One Word That Will Change Your Life

What if there were one word that had the power to change every aspect of your life?  What if one word could affect your health, your finances, your marriage, your career?  What if applying one word to your everyday life could really have that much of an effect?

Polish nun wearing a habit in 1939.

Polish nun wearing a habit in 1939. []

The Power of Habit (which isn’t our “one word”)

Charles Duhigg wrote about habits in his 2012 book The Power of Habit, which I briefly reviewed here.  As Mr. Duhigg explains, your brain develops habits so you don’t have to spend energy thinking through decisions–you just act without thinking.  An important part of that process is the “habit loop,” which works like this:

First, there is the cue that triggers the habit;

Second, there is the routine itself;

Third, there is the reward from the routine.

The habit loop (

This Is Why You Are Addicted to Your Phone

In practice, the habit loop might work like this:

1.  Your phone buzzes.  That’s the cue.

2.  You take your phone out and look at it.  That’s the routine.

3.  You get a dopamine hit from the new email.  That’s the reward.  Note that sometimes the email or notification you get isn’t meaningful to you.  But, because sometimes the notification might mean something, your brain still perceives it as a potential reward.

What important conversation have you interrupted so you could look at your phone?  Why?  (

The power of the habit loop is evident in the way many of us will interrupt virtually anything else going on in our lives to look at our phones when they buzz.  And it’s all because of the simple habit loop of cue, routine, and reward.


Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

Knowing this about habits, we are able to manipulate them to get the results we want.  In some ways, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous is all about replacing destructive habits with healthy ones.  (This is why coffee is an important part of so many AA meetings.  Coffee becomes part of a replacement habit loop.)

Here’s the truth: if you are intentional about your habits, you can change your life.


The Power of a Keystone Habit

When the first one falls, so do all the rest.... [

When the first one falls, so do all the rest….

The really interesting part of The Power of Habit is the discussion about so-called “Keystone Habits.”  A keystone habit is a simple habit that has effects that cascade into other aspects of an individual’s or a group’s life.

So, a keystone habits might be:

To think of it another way, a keystone habit is the first domino that falls and knocks down all the others with it.

So, a keystone habit in healthy families is having dinner together at home every evening.  That simple practice affects the relationship between the mom and the dad and the kids’ behavior in school and even their reading level.  It’s one domino that falls, knocking over a bunch of others.

A One Word Keystone Habit Guaranteed to Change Your Life

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  (Mark 1:35).  [My emphasis.]


The dawn is my favorite time of day.  Everything seems possible with each new day.  []

“Early” is a word that can change your life.

Early is about intentionally spending the first 15 minutes of your daybefore doing anything else–in silent prayer and scripture reading.

Early is shorthand for a keystone habit that will affect every other part of your life.  Guaranteed.


Don’t Start Your Day Being Reactive

Most of us start our day in this way:

1.  The alarm goes off.  (The cue.)

2.  We pick up our phone and check our email, or our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or turn on our preferred news channel, or check on an overnight sports score.  (The routine.)

3.  We get a hit of dopamine as we feel more connected and assure ourselves we haven’t missed out on anything.  (The reward.)

What’s so problematic about this habit is that it means that we are spending the first minutes of our day in a reactive rather than an active pose.



No Wonder We Are Such Anxious People

Do you really want to spend the first minutes you have every day seeing what someone else had for dinner or hearing another depressing headline about the world or worrying about your boss’s latest request?  Rather than being in control of your day, starting your day by checking headlines or email or social media accounts means you are immediately ceding control to someone or something else.

The Power of the First 15

Now, imagine the alternative.

1.  The alarm goes off.

2.  You get up and settle into your favorite chair or sit at the kitchen table or go on your front porch.  You deliberately cultivate a sense of gratitude at another day of life.  You think over the coming day’s appointments and pray for each of them.  You read a psalm or a portion of a scripture reading plan.  You pray for your family, your colleagues, your city.

3.  You shut your Bible, close your journal, take a deep breath, and start your day.

Can you imagine what could happen if you intentionally started every day like this?

Can you imagine how much more control and how much less anxiety you’d have throughout the day?

Don’t Worry If You’re Not a Morning Person

Everyone has to get up sometime.  Even if you aren’t a morning person, you can still wake up 15 minutes earlier than you would normally.  “Early” means to be deliberate about your first 15 minutes.  It doesn’t really matter when that 15 is.  If you work the night shift, your first 15 could be 4:00 PM.  What matters is that you spend your first 15 minutes in silence and scripture.

Don’t Worry If You’re Not a Religious Person

Even if you don’t believe in prayer or scripture, you can still do this.  Spend the first 15 minutes of your day thinking of all you have to be grateful for.

5 Steps to Life Change

  1. Create a morning routine.  Think deliberately through your cue, your routine, and your reward.  Maybe you need to set the coffee machine to be a part of your First 15.  For me, marking a big fat “X” on a paper calendar is surprisingly satisfying.
  2. Create an evening routine.  You need to prepare the night before for how you’ll spend your First 15 every day.  Lay out your Bible; set out your cereal bowl.  Whatever it is, your morning routine begins with an evening routine.
  3. Plan your time.  Don’t just get up and see what you want to do.  Rather, make a plan to follow a certain reading plan or to pray over a certain list of names or read an online devotional or to deliberately list all the gifts for which you are grateful that day, etc.
  4. Commit for 21 days.  Anyone can commit to the First 15 one day, but that’s not enough for the habit loop to affect your behavior.  Commit for three week no matter what and see what happens.
  5. Evaluate.  What’s working?  What’s not working?  If you are struggling to make the First 15 a habit, then you should reexamine your habit loop.  Is the cue not clear enough?  Is the routine not smooth enough?  Do you need a better reward?

Pushups Over Time

Following a habit once doesn’t make any difference; following a habit for weeks and months and years will change your life.  Doing 20 pushups today is irrelevant; doing 10 pushups a day for 100 days will radically alter your health.

Being deliberate with your First 15 once might not make a big difference, but even 3 weeks of practicing the “early” habit will make you into a different person.

What do you have to lose?

P.S.  Folks in my church are currently following a scripture reading plan called “Eat This Book.”  Today is the first day of a new book–we’re beginning Luke’s Gospel today.  Why not make a chapter of Luke’s Gospel part of your First 15 for the next 3 weeks?

What Trade-Off Do You Need to Make This Month?

As I’ve blogged about before, I use a paper calendar and a Sharpie marker to keep myself getting up early every morning and getting a workout in.  But since the end of August, I now use two calendars(!): one’s still my workout calendar, while the other is a scripture-reading calendar that’s part of the “Eat This Book” campaign in my church.  Here’s my scripture calendar for September:

photo 1

Pretty good, right?  (It doesn’t hurt that I’m trying to blog about the Eat This Book reading every day.  I did end up missing a few days last week; maybe I need a blogging calendar, too….)

September Is the Cruelest Month

Unfortunately, I’ve not been as consistent in working out.  In fact, September was my worst month so far this year.  Here’s my workout calendar for September:


What happened?  You could say that I became a lazy slob (and you wouldn’t be far wrong), but more specifically, here’s the truth: I didn’t make the trade-offs necessary to get a workout in every morning.

There Are Always Trade-offs

I read a book this summer that reminded me of a principle that I already knew but often choose to ignore: everything in life comes with a cost; everything requires a trade-off.  If you say “Yes” here, it means saying “No” there.  This principle obviously applies to time management, but it also applies to much bigger life choices.  And it’s a principle that the Israelites learned at the foot of Mount Sinai and that we can read about in Exodus 33.

What’s the Problem With A Little Jewelry?

While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites are having an idolatrous revel [Exodus 32].  They even make a golden calf and begin to worship it.  On returning, Moses is furious, has the golden calf  melted down and ground into dust, and then collects all the jewelry that the Israelites possess and forbids jewelry among the Israelites from that point forward [Exodus 33:4-6].  Why?  What’s the problem with Israelite jewelry?

Every “Yes” Requires a “No”

The Lord knew that if the Israelites kept their pagan gold and other jewelry, they would be tempted over and over again to idolatry, because the original golden calf was made out of the jewelry and ornaments the Israelites were wearing [cf. Exodus 32:1-3].  If the Israelites were going to turn from idolatry, they needed to make a clean break, and apparently even their jewelry might have been an occasion for sin and idolatry.

No Exceptions

There are always trade-offs, without exception.

  • Saying yes to your spouse means saying no to everyone else.  Marriage requires exclusivity and priority, or else it doesn’t work.
  • Saying yes to financial freedom at age 60 means saying no to the kind of expenses your friends are racking up in their 30s.
  • Saying yes to sobriety means saying no to hanging out with your bar-hopping friends.

There is no exception to the trade-off principle.  There are no short-cuts.

It’s a New Month

Today is October 1.  What new beginning can you make this month?  What trade-off can you intentionally make?  What are you going to have to give up in order to get something better?  Maybe it’s time to take off your pagan jewelry and throw it in the fire.  (You do understand that’s a metaphor, right?)


I got to bed really late last night and really didn’t want to get up at 5:00 AM this morning.  But more than I wanted to stay in bed, I wanted to have a series of black “X’s” in my calendar, and I wanted the first day of the month to be a good one.  So I traded a bit more sleep for something better this morning.  And here is what I have to show for it:

photo 2


So far so good.

Quiz! What’s Your Favorite Idol?

Are we modern, Western people really more advanced than the ancients?  We certainly believe we are.  This arrogance is one of the reasons modern Americans have such difficulty with the Bible; after all, we are advanced and advancing, and the Bible–particularly the Old Testament–is backwards and primitive.

It is true that we are an advanced people technologically–think of all the ways we can kill or display pornography!–but when it comes to idolatry, we are as prone to idol worship as the ancients.  Or more so.



Israel and the Golden Calf

We read in Exodus 32 of the golden calf that the Israelites made and worshipped while waiting for Moses to return from Mount Sinai.  Like so many of the stories in the Bible, the account of the golden calf seems remote and distant.  But that’s because we don’t understand what an idol is.

The Definition of an Idol

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller describes idolatry in this way:

What is an idol?  It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.  An idol has such controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.  It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving ‘face’ and social standing  It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry.  When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it ‘co-dependency’ but it is really idolatry.  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’  There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”  [Emphasis mine.]

Be Proud, O Modern

Idolatry isn’t something that we’ve grown out of; idolatry is something modern Western culture is perfecting.  The ancients would be astounded at the brazen boldness of our idolatry: we are worshipping idols of which they never dreamed.

Which Idol Did You Get?

J.A. Medders has a nice summary of Keller’s material on his blog, which I’ve excepted below.

Life Only Has Meaning/I Only Have Worth If….

  1. I have power and influence over others. (Power Idolatry)
  2. I am loved and respected by _____. (Approval Idolatry)
  3. I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life. (Comfort idolatry)
  4. I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____. (Control idolatry)
  5. People are dependent on me and need me. (Helping Idolatry)
  6. Someone is there to protect me and keep me safe. (Dependence idolatry)
  7. I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone. (Independence idolatry)
  8. I am highly productive and getting a lot done. (Work idolatry)
  9. I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work. (Achievement idolatry)
  10. I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions. (Materialism idolatry)
  11. I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities. (Religion idolatry)
  12. This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me. (Individual person idolatry)
  13. I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality. (Irreligion idolatry)
  14. My race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior. (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  15. A particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in. (Inner ring idolatry)
  16. My children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me. (Family idolatry)
  17. Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me. (Relationship Idolatry)
  18. I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt. (Suffering idolatry)
  19. My political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power. (Ideology idolatry)
  20. I have a particular kind of look or body image. (Image idolatry)

The Only Known Cure

The only known cure for idolatry: faith, hope, and love.


Is God Nice?

The conventional wisdom is that God is just like a religious Santa Claus: nice, gentle, and tame.  In other words, a God totally unknown to the Israelites.

Descent from Mount Sinai (Sistine Chapel), by Cosimo Rosselli (1481).  (Credit: wikipedia.)

Descent from Mount Sinai (Sistine Chapel), by Cosimo Rosselli (1481). [Credit: wikipedia.]

The Israelites Were Afraid at Sinai

In Exodus 19 we read of the intense preparations the Israelites take before the theophany on Mt. Sinai.  This is the first contact the ordinary Israelites have ever had with the Lord, and they are terrified.

And So Is Everyone Else

Terror is actually the universal sentiment in scripture when ever anyone meets with God or his angels.  Even in the New Testament, the human response to a theophany (a divine appearance) is always fear:

  • Remember the shepherds in Luke’s account of Christmas, keeping watch over their flocks by night?  The first thing the angel of the Lord says to them is “Fear not!” [Luke 2:10].
  • On the Mount of Transfiguration, even Peter is terrified at the temporary vision he, James, and John are given of the true nature of Jesus.  When they hear the voice of God, they fall to the ground in terror [Matthew 17:6].
  • On the road to Damascus, Paul also falls to the ground in fear after hearing the voice of the risen Christ [Acts 9:4].

Scripture is clear: the majesty of God is terrible to behold.

Her Majesty is Not Amused



We should not be surprised that divine majesty is as serious as something can be.  Even 21st century interactions with human majesty require clear protocol and produce respect and solemnity.  Consider the rules that even the American President has to observe when he meets with Her Majesty.  For example, it is considered reprehensible to ever turn your back on the queen.  Why?  Because majesty provokes respect.


“All Rise”

The Supreme Court of the United States of America [credit: Wikipedia]

The Supreme Court of the United States of America [credit: Wikipedia]

We don’t have a king or queen in this country, but we do have the law, and the law is majestic and terrible.  The law has the power of life and death over the people.  When the judge enters the courtroom, everyone stands out of respect, not of the person of the judge, but of the law which the judge represents.  Only God is greater than the law.

God is Not Tame

It shouldn’t be surprising that a divine appearance is terrible.  Moses was right to prepare the people.  Any God worth the title is by definition greater than anyone of whom we can conceive.  Our pop culture versions of the Santa Claus God betray our lack of honest imagination.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, God is good, but he is not tame.

No, it’s not surprising that God is terrible and majestic.  But do you know what is surprising?

[Credit:  (I know--weird place for a baby pic.)]

That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth [John 1:14].

The Incarnation?  That’s surprising in the best possible way.

How I Get Things Done

Moses gets productive in Exodus 18.  (I know I was supposed to write about Exodus 18 yesterday, but I have a big presentation to make every Sunday morning in front of hundreds of people; dear reader, please forgive.)  Since I don’t have anything interesting to say about Exodus 18, let’s talk about productivity.  Almost ten years ago, a friend of mine gave me a book that has been more influential in how I do my work then anything else I’ve ever read or learned in school.  The book was David Allen’s 2001 bestseller Getting Things Done.

GTD, Baby

Here’s the idea behind the Getting Things Done methodology (GTD for folks in the know):

  • you have lots of inputs coming at you all day every day, and you need a way to capture, process, and act on all that data;
  • GTD gives you a process to do that.

Capture Everything

One of David Allen’s tips is to learn never to keep anything in your head, but to write everything down.  I follow this advice obsessively: as soon as I think of anything, I write it down.  I use Omnifocus on the Mac and iOS devices, keep small notepads everywhere, and even carry a small pocket notebook a pocket spacepen with me everywhere.

My trusty pocket notebook and space pen.

My trusty pocket notebook and space pen.

The Weekly Review

Around every seven days or so, David Allen recommends a “weekly review,” i.e., a time when you sit quietly and look over your calendar and review all incomplete projects and next action lists.  I try to keep a weekly review on Monday mornings (I’m off on Mondays) and when I do that, my week seems much more manageable and less stressful.

Go For It

If Moses needed a system for productivity, so do you.  If you are having trouble keeping your commitments, answering all your email (you know who you are), or sleeping soundly at night, GTD might be for you.

When Folks Aren’t Strong Enough

Moses needed to rely on the support of other people.  And so does everyone else.

"Joshua fights Amalek (1625) []

“Joshua fights Amalek” (1625) []

In Exodus 17 we read of a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites:

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” [Exodus 17:10-12].

I love that image: Moses, too weak to stand on his own power, supported by Aaron and Hur.

Lifting Up Those Who Can’t Stand Alone

Several weeks ago in my church, our music director Kate Miner referenced this passage.  We were talking in church about the persecuted church in Mosul and elsewhere in the Middle East, and Kate said, “Just as in the scriptures when Moses needed other people to lift him up, it’s our job today to lift up our brothers and sisters in Iraq who are facing persecution because of their faith.”

That thought really struck me: it is my job to intercede and lift up others who may be too weak to do it for themselves.  Certainly that applies to the persecuted church in the Middle East and worldwide, but also to folks who are struggling in my community.

Who can you lift up in prayer today?

You Can’t Understand Jesus Without Exodus

Once you have the eyes to see, you realize that virtually everything Jesus said and did came out of the religious heritage of Israel.  Even the things that seem to be farthest from Judaism and most central to Christianity often are a recasting or an allusion to what we call the Old Testament.  The Lord’s Prayer, for example, is drawing upon Exodus 16.

Manna from Heaven; Maciejowski Bible, 13th century. (credit:

Manna from Heaven; Maciejowski Bible, 13th century. (credit:

After coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites faced forty years of wandering in the desert.  But, the Lord provided.  Each day (excluding the seventh day, the Sabbath),  the Lord made provision for “thin flakes like frost on the ground…It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (16:14,31).  The Israelites called this strange food manna.

God provided manna every day, but if the people gathered more than they needed for the day, it rotted.  The Israelites learned, therefore, to trust God for each day’s provision.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” he was reminding them of the manna God provided in the wilderness.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God to give us what we need to make it through the day: nothing more, nothing less.

What’s the Oldest Verse in the Bible?

It should be obvious that events don’t have to be written down in the order in which they occur.  You could, for example, have two books on your shelf: a book about the Revolutionary War, published in 2014, and a book about the Vietnam War, published in 1986.  The older book is the one about the more recent event.  And, just because a book is a new publication about an old event does not mean that the book is unreliable.  For example, the book in question could reliably be based on firsthand accounts; you could have a book about the Revolutionary War, published in 2014, that is based on George Washington’s letters.  In short, the date of the account and the date of the event accounted do not have to go together.

"Parting of the Red Sea," by Julia Kuo (

“Parting of the Red Sea,” by Julia Kuo (

The same principle applies to the Bible.  For example, most scholars believe that some of the letters of Paul such as 1 Thessalonians and Philippians were written earlier than the Gospels, even though the Gospels tell of events that happened earlier than the letters of Paul.  (There were certainly earlier accounts of the life of Jesus that the Gospel writers used when composing their works, but these early works are lost to history.)

Whoever it was who wrote down Exodus in the form in which we have it–tradition says it was Moses, but we cannot know for sure–whoever it was certainly did not write it down while the events he (or she) describes were actually happening.  Only after the fact, when the Israelites were free and clear, would anyone have had time or inclination to record the experiences of the Exodus.  Which is why I find Exodus 15:21 so fascinating.

The Oldest Verse in the Bible

In Exodus 15, we read a brief little poem that some scholars believe is the oldest poem in the Bible:

20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them:

‘Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.’”

Exodus 15:21 is called “Miriam’s Song,” and some scholars believe it is a victory song that comes from the time immediately after the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Red Sea.   In other words, Miriam’s song in Exodus 15;21 could be the spontaneous song of victory that the Israelite women burst into after realizing that they were free at last!

How cool is that?

Did the Red Sea Event Happen?

The miraculous parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14 is one of the most dramatic events in all the pages of scripture.  It is also, for many people, a stumbling block: they read about the walls of water on either side of the Israelites as they pass through on dry ground and think, “This is why I’m not religious–how could anyone believe this stuff?”  So, did it actually happen?  What are modern, thinking people supposed to think?

"Parting of the Red Sea," by Julia Kuo (

“Parting of the Red Sea,” by Julia Kuo (

I Can’t Prove the Red Sea Event Happened

I can’t prove to you that Moses stretched out his hand and that the Lord then drove the waters apart, turning the sea into dry land (14:21).  But, even without “proof,” this miracle (and other Old Testament miracles) don’t worry me, and I’m able to accept them as spiritually formative and important indicators of the power and nature of God.

And Natural Explanations Don’t Work For Me

Any explanations that use the natural to explain the miraculous, along the lines of “maybe there was a strong wind that made the waters part in just that way?” don’t really work, because this is a miracle, and miracles are, by definition, supposed to be supernatural.  Ancient people knew how the world worked, and they knew that large bodies of water don’t just part and allow people to walk between the walls of water.  In fact, that’s the reason the Red Sea event is such a big deal: it was considered out of the ordinary course of events, a miracle.  So, the Connecticut-Yankee-in-King-Arthur’s-Court sort of explanation just doesn’t work for me.

Instead, I Start with Jesus

I don’t start with Old Testament miracles.  I start with Jesus.  Jesus trusted the Old Testament (the only scriptures that existed in his lifetime) in his devotional and worship life.  We know this because he quotes from the Old Testament extensively, even quoting from the Psalms when he’s on the cross: the Hebrew scriptures were central to his life.  Jesus also references Moses several times.  This means to me that Jesus received and accepted the Hebrew scriptures as formative and important.  If he didn’t need to worry with historicity–i.e., did this actually happen?–then neither do I.

And I Believe That the Resurrection Is Plausible

If Jesus is risen from the dead, then I can accept his word about everything.  If he accepts the Old Testament as formative and important, than so can I.

But If Jesus Stayed Dead, Then Who Cares?

If Easter morning didn’t happen, then who cares what Exodus says about the Red Sea?  But if it did happen, then I can accept the Old Testament miracles as spiritually nourishing and important and not get caught up in some kind of modernist obsession with proving that they happened.  Because, if Christ is risen, then there is nothing God can’t do.

What do you think?


What I Did on My Summer Vacation (And You Can, Too!) [#EatThisBook – Exodus 12-13]

Even though I only work one (half) day a week, it’s still good for me to get away on vacation from time to time.  My family was blessed to do a fair among of traveling this summer, including a European Grand Tour.  In the last few months we’ve been through several European countries and a few different states, but wherever we went, we made sure to do one thing, no matter what.  The one thing we did is easy for you to do, too, dear reader, and the best part is, you have my money-back guarantee® that this one thing will change your life….

My wife Elaine and I, having hiked through Partnach Gorge, outside of Garmisch-Partenskirchen, Germany.

My wife Elaine and I, having hiked through Partnach Gorge, outside of Garmisch-Partenskirchen, Germany.

We went to church.

I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really true: we actually went to church while we were on vacation!

This summer we visited:

  • a charismatic non-denominational church in Oxford, England;
  • an African Methodist church in Munich, Germany;
  • a Roman Catholic mass–in Flemish!–in the beautiful Church of Our Lady in Bruges, Belgium (I was lost during the sermon but was able to follow the communion liturgy pretty well);
  • an American Baptist church on Cape Cod, MA;
  • and a small Methodist church in my wife’s small Virginia hometown.

The experiences I had while worshipping in other churches are among my favorite memories from what was a great summer.

Moses Creates a New Holiday

In my church, we are in the midst of a 90 scripture reading campaign called Eat This Book.  We’re currently reading through the book of Exodus, and today read the passage in which Passover is instituted as an annual ritual of remembrance for the Israelites.  (I’m supposedly blogging each day about that day’s assigned chapter, but today’s post is a combined post of Exodus 12 and 13.)

This is a licensed image from the Minimum Bible by Joseph Novak.  Do not use without permission.

This is a licensed image from the Minimum Bible project by Joseph Novak. Do not use without permission.

One idea struck me in the instructions Moses gives the people regarding the Passover: the Passover is to help the Israelites remember.

24You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26And when your children ask you, “What do you mean by this observance?” 27you shall say, “It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.” ’ And the people bowed down and worshipped…. (Exodus 12:24-17)

8You shall tell your child on that day, “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” 9It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt…. (Exodus 13:8-9)

14When in the future your child asks you, “What does this mean?” you shall answer, “By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, theLord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.” 16It shall serve as a sign on your hand and as an emblem on your forehead that by strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:14-16)

The Passover is to be observed yearly, so that every generation will learn and remember that the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought them out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.  They are to remember who they are and whose they are.

Some Things Don’t Change

If you know anything about the Old Testament, you’ll know that the Israelites are in constant danger of forgetting their unique heritage and instead returning to the slavery of false gods.

I’m not an ancient Israelite, but I am just as prone to forgetting my identity as they were, perhaps more so.  Our culture is a culture obsessed with getting and spending, and it’s a culture that is doing everything possible to make me believe that I am nothing but a consumer.  Worship, then, becomes a way of remembering that we are more than just consumers.  I appreciate how Walter Brueggemann puts it:

The biblical community of faith is a community of memory, working at its precious identity in a culture devoted to amnesia.  The market forces that encourage a consumer consciousness are largely controlled by ideology that wants to abandon the past and forsake the future in order to live in the absolute “now.”  Those who neither remember nor hope are profoundly vulnerable to consumerism, busy filling the void left be eradication of that extra dimension of historical awareness that belongs to healthy humanness.  Thus when the community says, “This do in remembrance,” it is not engaged in a mere history lesson or a simple act of piety.  It is, rather, engaged in an act of resistance against an ideology that will destroy any Passover-driven humanness.”

Weekly worship is a necessary reminder that you and are I not merely consumers.  More than that, weekly worship reminds us, that contrary to how things often seem, God is in control and fear is always a lie.  Those are messages I need to hear at least once a week.

So, you need to be in church every week.  Otherwise, how will you remember the truth?

The English-language African Methodist church we visited in Munich. (credit:

The English-language African Methodist church we visited in Munich. (credit:

Three Things I Remember Every Time I Go to Church

The following lessons are available to me every week in my home church, but for some reason they were made more clear to me as my family visited other churches this summer, thousands of miles away.

When I go to church:

  • I remember that it’s not about me.  Most of my life I think mostly about me.  (May God heal me from self-obsession.)  But on Sunday morning, in church, I’m reminded otherwise as I sing, pray, and think about the Lord.  I’m not at the center of reality.  It’s good to remember that.
  • I remember that I’m not the only one.  When I worship with other Christians with whom I have nothing in common except faith in the Lord, I am always encouraged: there are people all over the world, in all kinds of languages, who are walking this journey with me.
  • I remember that Christ is risen from the grave.  It’s been a summer of evil headlines, and it’s easy to lose hope and become world-weary.  But on Sundays I’m reminded that the same Lord who heard the cry of the Israelites and brought them out of slavery in Egypt is the same Lord who was crucified and raised from the dead and the same Lord who promises that he has overcome the world and that ultimately we have nothing to fear.

So, that’s what I did on vacation this summer: I went to church.  (At least on Sundays, not the other days of the week.  I mean, I’m not religious about it.)

You should try it.  It will change your life.  I guarantee it®.