Chapter-a-Day John 11

tear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus wept. John 11:35 (NLT)

I’m struck by the range of emotions Jesus experienced in today’s chapter. Confidence, frustration, compassion, anger, trouble, sorrow, and earnestness to list those top of mind. Jesus was clearly not afraid of His emotions. He felt things deeply.

I’m reminded today of Ezekiel’s prophecy:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

The women in my life will tell you that I’m a softy. It’s true. Tears come more easily to me  the older I get. God continues to work on me, and I can feel Ezekiel’s prophetic words literally fulfilled in my own heart. As I sit or stand in worship and the tears begin to run down my cheeks I regularly call to mind, along with Ezekiel’s words, a line from an old Bob Dylan tune: “It is only He who can reduce me to tears.”

I believe that experiencing Life in abundance requires experiencing deep emotion. Jesus’ ability to feel deeply and sincerely express His emotions was not a sign of His weakness, but a testament to His strength.

A Great Man in Need

Andy Bales was my youth pastor when I was in high school. His impact on my life was immeasurable. More than that, he has quietly “walked the talk” better than any living human being I’ve ever known. I pass this along with hope and a prayer for him.

The Best for Andy Bales

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012 9:25 am

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – It’s hard not to feel a range of emotions for Rev. Andy Bales. There’s fear. There’s awe. There’s tremendous respect and tremendous worry on his behalf.

Most of all, there’s hope that he can overcome the hurdles that are in his path.

Los Angeles Downtown News last week reported on the unenviable challenges confronting Bales. The 53-year-old CEO of the Union Rescue Mission is in need of a kidney transplant, though that’s only part of it. His rare blood type, O negative, means there is a limited pool of donors. Making matters worse, he has a serious heart condition, and until he undergoes heart surgery, he won’t be able to get on the list for a kidney transplant.

The choice might seem easy to an outsider: Get the heart surgery, get on the transplant list, save your life.

For Bales, it’s more complicated. He knows that having the surgery would almost certainly lead to kidney failure, which in turn would require him to go on dialysis. That would force him to cut back heavily on his job of overseeing the mission in the heart of Skid Row. It’s something Bales is reluctant to do.

This is a choice almost none of us can understand in the way that Bales does. We can feel for him and guess what we might do in such a situation, but no one can really fathom having to make the decisions he faces.

Bales didn’t set out to make his health a public issue. The media came to him and he only spoke out because he hopes doing so will bring attention to the work he and others do each day at the mission.

That, by the way, is a tremendous amount of work, and it’s a job that has become more challenging in the past few years, as the slow economy has lessened the amount of financial donations to nearly all nonprofits. The mission at 545 S. San Pedro St. seeks to aid the impoverished community in numerous ways. There are drug and alcohol counseling for hundreds of individuals. There are meals served, an average of 3,000 a day, every day of the year. There are the shelter beds provided, more than 900 a night for men, women and families. There are clothing and medical services dispensed. The list goes on — much of it can be glimpsed at

Bales’ condition is serious, but it would be wrong to see this as a death sentence. He continues to show up at the mission each day, to work to better the lives of others. It’s easy to find people who sing his praises.

Right now all we can do is wish for the best for Andy Bales. We hope that in the coming months the community will continue to support him and the mission.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2011

Chapter-a-Day John 10

by shefftim via Flickr

“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10 (NLT)

The further I get in the journey, the more keenly aware I am of both life and death. I want to be about things that are life giving and avoid those things that hint, or reek, or lead to death.

Each day I get to make a dizzying number of choices about what I think, say, and do as well as choices regarding things to which I watch, listen, and read.

More and more I find myself asking “is this life-giving, or does this hint of death?”

I choose life.

Chapter-a-Day John 9

David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre ...
David Tennant used the skull of pianist Andre Tchaikowsky for Yorick's skull in a 2008 Royal Shakespeare Company production. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” John 9:39 (NLT)

Wendy and I love Shakespeare, and we love to see Shakespeare staged whether it’s our local Pella Shakespeare Company‘s performance in the park or the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. One of the things that I’ve learned in watching the Bard’s work is that you always want to pay particular attention to the fool. The fool is never quite as foolish as you think he is, and quite often the fool winds up confounding the wise.

That’s why I’ve always loved today’s chapter. It has all the qualities of a great Shakespearean scene. On one side we have the wise, learned, pompous religious leaders with all of their power, wealth and education. Before them stands a lowly, poor, once blind beggar who is not the fool they think he is. Jesus gave physical sight to the blind fool so that the spiritual blindness of those who claim to see could be revealed. That’s great drama.

This morning I’m chewing on the reality that Jesus, while repeatedly reminding his followers that they were not to judge anyone, continually explained that He came to judge. I find that we love Jesus the lover and healer, but no one really wants much to do with Jesus the Righteous Judge. Today’s chapter reminds me that Jesus not only came to give sight to the blind, but to judge those who think they see for their spiritual blindness. Jesus said He came to both save and condemn. One without the other makes for both a boring story and a weak character.

Gettin’ My Gangster On

Guts & Ruby
Lawrence "Guts" Regan

This weekend I’ll be playing Lawrence “Guts” Regan and Wendy will be playing Roberta Van Rensselaer (a.k.a Ruby O’Toole)  in Union Street Players production of Ayn Rand’s “Night of January 16th.”

Experience the sensational courtroom trial as a jury of audience members decides the verdict at each performance.

Thu @ 7:00 p.m.
Fri @ 7:00 p.m.
Sat @ 7:00 p.m.
Sun @ 2:00 p.m.

$8 in advance
$10 at the door

Pella Community Ctr.
712 Union Street
Pella, Iowa

Tickets can be purchased on-line at the Union Street Players website or you can call the USP box office at:

Chapter-a-Day John 8

Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (NLT)

A few weeks ago, Wendy and I attended an induction ceremony at Grandview College. Our daughter, Taylor, was inducted into the Alpha Chi Honor Society. It was interesting to listen and to learn about the various honor societies. The motto of the Alpha Chi fraternity was  the second part of Jesus’ quote from today’s chapter: “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Along the journey, I’ve never ceased to be amazed at the way we pick and choose what pieces of God’s Message we want to hold on to, and those we so conveniently choose to ignore. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” is such a powerful quote, but it’s really the consequential end of an “if then” statement. What Jesus said was that the knowledge of truth and subsequent freedom is the result to following Him, and remaining faithful to His teaching. In a few chapters, Jesus will make the claim that He is the Truth. You can’t have the result without the source.

Today, I’m thinking about the ways that I conveniently ignore truths out of a desire to escape uncomfortable spiritual requirements. I’m asking God for a little forgiveness along with the strength and grace to embrace Truth and all that it requires of me.

Chapter-a-Day John 7

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” John 7:24 (NLT)

One of the things Wendy and I have learned about acting over the years is that we enjoy the character work as much as we do the actual performance. Building a character means doing the ground work, investigating the character’s history and relationships, and peeling back the layers of who a person really is below the lines of the script and the movement of the director’s blocking. The character work an actor does brings depth to the character on stage.

One of the life lessons that doing character work has taught me is that people are complex, multi-faceted creatures. If I simply memorize the lines and move from point A to point B like a trained dog I do a great disservice to the complex creature I am portraying. Plumb the depths of a character’s heart and mind and you begin to empathize with who he is and why he does the things that he does. Only then can my acting begin to serve the character and the story well.

As I read today’s chapter I could almost feel the chaos of public opinion swirling around Jesus. The religious leaders were saying one thing about Him, some of the crowd another, His family were saying something different, while within His own inner circle of followers there was an on-going debate about Him. Like all who find themselves in the public spotlight, Jesus was finding Himself judged, labeled, and branded. He knew that people were misjudging Him because they had not taken the time to look below the surface of what they saw and heard, to plumb the depths, and to understand who He really was.

Whenever we brush over another person with a swash of generalization, we diminish them so as to justify our simplistic judgement of them. I have done the same thing. I do it all the time. We would all do well to obey Jesus’ command to look below the surface so we can judge correctly. We would all do well to do a little character work for those creatures and characters we dismiss, diminish, hate, or simply avoid. If we do so, we might find there’s more to their story than we ever imagined. We might just treat them with a little more love and understanding. We might just become better creatures ourselves for having done so.

Chapter-a-Day John 6

You talk of sacrifice... He knew the meaning o...
You talk of sacrifice... He knew the meaning of sacrifice^ - NARA - 535236 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” John 6:29 (NLT)

On what would I stake my


Language can be a messy thing and there are times when the English translation of the original Greek manuscripts of Jesus’ story can’t quite communicate the depth of meaning in a word. We hear the word “believe” and we think “how easy is that? I believe in a lot of things. Believing in Jesus is a no-brainer. He did great things and had great teachings. I absolutely believe.”

As Jesus sat in the teaching place on the shores of Galilee and talked about the painful death He would soon experience, the “believing” He was asking of His followers was more than the casual mental affirmation we think of today. If that had been true then the entire throng of people would have hoisted Him on their shoulders and carried Him off to Jerusalem to make Him their King. But, when the crowd in today’s chapter heard Jesus ask them to believe, they walked away.

It was one thing to follow Jesus’ traveling show, watch miracles, and eat free fish sandwiches on the beach. Free food and entertainment will get you huge crowds. When Jesus got serious, however, started talking about serious life and death commitment and asked the crowd to stake their lives on Him the crowds thinned out. Even Jesus’ closest twelve disciples questioned their commitment.

When Jesus asks me to believe He’s asking me to cleave to Him, to rely on Him, to place my life in His hands, and bet my life on the notion that He is exactly who He says He is: God made flesh who came to earth to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and who was raised back to life.

It’s easy to mentally agree that this is true, but will I stake my life on it?

Chapter-a-Day John 5

The healing of a paralytic by Jesus, after Mar...
The healing of a paralytic by Jesus, after Marten de Vos, ca. 1585, from the Bowyer Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” John 5:6 (NLT)

It seems like such a silly question to ask a paralytic sitting by a pool that, as the legend goes, had miraculous healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

I’ve found this to be one of the most haunting questions in all of scripture, because it cuts right to the heart of my motives, my desires, and my true willingness to act on them. What I say I want and what my life and actions reveal that I want are daily revealed to be two different things.

“Do you want to get well?”

I do, but maybe I’d rather be sick than have get a job. I like the attention and sympathy I get from others, and the disability check is nice.

“Do you want to get sober?”

I do, but tomorrow after I finish off this last bottle.

“Do you want to work?”

Yes! Are you kidding?! I’ve been searching for months, but I can’t find the job I want (the one that pays me a lot of money, gives great benefits, and doesn’t demand too much of me).

Do you want to know God?”

I do! But, I kind of want a God that fits my lifestyle. I don’t want to be uncomfortable or have to deal with guilt or anything like that. I want to know God, just as long as it’s all positive. You know, answering my prayers and blessing me and loving me and all that stuff without expecting too much of me.


I find it interesting that today’s chapter starts with a physically crippled man and ends with spiritually crippled men. Jesus asks the paralytic about his motives and heart desire about getting physically well, then His act of healing reveals the motives and heart desire of those who say they wanted to get spiritually well – but refused the One God had sent who was standing in their midst.

Today, I’m thinking about all of the things I say I desire … but don’t act accordingly. God, forgive me. It’s a good day to make a change.