Tuesday, August 25

Ever lose your ax head?

2 Kings 6: 1-6

One day the group of prophets came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, this place where we meet with you is too small. Let’s go down to the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs. There we can build a new place for us to meet.”

”All right,” he told them, “go ahead.”

“Please come with us,” someone suggested.

“I will,” he said.

So he went with them. When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees. But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river.

“Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed ax!”

“Where did it fall?” the man of God asked.

When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface.

“Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.

As a missionary working with tools, I can think of many times my ax head flew off the stick and hit the water with a big bloopy plunk.

Once, during a hot day in the Tabernas desert shooting a scene for “Anthony,” I was prepping an area that had a large date palm leaf hanging low enough to obstruct the camera. I ran up to the spiny branch armed with my machete, which I had just purchased for such an occasion. Knowing the entire crew was watching and waiting on me, a grabbed the leaf and quickly started hacking at the root.

WhackWhackWhackWhack. Nothing. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. Nada. “Is that just a prop machete you picked up by mistake?” someone shouted. I whacked harder to drown out the comments. After ten minutes of chopping into this healthy green branch the size of my wrist, I was able to amputate that stubborn desert plant.

However, something else was happening during those ten minutes. I had buried my father two weeks prior. I was now running from location to location alone on a different continent with wagon loads of pottery, canvas shelter halves, wooden poles, woven mats, rugs, etc… in the desert heat trying to stay ahead of the camera crew so they could walk into the next location and find another complete “desert father” set. I was unaware of just how physically and emotionally exhausted I had become. So, when I was halfway into date palm chopping, I started seeing red. That rage crescendo became my fuel and strength. With a final WHACK, I ripped the date palm branch down. Eyes were upon me.

An unwise colleague standing a bit close cocked his head and asked me “did you even sharpen that thing?” I looked at his wrist. “About the size of that date palm branch,” I thought to myself, preparing to fly off the handle.

Deuteronomy 19: 4-6

Now this is the case of the man-slayer who may flee there and live: when he kills his friend unintentionally, not hating him previously—as when a man goes into the forest with his friend to cut wood, and his hand swings the ax to cut down the tree, and the iron head slips off the handle and strikes his friend so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live; otherwise the avenger of blood might pursue the man-slayer in the heat of his anger, and overtake him, because the way is long, and take his life, though he was not deserving of death since he had not hated him previously.

Realizing I had lost my (ax) head, and man-slaying was not an option, I was still somehow able to hand my colleague the very sharp tool–handle first–and turn back into the desert to see if God could fix me.

The river Jordan is a locus of spirituality. The ax head is an ancient symbol of judgment. The prophet Elisha threw a wooden branch into that river, showing that the Cross would remove the judgment from the flowing river of grace.

So, did God fix me, this weak missionary tool? He is. Everyday.

Tuesday, July 28

hiding in Plain Sight

 Are you reading this on a phone? Or a tablet? I think it is remarkable that today the Bible, videos, testimonies, and messages of the Gospel are at our fingertips – literally – on screens in our pockets. 

In the last few months, as we’ve had to do so much interaction on screens for meetings, for church, even for socializing, I can’t help but think about the closed places in the world. Going to church is not an option in many parts of the world. I’ve heard tales of many restricted countries where people are meeting and getting discipleship via media platforms. That makes my heart happy that they get community and they get nourished. With the restrictions of the last few months, we’ve had a taste of that – without the persecution our brothers and sisters in Asia, the Sudan or Iran may be experiencing.

In these days of phones in pockets, I love the idea that in spite of all the government restrictions people live under they may be reading the Bible or watching a discipleship video while sitting in the middle of a crowded cafe by looking at their device. The Gospel is hiding in plain sight! 

We are working on a new and even smaller HopeBox device to be in pockets of workers in these closed places to share Gospel message content onto more screens in more ways and in more languages. These will be hiding - yes - in plain sight!

Wednesday, May 27

My how times have changed!

My Mother, Phillis, recently revealed a closeted secret. When she was a young girl growing up in Prim, Arkansas, sometimes the family would skip church Sunday nights to watch “Country Hoedown” on TV.

This was no small event. The vibrant, Holiness church they attended was located just down the street, and everybody knew everybody in that tiny town. People would notice. Skipping an evening service could lead to jean-wearing, hair-bobbing and… TV watching!

Televisions were bad news in Prim. My grandparents hid theirs in the closet during the daylight hours. But when the hot Arkansas sun would set, the window blinds would remain closed, the closet door would be swung open and that TV would be switched on. A towel would be placed on the windowsill so the flickering blue sin light of the TV could not be seen by any of the righteous acquaintances that drove past.

Fast forward 66 years or so. Last Monday I watched a recorded live-stream of that same Holiness congregation on my flickering computer monitor. It was their second attempt to reach out to their coronavirus quarantined congregation, and I was cheering them on. The camera seemed bolted to the floor somewhere behind the second pew, and a not quite HD lockdown shot was wide enough to include the drums, piano, pulpit, and altar. But let me tell you, I was proud of them. The power of their devotion still ran through a live wire. The Preacher was on fire and the music, led by my second cousin was soulful. He belted the verses out like time had stood still. In fact, the only thing that seems to have changed was that I was able to watch THEM on my iMac Retina 5K, 27-inch colored sin light!

Wednesday, April 15

Wow, Easter was different this year!

Churches around the world were empty, BUT the church is very much alive! Media has become THE tool of communicating this message of love and hope to so many who are searching during this global crisis.

So, we are deep into post-production for The Heritage Project stories. We are so glad you continue to stand with us in this, so we continue to move forward to put Jesus’ stories on Every Screen even during quarantine! The urgency to release these stories has never been greater. 

I made this quick video on my phone earlier this winter, as I’m sure you can tell. I saw people worshipping saints at coffins in an orthodox catacomb. I could see how important it is to recognize the power of the resurrection! We recognize that our object of worship is to be Christ and he is not in a tomb! https://vimeo.com/395208261

Seeing this worship by glass coffins, made me think about Anthony. He is one of our legacy stories in The Heritage Project Season 2. He knew that we had to be intentional to follow God. Many people followed him into the desert in his devotion and dedication. Later, this would become the idea of monasteries. Anthony was acutely aware of the human tendency to worship something instead of God. He lived to a very old age and didn’t want his body to become revered. But where he spent his ending days has become a shrine in Egypt. We’ve made an effort in The Heritage Project to tell about the real man, without legends or myths, so people today will understand the importance for each of us to follow Christ – Christ alone.

“If we make every effort to avoid death of the body, still more should it be our endeavor to avoid death of the soul.” Anthony of Egypt.

Thursday, March 5

Reflections on Religious Practice

 I did this video and thought I'd share it here too.

It was one of those moments where it just hit me how important it is to be following Christ and not just religious practices. People were singing at glass coffins of Orthodox saints. As someone who grew up without formal traditions, I found this disturbing. I truly thought I was going to visit a historic site. I was so surprised to find that it was an active religious site and even more that people worship by coffins. The interesting thing is we as humans gravitate to certain lists that we want to check off to say, yes, I did my religious duty and I"m okay now. Christ calls us to a much different kind of "practice" - giving up self, taking up the cross and following him. This gets real when we have to love our neighbor as ourself, right?! Hope you are able to dig deep into what God's hope means to your day in and day out existence.

Wednesday, July 3

We Are Warriors
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again. Who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
It is not a long stretch to relate missions to the military life. Military mottos, taken from around the world, can apply and fit our passion: “To Liberate the Oppressed.” “Who Dares, Wins.” “So Others May Live.” “Always Dominate the Heights.” “By Strength and Guile.” And my unofficial favorite, “When circumstance closes a door, breach the wall and walk in like a Boss.”
What media production day does not demand strategy, planning, and endurance? 
We are encouraged by fellow believers who tell us we are “elite” and on the “front lines.” We are treated like heroes in Missions conventions. These are good things, as they fortify us as we strive to accomplish the expectations and live up to the ideals of the title. But consider these two quotes for a little bit of levity: 
“There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys (and girls), it is all hell” ~ General William Tecumseh Sherman
"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier." ~ General Napoleon Bonaparte
“Build me a son, Oh Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.” ~ General Douglas MacArthur
I have found that saying “Yes” to God’s call to serve in missions has led me to some strange proving grounds. Crawling under barbed-wire in the mud with live rounds above you? I could find a missionary metaphor for that, and other things, like running up hills till you want to throw up breakfast and eating bugs for lunch. See how it fits? However, what has shocked me is how God reaches way, way back into our lives and salvages the skills we would choose to forget, skills we learned living in a broken world in a broken system. 
What is that terrible skill you have? I learned at a young age to walk quietly and steadily through emotionally overloaded environments, maybe not seeing God in the situation, but knowing He had my back. I also learned perseverance while carrying a full pack through a religious swamp of conditional love, and refusing to give up because the God who slogged with me never left.
Let us not despise the days of our youth, but see God’s hand in our strivings, salvaging our earlier testings and conditioning our spirits for the days when we have to breach the walls for the Kingdom of God and set the captives free.

Wednesday, February 27


Last week, we drove 4 hours to the coast where we would shoot a big part of three of The Heritage stories. During that drive, one of our vans got a flat tire. I am very thankful we have proper insurance and the driver (a volunteer only here to help with logistics during the shoot) was able to get to the side of the road safely. I'm also thankful, that a person who lives in Spain was in the van. (We didn’t plan that. It just worked out!) He was able to communicate with the insurance company and tow truck about where they were and what they needed. But, he didn’t speak English. Thankfully, again, an American volunteer in the van was able to translate for the English speakers so everyone could understand what was happening as they waited on the side of the road. Whew! Lots of terrific coincidences — these were truly God providing for a hard moment. They got back on the road with only an hour and a half lost. Whew!

I was in another vehicle, but I was worried. That van had all the racks to hang up costumes. Thank goodness no one was hurt and everyone stayed in good spirits.

Then, NO, NO, NO, another flat tire!! Are kidding me? We checked this all out before we left home. A different person was behind the wheel but again was able to safely gets to the side of the road. Having a tire blow out can be dangerous, but God kept them safe. Only now, it is much later in the day. No one was open to make the repair.

In missions, flexibility is the key, but boy, were we being tested. There were too many people in the van for one taxi. So, they had to call two to get them to our destination. The van and all the clothing racks would have to be left in another city until the following day.

Back at the shooting site, we took advantage of a kitchen in the back of our Roman court set and hung costumes from weird oven racks. It wasn’t ideal, but God made a way.

Taxi #2 had another passenger. She, too, had gotten a flat tire. This taxi seemed to get quite lost. It took them one hour longer to complete the drive than Taxi #1. During that extra hour, our team members chatted with the other passenger – an English speaking woman. They led her back to God. She had wandered away from God, but during this ride, she recommitted her life back to Him and made new friends.

Leave it to God to use THREE flat tires to orchestrate the right moment to talk to someone who needed Him.