Tag Archives: Religion


Today you have obtained the Lord’s agreement: to be your God; and for you to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, his commandments, and his ordinances, and to obey him.
Deuteronomy 26:17 (NRSV)

It was a cold February night in 1981, but I still remember it vividly. I had been born and raised in a Christian home. My parents took me to Sunday School and each summer I went to Vacation Bible School. Just a year or so before I had gone through confirmation class and was confirmed as a member of the church at the age of 13.

But, all of that had largely been going through the religious motions. It had been doing what my parents told me to do. It had been doing that which was expected of me. What happened on that February night had been unexpected, at least to me.

On that I night, I heard God in my spirit ask me to make my own choice and my own commitment to follow. It was spiritual and intimate and profound. It was powerful in a way that changed the map of my life journey, and that of others, in incalculable ways.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it fascinating that at the end of all the laws and regulations God brought the people to make a choice and a commitment to enter into an agreement. “Today,” God said. “Make a choice. Make a commitment.” It’s one thing to hang around God in a noncommittal sense and go along with familial or societal expectations of going to church or loosely identifying with religion. It’s another thing altogether to go all in; to make a choice to follow Jesus, and obey.

Today, I’m reminded of a choice and a commitment that I, myself, made nearly 35 years ago which, to this day, intimately shapes my life journey moment-by-moment, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year, decade-by-decade. Today, I’m reminded of the words to the simple song that was playing on a cold February night in 1981:

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back.

No turning back.

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Hangin’ with the Homeys

“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.

On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.

In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).

I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.

This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.

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“I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means”


You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)

I’ve always been a movie lover. There are movies that I can watch over and over and over again and each time I do I seem to catch little things I’d never seen or heard before.  Lines from the film seem to enter conversation. For Wendy and me, one of those movies is Princess Bride. A favorite line of our is when Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.’

Among the community of Jesus’ followers the phrase “fallen from grace” is often used to refer to those who at one time were followers, but seemed to leave the path of faith to follow after sinful appetites. Other believers will say that this person has “fallen from grace.” In fact, these are the only circumstances in which I hear this phrase used. To quote Inigo Montoya, “You keep using those words. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Paul does not use “fallen from grace” to describe those who have left the faith to pursue sinful appetites! He uses the phrase to describe those who have left the path of simple faith and have pursued legalistic religiosity. In Galatia, those whom Paul described who had “fallen from grace” were those who were telling non-Jewish believers that they had to follow all the Jewish legal, religious rules.

This is a huge distinction. Walking the journey of faith is a balancing act from which you can stumble and fall in either way. Certainly you can stumble and pursue unhealthy appetites. That’s why Paul says a a few lines later: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” But you can also stumble and “fall from grace” by pursuing a path of rigid, religious rules in which you judge a person’s faith by how they measure up to your religious yard stick.

To quote another famous movie line that creeps into my conversation on a regular basis: “Daniel-san. Must learn balance.

The Path to Crazy

For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God.
Galatians 3:3 (MSG)

While in college, I had two other guys with whom I began to share my life journey. We met on Saturday mornings in the Great Room of Volkman Hall right after PeeWee’s Playhouse. It was the first time in my life that I’d met regularly and intentionally with other guys just to talk about our respective life journeys. We waded into, what was for us at the time, the deep weeds of life. We shared openly about our hurts and confessed our sins to each other. For me, it was monumental.

When college was over, the three of us each took our own paths in divergent directions. One of the guys I have continued to keep up with through periodic phone calls and Facebook. As I read the chapter this morning, I struck me that the other friend went the of the “crazy” Galatians.

The third member of our trio contacted me a few years after college. He’d found his way to a group who taught him that only by following their rigid religious rules could anyone truly call themselves a follower of Jesus. He accused me of not measuring up, of not truly being a follower. It sounded insane; The kind of insanity Paul was confronting among the Galatians. Having once followed by simply believing, my friend was now convinced that only by following a strict set of doctrinal beliefs and behavioral rules could he be “holy” and acceptable to God.

Today, I’m offering sincere prayers for the other two members of my college trio. I have such good memories of Saturday mornings with my Judson College homies wrapped in blankets, listening for Pee Wee’s secret word, and moose slippers. It was an important stretch of life’s journey for me and I will forever be grateful for that time and these two companions. I trust that whatever crazy Galatians-like path my one friend followed, God has been faithful in helping him find his way back to the simplicity of Jesus’ message: faith, grace, love, and forgiveness.


This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. Galatians 2:4 (NIV)

As an actor, I was trained to dig into a character’s motivation and what makes him or her tick. Why do they act the way they do? What is it that he or she wants? What drives him or her to do that? The result is that Wendy and I find ourselves constantly observing people and discussing what it is that seems to motivate them. It’s not about being critical, in fact it’s just the opposite. Rather than observing a person’s behavior and immediately judging the person based merely on our reaction to his or her behavior, we try to genuinely gain a better understanding of why that person behaves the way they do.

Wendy and I were just talking over the weekend about a person we have observed who seemingly chooses to be shackled to their legalistic, religious rules. Our discussion led to  that people who choose to be enslaved to legalistic, religious rules are motivated out of a fear of what others will think. It would seem that they are so worried about appearing good, pure, upstanding, holy that they will tie themselves up in knots to keep up the appearance of propriety (and will try to force their loved ones to do the same). The result? Uptight, joyless people enslaved to rules and perceptions.

This is exactly what Paul was touching on in today’s chapter. Experiencing the spiritual freedom to follow Jesus’ teaching without jumping through the legalistic hoops of Judaism, Paul now had to confront the uptight, joyless legalists who wished to put, and all other believers, him back in shackles. “No thanks,” I hear Paul saying and my own soul echoes the sentiment. I walked the path of legalism for several years and it twisted my soul to the point that love, joy, and peace were wrung out of my life – the very things that matter most.

To the legalistic, religious, rule following Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

The discussion Wendy and I had led us to feel sorry for our shackled friend. “We need to pray for them to experience real freedom,” Wendy said. Indeed. And, so we are.

Shift Focus

Shift FocusDo not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.
Because I have sinned against him,
    I will bear the Lord’s wrath,
until he pleads my case
    and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light;
    I will see his righteousness.
Micah 7:8-9 (NIV)

As a person in leadership, I am aware that I often stand in a public spotlight. As a person who doesn’t exactly hide my faith, I am equally aware that people are going to weigh my words and watch my actions. I long ago gave up trying to be the person I suspected everyone else wanted me to be. I am quite sure that I have given plenty of evidence for any who wishes to accuse me of hypocrisy. I am painfully aware of my mistakes and shortcomings.

My heart resonated with Micah’s verse this morning:

I have sinned…I will bear the Lord’s wrath.”

Guilty as charged. Perfect? By no means. Hypocrite? By all means; More often than I’d care to admit.

But then, Micah shifts focus:

until he pleads my case
    and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light;
    I will see his righteousness.

Salvation is not in Micah being a better person. He doesn’t write: “until I attain moral perfection,” “until I become righteous,” or “until I become a better person.” Salvation is not in what I do, but what God does for me in spite of my flaws and my failures. Salvation in the Light of God’s righteousness. Jesus never said, “seek righteousness,” He said, “Seek HIS Kingdom and HIS righteousness.”

Today, I’m reminded that My hope is not in my human struggle for elusive moral perfection, but in having God step up be my Advocate despite my glaring imperfections.

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“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Colossians 2:21-23 (NIV)

Many years ago I had a friend who was a marriage and family therapist. About once a week he would show up in my office between sessions to take a break. We enjoyed our conversations and one day he began to talk about the fact that he spent one day each week counseling in a small town nearby. The town had a strong reputation as a pious, religious community that upheld very strict standards of behavior. From the outside, the community appeared the image of perfection. My friend the therapist, however, told a different story.

“It’s the sickest community I’ve ever experienced,” my friend said. “There’s so much social pressure to appear morally perfect that they stuff all of their troubles and imperfections deep inside and try to keep them hidden. In the darkness of secrecy they grow like an infection until they wreak all sorts of havoc on their lives and relationships.”

That conversation came to mind this morning as I read Paul’s words above. Along life’s road I’ve dwelt among many groups who fit his description of moral legalists trying desperately to tame their moral troubles with long lists of “do’s” and “don’ts” that allow for some kind of public moral measuring stick. In my experience, I have found the testimony of my friend, the therapist, to be quite accurate. The more we try to keep up moral appearances, the more spiritually sick we become. It’s what Jesus described in the legalistic religious folks he encountered: “You’re hopeless…You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.”

Last week on Independence Day I thought about how grateful I was for religious freedom. Today, I find myself thankful for spiritual freedom. They are two very different things. Jesus didn’t come to make us more religious, He came to provide us spiritual freedom. The former will never be able to provide the latter.