What do we see at the foot of the cross?

The pain Jesus suffered went far beyond the flogging, nails and suffocation


Stand with me at the foot of the cross. Come close. So close that when we look up, all we can see is that face. The arms outstretched, the hands barely visible in our peripheral vision.

What do we see?

If you saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, you no doubt took away indelible images of the physical pain and agony of Jesus’ death on a Roman cross. In our imaginations we see the nails and the stretching, hanging, and suffocating, and we are astonished that anyone would willingly give up a throne to submit to such excruciating torture.

On the day he died, Jesus endured so much physical pain; yet the Scriptures say he didn’t open his mouth. Like a lamb going to the slaughter, he endured silently the scourging, mocking, spitting, slapping, nailing, the struggle to breathe.

But at the crucial juncture, Gibson’s movie could not show us, nor can we even imagine the greater pain of being cursed—being totally removed from the presence of God. Around noon something beyond all imagination began to happen.

The world went dark, and Christ became sin. 

Four Valentine Lessons on Love from Netflix’s Virgin River

Virgin River is a down comforter on a cold pandemic night kind of TV series that invites you to find a cozy spot and wrap the warmth and softness of its love story and small town around you.

Unlike a comforter, it has some serious edges and romantic tension, but nothing that seems headed over a cliff. Even so, as the Netflix writers take Robyn Carr’s 20+ book series and elevate it to be as appealing as possible to a general audience of non-romance readers, they inevitably enfold some of God’s greatest lessons about love into their script.

Some reviewers accuse the show of being too traditional and cliched–too “Hallmarky.” I disagree. Yes it’s kinda soapy, but still in a different class. And to my mind it’s success simply proves that Jesus has the best information on how to have good relationships. When the second season was released last November it zoomed to #1, displacing both The Crown and Queen’s Gambit.

How To Have a Sorrowful but Always Rejoicing Covid Christmas

We will be alone this Christmas. Eleven hundred miles from any family. Distanced from friends who will take the risk to be with their grandchildren (as I would if we had them), but it means we won’t be visiting them either. Ah, Covid. You are such a joy stealer. Such a prime example of the curse of sin in a fallen world.

This week I wake up thinking of the distance and the empty calendar ahead. Today, as I play my Christmas music, I’m fighting back a few tears. Maybe you’re fighting for joy too. How can we reclaim the joy of this Advent season?

I’ve been surprised how our fall Bible study of the book of Revelation has helped. As I’ve reflected on the first and second advents together it has lifted my spirits so much.

The angel’s announcement of the first Advent, “He has come!” invites us into a story of great joy, but also great sorrow. An almost-divorce over an out of wedlock pregnancy, no room in the inn, Herod’s slaughter of babies in his search to destroy Jesus, Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus will cause the rising and falling of many and his postscript to Mary that “a sword will pierce her heart” certainly proved true. What a reflection of our own Covid Christmas–celebration fraught with sorrow.

But expanding our Advent celebration to Jesus’ second advent taps into our future sorrow-free joy. Jesus’ second advent stands in stark contrast to his first. Consider how they are similar but wildly different, and how the second advent magnifies our joy:

Three Reasons Why I Honor Our Slave-Holding Founders and Celebrate July 4th

Jack “with” Founding Father Thomas Jefferson at Monticello

The leader of one grass-roots group, Take-em-Down NOLA, has said, “We recognize the original sin was the genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of the Africans. People bring up the fact that [slave masters] were Founding Fathers. That’s people’s opinions, but for us what disqualifies you is the slave-owning.”

Many have embraced this perspective: slavery and mistreatment based on race is the “original” and apparently unforgivable sin of America. They cannot join in the celebration of the founding of a racist state. As followers of Jesus, how should we respond? Especially on July 4th?

“That which we have seen…and touched…”

Eye witness of an empty tomb

John’s mind raced. Mary’s words, tumbling and breathless, had shattered the pictures of pain that enveloped him. “An empty tomb…no guards in sight…” Peter’s footsteps fell farther behind.  He couldn’t hold up or slow down. He wiped his nose with his hand, his eyes with his sleeve.

His mind grasped at dangling threads of past conversations–“must suffer,” “three days”–and traced them into tangles of things to come. He picked at the tangles but could not unravel them. Around him the world moved in slow motion…yawning…stretching…stirring coals to life. Blinking faces started at the speed and intensity of the figure sprinting past.

From the hedge at the garden gate a rustle of wings took to flight. The path dipped down through the rows of grapevines, past the wine press. Around a final corner, the tomb, bathed in rosy light, matched Mary’s picture exactly. No stone. No guards.

Advanced Christmas Story Trivia: how well do you really know the story?

And a Christmas Trivia game to enjoy over the holidays

Angels, shepherds, wise men, Jesus lying in a manger–we know the story so well. But it’s been sweetened up, romanticized, censored, stripped of its violence and desperation through the years. It’s good to go back to the original sources and renew our appreciation of the extreme drama of the story.

Here are 9 questions to challenge you and your family to worship a God who would orchestrate such an amazing story to reconcile us to himself. (You might enjoy using one each night as a conversation starter at dinner. You can even include these questions in a larger game of Advanced Christmas Trivia to share at Christmas gatherings with additional categories like music and history using this free download.)

1. What four women are mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus?
2. In what way does the Christmas story include murder?

Want to watch women laughing, learning and cooking together?

(the perfect primer for holiday cooking)

Take a peek at our Apples of Gold power point below. Based on the invitation (in Titus 2) for older women to mentor younger women in kindness, loving their husbands and children, hospitality and other big issues, we gathered for 7 weeks this fall for cooking lessons and Bible Study.

Liisa and Judi, our cooking mentors taught us how to make everything from pulled pork to cheesecake, how to choose olive oils and knives and whip up a perfect mug of frothy coffee. Then, after Bible study and discussion, they served up the yummy lunchtime results of their labors–the perfect setting for going deeper on our topics.

Start November by Giving Thanks for the Reformation at 500 Years

What does the first post to go viral mean to us and what do we take for granted?

Suppose you wanted to know God and follow him. How might you get to know him? Where would you begin? Maybe you’d like to read what he said…500 years ago your only option would have been a Latin Bible.

Maybe you’d like to go to church…500 years ago your only option would have been a Latin mass.

You could pray…but suppose you felt unworthy. You wanted to come before God but felt you needed to begin by confessing your sin to him. You would need to confess to a priest. Rather than merely listening to your confession, by the 1500’s confessors had been taught to quiz church members–asking them the details of their sin, especially sexual sin with others. Or alone.

What to Give Your Introverted/Extroverted Valentine

My husband of forty+ years and I share a love for hospitality, reading and movies, of watching football, and serving God in his church. We are both thinkers more than feelers, strong personalities who enjoy Getting Things Done and closure. In other ways we are not so similar.

Jack loves details and data. I’m the big picture girl. Nowhere he’d rather relax than in the mountains—hunting fishing, hiking. Me, I love museums, conferences, the ballet. But the difference that makes the most difference: He is more the introvert while I am a tiny bit more extroverted. Here are some ways we’ve learned to give to each other across the great personality divide.

Christmas at the Cove Disrupted: When a Christmas-hug concert becomes fall-on-your-knees worship

When we first signed up for the Christmas concerts at Billy Graham’s Asheville, North Carolina retreat center, we expected a weekend of beauty and gorgeous music by some of the Kingdom’s finest artists. What we didn’t expect was how God used major disruption to turn one evening into a rare, deep worship event.

Annie Moses Band

A Christmas Letter to Those Agonizing over the Future of Our Planet

Until this election, I didn’t fully appreciate your fears about climate change. About damaging our beautiful world beyond repair.

Earth Visualization

Now I’ve talked to enough friends and family to feel your frustration. Your deep concern. Even fear? And I am sorry.

For years I’ve heard many of you losing confidence in any larger story that explains how the world works and how we find hope for the future. I thought that meant that you had given up on any larger story. But I’m realizing you do have a larger story, at least many of you do.

I’m hearing so many voices united in real fear that our Earth is on its way to overheating and the end of civilization as we know it. It seems like you do believe in a larger story of saving the Earth, or at least our species. Working to reverse what you believe to be man-made climate change. Or finding a way to insure the survival of our species on Mars or another planet.

Managing Our 2016 expectations

Back in the saddle of weekly activities,  2016 is already barreling along, the stock market and the weather jerking around like a bull in the Houston Rodeo. (Or…maybe that should be a bear?)

bull rider

Whether we write down our goals and vision for the year ahead or not, we all have this picture of the way we’d like things to be. And then life happens. Here are some reminders to think about, pray about, as we try to live on purpose when life starts bucking around:

We hold our expectations with open, God-trusting hands. Like Nehemiah, we may long to see certain outcomes and ready strategic plans for the moment when doors of opportunity swing open, but our God is a God of shock and awe, disruptions and surprises.

He fulfills his promise to be Emmanuel, God with us, by means of the incarnation and a virgin birth. He fulfills his promise to deliver us from sin and death by means of crucifixion. If we weren’t so used to it we would find it utterly amazing. God thinks and acts completely out of the box.

As I look back over the last twelve months of my own life I see so many totally unexpected, disrupting developments: two deaths and a cancer diagnosis on the parent front, five last-minute plane tickets, stepping into the vacated leadership of women’s ministries at our church, surgery avoided and several as-good-as-winning-on-Jeopardy! gifts.

When we look back over the last twelve months in our culture, we see the threat of ISIS, the rise of Trump, the legalization of same-sex marriage, the exposure of Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, and in my own state of South Carolina, heart-breaking flooding and church shootings.

All of which reminds us that our strategic plans rest on a sure, but unpredictable foundation: “If the Lord wills.” Control is in the hands of a God who is always, always doing something new, far beyond our imagining, even (especially) n the midst of tragedy.

Did Gabriel sugarcoat the truth to Mary? The beauty of how God deals with us

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Annunciation by Ossawa Tanner, The Philadelphia Museum of Art

I’ve often wondered if Mary was disappointed with God. It’s clear from the way she sings her famous Magnificat that her buoyant expectations do not match the unfolding reality of life as Jesus’ mother. Face to face with Mary, Gabriel made some astonishing promises. Did God deliver?

Ten Faith and Culture Gifts to give or enjoy

Books, art, music and online subscriptions to enrich the year ahead

Seventy-Five Masterpieces coverWhat do all the following resources and activities have in common? Whether you give them as gifts or enjoy them for yourself, these iron-sharpening-iron books, art works, websites, culture makers and commentators will inspire and equip you to live with the truth and grace of Jesus in today’s culture.

In the election-year culture war ahead they will keep you grounded in orthodoxy without being shrill and focus your heart and mind on the good, the true and the beautiful. In today’s postmodern culture the arts open so many doors for bridging the cultural divide. These resources will help you connect with outsiders as well as the under-40’s. To order or subscribe click on the titles. Don’t miss my little Christmas present to you in #5.

1. Seventy-five Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:
From the Book of Kells and Gregorian Chant to U-2’s Joshua Tree and Terrence Malick’s film Tree of Life, this new book by Terry Glaspey offers you fiveish-page overviews of memorable works of art. Think of it as a “quirky” ensemble of “movie trailers,” Glaspey writes in the intro, a “fist full of invitations” to begin your own personal exploration of art and artists that explore truth from a spiritual perspective.

A Christmas Lament

The overlooked dark side of Christmas resonates with the pain and loss of San Bernardino, yet brings us more deeply into the true hope and comfort of Advent

Massacre of the Innocents-Rubens

O Come Emmanuel, Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine Advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight

In the midst of joy to the world and hark the herald angels sing
In the midst of employee seminar/Christmas lunch, taking pictures by the tree, ten minute break
Shots rip flesh and fourteen families apart

Six ways to reach for more life, meaning and joy this Christmas

Merry Christmas! Tis the season we celebrate when the Author of meaning, Creator of beauty and Heart of love at the center of our Universe came for us in human flesh. The more we lean into that meaning, beauty and love this season, the more joy will fill our daily moments and special events.


In an update of one of my most read Bible.org posts, here are ideas and resources to help you reflect more deeply on the incarnation, feast on the beauty of Christmas, plan a mini advent retreat, host a “True Meaning of Christmas” tea or meal, mix the fun with the meaningful at parties, and serve “the least of these.” 

Back to School, Back to Work: How you can find more joy in work than play


We live in a culture where work is a means to leisure time. Where on Thursday the radio DJ starts celebrating the fact that it’s “Friday-Eve.” But what if God intends us to work…and enjoy it?

Just think: God could have created you as a pleasure machine. He could have created a world, even before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not have to work to tend the garden. (Yes, work came before the fall.)

He could have given us bodies that didn’t get soft from lack of movement. With appetites barely felt. Where we could take endless pleasure in swimming all day every day. Or playing harps. Or video games. Or hanging out on social media. Or watching movies. Or simply sitting in his presence.

But God decided to make you in his image. And God is not a God who takes his greatest joy in leisure. God is a working God. He takes his greatest joy in work. Good work. Always doing something deep and new.

As summer vacation fades in our rear view mirror, and we head back to school and work, these truths will build our anticipation and increase our joy:

Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: A July 4th Prayer for America

The Happy Birthday America celebrations are ramping up. Some of us are not feeling all that festive yet. (Which surprises me—always the optimist, loving my country. So many happy memories of watermelon and home-made ice cream. Family and fireworks.) In the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent decision maybe we can take a cue from the apostle Paul. Maybe it’s a time to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

Grunge flag of USA. Horizontal composition

Lord, we thank you for your good gifts of life and liberty. Thank you for men and women who risked so much to give us the gift of America…
…those who pursued an “errand into the wilderness” to worship in freedom
…the Pilgrims on the Mayflower who “for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country” planted their Plymouth Rock colony.
…the thousands of Puritans who sought to build “a city on the hill”… [where they would] “love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments…that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it”

…the 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence against a world power when they had no great army to fight it and no navy to break the blockade they knew would come
…the 17 who fought in the Revolutionary War and the five who were captured and held as prisoners of war
…the 4 who saw their sons or wives killed or captured
…the 11 whose homes and lands were ransacked, occupied or burned
…the many who lost their businesses or gave their personal fortunes to fund the war

Ten things you might thank Jesus for this Easter Weekend

Lent, Triumphal Entry…days teaching and healing in the temple, final words to his disciples, crucifixion and today…resurrection. In this season of reflection and entering into the story of how Jesus loved, died and lives again I close my Bible and whisper…this is exactly who I want my God to be. From my thanksgiving journal…Thank you Jesus that…

Wooden cross (3

…you ride into town… the king on a donkey… the lion-like lamb

…you throw the money changers out of the temple..the lamb-like lion

…you challenge the chief priests, scribes and elders with such courage–in the temple day after day, healing and teaching and disputing with them  in what they think is their house. Telling the Sadducees to their faces, “You are quite wrong.” Always respectful. Always brilliant. Again and again they challenge you and fall quiet at your knowledge of truth and Scripture and your ability to intellectually thrust and parry.

Deep thoughts on the heart of Valentine’s and a simple way to celebrate

Girl Blowing Red Hearts To Her Lover For Valentines Yes, Valentines is a celebration of love, but what is at the heart of love? And what clues might it give us to the best way to celebrate?

On the phone with my mom last night, a true introvert and a tiny bit of a loner, she said, “I just need a hug.”

“I’m so sorry, Mom, that Dad isn’t well enough to hug you anymore. And I’m sorry that I’m so far away.”

“Yes, you know there’s a lady here where I live and she gets to feeling the same way. So we’ve agreed that, if ever we need a hug, she can just come to me and I will gladly give her one. And she’ll hug me if I need it.”

“Sounds like you need to look her up tomorrow.”

“Yes, I think so.”

Whether it’s a sudden disruption or a long slow drip, trouble and pain bring clarity. They help us discover, what really matters most? What is our greatest treasure? The answer is not success or accomplishment. Or a closet full of clothes or a trip to the beach or the mountains or “going to Disneyland.” It’s the tender presence, even the touch, of someone who cares about us.