Archives For 40 days lent


I think the only thing in life more difficult to handle than unrequited love is unfulfilled dreams. With a pinnacle birthday coming up I have spent a lot of time in the last 6 months thinking over the things in life I wanted to accomplish. I remember graduating High school, back when flannel meant something for more than just lumberjacks. I was wide eyed and full of excitement for not only the future, but very well laid out plans. I was prepared to “make it” and nothing was going to stand in my way. All the pieces were lined up to make a real go at chasing my dream of becoming a comic book artist and brooding poet. God said no. Well I wouldn’t say that the sky opened and I heard a loud voice booming like the woman in the viral fire news video. “NOT TODAY!”, but it was a no none the less. I know this because I tried everything I could to make it and nothing ever broke loose.

25 years have passed since that dream was birthed in me and it came as close as working on X-men art for a magazine, but the fullness of that dream never happened. It wasn’t just work related dreams. There were relational, physical, spiritual, emotional etc etc.  Dream after dream which once made my heart excited to tackle increasingly got added to the discard pile in the file cabinet of unfulfilled longings.

What became difficult to swallow was over the years I watched friends not only fulfilling their dreams, but some of them were even able to fulfill mine. I have had to wrestle with this so much lately. I want to rejoice with those I love but sometimes their success is a reminder of the things I never had.

In the last year I have seen 3-5 “dream jobs” come across my screen. Even this last week I saw two that just had my name all over it. I call them dream jobs because they are ones I would love to have, but require a move and dropping everything else I have going on. My wife and I have dropped everything and sold what we had and moved before, but it was always because the Lord said “go”. For the last 10 years He has said “no”. So I watch from the sidelines as my dreams are erased and replaced with just questions. The main one being – Why?

In my prayer this lent I am learning much more about my own need to recover certain things I have lost or just willingly given away. I often trade my contentment for disappointment.

Philippians 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. Context means everything when we read a verse in the bible. The majority of the time we use this verse we leave out the context and apply it to our driving goals. “I want to have… I want to be… I want to see…” And we say we can and will because we can do all things through christ who gives us strength. However, lets look again at that verse for a second. You can’t separate the thought in verse 12 from verse 13. It is not speaking about life goals. The verse says that the secret to contentment, regardless of our unfulfilled dreams and broken hearts, is Jesus because it’s only by His strength that we can walk forward when we don’t get the results in life we want.

The bible is full of unfulfilled dreams. I think many of the apostles and heroes of our faith all asked the same questions as us. They asked the Why questions of God too.

There is so much of this in our lives isn’t there? We pray to no longer be single; to have children, to get a job, to write a book, to go to school, to travel the world, for healing of our bodies or minds… Prayer after prayer after prayer. For some of us these dreams will happen. For others they never will.

In some circles we are told it’s because of the lack of our faith or even the lack of our determination. I can promise you that besides my dream of being fit (I lack in that one), I was never lacking in faith or determination. Some times the Lord has a different plan.

Over and over I have heard the verse in Psalm 37:4 as people quote it “god will give you the desires of your heart” and miss the first part where it says “delight yourself in the lord”.

I have found that my desires over the years have changed to match the Lords desires when I have delighted myself in the Lord… When I have walked in honest relationship with God my heart has become in tune with His and I find myself wanting different things. Do I still wrestle with everything I have ever wanted to do and be? Of course!, but at the same time I can walk forward because Christ gives me strength.

Paul while in prison wrote this:

 Ephesians 3:20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

I find myself, much like when I started this reflection, comparing myself to others who get what I wanted. The friends who achieve things I never had the chance to and even my enemies who seem to somehow walk out of the destruction they cause, unscathed and even more prosperous. I like to say that comparison is a dream killer and it is in the instances of dreams that God would have you fulfill. In the instances where He says “no”, comparison is a bitterness breeder.

At least that is how it normally is, but I am prayerfully aware today it doesn’t have to be. Maybe I have just been comparing myself to the wrong people. If I compare myself to Paul then I would walk in the truth that even if I was chained up in prison, beaten, and left to die I can still sing and shout with thanksgiving and praise.

Paul says the Lord will accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think which is a reminder that He is powerful and loves us beyond our thought capacity.

As I look over what my life looks like I realize it might not look the same way a year from now, but I can be thankful for what it has. I’m not sure what the answers are to my unfulfilled dreams, but I can say I have a grateful heart TODAY for the dreams God has fulfilled in my life, my family, and my church that I never even knew I had.

Today I just want to know God more and more. I will press onward with my dreams with determination, but I will also trust that the God who breathed stars into existence might have a better plan than I ever could.

So today for lent I will surrender or fast my dreams so that I can give God glory for the great things He has done and will do in my life without the bitterness and worry that I won’t get what I want.

Take my dreams and let them be consecrated Lord to thee.

I release my kingdom To HIS Kingdom and swear fealty to the Lord because I can trust his provision, power, and promises.

While a grateful heart doesn’t get formed in an instant, it does begin with a choice followed by daily ones.

Sweet dreams are made from surrender and gratitude. 


Do you remember when the TV show survivor first aired? For my wife and I it was a huge moment in our history. Some of you might think that is lame, but we loved curling up on the couch together (curling up for a guy my size might be a stretch but you get the point)… This was before DVR so we actually had to clear our calendar. You were either a friend that was going to watch this “real life” drama with us or you were dead to us for one hour each week. We absolutely loved watching season after season normal people doing normal things in the most abnormal environment. Each week we would debate with each other if we would have the stones to try out for the show. Could we make it? Was this the weightloss regime I was looking for? Would we cheat and steal and revert to carnal instincts because we are on an island in the middle of no where? So many questions! So much fun!

Each tribal counsel they would vote somebody off the island. The host, jeff, would proclaim that their lit torches represented their life in the game. “fire represents life…” He would proclaim in the most intense moment on the show. We were always on the edge of our seat waiting to see who would get snuffed out.

Fire represents life… I find it interesting that Lent, which is designed to have us take a closer look at our lives in order to get a better glimpse of Jesus, begins with Ash… Ash represents death.

I have been in church services where the worship leader has loudly proclaimed that we are wretches and worms and dirty and a bunch more adjectives to describe how crappy we are and how great God is. I know why we do this in the church and often times this mantra of self loathing is magnified during Lent in order to magnify the Lord more. As if the only way to show God’s greatness is to cut myself off at the knees. Where is the “LIFE” in this?

“I ONCE was lost… NOW i’m found…. Amazing grace who saved a WRETCH like me” – If we are going to insist on taking our theology from songs lets make sure to at least get it right. I AM FOUND. I AM SAVED. I AM NEW…

I am one of those people who many falsely accuse of being prideful because I’m confident. The truth is I’m confident and bold, but have battled insecurity my whole life.

Ephesians 3:12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. 13 So please don’t lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored.
14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father,  15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Does that passage just make you just shake with life?!

So many of us are convinced we are worthless, That we have no value, that we are wretches… so when we get to a season like lent we use it as an opportunity to continue our pattern as spiritual “cutters”. We take the razor blades of shame and disgust and we slash at our wrists all the while thanking the Lord for His great mercy in saving us. Lets make sure to not get our theology wrong here… And I know many people who would consider me to be a heretic, but I believe in the God of LIFE.

Let us be aware that the Cross was made by man… We bear the burden of killing God, but thankfully He is far greater than our past!
The act on the cross was not to show God’s value, but to show how much He values us! God laying down his life doesn’t reveal how horrible we are. It reveals how amazing He considers us to be. Let that wash over you today as it has for me this morning.

I spend some time praying about beginning with ash… I have spoken from a microphone out of Ecc 3 “from dust we have come and to dust we will return” in an effort to begin our Lenten season grappling with our own mortality.

However something hit me… No the Lord spoke to me a few things.

1. BACKWARDS KINGDOM
On the church calendar this season we are in starts with Ash Wednesday, takes us through lent, moves through Holy week, and finds it’s resting place in Pentecost. I have spent a great amount of time dwelling on and studying that the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. A kingdom where the first are last, the last are first, that the religious are missing it and the prostitutes see it, where the learned don’t follow and the dirtbags sell all… And I’m met with the realization that once again even this season is backwards.

It begins with ASH and ends with FIRE.

It doesn’t start with an ember… It starts with ash. From the ruins and rubble and charred remnants of “something” that is now dead to the outpouring of the spirit of God it becomes fire!

Romans 12 (NIRV) 11 Never let the fire in your heart go out. Keep it alive. Serve the Lord. 12 When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful.

If you want to get an amazing picture of how our hearts should be this season, spend some time in Romans 12.
Here is the amazing part. From the ASH of my life God doesn’t want to bring attention to the blackened dust… He wants to not only TRANSFORM it into Fire which IS Life for those of us who don’t know Him, but for those of us who do He wants to remind us that unlike survivor it can’t be snuffed out!

I am valuable. I am loved. I am new. I am created in His image, for His glory, and I am no LONGER what my mind tells me I am every day.

In this season I am NOT FACED WITH MY MORTALITY… I am overjoyed by my IMMORTALITY!

His Fire burns away anything that is not of Him… So that I can be more like him

Hebrews 12:28 Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. 29 For our God is a devouring fire.

2. I DIDN’T COME FROM ASH/DUST
This is what the Lord told me this morning as I was praying through what God wanted to speak to me today. I was driving my kids to school thinking about all of the above and asking the Lord… “Speak to me… you know where my heart is and something is just not lining up for me today… What can you speak over me so that I can share your goodness to others in todays reflection?”

He said to me: “You didn’t come from dust. I might have used dust to form you, but you didn’t come from dust. You came from the FIRE OF MY HEART

I am usually not at a loss for words… But I needed to hear that today as I’m sure whoever is reading this does as well.

You were NOT a mistake You came from the FIRE OF HIS HEART. You were created in love by love! His Fire is Life!

We shouldn’t avoid our mess because the Lord wants to transform it.. but lets not Start in it or end in it.

We start with The fire of HIS loving heart
Have our garbage be consumed by the Fire of His righteousness
And continue with Life eternal in the Fire of His spirit!

THANKS BE TO GOD! 


For the 22 years I have been in ministry I have seen the ebb and flow of church attendance and membership. Often times the Church as a whole doesn’t grow with new people who have found freedom in Jesus. It is just churches swapping people. We never really talk about it or worry about it, but I think at it’s root we have a problem in our culture.

In the 70’s Burger King created the slogan “Have it your way” in order to compete with other brands that would only serve what was on the menu. It was a great concept and one my waist size knows I exploit often. Ironically I never get it my way. It never fails. I will pull up to the plaque showing me a ton of options… A voice comes out of the speaker “how can I help you… are you ready to order?”. I speak back to the speaker; “Yes! thanks… I will take a Whopper with cheese, but with no onions and I will add extra extra pickles…”. Then I will proceed with all the customized requests from the 5 other people in my family. By the time I get home with the order and start handing it out it’s too late. My order for extra pickles and a kids meal without cheese must have been confusing and emotionally taxing because I did not get it my way.

It NEVER works the way I would like in fast food, but for some reason it’s expected to be the norm in the church that we should approach the counter of God, and give our order, with demands to have everything our way.

If you have been in a church longer than a day you have seen this to be true:

The music is too loud.
Why can’t they play more Chris Tomlin Songs?!
The Lights are too bright!
I just cant worship unless they have a laser show and fog machines.
There is no way Jesus likes the way these chairs are set up or this awful carpet color.
It’s time to leave honey… We just are not being fed.

I could go on and on because I have heard it all. It absolutely drives me nuts hearing these kinds of things, but maybe it is more disturbing to me because I’m guilty of wanting it my way as well.

Amos 5:21-24
“I hate all your show and pretense—
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.

If this was placed into our time period it would likely read something like this:
If you are not willing to be people who overflow with Justice, Love, Joy, Peace, patience, kindness, goodness and mercy then you might as well stop everything else you are doing in all your christian duties. They are worthless. JUST STOP IT! Just stop with all the “stuff” that you are convinced you need to do in order to worship me because you have made it all about you and you do it for you.

That verse just wrecks me and convicts me every time I read it.

I remind myself and my congregation as often as I can that our “Service” is for God and the Bible wasn’t written about us, because we need to be transformed into people who chase after the heart of God and not people that shout with our actions that Jesus isn’t enough.

I was joking the other day with a friend that I thought it would be funny if there was a drive-thru for Ash Wednesday. You could pull your car up, get your ashes and drive off to go about your day. We had a great laugh at the absurdity of it… Well that was until I got a text to a few articles telling me this existed at not only many locations, but even at a church close by.

I read the articles that said the churches wanted to give people the opportunity to get the ashes, but they knew their schedules were just too busy so they set up street stations. Like a 1 min car wash. I understand time constraints. I work two jobs and have 4 kids. I truly do sympathize, but something about this just seems to feed the beast of consumerism and everything that verse in AMOS was talking about. I won’t presume to judge one heart in this, but the fact that the church offers CONVENIENCE in the Lenten period dedicated to FASTING and self-denial, which is not convenient, is teaching the church the wrong things.

We do have to ask ourselves though… Are we looking at our faith walk in the same way? Are we hoping that we can have the fullness of what God offers our life and we can consider ourselves fully devoted to his kingdom by looking for every opportunity to “drive-up” to a window and just grab the overspray of his goodness without having to die to self and trade my will for God’s?

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” ……No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

That is the crux behind the heart of Lent. Being no longer satisfied with the unfulfilling overspray of his presence, settling for the sugar high we get from cool events, and finding ourselves needing to add things to Jesus to make Him more “rich”.

Oh the joy I’ve found
Surrendering my crowns
At the feet of the King
Who surrendered everything

Oh the peace that comes
When I’m broken and undone
By Your unfailing grace
I can lift my voice and say

You can have it all, Lord
Every part of my world
Take this life and breathe on
This heart that is now Yours

Bethel Church “Have it all”

This should be our prayer as we dive heart first into Lent.
No longer saying I will “HAVE IT MY WAY”.
Instead my daily prayer to God who I know is Lord, but who I now will allow TO BE my Lord, will be
“HAVE IT ALL LORD… HAVE IT YOUR WAY”


DAY 1: ASH WEDNESDAY – I had an interesting church up bringing. I can safely say it was not a typical journey, but it gave me an exposure to pretty much every variety of church there is. In one sense the variety of sources I had in my life that gave me my taste of christian culture made it so I wasn’t stuck in one stream. However it also forced me to think about things, dissect my faith, and seek Jesus outside the confines of wrote devotion.

My introduction to the practices of the Christian church started when I was little because my parents were both ministers. I remember one of the earlier churches my dad was an assistant pastor at sometime in the early 80’s. It was a messianic church which gave me a great backbone and context for the jewish culture in the Bible. I remember the times of dancing and singing the traditional oom-pah oom-pah tempo songs to celebrate purim and passover. There always seemed to be a festival for something, but it was later in the episcopal church that I would start to get my feet wet in the value of contemplation and lament.

Over the next 20 years, from my liturgical church in NY to the baptist church in PA; messianic temple in VA; The vineyard church in VA; The assembly of God church in PA; the evangelical church in MO; the independent church in OR… etc etc; I found myself steeped in what only could be called a baskin robins theology. 51 flavors and so hard to pick my favorites.

I’m not going to memory lane here in order to bore my readers. I’m doing it because as I look back on where I have come from I can see the hand of God in how he has refined my understanding of Him, rewritten the things I was dogmatic about, and restored my faith when often times religious duty tried to destroy it.

This brings me to lent. I’m writing DAY 1 here because today starts lent with Ash wednesday. I’d like to think I have the mental stamina to write every day a reflection for the next 39, but in case I don’t I’d like to demystify the journey to holy week… Because that is exactly what lent is. It’s a personal and community journey towards towards the Lord and away from… me.

Sure you could go google it, but you will get a sterile wikipedia definition and I would like to share my definition born out of the rubble of my triumphs and failures, my victories and my defeats.

Every year we would go to ash wednesday service, listen to a sermon on the fact we came from dust and to dust we will return and then proceed to the front to have the sign of the cross smeared on our foreheads. As a kid I felt so cool. I was part of the crew and just like my parents. We would go out for dinner afterwards at some cheap diner on long island and be proud to stand out in the crowd of ash-less people. 20 min. later I forgot the mark was even there because my bagel tasted so good. We would go home, I’d wash it off and then head to bed. The next morning I would wake up and it’s like ash wednesday never happened.

This was our pattern. I went through the motions and when I got old enough to understand why we did it, I still went through the motions. It’s not that I didn’t believe in Jesus. I DID, but I became desensitized to His truth.

Fast forward to this last year. It’s a year that has come out of a long season of trials, pain, joy, and miracles. I guess it can be best described as a roller coaster ride that I’m not sure I even remember getting on. Getting wounded by life teaches you how much the presence of God matters. As I get closer to Him looking for healing, I have learned so much about how addicted I have become… to me.

I have always loved the liturgy of the church. I love being connected to the ancient church in practice, but maybe it’s because I see myself in the disciples. They were such misfits. Dirtbags who seemed to be worthless and yet Jesus would look them in the eye and say how much He loved them.

He would tell the lepers, the doubters, the prostitutes, the prideful, the low and the high, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24

…And I found myself this last week being met with the coming of Lent and ash wednesday once again, but with almost a new lens on it because I’m hearing jesus say “If you want to be with me then deny yourself… make your life about me and not you.”

Yes I know He also said “I will never leave you or forsake you”, but I think when He says “if you want to be with me…” He is asking us if we are willing to push through all of the debris of our life in order to just get a hand on his robe… Or do we value His presence less than we value our pride?

Today begins with ashes on the head. Ashes that were created from the palms of last years palm sunday. Because Yesterday’s triumphs pave the way for today’s humility. I find myself unashamed to be marked by Christ…although this year I’m less concerned about the mark on my forehead as I am the marks on my heart.

Luke 6:45 says “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.”

Have you noticed the garbage that we spew each day out of our mouths? We have to ask ourselves what is in our hearts then.

I have learned that my heart has been wounded, cut, and infected and so when I speak often times it is out of the abscess of my heart. This is what Lent is all about though. It’s a self-cleaning cycle. It’s a re-alignment to Jesus. It’s 40 days of deliberately laying down my will and letting go of my heart so that the only mark left on it is the imprint of God’s spirit.

There is a song by Daniel Bashta that encapsulates this well. He says

“Strip everything away till all I have is You
Undo the veils till all I see is You.
I will pursue You, I will pursue Your presence”

For me it’s not a matter of what thing I am going to give up this year in order to self-deny.
It’s more of a prayer to Jesus asking Him to reveal the things in life that I am not willing to give up. 

I want to head into holy week as I walk with Jesus over palm branches in the streets of Jerusalem, hike up Golgotha to where he was crucified, stand in the garden with mary with my mouth wide open as I see the “gardener”, watch as Thomas puts his hands into the resurrected Jesus’ hands, and sit on the beach with Peter and Jesus having breakfast as He restores the misfit who He said He would build His church on… with a fresh spirit and more thankful heart.

This is an opportunity to encounter God in fresh and new ways, ways that will challenge us, encourage us, and humble us. It’s a season of listening and inhaling the new mercy of God daily. A time of moving past sobriety and into recovery. A time to encourage each other, be Christ to each other and see the Christ-likeness in each other. To be the real us, where we can seek help and forgiveness, through repentance be made whole by God our healer, and let go of our orphan mentality by accepting we have been made to be heirs of the kingdom of heaven and Children of the Most High God.

I recognize all of that was painted with a broad brush, but I hope to share what God speaks to me periodically in the next few weeks in order to bring in more detail and color to the blank canvas that is Lent.

If His mercy is new every morning then receive it because today is a clean slate then let this first day of Lent be a step forward towards Jesus.