Jo Ellen

One Sunday morning I preached at a church in Boise, Idaho. A lady with multiple sclerosis, bent in her wheel chair, sat in the front row, as attentive to my words as her condition allowed. I could tell when my message really connected with her because her head bobbed back and she smiled. Often.

When the service finished, I went to her and introduced myself and asked her name. Her name is Jo Ellen. She lives in a body that keeps her alive but isn’t able to allow her to do all she’d like to do or express the thoughts and ideas of her excellent mind. How frustrating that must be!

Jo Ellen had some helpful and encouraging comments on my sermon! She didn’t speak very loudly and it took her a long time to form and speak her words. I leaned in close to hear her whisper and to watch her mouth shape the words so I could understand. I was glad it wasn’t as hard for me to say the words of the message as it was for her to express her thoughts about it. I don’t have the stamina or the courage.

As I listened carefully to Jo Ellen, I wondered how many times Father God has bent down close to me and watched my lips forming the words with difficulty and heard me struggle to speak my heart to him. How he loves us!

I can’t imagine life in Jo Ellen’s wheelchair. She’s a hero. I can imagine, however, my own God-aware spirit living in a body of flesh that so often refuses to cooperate. My spirit wants to do the good and noble and my body of flesh is so stubborn and uncooperative. My spirit has kind and wise things to say and my body of flesh mumbles and stammers and sometimes doesn’t speak at all.

I’m so thankful for that brief conversation with Jo Ellen that Sunday morning. She’s an excellent teacher!

Remember Me

On the night before his death, Jesus took a cup of wine and a loaf of bread and shared it with his closest friends. He said, “After I’m gone, do this often to remember me.”

I think people want to be remembered after they’re gone.

Some people have done big things that affected lots of people and they are remembered by history, by a nation, or even by the world. Columbus discovered North America, Lincoln freed the slaves, Salk discovered a vaccine for polio, Mother Theresa defined compassion, Stalin murdered more people than Hitler.

Some people have done smaller but significant things that mean they will be remembered by a family, by friends, or by a special interest group of people. “He really established our family name.” “She was always first to respond when any of her friends needed help.” “He was a great fisherman, wasn’t he?”

Some people live their lives in near obscurity, interacting with only a few others, and perhaps never doing anything that real seems to make a mark. They never actually do the thing that causes people to say, “Oh yes, I remember him. He’s the one who…” or “You know what I remember most about her? She always…”

So how do we remember an ordinary person? We look at photos. We tell each other stories of our experiences and interactions with the person. If the latter years have been hard, we look back to happier times and choose memories from among the best we have.

If the best memories aren’t perfect, we sometimes mentally edit the memories and intentionally adjust the stories so that they make the memories good and pleasant and worth remembering. We’re free to do that.

Everyone wants to be remembered well.


13 One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch them and bless them, but the disciples told them not to bother him. 14 But when Jesus saw what was happening, he was very displeased with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 I assure you, anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get into the Kingdom of God.” 16 Then he took the children into his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16 NLT)

When I was a little boy everyone called me Jimmy. I thought Jimmy was a little kid’s name and when I reached my teens I demanded to be called Jim. That was about the time I stopped calling my Father “Daddy” and started calling him “Dad.”

About ten days ago my Dad’s sister Edna, the last surviving member of that generation in the Stephens family, died. We had lost contact with Aunt Edna years ago after Uncle Clarence died, and didn’t know where she lived. Letters we sent came back.

Then just a week and a half ago my cousin Georgia, Aunt Edna’s youngest daughter, called us from Texas and told us about Edna’s death. I haven’t seen Georgia since my early teens, fifty years ago. Georgia kept calling me Jimmy on the phone and at first I wanted to tell her that my name, my grownup name, is Jim. But I didn’t make a big deal of it as we talked again several times in the next few days. It was kind of nice to be Jimmy again.

This morning, after I read the verses above from Mark 10:13-16, I felt as if Father God said to me, “Do you mind if I call you Jimmy?” And my heart replied, “That’d be great! Can I call you Daddy?” He said, “Sure.”

Brennan Manning – Ruthless Trust Part 3

Wallowing in shame, remorse, self-hatred, and guilt over real or imagined failings in our past lives betrays a distrust in the love of God. It shows that we have not accepted the acceptance of Jesus Christ and thus have rejected the total sufficiency of his redeeming work. Preoccupation with our past sins, present weaknesses, and character defects gets our emotions churning in self-destructive ways, closes us within the mighty citadel of self, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.

Brennan Manning – Ruthless Trust Part 2

The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee of the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.

Brennan Manning – Ruthless Trust Part 1

In the arc of my unremarkable life, wherein the victories have been small and personal, the trials fairly pedestrian, and the failures large enough to deeply wound me and those I love, I have repeated endlessly the pattern of falling down and getting up, falling down and getting up. Each time I fall, I am propelled to renew my efforts by a blind trust in the forgiveness of my sins from sheer grace, in the acquittal, vindication, and justification of my ragged journey based not on any good deeds I have done but on an unflagging trust in the love of a gracious and merciful God.

Fall River

When Jean and I moved from London to Oregon in October of 1999 we lived for twenty months in a small house south of Bend on the Fall River. It’s in a fairly remote area of forest west of La Pine State Park, mostly lodge pole and jack pine with some majestic old growth Ponderosas standing above the other trees. That little cabin is about thirty-two miles and one universe away.

It had been over a year since we had been down there and because Friday was one of the warmest days so far this year, Jean and Buddy and I drove down. We thought most of the snow would be gone and we might be able to get in without much trouble. It’s a little over two miles of pretty bad forest road after turning off the paved highway. We only met one other vehicle in the few hours and more miles we drove and walked back there in the woods.

We parked the Explorer in a clearing beside the dirt road. There were no tire tracks but ours since the winter snows. Our footprints in the dirt were the only human prints, the only ones besides deer, coyote, and bobcat. Buddy eagerly sniffed the air for deer scent and the ground for chipmunks and squirrels. Still a few patches of snow on the shaded north side of trees and rocks.

I’d forgotten how alive the forest sounds and feels with the wind blowing through the tops of the Ponderosa pines. I kept wanting to look up and over my shoulder to see who was just behind us. The sense of “presence” is so strong in the woods!

As we walked and talked Jean began to remind us of how God had provided in such surprising and appropriate ways when we moved from inner-city London to this remote place in the Central Oregon woods. He provided a place to live, a vehicle to drive, and an increase in financial support that was exactly enough to meet the needs.

God gave us a season of solitude to restore our weary souls and enough ministry opportunities and interaction with people that we didn’t lose complete contact with the real world.

We had the house in the woods for as long as we needed it. He provided a friend with a snow plow to keep the more than two miles of forest road open through the winter so we could get in and out. When the road got so bad for a month that our four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer couldn’t negotiate it, God provided the loan of a larger, taller truck that handled the mud without any problem.

As we walked along the forest paths yesterday, we thanked God for his provision during that wonderful season of solitude. We spoke blessing on the friends God used to provide for us during the time we lived on the Fall River. We talked about other seasons and experiences of God’s faithfulness to us. Our faith grew stronger. My eyes grew brighter.

In our present season of change and transition, our faith is strengthening. God is working deeply (and a little painfully!) in us to clear away accumulated layers of grime and rust from our souls. We’re looking forward to the surprising and appropriate ways God will direct and provide once again! It’s who he is. It’s what he does.

I can still feel that strong sense of “presence” I felt yesterday as the wind blew through the tops of the pines. I keep wanting to look up and see who’s there!

For Joy – Psalm 47:1


Come, everyone, and clap your hands for joy! Shout to God with joyful praise! (Psalm 47:1 NLT)

The word “joy” shows up a lot in the Bible…

  • Shout with joy!
  • Clap your hands for joy!
  • The joy of the Lord is your strength!
  • In God’s presence is fullness of joy.
  • For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.

Last time Philip and Stephanie and my grandson Jesse were here for a weekend, I was in the backyard with almost two-years-old Jesse and we were walking up and down the little hill (actually I was walking and Jesse was running).  Jesse was holding my hand really tight (that’s a good feeling!) and with that grip on my hand he was running with abandon.

As we went down the little hill for the second time, I realized that Jesse was saying, “Wheee!”  I didn’t realize anyone actually said “Wheee!”  I thought it was just from cartoons I used to see.  Jesse was, in that moment, filled with pure joy and the most naturally honest thing he could do was shout, “Wheee!”

I asked myself, “How long has it been since simple joy made me shout, “Wheee!”?”

In this season of preparation for the next chapter of my story, God has dug pretty deep through the onion-layers of the stuff of my life.  As we get closer to the core of simple faith and relationship, I am beginning to get glimpses of joy.  When I look straight ahead I feel little bursts of joy inside – dreams rekindling, possibilities popping up.  If I get distracted and look to either side the other stuff rushes in.

I’m going for the joy!  I won’t give up and I won’t give in!  Somewhere not too far around the next bend, or the next, I’m going to be so full of the joy of being who God made me to be and holding his hand so tight, that I’ll shout, “Wheee!”


Father, for the joy you let me taste and the hope you place before me, I will continue.  I will not give up.  I will not give in.  I will, at some soon occasion, shout “Wheee!”

Orphans in Kigali – November 1997

In November 1997 I traveled from London to Uganda and Rwanda with a friend. We conducted a pastors’ conference, taught in a Bible College, and did church ministry in Uganda and then went to Kigali, Rwanda for a week to teach in a Bible College.

The Bible College was Kinya-Rwanda and French-speaking and it really gave us an opportunity to hone our skills at speaking with an interpreter. A French-speaking Rwandan pastor named James was my interpreter for the week and we had a lot of fun with our same names.

Each morning we taught for three hours at the Bible College, then rushed off to a large covered area in the town center to take turns speaking to a gathering of 700 or so people who came each midday for worship and teaching. The people were so hungry for God’s Word and desperately in need of hope and encouragement. We gave it everything we had!

At night we spoke in several of the churches in the capital city. The infrastructure was just getting back to Africa normal and power outages were frequent and of un-predicable duration. Ray and I pretty much burned out our voices that week, speaking to groups of from 35 (Bible College) to 1500 (Restoration Church) without benefit of a PA system.

Each day as we drove from the Bible College to the city center meeting, we passed through the town square. At any hour of the day, there were scores of boys and girls in the town square, some sleeping under a couple of huge trees, some begging from motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, some just hanging out.

It was common to see a ten-year-old boy carrying a three-year-old girl or an eight-year-old girl walking along with a two-year-old and a five-year-old kid holding on to her hands.

These were orphans and the big tree in Kigali town square was their home. Their parents had died in the genocide or of AIDS and they were completely on their own. Children caring for children. Kids raising toddlers.

I was so moved at the sight, it was hard to look. Then I flew back to London and my friend Ray flew back to Texas.