Four Visits from Christ BEFORE he was Born


So as the season swings into the climax of Christmas, I find myself searching for the weirdest elements in the story cause I’m weird. I look for the stuff that’s not taught in Sunday Schools or sung by carolers. None of it is really critical, what I am writing is mostly speculative, but, alas, to those lovers of scriptural surprises, enjoy!

It wasn’t until a couple years ago, when I was so close to a sweet nap in the middle of my Christian theology class that my professor said something that got my attention. “Jesus came BEFORE he was baby. Well… he may have.” I think he saw I was close to snoozing, when I looked up he was looking directly at me, so I blinked at him a couple times to let him know “okay, I’m listening.”

Some of these stories are eerily similar to a Christmas flick with a surprise visit from Santa. Like the ones where the janitor, who no one has ever seen before, shows up in the nick of time to impart lifesaving wisdom and as the characters walk away scratching their heads, they take a look back only to find He. Has. VANISHED.

Of the many possible moments of Christ’s early appearances, four really intrigued me.

1.  Melchizedek


After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and his allied kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet him in the Valley of Shaveh, the King’s Valley. Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was priest of The High God—and blessed him:


Blessed be Abram by The High God,
Creator of Heaven and Earth.
And blessed be The High God,
who handed your enemies over to you.


Abram gave him a tenth of all the recovered plunder.

(Genesis 14:17-20, MSG)


The appearance of the Melchizedek is so peculiar because there is no other reference of him in the Old Testament stories (except in the Psalms). It was like he suddenly appeared out of thin air to Abram. Yet, even while there is no evidence of a historical relationship between these two, Abram gives him 10% of his loot, suggesting a previous understanding.

And He celebrates the Passover with bread and wine before there even was a Passover. (Reference to Jesus’ last supper?”

AND THEN this weird blip on the Old Testament screen makes a huge mark in the book of Hebrews.

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” (Hebrews 7:3)


2. The Wrestler


As an angry mob raced to his doorstep, Jacob sent his family across the river to safety and chose to wait the gang out. We are told in Genesis that he starts wrestling with a “man” until the break of day.

The upper hand falls to Jacob, as he is able to overtake the mysterious figure by morning.

The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.”

Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.”

27 The man said, “What’s your name?”

He answered, “Jacob.”

28 The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.”

(Genesis 32:26-28, MSG)

I could write a million more posts on the meaning of this story alone (I love this story). It is so familiar to how I feel 99% of the time about my own relationship with God.


Always wrestling.


3. Abraham’s visitors


Remember when God laid a verbal smack down on Sarah with his, “yes you did; you laughed” in response to her lie? Well, that may have been Jesus.


56 Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,”Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”

(John 8:56-58, NIV, emphasis mine)


4. Furnace Angel


When the Angel came to rescue Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he was called an interesting name.

“But look!” he said. “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” (Daniel 3:25, MSG, emphasis mine)

Pastor Mark Driscoll believes without a doubt that this is Jesus… Not sure if I am beyond a doubt and I am equally unsure of how I feel about agreeing with Pastor Mark on anything, but it’s interesting to think about. Like a son of the Gods.

~ ~ ~

Important to note is that none of these appearances (if they were in fact Jesus) are the same thing as what happened when Christ was actually born. If these were examples of Him, they are what are called Christophanies, essentially nonhuman appearances. Or, as I like to think of them, teasers to the main event.

When Jesus was born, he was fully human.

Which makes his birth even more spectacular. He came to “dwell” amongst us. No longer was he intervening on our behalf by simply stopping by for quick fixes, only to dust off and head home. He put on skin and walked alongside the worst of us. He healed the sick, defended the vulnerable and died a criminal’s death.

The God who chose to stay with us.


Unsung Heroes: Mary and Her Sorrow


The water from her eyes met the blood in his palms, as she waited with her first born for the end. The cross was a cruel end to an ugly beginning. These two had traveled many miles together- their bond so much stronger than blood.

Before he was born- when she was just a kid herself, God chose her to be the one to watch over him. To keep him fed in an age of poverty and teach him the Word in an age of the Pharisee. To direct him on the path he was destined to tread and, with every step, remind him he was loved.

Weaving their way to Bethlehem, she had a close call with death. Her baby was coming. The water had broken (I’m assuming) and if she held him in any longer, complications were sure to arise.

Going door to door in a town bankrupt of benevolence, they finally found a space set aside by a farmer. I have no idea if they wound up in a cave or a barn (doesn’t matter), all I know is that it was the absolute worst. I once heard a pastor compare it to the bathroom at the back of a filthy gas station. The kind with a flickering light bulb hanging down from a chain and a ground covered in feces and urine. The nativity was nauseating.

And even still.

Mary had many more miles to go.

Her days consisted of ducking arrows at every turn. When Herod wanted them dead, they had to run. Tucked at her chest was her son as they rode off into the night. Escaping everything but the moaning of mothers echoing off in the distance. Grief and guilt became familiar ghosts for Mary.

Yet she knew this was coming. In her memory stayed the prophecy from Simeon who said, “a sword will pierce your very soul.”

As Jesus grew into a young man, Mary had to manage the demands of his mission with her vocation as a parent. There was one time when Jesus, unexpectedly, strolled away to the temple, and wasn’t found until two days later. When she walked in and found him with the Rabbis, she scolded him through tears. He worried her sick, and she asked him how he could put his parents through such hell. Puzzled and looking her over, he asked why he wouldn’t be in “his father’s house”? A wistful reminder that he was never really hers.

Years later, in a classic moment of a hovering parent, she approached her adult son at a wedding reception. Smiling and with a tone of suggestion, she said, “they’re running out of wine…” To which he responded (my translation, total speculation), “Would you leave me be ma!?! I’m not ready yet.” That didn’t stop her. She knew her son too well. So she turned and marched on over to his friends and said, “do whatever he asks”. In effect, She set the scene for Christ’s first miracle.

And on Good Friday, not mentioned in scriptures, but worthy of note as it is appears in works of art, is the two meeting at Via Dolorosa. This place was a point on the road Jesus walked as he carried the cross to Skull Hill. The body she had cared for, nourished, protected, watched over, was of no resemblance to the carnage coming down the path. Their eyes must have met in the most heartbreaking of goodbyes. The sword started to chip through her chest.

A small group of women trailed Jesus as he walked up to Calvary. He heard their weeping in anguish, and in an emotional moment, he responded to them.

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’”

This is a reference to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman Empire. But what’s important to soak in here is that he is referencing the heartbreak of being a mom. Having children was a mark of honor among women, being barren was a curse. Yet Jesus turns the meaning of motherhood on its head. Mary knew this all too well.

Beneath the shower of blood, sweat and tears, the stench of unending suffering, and the hours of agony that went unanswered from on high, all she could do was lay below her boy. Her heart shredding as she heard Him whisper to John, “this is your mother now.” He was always thinking of her first like that.

Wanting nothing more than for it to be done, for mercy to melt their hatred, she stayed silent and wept below the dripping tree. Startled, again she lifted her head to hear her boy try to speak. In a great feat of strength he raised his voice and cried, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” His grace knew no limits. He didn’t get that from her. She knew who that was from.

Frog in her throat, hands shaking, breath shortening, tears streaming, she endured hours of her son’s slaughter amongst a crowd of scoffers. Insult after insult, signs saying “King of the Jews”, rocks thrown at his open wounds. To them, his death was vindication for their judgment. They knew he could not be who he said he was. “Save yourself King!” they taunted. He’s saving you, she must’ve thought.

The hours continued and his breathing became more and more labored. Clearing his dry throat as wet tears ran down his face, again he whispered, “I’m thirsty.” At this moment flashbacks must have come rushing back of her teenage years, how helpless she felt. But no longer could she save him. She couldn’t protect him from this. She would take the nails if she could, but she couldn’t.

Then at last, “Father, I commit my hands into your spirit.”  Exhaling, he sighed, “it is finished.” Her soul was pierced.

It is said that Mary played one of the pivotal positions of the early church. After the collapse of her world, as the public put together a kill list with her name at the top, she worked relentlessly for the dream of her son. For the kingdom building he had started. After the ascension of Christ she is the only women mentioned in the upper room with the eleven other disciples, and many have speculated that she was the “woman elect” amongst the disciples.


Now of course Mary isn’t among the forgotten people of the Bible. Every person that knows who Jesus is, knows who Mary is. Having said that, sometimes I wonder to what extent people understand the brutal sacrifice of this woman. What she endured, what her life means today, what she represents and the injustice of how she is presented.

The Church (at least protestants) has always had a wary relationship with Mary. Loving her, of course, but keeping her a bit at bay. In Church teaching, there has always been a fear of Mary becoming some sort of Goddess. A higher being that required us to kneel before in worship. This is actually a legitimate concern to be had, as Christ is the only one deserving of our praise. But in our disassociation with Marian worship, I think we started to strip away the importance of her own story.

The Mary I grew up learning about was the beautiful glowing pregnant woman wrapped in a shawl. Cartoon images come to mind of her flight to Egypt as a ride off into the sunset with her boo. It was romantic and enchanting. She was always a virgin (not true) and she became more or less commentary after Jesus’ childhood. A blurb in the background. A mission accomplished.

My adult eyes don’t see it the same way now. I see the preteen girl asked to carry out a death sentence. I see a saint that suffered for the sake of the Kingdom. I see a woman who’s very survival meant the world’s salvation. I see there is so much more beyond her giving birth. She gave her son. She gave her heart. She gave it all up for the sake of kingdom.

And now, I start to see a pervasive sexism in interpretations of the scriptures.  Paul is ordained a suffering servant who ensured the survival of the faith (which he did). Abraham is seen as the father of Israel who had a faith that was fiercer than blood (which he did). Moses is the orphan who liberated the Jewish nation (which he did.) David was the guy after God’s own heart (which he was).

When it comes to Mary, why don’t we revere her life with the same platitudes as we do with so many of the men of the faith? We never consider the fact that while carrying God’s son was big honor, it was also a horrifying request. The gravity of her response should not get lost on us. We assume this cheerful giver mentality when she may have been scared to death.

Also, why does her story seem to come to a climax at the birth and then not given much consideration thereafter? What about her role in Jesus learning the scriptures, developing mentally and socially, what about the fact that she nudged him into his first miracle, effectively kicking off his ministry? What about the guilt she endured over Herod’s massacre? What about the sword piercing prophecy? The nauseating nativity scene? Watching her son suffer a slow and painful death?

She is much more than that quiet girl who gave birth to God beside some sheep. She is a saint, a servant and one that deserves to have the whole of her story told.

There are a couple reasons the story of Mary has been on my mind. One, obviously, Christmas is just around the corner and I’ve been seeing her face in every nativity scene and hearing it whenever “Mary did you know?” is played. Second, the mothers of Newtown. Just the terrifying notion of being a parent, and the hard truth that whether they are newborns or ninety, you can’t protect them from everything.

Maybe looking to the strength of Mary, her resolve, her conviction, her love and perseverance, can give heart to the parents who lost their babies last week.


Unsung Heroes: Hagar’s Story


For the life of me I can’t remember learning this story in Sunday School. I remember being bored by tales of the Old Testament, but never inspired, excited or moved. Maybe it was because after you hear the story of Christ everything else feels like commentary. A way to fill up the pages.

But even my college Bible class seemed to gloss over it. They focused so much on the leading man and woman that they never paid tribute to the girl that went through hell.

Everyone knows the chronicle of Abraham and Sarah. The mother and father of Israel. We know how God showed Abraham the stars and said his descendants will be greater in number. We know about Sarah laughing when she finally became pregnant in her old age, a reminder of a God that surprises. And we know about, Hagar, but that’s more or less commentary.

When I first heard about Hagar, I was told she was more or less a mistake in Abraham and Sarah’s past. That she was an example that although Abe and Sarah were chosen to lead this generation, they too were imperfect folks.

Abraham was a hero of faith to be sure, let’s not forget God’s heartbreaking command to slaughter Isaac. Sarah is less easy to eulogize, so I’m not going to.

God gave Sarah and Abraham everything under the sun, except for a son. Despite the promise of a long lineage, Sarah still couldn’t conceive. And when God reassured them he would, they didn’t trust him. No, Sarah didn’t trust Him. Instead she recruits her slave Hagar for the job.

But calling this a “job” would imply that a choice was involved. There wasn’t. It was written in the law that Hagar was Sarah’s property and tasks like this weren’t too out of the ordinary.

True to the meaning of her name, Sarah is a princess. The haughty kind, like Victoria Grayson (Revenge reference). One case-in-point. God pays a visit to Abraham and tells him again that Sarah’s going to get pregnant! Eavesdropping on the conversation, Sarah snickers at the suggestion. Obviously, God hears it (He’s God) and calls her out. Sarah lies. In a simple, yet perfect response, God says, “yes you did; you laughed.”(Genesis 18: 15) I envision a lot of head tilting and brow furrowing.

Hagar was an Egyptian. A slave to Sarah while Abraham and her stayed in Pharoah’s palace. When the two got the boot out of Egypt, Hagar was packed up like luggage and carted along with them. Away from everyone and everything she ever knew.

She was a minority in every sense of the word. Her gender, race, nationality and social status put her in the bottom of the barrel. Nothing more than a means to an end. Something to be traded, used and discarded. Born to be little so her master could be great, her existence nothing more than a sad roll of the dice.

Approaching Abraham with her proposition, Sarah actually says, “Maybe I can get a family from her.” (Genesis 16:1-2)

In the aftermath of conception, Hagar understandably feels a sea change in her role. Carrying another’s child has to have a psychological impact. For the first time since Egypt, she felt a part of a family. Her family. Little by little she was rising out of the refuse.

But her changing heart wasn’t lost on Sarah. She noticed. Seeing the foggy morality with any violent action against her husband’s concubine, she tells Abraham she’s gonna teach her a thing or two and God will judge her if she’s wrong. To which Abraham responded with, “your maid is your business.” (Genesis 16:6) A verbal declaration of cleansed hands.

And thus begins a cycle of domestic abuse. Sarah terrorized Hagar for her uppity attitude. With an iron fist, she intended to make her fall in line. Under this oppression, with no soul to count on, Hagar does the only thing anyone could.

She runs.

The pregnant slave girl found herself beside a spring in the desert, collapsing in tears. The geographical route she took has led many to speculate she was headed back home to Egypt, the only place she ever belonged. This life was a train wreck and about to get even worse. The baby within her womb was soon to be separated from her forever. She was to be stripped of any acknowledgement as the child’s mother- wiped completely from his memory. And if that wasn’t devastating enough, she had to hand him over to her predatory abuser.

Hagar’s heart was not driven by self-preservation; it was sacrificial love. Love for her boy.

And then someone finds her.

In an incredible twist of this epic tale, an “Angel of the Lord” (commonly understood to mean God in the scriptures) shows up. Joining her beside the spring, He gives dignity to her story and becomes a confidant for her to speak of her turmoil. Her story. A life as someone else’s thing.

But whatever hope she had of escaping this life vanished when God told her to return to Sarah. Maybe Hagar wasn’t really surprised. Always the means to the end. How could He see a survivor in the skin of a slave?

Yet, God wasn’t finished. He continued to tell her of a wonderful road ahead. That this was only the beginning of it. That the hand she had been dealt would one day win. A dream Hagar probably never allowed herself to hold on to was suddenly promised. “I’m going to give you a big family. Children past counting.” (Genesis 16:9-12). He tells her to name her son Ishmael, which means God has seen your humiliation. God had seen her distress. Her life as a doormat.

And in a response that could only be said through sobbing eyes and trembling lips, Hagar cries,

“You’re the God that sees me!” (Genesis 16:13).

Imagine the significance of this moment. Think about the whole of Hagar’s life. The context she arose from gave her a gross depiction of God. In her eyes- God belonged to Sarah and Abraham. He was confined to their altars and private exchanges. They were the chosen ones. Sarah was the chosen one. All of them except her. Hagar was just the tablecloth they talked over.

Imagine for a moment how Sarah symbolized God to her. He was someone who would never accept her. Never find favor in her. Never love her. Never see her. Never notice her.

And all it took was a trip to the desert. An evacuation of the oppressive system she was a slave to. A liberation from her life as a doormat to find that God did notice. That God loved her. That people like Sarah make for poor missionaries and doormats like Hagar can be card-carrying disciples.

Heading home, her heart beating with humility, Hagar became a doormat once again, but with a “soon enough” story to hold on to. After a decade of thankless service, Sarah kicks her to the curb. Rationale? Ishmael teased Isaac. Heartbroken, at his wife’s heartless response, Abraham grieves to God. God responds with promises of protection for the two. Abraham had to let them go.

Both were banished and left to wander into the wilderness. It had been several years since Hagar and Ishmael’s first venture into the shadow lands but this time, no spring was there to save them. In another devastating chapter of the story, Hagar places her dehydrated son beneath the shade of a tree and walks away, unable to watch him die. And in a parallel moment of desperation, God shows up again.

“When the water was gone, she left the child under a shrub and went off, fifty yards or so. She said, “I can’t watch my son die.” As she sat, she broke into sobs.


17-18 Meanwhile, God heard the boy crying. The angel of God called from Heaven to Hagar, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy and knows the fix he’s in. Up now; go get the boy. Hold him tight. I’m going to make of him a great nation.”


19 Just then God opened her eyes. She looked. She saw a well of water. She went to it and filled her canteen and gave the boy a long, cool drink.

20-21 God was on the boy’s side as he grew up. He lived out in the desert and became a skilled archer. He lived in the Paran wilderness. And his mother got him a wife from Egypt.” (Genesis 21: 14-21)

With a word of encouragement and a well built by a miracle, Hagar and Ishmael are saved.


What stood out in this story is not that the Bible edits out the inconvenient. Clearly, the source here is the scripture. What stands out is how this story is told. Or rather not told. It taught me that taking to task the tellers of the Word is an imperative placed upon us all. When we do, we find it is not simply for instruction, but for empathy and inspiration. I was never told this story. I was never told the Eunuch’s story. Or the story of Cornelius in Acts.

And yet at the same time, should we really be surprised? Church history has traditionally trashed Hagar as an example of the sinful. Of the fallen. And within the same breath, they say Sarah is an example of the heavenly. Augustine compares Hagar to the city of the Earth and Sarah the city of Heaven. Aquinas separates the children of Sarah and Hagar into the “redeemed” and the “unredeemed”. Even Paul, in the very same Holy text, suggests the same assertions. So what do we make of it? Racism? Sexism in a male-dominated history? I’m still sorting it out, but it baffles me.

What I do know is that there is a whole reservoir of runaways like Hagar in both the Old and the New Testament. And yet, we still remain dumfounded by the rap sheet of Christ’s Chosen twelve. When people looked past the fisherman and tax collector, Christ saw them. Outer perfection is of no interest to our God, he seeks the humble hearts. The meek and weak. Those that are cast out, he brings back in. Lepers, Samaritans, slave girls, and gentiles. Our God does not carry a guest list!

And the best part about this is that he meets them where they are. Where we are. He is a seeker, a searcher, the God that sees. That is the God we are dealing with. One who dwells amongst us. One who doesn’t define us the way people do. He values us because we are his. The imperfect rubric of the world is of no relation to him. He does the opposite of conventional wisdom, touching lepers and washing feet. He honors the unusual and the unattractive. He cracks open a corridor for the exiled to sneak in and shows us that only the humble are truly heroic.


Runaway George


Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Among many things that have captivated my attention in this book is it’s handling of Christian theology in relation to slavery.

Here we find George, a runaway slave. In this scene, his former employer, Mr. Wilson, recognized George inside a hotel lobby and promptly approached him, asking if he would accompany him to his room to have a little chat. Mr. Wilson is a good man, but he fears that George is going against God and country, and thus requires his guidance.

First he tries logic.

Then he tries scripture.

“But you know how the angel commanded Hagar to return to her mistress, and submit herself under her hand; and the apostle sent back Onesimus to his master.”

“Don’t quote Bible at me that way Mr. Wilson,” said George, with a flashing eye, “don’t! for my wife is A Christian and I mean to be, if ever I get to where I can; but to quote Bible to a fellow in my circumstances, is enough to make him give it up altogether. I appeal to God Almighty- I’m willing to go with the case to Him, and ask Him if I do wrong to seek my freedom.”

“These feelings are quite natural George,” said the good-natured man, blowing his nose. “Yes, they’re natural, but it is my duty not to encourage ‘em in you. Yes, my boy, I’m sorry for you, now; it’s a bad case-very bad; but the apostle says, ‘Let every one abide in the condition in which he is called.’ We must all submit to the indications of Providence, George,- don’t you see?”


George stood with his head drawn back, his arms folded tightly over his broad breast, and a bitter smile curling his lips.


“I wonder, Mr. Wilson, if the Indians should come and take you a prisoner away from your wife and children, and want to keep you all your life hoeing corn for, if you’d think it your duty to abide in the condition in which you were called. I rather think that you’d think the first stray horse you could find an indication of Providence- shouldn’t you?”


I resonate with George’s story.

That’s not to say that I think slavery and homosexuality are parallel tales of misunderstood scripture.

But I’ve got my fair share of Bible burns.

They tell me, “but both the New Testament and the Old Testament speak against homosexuality”

I say, “I understand, but there are others who view-“

“1st Corinthians 6:9-10, 1st Timothy 1:9-10, have you not read this?”

I’ve been reading and rereading these since I was in the sixth grade.

“It sucks, but you know what? It’s God’s word, and Christ calls us all to sacrifice in one form another.”

Usually my thoughts echo George’s response to Mr. Wilson.

The detachment from empathy is so palpable in today’s Christian culture when it comes to homosexuality.

In these rock and hard place moments, I just want to pull out every Bible verse that should convict them of the same charge.

Perhaps what Jesus said about the wealthy, or the proud or the judgmental.

But by now, I’m burnt out.

So I bite my tongue.

Beyond George, there are countless runaways out there, carrying the card of some form of Christian contradiction. Divorce is one. Just the other day, I heard one coworker open up about his sisters painful divorce. The listening, coworker, my sister in Christ, said something akin to, “A vow is a vow. It seems they didn’t try hard enough.” Unwed mothers are another. I’ve heard people say about a friend of mine, “I wonder how many baby daddy’s she has? So sad.” Or the poor, “Why should my dollars go to their drug habits?”

Our Christian culture has become a bag of wonder bread, and if you’re made of a different morsel, you’ve been misplaced. I know better than to generalize about a whole group of people, and I fully believe that there are those quietly keeping their cupboards locked tight.

But the trouble with tribes like ours is that we thwart any attempt at transparency. Tears belong behind closed doors. Support calls for a certified shrink. The Bible is a bludgeon, not a buoy. Dialogue destroys doctrine, leading us down that oh so slippery slope towards hell. Raise your hands high and give us that sweet smile.

A couple months ago I had the opportunity to attend one of the Marin Foundation’s “Living in the Tension” gatherings. There I was, surrounded by fellow travelers on a similar journey of my own. All of us came for the same thing, reconciliation between the scriptures and our sexuality. All of us, looking around, greeted each other’s eyes with an “I get it.” When the meeting came to a close, I was embraced, told I was loved and encouraged to keep searching and questioning. It was a transformative night for all of us. My mom, who went with me, said later on, “that’s what the Kingdom looks like.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Runaway George had a similar experience. Having reached refuge outside the grasp of slave catchers, and finding his son and wife there as well, he reclaimed his faith in the father. Looking around the dinner table at the Christians that saved his life, he reflected:

“This, indeed, was a home,-home, –a word that George had never yet known a meaning for; and a belief in God, and trust in his providence, began to encircle his heart, as, with a golden cloud of protection and confidence, dark, misanthropic, pining, atheistic doubts, and fierce despair, melted away before the living Gospel, breathed in living faces, preached by a thousand unconscious acts of love and good will, which, like the cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall never lose their reward.”

When we roll up our sleeves and trade tales of our bruises, we deny the lie that we’re alone.

May our community become that “golden cloud of protection”.




“22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into[a] the village.”

         – Mark 8:22-26 (NIV, emphasis mine)

One of the greatest treasures within the story of Christ is his sneaky way of inserting subtext into all of his actions. It keeps us guessing, and more importantly, expresses the eternally relevant messages that freshen our eyes with every turn of the page.

Taking the blind man by the hand, Jesus led him to a remote location where they could be alone. No crowds, no ovations. Just an intimate one-on-one conversation.

Between the lines of this story remains that mysterious walk and the conversation that must’ve occurred. It seems, and I have no real historical evidence for this, that Jesus intended this walk to be an intake of sorts. I think he wanted to hear this man’s story. More importantly, I think he wanted to establish a friendship.

After they settled into their makeshift hangout, Jesus spit on this man’s eyes and then laid his hands upon them. When he asked him what he saw, the man gave one of the most easily understandable descriptions, people look like trees, I know they’re not trees, but that’s what they look like. Jesus received the man’s perceptions, laid his hands upon his eyes again, and perfected his vision.

In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  -1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV, emphasis mine)


Jesus did not have to make a second go at healing this man. He was all-powerful. If he wanted to, he could’ve snapped his fingers and given this man the eyes of a hawk. But there was a deeper subtext he sought to convey.

We all have moments when all we need is perspective. Two weeks after I came out, I remember lying on the couch in the living room, burying my face in a pillow, shouting at my parents about the loss of my sanity. Seriously.

In the tangled mess of my thoughts I started to question whether I truly existed or if I was living in some sort of Matrix. I threw my middle finger in the air at a God that I had reduced to a mere flight of the imagination. And I just laid there, shivering in a nightmarish world that I had no hope of waking up from.

My mom looked at me, smiling.

“Honey. You’ve known that you were gay for roughly ten years and have been afraid to open up about it until now. Furthermore, you came out to the whole family and you did so less than 24 hours after a failed suicide attempt. That is a lot to happen all at once, for anyone. Now, here’s what we can do. If you believe that you are truly losing your grip on reality, you can come upstairs and lay in our bed for as long as you want. We could just sit on this for a few days. I think after this night is over, you will see that much of this is simply the anxiety of the moment. If it turns out its not, we’ll go to the hospital.”

She couldn’t possibly put herself in my head that night or roll the tape of my past decade. This was completely unfamiliar territory for her. But yet, she could still relate somehow. She knew what it was like to be swept away in the anxiety avalanche and she knew where to look for the clearing in the clouds. She took what her tears taught her and showed me that trees are not people.

That what I see is not necessarily what is.

The dialogue that takes place in Mark is an undertone of a greater truth. It is an intentional example of how we are all blind when left to our own devices. Without the hands of healers and the words of the wise we will always fail to see where we are situated in the greater story. I don’t think that this account is simply about repairing the fellow’s retinas. It was about restoring reality.

In our prayer life, the old adage: “pray until something changes or you change”, fits this story well. When we meet with Christ, he desires us to vent about our life. He wants us, if just for a minute, to forget the fact that he already knows and instead let him in like we would a confidant. I think he wants to take that walk with us first. As we return and return to that oasis of confidence, he continues to rub our eyes clean of lies.

It’s clear that Christ is the only force capable of clearing out our inner cobwebs, but that doesn’t mean that this happens only through prayer.

It’s a call to walk with one another no matter the distance. It’s a promise that when we reach that place of intimacy, we will see that our walls are stumbling blocks not shields. In that place, we stop theorizing about the future. We cry out: Carpe Diem! The scales slowly pile up at our feet and our distortions no longer deny us that sweet breath of life. And then, we dust one another off and take a different road home.

We see trees and we see people.


Best Bible Story Ever


It is one of the most compelling examples of Abba’s affection for the outcasts. It may not be what you think of first.

It is not the woman at the well, or the woman caught in adultery.

It isn’t the story of the leper or the tax collector.

It isn’t about Samaritans.

It’s deeper in the dumpster.

It is the story of the Eunuch.

Act 8:26-39

Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.

 29-30The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

 31-33He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this: 

As a sheep led to slaughter, 
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
since he’s been taken from the earth?


 34-35The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.

 36-39As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.” –Acts 8:26-39 (The Message)


This story is often retold as the birth of the Ethiopian Church and thus, breaking down the racial wall of Christianity. All of this is very true and very important. The Eunuch took hold of his new found life and allowed God to use him to transform a nation.

But are we missing something a bit deeper?

Should we not take a closer look at the first individual ever to be evangelized?

Is there more than one mountain moved here?

If you are unaware, to be a eunuch meant that you were castrated at a young age. The purpose of this heinous practice was to create little male body guards for women of importance, removing the risk of a possible sexual affair.

To be a eunuch was to be a non-heterosexual. To be a eunuch was to be a sexual minority. It was an immutable characteristic that they had no choice in.

Now, having an idea of what a eunuch is, think about what it would be like for him, passing by a temple, hearing the Rabbi recite this:


“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:1, ESV)


He was doomed from the start. It didn’t matter whether or not he had held the knife, he was uniquely disqualified from grace and salvation.

Yet he still searches.

Reading the passage of a sheep being lead to slaughter, a man with no descendants, one that was mocked for being different, was like reading his own biography.

Could this book be more than a guest list?

Could a eunuch really be beloved?

Once Phillip reaches the chariot, he asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading. I imagine at this moment, the eunuch is experiencing an earth-shattering moment. It makes sense that he glances up, and utters, “help?”

After beginning a dialogue with Phillip, he gets to the heart of his question. One that, once answered, would define this man’s eternity.

Who is he talking about?

Why is his story so similar to mine?

Philip told him about Jesus of Nazareth.

Grace and love rained down on the eunuch as he began to grasp the reality of what Philip was saying. The King of Kings, Savior of sinners, Lover of the lost, was also rejected by the religious establishment. His father was not someone unfamiliar with pain.

During their trip, they passed a river, and the Eunuch, who I am sure was still struggling with what Deuteronomy said of him, asked Philip what was stopping him from being baptized. I can imagine him cringing, waiting to hear the haunting Old Testament words.

Brian McLaren gives a wonderful exegesis of this moment:

“Imagine what Philip might have said: “I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I’ll have to say no. Or at least not yet.”

But Philip doesn’t answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.

Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It’s only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us – although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it’s time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We’ve lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.” (


the Artist known as Jesus


One of my favorite attributes of God (apart from him being love) is his artisan spirit. Being alone with God’s Creation is when I feel most intimate with him. Especially at that the magical time of twilight. When light becomes three dimensional bringing all the colors of the forest beyond my front yard, slowly dancing to their last crescendo of day, I need no convincing of the composer. Furthermore, my imagination will take me to how God made this beautiful place we call home. It’s an appealing image thinking of a God meticulously painting the Robin and the Rainbow Trout, giggling with satisfaction at his work. Or even making us, piecing together different parts of who we are, stepping back, stroking his chin, and then curling his lips to a smile shouting “YES!” The God of art speaks deeply into my soul.

The other day, I was researching into the historical Jesus (always a fascinating study), particularly, what he did for the thirty years prior to beginning his ministry. Having heard the classic “carpenter” tale, I decided to look more deeply into what that meant in its historical context. Turns out, Jesus may not have been a carpenter at all! This is huge! Certainly it’s not the central part of Christ’s story, but its how we have always assessed his pre-ministry life.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.”

–       Mark 6:3 (emphasis mine)

The word carpenter in this passage derives from the original Greek word Tekton, which, in its historical context, could mean that Jesus was a designer, architect, builder of bridges and so on. What I am trying to say is- whether carpenter or architect- Jesus was truly an artist.

As an architect, he would clearly need to see things through a symbolic lens. A porch was not a porch, it was a place where both greeters of good news and messengers of misery would stand. He had to have a keen eye and creative spirit that accommodated aesthetics and honored the foundation it was built upon.

As a carpenter, he was no less an artist. Perhaps, he was even more of one. If he made tables and chairs, you can imagine him sweating over sanding a surface. Deciding on how large a table should be and how tall, and what impression it would make upon guests. The design of the chairs themselves required a sensitivity to his customers (likely poor folks), by not giving them an appearance of luxury.

These early years provided Jesus with an aptitude for inspiration. And we see their fruits in his teaching.

Think about his preoccupation with parables. He answered arduous questions through the telling of fictional stories. Renowned Biblical Scholar, Peter Enns, reflected on this in an article on the Biologos Forum:

“Speaking in parables is indeed similar to an artist’s craft. Neither are systematic, logical arguments aimed at intellectual persuasion. Rather, they create impressions, whole new worlds of meaning intended to turn old worlds on their heads. Further, they do not always clarify, but actually can by design obscure a deeper reality. To apprehend that deeper reality, one must—like a patron facing a timeless painting—continue to seek, ponder, and meditate on what is being said.

As a storyteller, Jesus uprooted his audience and dropped them into a world that went by another order. Instead of simply telling them what the Kingdom of God was, he saw it better to show them, through incredibly vivid imagery (remember the camel trying to go through the eye of a needle?) He was a poet, in addition to being a craftsman.

Even more fascinating is the idea of Jesus, being a work of art. I know I know, we are all masterpieces from God, but think about Jesus as being what the Sistine Chapel was to Michealangelo. Or Starry Night to Davinci. God created an icon in his son, one that would be celebrated and expressed for all future generations. Christ’s life has evoked emotion for centuries now, and has been emulated over and over on canvas and through stone.

BeliefNet posted an article about Oscar Wilde’s thoughts on Jesus. His insights were brilliant.

“To the artist, expression is the only mode under which he can conceive life at all,” wrote Wilde. “To him what is dumb is dead. But to Christ it was not so. With a width and wonder of imagination that fills one almost with awe, he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece. 

“…And feeling, with the artistic nature of one to whom suffering and sorrow were modes through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful, that an idea is of no value till it becomes incarnate and is made an image, he made of himself the image of the Man of Sorrows, and as such has fascinated and dominated art as no Greek god ever succeeded in doing.” –Oscar Wilde (as quoted by Dan Wakefield)

Keep in mind, this was written by a fellow runaway. Wilde was shamed by the church because of his sexual orientation. Classic tale of the tortured artist.

The gorgeous words Jesus spoke provoked a generation to rethink eternity. It brought religious bullies to their knees, and lifted up the lost. He stirred our imaginations and thus, revived an old language between God and man. We share with Him in our love for the creative, inventive, strange, and unique. The artistic passions of our creator provide for us the energy needed to challenge old ideas. To dream about what Kingdom Come looks like.

All we need to do is open our eyes to his glory.