Another Prince, Another Pauper

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prince and pauperTwo men came to Jesus, each with a request. One man was blind and poor, and wanted to see; the other was rich and sighted, and wanted eternal life.

Both requests were good and right, and Jesus offered answers to both. So why did one man walk away praising God and the other walked away sad?

The difference between the two men was not in their wealth, but their heart. Yes, the blind man was poor; unable to see, his only income was the coins he begged from passersby at the city gates. Yet his poverty went deeper than his wallet. Downtrodden and outcast, all that his blind eyes could see was the rejection of those walking past him each day. And it was in this poverty of spirit that he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” His request was both simple and impossible: I want to see.

The rich man may well have been one of those who tossed a few coins at the nameless, faceless beggars he daily rode by. Doubtless honored both for business savvy and his commandment-keeping righteousness, his request was no less honorable than the blind man’s: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Though both petitions were good, the difference between them was stark. Where the blind man knew he was could do nothing to bring about his own healing, the rich man believed his prayer could be answered by some good deed, some noble gesture, some further mark of his own power and wealth and righteousness. His perfect eyes and fat money-purse blinded him to the poverty of his own soul.

Jesus answered both men’s requests just as they wanted him to: He did for the blind man what he knew he could not do for himself; and he gave the wealthy man a very simple task – a good deed that was very do-able yet proved impossible for the seeker of life.

There is a deep irony in these two encounters (read them in Luke 18:18-43): a penniless blind man sees his poverty, and purchases by his faith the new eyes that no king could ever afford. Across town a wealthy man, blind to his own destitution, refuses to trade his affluence for the only thing that could make him truly rich.


It is easy to read these stories in the Bible, to celebrate the healing of the one and groan at the obstinacy of the other. But God does not want us to merely read, cheer, and groan. He wants us to see ourselves in His Word, to decide how we will respond. Who are you?

Are you the man without eyes, convinced of your unworthiness and the impossibility of your situation? Or are you the one with both eyes and money, wondering what else you can do to earn God’s favor and presence?

Will you come to God in helpless faith, pleading for mercy first and sight second? Or do you come with wallet open, looking for yet another spiritual tax deduction?

Will you walk away with Jesus, glorifying God? Or will you just walk away, sadly looking for an easier way?

Why I Coach Girls

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girl soccerThe easiest answer, of course: I have two daughters of my own, and I coach girls because of them. But there’s a bigger answer, too.

When I was a young husband looking forward to having kids, I wanted girls. I was grateful and excited when our first child—a boy—was born, but I was also afraid he’d turn out just like me…the difficult, strong-willed, challenging me. After all, that would have been an answer to my mom’s prayer: that her kids would have children just like them. (When I found that out, I quoted Scripture to her: “bless those who persecute you; bless, and do not curse.”)

When my daughters were born (four years apart), I was again grateful and excited. So many people assured me that girls are much easier to raise than boys. I thought the hardest challenge would be learning to braid their hair, and that my biggest fears wouldn’t come until they started dating…in about thirty years!

Then I started learning about things I’d never considered before. Sexting. Cyberbullying. Cutting Date rape. And the big one: human trafficking. My daughters were 10 and 7 when I learned of a young girl kidnapped at her school bus stop and held as a sex slave for 18 years before being rescued. She was 11 when the world collapsed around her. She had two daughters while in captivity. And she’d been snatched less than fifty miles from our home.

I’ve coached my youngest daughter’s soccer teams since she was eight. Over the course of those five seasons I’ve coached nearly sixty girls from 8-13. If you thought getting a daughter through puberty was challenging, just look up some of the statistics for that age range; they’re frightening.

My coaching won’t prevent these girls from being abused. I can’t protect them from the stranger who wants to snatch them as they walk home from school, or from the “nice boy” with roving hands. What I can do, though, is try to build their strength, both emotionally and physically. I can help them run faster and kick harder.

I can value them and show them respect. I can help them find their voice, whether that means calling across the field to a teammate or calling for help when they’re in trouble. Or even if it just means listening to them.

I can encourage and help these girls accomplish what they may never have accomplished before, whether it’s playing a soccer game, scoring a goal, or leading a team.

Why do I coach girls? Because maybe—just maybe—one of them will someday have the strength, courage, voice, and wisdom to rock someone’s world. Or even to change the world.

Go get ’em, girls!

Going It Alone

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Ethiopia vista

Jordan is the type of separation where there is no fellowship with anyone else, and where no one can take the responsibility for you.1

How many years had Elisha walked with his mentor, Elijah? Seven? Eight? How many times had he witnessed the power of God come down through the words and deeds of the great prophet? Countless times. And now….

For days now, Elisha has known the time was at hand. Three times the prophet had told his young protege, stay here while I go into the city. Three times, Elisha has refused, insisting that he stay by his side. And in each city, the locals remind him that his master’s days are numbered. I know, he says. Shut up and don’t remind me! And now….

Now Elijah has disappeared, taken up miraculously from before his very eyes. Chariots. Horses. Fire. A whirlwind. And when the tumult dies down, Elisha is alone. Alone on the banks of the river they had crossed together only moments before.

The thunderous drama of the prophet’s exit only magnifies the deafening silence in which Elisha now stands; Elijah’s billowing cloak, now lying in a dusty clump on the parched ground, the only sign that he’d ever been there. And now….

Such spectacles do not come frequently in our lives, but the times of aloneness are all-too-common. We leave the spiritual height of a mission trip and, on returning home, find that no one really understands, and too few even seem to care. We meet God at a mountain camp, only to return to the doldrums of daily life back at sea level. We are fêted well as we say goodbye to a ministry we have loved and prospered, then find ourselves alone and waiting by the Jordan for some sign that we are not really alone.

And there on the banks of our own Jordan, as Chambers says, “you have to put to the test now what you learned when you were with your Elijah. … If you want to know whether God is the God you have faith to believe Him to be, then go through your Jordan alone.

Think about that for a moment: Do you want to know whether God is the God you think He is? You can only know it when you get alone. No one can know it for you. Friends, mentors, a spouse… they can all tell you it’s true… that God is true. But only you can know it.

In order to know he was not alone, Elisha had to pick up the prophet’s cloak and put it around his own shoulders. What is that cloak for you? Perhaps a Bible that has sat too long untouched. For me it was a Jacob-like wrestling match with God (see Genesis 32:22-32).

Pick up the cloak and know the truth of what you believe.

1 [Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Aug 11. See 2 Kings 2:1-25.]

Listening in Community

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Western culture places great emphasis on the individual. In sports we call out and praise individual performance, giving little more than lip service to how well a team plays. (Just look at baseball: nine players on the field, but only the pitcher is said to have won or lost the game.)

In school, each student is given a grade the she alone has worked for. Team projects are the exception, and a dreaded one at that.

Even in the Christian faith we stress the individual’s responsibility to accept or reject Jesus Christ. (I’ve written about this twice before, based on my first experience in Ethiopia. You can read those posts from 2015 and from 2008 if you want.)

But there is power in community, especially when it comes to making decisions. I recall a scene in a documentary from many years ago: the elders of an African tribe sitting in a circle discussing the appropriate marriage dowry for one of the girls in the tribe. Even as I write that i struggle with how wrong everything about it sounds – but only because it is foreign to me; I also see great wisdom.

Imagine if we were to harness the power and wisdom of collected minds for such things as job changes and career moves; for engagements (or divorces!); for discerning God’s call on our lives.

My parents recently gave me a number of books they’ve read over the years; the one at the top of this post among the titles. I just started reading it but wish I’d read it six months ago. Or three years ago. or twenty years ago. Listening Hearts: Discerning God’s Call in Community provides sound biblical and practical wisdom for a community of Christ-followers to listen for and to God’s call. The authors and a team of researchers combed through centuries of Christian literature to learn how previous generations and various traditions defined and discerned God’s call – for the community and for individuals within the community. Here are just a few tidbits that have stuck out to me:

Call may be emphatic and unmistakable, or it may be obscure and subtle. (p. 7)

We often find our calls in the facts, circumstances, and concrete experiences of life. … A call may not be so much a call to “do” as to “be.” (p. 9)

Discernment requires our willingness to act in faith on our sense of what God wants us to do. (p. 27)

If you are wondering what you should be doing; if you are facing a decision about a career change or a cross-country move or whether God is calling you to be in full-time ministry, then I want you to do this: read this book, get a small community of people around you (who should also read it), then listen together for to discern God’s call.

God as Dentist

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dentist-toolsSince I was a boy, I’ve had an aversion to dental work. I have avoided dentists as much as possible—probably why I need to see them more than I do. My last couple visits were beyond my control: one was to replace a twenty-year-old crown that broke, and the most recent was to repair a tooth that had chipped.

As the doctor explored that great chasm that is my mouth, his light, mirror, and pick inspecting each stalactite and stalagmite of my upper and lower jaws, he would occasionally stop to tug at some sharp edge. Sometimes the tugging was so fierce I thought he might pull loose an old crown or filling. Other times I figured he’d found some natural jag—like the nooks and crannies in a cave’s walls—that I would need to remember to floss better.

But those weren’t jags weren’t natural, and they weren’t rough edges left by some previous oral explorer. No, they were deposits of calcium or plaque that had attached since my last cleaning—”like barnacles,” my dentist said, graphically. And they needed to be removed.

Some of my barnacles broke off easily. Some needed more coaxing and a bit of filing. But some took a lot more work, more care, more powerful tools, and that dreaded whirring noise.


This morning I was praying a dangerous prayer: that God would transform me; that he would conform me into the image of Christ. As I prayed, I thought about my time in the dentist’s chair as a lesson for my spiritual life.

God and dentists do two types of work: they transform us and they conform us.

Spiritually, God transforms us by cleaning our lives, renewing our minds (to borrow Paul’s words from Romans 12:2). He picks off the plaque and files down or grinds off the rough edges – the barnacles, as my dentist called them. He finds the cavities, then cleans and fills them. (Let’s not even get into root canals here!)

Conforming is different. It’s a reshaping of our lives; it’s the process of molding, shaping, sanding, and polishing – like the dentist did when he had to build up and shape the enamel he used to repair my chipped tooth. Just as our teeth were once new and beautifully formed, so our lives were once an exquisite “image of God.” And just as years of eating and drinking not always healthy foods wears down, discolors, and damages our teeth, so our sin nature and the unhealthy choices we make mar that original holy image. God wants to restore it.

When I was looking for an image to accompany this post, I noticed that all the patients in the dentists’ chairs had beautiful looking teeth! I would love to have such a perfect mouth, I’m just not as excited about the work it would take to get there.

I also want to look like Jesus, but that, too, takes hard, slow, sometimes painful, work as God patiently conforms us to the image of Christ. The results will be worth every moment.