Thursday, April 12, 2018

“If I had to believe in something,..”

Everybody believes... something. Recently my Dad told me, “If I had to believe in something, I probably would believe in Odin” (the god of Norse mythology). He’s half Norwegian, so it kind of makes sense (especially since he’s completely out of touch with the “Hollywood Odin” of Marvel fame). My Dad’s comment did catch me a bit off guard. Then again, everybody believes something... and I always want to respect that.

To pay my dues to my Dad’s disbelief, at age 18 I studied under a German existential philosopher. She was a happy atheist and we had a truly wonderful time working our way through more than four centuries of atheistic thought. My challenge to her: “Convert me or I’ll probably be a Christian the rest of my life.” I had decided to follow Jesus Christ at age 13, but deliberately put my faith on the shelf.

In the end, I came back to faith... and not just barely. Instead, I came back to an even more robust faith in Jesus. That doesn’t make me one bit smarter or better than my Dad or any of my other atheistic, agnostic, and skeptical family members and friends.

Still, in my heart of hearts, I would love to see my Dad put his atheism on the shelf awhile and happily study Jesus. I think if he read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, he very well might fall in love with Jesus... just like I did many years ago.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Are you fulfilling your God-given destiny?

Yesterday, my 4-year-old grandson, Noah, asked me an amazing question. His question: “What is a destiny?” Even though his 5th birthday is coming up soon, Noah can’t quite grasp “Thursday,” let alone “destiny.”

Then again, the whole trajectory of my life changed at age 13 when I learned the answer to Noah’s question.

Before my 25th birthday, I dedicated my life to helping others fulfill their God-given destiny.

One of my all-time favorite destiny Bible verses is Ephesians 2:10. It says: “We have become God’s poetry, a re-created people that will fulfill the destiny he has given each of us, for we are joined to Jesus, the Anointed One. Even before we were born, God planned in advance our destiny and the good works we would do to fulfill it!” (TPT)

One of my all-time favorite destiny Bible prayers is 2 Thessalonians 1:11b. It says: “By His power, may God fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.”

What about you? When is the last time you pondered your own God-given destiny? If it’s been a while, I encourage you to ponder it anew this week!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Had friends leave your church? 
(Don’t try to guess why. You don’t know.)
Explore 10 counterintuitive ways to love them anew...
Saturday, March 10, 2018, 3:50 - 4:40 p.m.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Billy Graham, God’s Glory, and Lips of Clay

Billy Graham. 

What a life. 

What a legacy. 

Imagine preaching the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions of people around the world year after year, decade after decade. Yet...

Billy Graham made it clear in the early 1980s that his ministry could be over at any point. “If I should ever take any glory away from God, God would take up His hand off my life and my lips would turn to clay.”

It’s a sobering thought that the Lord could nullify what any given individual does best. It’s potentially even more sobering to ponder, What am I doing that has eternal value?

Thankfully, God doesn’t divide life into “sacred” and “secular.” Whether at home or work, whether in the community or church, the Lord can work in and through us for His glory and honor and praise.

All a person has to do is ask the all-knowing God, the Omniscient One, for His wisdom for life here on earth (James 1:5). The Lord is more than happy to answer such prayers. Thanks to Billy's example, I’ve prayed it many times.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Please pray for Luis Palau

PLEASE PRAY! My dear, dear friend Luis Palau has Stage 4 lung cancer. 

When I first got the news, I felt like someone had just punched me in the gut. I'm still reeling. Yet, as always, we pray with thanksgiving to God, and receive His peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). 

Details in Luis Palau's own words at and his heartfelt video with his sons Kevin and Andrew at

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Haitian-born American hero...

I want to applaud my very dear friend, Dr. Guesly Dessieux, who saved my life a few months after I asked him to become my primary care physician. 

Dr. Dessieux is one of the principals at Santiam Medical Associates east of Salem,

Even better? He's the founder and president of Project Living Hope,, which provides medical and other humanitarian aid and services in his homeland of Haiti. 

I can think of only three men who inspire me more than Dr. Dessieux. He's a true Haitian-born American hero...

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Saint Nicholas - Man or Myth?

Is Saint Nicholas merely legend? 

This question comes up every December around the world, among young and old. 

What is the answer? 

It’s easy for us to think, Yes, Saint Nicholas may or may not have been a Catholic bishop in the 3rd or 4th century. We don’t have any factual data, however, about the real man (if there was one).

On the contrary, Wikipedia provides us with a wealth of historical data, artwork down through the ages, where his skeleton resides (two locations in Europe), who has forensically examined it (and used DNA to prove both sets of bones are from the same man), hundreds of ancient churches named after him, etc.

Thanks to Liverpool University’s Face Lab, the BBC, et al., we also have a facial reconstruction that shows his countenance in detail, including a nose that had been badly broken and veered well to the right, etc. Amazing!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sufi Scholar Dr. Habibeh Rahim, “Love Your Neighbor,” and “Who Is My Brother?”

Shortly after lunch I find a quiet moment to work on my new MacBook Air. I’m sitting on the outside edge of a fairly large booth in the midst of an enormous exhibit hall at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The center is adjacent to the banks of the River Walk in scenic downtown San Antonio, Texas. It’s the third day of the concurrent American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meetings.

I look up to see Dr. Habibeh Rahim walking toward me. I later learned that she earned her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard upon approval of her brilliant 1989 dissertation, Perfection Manifested: `Ali B. Abi Talib’s Image in Classical Persian and Modern Indians Muslim Poetry.

Dr. Rahim is a Sufi Muslim scholar who serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at prestigious St. John’s University in New York. The courses she teaches include Religions of the World, Introduction to Hinduism, Introduction to Buddhism, Introduction to Islam, The Family in Islamic Life and Theology, Sacred Scriptures of the East, Buddhism and Christianity in Dialogue, and Religious Mysticism: East and West.

How I would love to spend a year in New York auditing those courses!

Instead, Dr. Rahim has a much different agenda. In the heart of San Antonio, she walks up to me and I stand to greet her.

“What group are you with?” she asks.

“I’m not sure what you mean by ‘group.’”

“With which faith group do you identify?”

“I was born into a long line of atheists in Seattle, Washington,” I said. “When I was 13 years old, I wholeheartedly embraced the Christian faith.”

“Good,” she replies. “Would you please pray for my elderly mother? She is in her 80s and quite ill. Would you please pray for her healing?”

I pause but only briefly. “Yes, it would be my honor and privilege to pray for your dear mother. Do you have a business card?” Dr. Rahim apologizes and asks if she can write her name and email address on the back of one of my business cards. I trade her for another one of my business cards.

Then up walks a distinguished gentleman I assume is her husband or another St. John’s University professor. Dr. Rahim introduces us. She goes on to explain to the gentleman that I had agreed to pray for her mother’s healing and full recovery. Then she turns her attention back to me.

“Will you join me in my work?”

She pauses, and then continues.

“One of our revered leaders taught that we should care for anyone within a distance of 30 minutes. At the time, that was understood as the 200 houses closest to yours. Over time, however, a distance of 30 minutes changed. Now, a jet can travel 250, 350, even 450 miles in that time. What’s more, mobile phones have swept across the world. We now can reach people almost anywhere on earth.”

She pauses again. “Do you know what I think? It’s time to change our thinking again. Now, we need to care for anyone in need, anywhere in the world. It’s what Jesus taught: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ He certainly meant anyone in need. So, will you join me in my work?”

I quickly say yes.

I go on to echo my agreement with her statement about mobile phones sweeping across the Middle East and Africa, even across the Sahara Desert. Then I say, “That phrase, ‘as yourself,’ is hard to understand. I like to translate what Jesus taught this way: ‘Love your neighbor well.’”

“Exactly!” she says.

At that point, the gentleman standing to her left asks for my business card. “We need to keep in touch, brother. Thank you so very much.”

Later that afternoon I catch another quiet moment and sit down to write to my new friend, Dr. Habibeh Rahim. I can make out her handwriting fairly well. “Habibeh” was clear. I wasn’t sure on her last name, however, so I did a quick Google search. The top hit was her bio on the St. John’s University website.

I resist the temptation to write to Dr. Rahim using her professional email address. Instead, I use the personal gmail address she gave me and write the following:

Dear Dr. Habibeh Rahim,

Thank you so much for our conversation today. What an honor and joy to meet you, and to hear your heart for bringing all peoples together in a new understanding of loving our neighbors, indeed all peoples, everywhere. I would love to share your vision with many others. Please add me to your email list.

As promised, I am praying for your dear mother’s recovery and full healing. How good that we can thank God daily for His sovereignty, providence, holiness, love and mystery. May your dear mother experience God’s comfort, solace, encouragement, strength, joy and peace…

Your brother,

Notice what I do—and do not—say to my new Sufi Muslim friend.

I don’t say I am praying to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, as moved by the Holy Spirit. That would only drive an unnecessary wedge between us.

I do say “Your brother.” This is meant to draw us closer. I know: Christians like to call one other “brother” or “brethren.” That’s good and fine.

Yet, I’m on firm biblical ground when I said, “Your brother.”

In the Gospels, Jesus talks about natural brothers, about the apostles as His brothers, about all of His followers as His brothers and sisters, and about everyone including “the least of these” as His brothers and sisters.

What’s more, the book of Acts is replete with uses of “brothers” that stretch far beyond our modern subculture’s use of the terms. Uses of “brothers” include: Luke referring to Jesus’ half-brothers, Peter addressing the other earliest Christians in Jerusalem, Jewish men speaking to Peter and the other apostles on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles speaking to other early Christians, even Stephen speaking to the Jewish Sanhedrin, which was made up of both unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees.

Additional uses of “brothers” in Acts include: Stephen referring to Joseph’s half-brothers, Moses speaking to two Israelite men, Peter referring to six Jewish Christian believers, Luke referring to Jewish Christians living in Judea, Peter referring to other Christians including the other apostles, synagogue leaders speaking to Barnabas and Saul and John Mark, Luke referring to Paul and Barnabas, Peter speaking to other Christian leaders, James speaking to other Christian leaders, the apostles and elders referring to themselves, and Luke referring to the Christians in specific cities.

Most surprising? Paul uses “brothers” to address Jewish men who hated and persecuted Christians, to address the Jewish Sanhedrin (which, again, was made up of both unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees), and to address non-Christian Jewish leaders living in Rome.

So, I’m simply doing what Jesus, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul and other early Christian leaders did. I’m using “brother” and “brothers” and “brothers and sisters” when I speak with Christians, non-Christians, anti-Christians, and just about anyone else I meet.

If we learn anything the Dr. Habibeh Rahim story, it’s that Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and even a good percentage of atheists are willing to call me “brother” and I’m in good company when I return the favor.

The question isn’t simply, “Who is my neighbor?” It’s also, “Who is my brother?” Either way, it’s everyone you and I meet.

David Sanford serves as a leadership consultant and as a senior writer for three national and international ministries. He is executive editor of Holy Bible: Mosaic and author of Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Does God Speak to Us Today? Anna’s Answer

My daughter Anna a few days after this story
(San Francisco, March 2010). 
“Does God speak to us today?” This question has been debated for centuries. 

Two of my beloved mentors have insisted for more than 35 years that the Lord doesn’t speak to anyone—ever. Sure, God spoke in ancient times to biblical prophets, but He stopped before the close of the first century A.D.

Yet I remember the first time the Lord spoke to me. It was at the end of an intensive time of prayer. God was quiet, yet crystal clear. I didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed a pen and recorded in detail what He told me.

Since that experience, my struggle has not been with whether God does speak today. Instead, my struggle has been with the thousands of times He chooses not to say a word.

This struggle was certainly true in the aftermath of the Great Recession. My wife and I were still recovering from steep business losses. Clients had canceled huge projects mid-stream, and then refused to honor contractual terms. In short, we were left with zero income.

At the same time, our eldest son, Jonathan, was to be married in San Luis Obispo, California—900 miles away from our home. My wife, Renée, and I did the math. It would cost at least $1,800 for the four of us—my wife, Renée, our son Benjamin, our daughter Anna, and me—to travel to the wedding, pay for the rehearsal dinner, help pay for the photographer, and then travel home. But we didn’t have the money to even show up. As a husband and father, I cannot begin to tell you how helpless and hopeless I felt.

The four of us agreed to pray for $2,000 “just in case” and, as always, coveted to tell no one of our situation but God. Within a week, we received an anonymous gift for $1,000. Renée, Benjamin and Anna were thrilled. I felt smaller than ever. Sure, we could get to the wedding, and pay for part of the rehearsal dinner, but what then? I was depressed beyond words.

Sensing my downcast composure, my 10-year-old daughter tried to cheer me up. “Hey Dad, do you think that $1,000 came because you were praying? No, it was me! Don’t worry about anything. God is going to provide.” She paused. I didn’t smile.

“In fact,” Anna continued, “I want you to make a deal with me. You don’t pray. Just me. And you don’t get the mail either. Only I can get it. Promise?”

I didn’t respond.


“Okay.” I turned to hide the grief and anger now racing toward my chin. Our trip was slated to start the following Wednesday morning. What kind of father can’t afford to go to his oldest son’s wedding?

The next afternoon, Anna came running through the door and said, “Dad, guess what? The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow, Saturday, Monday or Tuesday. Isn’t that exciting, Dad!”

“Anna, darling, another check isn’t coming,” I said. “I don’t know why, but God sent only $1,000. That’s all we’re getting.”

Anna smiled. “That’s why you’re not praying and not getting the mail, Dad!”

After school the next day, Anna came skipping into the house with the mail. She was almost giddy. “Dad, you’re not going to believe it! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow, Monday or Tuesday. Can you believe it?”

No, I can’t believe I’m in this situation, I thought. I can’t believe I can’t afford to go to my own son’s wedding. I felt worse than ever.

Saturday was terrible. When the mailman came by, Anna rushed out the sliding glass door, over to the gate, and ran up to his truck. He handed her our mail for the day. Anna was bobbing up and down when she came back into the house. I’d rarely seen her so excited. “Dad, I can’t believe it! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come Monday or Tuesday.” She couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. I couldn’t contain my anguish, so I quickly turned and walked away.

How can I get her to understand? I wondered. God doesn’t always give us what we think we need. Even here in America, Christians often go through much worse things than this. Still, I’m so embarrassed, so ashamed. I’m such a failure.

I didn’t have a good morning at church. I felt completely dry, empty, and hollow. I knew this feeling from one of my worst moments mountain climbing. I was hanging by one hand onto the edge of a precipice with no rope and more than 400 feet of air between me and the ground below.

I honestly couldn’t pray. Why even try? I thought.

After school Monday, Anna ran through the front door almost yelling. “Dad, this is so exciting! The check didn’t come in the mail today. That means it has to come tomorrow!” She was literally jumping up and down.

“Anna, you don’t understand. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but no check is coming. We already got $1,000. That’s it.”

Anna just smiled. “I told you. It’s not your prayers. It’s mine.”

Sure enough, Tuesday afternoon Anna ran into the house, jumping higher than ever. “Dad,” she practically yelled, “this is so exciting! The check didn’t come in the mail. That means someone is going to knock on our front door in 5 minutes and hand it to us.”

“That’s never going to happen,” I snapped, in the harshest of tones.

“But God told me.”

“God didn’t tell you that!” I yelled. I was so furious. I couldn’t bear the inescapable shame that lie ahead of me.

A few minutes later, when I had started to cool off, I heard the doorbell. I yelled again (but more politely) for Anna to take care of it. Thirty seconds later she flew into the kitchen with the biggest brown eyes possible. In her hands she held an envelope.

“Pastor Jim just came to our door. He can’t say who, but somebody came by his office and said, ‘God impressed upon me that David and Renée Sanford’s family needs help. I feel it’s urgent. You’ll see they get this within the hour, won’t you?’”

I couldn’t hold back the tears. “I am so sorry, Anna. I said terrible things no father should ever say to his daughter. I said God didn’t speak to you. He really did. Will you forgive me?”

I’ll never forget how hard she hugged me. After a minute she whispered in my ear. “I told you it was my prayers.” I laughed, hard, for the first time in weeks.

Then Anna handed me the check, signed by the senior pastor of Spring Mountain Bible Church, in the amount of $1,000.

Later, I thought about my oldest mentor who had recently gone to be with the Lord. Yes, we’re all in for a lot of surprises when we get to heaven. He now knows, beyond question, that God can speak to anyone, anytime, and in such a crystal-clear way that there’s no other option except to know that God speaks. 

Thanks to His incredible sovereignty, providence, holiness, love and mystery, you and I can stop telling God what He can and cannot do.

“My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).