O Holy Night #2 – A New Hope…

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the account of the birth of John the Baptist. His parents, Zechariah & Elizabeth, were childless; they’d been unable to have kids their entire married life together, & now they both were way, way beyond childbearing years (Luke 1:7). At this point in their lives, the dream of having a child, an heir, had moved off of their collective radar, & now most likely just existed as one of life’s greatest disappointments & unfulfilled dreams. And then God intervenes, declaring a new hope, not only for their lives, but for the whole world.

God sent Gabriel the angel to proclaim to Zechariah that he & Elizabeth would conceive, & she would give birth to a son. And the best part was that he wouldn’t just be a ‘miracle’ child… no, their son John was to be the one promised by the Scriptures who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah, the Christ, God’s promised Anointed One. (Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 3:1; Matthew 3:3).

You’d think such a jubilant angelic declaration would be received with shouts of joy… but instead, Zechariah’s response was one of skepticism, negativity, & doubt. This is one of the reasons I love this story – not because I like Zechariah’s displayed lack of faith, but rather because I GET it. After years of hoping for a child, years of disappointment, & years of attempting to comfort his wife in the midst of her/their grief, the message of HOPE hit Zechariah’s ears (& heart) in such a way that revealed that he was “done,” & couldn’t grasp, let alone believe that God was on the verge of a miracle in their lives.

I love the angel’s response to Zechariah’s unbelief: “I am Gabriel, & I stand in the presence of God, & I was sent to speak to you & to bring you this good news. Now, you will be silent & unable to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which WILL BE fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19,20 ESV). He basically tells him – “C’mon, man! This is good news! What I told you came direct from the throne of God – so because of your lack of belief, I’m going to shut you up so you can’t spread the doubt to your wife & others.”


Every time I revisit this story, I feel the Holy Spirit doing a heart-check on me – & I find myself examining where I am… am I open to God’s new hope for my life? Am I open to it even if it is in an area I have given up on? Do I really believe all things are possible for God, if I believe?

During this Christmas season, I’m praying that my heart will be prepped for God’s miraculous new hope for me & those my life connects with.

Embracing grace, a couple good books, & other musings…

I’ve been slowly reading a newly published book I was gifted with called “Embracing Grace” by Daniel Brown. I say I’ve been reading it slowly because I have intentionally avoided trying to power through it, in that I don’t just want to “get ‘er done,” I want to “get it.”

Grace is a hard topic for me – not because I don’t like it/want it/need it – but because I don’t easily receive grace for myself. Grasp it mentally? Yes. Process through it as it relates to others? Sure. But do I truly embrace grace in my inner being? Nope. Not so much. The first time I became painfully aware of this ‘grace struggle’ was when I read through Brennan Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-up, & Burnt Out.” Ended up going through that a few pages at a time, weeping with joy at the thought that this amazing grace was mine & there was no sin I had ever committed, was committing, or would ever commit that could separate me from the infinite grace of God, poured out on me.

I have wrestled for most of my life with a nagging feeling of a need to perform well, to do things right, & to avoid the things that are bad so I can be a “good” Christian. In my head, I know that my standing before God isn’t based upon any of my own actions – and I can quote “grace scriptures” with the best of ‘em, like:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8,9 English Standard Version

And yet there was still that sense of God’s displeasure with my performance, that somehow I hadn’t measured up; that my myriad sins, wrongs, & stumbles had marked me in an indelible way, a way that was unfixable. It sounds silly when I write it out. And to read it out loud.

And in the face of the rich mercy shown to humanity (& Louie!) by God in the gift of His grace, the grace that brought us (me!) from death to life, this sense of God’s displeasure with my performance as a Christian is an affront, a mockery, a bold-faced lie challenging God’s character… it’s a lie of the same variety which has been whispered to humanity for all time by our enemy, beginning with “Did God really say…?” Part of the battle to embrace grace comes from my ‘flesh’ (a.k.a. the part of me that opposes the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.) Part of it is being an unwitting yet involved participant in the accusations, manipulations, negative thoughts, lies, & shame lobbed at me (all of us) by the enemy of our souls.

And part of it is needing to exercise faith – the kind of faith that pushes through, perseveres, & overcomes to tenaciously embrace grace, while refusing to give time, energy, or brain power to anything that stands in opposition to the truth of God’s Word & what it (& He) says who I am, in Christ, because of Christ. It’s living in grace, thinking in grace, & walking out in grace towards others (& myself) because that is what God does with us.

Waiting with purpose, a long obedience in the same direction, and other musings…

This Easter season has been a significant one for me – it started with a Holy Spirit-directed rediscovery of the significance of Christ’s suffering & Good Friday, & it continued with the waiting, uncertainty, & anticipation for the coming Resurrection Sunday. Coming out of Easter Sunday, I have been asking the LORD what & where He would like to work in me (& at Hillside.) What has continually come to mind has been the time period between Easter (the Feast of Passover) & the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church (the Feast of Pentecost.) I was drawn to Acts 1:1-11.

In this passage, we see that the Risen Christ spent about 40 days, post-Resurrection, with His disciples. His followers, believing that the time had FINALLY come for Christ to overthrow their Roman oppressors, couldn’t wait to question Him about the details on His presumed intentions for declaring & advancing a physical, political kingdom. His instructions, however, took them completely by surprise, as He told them their next steps were not to prepare for battle, but rather to return to Jerusalem TO WAIT for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me, for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Go back to Jerusalem. Wait for the promise. And then, you will receive the Holy Spirit – & when you do, you will receive power to be witnesses for Christ.

And wait they did.


Over these next weeks until Pentecost Sunday, our Sunday studies will be exploring what it means to wait, as well as different facets of what it might look like, to us individually & as a church, to wait & then, when it’s time, to act in Holy Spirit empowered actions. I’m looking forward to it.


Perseverance. Faithfulness. Patient endurance. These are some of my favorite phrases – probably because, to me, they so clearly capture what most of life in Christ is about. One of my favorite books is “A Long Obedience In The Same Direction,” by Eugene Peterson. The book is based upon the Psalms of Ascent, (Psalm 120-134, 15 songs that Jewish pilgrims sang as they climbed the hills leading to Jerusalem for the 3 main feasts of the year,) & it deals with what is necessary to live the Christian life, over the long haul. The title of the book comes from a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche:

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)

During this time where I’ve got ‘waiting’ on my mind & heart, I’m revisiting “A Long Obedience…” & inviting our Hillside Learning Community reading group to join me in reading through & pondering the book (& these Psalms, in depth,) & then join together to discuss what God has been speaking to & forming in us.

Through the Gospels – Matthew 4

SOAP – Through the Gospels
Matthew 4

Matthew 4:1,2 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days & forty nights, He was hungry.


Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, & led Him into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting…AND to be tempted by the devil. He was LED to the confrontation & temptation by the Spirit of God. And He took on every temptation the devil could throw His way after 40 days (& nights!) of going without food.

Sometimes in reading through the gospels, I almost forget that Jesus was a man… fully God, yes, the Word Incarnate (John 1:1)… At the same time, paradoxically, He was at the same time 100% human – a man: flesh & blood –just like the rest of us (Hebrews 4:15). It’s easier for me to remember the God part; maybe its because of the miracles, maybe it’s the distance of 2000+ years, maybe its because its hard for me to see myself doing what we see Jesus doing in the gospels. Especially here.


That’s why it is significant to me to see that Jesus didn’t address the devil (the adversary, the accuser) in Christ’s exalted glory (see Revelation 1 for a description). Instead, He stood His ground as a man, firmly rooted in the rightly applied Word of God, answering satan’s every temptation & twist of Scripture with an appropriate & powerful response: “It is written…”

Where Adam had failed to withstand his test of temptation in the Garden of Eden, the 2nd Adam (Christ) came through His test with flying colors (Romans 5:12-21) – & He did it in a way that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US could do – submitted to God, led by the Holy Spirit, firmly grounded in Scripture. And after 40 days of constant, directed, oh-so-tempting temptation, satan was stymied & had no choice but to leave (James 4:6,7). Christ didn’t play the “God” card – He stood as one of “us” – a human being, filled with & led by the Holy Spirit- & He won, thereby paving OUR pathway to a God-following life.


LORD – I pray You fill me with Your Holy Spirit – & make my heart humble, so I can & will be directed & led by Your Spirit – wherever You want me to go, whatever You want me to do. Write Your Word on my heart; may it live there & grow fruitful, transforming my heart & mind to be like Yours. Thank You that You will give me everything I need to obey & follow You.

ACTS, working out, & other musings…

This year, I’ve probably read through the Book of Acts at least 10 times for “me,” & another 10 times for a chapter-by-chapter blog series. Now, I’m going through it again, this time in ‘study mode’ for the ‘story by story’ series at Hillside. So, this morning I was reviewing my notes for tomorrow’s speech from Acts 8:3-25, & a couple of elements from Philip’s story hit me fresh. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how many times I’ve read a passage, or how familiar it is to me, the Holy Spirit brings life to it, & shines a bright light onto areas I’d never seen, noticed or considered before.

Philip (& the other believers) were on the run from the wave of persecution that arose in the wake of Stephen’s martyrdom. All but the apostles had left Jerusalem & headed throughout the region of Judea, & even to Samaria… in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophetic words from Acts 1:8. I guess the “Jerusalem, Judea, & Samaria” passages are so familiar that I never really considered that the very thing that drove the disciples out of Jerusalem (persecution & threat of death) led to the gospel message being spread everywhere they went, going places that they’d never even considered going before.

God didn’t CAUSE the persecution as a way of shaking up His people; rather, its an example of one way that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him & are called according to His purpose (ala Romans 8:28.) There was no master plan the disciples followed – they were on the run. And in the middle of their flight, their faith provided an anchor, a safe place, a point of encouragement to keep them going.

It gives me great hope to know that our faith is made for times EXACTLY like that – times of uncertainty, danger, threat, fear, illness, when the darkness is closing in. At those times, we find that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, provides for our every need. Sustains, strengthens, & gives us life. Love it.


Lately, I’ve got a new workout partner: theWeez. Its been fun hitting the gym together & getting to teach her about different exercises, free-weights vs. ‘the machines,’ & of course, kettle-bells. Today, she told me that she thinks that she’d like to get into MMA. As in mixed-martial arts. As in cage fighting.

Sigh. This should be interesting.

All I know, is I’m loving our time together.


It’s official. ThePasty Gangster is on his way to Knoxville, Tennessee. Countdown: 32 days.


I am an uncle. Again. Moe & Jen took baby TyWill home from the hospital last night, so 2 year old TBone has a little brother. I love that my brothers’ have little kids & that I have big ones. Family.


At no point in my life have I ever felt the need to try to plant flowers or plants in the ground, to nurture, water, & talk to them.

Until now. For some reason, I have a vested interest in seeing the 5 grassy willow-y plants in the backyard stay alive. I speak to them. Water them multiple times a day. Command them to survive in the spite of Nevada’s weather & my feeble attempts at caring for them. If they last, I may even post a picture.

Day 2 musings… – Columbus, OH – Connection 2011

Day 2 – Columbus
This has been a very rich experience for me – every meeting, every interaction has been full of significance & meaning. As I’ve looked back on the day to try to “sum up,” I find that my words are inadequate to do justice to describe it & will probably leave . So, here I go with some musings…

From the messages –
• Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good; He came to make dead people alive.
• In the context of 1Kings 17 & Acts 20 – if/when you come across death, hug it – the life that is in you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will bring life… For the same Spirit of God that raised Christ from the dead is alive in you, & gives life to you…(Romans 8:11)
• Bitterness, unforgiveness & resentment from past hurts are deadly, spreading poison, barrenness, disunity, & isolation – with the ultimate result a lack of fruitfulness & sensitivity. The only way these can be truly dealt with is with true humility & repentance.
o Isaiah 58:8,9; Isaiah 1:18,19; Matthew 11:28-30; John 7:37-39
• On the heels of repentance, God calls us to hunger & thirst for righteousness, & for the work of the Holy Spirit in, through, & around our lives
o To determine to repent, forgive, to be healed
o To see God work physical miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit
o To release to the church signs & wonders that point to Jesus Christ


I met for lunch with Jan von Wille, a friend & pastor from Germany – we spent several hours catching up over food & coffee – talking through the commonality of experience we have, albeit in different contexts. I came away feeling refreshed & encouraged, like 2 parts of my life that haven’t been ‘connected’ in a long time had come together. There’s a piece of me & my heart in Germany, & when I’m gone from there too long, I really feel it. Here’s to hopefully being there again this November for the Foursquare Deutschland pastorenfortbildung (Pastors training/strengthening/conference.)

In the afternoon, I had the privilege of being a part of a ‘task force’ that is specifically strategizing how to help the Foursquare church (local, division, district, etc.) find ways to reach, train, empower the next generation – over the next months, we’ll be offering up practical suggestions & steps to help do this, looking 3-5 years into the future. Good times.


The highlight of my day happened on accident – right after the task force meeting, I had to make a run for the facilities… unfortunately, there was no restroom. So, I had to make my way down a couple of escalators & search, (increasingly frantically, I might add. And BTW: that isn’t the highlight.)

In my search, I ran into my friend Jason D. – he is a dear friend that I haven’t seen in several years; his wife, Alyse, is theWeez’s namesake – they were a part of our church & youth group leadership team in Carson City, & they now live in South Carolina.

They’re at convention working in the ‘exhibit hall’ – serving as sponsors of a booth that is helping raise money for kids in Nepal – they’ve been active in missions in India, & have a heart for the kind of life & ministry that meets practical, tangible needs, as well as presents the gospel Good News in a way that makes sense to where people are.

I spent more time than they had, just listening, talking, & well, looking with disbelief at these two. More times than I can tell you, I’ve wanted nothing more than to be able to see these guys again… I feel very rich to have the relationships, friendships, & community that I do in Reno; I realized today that my heart has longed for the reconnection of the very old & dear friendship of these dear people.

Still can’t quite believe it. Feeling thankful. Alive. Joyful.

perseverance in the face of persecution, & other musings from Acts 14

Then some Jews arrived from Antioch & Iconium & won the crowds to their side. They stoned Paul & dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up & went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. After preaching the Good News in Derbe & making many disciples, Paul & Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, & Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. Acts 14:19-22

The Apostle Paul suffered violent opposition, persecution, slander, & threat of death for his persistence in declaring the gospel. In Lystra, the mobs that had been chasing him from town to town finally caught up with him, dragged him out of the city, & stoned him until he was dead. Or at least they thought he was.

Whether he was resurrected from the dead or somehow had “shaken off” the stoning & recovered enough to walk we don’t know. (And just how might one “shake off” being pelted with rocks as big as your head?) What we do know is that Paul got up, & moved on to the next city, Derbe, continuing to preach the gospel to any & all that would hear it. If that wasn’t enough, Paul & Barnabas soon went back to Lystra, Iconium, & Antioch of Pisidia, all places that angry hordes had either wanted to or attempted to kill them. And the message they preached was Good News – & that this Good News & following Christ was worth every bit of suffering & hardship that would come, something they all knew he had experienced firsthand.

It makes me think about the confidence that Paul placed in his relationship with God, & how much he depended on the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain him through a life of such physical difficulty & suffering. What’s more, his chose to set his mind on Christ, the author & finisher of our faith. To be steadfast, firm in his pursuit of the goal, the mission he’d been given: that all would hear & come to know Christ, our hope & glory.

When Paul challenged the disciples in each city he visited to stand firm in their faith, to boldly persevere in the face of suffering, he spoke from experience. He had discovered the very real peace of God that goes beyond circumstances, & had fully committed himself to the fact that God would sustain him until such a time that he died or was martyred. And this death (& even the threat of it) had no power or sway on him, for long before, he had chosen that whether he lived or died, it would be for the glory of God.

I pray for a fresh filling with the Holy Spirit for each of us. For boldness to live & declare the Good News without fear of what may come. And I set my eyes on Christ & purpose to follow in His footsteps, & encourage others to do the same after me.

called, commissioned, empowered, & sent…

Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Barnabas and Saul on Cyprus. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Acts 13:1-4

What stands out the most to me from this passage is the active, empowering, inspiring work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.

The Holy Spirit said…
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit…

I think it’s easy to look at the lives of Paul & Barnabas, these apostolic leaders and great men of faith, & to forget the fact that they were people just like us. They were called, gifted, strengthened & sent by the same Holy Spirit that is alive & at work in us.

The enemy of our souls, the devil, works hard in trying to make us feel alone. Insignificant. Forgotten. Left out of any important or worthwhile plans God has. He attempts to get us to focus on, compare ourselves, & even covet the gifts, calling, & mission of another. If he can do that, we end up distracted from our own mission, something that the LORD has called (& the Holy Spirit empowered) us to do and live out.

I’m praying today for a strong sense of Divine purpose and calling – that we would not grow weary of doing good, that we’d live set apart to the LORD, seek His face, & hear the Holy Spirit breathed directions for our lives.

Acts 11, people like us?, & other musings…

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia & Cyprus & Antioch, speaking the Word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus & Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists (Greeks) also, preaching the LORD Jesus. And the hand of the LORD was with them, & a great number who believed turned to the LORD. Acts 11:19-21

The great persecution that followed the martyrdom of Stephen resulted in the scattering of believers – Jews and God-fearers – from Jerusalem to points all over the Roman world. Many even traveled as far as Antioch, a significant and strategic Roman colony about 300 miles to the north of Jerusalem.

And as they went, they preached the gospel, the Good News of repentance, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation available through the Name of Jesus Christ for all who would believe.

What stood out to me as I read this chapter was that those fleeing persecution preached the gospel to most everyone they met. Most everyone that was like them… They only shared the Word with fellow Jews. Ouch.

The problem was they were running through areas populated by predominantly Greek/non-Jewish peoples. It’s normal, human even to gravitate towards what we’re familiar with – towards “people like us” with similar culture, interests, & experiences. Though it may be easier & more comfortable to do so, Jesus’ challenged to His followers in the Great Commission specifically says to do & live otherwise. When He told His followers that they would share the gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, & to the ends of the earth, He was implicitly stating that they would be witnesses to ALL people. Not just the Jews, but everyone.

Fortunately, there were a few good men, Christ-following ‘outsiders’ from Cyprus & Cyrene, that intentionally & faithfully declared the Good News message to everyone. And not only was this message declared, it was received with joy & fruitfulness, & “a great number” believed & “turned to the LORD.”

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit, the One who fills us with power to live for Christ & to tell others of what we’ve seen, heard, & experienced from Him, will remind us of the call to lift our eyes from what we know, from what (& who) we’re comfortable with – & look to the fields that are white with harvest. The LORD is actively looking for men & women that will allow Him to work through them so He can gather people to Himself. Let’s be a part of that.

PS – Interesting to me to hear that Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement” that was Paul the Apostle’s missionary companion for many years was from Cyprus (an island off the coast of Ephesus.) And Simon, the man who carried the cross for Christ on the way to Golgotha, was from Cyrene (in Northern Africa, most likely modern Libya.)

Set apart for special use, obedience, & other musings…

When you hear the word, “holiness,” what comes to mind?

Scripture tells us that holiness means being set apart to God, for His exclusive purposes and use.

In the Book of the Law, God gave specific instructions about being holy and maintaining holiness – to help the Israelites understand it, He gave them specific things to do and to avoid; foods they could eat, and foods they couldn’t; He even gave restrictions about who they should hang out with, and who they shouldn’t.

At the same time, God also challenged Israel with the idea that holiness was MORE than this. That God’s main hope & desire for His people wasn’t just that they had the list of “stuff we don’t do” memorized; further, He told them that the holiness, the set apart life, wasn’t merely a set of exterior behaviors. It involved a ‘set apartness’ of heart, mind, thought, & purpose. It wasn’t just for temple/church times, but was a 24/7 manner of living.

Knowing the Rules: what we’re not supposed to eat, where we’re not supposed to go, & who we’re not supposed to hang out with is easier than living fully dependent on the instruction of the LORD, & direction of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Peter was holy – he’d never knowingly eaten forbidden food; hadn’t gone where he wasn’t supposed to go; didn’t hang out with ‘unclean’ Gentiles.

And so his world was rocked when God told him in a vision – “Don’t call unclean & unholy what I’ve made clean & holy.” If that wasn’t enough, God gave him instructions to immediately & without hesitation go with 3 Greek men to the house of another Greek- Gentile man & to await further instructions.

To obey & do this was a huge risk – at the very least it meant a loss of reputation, & at worst, he could have been prosecuted (or worse) for doing something so “unholy.”

But something clicked. Peter got a glimpse of what it truly meant to be holy; it wasn’t just the externals. Rather, it was the willingness to be directed & redirected by the LORD; to be willing to have his mind changed, to go where he’d never gone before in obedient response to the Holy Spirit.

And he saw the LORD move. The Holy Spirit poured out. He gained brothers from among a people that beforehand he wouldn’t have even been willing to be seen with.

May we be holy, set apart to God for His purposes & directions, no matter what.