The kingdom of heaven is like Chuck E Cheeses.

For anyone who may not have ever been to a Chuck E Cheeses, it is basically a place parents take their children to play in ball pits, various tubes, and slides.  There is pizza and a cast of animatronic characters.  It also features an arcade with a variety of skilled and video games.

When I was young, it was a common staple of birthday parties to get to go to Chuck E Cheeses.  (Henceforth abbreviated as CEC since it’s ridiculous to type.)  At the time, it was a blast.  I’m sure if the day comes that I have kids of my own, I’ll be over it by then, but most of my memories of the place are fond ones.

I’m forgetting something though…

The tickets.

You see, there was a prize counter, and if you played the right games you would earn tickets at the end of the game.  You would collect the tickets and turn them in for prizes just before you went home.  Each prize cost a certain number of tickets and it was often my goal to earn enough for a Nintendo or a bike or one of the cooler, bigger prizes.  The problem is that the amount of tickets you earned was directly related to how well you played the games.  A perfect performance would gain you far more tickets than the performances I was able to turn in.  So while I wanted the Nintendo that was 1000 tickets,  I was usually able to scrap up about 72 by the time we left for the day.  Enough to get me some sort of fake gold ring, and maybe some candy or some other equally worthless trinket.

It seemed like no matter how hard I fought to win tickets…I couldn’t earn enough to get what I really wanted.

No matter how hard I try to be good enough, I’ll never earn my way into heaven.

An imperfect performance in the games meant I wouldn’t get what I wanted.  An imperfect performance in life has separated me from the life I could have lived, and the future I could have had.  A game is a game, but this life thing…it’s serious.  This ‘sin’ thing is serious.

Sin isn’t messing up in a game of skiball, but any time I’ve disobeyed or deliberately hurt someone, that was an act of rebellion, an act of sin.  I’ve been found in rebellion against God and his commands in my life more times than I can count, and the end result is that I will not earn my way into heaven.

That’s why Jesus stepped in.

Imagine a father taking on the games in our place.  Earning the tickets we could never possibly earn.  Imagine this battle to win tickets costing him everything.  (Probably not too hard to imagine if you’ve ever been to CEC)  The father finishes the game victorious and walks up to you to hand you all the tickets you’ll need to redeem for the desire of your heart.  He hands you so many tickets they have to bring you a bag to keep them all in.

Imagine a father, sending his son to fight the battle for perfection on our behalf.  Earning the reward we never could, never will.  Imagine the son giving everything to earn this perfection for you.  The son, hanging on a cross, bleeding and beaten, hands you a white robe and tells you you’ve been made clean as he breathes his last and closes his eyes.

Now imagine you take that bag of tickets and go home, hiding them in your closet.  You leave them there until it’s too late to redeem them, and they are thrown out into the garbage.

You see, you didn’t redeem the tickets.  They’ve done you no good.  Having the tickets is one thing, but you can turn them in for something far better.

Jesus has bought your forgiveness, but will you redeem it?  Will you accept the new life that he is offering you, that he fought for and bought with his very own life?

Turn your tickets in.

Be redeemed.


I stumble around Youtube from time to time, and occasionally something really captures my attention.  I was wandering about Youtube yesterday in fact, and found a compilation video of a theoretical physicist named Michio Kaku.  To summarize and simplify the first few minutes of the video, Michio shares that everything in the universe is like Schrodinger’s famous cat problem.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Schrodinger posits that if a cat is placed in a box and unobservable, it must be both dead and alive simultaneously.  It is only when the box is opened and the cat is observed that it becomes either dead or alive.

Schrodinger’s cat is known for seeming to be illogical but theoretical physics has found that it is a viable interpretation of how our world is working at the atomic level.  MIchio takes this concept a step further and talks about how nothing in the universe can even exist if it hasn’t been observed.  He states that the observation of something is essential to it’s creation.

Creation.  Perhaps the biggest argument of science and faith.  How were we created?

Genesis 1:4  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 

God saw the light that he created.  God observed the difference between light and darkness and then continued creating, seeing that each new thing was good.  God “sees” 7 different times in the first chapter of Genesis.  In the beginning, God created, God saw.  He observed that which he had made, and called it good.

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

God saw me when I was unformed, when he brought me forth into this world.  He saw me then, and he sees me now.  I am seen, and I am known.

Perhaps one day we will see that science itself points to our creator, and perhaps in that day we will no longer only know in part, but instead see the entirety of the truth that God has created for us.

Watch 33 (Trail and Wild)

Hathaway Preserve at Ross Run

I’ve been hiking more this year than I have in previous years, partially due to my new wife and I exploring places we have both loved seperately for the first time together, and partially due to being out of town for work so much.  When I have a few hours before or after work with nowhere else to go, I have been seeking the woods and the trail.  Together and apart, Sam and I have wandered through canyons, strode through valleys, scrambled up ridges, and splashed through creek beds while we traveled along the path set out for us.  We have explored together those wild places that human hands have left to their own devices, places where nature is the lead designer.

When I think about the wild places I have been through this year, I think of the time that has passed.  Every year on my birthday, I replace my suddenly worn and weary watch with one that is fresh and new.  I have been doing this for a while now, and this will be the 8th watch I have worn in as many years.  It is a reset of sorts, a tool for self evaluation.  As I carry this tradition forward, my time will eventually run out, and I hope to have a fine collection of watches to display at my funeral.  Each watch will have it’s own story, and in that story pieced together from year sized slices, I hope that a remnant of the person I was while I walked the earth remains behind, eager to walk beside anyone willing to travel the road I traveled in life.  Today, it strikes me that one year sized slice will be unwritten, but I guess there isn’t much to be done about that.

A path we walked in Brazil this year.

The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.  Time passes to fully form them.  Glaciers carve out paths through rock and soil, while streams continue the work when the glaciers have melted.  A tree creates year sized slices of it’s own, each ring representing a year of growth.  The carpet of fallen leaves melts into the forest floor, only to be covered by a freshly fallen carpet of color the next year.   A tree outlives the squirrel that scampers over it’s branches, whilst the doe and fawn feed at it’s feet for a time.  The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.

My life has been full of wild places, and full of places that have been tamed.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that I despise a place that has been tamed.  I enjoy the comforts of home, I enjoy the structures we live and work in.  The rain knocking on the window beside me is better kept out than allowed to enter, in this moment.  Structure and tameness are important parts of our lives, and this past year has found me developing these structures in my life to new levels.   In the same way that wildness does not finish its work overnight, neither have these structures sprung up fully formed in the darkness of one moment.

Photo by Mackenzie Bates of Waverly Lane Photography

This past year has brought a lot of new construction into my life.  I am now a married man, a man who has so happily consented to building together a life with this one woman my heart has chosen.  This structure will define the rest of my life forever.  I finished a year of living in my car at the end of December.  (An experiment of sorts that one day I may write more about.)  I entered my third year of freedom from the bite of the snake.  I have stepped into new roles at work, expanding my responsibilities into new places.  I have made a serious commitment to eliminating the debt of consumerism and one-upmanship from my finances.  These structures, these tame places, have not sprung up in one night, they have been the work of years, and some of these structures will take the work of a lifetime to complete.  I will seek to continue the taming of my heart in the year that follows, each tick of this new watch a milestone on the path I walk.  I will pursue the completion of structures placed not on sand, but on the solid rock of Christ who ultimately leads me from point to point.  I will blaze a new trail in the year that comes, creating a tame place in the wildness on both sides that I may travel upon.

My favorite panorama of the year. Taken near Lake Lemon in Monroe County Indiana

I will not always build these trails correctly the first time.  Each trail will endure constant renovation and rebirth.  It will be a struggle to complete the vision set in front of me.  The struggle will require the clearing of thorns from the path in front of me.  The leveling of ground that lies unevenly at my feet will break my back as I move shovel after shovel of dirt to a new and different place.  Taming certain areas will be hard work in this new year of life, as it was hard work in the year that has just past.  The trail I build will be the legacy of my life.

My wife playing in the clear water of a creek.

The wild places in us do not grow up over night.  They must be protected and given a chance to grow.  As much as I speak of creating a trail in my life, I want even more to cultivate certain areas of wildness in me.  I must set borders on those areas, but if allowed to grow in the proper place and time, the wild in me will birth a beauty that no human mind can plan.  The wild and the trail live together in harmony.  They form each other.  Without the trail, the beauty of the wild would not be seen, would not be experienced.  Without the wild, the trail has no where to explore, no new thing to see.

As I step into this new year, I look forward to developing the trail in front of me.  As I build, I will seek out the beauty in the wild that grows within me.

A waterfall in Salmonie State Park near Wabash Indiana.


Hermit (DOP #25 2017)

(#25 of 25 – 2017)

A hermit is a person who withdraws from the world, often for religious reasons.  I’ve considered the life of a hermit as something that I would perhaps be suited for.  Frankly, TV and books that romanticized hermitage were primarily to blame, but something about the simplicity of it all spoke to me.  No messy interactions with people who are predictable only in their unpredictability, no unexpected phone calls with bad news.  No reason to depend on anyone but yourself.

I’ve dabbled with hermitage.  Most of the 18 months I spent in my first apartment were spent alone.  From the moment I left work until the moment I returned the next day, the majority of my days were spent by myself, interacting with only me and the world I could touch through the internet.  At first I enjoyed the solitude, but as the months wore on, I found that there was certainly something missing in my life.  Obviously this was not a full hermitage, as I worked regularly during that time, often times spending the day interacting specifically with other people as part of my employment.  At the end of the day, I found that I did not have the peace I thought I would find in being alone.

Things have changed quite a lot since I first moved out in mid 2015.  It is now the beginning of 2018, and I have proposed to my fiancé, and we have begun to plan a life together.  At a certain level, I will never be alone again for very long.  My future wife is depending on me to be present in our marriage, just as I am depending on her being present.  We are making a commitment to each other to stay together and never seek to be apart emotionally (even if work or other realities take us apart physically for a time).  I am forsaking the call of the hermit.

Or am I?

Unfortunately, for me it is easy to seek to withdraw from chaos around me.  I hear news about world leaders calling countries I know and love ‘shitholes’, and sending back 200,000 people who have made their home here in the United States and I just want to run away from it.  I fear the harsh words that could be said to me if I stand up against those actions, if I put my foot down to say “This is wrong.”  I have found that conflict is more easily avoided than resolved, so when the conflict doesn’t directly involve me, it is easy to exempt myself from confronting it.  I seek the seeming solitude of distraction.  I peruse websites and read comic strips by the hour.  I find myself seeking escape from the harsh realities around me.

I’ve found that my life is more full, now.  My relationship with Samantha has broadened it and deepened it significantly.  I still have rough days where I want to just hide in bed and never come out, but now I know that Sam is depending on me (at least in some sense, she is capable of being a very independent young lady) to wake up and engage with her.  Yes, there is sometimes a cost to these interactions.  Sometimes I have to delay something I was focused on doing, so that we can be more together when she has time available, but the rewards found in the relationship have been more than worth the costs.

Sometimes I have to give up just a bit of my personal peace, in order to find relational peace.

When I began dating my future wife, I forsook the call of the hermit in my personal life.  It is tremendously important that I don’t withdraw into myself, that I don’t shut her out.
For a long time, my attention has been drawn to the lack of peace in the world, and sometimes it is so easy to close my eyes and pretend that everything is okay.  I don’t want to give up my personal peace to make a difference in the world around me.  I am too often unwillingly to sacrifice the peace I have to pursue peace for the world at large.  I’ve become a hermit, withdrawing from the world because it is easier to keep my personal slice of peace than to share it with those in need around me. I’ve been following the way of the hermit, and I’m afraid that one day I will regret it tremendously.  One day the consequences for the world we be so high that I am directly affected, regardless of my desire to remain aloof.

I must confront this desire towards hermitage in my life, and do the work that the world needs me to do.

I must choose Peace instead of peace.

Prince of Peace (DOP #24 2017)

(#24 of 25-2017)
Jesus is the Prince of Peace.

So what did he do to bring peace into various situations?  What can we learn from his actions?

Jesus very first miracle was turning water into wine.  He was at a wedding with his mother, where they ran out of wine, and Mary asked Jesus to do something about it.  A wine shortage certainly wasn’t the biggest issue in the world at the time, but Jesus, in obedience to his mother chose to act.  He turned the water brought to him into the finest wine of the wedding.    I have never really spent much time studying this story before, because it seems so cut and dry.  I approached it as if Jesus took care of a minor problem, and moved on with his life, and so should we.

Now that I am helping plan a wedding of my own, I realize just how much this moment must have meant to the happy couple.  As we work on planning a special day for us, for our family, and for our friends, we are constantly focused on money and costs and amounts and wanting to be sure we have enough of everything for everyone.  This couple had likely done the same thing, but somehow came up short.  If I was the groom in that situation, I would have been pretty upset and I would be trying to scrounge up enough cash to buy another cask so my very thirsty friends could drink their fill.  It would have been a huge distraction, and it might have even ruined my memories of the special day.

Jesus stepped into this lack, and supplied.  He brought peace through provision.

We see another moment when Jesus is confronted by the religious rulers of his day, they have brought with them a woman caught in adultery, and they are demanding that he pass judgement on her.  The Mosaic law requires that this woman be stoned to death.  They have done everything they can to trap Jesus between a rock and a hard place, and it does seem to be an impossible situation.  Jesus can deny the law of Moses (which come from God his Father) and let the woman live, or he can allow the woman to be killed for her sin.

Jesus seems speechless in this moment.  He writes on the ground with his finger, but the scriptures do not tell us what he wrote.  The religious sect around him continues to press him for an answer, feeling that their trap is working.  Jesus finally responds to their questions.  He tells them that the man with no sin can throw the first stone.  In one masterful stroke, Jesus judges not only the woman, but each man who has brought her to him.  The religious men are forced to accept that they too have sinned, and they leave the woman alone with Jesus.   Jesus has saved this woman from this life threatening situation.

Jesus delayed judgement to give the woman (and each of the men as well) a chance to repent of their sin.  Jesus brought peace through delay.  We never meet that woman in the scriptures again, but my hope is that she found herself changed through her encounter with Jesus.

I have one more story for today.

Peter denied Jesus three times, even after swearing that he would never forsake Christ.  After the crucifixion, we find Peter to be a broken man, ashamed of his failure, ashamed of his denials.  Peter returns to his life as a fisherman, leaving behind everything his Rabbi taught him, certain that he had no place in the work Jesus wanted to do in the world.  During a breakfast by the fire, Jesus restores Peter to himself, healing their relationship.  He sets in front of Peter a tremendous task, one that will eventually take Peter’s life.  He welcomes Peter back into the family as if no wrong had been done.  Jesus brings peace through forgiveness.

Jesus truly is the Prince of Peace.