Dear Friends,

Birthday candles


I’m prompted to write this post because I’m coming up on a milestone birthday that seems to have arrived way too soon. According to a measure of the average lifespan, most of my life is now officially behind me. (*gasp*)

I remember the day I first realized that I would not live forever.  Ironically, it was on my birthday many years ago, (Yes, God’s timing is uncanny). I must have been about nine or ten. Our church class had just studied James 4:14 the previous week.

“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

The moment was surreal. I blew out the candles on the cake and opened my eyes to see perfect little swirls of smoke rising from each candle. The teacher’s words echoed in my mind. “Life is a vapor”, I thought, as I watched each puff glide upwards and begin to taper off. Then, with the wave of my mother’s arm, the swirls became a haze, the smell of smoke dissipated, and (poof), they were gone. Suddenly the thought of going back in time was as impossible as unblowing the candles. The seed of that lesson was planted in the only way it could at that age…by seeing it illustrated before my eyes. The picture stuck, but I didn’t completely “get it”. I was aware of my own humanity, but when you’re ten years old, you’re still invincible. It’s hard to convince a kid that life is that short when it takes forever just to wait for Christmas.

Now, almost 40 birthdays later, I see that life itself is as fragile as all the candle flames I’ve blown out. I see it with every disappointment and every fear. I see it in every tragic headline. I’m reminded of it with every ache and pain in my body. I’m even reminded of it in the good times, when I wish I could push “replay” and do it over again. Most of all, life as a vapor has meant having to see the passing of several friends and family members (four to be exact) in just the last couple of years.

Our time is limited. So is our energy and resources to use the time we have left. Every year, we may make a wish and blow out the candles. What do we wish for? Do we wish for money, status, glory, or all of the above? The scattering of a candle’s vapor may remind us of how long those wishes will last. On the other hand, do we wish (and resolve) for God’s will in our lives more than things that are just temporary?

Scripture addresses the dilemma in one sentence:

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17).

This world has such a magnetic pull on us, doesn’t it? Such is the struggle and reality of the Christian life. We are pulled into the world and all its distractions and yet reminded to hold on loosely. Still, nothing that it can offer the believer will even hold a candle (no pun intended) to eternity. It won’t even compare…and those who seek God have the comfort in knowing that one day there will be no such thing as borrowed time.


Do you recall a teachable, “ah-ha” moment in your past?

Can you recall a moment when you came to be more aware of how short life can be?

How do you think we can learn to value our time?



I’ll admit that this post hasn’t been easy for me to write. Let’s just say that I don’t want to hide behind the language of “Christianize” when more truthfully, I’m beyond outraged at the terror and killing put upon Christians (or anyone for that matter) in the name of Radical Islam. I’m equally incensed at the insanity of a government that sits idly by while this is happening.

Here’s the thing. As a Christian, I’ve read the book of Revelation and the signs of the end times. Let’s note the signs, shall we? God’s word has already predicted the coming persecution (check). We should expect to see wars and rumors of wars. (check). We’ll see the opposition against Israel (yep, just this week), and we know that all will accelerate in tribulation until Christ’s return. So if we know all of this is to come to pass, why are we so angry? When is it anger, and when is it righteous indignation?

Another question: If we know that our brothers and sisters are being killed and persecuted across this globe, how are we to live, work, play, and just go about our lives as they suffer? What is it with this “joy” we’re supposed to possess?

Those who are stronger than me will answer that anger is righteous indignation when we are angry with things that anger God…yet this is tempered with a constructive means to help those who suffer, to pray fervently for justice, and for God’s name and glory to be known. Although we know there is and will be persecution, there’s never a time when we are not called to pray for God’s will to be done. Of this I am sure…God works through the prayers of His own.

Here is my only hope, and to this I cling exclusively: Whatever happens is the outworking of the purposeful plan of the sovereign, creator God. Job confessed: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted”. (Job 42:2)

Jesus knew this as He stood before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, before His crucifixion. Pilate threatened to send Jesus to the cross, which was well within his jurisdiction and power in an earthly sense. (John 19:10). Yet Jesus wasn’t surprised or fearful. He told Pilate that whatever power he had was given to him from above. (John 19:11)

This tells me that whatever powers that exist in our government or in this world are subordinate to God’s power. We see what seems hopeless but we must remember that His vengeance WILL come as He has promised. (Ezekiel 25:17). That doesn’t mean that I believe we as a nation shouldn’t retaliate. By all means, we need to WAKE UP and defend against this evil and defend ourselves. However, what I am saying from a spiritual point of view is that (although unseen), there is an undercurrent of His purposes and comfort to His people until He ends the suffering once and for all. I have Christian family in Egypt, and as I’ve shared in a previous post, we don’t necessarily see how God is moving behind the scenes. It’s just that it’s hard to see His purpose in the midst of anguish. We get impatient, we cry out “how long, O God!”, and for good reason.

I have to believe that as He promises His judgment in end, He also gives those who are persecuted a special grace:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”(1 Peter 4:14)

This is the witness of Christ followers throughout the ages. It is what shows the truth from a lie and displays a testimony that shines in a dark world. Maybe the joy that we are told to live out is not a cart-wheeling bliss but a peace in His presence.

I believe that those 21 Egyptian Christians’ deaths, or any other persecution of God’s children were not, and will not be in vain, but will serve to strengthen the church. I wanted to end with a video that you may or may not have already seen; it’s an amazing reaction from a man who lost two brothers in those beheadings. It’s a clip of an Egyptian TV interview in which he expresses an astonishing reaction by praying for the murderers. He prays that their eyes would be opened and that they would come to repentance.


One final note: May we never forget that our financial support is an extension of our deep concern for the persecuted church. Let’s give generously; I believe our gifts go a long way. Here are some worthy relief organizations, (click for the links to their websites):

Samaritan’s Purse 

Open Doors International

Voice of the Martyrs


Maybe you can relate to the struggles associated with our response as Christians to this growing evil. Would you have further insight from prayer or scripture?



Nearly five years ago, a young man by the name of Alex Malarkey made the claim that he died and went to heaven after a horrific car accident. He detailed his experience in his book, “The Boy who Came Back from Heaven”, which became a best-seller.

Just a couple of weeks ago (January 15, 2015), this same young man said that the story was a lie, that he made it up to get attention.

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Alex wrote. He continued, “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

It seems to me that if fallibility was suspect in any book written on the subject of near death experiences, it certainly hasn’t effected their popularity. The genre known as “heavenly tourism” include many best-sellers – Betty Eadie’s “Embraced by the Light”, Don Piper’s “Ninety minutes in Heaven”, even “23 Minutes in Hell” by Bill Wiese.

“Heaven is For Real” Book Cover

The more recent “Heaven is for Real” tells the story of four year old Colton Burpo’s visit to Heaven during an almost fatal emergency appendectomy.  After the Malarkey recant came out, the now fourteen year old Colton wrote his own letter stating that he stands on his word.

This got me thinking. Those once on the bandwagon with Malarkey now agree his story was a scam, based on his own statement. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that Colton Burpo comes forward tomorrow and says his story was a scam as well. Wouldn’t those who believed him do an about-face? It seems odd to me that what is labeled as “truth” one day would then be “false” simply based on what the speaker says it to be.

After all, if someone says they went to Heaven, who are we to judge their experience?

And that is my point in writing today. Does experience determine truth? If it does, a reasonable conclusion is that there is no limit to what we call theology. Our doctrine would morph from one experience to the next. From someone else’s experience to the next.

Curious about the entire buzz, I rented Heaven is For Real”, the movie based on the book, this last weekend.  It’s a feel-good, family oriented movie in many respects. There’s a sprinkling of scripture and a positive view of Christianity, and yes, that’s good. I’d like to continue to say good things about it, since saying anything other than a glowing “thumbs up” to spiritually-oriented “wholesome” films is often seen as unloving or critical. That’s not my heart in this at all, but I am passionate about seeing life through the filter of scripture. In fact, as believers we have a responsibility to be discerning, and Biblically speaking, there’s a lot wrong with this story. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “…Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” In this day and age, that can be challenge. That being said, I am convinced that Burpo’s story cannot possibly be true. I don’t necessarily doubt his sincerity. He and his family could very well believe he went to Heaven and back, I just don’t believe He did. However, as I’ve always said, consider the issue and decide for yourself:


First and foremost, of all the scriptural accounts of any mortal vision of heaven, (which include only four people – Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and the Apostle John), there’s one common denominator. They all focus on the all-encompassing, glory of God. To behold the glory of the Maker of the Universe staggered them speechless, as we would expect it to. Isaiah was immediately mortified by his own sinfulness, crying out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Paul perhaps is the most demonstrative. In 2 Corinthians 2-4 he writes, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.  And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”

He, being the Apostle Paul and the founder of the early church, out of humility doesn’t even identify himself as the one who visited heaven. This is a picture of a man who is absolutely stunned by His vision. He is petrified with a holy awe. He doesn’t even dare to broach the thought of talking about it; he is hushed silent.

What’s more, with the exception of Paul, all recorded revelation was for the purpose of communication of prophesy for what was to come. If God restricted his revelation to a few for a specific message which is already written in His word, why would He have anything more to add to a four year old, or anyone else for that matter?

In contrast, Burpo (told by his father), describes Heaven in entirely man-centered terms. He mentions angels singing to him, not to the King of kings. Apparently these angels saw it more fit to serenade him as he sat on Jesus’s lap rather than Jesus himself…unlike the angels and holy creatures described in Revelation 4:8 and Isaiah 6:1-3 that continually sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” around the throne of God.


We can ask ourselves the same question we ask of any of these modern near-death experiences. Can we trust that these men are telling the truth? The answer is yes, by virtue that their experiences are written in scripture. Furthermore, since the canon is closed (that is, the gathering of books together to complete the Bible), no other revelation can be validated in the same way, neither can it be altered.

The words of Proverbs 30:6 are pretty straightforward: “Do not add to his words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

As a Christian, I believe that God’s word is precise and complete (1 Thess. 2:13). It doesn’t change from one day to the next. (Luke 21:33). It must be the plumb line to measure any claim, otherwise, we are tossed by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14).Tell me, friends, are we really believing the Bible if we latch on to whatever sounds right without checking it against God’s word? Where is our solid anchor if not God’s word?


There are many other direct contradictions in the movie (and excerpts from the book) as compared to scripture, but here are just a couple that put the Burpo’s account into question:

  • At the end of the movie, a very handsome picture of Jesus is painted by a young lady (Akiane Kramarik) who claims this image comes from a vision from God. Colton identifies this image as an accurate depiction of Christ. However, this is in direct conflict with scripture, which describes Christ as having had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. (Isaiah 53:2) 

    Jesus picture

    “Jesus, Prince of Peace” painting by Akiane Kramarik


  • Little Colton describes Jesus having “markers”, on the palms of his hands and his feet. However, the Romans actually drove spikes through a victim’s forearms rather than the palms. It seems that Colton’s description falls more in line with pictures of the crucifixion or resurrection he may have seen in a children’s book.


“What’s the big deal?” You may ask… “these stories and others like them have inspired faith and brought hope to many”. While this may be true, my question in response would be “to what faith would this draw someone?” Is it toward hope in scripture, or is it toward a greater clinging to the supernatural “signs and wonders, anything goes” mentality?

Futhermore, where a nebulous foundation of faith exists, there is a foundation for false teaching and a skewed center of worship. We are opening the doors to a seductive realm of possibility that God never intended. Any time we rely or depend on anything that isn’t in the Word of God, we are depending on our own understanding, and that undermines God’s word.

But what about all the information that little Colton knew that he couldn’t possibly have known had he not “gone to heaven”? He said he recognized his grandfather who died before he was born, and met a sister who died before she was born. To this I can only say that there can be many explanations, even though they may be mysterious to us. It could be a connection to lost memories or a supernatural impression on the mind’s blank and unconscious state. It’s possible that the explanation is not mysterious at all, but a coaching and/or influence by those around him. It could be due to conversations overheard, responses to prodding and even embellishment of a child’s imagination to please those around him. Due to the world we live in, the unexplained, apart from scripture, does not prove the truth that anything is true in my mind.


I realize that many of us have loved ones in Heaven; I realize there are strong feelings on this subject. We long to know how those who have gone before are doing, what they are seeing and experiencing. Stories like these appeal to our sense of imagination and wonder. They spark a “could be” mentality with convincing descriptions. However, let us bear in mind the warnings in Scripture: “For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”, (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

But here’s the good news: Without a doubt, if your loved one trusted Jesus Christ for their salvation, their Heaven is far greater than any of the accounts we are reading today. We all have our Heaven is for Real story, and there’s an age-old book that already has all the details we need to know for now. Rest assured in this hope and be encouraged.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7-9)

Have you seen this movie or read any of the books about visiting Heaven or Hell?  What are your thoughts about the recent statement by Alex Malarkey?



Dear Friends,

We will make countless decisions this New Year. Some of them will be insignificant, others may be major, maybe life-changing. They may be long-considered or demanded on a spur of the moment. Who knows what’s up ahead? I found this from the Hope for the Heart Biblical Counseling Library” and I think it’s worth sharing as we start this new year.

Decision Making



May you all know the peace and joy of Christ this New Year!

Margaret (“Margo”)



AngelThere must have been a million angels watching that night, bending low to look through a peephole in the clouds. Excitement unknown on Earth was electrifying  heaven, tingling our wings.

Our lungs filled deeply as we waited for our cue to burst from the sky.

Then, just when we could contain our joy no longer, we heard it ~

A baby’s cry

The sound of God’s voice audible to human ears.

Heaven’s waiting room exploded with the sound of a chorus from the stretches of the skies!

Like a rocket shooting through the floor of Zion, we fired past the stars racing past us like comets through the galaxies on our course.

Our view tightened like a camera lens bound for the natural world as the Earth grew larger and larger, the outline of her curved horizon filling our vision. That vision narrowed closer in, past the countryside growing more precise and final to the exact location where we were to appear.

With a sound like thunder, we burst into the chilly Judean night, causing the darkness to scatter and turning the night as bright as day.

Though His glory was, and is evident in every note of praise and every sparkling, flawless sight in heaven, the grace shown that night was beyond our understanding.

The God over all, the Maker of the Universe, left His throne – and was now lying in a manger.

He came to save the hopelessness of man, to give them life when there was only death.

What kind of love is this?

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”


Merry Christmas my friends,







Thanks to Pinterest, I’ve now opened the door of an oven. Oh, and yes, I’ve actually put food in it and turned it on, thank you very much. Last week I tried the recipe for “The World’s Best Chicken”:


Recipe for the World’s Best Chicken

Well, maybe not the best in the world, but good enough. At least this time my chicken turned out moist. (Hint: poke holes in the meat and pour salt on it before baking). Here’s the glitch, though: I followed the directions to a T, making sure to add the ingredients exactly as the recipe stated. The sweet and sour combination of mustard to maple syrup wasn’t quite right to me. I personally think the ratio should have been 1:1 in hindsight, but that’s just me. Had I tasted it before adding the sauce to the chicken, I think I would have made a better dish.

Here’s another one I made in the same dinner:

Pull apart bread

Recipe for Crockpot Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart bread

Yum! Now who wouldn’t enjoy a piping hot dish of buttery bread? Probably no one, unless it is soaking in enough butter to shock Paula Deen.

Which is was…but all I was doing was following the directions. After buttering each biscuit, it told me to pour the remaining butter into the crockpot, so that’s what I did…even though the pot was already greased and the dough was glistening with the yellow stuff as it was.

Now, I’m being factitious about the amount of butter, really. It was a bit much for me, but I was so focused on following the recipe I didn’t think to adjust it.

Then it occurred to me how following a recipe to the letter is a lot like being legalistic in the Christian life. By “legalistic” I mean depending on a works-based “letter of the law” mentality rather than God’s grace for salvation, which inspires the good works, not vice-versa.

Living a life that is pleasing to the Lord does not exist simply by adding a pinch of church, a dash of prayer, and a portion of Bible Study. We expect to mechanically mix these elements together and come up with an end result, an offering that makes us acceptable to God. But is it?

Staying with the illustration, we’ve all heard that good cooks add love to their work, that the food is created with a heart to the one being served. That means that they don’t  just go through the motions to prepare a dish. They are thoughtful and have an insatiable desire to create a delicious meal. They are invested in providing for and catering to those at the table.

In the same way, the Christian life is meant to be lived authentically. We serve, not to mechanically follow the law, but to do so out of love, out of an appetite (pardon the pun) to give glory to God.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Yes, works are important, but they are a reflection and result of faith, an expression of gratitude of our salvation through Christ.

And that’s what it boils down to.


If we are not saved by works, what did James, the brother of Jesus, mean when he wrote, “faith without works is dead?” (James 2:17)

Anyone have any theological insights? If not, I’ll take a cooking tip! :)


“Everything happens for a reason” must be one of the most head scratching statements I’ve ever heard…not just because this “reason” is often undefined, but because I never know the speaker’s perspective in making this statement.

They could mean that everything has a material cause, that is, a building exists because of the elements of brick and mortar.

They could mean that everything has an efficient cause, much like the domino effect of the decisions we make. For example, I could say that I failed a class because I failed the final, and I failed the final because I didn’t study, and so forth and so on.

Still, there is a final perspective that can be taken, which refers to a higher purpose or goal behind an outcome or event, an overriding reason that may not be immediately apparent.

Even then, I’m still puzzled by the ambiguity of saying “everything happens for a reason”. What is the impetus that runs the order of purpose, if any? Is it karma? Is it the universe? Are these already-laid-out goals specifically good purposes or bad purposes?

I’ve heard it from acquaintances, celebrities, even news anchors and athletes. It seems to have become a modern cliché, an “insert-your-own-meaning” phrase which in essence conveys a message of comfort and control, often when things don’t go as planned. Everyone assumes what the other person is saying, when it fact this statement is more loaded than a plate at a free buffet.

From a Christian perspective, the best way to describe the statement, I believe, is that it’s simply incomplete and out of context in itself. I say this based upon the scripture of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose”

Do our lives amount to nothing more than random drifting, or is it up to us to steer the outcome as best we can? How much does God play into the direction of our lives? I can’t begin to scratch the surface of theology in this post alone, but I can shed some light on God’s promise for the meaning of our lives through this scripture.

He communicated this through the Apostle Paul in starting out the scripture by saying And we know. God’s sovereignty in our lives is not a speculation or guess. What’s one thing that we can know without a shadow of a doubt? That all things work together for the good. Let’s break this statement down further by looking at each phrase in this wonderful scripture:

All things

It clearly states that ALL things work together for the good…not just some things, not just the good things, but ALL things. This includes all joyful, good events as well as all sad, painful events in our lives. It would include our bad decisions, our failures, our set-backs and yes, even sin. There’s nothing that qualifies “all things’. How would it all play out? Well all things…

Work together

How in the world could anything good come of heartbreak or loss… or the consequences of a horrible decision? What about emotional pain inflicted by betrayal or the physical pain of illness? It’s easy to blame God for not listening or caring. I know I have. I’ve flat out defied Him to answer in my worst suffering. Yet, I look back and see that He was there all along, in mercies that got me through day by day. Circumstances may not make sense individually. This promise states that each experience, be they good or bad, will weave together for our ultimate benefit.

It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. If you look at each piece individually, it doesn’t make sense.

Jigsaw puzzle piecesSome pieces are dark and uninteresting. Others are bright and colorful, but none of them show the whole scene of the completed puzzle.  It’s not until they are all put together that we see the whole picture.jigsaw-puzzle-art It’s interesting that no matter what a piece displays, each one is vitally important. Lose one and the picture is ruined.

That’s how it is with our lives. We can’t see the full picture by looking at just one of the pieces. God sees the whole.

Great examples come from the Bible itself.

For instance, there’s the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, then taken into slavery in Egypt. It just got worse from there. He was falsely accused of adultery and thrown in jail. Finally, after many years in jail, he found himself in a position of power over Egypt. The brothers who were so cruel to him as a kid were at his mercy when they had to travel to Egypt for famine relief. He forgave them, saying, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” (Genesis 50:20). God used the passage of time and all these hardships to mature Joseph to be the man of God that he turned out to be.  He used the famine to bring his brothers to humility and gratitude, and He brought everyone into a place of healing.

For the Good

We may be able to point back and say, for instance, that if we lose a job, God will lead us to a better one. I don’t believe that concept to be true in all cases. As we’ll see in the later part of this scripture, the benefit referred to here is of spiritual value—to make us more like Christ. He can definitely bless us with earthly gain and ease, but “good” is not measured this way, or everyone, (even those who hate God), could claim His favor. He can and does bless materially, but He is after a far greater value in our hearts and lives, a value we won’t see completed until we are made perfect with Him in eternity.

To those who love God 

Here’s where the incompleteness of the statement “All things happen for a reason” comes into play. From a Christian perspective, the peace of mind of knowing that all is for a purpose is stipulated only to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  What does it mean to love God? Well, here are some of the characteristics of someone who loves God:

  • They keep His commandments (Psalm 25:10)
  • They put God first in their lives (Luke 10:27)
  • They acknowledge that the Father and Jesus, the Son, are One. (John 10:30)

How can we say we love God if we don’t know Him and keep His commandments? This brings up another question. How much “keeping” of his commandments would merit us as one who loves God? Do you ever wonder if you qualify? Well, read the next clause:

And are called according to His purpose:

What does it mean to be called according to His purpose, and what does it have to do with obedience? That question is answered in the next scripture, Romans 8:29:

For whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the Image of His Son…

Isn’t that glorious? You see, although we are called to love and obey God completely, how many of us do this perfectly? None of us…but it says here that if we are believers in Christ, we are predestined, we are pre-appointed, no less, to be conformed to Him.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corin. 3:18)

That is His purpose for us, and that is what He has promised to do.  This whole passage comes full circle when we see that we cannot love the Lord and not be called to His purpose. We see that it is His work in us, and not our efforts that bring us to want to love and obey Him. We see that He uses all things to work together towards that end.

What an awesome promise! If we are predestined to this purpose of transformation in our lives, it’s a done deal. Romans 8:28 is the explanation of the answer to the “everything happens for a reason” question. Our response is nothing less than gratitude for His sovereignty and glory to Him.


Like Joseph, have you ever gotten to see some of the reasons for hardship in your life? Have you been able to look back at a difficult time and see the intangibles you would have never had otherwise? What were they? I’d love to hear your stories!