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.



Gardening has come to me late – but through pursuing it, I have experienced a whole new series of God-sightings. I was recently down in the garden checking on some new seeds and plants I put in a few weeks ago. It’s late for summer gardening, but hey, So Cal and all that stuff! My prior batch of beans birthed from seeds didn’t do much. Out of the 15 or so planted in early summer, one lone bean plant came up and latched on to the trellis.

The bean plant looked pretty sick throughout the whole of its short journey. But it seemed to have a perseverance and a tenaciousness that appealed to me. (I love over-comers!) The plant slowly climbed the trellis, giving off an occasional bean or two – never enough to really call a ‘harvest’. I picked it and threw it in with other veggies I was serving. We never got to enjoy a full plate of green beans from the garden this summer. Hardly enough for a taste! (John-dear was happy – it is his most disliked vegetable)

But just recently, I got a glimpse of its whole reason for bean (pun intended). While checking on the new plants, I noticed that one enterprising young bean plant somehow connected with the weak one and began to climb up its back, following the same path toward the sun. As I noticed the phenomena taking place, I was struck by the spiritual lessons I was seeing.

While I guess I could have chosen to see it as an opportunistic hanger-oner, I saw it differently. As I’m growing older, I’m inevitably thinking about passing the baton. And I saw myself and others of us, forging a path to help the younger generation get to the Light. Sometimes we look at our lives (now AND then) and buy in to the lie that we have no value, no gifts nothing to pass on or give back. Lies, all lies! In a quote from my book The Call to Follow Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of Mark, I reminded myself and others that, “We were bought with a price and were not born for ourselves, but to learn, understand, observe, absorb and follow so that we too might become dispensers of Truth by using our life stories, gifts and talents for His glory.” You don’t have to be a ‘spiritual giant’ to give someone a boost. It doesn’t matter the state of your health, wealth or emotional strength. What matters is that you are available to speak His encouragement to whoever He brings in to your path.

What lessons do you see? I hope you’ll respond with your thoughts so we all can see Him in a deeper and more meaningful way. Next week – maybe- The Bean That Went Awry. (John-dear wants me to call it, What Could Have Bean: A Life That Went Awry). Ok. His is better.


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,