Dangerously Close to Empty

. . . but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)

Nearly three weeks ago Marnie and I hit the road to make our way down to Winston-Salem, NC for our daughter’s graduation from Wake Forest. We traveled via Washington, DC where we did a graveside service for a friend at Arlington National Cemetery.

Our reasons for traveling were all significant. Our timing, however, wasn’t so great.

Not many days before our departure the Colonial pipeline had to shut down to deal with a threat from hackers. I remembered hearing the story on the news, but I didn’t think too much of it at the time. But by the time we were driving from DC to Winston-Salem, panic was setting in at the pumps. The further south you went the worse it got. Virginia wasn’t too bad. We would later learn that 70% of North Carolina gas stations had no fuel.

As we made our way down interstate 95, we handled this problem by being hyper attentive to what we had in the tank. Once we saw that we were three-quarters full, we started looking for gas. Quite often we struck out. When we found it, we would fill up, even if that meant only a quarter of a tank. By doing this we made it to North Carolina without too much trouble.

The strategy was simple: Pay attention and don’t get anywhere close to empty.

Today I’d like to suggest to you that this strategy has value for your spiritual life.

Filled with the Spirit           

In the weeks leading up to Easter at Grace Church, we were working our way through the Apostles’ Creed. Every time we speak the words of the creed, we affirm that we “believe in the “Holy Spirit” (our church uses the old-school “Holy Ghost”).

We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we don’t talk much about the Spirit.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, but we’re not entirely clear on what the Spirit does or how it works in our lives.

When the Spirit came upon the gathered disciples, Peter interpreted the event for a bewildered crowd of onlookers who were in Jerusalem celebrating the feast of Pentecost. He cited one of the Hebrew prophets and spoke of what was happening as the fulfillment of God’s promise to “pour out” his Spirit (Joel 2).   

God’s pouring out isn’t measured and stingy. At Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4). This fullness enabled them to do what Jesus had told them they would do. Effective witness flows from ma fullness of the Spirit.

I’ve often wondered about that phrase – “filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Unlike my car, my soul isn’t equipped with a gauge that tells me exactly how much Holy Spirit I’ve got and when I’m dangerously low. But that doesn’t mean we’re driving blind in the life of faith.

Begin by Asking

There are a variety of ways that we can sense spiritual depletion. I can’t explore them at length here, but you may already know what some of them are. We’re flirting with empty when we’re too easily irritable, unable to listen or truly care about another person’s life, often anxious and sleepless, or simply not interested in spiritual things. The warning signs are not too hard to detect.

The real danger comes when we simply fail to pay attention to these. The strategy that kept me on the road between DC and Winston-Salem is the same strategy that keeps us moving through our days in the power of the Spirit. We pay attention and make regular efforts to stay away from empty.

I suspect there are many of us who believe in the Holy Spirit, say the creed, go to church, but really don’t pay careful attention to the fullness of the Spirit in our lives. We live on fumes. Today I’m simply asking you to pay attention.

And don’t forget the most basic way that Jesus taught us to replenish the supply of the Spirit in our lives. We begin by asking. Our Heavenly Father will not refuse the Spirit to those who ask. If we know how to give good gifts to our children, God will certainly give the Spirit when we ask (Luke 11:11-13).

How’s your tank today? What would it look like for you to live this day filled with the Holy Spirit? Pay attention. And ask for the gift of the Spirit that God stands ready to give. 


Father God, I want to live my life in the fullness of the Spirit. I confess that often I fail to pay attention to the Spirit. I can busy myself with good things without seeing that I’m dangerously close to empty. I ask you today for the gift of the Spirit, enabling to be a witness in the places where you will lead me. I ask in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.        

Eight Days Later

Eight days later the disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them . . . (John 20:26)

Thomas had made himself perfectly clear.

He was resolute in his ‘unless.’ Absent compelling evidence, the kind that he could see and touch, he would not believe. Never mind that he was surrounded by believing friends. Their enthusiastic reports were not enough to pull faith from the clinched jaws of doubt. Thomas would need something more.

And something more appeared. Jesus came and stood among them: “Put your finger here. Put your hand here.” The resolute ‘unless’ gave way to worship. “My Lord and my God.” The one who had announced his unbelief was now a believer.

Divine Delay

We are hardly surprised that Thomas’ story ends as it does. How could it be otherwise? Thomas refuses to believe. Thomas believes. He insists on evidence. He erupts in worship. The scenes unfold quickly, a seamless transition from here to there, from doubt to faith.

Except for this: Eight days.

Jesus does not rush in to rescue Thomas from his questions. Before Jesus appears among his disciples there are eight days . . . of what? We are not told. Most likely those eight days were days of conversation, eight days of argument, eight days of efforts to persuade met by stubborn resistance, eight days of frustration.

I am often perplexed by the biblical stories where God allows his people to sense his absence. Why does Jesus linger? Why the delay? Why does he take so long to show up and show off and bring the skeptic to his knees? Such questions are hard for us.

We may not doubt God, but neither do we understand God’s ways.

We may not question God’s love, but we have plenty of questions about God’s timing.

We may not question God’s power, but we have plenty of questions about God’s plan.

This we know for certain: For eight days Thomas had friends who were willing to tell him, “We have seen the Lord.” He didn’t believe it – but they told him anyway, probably over and over again. And what’s more they stayed with him. They didn’t leave. When Jesus appeared they were all there.

Stick Around for the Story’s End

It is in those eight days that all of us a prone to be doubters. As unlikely as it seems, God is at work in the ‘eight days.’ When it looks as if nothing is happening, more is happening than we know. We may be stuck; the Spirit moves freely, often in ways unnoticed.

Are you waiting for someone to come to faith, make the move from resistance to receiving, from questioning to believing? That can be a long story: it may be eight days . . . it may well be eight years, or even longer. Perhaps much longer. Keep saying what you know to be true. And stay with it. Stay with him or her, lost friend, wayward child, stone-cold spouse, just stay there and live a life that says, “I have seen the Lord.”

Trust Jesus to show up and do the rest. He is at work, even in the eight days. Don’t miss the end of the story.


Few things are harder for us, O God, than waiting. We crave quick results and speedy answers to prayer – eight minutes rather than eight days. Keep us faithful in the waiting seasons, whatever they may be, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Twin

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin  . . . (John 20:24)

Thomas had a twin.

That’s what his name means. To say ‘Thomas’ was to say ‘twin.’ Somehow a Greek nickname was thrown in: ‘Didymus.’  Didymus also means twin. Thomas was literally a ‘twin-twin.’

Fraternal? Identical? We are never told. In fact, the biblical record says not one word about Thomas’ twin. The only indication we have that such a person exists at all is Thomas’ own name. When it comes to twins, where you see one there has to be another.

If you’re on Facebook, you may have friends who have not yet chosen a profile picture. What we see instead of a picture is a generic silhouette. A blank headshot. Could be anybody. That’s what the Bible gives us when it comes to Thomas’ twin.

Some scholars have suggested that the name ‘twin’ is meant to say something about Thomas himself. ‘Didymus’ is a name indicating that he was double-souled, a man who carried within himself two people: one bold and faithful, the other cowering and riddled with doubt. Maybe. I’d like to suggest a slightly different take on Thomas’s unnamed twin.  

Looking Just Like Thomas

Maybe it is good that the identity of the twin is never set forth for us in detail. Is it possible that the blank headshot allows us to see ourselves in Thomas? Any one of us could be his twin. I can only speak for myself, but I am far more like Thomas than I care to admit.

When Jesus announced his plan to return to Judea, to the place where Lazarus had died, the disciples were alarmed. Judea was not safe; leaders of the Jews there had tried to have Jesus stoned. Thomas voices both loyalty and pessimism. “Let us go that we may die with him” (John 11:16). I know that man too well: Willing to go but seeing what can go wrong, problems shadowing possibilities.

Just before his death, when Jesus spoke of going to prepare a place for his disciples so that they could be with him, Thomas missed the point. “We don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:1-6). Thomas sometimes missed the deeper meaning of things. My own insights into the will and ways of Jesus are often too shallow. Like Thomas, I’m slow on the uptake. 

And then there’s the well-known scene just after the resurrection, that now famous expression of doubt. This is the place where Jesus tells Thomas, “Don’t be unbelieving. Believe!” (John 20:27).  I need to hear those words almost every day. Not about the resurrection – just in general. Believing and trusting are ongoing battles for me.

The Limitless Patience of Jesus

As strange as it seems, Thomas may have many twins. Maybe you’re one of them. Maybe you see yourself in his life: in his pessimistic and anxious loyalty, in his lagging comprehension of what Jesus is about, in his reluctance to believe that Jesus is alive.

In all these pictures of Thomas there is one consistent presence, the common thread that holds them all together. We see time and time again the limitless patience of Jesus. And the grace and mercy that was available to Thomas is available to us.

Thomas is shown to us in the gospels as a befuddled but committed friend of Jesus who ends up making one of the most profound confessions of faith in the entire Bible: “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). The journey from befuddled follower to committed, risk taking believer is not quick. But in that journey, as long as it takes, Jesus keeps showing up.

Jesus is alive and he is faithfully present. He walks with us without pushing, always inviting, patient with our starts and stops. This is good news for all of us so-called ‘twins’ of Thomas. The Spirit is always working, quietly changing us, shaping in us the likeness of Christ.

Let’s pray for the day when we look far less like Thomas, and much more like Jesus.


Gracious God, I see so much of myself in Thomas. Thank you for your faithful patience. Keep working in me until I bear the likeness of your son, I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.       

Where Your Doubts Lead

“Unless I see . . . I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

Seems he never lived it down.

We can appreciate that Thomas was honest and bold enough to say what he truly thought about the resurrection rumors floating around. That one moment, however, became a moniker hung around his neck that would forever cast him in the role of reluctant believer, the first skeptic, somewhat petulant and even a bit grouchy. Those are the textures of his portrait in our minds. We know him as a doubter and to this day we call him ‘doubting’ Thomas. 

In the interest of fairness let’s acknowledge the following:

First, we can hardly fault Thomas for wanting to see and touch the wounds of Jesus. The evidence he’s asking for (20:25) is something that the other disciples had already seen (20:20).

Second, Thomas may strike us as demanding, but it doesn’t appear that Jesus found him to be so. Again, Jesus had already allowed the other disciples to see his wounds when he had appeared to them in Thomas’s absence. He patiently extends the same gesture to Thomas. 

What Thomas is asking for is something that Jesus is only too willing to do. Jesus wants to assure and convince his followers that he is in fact alive, and this it is actually him – not a stunt double or a look-alike.

Finally, Thomas says that he must touch or handle the torn flesh of Jesus in order to believe, but there is nothing in the biblical text to suggest that he actually did so. He sees. He hears. That was all he needed. He is quick to worship, down on his face before Jesus whom he names as his Lord and God.

Changed Mind, Changed Man

I remember when Marnie announced to me that our first child was on the way. I didn’t believe it. Even after she showed me the home-test device and explained the whole one-stripe, two-stripe diagnostic reading – I still couldn’t believe it. I suggested she administer the test again. My doubt was not aimed at her in hostility or anger. Quite the opposite. My disbelief was rooted in joy: that moment was easily one of the most joyful moments of my life. Sometimes believing just feels too risky; we protect ourselves with doubt. We don’t want to taste the joy and then lose it.

Maybe that’s Thomas’ flaw: he’s not grouchy; he’s guarded, protecting himself from the pain of losing Jesus again.  

Thomas’s confession, “My Lord and my God,” doesn’t simply reflect a change of mind based on compelling evidence. Thomas himself is a changed man. And I maintain that this is what we truly ought to remember about Thomas. This is the part of his story that most of us have never heard. Church tradition tells us that Thomas took the gospel of Jesus to a part of the world we know now as northeastern Iran. He then went on to preach about Jesus in India. It was there that he died for his message, speared to death. That’s hardly the story of a reluctant disciple.

Guarded and tentative followers of Jesus don’t preach in India or die a martyr’s death.

Doubts Out in the Open

Yes, it is possible that the seeds of doubt can flower into full-blown disbelief. We’re hearing a lot about that these days as some well know Christians ‘deconstruct’ and abandon their faith. But maybe it’s the doubters – the ones who wrestle with hard questions and speak honestly about the challenge of believing – they’re the ones who come out with the deepest convictions. Those who ask hard questions in pursuit of Jesus are more likely to take big risks in service of Jesus.

I don’t know who needs to hear this today, but I’d like to urge you to ask the hard questions. Bring those doubts out into the open just like Thomas did. But beware: those doubts may lead you to a love for Jesus that will not be content with politely attending church and going through religious motions.

Those doubts could lead to powerful convictions.

Convictions empower risks.

And the world gets changed by risk takers.


Make us bold, O God, the way Thomas was bold; make us honest in our questions and then create deep convictions within us as well. And lead us where you will, ready to risk loving people as we share your love. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.          

I Missed the Pink Supermoon

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19-23).

Earlier this week, on Monday to be exact, meteorologists were alerting us to the presence of a “Pink Supermoon” visible that night from our humble abode in God’s stunning galaxy. This happens when the moon reaches the closest point to earth in its orbit. A supermoon can appear up to 14% larger and 30% brighter than a full moon viewed at its farthest point from earth. However, for reasons I won’t go into here, it doesn’t look pink.

I was on the phone with my Mom on Monday evening. She informed me that the skies over Atlanta and north Georgia were clear and she had just seen the supermoon (she also remarked on the absence of pink). She urged me to step outside and take a look. I said I would.

But I didn’t. I think we were watching the final episodes of WandaVision and I simply didn’t take the time to move my eyes from the screen to the sky. It’s my loss. I missed it entirely.

Here’s my point with this story: The Pink Supermoon was still there. My failure to behold it did absolutely nothing to diminish or negate its presence above the earth. The analogy isn’t perfect, but I want to suggest to you that the truth that Jesus is alive is not too different from my missed opportunity with the Pink Supermoon. 

Whether we feel it or not, whether we behold it or not, Jesus is alive.

I guess I’m wondering if part of the reason we live without truly knowing that Jesus is alive is that we don’t make the deliberate effort to live our days in his presence. To see a supermoon you have to step outside and look up. What practices are required for living in the reality of the resurrection?

Some Effort Required

One of the enduring classics of Christian literature is a small volume titled The Practice of the Presence of God. The author was a French monk known to us as Brother Lawrence. A handful of his letters and short writings were collected after his death and published in 1692. The book has been in print since that time.  

Brother Lawrence lived his vocation working in the kitchen of the monastery. In his little book he explains that for him there was no difference between the kitchen and the chapel. He was as much in God’s presence washing dishes as he was when singing the Psalms.

I commend this book to you for its content, but my interest today is with the title. Lawrence understood that the presence of God was something to be practiced. There are things that we can do to live in the reality of the resurrection. There are behaviors and practices that allow us to go through our days knowing that Jesus is alive.

Like stepping outdoors to look at the supermoon, these practices are simple. However, they do require time and intentionality. Said another way, knowing that Jesus is alive isn’t hard, but it requires some effort.

Basic Practices

The efforts or practices that allow us to live in the reality of the resurrection, confident that Jesus is alive and active in our world, are typically spoken of as “spiritual disciplines.”

The phrase “spiritual disciplines” might sound austere or foreboding to some of you. But what I’m talking about are very basic behaviors that the most ordinary Christians have practiced for centuries. Some of these practices have deeper roots, going back to the worship life of ancient Israel.

You don’t need a craftsman’s workshop behind your house (although that’s a good thing). All you need is the small toolbox that sits in the cabinet above your washing machine. Those basic tools – the basic spiritual disciplines – are more than enough to tackle the job at hand.

Today I’m urging you to make an effort to live in the reality of the resurrection. I want to help you practice the presence of the living Jesus by daily making use of some very basic tools. Helpful books have been written about this, so I’ll keep my coaching brief this morning.

First, begin your day quietly. Resist the TV and social media platforms and email on your phone. Invite God to meet you in these moments.

Second, spend some time reading scripture. Get your elbows on the table and your face over an open Bible. You don’t need to read a lot of material. Begin with one of the gospels (try Mark) and read a chapter each day.

After that, speak back to God about what you’ve read. What thoughts or questions came to your mind? What held your attention?        

Finally – and this might not be a daily practice – engage a community of people that are seeking to live in the presence of the resurrected Jesus. Solitude is good, but only if practiced in a rhythm with community. Begin with a gathered congregation on Sunday.

It’s one thing to miss a Pink Supermoon (I hear there will be another one in late May). But don’t miss the life God intends for you as you go through your days in the presence of the living Jesus. You have the tools. Just invest the effort and practice his presence.


Lord Jesus, we thank you for your living presence with us – a reality that doesn’t depend on what we see or feel. You are with us, just as you promised you always would be. Give us the grace we need to practice your presence. We don’t want to miss it for lack of attention or effort. We bring our lives before you now, asking these things in your name. Amen.