Milestones, Part 2

As often happens lately, what I thought would be one Disciplehood post turned out to be too long to be read in one go. Therefore, I decided to split Milestones in two. Now for the navel-gazing promised in Part 1 of this accidental series:

Baldy’s Thirst Birthday Update

Baldy's Thirst BirthdayI celebrated a milestone of my own a few weeks ago, when I turned 45 on August 25. Regular readers will recall that I donated this birthday to charity, and invited anyone and everyone to support this campaign in the blog post Baldy’s Thirst Birthday.

Well, much to my disappointment, the move did not prevent me from turning 45. Also, I fell short of my goal of raising $1,000 US to fund clean drinking water projects in the developing world.

But I still consider the campaign a rollicking success. My friends, family and co-workers gave $737 to the fund, which is probably pretty close to $1,000 CDN. Also worth noting is that only $282 of the total came from people who’d normally have gotten me a birthday gift, so $455 US was money that would never have come to me, but is going to help make life better for the world’s least fortunate sons and daughters.

Most importantly, 24 people will get clean water.


That’s a decent-size elementary school class. Two soccer teams (plus two). The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Who, Kiss and Black Sabbath. That’s not a small number of people.

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Who, Kiss and Black Sabbath

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, The Who, Kiss and Black Sabbath: not a small number of people.

And the ship hasn’t sailed yet on reaching that $1,000 target. I officially stopped promoting it on August 25 at 11:59 p.m. MDT, but Charity: Water won’t actually close the campaign until September 30. Come on in; the water’s fine!

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Disciplehood, Then and Now

In the earliest days of this blog, I apparently had a lot to say. I posted more entries in the last three months of 2010 than I did in the first 11 months of 2015.

noOne might wonder if I’ve lost interest in blogging, or indeed, if I’ve lost passion for Christ. Both are fair questions, but the answer to both of them is a definite no.

I continue to love to study and explore the Word and share what I learn and ponder in the e-pages of this blog. I love relating how I connect with my faith to the music, movies and TV shows that also profoundly inform my worldview. Blogging continues to give me great joy, and helps me to continue to keep moving in my walk with God.

We keep a variety of translations and study Bibles on our coffee table for our Bible study group to refer to. Naturally, everyone just looks stuff up on their phones.

We keep a variety of translations and study Bibles on our coffee table for our Bible study group to refer to. Naturally, everyone just looks stuff up on their phones.

Having said that, the ideas are not coming as fast and furious as they used to. I’ve picked most of the low-hanging fruit, as the saying goes, so I probably couldn’t keep up weekly (or better) pace I set as a target when I launched Disciplehood back in late September 2010.

Meanwhile, my life has also become a lot busier in the past six years: I went from being a stay-home dad and part-time freelance journalist to a full-time corporate communicator. I’ve gone from attending a home Bible study group to hosting and leading one. I’ve gotten increasingly involved in the leadership of Cursillo activities. I’m involved in a discernment process to explore whether I’m called to the priesthood. Meanwhile, my responsibilities at home haven’t diminished much during the Disciplehood era.

You could say that I’m too busy living out my disciplehood to write Disciplehood.

Could this guy be the source of the voice I was hearing?

Could this guy be the source of the voice I was hearing?

A few months ago, I even pondered making this my last entry – 300 is a good, round number, and six years is definitely enough time to demonstrate my level of commitment to the outlet.

I’ve gotten exasperated now and then with not being able to find enough quality time to write, and sometimes I’m dissatisfied with the quality of the post as I’m publishing it – but resign to press the button anyway, because half-assed is better than no-assed. Then, a few weeks later, I go back and re-read that supposedly lacklustre post and discover that it’s actually not bad – and I wonder if the naysayer voice that tried to talk me out of posting the entry was actually my own.

So on the whole, I’m still convinced that Disciplehood does some good. For me, for sure – and possibly even for some of you. So I’ll keep ’em coming. Sporadically and infrequently to be sure, but the flow will continue.

If you find yourself hungry for Disciplehood more quickly than the chow line is moving, feel free to sample the leftovers in the archive. Here are a few of my recent-ish favorites that you may have missed:

  • Perfect: Since right now is really all we have (the past is gone and the future isn’t here yet), if the thing I’m doing right now is the same thing I’d be doing if my life was perfect, does that mean that right now, my life is perfect?
  • The Lazarus Series: A three-post exploration of the friend whose death made Jesus weep in the Gospel of John, and the character of the same name in a parable Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke. Could these stories be related?

  • The R-Word Series: ‘Remember’ is an oft-repeated theme in the Bible. There are even a surprising number of instances when psalmists send reminders to God – as if an omniscient God could ever forget anything. Seems audacious and unnecessary – but is it possible God likes it when we plead with Her not to forget us?
  • In Want: The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not be in want. We all know what it means to be in need, but what does it mean to be in want?
  • Roofs and Raincoats and Cup or Funnel?: These two posts aren’t a series, but they both compare God’s grace with a deluge of rain. Roofs and Raincoats suggests that we misguidedly hide from grace under spiritual tarps and umbrellas that we construct to ‘protect’ us – and the good news is that since we built them, we can step out from under them. Cup or Funnel asks whether we’re using a cup to catch God’s grace for ourselves, or a wide-mouthed funnel to share it with the rest of the world.

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Prepare for glory, Disciplehooders. Theres more where the first 300 entries came from.

Prepare for glory, Disciplehooders. There’s more where the first 300 entries came from.

Well, that’s it.

Thanks for sticking around for the past 1,100 words, six years and 300 posts, reader(s).

I look forward to celebrating many more milestones with you over the months and years to come.

Peace be with you.

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Milestones, Part 1

Not long ago, I posted my 300th Disciplehood entry, and nobody even bought me flowers. (Our sixth bloggiversary will be on September 30, if you want a shot at redemption, BTW.)

The arrival of these two Disciplehood milestones within just a few weeks of each other has me thinking about milestones in general and their meaning/significance.

In today’s cultural context (Christian and otherwise), are these occasions’ significance overblown? Are they underblown? Can other cultures past and present (including, but not limited to, First-Century Palestine) teach us anything about what a healthy approach to milestones looks like?

Let’s explore some of these questions, and then do a bit of navel-gazing, as we have in other milestone-acknowledging Disciplehood posts, such as Two Hundred, Four Years and Bloggiversary.

Milestones, not Millstones

milestones‘“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”‘ – Matthew 18:6

Wait. That verse is about millstones, not milestones. Never mind.

The word ‘milestone’ doesn’t come up in a Bible Gateway search of the New International Version of the Bible, but Scripture does have a few things to say about these key markers of our journeys through life.

centered-stones-smallIn Joshua 4:1-9, God instructs the people to literally build a monument using a bunch of stones, to remind them of the day they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. The altars that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built throughout the time of the Patriarchs seem to function as monuments that remind people of significant events as much as temporary places of worship – their mentions certainly function as literary milestones for us reading the text in modern times, regardless of what they meant for Abraham and co. at the time.

Meanwhile, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul often compares the Christian life to a race – more like a marathon than a sprint. Baked into that metaphor (for me, at least) is the need for milestones or signposts that let the runners know how far they’ve progressed – and how far they have to go. These spiritual milestones are admittedly a lot fuzzier (and arguably fewer) in the Christian race than they are in 21st-Century long-distance runs, but I’m convinced they’re there.

Would children in the developing world be jealous, or grateful, that clowns at their birthday parties are a rarity?

Would children in the developing world be jealous, or grateful, that clowns at their birthday parties are a rarity?

But what about personal milestones in the Bible? Did they celebrate birthdays in biblical times? The NIV records three references to birthday parties, so the concept was known, at least. I suspect that for common people, these celebrations would have been much less lavish and stuff-centred than they are for 21st-Century North Americans.

And while the ancient Jewish calendar provided precise instructions on an assortment of religious festivals that functioned as annual milestones for the nation of Israel as a whole, there’s not much evidence that they got caught up in celebrating individual milestones: preschool graduations, kindergarten graduations, junior proms, senior proms and the first day of your second year of Grade 12, like we do today.

Bob: ‘It’s not a graduation. He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.’
Helen: ‘It’s a ceremony.’
Bob: ‘It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.’ – from The Incredibles, Disney-Pixar, 2004

Is Mr. Incredible incredibly right here? Is our fascination with marking every milestone actually holding us back from becoming the incredible people God created us to be? A question worth pondering…

Perhaps a less-is-more approach would be more impactful than the way we do it. Rather than a series of commemorative portraits to celebrate Little Floyd’s first tooth, first pee in a potty, first big-boy bike and his first facial hair, would we be better off with just one major childhood development milestone that marks one’s ready-or-not arrival into adulthood?

A Bat Mitzvah: nothing like this happened at my Confirmation party – of course, I was 42...

A Bat Mitzvah: nothing like this happened at my Confirmation party – of course, I was 40…

We’re probably all familiar with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and First Communion and Confirmation – its Christian counterparts. But other cultures from all over the world have their own Coming of Age traditions, as documented in this article.

In our culture, childhood is a process that clearly has a beginning (birth, or maybe conception), but its end is terribly undefined. What milestone constitutes adulthood, practically speaking, in our culture? Driver’s licence? High school grad? 18th birthday? College/university grad? When you move out of your parents’ basement and pay all of your bills yourself?

Is it possible that the multitude of milestones we celebrate are confusing us? In my own family, we certainly talked about Confirmation as the point when our kids took ownership of their own faith – rather than attending church because Mom and Dad said so – but not a lot actually changed for our kids following these milestones. Could that be because the significance of these genuinely meaningful milestones got buried under a heap of Kodak moments and silly selfies?

I got the problems of an adult on my head and my shoulders, Im an adult now!

I got the problems of an adult on my head and my shoulders, I’m an adult now!

It’s interesting to me that, at least originally, a bar/bat mitzvah denoted when a Jewish boy/girl became accountable for his/her own actions under Jewish law. Its origins are about responsibilities, not privileges. Sure, you get a great party thrown in your honor, and people give you some nice gifts to celebrate the occasion, but once the guests have left and you change out of your fancy clothes, more is expected of you.

Whether you feel like an adult or not, you are one. So act like it.

Perhaps that kind of line-in-the-sand declaration is what’s missing from the myriad of milestones celebrated in our culture, and maybe that’s part of the reason so many of us are still living in our parents’ basements.

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Seems I had more to say about milestones than I thought. I guess the navel-gazing will have to wait until next time.

Until then, peace be with you.

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The G-Word, Part 4: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

Once I decided to close out this series talking about the Garden of Eden, I knew I had to include this clip from The Simpsons. And yes, I must recount a few highlights:
   • ‘Please rise for our opening hymn, Garden of Eden, by I. Ron Butterfly.’
   • ‘Hey, Marge, remember when we used to make out to this hymn?’
   • ‘Wait a minute. This sounds like rock and/or roll.’
Such genius. 

What do you picture when you think of the Garden of Eden?

My mom's garden in early  September 2016

My mom’s garden in early September 2016

Was it esthetically uninteresting but extremely practical like my mom’s garden (above)? Was it exquisitely manicured, like The Butchart Gardens in Victoria, B.C. (bel0w)?

BREATH-TAKING BEAUTY! (The garden behind her ain't bad, either.) This is my wife, Karen, at Butchart Gardens in 2011. We took a trip to Victoria to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, and as we had done on our honeymoon, we visited The Butchart Gardens.

BREATH-TAKING BEAUTY! (The garden behind her ain’t bad, either.) This is my wife, Karen, at Butchart Gardens in 2011. We took a trip to Victoria to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary, and as we had done on our honeymoon, we visited The Butchart Gardens.

Or was it an untamed explosion of flora, with roses bursting up next to cherry trees, and rutabagas sharing space with watermelons – with an assortment of what we call ‘weeds’ peppering the landscape in random, chaotic fashion?

The Wave Hill Public Garden in Bronx, NY is described as a wild garden.

This is a photo of the ‘Wild Garden’ at the Wave Hill Public Garden in Bronx, NY: did Eden look something like this?

Maybe all of the above, all at the same time?

I sometimes wish the Bible provided a bit more detail about Eden, but this is probably one of those instances where it’s better that we’re not given too much detail. The image can adapt, and Eden can be whatever each of us needs it to be, in that moment.

If Heaven is like Eden, could the tunnel of 'light at the end of the tunnel' fame look like this?

If Heaven is like Eden, could the tunnel of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ fame look like this?

I have a feeling we will all learn first-hand someday. Revelation 22:1-5 doesn’t contain the word ‘garden’, but in the NIV, its headline is ‘Eden Restored’.

‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.’ – Revelation 22:1-5

I really like the sound of that – both as a faithful(ish) disciple and as one of the horticulturally hapless. After all, the passage talks in considerable detail about the garden, but doesn’t make a peep about anyone having to do any gardening.

Peace be with you.


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The G-Word, Part 3: Horticultural Fisherman

The G-Word occurs most often in Genesis, but 12 of the 13 times ‘garden’ is used in that book, the text is referring to Eden. After Genesis, the two books that use the G-Word the most are Song of Songs and the Gospel of John. Song of Songs is a love poem full of steamy symbolism and confusing allegory that still sometimes seems out of place in Scripture to me – so let’s concentrate on John.

Fishermen and gardeners are both concerned about worms. Could this be why John had the G-Word on his radar?

Fishermen and gardeners both regularly come into contact with worms. Could this be why John had the G-Word on his radar?

Before Jesus called him, John was a fisherman, not a farmer.

And yet, he paid a lot more attention to the G-word than Matthew, Mark and Luke, who documented the same events John did.

For instance, Matthew and Mark both refer to Gethsemane as ‘a place’, while John doesn’t mention Gethsemane at all, but talks about Jesus and his disciples visiting a garden in the hours following the Last Supper. (Interestingly, none of the Gospels ever refer specifically to the ‘Garden of Gethsemane‘.)

Similarly, all four Gospels talk about Jesus being buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, but only John mentions anything about the location of the tomb:

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. – John 19:41

And that, of course, sets the stage for the garden-related surprise of a lifetime for Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning:

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). – John 20:11-16

Mary thought Jesus was the gardener.

If she’d been present and paying attention five chapters earlier, she might have known how right she really was …

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Image-1 (3)One of the most notable uses of The G-Word in Scripture comes straight from the mouth of Jesus in John 15:1: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener….’

And if we go straight to Verse 5a in this passage, that sounds pretty warm and fuzzy: ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…’

But if you look at this whole passage in context, it becomes a little scary:

Have pruning shears (and a lime green apron onesie), will travel.

Have pruning shears (and a lime green apron onesie), will travel.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. – John 15:1-6


Sounds pretty harsh for a God that 1 John 4:8 tells us is love. But remember that this passage begins talking about God the Father as the gardener, and nobody accuses gardeners of being cruel to their gardens when they pull weeds or prune off unproductive branches.

Remember also that in God’s garden, time is not a limiting factor. God will indeed cut off branches that bear no fruit, but God gives us our whole lives to become fruitful branches. There will undoubtedly be some pruning along the way, to either enhance or initiate growth – but God is a patient gardener.

And what kind of fruit does God want us to bear, again? Glad you asked. 

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’ – Galatians 5:22-23

Simple stuff. Not always easy, but simple. So let’s get out there and bear some fruit already.

Peace be with you.

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The G-Word, Part 2: Partnership

When I think about gardens, I think of my mom’s yard.

My mom's garden in early  September 2016

My mom’s garden in early September 2016

Karen and Katie Petkau help with the harvest in my mom's gareen on a Thanksgiving from yesteryear.

Karen and Katie Petkau help with the harvest in my mom’s garden on a Thanksgiving weekend from bygone days.

Potato plants like ferns. Carrots plants like pine saplings. Tomato plants dripping with fruit. Onion plants that stand higher than the back fence. Enough cucumber plants to keep Bicks in business for at least six months. All in rows so straight an OCD Prussian would be impressed – and nary a weed to be found. My then-eight-year-old daughter galonking along in her Thanksgiving dress and rubber boots, picking and eating onion leaves or a filthy – and yet pristine – carrot.

The word ‘garden’ to me means ‘vegetable garden’.


But for plenty of other people, the G-word is used to describe many environments other than the place we grow veggies. It can also refer to what I call ‘flower beds’, or even the whole yard.

This landscape is impressive, but let's be very clear: it's a front yard that contains flowerbeds. It is NOT a garden.

This landscape is impressive, but let’s be very clear: it’s a front yard that contains flower beds. It is NOT a garden. And I might even play the ‘is not, is too’ game with you if you disagree.

My definition seems rather narrow when I think of it in that context, but it also feels right to me – regardless of the fact that my friends Oxford, Webster and even Wiktionary say otherwise!

I might not always quibble out loud about it when someone uses the G-word improperly (sez I), but I might still get hung up on it enough that it distracts me from fully engaging with the conversation – or even enjoying the garden (or yard) I’m sitting in!

And in a similar way, I wonder if the way I see God’s creation – and define the term ‘God’s people’ – is narrower than God’s view of these things. I wonder if that’s true for some of you as well.

Are we missing out on the joy that comes from experiencing community with God’s people by fussing about who is and isn’t in that category?

Just askin’.

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One thing I really admire about gardeners is that they know their place in the universe.

Gardeners do their part – they plant, water, weed, fertilize, prune and harvest – but gardeners don’t make the crops grow, God does.

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.’ – 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 


The gardener controls what she can, but all of her actions are done in response to what God (or Nature, if you’re uncomfortable with that particular G-word) has already done and can be relied on to continue to do. It’s a partnership, but one in which the gardener is unquestionably the junior partner, and both parties are satisfied with the arrangement.

The G-Word

As is illustrated in Paul’s words of wisdom in the quote above, gardening is a great illustration of the Christian life overall, isn’t it?

Our words and actions – the way we treat others and intentionally help them connect with the Living Water of Christ – are like the work of a faithful gardener who does her part in collaboration with her fellow gardeners, and with God. But when we have our heads on straight, we don’t forget that it’s not our jobs to cause the seeds to germinate and take root; for the plants we sow to take up moisture and nutrients – that’s all God’s job.

And thank God for that!

But on the same token, God has chosen to delegate the responsibility of tending the garden to us.

Without us, there is no garden!

Just a bunch of crabgrass and dandelions, with an occasional carrot or potato plant growing defiantly here or there.

The harvest in such a would-be garden is pitiful, not plentiful.

And I think that’s just as true with spiritual gardening as it with regular gardening – and that means being God’s gardener is a wondrous invitation, but it’s also a tremendous responsibility.

Peace be with you.

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The G-Word, Part 1: Sam & Tilley

I have a confession to make: I suck at gardening.

Marian Petkau, my mom, taught me everything I know about gardening. (Not that she’d brag about that…)

If the term ‘green thumb’ was coined for cultivation crackerjacks like both of my parents, I’m the reason the term ‘black thumb’ exists.

I can barely grow potatoes. My attempts at rhubarb and raspberries – crops that tend to overrun most people’s gardens – both fell flat. If I put bedding plants in my flowerbeds, I can usually keep them alive for a couple of months, but not always.

In light of that reality, it was quite a relief when my family moved into our current home, as it came fully landscaped, without a square inch of open soil.

I’m mildly ashamed of my horticultural hopelessness, I admit. As I said, my parents are both excellent gardeners, and I work for an agricultural company, so I have no excuse. But the fact remains.

The grass looks OK, thanks to a lot of rain this summer. But the flowerbeds that surround our back yard are, thankfully, just gravel.

Baldy’s Yard: The grass looks OK, thanks to a lot of rain this summer. But the flowerbeds that surround our back yard are, thankfully, just gravel.

But not long ago, vague feelings of inadequacy turned to mild horror and alarm when it dawned on me that the only job title available to humanity before The Fall was gardener.

‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ – Genesis 2:15

 There’s a bit in Genesis 2 where Adam names the animals, but this was probably a one-time task, not an ongoing one. His focus seems to have been on flora, not fauna.

If the world was perfect until the serpent slithered into the garden in Genesis 3, does that mean every occupation under the sun other than gardening is an aberration? That God loves gardeners and tolerates everyone else?

G word       Naaaah, probably not…

… But there’s no doubt that horticulture is an activity close to the heart of God – and the Bible in general – so I’ve decided to explore some of the uses of The G-Word throughout Scripture, and share some thoughts in a blog series. Here goes:

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God Herself‡‡ is often described as a gardener. This image is woven into the fabric of the Creation story as follows:

‘Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.’ – Genesis 1:11-12

It is good, isn’t it?

As Sam said to Tilley in the 1987 classic film, Tin Men

Tilley Danny DeVito and Sam Jackie Gayle exchange witty repartee about a vital topic in Barry Levinsons 1987 masterpiece, Tin Men.

Tilley (Danny DeVito) and Sam (Jackie Gayle) exchange witty repartee about a vital topic in Barry Levinson’s 1987 masterpiece, Tin Men.

Sam (Jackie Gayle): … I’m beginning to think about God more.
Tilley (Danny DeVito): What, you were never one of those atheists, were you?
Sam : No, I’m not sayin’ that. It’s just that I’m beginning to give God more thought.
Tilley: What, did you have some kind of religious experience or something.
Sam: Well, yeah, the other day I took the wife to lunch, we went and had some smorgasboard, and it just kinda happened.
Tilley: [Gags for a second at this] At the smorg… you found God at the smorgasboard?
Sam: Well, yeah, I’m looking at all this food, I see all these vegetables, and I think, all these things came outta the ground. I see tomatoes, outta the ground, carrots, outta the ground, radishes outta the ground. And I think, all of these things come outta the ground. And I’m just talkin’ about the vegetables, I haven’t gotten to the fruits yet. And I think, how can that be? How can all these things come outta the ground? With all these things comin’ outta the ground, there must be a God.

With all these things comin’ outta the ground, there must be a God, indeed.


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The Garden of Eden as depicted in the first or left panel of Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych

The Garden of Eden as depicted in the first or left panel of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych

The word ‘garden’ appears 62 times in the Good Book – often simply as the setting in which a scene takes place, or a piece of property that’s discussed in the dialogue. But sometimes gardens seem to almost function like characters in the stories.

The Gardens of Eden and Gethsemane almost seem to have personalities.

I imagine Eden revelling in her role as the home for humanity and the place in which God walks with people in the cool of the day.

A few thousand(?) years later, the Disciples couldn’t stay awake while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, but the garden himself seemed to keep vigil with Our Lord, sharing His anguish and fear; joining in His prayer for the disciples of then and now.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to use a feminine pronoun for Eden and a masculine one for Gethsemane, but what I have written, I have written.

The Garden of Gethsemane, photographed in 2012.

The Garden of Gethsemane, photographed in 2012.

†     †     †

‡‡Speaking of gender-specific pronouns, you may have noticed that I used a feminine pronoun to refer to God a few paragraphs ago, and I thought I’d provide a bit of context.

Last year, I decided to stop identifying God as male by default, as documented in my post Anti-pronoun. As painful as it is, I’ve been avoiding using any pronouns at all to refer to God since then. Instead, I keep using the (other) G-Word: ‘God poured Godself into the world’, rather than ‘God poured [Him/Her]self into the world’, and so on.

And it sets my teeth on edge, every single time. After all, God gave us pronouns; surely She must want us to use them!

Daniel Kirk

Daniel Kirk

But recently, I’ve noticed some of my favorite liberal podcasters (including Daniel Kirk, host of the LectioCast, and the pastors from House for All Sinners and Saints) –  who’d initially inspired my anti-pronoun stance – using pronouns freely, but simply alternating the masculine and the feminine.

Baldy see, Baldy do.

hfass logoLast year, I speculated that God doesn’t have a gender – that the concepts of male and female are not part of the spiritual realm at all. But lately, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not more accurate to say that He is both genders simultaneously – that all that is masculine and all that is feminine coexist without contradiction inside Her infinitely wondrous being.

Might just be an exercise in self-justification, but either way, I think I’ll give pronounical leapfroggery a try, and use Him & Her and He & She to refer to the Almighty for the next little while. (Feel free to stand way over there to avoid scorching when I’m inevitably struck by lightning.)

Peace be with you.

Posted in Bible, Faith, God, Grace, New Testament, Old Testament, Words, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Word at a Time

The one thing I don’t like about going on holidays is that it often means I have to miss church service. (That might be the most Ned Flanders thing I’ve ever said, but it’s true.)

But when I peeked into the Revised Common Lectionary and saw what the readings were for July 24, when my wife Karen and I were scheduled to be en route to our fabulous 20th-anniversary Alaskapalooza Cruise, my misgivings softened a little.



The Gospel reading scheduled for that week was Luke 11:1-13 – Luke’s version of Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of the Lord’s Prayer. I wrote an entire blog post devoted to it, a few years back and have touched on it in several others. I’ve studied it from a few different angles and I pray it nearly every day. If there’s a Sunday I can afford to miss, it’s one that focuses on the Lord’s Prayer, right?



While I don’t regret the Sunday away from service, I am glad I chose to listen to several sermons from churches that focused on this reading. At my church, guest pastor Andy Lees gave a great sermon on Prayer With Attitude; Denver Lutheran Pastrix Nadia Bolz-Weber preached a barnburner called Our Father Who Art in Everything; and Max Lucado, whose Oak Hills Church in San Antonio doesn’t follow the Lectionary, nevertheless preached powerfully on the Lord’s Prayer on July 31.

Maureen Crerar

But what spoke most loudly to me on this topic was a sermon from a church I’ve never even been to: St. Timothy’s Anglican Church in Edmonton. I stumbled upon St. Timothy’s a few months ago when I was looking for podcasts from Canadian liturgical churches to balance out my U.S. Evangelical-dominated library, and I’m glad I did. The church seems unpretentious and Godly, and the preaching is accessible, yet insightful.

Case in point: the Rev. Canon Maureen Crerar gave a wonderfully encouraging sermon July 24 about the Lord’s Prayer. She mentioned that some years back, a mentor challenged her to pray the Lord’s Prayer, contemplating each word individually as she went.

Sad Ned-flandersThat sounded like a great idea to me, so I’ve decided to give it a shot myself in this blog post – using the contemporary-language version of the prayer, jumping willy-nilly from translation to translation in mid-prayer – because that’s just how I roll. (Take THAT, Flanders!)

Here goes:


Do you ever think about the fact that even though God is the One who created us, we’re invited to call God our God? The entire universe belongs to God, so clearly, we’re God’s people. But this prayer suggests that this sense of belonging is meant to be mutual.

‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine.’ – Song of Songs 6:3  


God could require that we use words like ‘Master’, ‘Lord’, ‘King’ or ‘Owner’ here, but the most powerful being in the universe invites us to think of God as our parent. Please don’t let quibbles over the gender of God get in the way of the power of the incredible graciousness of this invitation.


Not ‘that’, ‘what’ or ‘which’ (in this translation, anyway). Who. God is not some impersonal Force like you see in Star Wars, God is a personal being who knows and loves you, personally.


A Picasso or a Garfunkel?

Leslie Jordan and David Leonard, known collectively as All Sons and Daughters.

Leslie Jordan and David Leonard, known collectively as All Sons and Daughters. (More accurately, I’d say they’re one of each.)

‘Art’, in this case, is an old-fashioned form of the verb ‘to be’. Another form of ‘to be’ is ‘am’, which God uses with great efficiency in Exodus 3:14 to teach us something about Godself: God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” I wrote a whole series about The A-Word a few years back. Here’s a link to Part 1. Lots of writers and singers have picked up on this same vibe over the years, including All Sons and Daughters, whose song You Will Remain reminds us that ‘You were, you will be, you always are the Great I Am.’


Here are some thoughts on the word ‘in’ from another previous blog post.


Im sure Heaven looks just like this.

I’m sure Heaven looks just like this.

What does it mean for God to be ‘in Heaven.’ Is Heaven a place? A state of mind? A plane of existence? Or is Heaven anywhere God is? (And if God dwells in our hearts, does that mean Heaven dwells within each of us, too?)


Yes, God is our friend and our mentor and our daddy. Yes, we are all made in the image of God. But the word ‘holy‘ means ‘set apart’, because despite all of the ways we’re invited to strive to be like God, God is perfect and we are not. And yet, this perfect, holy God invites us to use words like friend, mentor and daddy as we pray to Him.

is Your

Holy is your name. Sometimes ‘you’ is a plural pronoun, but in this case it’s singular. Only God’s name is holy.


holy is your nameIt’s not difficult to fathom that the Creator of the Universe is holy, but to think that even the very name of God is holy, is a challenging concept for me.

After all, we live in a culture where names are nearly meaningless. To have a name so intricately linked to the substance of a Being is instructive about both the nature of holiness and its potency.


Not our kingdom, Your Kingdom. We are invited to be citizens of this Kingdom, but it belongs exclusively to our God.


Not God’s democracy, God’s republic or God’s anarchy. God’s Kingdom. A well-ordered, just and perfect Kingdom where there is no doubt Who is in charge and unanimous satisfaction about that fact.


There’s an urgency in this word, isn’t there. Maybe even a desperation: Your Kingdom come … soon … please …?


Similar to the last ‘your’, this one pleads for God’s will – and no one else’s – to be done.


The Will of God is a terrifying, comforting concept, isn’t it? God’s will rarely consults our preferences, and it often takes us to uncomfortable spaces.

But there’s comfort in the knowledge that when God’s will is being done, circumstances are unfolding as they are meant to – the best possible scenario is being realized. There’s a ‘Come what may’ freedom that percolates when there’s confidence that the will of God is being accomplished. So please, Lord, Your will be done.

be Done,

I long for God’s will to be ‘done’ as in ‘finished’  (past tense) and unalterably, unshakably in place for all time. But when you’re a God who exists outside time, the past tense doesn’t really apply. On the Cross, Jesus declared, ‘It is finished’, and in one sense, past tense was appropriate here. But in another, Jesus’ work of salvation is an ongoing process that will continue in each of us for our entire lives.


Thanks to gravity, there’s very little of humanity that is truer than the statement that we are on Earth. (Sure, we can use huge amounts of resources and ingenuity to liberate ourselves from the state of being ‘on earth’ for short periods of time, but there’s no denying that this is a fundamental component of humanity as we know it.) When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, I think it’s implied that we’re asking that God’s will be done on earth in the same sense, and to the same extent that we humans live on earth.


Not necessarily ‘Earth’, the third planet in our Solar system, or ‘earth’ the first of the four elements of the ancient world, but Earth, the place where humanity dwells. If humans ever colonize Mars, I don’t envision Martian Christians changing the words of the prayer to say ‘Your will be done, on Mars as it is in Heaven.’


Not ‘like’, as in ‘similar’. ‘As’, as in ‘identically’. We’re asking that God’s will be done on earth to the same extent that it is done in Heaven. That’s a pretty huge prayer when you think about it. And I think God wants us to think about it.

In Heaven

Heaven is the face of a little girl 
with dark brown eyes
that disappear when she smiles
Heaven is the place
where she calls my name,
says, “Daddy please come play with me for awhile”

God, I know, it’s all of this and so much more
But God, You know, that this is what I’m aching for
God, you know, I just can’t see beyond the door…

– from Heaven is the Face, by Steven Curtis Chapman


Notice the absence of the word ‘please’ here. Jesus doesn’t tack on a bunch of flowery, exaggeratedly pious ‘We beseech you‘s and ‘We know we are not worthy but if you could please see your way to provide‘s, He invites us to simply say ‘give’ here – as if we’re invited to come to God not as beggars, but as children entitled to a place at God’s table. ‘As if‘ because in Christ, it is so.


Not ‘me’. ‘Us’. This prayer is prayed for the entire community, and by the entire community. I wonder if, even when we are alone when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are part of a chorus of believers around the world, praying it together with one voice. I think that might be true, and I like that.


Sometimes it’s easier to imply the word ‘someday‘ in my prayers for God to give me what I’m asking for. You know, ‘Whenever You get around to it, Lord. Heaven knows some of my siblings in Christ have needs that are more severe than mine, and I wouldn’t want to cut in line ahead of them, so you know, whenever. And if that turns out to be “never”, that’s cool. You’re the God, after all.’

But Jesus instructed us to ask God to give to us on this day.


Funnily, all of the images that came up in my Google search for the word 'day' looked like this. As if a cloudy winter day in a crowded city is any less a day than a sunny summer one in the country.

Funnily, all of the images that came up in my Google search for the word ‘day’ looked like this. As if a cloudy winter day in a crowded city is any less a day than a sunny summer one in the country.

What do we mean when we say ‘day’? Is it the eight-hour work day? The 16-hour period when we’re awake? The X-number of consecutive hours of daylight we experience between dawn and dusk? The 24-hour period in which the earth completes a full rotation?

And what does it do to our understanding of the word ‘day’ when we remember that God created the universe in six days (especially if we’re among those who don’t take this literally)? What about the paradigm-torpedoing word in 2 Peter 3:8 that ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’? Either way …

‘This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ – Psalm 118:24


Again with the plural pronouns. Our daily bread, not my daily bread. Another reminder that we pray this prayer in community.

Also, again with the sense of entitlement. (Didn’t Jesus ever say ‘please’?) But I don’t think this use of ‘our’ is meant to convey a ‘Give us the bread today that we’ve got coming to us’ vibe. More like, ‘You know our individual and collective needs better than we do, so give us what we need to meet those needs.’


Give us today what we need today. There’s such humble, uncomplicated dependence in this word. Such acknowledgement that every day we eat, it’s because God decided we can eat today. Every breath is God’s to give us (or not).


Here are some reflections on ‘bread’ from a previous blog post.


Because man does not live on bread alone, we add more to this audacious list of requests (which is worded to sound a lot like demands).


Christian musician Matthew West tells us that forgiveness is ‘the hardest thing to give away’, but it’s also the one of the hardest things to ask for.

If there were a word for ‘Can we pretend this never happened without addressing who did what to whom?’ and that was the word used here instead of ‘forgive’, I think we’d be less daunted by that word. But even if such a word does exist and eludes me for the moment, it’s not the word Jesus taught us to pray here. He commended this prayer to us using the word ‘forgive’, because He knew we need to own our own sins before we can give them to Him.


If 1,000 people are praying this prayer with one voice at the beginning, it seems odd to think that it suddenly becomes 1,000 individual prayers happening simultaneously when we get to this part. So assuming that we pray this part of the prayer collectively as well, is there room to wonder if part of the power of the Lord’s Prayer is that when one person has the strength to say this prayer but not mean it in that moment, God uses the power of the community to bridge that gap and forgive that person’s prayers, too?


Not just your sins and my sins, but our collective sins as well. Our sins as a church. As The Church. As society. These sins are many, and for us to truly repent of them, we need to name them. A tall order. Thank God there’s grace.


This could have been taken from one of my stellar turns at the dartboard, but it wasn't.

Looks like Baldy’s been playing darts again.

One definition of ‘sin’ is ‘to miss the mark’. That doesn’t sound so terrible – especially when you consider that the bullseye we’ve fallen short of is Perfection Itself.

But we also know that our sins are so many and our darts so far off-target that it’s easy to wonder if we’re even facing the right target. (Is it any wonder that a definition of ‘repentance’ is ‘to turn around’?)


‘As’? Really?!?

The prayer is going great up until this point. Give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins … and then Jesus had to use ‘as’ – meaning ‘at the same time as’ or maybe even ‘because’ to tie God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others. And He built it right into the fabric of the prayer, as if to remind us not to even bother asking for forgiveness if we’re not willing to give it.


Again, is it possible that the collective nature of this prayer means that we get to pool our ability to forgive our debtors, so when one of us is unable to forgive right now, that the forgiveness of the rest of the community somehow ‘carries’ or ‘covers’ the one who can’t forgive today?

Just asking.


Disciplehood title slides (8)Not so much a state of the heart, where we no longer feel like we’ve been wronged, but a decision to try to let go of the resentment and anger you feel toward the perpetrator – whether you ‘feel’ it right now or not. As West’s song emotes, ‘the prisoner that it really frees is you.’ Forgiveness.


Those people. The bad people who sin against others. I’m sure not one of those. … Am I?


Not ‘those that’, ‘those who’, emphasizing their humanity. Yes, they are sinners, but so are we all. We all find ourselves on someone’s ‘those who’ list sometimes.


‘Sin’ sounds a little more nasty here than the previous time this word was used, doesn’t it? Now that we are the victims, it’s a vile, offensive thing that the world should be rid of, right?

But it’ll probably help us to forgive if we can remember that even when we’re the victims, ‘sin’ still just means, ‘to miss the mark’. Maybe that reminder can help us to begin to truly forgive as we are forgiven.

Against us.

Notice that the prayer doesn’t try to minimize the fact that we’ve been sinned against. God doesn’t seem to want us to pretend we weren’t wronged, or to downplay the damage that sin has done. God wants us to fully engage with this reality and choose forgiveness anyway, and leave the business of revenge, punishment and rebuke (if any) to God.


Once again, we’re invited to add more to this prayer, which already feels like more than we have any right to ask for.


God does lead us where we should go. The question is, do we follow?

us Not

This is a little word, but it packs a punch in the Bible:

  • ‘The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”’ – Genesis 2:18
  • “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. – Genesis 3:4
  • ‘Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ – 1 Samuel 3:7
  • ‘When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.’ – Jonah 3:10
  • ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’ – Malachi 3:10
  • “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

It’s amazing how God often answers prayers by not doing something, rather than by doing something.


One of the cool things about meditating on words is that even the forgettable utilitarian shorties can reveal truths about God’s work in the world. The Bible’s first use of this compound preposition speaks volumes, and so does the final one:

  • Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7
  • “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. – Revelation 22:17

As for you and me, if we’ve invited Christ into our lives, we can be confident the Holy Spirit has come into our hearts. We are new creations in Christ, and we only need to live into this reality. Thanks be go to God!


Do we really need to ask God to lead us not into temptation? Would a good God ever lead us into temptation? Or is the more contemporary ‘Save us from the time of trial’ more accurate?

I’m no linguist, but I actually prefer the older rendering of this part of the prayer. The word ‘trial’ is a lot like the word ‘test’, and if we’re not tested, we don’t grow, so I’m not sure we should ask God to save us from the time of trial.

Perhaps, with fear and trembling, we should give God permission to test us, and instead pray the slightly different prayer that God lead us not into temptation.

And back to the original question, no. I don’t think God would ever lead us into temptation. When I pray this part of the prayer, it’s not for God’s benefit – like if I fail to pray this, God will pounce on the opportunity to lead me into temptation – it’s for mine: it’s a daily reminder that God never would lead me into temptation; it’s another reminder that while God isn’t safe, God is good.


Steven Furtick

Steven Furtick

Another little word that packs a punch. North Carolina megapastor Steven Furtick has joked several times about his plan to do a sermon series someday called Big Buts of the Bible – looking forward to when he gets around to it. So often, the world seems to have the last word in a given situation, but God steps in and reveals bigger, better things.

Looking at this word from another angle, we often think our ways are good ways, and maybe they are. But … are they God’s ways?


letterDoes a postcard deliver itself? Does a parcel do anything whatsoever to contribute to its arrival at a destination? No. Obviously, a piece of mail is a passive participant – a receiver – of delivery. And sometimes, it can be like that for us. We endure horrendous trial and hardship, and feel utterly powerless against it, and wonder if the torturous ordeal will ever end, and wonder in dread if this state has become our new, hideous normal. And then, suddenly – although it seems to have taken forever – it’s over.

We’re through the tunnel and we never even saw the light at the end of it. We’ve crested the hill without realizing it and are on a downward slope. The corduroy gravel road has suddenly become smooth, fresh blacktop. Not by our strength or our good decisions, but through a power that seems to work independently from us.

That’s what deliverance feels like. I’ve experienced this phenomenon a couple times in my life – not nearly as much as some of my loved ones have, by the grace of God – but I’ve experienced it.

I hope to never have to experience it again, but I hold fast to the knowledge that when trials come, deliverance is available to any who will persevere long enough to receive it.

Think of the so-over-used-it-seems-trite-but-nevertheless-true Footprints poem. Think of Winston Churchill‘s famous quote, ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’churchill


All of us. Individually, collectively; today, tomorrow and forever.


Where are you from? I was born in Red Deer, I grew up in Drumheller and I live in Calgary, but I think there’s a greater truth about where (or maybe I should say ‘who’) I’m from.

On another note, and getting back to the ‘pay attention to the little words’ theme, one of my favorite uses of this word is in these two tried-and-true (or maybe that’s tired-but-true) preacherisms:

  1. We don’t work for our salvation, we work from our salvation.
  2. Generosity isn’t what God wants from you, it’s what God wants for you.


Make no mistake. There is evil in the universe. There is also evil in our own hearts. And we need God’s deliverance from both. Thankfully, God is in the Deliverance Business.


‘For’ as in ‘because’:

Because the kingdom, the power and the glory are God’s, now and forever, God can and will give us today our daily bread, God will God will forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us;
Because the kingdom, the power and the Glory are God’s, now and forever, God will lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.

For: once again, a lot of power is packed into this little three-letter conjunction.


Not just a kingdom. The Kingdom. Do you ever let that sink in? You are (or you can be) a citizen of The Kingdom.


What is the Kingdom of God like? If only Jesus had given us a few parables to help us catch a glimpse of this elusive concept.

the Power

Jeremy Camp used this word quite effectively in song recently, reminding us that ‘the same power that commands the dead to wake; the same power that can cause a raging sea moves mountains when He speaks, the same power that rose Jesus from the grave; that power lives in us.

and the Glory

We use this word a lot in church, but what does it actually mean? Wiktionary is glad we asked:

  1. Great beauty or splendour, that is so overwhelming it is considered powerful.
  2. Honour, admiration, or distinction, accorded by common consent to a person or thing; high reputation; renown.
  3. That quality in a person or thing which secures general praise or honour.
  4. Worship or praise.
  5. An optical phenomenon caused by water droplets, consisting of concentric rings and somewhat similar to a rainbow.
  6. Victory; success.
  7. An emanation of light supposed to proceed from beings of peculiar sanctity. It is represented in art by rays of gold, or the like, proceeding from the head or body, or by a disk, or a mere line.

I don’t think these definitions, even stacked on top of each other, do justice to God’s glory, but collectively, they’re probably a decent start.

are Yours,

The Kingdom, Power and Glory are God’s and God’s alone. And yet, God chooses to share them with all who will receive them. So in a sense, the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory can be ours.


As I said a few posts ago, the only time we really have is right now. We don’t have the past anymore, and we don’t have the future yet. All we have is now.

And right now…

… in this moment …

… God is God and God is good and God is King, and …








You mean there’s more? After all we’ve asked for and all we’ve received and all we’ve celebrated about God, there’s still more? Yes. There’s more. Just a little thing God likes to call …


James T. Kirk William Shatner falls for Edith Keeler a young Joan Collins in The City on the Edge of Forever, said by many to be the best of the original Star Trek episodes.

James T. Kirk (William Shatner) falls for Edith Keeler (a young Joan Collins) in The City on the Edge of Forever, said by many to be the best of the original Star Trek episodes.

This is a word we throw around fairly casually, but as temporal beings who can only perceive time as linear and inalterable, we can’t possibly connect with an ethereal absolute like ‘forever’. And yet, ‘forever’ is what we are told awaits us. The title of a famous Star Trek episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, is arguably an apt description of the ‘place’ we inhabit.

Forever is not so much a synonym for ‘unending’ as it is for ‘having no end and no beginning’. Forever refers to a reality that exists outside of time. And if the concept of such a reality is difficult to grasp, the notion of a Being Who dwells there, Whose power is so absolute that He is even Master of Forever.

And the Master of Forever is your Daddy. Your Friend. Your Rabbi. Your Defender. Your Redeemer.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 107:1


Amen. Verily. Truly. Let it be. So be it. I’m in.

Thanks be to God!

†     †     

Well, there you have it. A one-word-at-a-time reflection on the Lord’s Prayer. This is by far the longest Disciplehood post in history, so thanks for sticking around for the whole thing – or at least skipping ahead to the epilogue. I hope you found some of the text to be insightful, interesting or challenging, but really, I’m glad to have done this even if I’m the only one who benefits.

But don’t let me have all the fun! Do your own one-w0rd-at-a-time meditation on this prayer. And maybe other familiar (but probably short) passages in the Bible, too. Psalm 23, for instance, while you’re at it. You probably don’t have to hit all of the prepositions and conjunctions like I (mostly) did, and it’s probably not necessary to publish your thoughts (or even write them down).

The experience provided some great one-on-One time with God, and any time spent with God is time well spent.

Peace be with you.

Posted in Faith, God, Grace, New Testament, Prayer, Simpsons, Words | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments