When the World is on Fire

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

You have probably noticed that things in our world are going . . . not great.

  • War in Ukraine
  • Global inflation
  • Political unrest
  • Violence in schools and neighborhood throughout our country
  • Racial tension
  • and every day there seems to be more

All of this is overwhelming.

With all of this going on we also have people who are serving as arsonist trying to stoke the flames because it makes them feel powerful and important. I think there’s a reason we have come to call the quick positions that people make “hot takes.” People want to keep the fires burning so they can be seen. When the world is full of darkness, the fires may give us a sense of power, control, significance.

But at the end of every fire is ash and destruction.

So how can we live differently when the world is on fire?

I have been wrestling with some fire imagery in the Bible. I am in no way trying to create a comprehensive list, but there are a few things that I have been thinking about.

The Apostle Peter talks about the refining power of fire:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Pe 1:3–7.

Peter’s audience was enduring hardship and persecution. But God was sustaining them by his mercy. This is a wonderful promise. God sustains us in a world on fire. These early believers were holding on to their faith in the goodness of God and his promised inheritance. They were being transformed through their trials as they learned to depend on Jesus. As they held on their faith was proved genuine.

Every year my wife chooses a theme word. A couple of years ago she chose “genuine.” She wanted her faith to be genuine, she wanted her relationships to be genuine, she wanted her words to be genuine. This was not an easy thing to do, and there were tests to her commitment to that theme. But the Lord Jesus sustained her, and she is (and was) the most genuine person I Know. Fire has a way of removing the filler and the false things in our lives. There are things that need to be removed.

When the world is on fire, are there things that you are willing to let go of? Fire seasons should remind us to hold on to the essentials, and lean into our faith in Jesus.

Another passage that I have been drawn to lately is from 1 Corinthians. I am grieved by the celebrity culture in our world, and I’m grieved by the celebrity culture in the church. When reading the New Testament I am reminded that this is not new. Paul addresses this as different factions are developing around leaders. It doesn’t seem like this is something that any of the leaders wanted, but humanity has a knack for idol making. Paul reminds the Corinthians that the works of every Christian leader, and probably every Christian, will be judged by fire.

11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Co 3:11–15.

 When the world is on fire, we should evaluate what we are building and the quality of our materials. If we are trying to build on anything other than the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus, we will fail. If we are building with things that may be quick and look impressive, are they really going to last the fire season?

Let’s keep pursing the things that are going to last, and build with those things that have proven to be true. It may not be exciting, it may not get a ton of attention from social media, but we are not building our lives and our ministry for likes from strangers on the internet. We are building our lives on the gospel of Jesus so that when we run our race he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

I have one more passage that I have been thinking about. The theme of exile has weighed heavy on my heart and mind lately. In the Old Testament we read that the people of Israel were in exile for decades. First the Assyrians came and took the northern tribes out of the land, then the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom, and then the Persians and the Medes defeated the Babylonians. Empires came and went. But the people of God were transformed through the exile.

There is one story in particular. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three young men were taken from their homes, and placed into a kind a academic service for the Emperor. They were gifted students and the empire was willing to exploit them in an effort to strengthen the kingdom. During this time the King made a massive idol of himself. It was his advisors idea, and because leaders are egomaniacs it seemed like a good idea to him. The advisors were looking for a way to get rid of these young men so they came up with a plan to trap Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the music plays, everyone was supposed to worship the idol, whoever didn’t would be executed.

Our three young men were faithful to the LORD and their enemies knew they would refuse to bow down. So they music play, Shacrach, Meshach, and Abednego, didn’t bow, they were arrested, and they were brought before the king. The plan of execution was to throw them into a furnace that was so hot it would kill the people who opened the hatch. The king was trapped in his own laws and so he has to throw these three men in the fire. Nebuchadnezzar interrogates them and their reply is wonderful.

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” 

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Da 3:16–18.

They trusted the God would save them. But even if God didn’t save them they were still going to refuse to bow down.

When the world is on fire, don’t bow to our cultural idols. So much of the fires in our world are started with a spark of idolatry. Money, power, status, sexuality, these are all idols in our age. None of these idols are worth submitting to. Can we live differently? Can we live set apart lives? Don’t bow down.

So the the men are thrown in the furnace and everyone is sure they will die, however:

King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” 

They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 

25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 

26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” 

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. 

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.

 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Da 3:24–28.

God saved them. Nebuchadnezzar recognized the Lord’s hand at work, and calls this rescuer an angel. Christian tradition often says that this fourth man is an Old Testament appearance of Christ. Whether this is an angel, or the Son of God, doesn’t change the fact that God is a rescuer.

When the world is on fire we can’t look to culture, leaders, idols, or whatever to save us. We need to have confidence that the Lord can save his people. Following Jesus today is risky, but that is why we call it faith. We need to trust in the Lord above all else.

The world is on fire all around us, but I know this:

God is not done. And after the fire, there is possibility for something new and vibrant to take root.

Photo by Lawrence Sawyer / Getty Images – https://www.sunset.com/home-garden/flowers-plants/how-plants-rebound-after-summer-fall-fires

Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: 496 Shakira – Dónde Estan Los Ladrones?

I would imagine I am not the only American music fan who didn’t know Shakira existed until her single “Whenever, Whenever” was on repeat on every music station in 2001. Whenever, Whenever was the lead single for Shakira’s English language album Laundry Service, which was her 5th studio album. I didn’t know of any of her music before that single.

Listening to Dónde Están Los Ladrones, Shakira’s 4th album, is an interesting experience. Because the album is in Spanish, I don’t really know what she’s singing about. So instead of focusing on the lyrics, I am listening to the musicianship and production. This album was released in 1998. There are some element of the production that sound very 1990’s. Which I always find interesting. The Guitar tones, the mix, I can just tell this is a 90s album. And that’s not meant to be a bad thing. I love the 90s.

Also, listening to Shakira’s vocals, there is no doubt that this woman can sing! She has a very interesting voice, that could be compared to Alanis Morissette. I’m not the only person to make that comparison, but when you can’t understand the words, your brain grabs on to similarities where it can.

This album is full of songs that genuinely made me happy as I listened through. There are clear evidences of American pop-music influences, but there are some instrumentation choices that are coming from her Colombian roots. I wish there would have been a bit more Colombian roots.

Also, The title track rocks! This would be a great concert song, and I can imagine when the Chorus hits, the crowd would go nuts.

Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums #497 – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto Volume One

This compilation album is full of heart. I really enjoyed the different voices and instrumentation choices. Because this album is not in English I don’t know what they were saying. However, that doesn’t keep one from enjoying the music. This Album was originally released in 1985. Several of the artists have been featured with popular American acts. This was fun as I was listening and I recognized the vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I love their beautiful harmonies.

I love listening to different languages. These foreign language albums stir up a desire to travel again. I am eager for our world to get COVID-19 under control so we can travel freely again. Someday.

500 Greatest Albums – 498 “Suicide” by Suicide

I really didn’t know what to expect from this album. I had never heard of them before, so I decided to do a little background reading on the Wikipedia machine. The band consists of two members, Alan Vega and Martin Rev. This debut album is best described as a electro-punk. The themes they tackle in this album have a lot to do with how America seemed to be destroying itself in the 1970s. (Insert comment about how the more things change . . . )

I fully anticipated that I would not like this album. But I was pleasantly surprised. I wouldn’t say I’d go looking for more from Suicide, but several of the songs on this album were interesting. The lyrics were fine, but the instrumentation with heavy use of synthesizers and electronic drums was interesting and seems well ahead of their time.

Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums – 499: Rufus, Chaka Khan – Ask Rufus

This was my first time ever listening to Rufus. I had heard some songs from Chaka Khan but I have never intentionally sought out her music. This album has some great funk vibes, and stellar vocals from Khan. The opening song “At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)” has a great vibe, and I could see myself enjoying this in a summer playlist.

Track 6, “Hollywood”, sings about someone trying to chase their dreams for stardom and the challenges they find. I find it interesting how often people write reflections on stardom and fame. We are a culture that is obsessed with celebrity. From the outside we seem to think that celebrity is a great thing. But over and over we see that celebrity may make you wealthy, but there is a great cost. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?”

Overall, I enjoyed this album. I’m not a funk-aficionado, so I can’t speak to the quality of the music or if it was influential in he funk scene. Chaka Khan went on to a successful solo career though, and that’s about all I know. If you have more to say about Chaka Khan and Rufus, please feel free to leave a comment.

**Some of these entries will be brief, and that’s ok**

500 Greatest Albums – 500: Arcade Fire – “Funeral”

Tyler Huckabee at Relevant Magazine started sharing his thoughts on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums. I saw this, and because I love a project I decided to jump in at #500 and work my way forward.

I know that music is completely subjective, and there are going to be some albums that I love, and some that I hate. But I’m going to do my best to try to listen to these albums from the perspective of a pastor in the Christian, Pentecostal Tradition. I know that popular music can communicate big truth as well lies that run contrary to the teachings of my faith. I also know that if I want to understand culture, music is one of the many artifacts that can help build greater understanding to the zeitgeist, or the spirit of the age at the time the album was released.

So with all that preamble, let’s talk about #500.


I don’t remember exactly when I discovered Arcade Fire. I think my first exposure to this band was with their Album Neon Bible. But when I heard the song “Wake Up” as bumper music for the Podcast TBTL, I had to figure out what this band was all about. I loved the driving guitar and the and the choral “aaaahs” of the intro. When I finally figured out that it was Arcade Fire, I went to the public library to borrow the CD. At the time I was working as a youth pastor, we had just welcomed our daughter into the world, and I was working on pursuing my Masters Degree. My life was being pulled in many different directions, and something about this album resonated deeply in my soul.

I would listen to this album driving home late at night, and there were times when I would just cry. It seemed like this band understood how difficult it was to grow into adulthood, and hold on to faith in something bigger than yourself, when it seemed like the world was falling apart. This album has a maturity that surprised me. I was surprised that this was their debut album. I have been a fan since then. Even though the band has been willing to experiment with instrumentation and styles over the years, they have stayed true to exploring the big themes of life. The seeds for what the band has grown into were all planted in their debut.

I’d love to hear what you think bout this album. Please leave a comment.

Hang In There!

I keep seeing this article being shared on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a very sobering read. And the Thom Rainer article referenced in the piece is even more sobering. The past 6 months have been really difficult for everyone. As a pastor, these have been really hard times. Election years are already full of frustration, but throw COVID-19 in the mix and it all starts to feel like too much.

Jim Gaffigan has a bit about having 5 kids. The transition from 4 kids to 5 kids is like “you’re treading water and then someone says, ‘Here take this baby.'”

That’s kind of what 2020 feels like. And I know this isn’t just a pastor problem. Small business owners, teachers, studends, government leaders, parents, every body. We are all doing the best we can with what we can and it seems like more and more things just keep getting thrown to us.

But what keeps us going?

  1. Love.

I know it’s super sappy. But that’s all I have and all I have to offer

I know that Jesus loves me. And he loves people. Even the people who are rejecting him, the people who don’t believe in him. The people who are actively trying to destroy faith in others. Jesus loves all these people. And we don’t deserve it. But Jesus loves us anyway.

As a pastor I know that I’m not going to be able to fix everyone’s problems. I know that I am going to disappoint people, and other people are going to disappoint me. Church is a lot like a family that way. But one of the things that has been important for me to remember is that even when I disappoint Jesus, he still loves me. I want to be like Jesus in this regard. Can I love people even when I’m sad about their decisions? When I’m frustrated by a recent interaction? When I’m just tired of dealing with the same stuff?

Jesus said, “all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Even when people leave, move, are angry or antagonistic. I am praying that love will still be what I am known for.

2. Calling

When I was in Jr. High I felt the Holy Spirit drawing me to devote my life to ministry. I have been very blessed to be a full-time pastor. I love being able to open the Bible with people and help people see that it is a living and active book. It speaks to our world today. When I went to Bible college I knew that whatever I was going to do for a career I was going to spend the rest of my life reading the Bible. That’s why I got a degree in Biblical Literature. That was my motivation to get my MA in Theology in Culture, because I wanted to have a broader understanding of the Bible, the countours of Christian Theology, and how to speak to the cultural dynamics in our world. When I entered the Doctor of Ministry Program at George Fox, this was the same motivation. I wanted to be better informed on the signs of the times, and how to lead our church community into the future.

I have told our church on several occasions that I love the privilege of teaching the Bible. To paraphrase a sentiment that I have seen attributed to several different football players, “They pay me to go to meetings, work through financial struggles, walk with people through painful seasons, etc. But I preach for free.”

If leaders only look at their organization’s metrics as the indicator of whether to stay or leave, then that is too much heart break, over things that we often can’t control. Following the Call of God on our lives is what keeps us going. Everyone at every church is temporary. I know that, but until Jesus gives new marching orders, I’m going to do the best I can, where he has placed me.

And out of calling comes

3. Self-Awareness

Who are you? How are you wired? How do your actions/behaviors/attitudes affect those around you? I found tremendous clarity when someone encouraged me to do an Enneagram assessment. This is just one tool to help build self-awareness, and build better understanding of others. It has been encouraging to recognize my patterns when facing stress and conflict as well as when things are going well. I want to be healthy spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The only way to start is by being honest about my reality. I know that I’m far from perfect. And I’ve also accepted that perfection is not the goal. My friend Anh posted this on Facebook recently: “God is not glorified in our perfection. God is glorified in our process.”

Right now, we are all in a new process. We are all figuring out how to move forward in this world. COVID is apocalyptic because it is revealing to us who we are and what really matters. Don’t waste this process of revelation that we are experiencing. Lay your own heart on the table and let the Lord Jesus show you what you may have been holding on to that you need to let go of. Let him build the things that truly matter. Surrender your heart and life to him.

and when you feel like you can’t do it, that’s when you need

4. Grace

Receive the gift of grace from Jesus. He died for you. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. So much of my prayer life over the past 6 months has been, “Jesus, I need you!” “Jesus, Help!” “Jesus, please heal these wounds in my heart.” “Jesus, please help _______ find peace in you.”

It’s easy to lash out in anger. What I have found is that when I am lashing out in anger, it’s usually because I’m angry at myself first. Maybe I’m angry that I can’t control the situation. I’m angry that I wasn’t enough for someone else. This kind of anger is rarely constructive. When I’m recognizing this anger in my life. That’s when I need to receive the grace of Jesus.

Love, Calling, Self-Awareness, and Grace. These have been the things that have helped me to hang-in there. The challenges of the world don’t just disappear. But I can look at them through these filters. And I know that I can keep going.

P.S. If you read all the way through this thank you for taking the time. I have been listening to these songs a lot lately. They have been helpful. They are both from U2, and I know they are not for everyone. But I like them and I they fit with the vibe of this post.

What are you about?

Photo by Jakub Gorajek on Unsplash

This morning during my run I was listening to The Holy Post podcast. They had an interview with J.R. Briggs and they talked about his new book, The Sacred Overlap, which I have added to my, to read list.

It was a great interview. There were several things that got me thinking. Skye and J.R. were talking about how Jesus knew and taught truth, he lived in conviction, and he still was compassionate. Jesus was was criticized by people because his teachings were too hard, and because he was associated with known sinners. He was living in this overlap. And in the overlap there is tension to pulling from either side.

The point that J.R. was making was the Jesus was able to live in that tension because he knew what he was about. He was about doing the Father’s will. When Jesus was a boy and his family lost him in Jerusalem, Jesus was surprised that they didn’t first look in the temple. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”1 When Jesus was confronted about doing miracles on the Sabbath, he said this, “Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.'”2

Jesus was about the Father’s will and he did the Father’s work.

Yesterday, I was reading in David Brubaker’s When the Center Does Not Hold that awarenesses of personal calling and purpose is one of the key qualities for leaders who are trying to lead through polarization. I want to share some quotes that I’m going to be wrestling with.

“What’s important is that we know ourselves. The most destructive leaders I have encountered are those who were utterly clueless about their behavior and it’s impact on others. . . . Clarity within transfers to clarity with others. When we know who we are and what we believe, we naturally commuicat that clarity to others.”3

Brubaker uses a college president’s experiences leading through significant change as a case study, Loren Swartzendruber knew that he needed to be a non anxious presence for his community, and in order to do that he had to have personal clarity on values and purpose. President Swartzendruber is quoted saying:

Leaders in any environment, certainly in one that is polarized, have to begin with their own integrity. Parker Palmer talks about leading from the inside. Knowing myself internally, knowing what my values are, knowing what my vision is, my goals. I have to keep coming back to that . . . what are my values?4

Over the past several years, we have all had to navigate change and polarization. Holding not to core values and knowing who I am called to be is what has helped me keep going. There are going to be people who attack from both sides. I’m too conservative for liberal friends, and too liberal for my conservative friends. But I am trying to hold in tension Conviction, Compassion, and Wisdom. And I am trying to be about the work that Jesus has called me to.

What am I about? I am called to help people see how the Word of God is alive and active, and how the word of God shapes and enriches our lives today. I believe Jesus is serious about his call to radical discipleship. I believe that my first allegiance is to his kingdom.

I don’t always get all this right, but this is who I am striving to be.

What are you about? What I have learned is it’s a lot easier to work through difficult and polarized situations, if you know who God is shaping you to be. If you wait until your are in a polarized season, to work this stuff out, you will create personal pain, relational pain, and organization pain.

Start asking know, What am I about?

Write out your core values, how is God shaping you? How do those values shape your organization? These questions can help bring clarity. And in personal clarity is a blessing during seasons of polarization.


1 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Lk 2:49.

 2 The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Jn 5:19.

3 David R. Brubaker, When The Center Does Not Hold: Leading in an Age of Polarization, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2019), 35.

4. Brubaker, When the Center Does Not Hold, 34.

It comes in waves

Photo by Leo Roomets on Unsplash

There are moments of great joy. Things seem to be working. Progress is being made. It’s easy to laugh and smile.

There are moments of frustration. Everything stalls. I can see all the problems. It’s hard to focus and concentrate.

I can’t be the only one who has felt this way over the past several months. Up and down, back and forth. The waves of good and bad news keep coming and going. This has been very frustrating and leading a church during this time has not been easy.

What I have been learning is that the world will always have waves. COVID-19 has been a major disruption. 2020 seems to have had several major tidal events. This has been rough. I have been trying to not get swept up in the waves, because that’s when you panic. When you don’t know which way is up and you feel the water pulling you in different direction. That is the last place you want to be.

Daily Bible reading has been part of my life for years. This year, I have been particularly refreshed as I read scripture, and I have been sharing daily devotions through a podcast. These disciplines have refocused my heart on Jesus in such a way that he really has become an anchor for my soul (Hebrews 6:19). The anchoring hope of Jesus is knowing that he has completed all that is necessary to save us from sin, and his death and resurrection are the path into the family of God.

As the Family of God, we are growing in maturity and unity in Christ. As we grow in Christ we learn how to swim safely, and we are no longer tossed by the waves (Ephesians 4:13-14). And our faith will help us to not be tossed by the wind (James 1:6).

The waves are part of this world, but our lives don’t need to be dictated by the waves. I pray that the Spirit of God will help us in the moments of crisis and uncertainty. We have security in Jesus, and when the waves come and go, that may change the shape of the shoreline, it may reveal some treasures, it may reveal some dangers. But the waves of this world don’t change who we are in Christ Jesus. He is our security, he is our hope.

– –

on a side note:

As I was writing this I was reminded of this song from U2, “Every Breaking Wave.”