The Blood

In our Revangelism training, we demonstrate how the gospel presentation is not always the right approach to a conversation, but sometimes it is. Therefore it’s good to have practiced it. So I ask participants to try it out and actually write out a paraphrased version of the gospel as they understand it. I find that’s very difficult even for me. For I love going deep and looking at how it all works. At the risk of being boring, I will follow all the rabbit trails my own mind goes down to explain as best I understand it, what’s the big deal about the blood of Jesus. I have not prepared for this post.

Which brings me to the full gospel. What is it anyways? And for a culture that doesn’t really believe in the existence of sin, (let alone a devil) what is the starting point? In biblical times there was a belief in God and gods across the population, and Paul and the apostles were bringing a new message. Today, we neither have a new message (in the USA), nor a standard of belief in a spiritual world. In Europe, I found that the message of Jesus was actually basically new again (my generation and younger were so far removed from christian influence they were essentially unreached).

We also demonstrate in Revangelism how it’s more than ok to return to a spiritual conversation where you didn’t know what to say. I had one such occasion in The Netherlands, when I took a friend to church with me and he asked somewhat derisively why christians were so obsessed with Jesus’ blood. It was an honest question, as some songs we sing don’t really do a good job explaining it, yet chant, “the blood, the blood,” over and over. Though I believe I did an adequate job of explaining it then, in principle, I don’t think I did a good job explaining it from a personal perspective, or in my own words, and with hindsight, I know was missing a few things. My answer was way too religiously short. I didn’t entirely know what I was saying, but regurgitating things I was told. Consequently, I think it missed the mark. This is probably more of a Gospel post, but you can’t talk about the Gospel really without talking about death, and Jesus’ blood specifically.

Knowing this, it bothered me for a while. I stumbled upon Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life, and his exposition of it hit home in a few new ways, especially when he talked of the blood of Jesus.

So let’s dive in. What is the gospel and what does Jesus’ blood have to do with it?

Now, it’s crucial that we as christians acknowledge that we aren’t obsessed with blood in general or at all, but very specifically, one person’s blood, that is Jesus. Any other person’s (or animal’s – that’s a different blog) blood is no use to us, or anyone else.

I think, in order to understand what makes Jesus’ blood precious, as the old hymns declare, we really must start with a thorough understanding of God as the life-giver. So whether you believe in God or the universe or some spiritual entity beyond our reach, let’s call this thing God. When God creates everything, he breathes life into it. Life is not something that is created, it’s not a chance happenstance, it’s something that comes directly from God. Jesus also calls himself “the living one” and God in the Exodus reveals his name to Moses as “I am.” So we have bound up in God this sense of eternal existence, or life. You could say the fullness, or perfection of life is even found in God. He is the full, perfect and complete representation of it. So very simply, life comes from God. This is foundational. Everything stems from this.

God also only deals in absolutes. That is, he is not kind of, sort of, or a little bit of life, kind of the truth, or kind of the way. We can say the inverse of our life statement, that is, in the same way that all life comes from God, no life comes outside of him. There is no other way to life. There is God’s way. Life is bound up in him. Life is not God, but proceeds from God. He cannot be anything less. Colossians reiterates this in Jesus. He sustains everything. Life cannot go on outside or in spite of Him.

So now, if all of life is found in God and no life is found outside him, then, by definition, anything that can be found outside of him is less than life, or…? It starts with a “d.”


Remember God only deals in absolutes. He is absolutely holy, absolutely perfect, absolutely all the life, all the love. It’s all found in him. Look elsewhere, and you will only find life’s opposite, death, because the fullness of life is contained in and through God.

So if we as free will people want life, we find it in God. Consequently, if we choose anything other than God’s way, by definition, we are choosing death. Paul says it this way: “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Choose the ways of God, get life, choose your own ways, get corruption.

So when we choose to do things God’s way, we reap the benefits of provision that the Spirit can give, namely, life! If we sow to anything else, we reap the provision that we can provide ourselves, which unfortunately, is only death. I can’t give myself life. In fact, I’m dying everyday. I don’t keep my heart beating at night, I don’t keep my lungs inhaling and exhaling. I have very little to do with the life I have!

So when we choose God, we choose life. If we choose any thing other than God, we by definition choose less than life… or death. There’s no such thing as almost life.

So this becomes a law of life and death. Choose God, get life, choose not God get not life. You don’t have to agree with this, but it explains a lot.

Now this is a bit of a problem for us. Because if God is going to go on living, and we’re destined for dying, and all of life and love and joy and every other good thing is found in God, the life, we’re heading towards a massive separation from God (how can something dead have fellowship with something alive?). Maybe God could make it alive you might say. Hold that thought!

We can look around and see that humanity is not able to choose life as it would want to. Perhaps we can do life-giving things, but at the end of the day, we inevitably default into death behavior. Why is this? We need to introduce another being into our story.

When our great, great, great, great, (many more greats) grandfather Adam freely chose to determine right and wrong for himself, he immediately aligned himself with Satan (the devil, which simply means – the accuser), because He stopped trusting God, ergo, he started trusting something less than God.

Let’s not dwell on this, but the accuser lead a rebellion against God, and is actively working against him. His main and mostly only tatic is deception or lying. At the moment Adam joined the rebellion by choosing not-God’s-way, he and all humanity after him were corrupted and lived under the authority of our new master, the one whose lie we believed. You may say there is no devil. Fine. Nevertheless, he exists. You could say it’s the flesh, your own selfish desires, or you live to serve yourself, but in the devil’s playbook, that’s good enough because as long as you’re not living for God, you’re on Team devil, aka, Team less than God. What’s more, we must understand the reality of the accuser devil if we are to understand the blood.

So we’re all biffed and born into error, or less then. We’re essentially born into enemy territory, with corrupted bodies. This part is hard to swallow for our pride. But those who have ever found themselves in an addictive behavior get it. We don’t do the things we want to do! We can’t keep even our own standard. Don’t we say, “to err is human?” We’ve totally given up on being perfect. Why? Our genealogy. We inherited a corrupted nature. Even if we could possibly live a perfect life, it wouldn’t matter. Our default is broken.

Cue the feel good movies about rising above, conquering, etc. Nevertheless, when the movie is over, we aren’t any better than we started.

That’s not fair you say! But let me ask you, could you control where you were born? At what time? In what country? No. Nevertheless, your very life is dependent and bound up in the life of your ancestors. You exist first because of God, and second because of your ancestor’s actions, and your existence is somewhat determined by them. And good or bad, the results of those actions are passed onto you. So, we all inherited our father Adam’s propensity for poor choices.

Brief review – God is life, man has a propensity for death, and is therefor slave to death (a stronger way of saying the same thing because we keep obeying death by choosing ways that lead to it). Remember if we could stop… we would!

So man has a problem, that is death, and therefore is living willfully or unwillfully separated from God and all his life-giving goodness. What’s worse, we can’t fix it! Just read some history. If you still think we can fix it, you’re not paying attention.

But God fixed it if we would have it! He has a solution to bring us back into relationship with him and free us from our death-producing ways.

What’s his grand solution… death!

Wait what? Check it out! Paul says the wages of our error is death. So God, being just and upholding his own standard brings about death to those that deserve it. How is this helpful you say?

This is where things start to get really interesting! God sends his Son (born of a virgin – that’s important) to earth to live a perfect life and then die in the place of all humanity, who – as we already know – actually deserve death. Death was deserved for us, so God speeds up the process by putting someone in our place. Jesus! Born of a woman, for that makes him human and therefor able to qualify to take the sin of humans, and he has to live a perfect life, so that He has no error of his own to pay for – meaning God can lump all the death penalty due humanity onto him because he has no sin of his own. It’s justice – the requirement of death being paid, and mercy – someone else is paying it for us!

So now we are finally back to the blood! Through Jesus’ death on the cross, his blood shed serves as a sign of our acceptance of the gift of God of satisfied justice of the law of sin and death. How? When Jesus died, he satisfies the requirement of death placed on him for taking on the sin of the whole world, therefore he now is freed from the law of sin, however he is not free from death. He is still under the law of death, for he died to satisfy that law.

Now back to Jesus being born of a virgin. So as a human on his mom’s side, he pays for the death deserved for humans. But on his Dad’s side, he is God, begotten of the Father. God the Father raises him after 3 days (you could say He raised Himself – both are true), and thereby conquers death, and so frees Him from death. So he fulfilled the law of sin, and conquered death. For what authority can sin or death have over something that has died? None. Last time I checked, dead things don’t obey you. Dead things don’t become more dead. Price paid. Debt fulfilled. Being raised to life, he proved He was God and had power over death, and proved there was life after death, and then ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of the father. I know this feels like a side track, but it’s necessary.

Now remember the whole point is to get humanity back into the presence of God (or relationship). This means we have to be taken out of the authority of the rebellion, that is, death, the devil, and sin. Now remember that God put the entirety of the sins of humanity for all time on Jesus on the cross. But not just our sins, but even our whole selves. God does something mystical when Jesus is on the cross, and he actually places the whole of humanity up there with him. Not just our sins, but us, our very beings (the sin factories we are trapped in). It all gets placed there on the cross. This may seem weird but Paul and Peter are clear about this – – we have been crucified with Christ, an historic fact. Elsewhere the Bible says we are hid with Christ. Because of this, hallelujah, we are also already dead. Wait what?

Yes, as far as God is concerned, you and I are already dead, the question is more a matter of how are we brought back to life. God bundles all this work of Jesus up into a little gift called life by faith in Jesus. We receive God’s gift of life by faith. If we believe that Jesus is God’s son and that God raised him from the dead, we receive God’s already-done-working of hiding us with Christ on the cross. It’s a gift. And it only comes through faith. How could we receive something we didn’t believe was true? I can’t receive a gift I don’t believe is there. But this gift is here! In faith, we receive the already done working of God to free us, in Jesus, from the debt we owed death and the devil through sin. When we accept the gift of life and justice and mercy of God, something amazing happens and God puts his Spirit in us, to give us His life, from the inside out. This is why Jesus says we must be reborn. He means of His Spirit. When that happens, you and I have an automatic inheritance change. We are now born of God, and share in the life of God by who we are and who He has made us alive to be! Our destiny changes from separation from God to life with God all the time, now and forever. Jesus says God makes His home with us. What an amazing thought! That God would call being with you and I… home!

What’s more, Jesus’ blood has become a covering for us. For God through Jesus and His Spirit’s residence inside us now is for us all the time. He can’t go against Himself and His self is in you! So you are accepted for all time in the presence of God, and no matter what you do, right or wrong, God the Father says, “price paid.” This is a very freeing thought indeed. As Paul says, if the creator God of the universe accepts me, who could be against me?

Because we were hid with Christ on the cross, we were also buried with him, and if we believe he is who he says he is, then we are raised to life with him, and God places his Spirit in us as the seal that indeed all this has taken place and it counts. So we get freed from our old master death, and are given the power and heritage of God – that is, a complete conversion of who we are. Once estranged, now we are sons and daughters redeemed back into God’s family. This is a pretty awesome deal, and it’s all because of Jesus’ blood which covers us and claims us as God’s. God sees us with his payment for us and says, “mine!”

What did we do to deserve it? Nothing.

What did we do to earn it? Nothing.

What’s the big deal about Christ’s blood? It justifies us by faith, allows us to enter God’s presence in boldness, allows God to put his Presence in us, satisfies any shame claim lie or charge the devil might bring against us.

It very truly frees us.

That’s something to get excited about!

Nevertheless, you can see how it’s difficult for me to adequately shorten it. But I tend to be a deep thinker. I intend to try though and revisit this and shorten it by increments. Nevertheless, a fellow Communitaser got it into a one liner this way:

“‘No matter what I do, I don’t do what I want, and yet I do the things I don’t want.’ said a famous gentleman from way back. What was his solution? Jesus. It’s hard to argue with results.”

Enough said.


How I ended up working pest control

In another event of God’s providence, I find myself working as a Pest Management Professional, aka bug exterminator. Of all the surprises the Lord has had for us this last year, this is one of the most fascinating.

Let me start at the beginning.

Last fall, Hannah and I id some support raising after returning from The Netherlands and the hit from covid. Both events resulted in a decrease of mission support, so we set out to see how God might provide. The result was everything remained status quo – we raised some new support, and we lost some support. So as we entered into the new year of 2022, we were praying consistently about what would be God’s solution to our financial provision, since it seemed like He might have something else in store.

In late February, on an uncharacteristically warm day, Hannah walked out the front door and through a rising swarm of disturbed box elder bugs! The infestation was so bad they were finding their way into the house and covered a significant portion of the front of it. Using the front door became out of the question.

So I called the landlord and he directed me to call a pest control agent. After doing a quick search I called Maurice from Indeed Pest Solutions. When he arrived, I greeted him and told him the situation. We continued chatting and he asked what I did. When I mentioned I worked for a missions organization, He got excited and the conversation shifted to spiritual things. I found out that Maurice was a believer, who was in his second year of starting his own business after 14 years in the pest control industry. God had given him a significant nudge out of his old company and lead him to start his own business. All the while we were talking he was treating the house for the bug infestation. We ended our pleasant conversation with him saying he’d be back in two weeks to double check and make sure the pest problem was resolved.

Fast forward two months. It bears repeating that we now live in Virginia, which is mostly covered in forest and consequently there are many insects here! A while before all this I had been invited to Oregon to speak, and Hannah warned me that I was not allowed to leave if there was a significant chance of spiders or other crawling things finding their way inside while I was gone. So I called Maurice again and during our phone conversation he interjects, unsolicited, “hey Brad I got a new truck and it’s yours if you want it!”

I was completely caught off guard! Why was Maurice telling me this? Why would I want a pest truck? I pressed him more about it, thanked him for the offer, and resolved to be curteous and tell him I’d think about it – though at the time I didn’t really think he was serious, nor that there wasn’t some catch. I assumed he was telling everybody the same thing. It had seemingly come from out of the blue. I wasn’t going to stop working with Communitas, that was certain. So when he showed up to treat the house in preparation of my trip to Oregon, we talked more about it and he seemed to be not only serious about offering me a position alongside him in the company, but happy with all my stipulations (which wasn’t more than that I was only committed to working two days a week – and I wouldn’t be easily coerced out of that position). As he was leaving I asked him why he was offering me the job. He responded, “I just have a sense you’re the man for it. Let me know, it’s not going anywhere.”

So I began to pray earnestly and consider whether this position might be from the Lord as something he was doing, not some distraction. After asking a few of my mentor’s what they thought of it, I had better clarity. One helped shift my thinking so that I could see this as “tent-making” and how it would allow me to literally see the area, the insides of people’s living situations, and be invited into their houses, all on someone else’s dime. This would give me critical interpretation of the spiritual climate I could get no other way on the reality of the city, the people in it, and what’s going on at a physical and spiritual level. We call this neighborhood exegesis, and I was going to get a crash course on it through the onslaught of seeing living situation after living situation after living situation.

But a few days later I still found myself wavering. I had a moment of insight in the shower where the Lord stuck in my head John 8:31-32. So I coached myself for a moment, “What is the truth about this position?” The truth was that we had been praying for God’s answer to our finances, I had applied to a few other positions like at nearby grocery stores and coffee shops and none of them had opened, I had not asked Maurice for a job or told him that our support was low, Maurice was a believer who felt God had lead him to offer me the job, he was fine with me only working 2 days, the position allowed me to get to know the city and offer people tangible help, and the position would cover our support deficit. What was I still wavering for? The truth does indeed set one free. I called Maurice the next day and told him I was in.

And that’s how I arrived at taking a position in pest control.

What I couldn’t know then is how Maurice is trying to build a company and it needs leadership development, something I have experience in. He didn’t know that either when he offered me the job but he’s seen it now! Another surprise that’s been a breath of fresh air is the community I’ve been dropped into when we drive around the city together. Maurice is about my age and was born and raised here in Richmond. The vast majority of our clients are also home-grown Richmonders, and I’ve had such a fun time getting to know this new area and culture. Hannah and I would not have had this kind of access to it without God putting me in this position.

So I find myself exploring and adventuring with the Lord again. It’s good, honest, blue-collar work, and I’m having a blast doing it!

I could not have imagined this while we were waiting for God this past season. Maurice jokes that I went all the way to Europe, then followed God back to Richmond, Virginia… to spray some bugs!

All teasing aside, we see how God has done a masterstroke of aligning many different threads of life and ministry all at once: This new position fills our financial needs, gains us access into a new culture, teaches us about the city of Richmond, gets me invited into people’s lives creating opportunity for relationship, and I have made a great friend through it already in Maurice!

What does it all mean? Wait for the Lord!

Our Heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to his children. We are blessed, and I’m so thankful we weren’t deterred and held out for God’s answer to our needs. It’s bizarre, but it’s better than we could have imagined. Who knew I would find bugs so fascinating!

God knew.

Coming off the mountain

The mountaintop.

The mountain top got a bad rap when I was growing up. I remember often going into the Sierra Nevada mountains to a camp called Hume Lake and having some of the best experiences of my life. I was challenged, encouraged, had incredibly moving moments with God, and had as much adventure as I could handle.

One phenomenon I noticed with post-Hume Lake life was the “let down,” that six-months-later-period where so and so who made a real proclamation of faith was now back to his or her old ways. Or perhaps it was me, where the elation of a closeness with God seemed to disappear like watching the sun slowly sink beneath a California ocean horizon (if you haven’t experienced it, sorry, I’m a little wistful for my State of upbringing, it’s truly something special).

I remember in christian circles people I looked up to terming the phenomenon the mountaintop experience. That is, that some how we could keep and retain all the emotion and rest and peace of the mountain top and simply relocate it into our normal existence, and that if we weren’t able to, we simply had a “mountaintop experience.” Of course, at that point in my life I accepted this definition and chocked my lack of God’s presence up to not trying hard enough to keep myself on the straight and narrow. I think “try harder” was one of the main tenets of my walk with Jesus in High School. It’s a miracle I ever figured out what the gospel actually is.

I think however this is a common experience in christian circles. And for some reason we become judges who besmirch the real declarations of faith of another when their lives seem to fall apart some months after that special experience.

Or we total the whole event as just that – an emotional experience where nothing of substance ever actually happened. We forget that the emotions are not independent of reality and are reflective of something happening on the inside.

I’ve come to love the mountaintop experience, no doubt I cherish it! I even learned to prioritize it while in France. I would go once a quarter to the top of the little mountain near our city, Mont Sainte-Victoire. I would climb up a ways with my bible and a list of problems and sit there with God until I got some kind of answer from him. Anything would do and I learned to look forward to getting away from everything and getting alone with God in this way. I look back on these times with new eyes, chuckling at my brazenness. I’m grateful God put up with me and actually spoke anything. I suspect he honored my desire to connect with him, if only to receive something from him, until I was ready for deeper truths.

Moses was also called up the mountain a few times. One of those times he was given some of the most influential rules for living ever, another time He saw God… His backside anyways.

Yet even Moses struggled off the mountain. Nor could he stay there forever.

While doing a Discovery Bible Study with two gentleman in France one time, I had a revelation reading Psalm 23. A little chunk of it stood out to me like someone highlighted two lines I had never thought to connect before. Connecting them changed everything.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside still waters,

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake,

Psalm 23:1-3

All good so far. There is (usually, depending on translation) a break in the text, a space separating two seemingly different ideas. Let’s continue:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

I will fear no evil,

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Hmmm. Things went south a little bit. It’s easy to look at the first half of this Psalm and rejoice at God’s great provision. We are lying down in God’s goodness. We’re resting in His Presence and are thankful for His righteous leading. Life is good. How could we not to get on board with this?

But what happens if you connect the end of verse 3 with the beginning of verse 4?

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:3b,4

Hold on… does David mean to say that the path of righteousness is actually down through the valley? Is God actually meaning to lead us through it? Was that his intent all along, to lead us off the mountain into the valley… of death? This all of a sudden sounds terrible.

I’ve heard some people say that the shadow of death is purely figurative in this passage. I don’t agree. The Hebrew translates out as literally “death-like shadow.” So basically, it feels like death and it’s complete darkness. The Bible is full of references to darkness being actual danger, and in any case, it’s impossible to see in complete darkness. A shadow is only cast by something that actually exists. I don’t think the Psalmist is referencing an illusion of danger. To the contrary I think he is saying it feels like death and I can’t see where I’m going. Words like confusing, disillusioning, disorienting, overwhelming, all come to mind. Let’s also not forget that complete darkness and isolation is used as a form of imprisonment for really bad dudes.

The valley is starting to sound like a terrible place. Don’t let the writer fool you into thinking it’s not so bad, he’s simply “not afraid” because God is with him. We have no indication that he knows where he is going or that he can even see! A better translation for “the valley” might be “the trench.” A parallel Psalm is 44. It’s a bit more bleak and graphic in it’s depiction of the valley experience:

But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger. All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.

Psalm 44:9-19

Yikes! What the heck God!?! This is downright tragic. We can distill from this is one of three things:

  1. The Psalmist is dramatic and things aren’t actually that bad
  2. He’s lying and they have sinned and God is punishing them
  3. He’s telling the truth and for some reason God is not evident and allowing them to experience extreme hardship.

Did you catch the end? Who’s way have they not turned back from? God’s. Who’s covenant have they not departed from? God’s. This is pretty terrible treatment for the one who is trusting God to take care of them. If we look at the two passages together, there’s only one right answer and it’s not the one I used to believe.

God leads us into the trenches. We see the principle in Psalm 23. We see the reality of it in Psalm 44.

It’s too strong to say I didn’t believe this as a youngster. In truth I gave it lip service. I couldn’t have understood it. I used to believe that I was missing something in Psalms like this, that there was some secret that neither I nor the Psalmist could see, that it couldn’t have been just death and sorrow all around. And I conveniently decided that Job’s experience was some exception to the unwritten rule of holy living, that is; if we follow God, things get better!

When we read proverbs, it teaches us to believe that if we do the right things we’ll get the “right” results. And God is good, so He can’t possibly actually want me to suffer… can he? I just need to pray harder, or confess a hidden sin, or be more obedient? Do you see how easy it is to step back onto the slippery slope of “try harder.” This is works! This is religion. This is superstition. Not grace through faith.

While we’re on the topic of suffering, let’s not forget the rod and the staff. Now a staff for a shepherd was used to retrieve sheep and get them out of unfortunate predicaments and situations. Praise God for the staff! A rod, however, is mentioned in other places as being the means of discipline. Paul exhorts us to endure discipline. Somehow I didn’t make the pain connection with that word, but who has to “endure” fun?

So God leads us through the valley on purpose. The valley is filled with pain and frustration and questioning and danger. Why does God do this?

Psalm 23 can be read as seasons of a believer’s walk with God. These seasons don’t suggest sin. They suggest a good God who is guiding us through different seasons of life. He’s not going with us, we are going with Him! We haven’t taken him along, he’s taking us along! He’s holding the rod and the staff.

Season 1 is the mountain top or rest period. The believer’s provisions are met in such a way that she learns to trust God to an extent that she commits herself in some way to the Lord.

So, God good as He is, now leads the believer through the valley, that is season two – a season of testing. He tests whatever commitment was made. The greater the consecration, the greater the test. Jesus fasted alone in the desert for 40 days following his baptism. That’s a gnarly test. Nevertheless, we should expect testing. But why?

Training. It’s not testing like God doesn’t believe us. It’s testing like purifying a metal, or a component that has been created. When an engineer wants to design a product, the product is sent through multiple testing phases it see if it actually works as intended. We’re not products, but as believers, we are pruned. We don’t do more than surrender and let the gardener prune off everything that isn’t working to His desire. The Holy Spirit (the sap) flows through us to produce the fruit. It’s not the green pasture where this training-testing happens, it’s the valley. In testing a product, the point is to break it. In training for a race, a runner breaks down the muscles through use so that they can be rebuilt more effectively after the breaking period to be dedicated to winning the race. The rest happens in the green pasture, but the training and developing take place in the valley. There’s a quote out there about a ship captain not being made in the harbor or something like that. Same idea.

What are we being trained for? God’s glory. Through that experience, the believer comes to see God in his presence regardless of his surroundings, and his dependance moves from a God who provides tangibles, to God who provides the intangibles. Goodness, mercy, and presence are in the end better than the physical provision of the mountain, which is a quiet and peaceful life. Good as it is, God is on mission. So he moves the disciple to the presence of his enemies, and reveals himself to them through the now broken and fully entrusted to the Lord disciple. We find our enemies on the other side of the Vally, not up on the green pastures of Swiss Alps. The person who has passed through the trench is ready for witness. The broken disciple is the anointed disciple. Through our brokenness, and only through our brokenness, the light of God truly shines. Why? Because it’s in our brokenness that we come to the end of ourselves. This is the only way God truly uses us, where we have nothing of ourselves to offer. In our brokenness, God’s healing is clearly visible to the world. We stand not on our achievements or ability or ambition. We stand on his grace and mercy and healing in our lives. God’s mission begins where human self-effort ends. The places where we’ve been emptied (pruned) are the starting points for the world to see God in us. And he will bring us to the table, filled with those who have yet to know him like us, and they will see God through our brokenness.

The unbroken disciple, however, is still striving for the green grass and quiet stream of the mountain top. The broken disciple knows in her body God’s goodness and grace and mercy, not as something externally given, but flowing outward from within.

“You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord


Psalm. 23:5-6

Season 3 is about fulfillment. But let’s be honest, this still sounds a bit lacking if our worldview is centered around feeling safe and comfortable. According to the Psalmist, God is our safety, not the mountaintop. He leads us through the trench, only to put us in the presence of enemies… and there anoint us with blessing. Raise your hand if you’ve felt safe in the presence of a big group of people who you didn’t know – they may or may not have it out for you. But David was king – his enemies would have been trying to kill him.

The person is not anointed in the church, or on the mountaintop, or in the “assembly.” She is anointed in the presence of her enemies. God has become visible to those that need him, and through the valley, she has learned He is safe, no matter what. This is the whole point – to bring both the person who knows God closer to God in depth of trust and dependence, and for God to reveal himself through the person to the world.

What did she do to earn it? Suffered in the trenches, was “comforted” by the rod of discipline, let the good shepherd pick her up out of the ditch when the rod wasn’t enough.

Do you see what’s happening here? This whole Psalm is actually about God’s leading and blessing. The writer has very little to do with any of it. And thus we arrive at the point. God leads us through mountains and valleys in his time for his purpose. We have little to do with any of it, accept to surrender and let him lead us. If we do, we experience new levels of his grace and peace in our lives. Our faith is strengthened, and our trust in Him deepened. That’s what He does! He leads us to places where he can show the world how good his love is. We now have experienced a depth of his love so that we can say, “Yes it was awful in the valley, but God was with me ands presence was so good that I wouldn’t trade the comfort I had on the mountaintop to not experience his presence in the valley!” This kind of testimony requires the valley.

If you’re living in a season of the mountaintop, Praise the Lord! But a valley is coming. If you’re living in a season of the valley, hold fast, anointing is coming. God anoints the one who is set-apart, or consecrated. That means all he is and has has been given over to the Lord. God has become Lord. If you’ve gone through a valley experience, you realize this to be true. God is proving to us to see for ourselves our commitment level to his purpose. It can be truly awful sometimes but it’s true.

Resist the temptation to abandon your trust in God. It’s ok to be upset. God can handle it and knows it’s hard. It was hard for Jesus too! In surrender, you will find God’s transforming presence.

It’s painful but it’s entirely worth it. The reward on the other side of the valley is worth every amount of suffering endured to arrive there. On the other side of the valley isn’t necessarily another mountain, but there is deep awareness of God’s love, faithfulness, and kindness. This is where there is true joy. The Psalmist says “my cup overflows.” He can’t contain how good God is proving to be in his life, his joy is overflowing out of him. He says like Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

We aren’t meant to live on the mountain. We are meant to live in the presence of the Lord. Fortunately we don’t have to go anywhere to have that anymore thanks to His Spirit, Praise God the Father and our Lord Jesus! The experience of the mountain is valid and necessary, and we shouldn’t judge people who are having a hard go of life after the mountain top. They are in the fight. And it is God who leads them there. We can call it pruning, the trenches, discipline, or whatever you want, but the reality is it’ll feel like death and it’s really messy. But where we die, God brings life.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

Proverbs 17:3

but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:10b,11

Be strong and take heart. The trench is coming, but it won’t last forever. God loves you. Sometimes it hurts. Nevertheless, it’s worth it. I would not trade the relationship I have with him, having been proved, for anything I gave up to arrive where I now am. On the contrary, I crave his leading more than ever. Leave me in his presence, one day there is better than a thousand elsewhere.

Nothing else even comes close.

Good Friday

I was reflecting on Good Friday this morning, and an awareness came to me. I have a tendency to try and fix problems straight away, to hide in busyness from feeling their weight. I considered a problem only a problem so long as it can’t be fixed… so if you can quickly fix it, then the problem is gone!

I’ve always tended towards this reaction. It has its pros. Self starting and getting things done for example. But there is a dark side to this character trait. In fact it’s really ugly. I was confronted with it this morning while I was sitting with the Lord.

While there’s no problem with running off and trying to fix things, per se, there is a huge problem with busying yourself to fix an error when that error is sin. It’s actually a form of escapism. When I’m confronted with the reality that I have sinned and it has caused a problem for me (when does it not?) I immediately, and often frantically, set out to fix it. In doing so, I can compartmentalize the damage done by fixing the thing, and thus avoid experiencing the full effects of the reality as it is. So I can escape the feelings of grief and wrongness associated with the knowledge that I in fact royally screwed up by setting out to make it right, right away. No worries. No biggy. Yet this is sin as well. Because we can’t ever fix sin nor will we ever be able to – that’s why Jesus came! In fretting to fix the problem at all I have already denied his work on the cross! Nee says it this why, the difference between trying and trusting is the difference between heaven and hell. Sobering.

The only solution is to start by sitting in it.

This is really an extension of the post I did on forgiveness. Without acknowledging the full weight of a sin done to you, you end up carrying and storing whatever goes unacknowledged.

In this case, without feeling the full force of the pain and hurt caused by our sins, we doom ourselves to repeat them. Until we can say with certainty and complete brokenness, “my sin caused someone to die,” we haven’t fully understood the weight of our error. In avoiding the pain and grief, we doom ourselves to repetition.

Because someone did die because of your sin. Praise God that He has already hid us with Christ in his death, freeing us from death, and raised us up with him, giving us life. Our old man is already dead. Most of what is our new man will be fully revealed once we finally shed this body.

But I think in general we are too quick (at least I have been) to move straight to thanks to God for his resurrection. Of course I rejoice in the reality that there is an afterlife with God awaiting me. But I realize today, that unless I am willing to sit in the reality of my sin, I doom myself to minimize it.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. “

Jonah 3:6

This is the appropriate response to sin. Perhaps the tip of the iceberg. This wasn’t a formality for the king, it was an outward demonstration of the truth that had set in. He, and all his land, had been so wrong. He didn’t minimize it. He didn’t brush it aside and tritely say, “no problem we’ll just serve God from now on.”

He sat in it. And he let himself sit in it. He grieved.

This is so appropriate! How often in our culture are we running around trying to fix problems, when we really should be sitting in them and experiencing their full weight first? There will be a time to fix things, but we must start with grief.

Because someone did die because of my sin. There was no quick fix. No just move on. No it’s not a big deal.

Without Christ’s death for my sake, I’m still a slave to sin, I’m still convicted under the law of righteousness, and I’m still without hope for eternity. Doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, proving I’m a slave to sin and death.

Because of Jesus’s death in my place, through God’s great mercy, I have been crucified with him. Christ’s blood counts for me now, so that God see’s me and says to the accuser, my Son’s blood is enough, paying for the sins I’ve committed, am committing, and will commit. He is my covering. God placed me on the cross, bringing death to this body, thereby dealing with the sin factory that it is, and through my death with him I am now made free from the bondage of sin and death, both for the past and for the future, satisfying the law in righteousness, and yet granting grace and mercy.

Through Jesus’ resurrection, the Spirit was released to earth, and in faith I, believing that He is Lord, receive His Spirit which brings life to my spirit, and transforms my heart and will to conform me to Christ Jesus.

What’s more, He has already, in the same manner as hiding me with Christ in His death, seated me with him in Heaven! All the life-giving power of God is mine, and I sit in the presence of God, no matter where I go or what I do! This is amazing news! I don’t have to try to defeat or fix or overcome sin. I’ve already been delivered from it! I am free! All there is to do is praise God and surrender to the Spirit, when He prompts… hence this blog.

But how can I experience new life (rebirth) if I am unwilling to acknowledge the death that my sin brings about? There is no resurrection without death.

One cannot receive this until the Lord breaks him. There is no other way. Praise God for His Spirit, which brings His Word, which is sharp enough to cleave the spirit from the soul. When in God’s grace he allows you to see the distinction of your own soul from the reborn spirit made alive by Him, it brings true brokenness because you see now in the light just how far off you are.

The question is, how will we respond to our broken state when the Lord brings it about? Will we run off and cover it up as Adam did? Will we avoid the pain? We will try and escape it by instantly committing (vainly) to solve it as quick as possible? Or will we sit in it, lament over our dead selves which still hold some sway in our lives, and await God’s deliverance? God’s revelation needs God’s solution. His solution is Himself – the Spirit of life!

This blog is a testimony to that Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This blog did not come from reading a book. It did not come from reading the Bible. It did not come from some one speaking or telling it to me. It did not come from my own intuition or intellect. I am not capable of making these deep profundities. It came directly from God, by his Spirit to my inner being, sitting alone with him this morning. And I saw it, recognized it as truth, have now seen the light of my own behavior in regards to the truth, and put it into words.

Praise God for His discipline. This is what makes Good Friday good. Someone took my place and died because of my sin… so that I have access to God the Father. Someone fulfilled the requirements of the law and died for all humanity. Some put to death once and for all the demands of the law. Otherwise there’s nothing good about Good Friday. On it’s own, it was the end of a movement. Like Paul says, if Christ is still dead, then so are we. Yet because he was raised, I live, through faith in him. Because of that faith, I am sealed with His Spirit. And that Spirit gives me life by revealing the ways that are death in me. By letting those ways die, I experience new freedom and life. It’s a bit of a cycle.

How do we let those dead ways die? We sit in their reality, experience the full weight of their wages, that we may turn completely and not go that way again.

What does removing your robe, covering yourself in sackcloth, and sitting in ashes look like to you?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God,

you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

Data Collection

Whenever we land in a new area, we start by collecting information. No matter what you bring into an area you will find that your ideas may be just that, your ideas. That’s a problem if God is actually going to do something through you. I was much more hesitant entering Richmond with any ideas than I was heading to France. I still am. It’s too early to fully tell what God would have us do and how he would have us do it.

How do we figure that out? There’s a process for that. We EMBED. When wanting to do anything of a missional nature, we start with looking at our immediate surroundings, asking questions, and getting involved.

Missionality begins with looking at the culture and asking questions like: What is working in this culture? What does God want to show me? What are some needs represented here? Where can I bless the people around me? Where is God already at work in the area?

These are very basic questions and I’ll dive further into what it means to Embed in a culture in a future post.

One thing I am generally interested in is people’s response to the Bible. While I was in France, I found that in general French people had an ambivalence towards the Bible. If they knew you, they may be interested in it. In The Netherlands, I found that people were largely opposed to the Bible.

As I learned more about the cultures, I found that because a large percentage of people in France were Catholic or of Catholic background, they had very little historical interaction with the Bible. I had a frenchman say to me once, “I am French, so of course I am catholic.” Therefore if you were a friend and willing to walk through the Bible with them, they were generally receptive – but not always. This was my experience.

In The Netherlands, my experience was the opposite. I didn’t find one person except a very mature believer willing to read the Bible with me. Even then, I found that many Dutch have a skepticism with relying too heavily on the Bible. Now, I absolutely love reading the Bible! I think it is fascinating! Many Dutch I talked to didn’t have the same regard for it. I even had one christian gentleman whom I respected tell me he was wary of relying too heavily on it.

Is this even possible? Yet it made more sense as I learned about the history of the region. The Netherlands has a long history of strong Reformed theology and what some might call extreme Calvinism. This tended to be very dogmatic with a touch of “us vs. them” and very little room for theological mystery. Many were spit out of the church who had no transgression other than disagreement on the minors, and consequently, too many Dutch have received a Bible beat down. This is not helpful for anyone.

Understanding the “why” of any issue helps you get a clear idea of how to solve it or work around it. In The Netherlands, we had much more success training people to have spiritual conversations. In France we had more success with DBS. Both will lead a person to Jesus.

Now we find ourselves in Richmond. In the hopes of having a spiritual conversation or two, I set out to learn something of my new Richmonder culture’s view of the Bible.

I went downtown with two questions but I didn’t start there. I tried to stop two places before going downtown. I was encouraged to start closer to my house neighborhood, yet I knew another area I thought more people would be out and about – a more plaza-like environment. As I got into my car I asked the Lord to show me were to ask questions, thinking a local grocery store was actually a great place to get a wide demographic of opinion. I thought He said to go to Carytown (downtown-ish), and so I asked him for clear confirmation. I headed first to the Walmart around the corner. I asked a worker if I could hang out and ask people questions and he directed me to the manager who immediately scowled at me and said, “absolutely not!” Confirmation number 1. I then headed to the other grocery store close to my house, and found in multiple places “no soliciting” signs posted near the entrances. Confirmation number 2. At this point I drove to Carytown, parked the car and started walking towards the center where there would be lots of people out and about. Before I got there, I asked a man passing by me if he had a second to answer two quick survey questions. He agreed and I asked him my two questions:

“Have you read very much of the Bible?”


“Are you still reading it?”


“Would you be interested to read it with someone if you knew you wouldn’t be judged or told what to believe?”

“Yes, but that’s not possible.”

An obvious open door, I followed it up with, “What makes you say that?” I found that he was grieving the loss of a recent relationship where his girlfriend had cheated on him, and then she managed to get some friends to use the Bible to tell him he needed to get back together with her. It is not uncommon to hear people using the Bible inappropriately in this way.

In our Revangelism training, we teach that there will often be times in conversations where we have to apologize on behalf of another for their mistreatment of either (or both) the person and God’s word. I apologized on behalf of the Lord and my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we continued talking about it. Turns out he had lost his job, and was getting low on income. For some reason or another he didn’t have a working phone, only a computer, and he had left the place where he was staying, his ex-girlfriend’s. As we continued to talk my heart went out to him and I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He said a shower would be really helpful, so I brought him back to my house. On the way I got to learn a lot about him and why he answered my survey questions the way he did. His drift from faith has been a long, slow, separation. He couldn’t name the time he decided he no longer believed in Jesus.

When he had showered I gave him my old phone to help his job search. He was a broken man, but immensely grateful and I believe my kindness gave the Holy Spirit the opportunity to soften his heart so that I could share some truth with him. I am praying we meet again soon. While he has had significant experiences in church, I don’t believe he has ever really trusted in God. I shared some of my own testimony of the gospel with him as it seemed fitting in the conversation, but only as it related to his situation. I hope I have another opportunity to connect with him.

Though this “chance” meeting was more than enough to justify my trip downtown, I wanted to make a good stab at the survey still. One response is not enough to judge an area by, so I took him back to where we met near his car and headed to the downtown area to at least get 10 responses. In the next few hours I was mostly ignored by people not wanting to answer my little questions, but I did manage to get 13 responses.

What is interesting is that my first responder’s answers are fairly inline with the majority of respondents on one account. Now, true, the survey is a little biased because many people avoided taking it. Here’s how it breaks down so far:

7 of 13 people said they had read a significant portion of the Bible.

Of those 7, 5 were still currently reading it.

6 of 13 people said they had not read a significant portion of the Bible,

Of those 6, 3 would be interested in reading it with a non-judgy person.

Only 3 people had not read much and had no interest in reading it.

What this shows me is that there is a significant number of the people who have little interaction with the Bible and are interested in it.

What is the overall takeaway? Too early to tell, but Jesus said the fields are white for harvest. If 25% of the population are active followers of Jesus according to Pew research, then at least in Richmond, Virginia there might be another 25% ready for someone to reveal him to them. Who knows, the vast majority of people I reached out to didn’t have time to answer my little survey, so I really don’t know how well this represents the greater area.

I plan get back out there soon to try and get some more survey respondents and see how the data develops.

In any case, I hope you’re inspired to get out there and ask some questions. If you want help thinking up some questions for your area, reach out.

At the end of the day, this little venture created an opportunity to show a gentleman the love of Jesus. That’s all that really matters.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life…” Jesus

John 6:27