The Safest Way to God

We wake up and the deluge begins. Rolling over in bed, we grab our smartphones and tap our way into a ceaseless flow of words. Before getting ready, we ask Siri, Google, or Alexa what the weather is like. If we exercise or commute, we listen to podcasts or Spotify.

When we get to work, we send and read emails. Make phone calls. Respond to Slack messages and threads. And we tweet, post, and snap all the while.

The world has never been wordier than it is today.

Why do we talk so much? We have been duped into thinking that wordiness leads to wisdom. We think we will be heard, felt, and understood through our talking and typing. Not only is this thinking incorrect, but the opposite is often true: The more we speak, the less we feel heard, felt, and understood.

For centuries, the Christian tradition has understood the immense benefit of silence before God, but now the idea of silence seems to be a rare and forgotten concept.

We may be surprised to discover just how powerful it can be.

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship

An Audio Devotional for Maundy Thursday

My friend Tim Briggs asked me to help out on a Spotify playlist he was putting together for Holy Week. (Be sure to check out Folk Hymnal, the group Tim writes for!) The end product is fantastic. Each day features alternating spoken word devotionals and songs that continue the narrative or give space for reflection. I worked on Maundy Thursday (today). The recordings don’t feature my voice because my recording wasn’t good enough to use (sorry again, Tim!), but I wrote the material being spoken. I’ve included the text for the spoken word portions at the bottom of this post.

Maundy Thursday Devotional

(Here’s a link to the Maundy Thursday playlist in case you can’t see the Spotify embed, and here’s the master Holy Week playlist where you can find the rest of the week’s devotionals.)

Spoken Word Text

Devotional 1

Jesus knew he was about to be betrayed. Death was so close he could taste it. But instead of losing his appetite, he reclined at a table with his disciples. Jesus had loved these men while he was in the world. Now he was about to show them the full extent of that love. He rose from the table, laid his outer garment aside, and tied a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began washing his disciples’ feet. In a day where you mostly traveled on foot and wore sandals, this would have been a dirty job. Only the lowliest of servants would have done it. Yet here we see the Christ, who created all things and for whom all things were created, stooping down to wash the very feet he made.

Devotional 2

When Jesus came to Peter, he declared, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet? … No, you shall never wash my feet.” Here we see two men — Jesus and Peter — with very different identities. Peter, who had not offered to wash anyone’s feet, saw himself as unworthy of the love and service of Christ. Jesus saw himself as a servant who ranked no higher than anyone else. When Jesus explained to Peter that he could have no part with him unless he could be served by his Lord, Peter replied, “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Though Peter had yet to understand what was happening, he was experiencing the kind of love and service that would set the tone for the Christian faith.

Devotional 3

Though he would soon taste death, Jesus wanted his disciples to taste life. It was the night of the Passover Feast, when God’s people remembered the time God passed them over as the angel of death swept through Egypt, killing every firstborn child and beast. Jesus held up a piece of bread and explained that it symbolized his soon to be broken body, and a cup that represented his blood about to be spilled. This must have confused the disciples; the body and blood had always been supplied by a lamb and a goat. But Jesus’ meaning is clear: He was about to become the lamb and goat. He was going to receive on himself the sins of the world and be cast outside the city gate. His blood would be poured out on the cruciform altar as the payment for our sins.

Devotional 4

“When [Jesus] had finished washing [his disciples’] feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.’” Remarking on this passage, Charles Spurgeon said, “Blessed is that servant who is quite content with that position which his master appoints him — glad to unloose the latchet of his Lord’s shoes — glad to wash the saints’ feet — glad to engage in sweeping a crossing for the king’s servants. Let us do anything for Jesus, counting it the highest honour even to be a door-mat inside the church of God, … for the saints even to remove the filthiness from themselves upon us, so long as we may but be of some use to them, and bring some glory to God.”

What the Bible Says About Second Chances

God is patient in giving us second chances—and not just one, but continual second chances. Micah 7:18 says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” God savors opportunities to offer second chances and is eager not to punish us when we truly seek forgiveness for our sin (Joel 2:13).

We see this most vividly in God’s offering up His only Son—Jesus Christ—for the forgiveness of our sins. As the Apostle Peter explained, “‘[Christ] himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed'” (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus lived the sinless life we couldn’t live and died the gruesome death we should have received, to offer us a second chance at life with God.

Both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to a forgiving God. Think of Moses, who murdered a man (Exodus 2:11-15); Jonah, who fled from God’s command (Jonah 1); David, who committed adultery and had a man murdered (2 Samuel 11:14-17); Rahab, who was a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2); and Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus after spending three years with Him (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, John 18:15-17 and 25-27). Each of these—and dozens of other men and women like them in Scripture—stand as monuments of God’s grace (Hebrews 11).

None stands taller than Jesus, of course, who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). His ministry, he said, would be marked by fresh starts and second chances for those whom many view as outcasts.

And that’s exactly what we see when we examine Jesus’ life. We see how He redeemed and elevated people others convicted and condemned. We see that He professed the unfaltering power of redemption in their lives.

Zacchaeus the tax collector, for example, was considered a sinner by his neighbors (Luke 19:1–10). When Zacchaeus shows he has changed and is making amends by giving possessions to the poor, Christ responds by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house.” When the criminal dying on the cross next to Jesus asks for Him to remember him, Christ responds by saying He will see him in paradise (Luke 23:32–43).

But Jesus doesn’t envision His forgiveness stopping with Him.

Read the rest of my article on Prison Fellowship’s blog.

Spurgeon Brings Us to the Cross

I was listening to an audio performance of a Charles Spurgeon’s sermon on Hebrews 9:22 (“Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”) and was blown away at his ability to put his audience in the story. Here’s how he takes us to the cross:

First, let me show you the blood-shedding, before I begin to dwell upon the text. Is there not a special blood-shedding meant? Yes, there was a shedding of most precious blood to which I must refer you. I shall not now tell you of massacres and murders, nor of rivers of blood of goats and rams.

There was a blood-shedding, once, which did outrival all other shedding of blood by far. It was a man—a God—that shed His blood at that memorable season! Come and see it.

Here is a dark and gloomy garden. The ground is crisp with the cold frost of midnight. Between those gloomy olive trees I see a man, I hear Him groan out His life in prayer! Listen, angels! Listen, men, and wonder! It is the Savior groaning out His soul! Come and see Him. Behold His brow! O heavens! Drops of blood are streaming down His face and from His body.

Every pore is open and it sweats; but not the sweat of men that toil for bread. It is the sweat of one that toils for heaven—He “sweats great drops of blood”! That is the blood-shedding, without which there is no remission!

Follow that man further. They have dragged Him with sacrilegious hands from the place of His prayer and His agony and they have taken Him to the hall of Pilate. They seat Him in a chair and mock Him. A robe of purple is put on His shoulders in mockery. And mark His brow—they have put about it a crown of thorns and the crimson drops of gore are rushing down His cheeks! Angels! The drops of blood are running down His cheeks!

But turn aside that purple robe for a moment. His back is bleeding. Tell me demons did this! They lift up the whips, still dripping clots of gore. They scourge and tear His flesh and make a river of blood to run down His shoulders! That is the shedding of blood without which there is no remission!

Not yet have I done—they hurry Him through the streets. They fling Him on the ground. They nail His hands and feet to the transverse wood! They hoist it in the air. They dash it into its socket. It is fixed, and there He hangs—the Christ of God! Blood from His head; blood from His hands; blood from His feet! In agony unknown He bleeds away His life!

In terrible throes He exhausts His soul. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.” And then look! They pierce His side and forthwith runs out blood and water!

This is the shedding of blood, sinners and saints. This is the awful shedding of blood, the terrible pouring out of blood without which for you and for the whole human race, there is no remission!

Read the full sermon or listen to the audio performance.

What Happens When a French Restaurant Hires a Team of Former Prisoners?

A teenaged Brandon Chrostowski stood before a judge. He was facing a 10-year sentence on a drug-related felony charge.

He couldn’t believe what happened next: the judge let him off with probation.

Just like that, Brandon had a decade of his life back. The way he sees it, he’s on borrowed time, so he had better make the most of it.

He has.

Today, Brandon is the owner and founder of EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute. EDWINS is a fine-dining restaurant in the French tradition that has received recognition from The New York Times and has been called one of the best new restaurants in Cleveland by Scene magazine and Eater.com.

EDWINS is special. But not just because of its food, delicious as it may be. It’s the people behind the food that make the French restaurant unique.

Read the rest of my article on Prison Fellowship’s blog