Romans twelve

In Letters to the Beloved, a project I have been working on for several years, Romans 12 might be my favorite passage. I have not shared an entire chapter before. I hope this is an encouragement.


(1–2) In light of the good news, how then should you live? Let your whole life bear the imprint of my mercy and grace. I desire that you would become whole and holy—body and soul, an offering of worship to me. To live that way, you must radically reorient yourself away from self–centeredness and toward God–centered adoration and other–centered love. Living this way involves daily renewal, continually refocusing upon good, true, and beautiful things. Wholeness and integration are the center of my will for you.

(3) Here are some ways to grow in godliness. Do not make too much of yourself, exaggerating your righteousness and leading others to believe that you are better than you are. I have invited you into faith, and I want your faith to bloom right where I have planted you. If I made you a daisy, be the best daisy you can. Do not pretend you are a sunflower.

(4–8) Consider the human body. Though it is one unit, it has many different organs and functions, each contributing uniquely to the greater whole. So it is with my church, which includes multitudes who possess distinct gifts, personalities, and abilities, all of which are important. I have called some to speak prophetically, some to exceptional service, some to teaching my word, some to speaking convicting words, some to generosity, some to leadership, and some to exuberant mercy. Whatever your gift, offer it back to me by loving well.

(9) When it comes to love, which is the heart of who I am, do not fake it. Fake love is no love at all. Instead, be authentic and genuine. Train yourself to discriminate between good and evil. With the help of my Holy Spirit, seek integration and reject what fractures your spirit and relationships.

(10) Make the effort to love others well, not with indifference, but with the caring, other–centered love that exists in healthy families. Go the extra mile to encourage, so they have no doubt that they are loved, valued, and accepted. Godly love is never about demanding your rights to the exclusion of others but instead recognizing that everyone is interconnected. No one is more or less valuable than another.

(11) Pursue love intentionally; do not just sit back and expect love to happen. Love is active and zealous for the good of another. When you love others in both word and action, you serve my kingdom.

(12) When you experience pain and suffering, which you will in a world that is not yet fully reconciled, do not feel hopeless. Instead, remember that I have promised complete restoration. Be patient with yourself and others, remembering what I am doing in you and the world. As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “I want to beg of you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”[1] Allow these unresolved bits of you, the nagging questions and self–doubt, to be kindling for prayer. Bring everything to me. It is our relationship that matters.

(13) Be generous toward others with your time, ability, and financial resources. If you cling too tightly to these things, they will shackle your soul. Instead, use them for love.

(14) Some people would like nothing better than to see you fail. They will speak negatively about you and may even seek your harm. Your carnal nature will urge you to retaliate; instead, respond with a blessing. Seek the good of others, even when they want to hurt you because that is the way of the cross.

(15) Be eager to join people right where they are. If they are celebrating, do not warn them about excessive happiness. Rejoice with them. When they are mourning, suffer with them. I never intended people to be emotionless but heartful.

(16) Live in harmony with one another. Harmony is not monotony, nor is it cacophony. It is not just one melodic line but many notes that mix uniquely to produce a wondrous tune. Heaven itself is a Trinitarian symphony.

Do not consider yourself to be better than others. Pride kills. Go out of your way to spend time with those who are lower in status and spirit. Encourage everyone you encounter.

Do not be especially fond of your own wisdom and insight. I have given you the ability to think, reason, and feel, but if you act as though you are some sort of sage, you have left me behind and are traveling a dangerous path.

(17) Do not practice retributive justice. There is an old saying that references Exodus 21:24— “If in this present age we were to go back to the old–time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few…who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless.”[2] Retribution is not the way of the cross. Following my Son means not only avoiding retribution but seeking to honor the humanity of others. I created every person in my image. Honor their dignity.

(18–19) If possible, live at peace with everyone. Some will continually reject your offers of peace; that is on them, not you. You cannot control others’ actions or reactions, but only your own, so seek peace. Do not try to avenge yourself by setting things right according to your own sense of justice. Instead, leave it up to me, trusting that I am perfectly just. When all is said and done, and you see my justice clearly, you will not doubt that I handled it correctly.

(20–21) In the meantime, do the opposite of what your sinful, self–protective nature tells you. If your enemy is hungry, share your food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Paul wrote that acting contrary to your sinful nature would “heap burning coals” upon your enemy’s head. Mercifully treating others can lead them to feel discomfort. Compassion is countercultural, and people who cling to evil do not expect mercy.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[3] You cannot destroy evil by greater evil, but only by good; never by deception, but only by the truth; never through self–seeking, but only through the cross.


[1] Rilke, Letters to a young poet, 35.

[2] Graham, Official Report.

[3] King, Loving Your Enemies.

not one whole person

There is not one whole person
not even one.
No one comprehends my fullness,
no one truly seeks after me.
Every person has left the path of shalom,
pursuing broken things.
They do not live for integration,
but disintegration.
When they open their mouths,
they breathe out deception and death.
They speak out curses from a bitter tongue.
They are eager to inflict hurt.
The road they walk is littered
with the victims of their self–centered violence.
They do not put my peace into practice
because they treat my call to love with contempt.

-Romans 3: 9-18, Letters to the Beloved

Fare Thee Well, Dear Friend

I am certain I cannot capture Larry Crabb’s influence upon my life in a blog post. I edited a book about him two years ago that only provided a glimpse into his work; certainly, a brief essay will be incomplete. Still, I will try to honor my teacher, mentor, and friend.

Larry has been writing books nearly as long as I have been alive, though I am relatively late to his work. I have wrestled with what it means to be a Christian psychologist for twenty-five years, following many rabbit trails looking for an identity, though nothing rang true for me. I had heard of Larry Crabb but largely avoided him because his ideas were uniquely his own. In truth, I should have known that his unique way of thinking would resonate deeply within me.

In 2014, I attended Larry’s 52nd School for Spiritual Direction in Ashville, North Carolina. At the beginning of the week-long retreat, I still did not know what to expect, but I was thirsty for something. From his first words, I knew my life was about to change. My world was upended that week as I began to see the relational nature of God in fresh ways.

In the months that followed, I consumed his books, audio recordings, and online courses. Eventually, I read them all, and some of them, I read repeatedly. In fall 2014, I attended his Next Step School for Spiritual Direction, doing everything I could to become a “Crabbian psychologist.” However, one thing about Larry is that he was much less interested in my development as a psychologist than he was in knowing me as a person. From our first spiritual direction hour together, he saw beneath my professional façade to my heart.

Several memories stand out. When I went to North Carolina, I had a one-hour spiritual direction meeting with Larry. At that time in my life, I struggled with how to love my eldest daughter well, and I began to pour my heart out as he listened. He spoke into my strength as a man and, in the end, encouraged me to call home and talk to Grace and tell her how much I loved her and the beauty I saw in her.

When I went to Next Step in Colorado, I was talking in the group, and Larry said to me, “How about dropping the doctor?” One of the regular themes in our conversations has been my tendency to live in my head and speak doctorly. He saw it right away and invited me to be Jason. More than once, he said, “I am not interested in Dr. Crabb talking with Dr. Kanz, but Larry talking to Jason.” He invited me to my true self. Larry and I also have similar senses of humor. Engaging with Larry helped me to realize that even professionally, I could allow my humor to shine. Shortly before Next Step, Larry had fallen upon a stack of books he was carrying and fractured a rib. As he was telling us the story, I said, “Not many people can claim a book-related injury.” Watching him laugh, I realized our similarities grew.

As much laughter as there was at these events, there were also tears. I had always dreamed of writing a book, but I never believed it was something I would accomplish. In passing, I had mentioned my desire to several people but never took it any further. Sometime during that week, I talked with another SSD friend who said, “Jason, you’re a storyteller,” and something broke loose within me. I brought it before the group, and as I did, tears flowed. Larry, together with the others, helped me to press into my desire and my fears. Having now written 4 books, Larry’s influence is evident in each of them. In truth, one of the books, Living in the Larger Story, is about him, and he wrote the foreword to Notes from the Upper Room.

In 2018, I had a nervous breakdown. Clinically, I suppose we would call this an “acute stress reaction,” but I think the old school term fits my experience better. Larry did not hesitate to move toward me in my darkest season of life. He did not try to fix me; instead, he was with me, listening and reflecting.

After working on Living in the Larger Story: The Christian Psychology of Larry Crabb for far too long, it finally came together. It included contributions from many people whom Larry had touched. There was a universal fondness for Larry as a person and not only as a Christian psychologist. Out of that project, the Gideon Institute at HBU hosted a conference in Larry’s honor. We had some phenomenal speakers, but the real highlight for me was the opportunity to visit with my friend on stage for 75 minutes as we talked about his career. Though Larry was a popular speaker and author, what he really loved were conversations that mattered.

To try capturing the fullness of Larry’s influence is an impossible task. The outpouring of affection for him on the Larry Crabb Appreciation Club on Facebook over the last few days has been nothing short of beautiful. Larry’s influence on many people has been profound. I count myself privileged to be one of the grateful witnesses to his life.

Fare thee well,
mentor, teacher, and friend
keep the coffee hot,
until we meet again.

I have questions

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,

There are so many things I do not understand.
What was it like when you called the cosmos into being?
Did you speak your creative words matter-of-factly,
or did you sing as you hovered over the waters?

What do you feel when you look at the world you created?
When you look at me?
For so long, I imagined that you were angry, or disappointed,
but what if…what if
suffering stirs your compassion
and sinfulness moves you to love?

What if the great commission
was never about getting people into heaven,
but about bringing heaven to people?

What if you never intended your followers
to focus on who’s right and who’s wrong,
or who’s in and who’s out?
What if instead, you have invited us to love,
regardless of someone’s creed or culture?

What if we believed Jesus’ encouragement
to be whole, as you Father are whole?
What if we believed Paul’s words
that you are truly reconciling all things?

What if…

re-membering ourselves

What if we have misunderstood sin?
What if sin is not so much about behavior, but fragmentation?
What if sinning means that we have forgotten who we are?

What if holiness has little to do
with willing ourselves to comply with a set of external standards
but instead, is about re-membering ourselves?

What if we concerned ourselves
less with avoiding evil
and more with becoming whole?

What if righteousness has little to do
with condemning sin
and much to do with living from our true self?

What if holy living was never about
white-knuckled compliance
but about welcoming ourselves back home?

Love After Love

This poem, Love After Love by Derek Walcott, is one of my favorites.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

strive for peace

Beloved, ponder this: My wisdom is countercultural. I want you to be undiluted by selfishness and worldliness. Strive for peace in your relationships, even when it gets hard. The world says that it is okay for you to be rough around the edges, but I want you to practice gentleness. I have made you rational and capable of reason. I want you to think carefully, knowing that my Spirit dwells in you and sharpens your thought. Listen to others with interest. Rather than beating others down with your arguments, build them up with gentle curiosity. When you find yourself disagreeing with others, be patient and merciful, just as I am with you. Do not just pretend to love, be sincere. Do not merely pretend to be fair; judge with impartiality. You will be amazed how much righteousness and serenity flow from your willingness to treat others with peace and gentleness. 

-James 3:17-18, Letters to the Beloved

dark corners

As darkness presses in
filling the corners of our minds
we long for your light, O God.
Frantically, we cry out,
“Where are you?”

Do not let the Great Sadness overwhelm us.
Remind us of your enduring goodness.
Reveal your tender mercy.

Help us to understand
that there is neither form nor beauty
without both light and shadow.

Open our eyes
to see your presence
even in these dark places.

There is nowhere we can go
that you have not already gone.
There is no darkness
where your light does not shine brighter still.

tempest

I am afraid.
I seek control
though I am powerless.

Waves crash
rip currents carry me
further into a sea of dread.

I do not know
what dangers lurk
in the depths.

I row harder
oars nearly snapping
under the strain.

Breathlessly, I cry out
Lord, don’t you care
that I am drowning?

In the deafening storm
I hear you whisper
Peace, be still.

Are you speaking to me
or the tempest?
I cannot tell.

The same hurricane
feeds the turbulence
within and without.

Close your eyes.
Breathe, beloved.
Breathe.

the boy who cried wolf, reimagined

The Shepherd Boy and the Wolf is one of Aesop’s best known fables. In the parable, a young shepherd was bored, so to make life interesting, he ran into the village crying out that a wolf was attacking the flock. The villagers were rightly concerned and came running only to find the boy laughing at them. He repeated the pattern until one day, a real wolf attacked. This time, when the boy “cried wolf,” the townsfolk did not believe him and the wolf killed many of his sheep.

As I watch the world today, I wonder if this retelling of Aesop might be more accurate.

There once was a farmer who owned many sheep who needed someone to watch over his flock. After interviewing several potential shepherds, he settled on a boy who was well-known in the village. Everyone knew that he was rough around the edges and had a reputation for telling tall tales. Several of the farmer’s friends raised questions about the boy’s character, but the farmer said, “I only want him to watch over my sheep. I care nothing about his character so long as he can manage, and maybe even grow, my flock.”

Time passed and the shepherd boy seemed to be doing a good job. The flock appeared healthy and the boy’s confidence bolstered the farmer’s faith in him. In the village, people often heard the boy boasting that the sheep were the healthiest they had ever been. Nevertheless, some of the villagers were concerned. They had gone out into the hills and the sheep did not appear to be doing as well as he bragged, and they were also concerned about his farming methods. Whenever they raised their concerns, however, the shepherd boy insisted that they were lying and were jealous of his success.

Eventually, the farmer’s flock began to dwindle and the farmer also became concerned. When he confronted the shepherd, the boy blamed the villagers who had previously raised concerns about his character and methods. Though the farmer was uncertain, several of the boy’s acquaintances said, “He’s right. It’s the villagers.”

As time passed, more sheep disappeared. The shepherd continued to proclaim that his accusers were at fault and that he had proof, though he never produced anything to support his accusations. Still, more people began to believe his claims because he stated them with such frequency and confidence.

Finally, the farmer had enough. He went to the shepherd and said, “You are ruining my flock. You keep saying that a group of jealous villagers is at fault, but you have never given any proof. In fact, I even have evidence that refutes your claims. How do you expect me to respond?”

Without missing a beat, the shepherd boy looked at the farmer and said, “Do you want proof? Nearly half of the villagers believe me. Nothing you say will convince them otherwise. You can cry wolf all you want, but they all know the truth.”

And at his words, the pack descended upon the farmer and tore him limb from limb.