The Four Prisoners or slaves, as they are called, are massive sculptures in various phases of completion. Intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo was commissioned in 1505 and began the work. Before it was completed, the project was defunded.

[Photo from Academia Gallery in Florence]

Some argue that he intentionally didn’t complete them. The Academia’s website says: “As we see them, in various stages of completion, they evoke the enormous strength of the creative concept as they try to free themselves from the bonds and physical weight of the marble. It is now claimed that the artist deliberately left them incomplete to represent this eternal struggle of human beings to free themselves from their material trappings.”

The statutes as a group speak so deeply to me. In some ways they speak of the desperate plight of life without Christ, as the quote above says – “they try to free themselves” and the “eternal struggle of human beings to free themselves from their material trappings”, but they also speak of the promise of freedom by the only one who can set the captives free.

The first prisoner, the youthful slave shows his arm covering his face, as though to hide his shame and despair;

The Awakening Slave appears to be deeply experiencing the bondage and seems to be writhing and straining to get free from the bondage that holds him captive;

The Bound Slave upholds a huge weight over his body and his head has not yet emerged from the stone. He is experiencing a great struggle to emerge. He seems to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders!

Finally, The Bearded Slave appears to be the most finished, the farthest along in his journey toward completion, the most mature, if you will. But still caught – still unfinished.

Do you see the parallels? It is only the Hand of the Creator who can complete the work of freeing the slaves from their prisons. And that includes you. And me. Isaiah 61:1-2 which contains part of Jesus’ job description says:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners… (NIV)

(see also Luke 4:18)

I want to leave you with this amazing promise out of Philippians 1:6: “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

I wish we could all sit down over a cup of coffee and explore these amazing sculptures. But since we can’t, what are your thoughts? Which one most fully describes You? How do these amazing sculptures speak to your condition? Please comment below so we can all benefit and grow.

Also, John-dear and I would appreciate your thoughts on, how are we doing? Are you seeing Him show up in your life? Do you have any suggestions for articles that you’d like to see?


I recently read or heard that we are just learning to crack the communication code between whales and how they “speak” to one another. That got me to thinking along a different line – the whole idea of how God communicates with us. Sounds crazy, but stay with me on this…

So with whales, researchers have developed some interesting theories. For example,

  • Whale-sounds travel by echolocation (the same way bats communicate). Sound waves move along the water and echoes back to the whale that sent them;
  • Whales create small pods (groups who travel together) who have various and possibly unique ways of communicate with each other;
  • Each pod communicates differently;
  • Researchers have noted that the communication of whales in captivity is different than those in the wild;
  • Whales sing “songs” that can last up to 30 minutes that may communicate various things to other whales;

  • John-dear threw in his two cents worth by telling me that we can’t hear all the ways whales communicate because some sound waves are below our human threshold of hearing. That’s interesting.

If we could communicate with whales, we could speak to them of things they might understand – like plankton, fish, water, ocean. But I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t understand some other concepts like laptops, football or baked potatoes. Or, if they could communicate with us, they might tell us great and mighty things. Job 12:7-8 says, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you.” What do they know that we don’t? What has God whispered in the depths of the sea that could teach us more about Him?

In Job 12:22, we learn, “He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light.” And in Romans 11:33 we see, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! I don’t know about you, but sometimes these things perplex me. God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding are so far above our ability to see, hear and understand. Communication with Him seems nearly impossible. It’s like a Ph.D. trying to explain the theory of relativity to a toddler – or to me. Probably not going to happen.

But then, we underestimate God’s heart for us. Because He sent His Son, Jesus. Jesus came to teach us how to communicate with God and with ‘our pod’. He used stories, parables, observation and example. In Matthew 11:27, Jesus said, “My Father entrusted everything to Me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son AND anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” This tells me that He wants to reveal and speak to us.

I’m not a whale-researcher, but I have a theory or two of my own. I believe that God deeply desires community with us and stoops every day to speak. I believe as we learn to walk in His ways, His Spirit who is our guide, reveals His truth, His words, in ways we can understand. And I think that to believe God is too far above us to even want to communicate makes Him too small. So, I keep expecting Him to show up because, among other things, He says, “I will never leave you or forsake you; I am with you always, even to the end of the age; I will send you the Comforter who will guide you into all truth…”

So, what’s your take on this whole whale’s tale?

(some of the above info gleaned from Whale World, http://www.whale-world.com/whale-communication/)


There is a little secret about me that not many people know about. In my reading, when I come upon the topic dealing with this secret, my heart races, my ears perk up and I grab a pen, ready to extract any information I can…

My secret? I am interested in military strategy or the strategy of war. John-dear doesn’t share my love of war movies where I pick up some of these strategies, thus I sometimes watch them without him. I always learn something about life – not just the human interest part of the story, though I am often moved by the depths of sacrifice people will give for the sake of freedom. I’m looking for things like, ‘How do they do it?’, ‘How can they stand firm in the midst of such destruction and pain?’, ‘What resources do these men and women have that I lack in my own life?’ and ‘How do they not turn on one another in the chaos of battle?’ And I see parallels between physical warfare and spiritual warfare. I want freedom too and in many ways, I have to answer the same questions.

The Bible warns that in this life we will have tribulation and persecution. We are given various weapons of war to help us stand firm. There are hundreds of stories and examples to learn from. The journey of the Israelites to the land God promised and the establishment of the land is filled with stories of hardships and giants, territory to conquer and strongholds to knock down. Sounds rather like our journey, don’t you think?

One example is from Judges. I have always loved the angel’s view of Gideon in Judges 6:12. When he called out, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!’, I picture Gideon furtively looking around the valley floor to see who else is there. It certainly didn’t seem to describe Gideon, hiding from the enemy at the bottom of the threshing floor, but God is not bound by who Gideon appeared to be. God always sees beyond – calling forth from each of us something we probably don’t even see or realize lies within us.

Gideon looked like and acted like a terrified farmer hiding in the valley from the Midianites who made continual raids into the land. The passage reveals his belief that he was a nobody (6:15). But that’s not what God saw. Gideon was created for so much more. Gideon needed a reboot in order to see himself as God saw him. God had to bring him out of the shadows of who he thought he was, into God’s light so he could get a burst of reality. Are you tracking with me on this?

While Gideon focused on his weaknesses (uh, ok – I’m with him in this), God saw his potential. The Apostle Paul teaches us that our weaknesses are actually our strengths in God’s eyes. God opens the door at our very point of inability and weakness and steps in. As the story goes on, Gideon gathers an army together to fight the Midianites but his army was outnumbered big time (32,000 to 135,000). By focusing on his weakness and the disparity in the numbers, Gideon was sure to fail. And, then, to make matters worse, God told him, “Your army is too big. Send some guys home.” Uh-no. But as Gideon obeys and ends up with 400 stalwart souls to face an army of 135,000, God received the glory! The battle belongs to the Lord! And isn’t this how God comes sometimes? We look at our situation, our paltry resources, our anemic abilities and we throw up our hands in defeat. But God…

And this is when we have to learn to stand on the promises of God in His Word and stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us who finished the race. I often feel the same weakness and despair I think Gideon must have felt. I need wisdom and prayer and the knowledge that others are standing firm with me. I’m not going down! With His help, I will continue to stand. Is anybody with me in this?

I love this picture of Finishing Strong. It so shows the outcome of the battle, doesn’t it? Ron DiCianni is one of my very favorite artists. I encourage you to go to his website (below) and look at some of his art and consider purchasing something. We have several pieces in our home. His way of painting is how I want to write and communicate. I am always encouraged by him.



Please join us as we launch our new blog, Stories From the King’s Agenda, a welcoming place to go to see God’s Hand at work in and around our lives.

This inaugural blog entry is dedicated to pastors and staff workers everywhere who serve Christ from their hearts (and heads). We recently attended the retirement celebration of our former pastors, Mark and Jeanne Hopper, of Diamond Bar Evangelical Free Church. Along with a few others (over 400), we were able to bless them with our prayers and our presence. There were lots of “Mark and Jeanne” stories shared around tables that night. I’m sharing mine with all of you in the hope that you will share your loving stories about your pastors and staff members.

Oh, and while you’re at it – today’s my birthday. Would you consider (in lieu of gifts and money!!!) subscribing to the blog? John and I plan to create something for our community once a week and you’ll get notified via email if you join the community.

Dear Mark and Jeanne,

There are some things that can’t be told in a card – and I have never been known for lack of words. So, to honor you, I want to tell you a story. You both have been so much more than pastors to our church – you have been friends and you have been comforters, servants and teachers to all of us.

My most cherished story comes from an event in 1997. My mom had cancer and had just gone through an experimental surgery at Loma Linda Hospital. She had been in the hospital for an astounding 14 weeks and was slated to be released the following week. I got a call the Friday afternoon before her hoped for release and they told me, “You need to come and you need to bring your family. Your mom has taken a turn for the worse.” My sister was out of town, so I called my dad and my brother and told them they needed to get to Loma Linda. I did the same, but not before calling the prayer chain at church and asking that “Pastor Mark and Jeanne be called.”

Arriving at the hospital before my dad, I was being presented with a confusing array of decisions … to handle alone. While standing at the nurses desk, one of the nurses answered the phone and then asked, “Does anyone here know a Pastor Mark?” With a sense of relief, I was handed the phone and we talked. You said the elders were praying, everyone was with me in this, and did I need you to come? Being the brave (!!!?) soul that I am, I said I was fine. It was Friday night, traffic was awful and you needed to stay home and pray. We ended the call with a short prayer.

As the evening wore on, I sent my dad and brother home and said I would stay. I remember the waiting room was packed as a young man from Rim of the World High School had been shot in some type of argument. Parents and students alike filled the room. The only place I could find to sit was against the wall on the floor of the hallway. And I felt bereft and alone in the journey. As I sat there praying and waiting, I looked up to see a familiar face walking toward me. It was you, Mark. You said you and Jeanne thought it best that you come.

I recall the feeling of being covered and cared for and even now, so many years later, I find myself weeping as I write this. Through the long night you sat on the floor across from me and we talked about theology and Jesus; and we prayed. In the early morning hours, you asked if I wanted you to stay and I joked about what the congregation would think and suggested I was now ok. You got up, hugged me and headed home. My mom lived through that encounter and had several more months of life.

And I learned what a Pastor’s heart was all about. Thank you for that and for so much more. We miss you both in ways we never could have imagined. And I’m afraid, you will always be our pastor, Mark, though we live over an hour away. Thank you for all of the bedside stories God has given you both; thank you for your obedience and walking beside a hurting congregation; thank you for your vision and insight (even when I disagreed with it); thank you for your gracious forgiveness and reception; thank you for loving the unlovely (of which I am foremost), and thank you for so very much grace poured out on soul after soul through your years of service here.

With much love and gratitude,