over 2 hours and she handed me a ticket. I thanked her and put the ticket in my pocket.

Two hours later I prepared to board and finally looked at my ticket. I had seat 3E. I flew the last leg of my trip in first class.

I was reminded again that I don’t know what good or bad is.

The disciples watched Jesus die on a cross and they thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened. It was the best but they didn’t know. Grace is like that in my life every day. God is giving me gifts constantly and I miss them all the time because I don’t even know what I’m looking for. Grace will come to you today and you probably won’t even see it coming. Just sit back and enjoy the ride when it comes. God is the giver of all good gifts. He gives to his beloved in his sleep. Psalm 127:1

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 

It’s a Mystery

This morning my wife told me she dreamt about me last night. So far, so good. In her dream someone was chasing me. Ok, understandable considering what has gone on with Tom Randall this past month. Then she said I was in a penguin suit. That’s where she started to lose me. She said I was trying to climb in a getaway car but couldn’t because I was in a penguin suit. As she got close to me she saw I was starting to cry.

I’m not sure how she could see that with the penguin suit and all but at this point I had quite a few questions that needed to be answered. But Karen woke up and the dream ended and so all the answers to my questions are now buried deep down in her very troubled sub-conscious.

I think we can all agree that’s a weird dream. What’s interesting is your mind will keep circling back to that dream to try to figure it out. Maybe your imagining me in a penguin suit. Just fyi, I don’t have one, never have, quit trying to make sense of it.

Mysteries have a way of capturing us and not letting us go. If I finish the story and answer all the questions then the mystery becomes a story that I have and no longer something that has me.

My favorite professor in college once started class by writing on the blackboard. JESUS IS NOT THE ANSWER. JESUS IS ALWAYS THE QUESTION. The whole rest of the class he helped us recognize there is a reason we don’t understand everything God does. There’s a reason why the trinity is impossible to explain. There’s a reason Jesus being 100% man and 100% divine is simply impossible math. And we will never know all the reasons. God himself is a mystery because He has us. We don’t have him.

So when people try to figure out why Tom Randall was in a Philippine jail for 22 days or the test came back and the results are terrible or any number of tough to understand things I wonder if we are trying to do the impossible. We have a longing to be the one that understands everything. We are not that one. When we begin to trust there is One who does understand everything and he loves us with an indescribable love we may begin to feel peace. Peace is not having everything just the way you want it. Peace is not even having all the answers you want to have. Peace is allowing the mystery of God and his love to swallow you whole. When that happens then He will finally have you and you will have as much of Him as you will ever need to have.

Joe is the lead pastor of Christ Community Chapel with campuses in Hudson, Aurora, Stow and Highland Square, Ohio. More >

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