Monthly Archives: February 2012

Emails to God – Jesus Resisting Peter’s Temptation (Matthew 16:21-28)

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Dear God, Jesus’ reaction in verse 23 reveals a little of the strain that He must have been under. There must have been a part of Him that said, “You know, Peter has a point here. This shouldn’t happen to me,” because He responds to Peter as if this is a temptation. Then He goes on to say that it is suffering that lays ahead for all of them. He tells them that following Him means denying themselves.

Frankly, it is a relief to know that Jesus faced temptations. It is nice to know that there were things that He dreaded and had to will Himself to do. Sure, He was facing much more horrible rejection, pain, and suffering than I ever will, but it is still nice to know that part of His humanity was a temptation to take the easier path.

Father, help me to be willing to take the uneasy path. Help me to turn loose of my own wants and desires and embrace you and everything you need from me. My life is worth so much to you, and yet my comfort is worth so much less than I think it should be. So help me to feel your rich love for me and accept whatever path you have for me with joy and peace.

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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Finding Comfort in Peter’s Weaknesses (Matthew 16:13-20)

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Dear God, what I love about verses 18 and 19 is that they are about a man who is so flawed and made terrible mistakes, up to and including denying Jesus on the night of his betrayal. Peter didn’t have to be perfect to get this blessing, proclamation, or position. From what I can tell, he just had to be earnest and have a little bit of faith (see walking on the water a little earlier).

There are times when I know that you love me, accept me, and have saved me. But I do often wonder if you can really use me. Can you use someone who can be so timid? Can you use someone who has vices? Can you use someone who forgets to love when he should, judges others too readily, can be so self-centered? In looking at this story with Peter, I think the answer is, “Yes, I can. Just be earnest about loving me and I will use you in spite of yourself.”

Father, I lay my life before you. You have put me in a position of influence, and I want to strongly influence the events that surround me with your wisdom and for your glory. Give me the wisdom to make the right decisions and the courage to use the influence I have to see that those decisions come to pass. Love others through me. Forgive me of my sin. Be glorified in all that I do, even when I fail.

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Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Have I Allowed the Yeast of the Pharisees in My Life? (Matthew 16:5-12)

5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread. 6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

7 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”

8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? 11 How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Dear God, I love how obtuse the disciples are in this story. I know that I wouldn’t have done any better than they did in these situations. When Jesus asked a question, I would likely have been the quiet one in the back.

I wonder if the disciples were already feeling bad about the bread and having left it behind when Jesus made his comment. Perhaps that is why they went there when he warned them about the yeast and the Pharisees and Sadducees. They had no idea what he was talking about so they came up with the bread issue. Maybe they thought Jesus was trying to comfort them about having left the bread behind. But that wasn’t it at all. He was trying to let them know that the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees were dangerous because they will grow into something much bigger than they start out, and, in this case, the teaching is wrong and can lead to a lot of misunderstanding of God.

Father, help me to understand when I hear bad teaching and when I hear good teaching. I am sure that I have already taken a lot of bad teaching into my heart and allowed it to grow as yeast grows dough. Help me to figure out where I am a heretic, and then help me to remove those parts of my theology and/or philosophy. Help me to be open to your guidance. Help me to repent quickly and embrace your holiness.

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Posted by on February 27, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg

I was riding my bike this week and this classic song came on my ipod (yes, I’m probably the only person in the world who works out to Dan Fogelberg). I listened carefully to the lyrics and they are beautiful. So in the spirit of some of the posts I have done on this blog about different hymns and songs and the depth of their meaning, here are some thoughts on “Leader of the Band”.

Dan Fogelberg wrote this song for his dad, Lawrence Fogelberg. The song released in 1981 and Lawrence passed away in 1982 meaning that he got to hear one of the sweetest tributes a dad could receive from his son or daughter (incidentally, I poked around the Internet and found a cover that Lucie Arnaz did of this song for her dad, Desi).

Here are the lyrics (and here’s a link to a youtube video complete with lyrics)

“Leader of the Band” – By Dan Fogelberg

A lonely child alone and wild
A cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone
And solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know
I never can repay

A quiet man of music
Denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once
But his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline
A thundering velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls
Took me years to understand

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band

My brothers’ lives were different
For they heard another call
One went to Chicago
And the other to St. Paul
And I’m in Colorado
When I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chosen
And come to know so well

I thank you for the music
And your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom
When it came my time to go
I thank you for your kindness
And the times when you got tough
And Papa, I don’t think I’ve said,
“I love you,” near enough

The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band
I am the living legacy
To the leader of the band

I saw a 2003 video of Dan performing this song and he said that if he had only been allowed to write one song in his life it would be this one. Before I go any further, here’s a link to an interview done in March 1982 with Dan’s dad, Lawrence Fogelberg, the Leader of the Band. (You’ll probably want to copy and paste it into a word processor because the font is hard to read with the background.)

So let’s look at this song and see what it tells us

  • Verse 1a: It seems that Lawrence communicated to Dan at some point that he felt like he (Lawrence) didn’t fit in as a child. He felt different from his family and Dan says at the end of this stanza that he got a gift from his dad that he can’t repay. I wonder if that gift is the peace of knowing that it is okay to be himself, even if that made him different from his brothers.
  • Verse 1b: Lawrence was a high school and college band director. In the 1982 interview he says that the thundering velvet hand was his perfectionism with his students, but he was careful to add that he never belittled a student in front of the rest of the band. It seems that Dan came to appreciate how lawrence molded his students’ lives.
  • Verse 2a: It’s interesting that Dan moves from talking about his dad’s students to talking about himself and his brothers. It is apparent that he felt the difference in how they were pursuing their lives. I think there’s something in all of us that tries to figure out our place in our families and how we fit in. I figure that Dan probably got some of his peace about who he was from his knowledge that the musical part of him came from his dad.
  • Verse 2b: First, as a dad, I can’t wait for the day when my children thank me for being tough. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine. But the big thing I get from this verse is that Dan felt his father’s blessing. My dad has blessed me to live my own life, and it is his greatest gift to me. I hope I am able to give it to my children.
  • Chorus: The interview I linked to above was done in March 1982. I don’t know what caused it, but Lawrence died later that year. Perhaps he was terminally ill and that is what Dan meant when he said that his dad was tired. It feels like he had a bond with his dad by the time he died that was beautiful. I am sure there was pain in their past together. I am sure there were scars. But somehow love, forgiveness, and acceptance took over.

I am a sucker for father/son stories. I am blessed with two parents who are loving and supportive of me beyond reason, and the tribute that Dan pays to his father here is beautiful. It’s hard to imagine the joy Lawrence must have felt when he heard “Leader of the Band” for the first time.

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Hymns and Songs


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Emails to God – What Are My Intentions? (Matthew 16:1-4)

1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

2 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ 3 and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.

Dear God, I don’t think the Pharisees and Sadducees thought through it this carefully, but it would have been interesting to ask them two questions:

  • Why are you testing Jesus?
  • What answer can He give that will satisfy you?

I think they could come up with an answer to the first one pretty easily. It would be something like, “We are trying to determine if he is, in fact, the Messiah.” That is what they would SAY. I think the real answer is that they just knew he was NOT the Messiah and they were looking for a way to prove it. They thought that there just had to be a way to discredit this guy.

Regarding my second question, I don’t think they had a clue. They didn’t know what they were looking for. They just knew they would know it when they heard it

There are times in my life when I am asking questions that I don’t really know what I am looking for. I’ll be trying to implement a rule or come up with a punishment for my children, but sometimes it is an arbitrary rule that maybe my parents came up with when I was a kid because their parents came up with it when they were kids. Or perhaps I will be at work and decide to do a fundraising event or enforce a policy because that is the way we have always done it instead of questioning why we are doing it and what the end will be.

A good example of this is collecting data for our diabetic patients and how they are doing. In the past we have felt this need to track how our diabetes patients, as a whole, are doing in managing their disease. Then when the numbers would come back we would always feel like failures because, being a charitable clinic that serves low-income uninsured people, we found that so many of them were not mentally or emotionally capable of managing their disease. So what good were the numbers doing us? We weren’t using them to apply for a government grant. No one was auditing us for them. We finally decided that we were wasting energy on calculating the data because there wasn’t much we could do about it aggregately anyway.

Father, help me to be discerning about the different decisions I make. Reveal to me when I am being foolish and help me to critically look at my expectations of myself, my wife, my children, and my business. Give me eyes to see and ears to hear. Give me a sense of your vision and goals for the different areas in my life so that I will spend my energy on the things that are above and not the things below.

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Posted by on February 25, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Jesus, How are You Going to Pull this Off? (Matthew 15:29-39)

29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”

33 His disciples answered, “Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?”

34 “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”

35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan.

Dear God, Matthew treats the disciples better than Mark does in the telling of the feeding stories. Mark (which some say is Peter’s version of the Gospel in his telling it to Mark) tends to make the disciples sound a little whiney as they look for excuses to send the people away. In Matthew’s telling, however, they just seem to be a little confused as to how Jesus is going to pull this off.

Being a dad has been the biggest challenge of my life so far. I not nearly as good at it as I thought I would be. I have found that I can be too critical and not encouraging enough. I can also focus on the wrong things as priorities for them. For example, (and I’m going to be intentionally vague here to protect their privacy) there is one character trait that one of them doesn’t have that has really bugged me. I have been totally unsuccessful in trying to bring this trait out no matter what I try. At the same time, I am still praying to you regularly for this child and how they will develop. Well, yesterday, I read an article about some kids who respond incorrectly when they have this trait and it ends up causing another completely different problem. Frankly, I’ve seen a propensity in this child to possibly develop this problem, and in reading the article that if I had been successful in bring this trait out in my child then they might be going down this other road. In essence, I left the article wondering if you hadn’t done my child a huge favor by not answering my prayers in the way I wanted.

Father, much like the disciples didn’t know how you would end up feeding those people, I don’t know how you will eventually work in my children’s lives. All I know is that my deepest heart’s desire is for them to submit themselves to you and love you. All else is irrelevant when compared with that. So please help my children through me and in spite of me. Multiply the fish and the loaves that I try to give them into something that you can use in their lives. Use others in their lives as well. Raise up people through whom you will counsel them and bless them. Unite my wife and me together in our parenting. Unite us in every other way too.

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Posted by on February 23, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – A Humble and Grateful Gentile (Matthew 15:21-28)

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep ofIsrael.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Dear God, I wish I understood the geography better. I see that this woman was from the region where Jesus was visiting, yet he seemed to be able to easily tell that she was not Jewish. What is interesting is that I have always read verse 24 as being directed at the woman, but it almost implies here that he was speaking to the disciples. Hmmm.

But by the time the woman gets in front of him he has a very frank conversation with her. I have journaled on this passage before, and my take now is the same as my take then. I think Jesus was interested in helping her, but only if she really believed and was willing to exhibit her faith in God. In verse 27, her response includes the idea that you are the master, the Jewish nation is your table, and she acknowledges that she is a dog under it. She showed him that she wasn’t just there to “use” him for a miracle for her daughter, but that there was a brokenness in her that included submission to you.

It is interesting to see people who come to our charitable clinic. Some are haughty and arrogant. They are rude and entitled. The staff and volunteers are often caught off guard by these folks. Don’t they realize the gift they are receiving from the community? How can they be so ungrateful? Then there are the others who are truly grateful. They stop me in the store, pull me aside and thank me for what we have done for them. They ask to come into my office to express their gratitude. The encouragement that their words give me is amazing.

Father, help me to be like these grateful patients when I interact with you. Help me to be the kind of blessing to you that they are to me. Help me to remember the blessings you give to me and to count them one by one, the greatest of which is to be able to sit here right now and communicate with you. Thank you for my children. Thank you for my wife. Thank you for my parents. Thank you for my job. I am grateful to have these opportunities to serve others and to feel your affection in return through my labors of love. Help me to learn from the humility and gratitude of this Gentile woman so that my wife will be made complete in your peace.


Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Jesus, Do You Realize You Offended Them? (Matthew 15:1-20)

1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ 6 they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

8 “‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
9 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”

10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Dear God, I love how Jesus was trying to make a point to the Pharisees and teach his disciples a principle at the same time, and yet the disciples seem to be wondering just how astute Jesus is. After Jesus goes on his rant “the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” I love that. They must have been so puzzled by Jesus. They must have been wondering, “How can He talk to them this way? Doesn’t he know he is going to get in trouble?” Then some of them might have thought, “Hmm. Maybe He is so in tune with God that He is obtuse when it comes to how people hear what He says.

If I were rating my top five weaknesses in my Christian walk I would say that the fear of offending people definitely makes the list. I want to be liked. I don’t want to push someone too far. I don’t want to do something that might make them feel uncomfortable. Most to the point—I don’t want to do something that might make them not like me.

Father, as someone who raises money for a living I try to stay uncontroversial because I never know whose money I might send away with a controversial statement. At the same time, even when I didn’t raise money for a living I steered away from controversy. I guess I can’t blame that. So I guess my prayer is that I ask you to show me where I am failing you. As lent starts tomorrow, use it to truly purify my heart. Help me to repent of the things that I do against you and turn from them in a real way. Help me to grow over the next several weeks. Use them to make me the husband, father, employee, employer, son, brother, and friend you need me to be.

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Posted by on February 21, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Just to Touch His Cloak (Matthew 14:34-36)

34 When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret. 35 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him 36 and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Dear God, this constant attention must have seemed relentless—not only to Jesus, but also to the disciples.

It is interesting to see that the cloak is emphasized here. It doesn’t say that Jesus healed them or touched them. It says that they “begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak.” There was just such desperation. People were leaving their work and their lives to follow him around. Now they were coming from everywhere just to touch his cloak. There are times when I think that our society is drifting so far from you because we are simply not desperate enough. You can count me in that boat too. I think I am not more dependent upon you because I am not desperate enough to go anywhere or do anything just to touch your cloak.

Father, I don’t want to be desperate in a sense of need, but I do want to be desperate for you. I want to be willing to do anything you ask of me at any given time. I want to be a living sacrifice to you. I want to offer all that I am up to you for all that you are. I want you to live through me and touch others through me. Help me to be a better representative of you to my wife, my children, and everyone else with whom I come into contact today.

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Matthew


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Emails to God – Stepping out in Faith and Failing (Matthew 14:25-33)

25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Dear God, this passage reminds me of the quote from Mark Twain: “It is better to remain silent and appear foolish than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” All of the disciples in the boat appeared foolish by not having enough faith to walk out on the water with Jesus, but Peter opened his mouth and removed all doubt, although he probably got a few steps further than the others would have. I always felt a little bad for Peter on this one. I would think Jesus would have said, “Way to go! You stepped out in faith. Now, next time keep your eyes on me and you won’t sink.” But that’s not what happened. Instead, Peter was reminded that his faith was still inadequate.

Well, my faith feels inadequate. Yesterday, I had a pretty serious case of the “glums”. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I was feeling a little beaten down. I was feeling desperate for some love and affirmation. In short, it was just a lousy day. Frankly, it was a day when I was like the disciples. I saw the storm and I decided it was easier to stay in the boat that take the storm head-on.

So what will I do today? How will I live my life? Will I allow myself to be frozen into lethargy out of self-pity, or will I take a step out of the boat and see just how far my faith will take me? Who knows? Perhaps I will get at least one or two step further than I ever have before.

Father, I offer all of this to you. I offer my pain to you. I offer repentance of my sin to you. I offer my actions today to you. Please guide and help me. It’s Saturday. Help me to love my wife, love and parent my children, do the work you have me to do, and take care of myself spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally in the ways you would have me to. And when (not if) I fall, thank you for being there to catch me.

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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Matthew


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