Your Work Matters

Today’s article is pulled from the archives in honor of Labor Day.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been engaged in a leadership course for The Orchard Network, focusing on doctrine, life and skills according to the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our second session last week was on work. That’s right. Work. That thing we find ourselves occupied with for the majority of our days, weeks, months and years. That labor we put forth when we’re not at home, being social (though work can be social!), serving in church, or interacting elsewhere.

The session was simply titled “Work Matters.”

Work must be significant because of the amount of time and energy it demands. By its very nature it should make us curious as to why it’s so all-encompassing, and how we can make the most of it.

I will seek to respond to our three “homework” questions, while also phrasing them for you, so that you can equally get thinking about the work God has you doing.

The three questions are:

How can I reflect in my work that I’m made in the image of God?

Where are you creating and inventing?

My work as a Content Strategist and Manager is extremely creative–literally! I’m constantly designing graphics, writing, brainstorming ideas and content, planning marketing campaigns, and dreaming about how things could look on the web.

While it’s quite easy for me to see how my work is creative, I’d imagine some of you reading this are scratching your heads. Perhaps you don’t feel like your work is creative at all. But any time you innovate and find a new way to make a process more effective, whether its teaching your children obedience in a fresh way or helping a customer determine the most delicious combination for their dinner order, you are exercising the creativity of the Creator. If this isn’t clear to you right now, ask God to help you see where you are bearing his image in this way.

Where are you bringing what was once formless into order?

Because my job did not exist prior to my hiring, everything was new at first. There was a boatload of vision to dive into, a job description to understand and expound upon, and a never-before-established pattern of work to execute every week. And what I’ve come to realize is that no two weeks look the same, so God is giving me the chance to consistently bring tasks and projects into order.

What about you? How are you bringing what was once formless into order through your work? Another way to think about this is, “What problems are you solving?”

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When Satan Demands to Have You

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you…”

Jesus spoke these sobering words to Peter before going to his death. And what a terrifying thought!—to be had by the evil one, to be under his dominion and rule and a prisoner to his deathly purposes. Jesus continued,

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34)

Yes, this exchange would’ve been sobering for Peter—how should it impact us? Equally sobering is Satan’s active work to make this a reality for as many people as he can—and especially for Christians. If you’re a believer, what the enemy wants is to fail your faith. He wants to have you: eternally defeated, estranged from God, condemned for eternity—

But Jesus promises he won’t let you go.

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A Three-Part Formula for Fear

Israel refused to enter the land.

After years of wandering in the wilderness, and after freedom from slavery in Egypt, God’s people should’ve been thrilled to draw ever nearer to the land flowing with milk and honey, the land God had promised them. Finally to be home! Finally to be settled.

Instead, they were afraid. Between them and the promised land stood the Amorites, an enemy God commanded them to defeat, and promised they would defeat, with his help. The Israelites couldn’t see a vibrant, good land for their possession, but only the obstacles. Nor would they take God’s words to heart: “Do not fear or be dismayed.” I will be with you.

In looking at Deuteronomy 1, where Moses recounts the story to his people, we see a three-part formula for fear that’s most likely at the root of our fears today.

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10 Ways Disappointment Can Strengthen Your Faith

Disappointment exercises our faith.

Like a good resistance band, it pushes back at us, putting on the pressure and testing our endurance. We can either succumb to its force or return the push. We can give way to what disappointment naturally produces—discontentment and doubt—or we can let it grow us.

We can let it stretch and strengthen our faith.

When Disappointment Comes

I’ve felt disappointed lately. In a few realms, the resistance band has gone to work, exercising my faith in Jesus:

  • When a situation is blurred in confusion (push), do I trust his perfect knowledge and wisdom (pull)?
  • If an outcome isn’t what I’d hoped it would be (push), will I receive God’s will or get angry (pull)?
  • If God takes away a good gift (push), do I demand an explanation, or submit to him what I may not understand (pull)?

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When You’re in the Pit

Joseph had dreams. Big, God-given dreams about ruling over his family, being exalted to a high position of respect and power. Dreams that made his brothers angry and jealous.

So they tossed him in a pit.

Genesis 37:24 tells us the pit was empty and without water, as Joseph went from dreams to the depths. His circumstances changed in an instant, and would for years to come. I wonder how often he thought about his dreams. Was God lying? Did he perceive things wrong? Or did the dreams stand, regardless of what he could (or couldn’t) see?

When we’re in the pit, we wonder the same. No, we may not dream literal dreams like Joseph did, but we have “our dreams,” don’t we? We dream of the pleasant vacation away from routine, the career track to success and comfort, the prospering marriage, and the pursuit of a generally happy life.

These are our dreams, but are they God’s dreams for us?

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God Is Good, So Fight the Lies

A sneaking suspicion lingers in my heart. It never ceases to lie to me: “God isn’t good,” it says. “Wouldn’t you be healthy if he was?”

It often masks itself in other lies:

  • “What did you do to cause this pain?”
  • “You must not have learned your lesson yet.”
  • “Why doesn’t that person ever suffer? Why do you always seem to?”

The suspicion arises freshly when my body hurts in new or different ways. In the pain, it tempts me, fooling me into believing that maybe, just maybe, God isn’t as good as I thought—not in the moment at least.

Not toward me.

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6 Great Books to Read at the Start of the New Year

What would it look like for you to know Christ in 2017?

Resolutions toward physical fitness, habit changes, and life goals are commonplace in any given December, and when placed under God’s ultimate control, these are good pursuits. But there’s a better pursuit, the Bible tells us, one that takes to heart—well, our hearts.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

To prioritize growth in godliness for the purpose of knowing God is every Christian’s job, whether at the start of a new year or the dawn of each new day. Morning by morning, as we wake up with breath in our lungs, we’re beckoned to spend our moments on the greatest pursuit in existence: to know Jesus more intimately and to become like him.

One way to move toward this goal? Read great books. Not just any Christian books—great books. Books bursting with true, theological riches. Pages plumbing the depths of the gospel of Jesus. Titles trumpeting the value of holiness, the perfection of God’s Word, and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners stumbling their way to glory. Turn the pages and treasure the paragraphs of great books that will spur you on to know Christ and grow in godliness.

The Bible comes first. Great books follow. Here are six I’d recommend you read this new year…

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When God Feels Far Away

It seems to be one of the most common experiences of the Christian life. God feels far away, like he is hiding himself, or at least withholding his reviving presence. We feel destitute, spiritually dry, and desperate for a sense that he is still there, still listening, still caring. But we can’t seem to eke out a prayer because even our prayers feel empty, and they seem to return to us with an echo of defeat.

Where are you, Lord? Can you hear me? Why are you hiding yourself from me? I am your child, so why, Father, does it feel like you are ignoring my cries? How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will I seek you, only to find that the silence remains? I am languishing, O Lord. Do not delay, O my God…

If this sounds like the cry of your heart today, be comforted that you are not experiencing anything new or abnormal. You are in the same boat as your brothers and sisters in the Lord, as your forefathers, as a multitude of other Christians who have gone before you and who now walk beside you. There is some comfort in this reality.

But it cannot fully cradle our fragile hearts because feeling far from God can be a frightening experience.

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Who Then Is This Jesus Christ?

Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the primary message relayed throughout the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is one with the Father, God in the flesh, full of power and authority over nature, demons, disease, and even death.

For many believers who have put their faith in Christ, Jesus’ power and authority is now made visible to us. Our eyes have been opened to him. We pour over the pages of Scripture, read about Jesus healing Jarius’ daughter and casting out Legion, and we worship along with the centurion, who said at the foot of the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

But it’s important for believers to realize that we, too, were once in spiritual darkness, unable to see the glory of Jesus Christ. We used to respond differently to Jesus. Before God kindly and graciously opened our eyes, the Bible tells us that we were blind to the truth. More than that, we were suppressors of the truth. We did not want to see the truth because the truth, we thought, would only condemn us (Romans 1:18).

So what a breath of fresh air when God allowed us to see the light of the knowledge of himself in the face of his Son: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Christ came and died and rose to be our Advocate, to cover us in his righteousness, if only we would trust his ability to do so by faith.

Many today are still blind and unable to see the glory of Jesus as the Son of God. And this is nothing new; many people in Jesus’ day were also blind to his person and work, his power and authority, his self-revealing holiness and goodness and divinity. In fact, in the middle chapters of Mark alone (3-7), we see various responses to Jesus from five different groups of people. It is important that we be familiar with these responses as we both search our own hearts and walk beside people of every context and background in our day to day lives.

The Religious

Perhaps the clearest portrait of this group is found in Mark chapter 7, where we read about a confrontation between the Pharisees and the disciples. The disciples had eaten without washing their hands, so the Pharisees decided to use their filth as an opportunity to make Jesus look bad in front of the crowds.

They asked Jesus, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (7:5) Jesus, in return, calls them hypocrites and says this:

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (6,7)

Rather than seeing Jesus as the Son of God, “The Religious” saw a threat to their own pride and power. See, if your pride is in your own morality, like theirs was, then anyone who crushes your attempt at being moral is going to be one of two things: your enemy…or your Savior. For this person will either threaten your own idea of what is right and wrong, as he claims to be the moral standard, or this person will be a refuge for you as you fall into his perfection and cry out for his help! As for the Pharisees, they were threatened by Jesus – so threatened that they plotted with the scribes to try and convict him of breaking the Law of Moses (3:6).

Who do you know who might fall into this category of response to Christ? The person who has a general belief in God but who believes that good works are sufficient for salvation. The person who holds a high standard of living in their day to day and judges anyone who doesn’t follow it to-a-tee…including themselves. The person who gleans more anxiety from spiritual disciplines rather than joy and freedom.

Maybe this is someone you know, or maybe it’s you. Jesus’ message for all of us is this: It is possible to honor Jesus with our lips and have it mean absolutely nothing. He calls it vain worship; we might call it “faking it” or “going through the motions.” Either way, it’s false worship because it’s misdirected worship. It’s about worshiping our own goodness and abilities, rather than God’s goodness. It’s about making ourselves feel better and boosting our own self-confidence through doing the “right things.”

Jesus, the Son of God, doesn’t want our empty, outward actions that are more devoted to ourselves than to him. He wants our hearts, our affections, that are cast upon his own goodness first, being transformed into outward worship as a result.

The Demons

The next “group” to respond to Jesus includes the demons and the “unclean spirits.” Mark tells us that “whenever the unclean spirits saw [Jesus], they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” And he strictly ordered them not to make him known” (3:11-12).

It’s fascinating that those overtly opposed to Christ’s glory, holiness, and work proclaim him rightly: “You are the Son of God.” This teaches us, again, that it is possible to honor Jesus with our lips and have it mean absolutely nothing.

In teaching about true, regenerative faith, James writes this:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:18-20)

In other words, just because someone titles Jesus correctly as the Son of God does not mean that they have faith; in fact, it could mean the exact opposite, that they attack his deity and perfection out of a hardened, evil heart.

Some of the smartest people I’ve met have known truths about Jesus but bore no fruit of holiness because their knowledge was not rooted in faith. It is only by faith in the Son of God, a belief in his ability to save needy, desperate sinners, that a person bears the fruit of the Spirit. Is your testimony of Jesus, or that of someone you know, an empty label, your heart hardened to his glory?

The Resistant

The next group we meet is extremely common nowadays, and we see its prevalence even in Jesus’ time. “The Resistant” are those people who get a taste of Jesus…but who are offended by him, rather than humbly broken by his love and grace.

The best example of resistance to Jesus is found in Mark chapter 6, when Jesus ministers in his hometown, Nazareth:

On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:2-6)

This passage makes extremely clear that the teaching of the gospel is the fragrance from death to death for some who hear it (2 Corinthians 2:16). People are resistant firstly because, by nature, their hearts are hardened and rebellious and secondly, because the gospel demands the giving up of their very lives to the Lordship of Jesus. This is deeply offensive to people who insist on believing that truth is relative and that their lives are accountable to no one but themselves.

Notice that Jesus “could do no mighty work there” because of “their unbelief.” A person resistant to Jesus, questioning his truth and denying his power and authority, is rocky ground where the seed of God’s Word cannot take root and grow (Mark 4:4). If this is you today, don’t resist Jesus any longer! He has demonstrated his power and authority by rising from the grave, and he reigns over creation, including your own life. Submit to him by faith, knowing that he desires not to condemn you but to give you life in his name.

The Perplexed

Often, the disciples of Jesus cannot seem to understand his identity, even though he is walking right alongside them in the flesh. Mark’s Gospel confirms how perplexed the disciples often were by Christ. But don’t we see ourselves in these men?

When the twelve men get caught in a storm at sea, they are terrified to find Jesus taking a peaceful nap on a cushion in the boat. When they wake him, he rebukes the wind and the sea, saying to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). We are then told the men “were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”’ (41).

Jesus, the one who called the disciples to himself, for whom they left everything to follow, who had healed a paralytic, a man with leprosy, and one with an evil spirit, is still utterly perplexing to the men! Their questioning reveals to us that it is possible to know Jesus but not to trust him fully.

Even King Herod knew of Jesus and his miraculous powers as demonstrated through John the Baptist (6:14), but Mark tells us that he was perplexed all the same (20).

Faith in this life can be a complicated thing because “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). The disciples did walk by sight, yet even they struggled to trust Jesus with their whole hearts when fearful circumstances arose. How easy it is to take our eyes off Jesus and fix them on what’s happening around us. But Jesus gives us more grace, continuing to reveal his own glory to us, so that we will gaze increasingly upon him and not upon our storms.

The Believing

Finally, we see a response to Christ in Mark 5 that should deeply encourage us and spur on our own faith. Jarius, a ruler of the synagogue, has a daughter who is dying, and he believes that Jesus can simply lay hands on her and make her well (5:23). While Jesus is enroute to Jarius’ home, some men report that his daughter has died, and they encourage Jarius not to trouble Jesus any longer (35).

But Jarius, by faith, believes in Jesus’ power to heal his daughter after Jesus says directly to him, “Do not fear, only believe” (36). What is stunning about this command is its directness: Jarius is only able to follow Christ by faith because Jesus has first commanded it within him. Lo and behold, Jesus raises Jarius’ daughter to life by a two authoritative words from his lips: “Talitha cumi” (41), which means “little girl, I say to you, arise,” and everyone was “immediately overcome with amazement.”

This account beautifully teaches that faith is a gift from God, imparted to us through the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. It is through our seeking him in the Scriptures, as Jarius sought Jesus, that we come face to face with his power and authority and are changed.

What are you afraid of today? What obstacle seems too cumbersome for you? With whom will you share Jesus? Where do you need to believe Jesus and exercise your faith in him?

Hear him say to you with all power and authority on heaven and earth, “Do not fear, only believe!” Follow him trustingly, no matter the outcome, knowing, understanding, believing he is who he says he is: the Son of God!

[Post Credit: Unlocking the Bible]

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Five Reasons We Can Trust God in the Detours of Our Lives

As I drove to work the other morning, I couldn’t help but get frustrated at the road work happening in our neighborhood. Big, orange “Detour” signs regaled the road, signaling to drivers that they would need to take an alternative route. I turned right, onto a suburban street I did not recognize, hoping the detour would not make me late for work. My traveling, time-table, and safety was now in the hands of the construction workers who had mapped out the orange detour route, and I hoped that they had done their job successfully!

My initial frustration, however, soon turned to curiosity, as I found my car weaving its way through streets I had not known existed. When did that school get there? I questioned, as my car approached an elementary building bustling with parents dropping off their kids. This was the not the first time I had been re-routed very near to our home, being forced to discover the suburban treasures (nature included) hidden amongst the tree-lined streets.

It so happened that the construction workers did perform their jobs with excellence because I successfully made my way out of the detour and to work on time.

This is one very literal example of a life detour, but what about others we experience?

The unexpected loss of a child. Health that has made a turn for the worst. The sudden dismantling of a friendship. The unfortunate destruction of personal property after a violent storm. The crumbling of a particular set of plans that seemed so sure, so guaranteed.

Detours come in many different shapes and sizes, but all of them share one thing in common: We didn’t see them coming. They catch us off-guard, leaving us frustrated, confused, curious, even heart-broken. We question why things had to happen this way, at this time. The ultimate temptation is to become discouraged, even angry at God, as we experience our faith being rocked.

As I read in Exodus this morning, it became clear that the Israelites went through a similar experience during the time when God called them out from slavery in Egypt. I’m going to skip from verse to verse so you can grasp the full picture of the story:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea… (Exodus 13:17-18)

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night… (13:21)

“And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so… (14:4)

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly… (14:10)

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent…” (14:13-14)

And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea… (14:22-23)

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses… (14:30-31)

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode…” (15:13)

God took the Israelites on a detour of their own, as is made clear by the first passage: “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” I wonder if the people were thinking, Where is God leading us? This route seems kind of roundabout…wouldn’t it be easier to go through Philistia? If they reacted in any way like I did on my drive to work, they were probably frustrated, confused, and even discouraged because the way did not seem clear.

From this account, we can glean five particular reasons to trust God in the detours of our lives:

1. The way God leads us may not make sense to us, but he has his reasons for each and every detour.

I absolutely love how the Bible records God’s thoughts about the detour he provided for the Israelites: “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” His people most certainly did not perceive his reasons, just as we often do not hear the mind of God as we move throughout our days (Isaiah 55:9). But rest assured, God, in his divine sovereignty and wisdom, has a reason for the detours he instates upon our lives. And because we know that God is good, we can therefore trust that his every reason for these detours is equally good.

2. Detours purpose to showcase God’s glory, both to our enemies and for the sake of our own faith.

When shifts in our plans occur, how quickly do we complain and grumble? For me, quickly. It doesn’t take long before I am confounded and unsure about the purpose of changed plans or unexpected suffering. But God makes it absolutely clear that he purposes to reveal his great power and glory through these detours. This illustration might seem a stretch, but consider the construction worker who strategically placed the orange “Detour” signs beside the roads: When I got back on my normal route, he was glorified in my mind as I thought, He did his job well!

How much more will we (and our Enemy) know our mighty God’s power when he is ultimately victorious at the coming of Christ? At the Day, we will proclaim, “Every detour was worth it!” and we will glorify our God in the ultimate sense when we worship him for eternity. For now, we can choose to extol his name in the midst of the detours of life because we know that his glory will be revealed, and we can also bear witness to a world without hope by trusting his ways and praising his wisdom.

3. When a detour feels threatening or confusing, we can trust that God is indeed safeguarding us.

Exodus 14 mentions twice that God erected walls of water around the Israelites, as they made their way through the Red Sea on dry ground. And when God repeats himself, we should pay attention because he is trying to tell us something of great importance! What do these walls of water mean, for them and for us?

They indicate that God’s presence and protection go with us, even while enduring seasons of detours. How can we know this to be true, especially when we feel left alone to fend for ourselves and God seems distant?

Answer: the cross of Christ. Jesus, the sinless Son of God, bore our sins upon himself at Calvary and, as a result, was justly rejected by the holy God, who turned his face away from his Son’s suffering. And all of this so that we would never know God’s rejection or abandonment; for when we trust Jesus’ work on the cross for our righteousness, we are identifying with him, and God clothes us in his perfection. When he looks at us, he sees Christ!

Because Jesus was rejected, we will never be. More than that, in this life we are promised the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit and the protection of Christ as our soul’s everlasting Advocate. God is indeed safeguarding his children, giving them his peace that surpasses understanding, nourishment of truth from his Word, and freedom from fear and doubt through the gospel.

4. Detours cause us to see God’s character more clearly.

Just as I discovered many previously unknown treasures on my driving detour — the school, trees, neighborhoods, and all — so God uses the detours of our lives to teach us about himself. How would we know that God is our Eternal Comfort, unless he places us in an uncomfortable position? How would we proclaim with praises that Christ is our Tender Shepherd unless he exposes us to threatening dangers and suffering? How would we extol our Righteous Judge unless he unveils through our exposing circumstances what the cross accomplished for our sake? Detours foster intimacy with Christ, making them all worth it.

5. God uses detours to make firm our hope and, ultimately, to plant us in the heavenly places with Christ.

The bright orange signs that led me on my detour were not in vain; they actually helped me to know the way through the construction. Through your present detour — be it sickness or pain or changed plans — God is molding you as clay in his intentional, compassionate hands to look more like his Son. Indeed, detours exercise our faith and test our hope.

For those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ, we will emerge from life’s detours as gold refined by fire. We will finally be home: “You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode.”

And in the ultimate sense, as believers are glorified with Christ in eternity, we will realize that life on earth was one big detour: a purposed adventure written by the Great Storyteller, for the intent of calling us to salvation and preparing us for paradise with the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus, and the great God of our every detour and our forever eternity.