The Ransom Pitch

I noticed something interesting a while back, while working on my sabbatical writing project, a small biblical observation.

In Genesis 6:14, God is about to flood the earth, but he tells Noah to make an ark out of gopher wood and pitch so that they will survive the flood. The word that's used for "pitch" shows up several times throughout the Old Testament. It's the Hebrew word: "kôpher." Pitch is a tar-like substance that's used to bind things together and seal them, keeping water out. But "kôpher"is only used this way once in Scripture. Almost every other time, the word takes on the meaning of "ransom." Leon Morris describes "kôpher" this way: "the sum paid to redeem a forfeited life."

I wonder if God wasn't slipping something into the story of Noah's Ark. Noah and his family and the animals and the ark survive the flood because they are wrapped in "the sum paid to redeem a forfeited life." This reminds me of what Jesus has done for us. He has wrapped himself around us, forfeited his life and rescued us from the flood. Jesus is our ransom pitch.

This was too random to include in the book, but too cool to toss aside.

On the Sidelines

I've spent a lot of time in my life sitting on the sidelines.

In junior high and high school, I considered myself an athlete. I was on basketball, soccer and football teams. But I sat on the bench. I lacked the shooting touch for basketball and the killer instinct for football. My soccer career stalled because I couldn't climb the chain link fence our team needed to climb to get to our practice field ... long story.

So I sat on the sidelines.

I hate the sidelines.

The sidelines felt like the place where people went when they were broken or weak or exhausted. I wanted to get into the game, any game. I didn't want to be broken, weak or exhausted.

But over time, I discovered that sidelines are not scrap heaps. Players go to the sidelines to recover when they're exhausted. They sit on the sidelines until they're strong or skilled enough to make a contribution on the field. On the sidelines, broken players get patched up, stitched and healed. Sidelines are a place of healing, growth and transformation. Learning this didn't stop me from hating sitting on the sidelines, but it helped. And over time, I learned something else.

You can make a contribution from the sidelines.

A player on the sidelines is still on the team. They can cheer, encourage, grab water, high five and pray. They celebrate when the team wins, even if they never left the sidelines. They weep when the team loses, even if they only watched the loss from a distance. Blessed is the team that has a fully engaged player on the sidelines. And that is what I was. That is what I am.

We all spend time on the sidelines.

Life is full of sideline experiences: your career sprains an ankle, your parenting exhausts you, your education has you in a place where you're learning instead of playing. Right now, you may be standing right on the edge of the court/field/pitch, watching everyone else play. "Put me in, coach!" you might call out. And your day may come. But in the meantime, you have a decision to make.

Right now, I'm on sabbatical with InterVarsity. I've been working hard in the field for a decade. I know what it's like to be broken, weak and exhausted. And now I feel like I'm sitting on the sidelines. It's hard. I hate it. But I'm grateful for it. The game I play is important and I want to be on the court/field/pitch. But right now, I'm on the sidelines. And I have a decision to make.

What will you do with your time on the sidelines?

Don't waste it. Cheer, encourage, grab water, high five and pray. Be on the team, even if you're sitting on the sidelines. Get healthy. Get ready. Recover. Don't waste your season on the sidelines.

In God's kingdom, everyone plays. And one day, we will rush the court, tear down the goalposts and run around the pitch with our arms out like planes or birds or European soccer players celebrating a big win. I'm saying this to myself. Every day.

God, use the sidelines.

Facets of personality and the False Self

What if your false self was just a facet of your personality that's been blown out of proportion?

I recently finished reading The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner for the Staff Directors Spiritual Formation Group. We met as a Group in Chicago this week.

One idea from Benner's book really jumped out to me. He describes the personality as being full of a whole bunch of different facets. You're funny and kind and curious and musical and all sorts of other things. We each have a unique combination of these personality facets. God made each of us unique.

But over time, we receive praise for some of those personality facets and punishment for others. For me, growing up, I got a lot of praise for reading and learning and enough punishment for showing my emotions that I bottled them up. This makes a lot of sense. There were four boys in my family. It was a wild place. A kid who would sit and read and keep his emotions under control ... well ... that's a pretty good kid to have in a full house.

But over time, those facets of our personality that we receive praise for become more and more important to us. And we bury the facets that get us punished. Our personality begins to become skewed. We present the praise-worthy facets to the world and hide the rest. We develop a false self: the self we project to the world.

There's more to us than we project. Buried beneath the surface are all sorts of things, things that could be wonderful if brought to light in the right circumstances. But it is terrifying to bring them to the surface. Bringing them to the surface means admitting to the world that the picture of ourselves we've always presented isn't an accurate representation of who we really are. 

We risk rejection. 

But then, if you know that the person everyone's accepting isn't the full you, it might be worth the risk. Right?

Can you identify facets of your personality that you've buried or over-emphasized?

Dali and Hidden Pictures

When I was a teenager, I loved driving over to the long bridge from Tampa to St. Petersburg to visit The Dalí Museum. In the back corner of the museum the walls were covered with huge canvases painted in surrealistic style by Salvador Dalí. These paintings told stories, if you could figure them out. They had hidden pictures, dogs and bullfighters created in negative space, easily missed by a casual glance. I treated them like beautiful puzzles and loved to take people with me to see them. But often my friends couldn’t see the hidden pictures.

Now, Dalí’s hidden pictures actually weren’t meant to remain hidden. When he was painting one of these masterpieces, he displayed a sketch so that people who stopped by his studio could see the pictures he was creating in the negative space. Dalí loved to talk about his work. He kept very few secrets. But that didn’t make it easy to see his hidden pictures or to understand the stories he told through his paintings.
"The Hallucinogenic Toreador" 

I wanted my friends to enjoy Dalí as much as I did, so I tried to help them see the hidden pictures. After a few failed attempts, I discovered two helpful tricks that I used every time I brought friends to the museum to see Dalí’s work. First, I had my friends stand in the far hallway, at some distance from the paintings. There are some things you can see from a distance that aren’t as easy to catch when you’re close. The second thing I’d do – and I know this sounds simple – is to stand next to them and tell them what they should be trying to see. “Find the hidden picture” is very different from “Look for the bullfighter with the green necktie and the red cape.”

Last week, I finished the first chapter in my book. In this chapter, I'm looking at three big-picture stories from the Bible. I’m trying to show the view from 10,000 feet up. These big-picture stories shape how we'll understand the up-close stories in the rest of the book. If readers don’t catch the big-picture stories in this chapter, the insights into God’s intention for ethnicity in the chapters that follow might seem forced. But if they’re willing to stand back and look from a distance, they’ll see things they can’t see from up-close. The framework for multi-ethnicity that God builds in Scripture is spectacular. And it's fun to be the friend who tells people what to be looking out for.

Scraps of verse on marriage and unity

The Christian life is full of mysterious unity. 

Mysteriously, we're united to Christ: 
we live in him, with him and through him 
even though we can't see him

Mysteriously, we're united to fellow Christians:
we belong to each other and are joined to each other
even if we don't know each other and
even if we don't like each other

But perhaps the strangest mystery is the mystery of marriage

United to this person
Body to head
Head to body
One flesh
even if they leave the stove on
even if they leave their clothes on the floor
even if they work late
even if they fall asleep on the couch
even if they hurt us and disappoint us and break our hearts

We long to be married
Or fear to be married

We all receive a call to unity, life in the church and the body of Christ
But some also receive a call to marry
Or think they do

And some suffer under this call: searching and waiting with ill fortune
Or else finding and fighting and flailing and failing and flying

We push the dying embers back and forth across the grate
And watch the fire of love - or life - fade

We push the dying embers back and forth across the grate
Hoping for some spark of love - or life - to glow

And if spark kindles
In life or in memory
With gentle breath we blow
And hope the spirit in us breathes life into our love
For who can long endure a union - any union - without love?

Long we love and love rekindle, again and again
The work of love quickly forgotten when the fire blazes
But the work matters and always returns
For fire untended always fades
even if it's true fire.

Love's work would make a saint tire
Even tied to a love I admire
But for the great joy
She brings I'd employ
All my strength to attend to this fire

There's no shame in working for love
And much joy in it

Writing right words

The right words rarely write themselves.
They hide in humble heart and mind
And burrow beneath bottom shelves
On guard against the game unkind

Of poet proud who'd pull them out
And cast them cold with careless aim
From dark to day down deadly route
En masse to men to make a name

For names are needed now by all,
Or wanted, what can we now say,
We lost them like the leaves in Fall
And wander worn through wordless day

But should the strong Word slip unheard
Ashore from sun-drenched storied sea
And ransom writers' work in word
We'll write words rightly, writing free.


In my first few days of writing, I found myself writing quickly and writing a lot of words. But I didn't just want to write a lot of words. I wanted to write the right words.

So, I did this exercise today: to write a poem.

What you read above is what I wrote.

I tried to use a strict structure to force myself to think carefully about the words I was using.

The poem is 4 stanzas with 4 lines each.
The rhyme scheme is ABAB.
Easy so far.

The poem is also written in iambic tetrameter.
An iamb is a unit of poetry, where a short syllable is followed by a long syllable.
Tetrameter means that there four iambs per line.
da DUM / da DUM / da DUM / da DUM
The RIGHT / words RARE / ly WRITE / them SELVES.
They HIDE / in HUM / ble HEART / and MIND
I had a harder time with this.

The poem is also written in alliterative verse.

The long syllables of the first, second and third iambs start with the same sound.
The RRRight / words RRRare / ly wRRRite / them-selves.
They HHHide / in HHHum / ble HHHeart / and mind
This was even harder.

The last thing I tried to do in the poem was to avoid crazy-poetry words.
I had the hardest time with this.

If you ever need a writing exercise, this is a good one.
I had a good time with it.