Antioch: First Church of… well, Everything (part 1 – Acts 11)

Let’s dig back into Acts this week with the first of two posts about the church at Antioch. We will connect the dots between different parts of Acts and see how this church paved the way for our modern definition of church.

When the apostles appointed seven deacons to serve in the Jerusalem church, one of them was from Antioch: Nicholas (Acts 6:5). Nicholas was the only deacon for whom Luke felt it necessary to name his city of origin and note his spiritual history. Nicholas was a convert to Judaism who became a Christ-follower. Why did Luke mention all this? I think it’s because, by the time Luke wrote his history of the early church, he knew both the city of Antioch and the Gentiles who inhabited it were significant. It’s a bit of foreshadowing. Continue reading

Let God Shatter Your 2020 Expectations

The new year is so pretty and clean, sitting here on the first weekend of the year. I have significant expectations for this year, partially because I will soon turn 47, and since 47 is my favorite number (for no particular reason), I have long thought this year would be big for me. But God is doing something a little weird in my heart right now. Let’s see if I can break it down. Continue reading

Some People Aren’t Gonna Like You

As Christians, we often think everyone needs to like us. If people want to be around us and think we’re nice, we assume we’re representing Christ well.

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking: It roots the standard for Christ-likeness in other people’s opinions. They are not God. Jesus is God, and there were some people who didn’t like him when he was on earth. In fact, certain people despised Him. Our standard for Christlikeness is … (wait for it) … Christ. Continue reading

The Evangelical Extrovert Ideal

I grew up with the Four Spiritual Laws, door-to-door evangelism, and massive loads of guilt for not telling my unchurched neighbors and classmates all about how Jesus changed my life. As a young adult, I studied methods of evangelism in which I was expected to walk up to a stranger at the mall and “convert” her. There is nothing in the world that makes me more uncomfortable, and nothing in the Bible that suggests we should do this.

I went to church every Sunday, too. There was a designated time in the service to greet everyone sitting around me. If I finished my greetings quickly—which I usually did—I stood awkwardly staring forward, waiting on the singing to resume, or I rummaged in my purse, pretending to look for something. Continue reading

Generosity Pays Attention

It is said that we have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. I recently heard someone say, “Our mouths close; our ears don’t.” Think about that one for a second.

And of course, there’s James…

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  –James 1:19

There is a type of generosity that costs nothing materially but takes supreme effort in our distracted-to-death culture: the generosity of attention. Continue reading

Three Paths We “Walk”

Last week, I wrote about becoming more Christlike as we go through life.

The New Testament often uses the word walk to talk about the process of living. (In fact, the NIV uses “live a life” in place of walk in Colossians 1:10.) There wasn’t space, however, to unpack walk. Today, let’s revisit those verses and consider three paths in which we walk (because in follows walk all three times). Continue reading

Fame and Infamy: A Retelling of Luke 8:40-56 (part 2)

Two desperate people. One famous, one infamous. Both loved by Jesus. Both restored.

Intimate Impurity, Stolen Salvation

Twelve years. Twelve years of shame and judgment. Twelve years without the touch of another person. Twelve years of poking, prodding doctors who lined their purses with her desperation.

News travels fast in a small town. Continue reading


Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  -Paul (Ephesians 5:1)

Born in the dark
hands tied behind our backs


We stumble around
hurting ourselves
hurting each other
hesitating while navigating the pitfalls
and the pleasures
without sight or touch


Why are we shocked by the pain?
Why can’t we stifle the screams?


This can’t be right.


We know we’re in bondage
even while we claim to be free
We walk and speak
            well, stumble and squeak
and puff up our chests with fake freedom


We make attachments
tying our bound hands to hers
trying to quell confusion and pain


But the opposite occurs
            the confusion coalesces
            the pain progresses


so we tear off the attachment
tumbling teary-eyed toward anyone


No one answers


Then we hear the step of Another
who doesn’t stumble or scream
still through the blindfold
we sense more than see




for the first time
            and we’re scared


Another knows something we don’t
Another reaches out with free hands
Another touches our bindings and blindfolds


But we jerk away
afraid of this foreign Freedom
            not founded on fortune or fate


Another comforts
Another holds our hand
without ropes or regulations
until real Freedom feels like a friend


Then Another cuts the bindings
our newly-freed hands lift the blindfold


We blink


Our pale eyes crease
our pupils release
Light surrounds us
Freedom fills us
Understanding inflates us
Love saturates us


Eyes adjusted
we see Reality beyond this Light
            and it is dark


Locate the Light
Another doesn’t hold it
now Light sourced in us
shines out of us


and we turn to free the next stumbling stranger


I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. –Jesus (John 12:46)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. –Paul (Ephesians 5:8)

Want to share this image? Illumination: a poem of salvation (click to tweet)

Popcorn Conformity

First, the subject of our conformity to Christ has been on and off my mind for well over a year now.  In fact, I wrote about it *here*.  It confounds and amazes me that the rough biker who tattooed “Jesus is the SH*T” on his arm (No, I’m not kidding.  The story is in this book.)  and the prim and proper, homeschooled, never-been-kissed Bible college student are pursuing the same Likeness.  So are the professional basketball player and the mother of five who organizes a scrapbooking club.  So are Charles Stanley and the nameless (to us) Chinese believer who sits in prison because of his faith.  Fascinating.  How can it be that all of us, who look and act and respond and even pray so differently, are simultaneously being conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29)?

Second, I love popcorn.  I sometimes thank God for popcorn, and I eat unhealthy amounts of it—especially at the movie theater.  At least it’s a whole grain.  (That’s what I tell myself as I stuff over-salted, butter-laden handfuls into my mouth with wanton disregard for the cleanliness of my shirt and chair, not to mention my arteries!)

Popcorn is so Biblical!  Indulge me for a minute and we’ll have a little fun here.

author's image
author’s image
  1. Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Popcorn is just no good without salt.  Even kettle corn has salt and sugar, you  know.
  2. The Old Testament act of anointing someone/something with oil recognized a set-apartness. You need oil to make good popcorn.
  3. Popcorn has a distinct and compelling aroma, just like Christ-followers (2 Corinthians 2:15).
  4. Finally, in the same way that manna spoiled overnight, popcorn is terrible the next morning. It, like the aforementioned salt, is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (still Matt 5:13).

Not surprisingly, I have a bigger point than my unhealthy appetite.  Popcorn really can tell us something about our lives as Christ-followers.

Popcorn, even a single kernel, is easily recognizable.

I’m not sure that popcorn has the individuality of fingerprints or snowflakes, but there is significant variety between kernels (especially if you burn some of them . . . off topic, sorry); yet a big bowl of popcorn is clearly that and nothing else.  Real Christians are hugely varied, yet you put them together and they recognize each other.  In God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew describes an encounter in a communist country with someone he had never met:  “As we neared the front door, I glanced for a fraction of a second into the face of the man who had arrived at the precise moment I did.  And at that instant I experienced one of the common miracles of the Christian life:  our spirits recognized each other.”  I can personally testify to that experience as well.  What is more, others outside the faith community can recognize a group of believers, and it’s not because we stand around singing kum-ba-yah.

Popcorn only pops when heated.

Before it pops, you have hard, ugly, inedible kernels–like us before we began to follow Christ.  But then the Holy Spirit turned up the heat.  Conviction brought you to the point of thinking you were going to burst, and for a brief time, you sat rocking in the hot oil, hesitating.  Then you exhaled, and you became something pleasant to everyone around you.  (Work with me here; I know your personal pleasantness may not have happened instantaneously.)  That’s when the “aroma of Christ” started to kick in, too.

Something special inside the kernel makes it pop.

Science lesson: What makes a kernel of popcorn pop?  It’s a small drop of water inside the kernel which, when heated, becomes steam, expanding and forcing the kernel to explode.  This is faith.  Ephesians 2:8 says, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.  God puts the water into the popcorn kernel, and He puts the faith into us.  What, you may ask, about those few unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bowl?  I don’t know.  Maybe God didn’t give them faith; maybe they ignored the heat; maybe they didn’t get enough heat.  That’s a question for my strict Calvinist and Armenian friends to debate.  Regardless, faith is the means by which we become followers of Christ.

The hard outer shell of popcorn doesn’t actually disappear.

According to 2 Corinthians 4:16, Outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  With popcorn, the kernel turns itself inside out; the outward wastes away and the expanded, bready part becomes pronounced.  This new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) is both distinctive and delightful.

So I share all of this with you . . . why?  I have no agenda.  Perhaps it will help you explain the process of becoming a Christ-follower or help you understand “conformity to Christ.”  That’s my thing.  I don’t like conformity, so verses like Romans 8:29 leave a bad taste in my mouth (unlike popcorn!) until the Holy Spirit helps me come to terms with them through images such as this.  Or perhaps my thoughts will cause you to enjoy popcorn in a new light.  If that’s the case, invite me over, and we’ll dig through a big bowl together!

Can you think of another way that popcorn is like the Christ-life?  Please share it in the comments.