Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Good Seminarian

I am reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell entitled The Tipping Point. The book explains how ideas, products, or fads spread. There are three main factors according to Gladwell: 1) having people involved who are well-connected, who are gatherers of information, or who are persuasive. 2) having an idea or product that is "sticky," or that is worth spreading in the first place. 3) having the right environment in which the idea can spread.

To prove the importance of environment and the influence it has over us, Gladwell documented several research experiments done in this area. One experiment involved seminary students at Princeton Theological Seminary. The seminarians were instructed to compose a speech on a given topic that they would subsequently deliver in another building across campus. Along the way to the other building, the seminarians would come across a man who would be gasping, coughing, and in obvious physical pain. At the beginning of the experiment, the seminarians were questioned as to their motivation for attending seminary. Then they were given a topic for their speech. Some were given a generic topic such as the benefits of a seminary education. Others, however, were told to give a speech on the story of the Good Samaritan. Finally, on their way out, some of the students were told that they were a few minutes late for their speech and that the review panel was waiting on them in the other building. The others were told that they finished early and that they had a short time before they would be expected.

The researchers wanted to see what factors would be most common among those who stopped to help the man in need. Three factors were considered in the experiment: their motivation for attending seminary (i.e. to be better prepared to help people, obey God, etc.), the topic given (which would be the focus of their minds as they encountered the man), and the time available to the students as they encountered the man. The results are interesting and just a bit convicting. The only factor that made a difference was time. Even those who had just prepared a talk on the Good Samaritan practically stepped over the man when they were told that they were late.

Thinking through my own experiences, I can believe these results. I can think of times when I stopped to help someone. It is usually when I am not in a particular hurry to be somewhere. Other times, I pass by hoping someone else will help the person in need. I am sure that the priest and the Levite in Jesus' parable would have had similar excuses. Do we assume that the Samaritan had a more leisurely lifestyle? This couldn't have been Jesus' point, to help others when it is convenient. No, Jesus' story is about loving our neighbor. Coming to the assistance of a neighbor only when it is convenient for us can hardly be called good or loving. What we learn from Jesus' story is that we when help someone in need even when it costs us, even when it makes us late for an important appointment, there can only be one factor at play: love.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The thought occurred to me this morning that movies may be the icons of our culture. I am using icon in the religious sense; I am suggesting that movies are visual portals that connect us with some transcendent beauty or truth. Let me explain.

The origins of Christian icon use in prayer or worship are found in the Eastern Orthodox Church. One objection to icons stems from the second of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below" (Ex. 20:4). The Eastern Orthodox Christians, however, will tell you that they are not worshiping the icons. They see the holy images as a sort of window to heaven, a portal by which to encounter the divine. Just as Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the icons transport us into His divine presence. There we encounter beauty, truth, and goodness.

Now I am in no way comparing watching a movie to an act of prayer or worship. But can we encounter something of goodness, truth, and beauty in cinema? If not, how is it that we can be so moved by movies? Has a film ever brought you to tears through the beauty of a story, showed you something true about yourself, or made you want to be a better person? It is not that every movie is Christian; they do not have to be. All goodness, truth, and beauty are God's goodness, truth, and beauty. God created them, and they come forth from Him. If I want to build a house, I must use materials God created. If movie-makers want to say something good, true, or beautiful, they must use God's goodness, truth, and beauty. It is all they have to work with.

Why is it that we continue to pay out the wazoo for these stories? Why is it that the average American household has more TV sets than people? One reason is because these movies and shows speak to our hearts in powerful ways. The visuals carry us into another world where goodness, truth, and beauty (or lack thereof) become more apparent than in our own world where those are sometimes harder to discern. Through these icons we see our own lives more clearly. Through movies, we are helped to appreciate and cooperate with the goodness, truth, and beauty that flows from God into our own lives. And as the credits roll, as we walk out of theater and back into our own world, we have only God to thank.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Monica and I met Patrick Kuykendall at the movies this afternoon to watch the much-anticipated film, Avatar. The movie is still fresh on my mind so I wanted to journal my thoughts.

First of all, as has been pointed out hundreds of times, this movie is visually breathtaking. Watching it in 3D made it probably the best thing I have ever laid eyes on. This alone is enough to spellbind you and keep you entranced for the entire three hours.

There is so much I could say, but I don't want to spoil the movie for those who have yet to see it. I will say that the selling point of the movie for me was the Na'avi people. These are the indigenous people of the planet Pandora whom the story of Avatar centers around. The story itself has been told before; most people are making comparisons to Dances With Wolves. But the Na'avis were captivating. There was something primitively beautiful about their culture and their connection to the environs of Pandora. I sympathized with the main character in his desire to become one of them. Somehow, to become a Na'avi was to become more human, or at least more humane.

To be a Na'avi is not safe. The rites of passage in this culture demand the risking of your life. Once passed, however, these trials foster a deep appreciation and understanding of life, what the Na'avis called "seeing." This resonates because we are all born with an innate desire for adventure, to sense the heroic thrill of overcoming peril to accomplish some good. Even the most timid of us have this desire for swashbuckling bravery somewhere down deep. We were created to experience our world the way the Na'avis experience Pandora. We are to embrace the adventure that lies waiting on land, air, and sea. We are not to shy away from the dangers of creation, but to subdue it and care for it. We are not to simply look at the world, but to "see" creation. This is how I expect to experience the New Heaven and New Earth. There we will enjoy everything that we now only catch glimpses of. Endless beauty. Endless adventure. And that will be even better than 3D.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Kingdom of God

Today we entered into our first yearly covenant at Missio Dei. The purpose of the covenant is to formally bind us together toward fulfilling a common mission. We have stated that mission as follows: "Missio Dei exists to point to and build for the Kingdom of God in tangible ways as we embody the life of the risen Jesus Christ." I hope to take a few posts to explain this mission statement more fully. I begin with the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God was and is central to the mission of Jesus. His message was, "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand." There are many ways we can talk about this Kingdom, but we know from Jesus' prayer that the whole thing involved God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Thus, the Kingdom of God can be spoken of as God's reign over His creation. It is creation at its highest and best. It is when you cannot tell the difference between heaven and earth.

When Jesus fed the hungry, calmed the storms, or healed the sick, He wasn't just performing wonders, He was putting the Kingdom of God on display. When He spoke about loving our enemies, trusting God rather than fretting, and about the last being first, He wasn't just being genius, He was laying out the new ethic of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is about the reversing and the undoing of the present kingdoms. If it seems backwards to pray for those who curse, it's because, well, it is. If it seems foreign to consider a lustful stare adultery, it's because we have grown accustomed to a rival ethic of a rival kingdom. Before we write this Kingdom of God off as silly or impossible, we should consider what the alternatives have managed to produce: war, hunger, poverty, abuse, murder, disease. I could go on. On the other hand, what would happen if we truly loved others? What if we truly lived lives of trust and honesty? What if we truly esteemed others above ourselves? The answer: we don't know. We've never tried it. But one Man did. And He changed the world. But, as Dallas Willard points out, the way of Jesus had not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.

If we're going to get any closer to this Kingdom, then the first thing we have to do is change our thinking. Jesus' instruction was to "repent." To repent is to change our minds, to change our thinking. It is to change the way we view God, ourselves, and the world around us. We have had the broken mindsets of broken kingdoms for too long. We have believed in the failed "saviors" of power, wealth, and pleasure. Yet God is on mission in this world, if we have eyes to see it. He is reshaping the world for the goodness He intended for it. He is redeeming a humanity to live in this new Kingdom. And He has called us to join Him in this restoration project.

To be the church is to join God in His mission. To join God's mission is to work for the Kingdom of God. To enter this Kingdom of God is to repent. To repent is to believe that the world is a different place than we ever imagined it. It is to open our eyes to the God who is making all things new.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009

Tonight we went to Katie's cousin's house for the big Christmas Eve get-together... without Katie. She stayed home with a stomach bug. I'm hoping she feels better by tomorrow morning.

Earlier today, Gracie and I took a bicycle helmet over to a family's house for a nine-year-old little boy. Last week, the women of our church went shopping for this little boy and Tiffany and Dante's children. This boy, Dominick, lives with his grandmother. A couple of years ago, the grandmother told us, she bought Dominick a bike. His mother stole the bike and pawned it. So, of course, we had to get him a bike. Today we brought the helmet that another family had donated.

Sometime during my outing with Gracie, God moved in my heart. It is probably more accurate to say that He opened my eyes a little wider. I don't know how to say it really, or know how to communicate what I was thinking or feeling. It was quite subtle actually, but deep. I can only say that something good happened, and that I am thankful for moments like that, when God allows us to sense a profoundness that transcends language. We are let in on the secret that there is always more to each moment than we realize. There is always something just beneath the surface of every experience. There is a good God who loves us very much.

The Prince of Peace

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."
-The Heavenly Host to the Shepherds, Luke 2:14

After three months of praying and planning, Room at the Inn finally took place tonight. We held a banquet for our new friends Tiffany and Dante, and invited their family and a few friends from Highland Community Church who came along side us on this project. Our purpose was to reunite Dante and Tiffany with their children and the family members are currently providing care for them. Only one of the three children made it to the dinner, but the event was still a success. It was an edifying experience for everyone involved.

At the dinner, I spoke about how Christ was born to bring us peace. The angels sang (or said) "peace to [mankind]" at the birth of Jesus. But what is this peace? Is it the absence of war? Is it the absence of conflict in our lives? These things will happen in the end, but what of right now? What peace is there for the present moment?

The Jewish understanding of peace goes far beyond our definitions. We think of peace in negative terms: the absence of strife. But for the Jews, peace, or shalom, was a positive idea. Shalom meant wholeness, completeness, rightness. Shalom was the original state of things before the Fall of mankind. Shalom is the state of being that God intends for His creation. Shalom is not, however, our current natural state of being. Things break when they fall, and we have all fallen from what God intended for us. Thus, the world is a broken place. We are all broken people. Ours is a world of broken hearts and broken bones. We suffer through broken relationships and broken homes.

In the midst of this brokenness, the angels announce peace. They proclaim shalom once more over mankind. The Healer of the world is born. The Redeemer has entered into our broken world Himself to be broken. And in His brokenness, creation is restored. So we wait. We wait for the healing and restoration of all things. Yet this shalom is available to us now. This is the glad tiding of great joy.

The breaking of creation began in the human heart. The healing will begin nowhere else. Jesus offers healing and wholeness to our hearts. When hearts are made whole, there is no longer need for war, for conflict, for strife. There is no need for envy, or fear, or pride. We discover that there is a new Kingdom at hand. And on the throne of this Kingdom is one called the Prince of Peace.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


"Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ."
Matthew 1:17

For most of us, the Christmas story begins in verse 18 of Matthew 1: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about..." But Matthew begins his account with a long (dare I say boring?) genealogy. Why?

Matthew is writing his gospel for a Jewish audience, an audience who would have been far more interested in this genealogy than we may initially be. One reason for this interest would have been that the genealogy involved their history. Key figures such as Abraham and David appear in lineage. Matthew's original audience remembers that God promised to bless all peoples through Abraham's offspring. Even more interesting to them was the fact that Jesus is of the line of David, who reigned during the Golden Age of Israel. God promised David that his kingly line would never fail, yet at the birth of Christ, no Davidic king sits on a throne. When will God keep His promise? When will He raise up another David to restore Israel to her former glory? When will He anoint this king to rule in power and truth and righteousness to renew the hearts of the people? Matthew is stoking the coals of his people's desire.

Matthew's audience also would have had great interest in this genealogy because of one other significant detail: the number fourteen. Matthew purposefully sets up his genealogy to emphasize the number fourteen. The whole thing is divided up into three groups of fourteen. Why is this important? Hebrew letters have a feature lacking in the English alphabet. Each letter has a number assigned to it. This means that every word, every name, also has a numerical value. The numeric value for king David? Fourteen.

In this genealogy, Matthew is screaming at his audience, "King David! King David! Jesus is the King we have been waiting for! Jesus is King!" This is why Matthew chooses not to tell of shepherds and angels, but of Magi who bring royal gifts, and a rival king who has every reason to fear. May we, like the Magi, enter into this story though we do not share a Jewish lineage. May we share in the fulfillment of God's promise to bless all peoples through Abraham's seed. May we crown Jesus not as a foreign king, but as the King of kings, who reigns in power and truth and righteousness. May we join Matthew in proclaiming: Jesus is King! Jesus is King! Long live the King!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Save Us from Our Restlessness

"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins."
- An angel to Joseph, Matthew 1:21

The name Jesus means "The Lord saves." The angel instructed Joseph to give Mary's son this name because he would save His people from their sins.

Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard defined sin as seeking to find our identity in anything other than God. He said that sin is not only the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. We are all after something or someone that we hope will define us, fulfill us, make us happy.

The problem is that nothing can accomplish this in our lives. So we wander from relationship to relationship, commodity to commodity, job to job, hoping that the next thing will be the one to give us what our hearts crave.

This is what Jesus came to save us from: the restlessness of sin. He came to save us from the vain wanderings of our hearts that never lead us to that which we seek. He came to save us from sin - the futile attempt to fill the hole in our hearts with anything other than God.

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." This Christmas, may our wandering hearts receive Him, and in Him find their salvation, their rest.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pot Pie and Pecans

"You have filled my heart with greater joy then when their grain and new wine abound."
- Psalm 4:7

We went to Highland this morning to serve a mission meal. We served over 110 people some delicious turkey pot pie, mac and cheese, and death by chocolate. Billy led worship, and I preached a sermon on joy. It was appropriate topic for such a joyous day.

After Highland, we met my family (late) at Country's for Ben's birthday. We sat outside and enjoyed the beauty of the afternoon. There was also a older man in a wheelchair who was selling pecans outside the restaurant. My dad bought a bag, and later Gracie wanted to walk over and buy a bag. She asked me to walk over with her. She walked over, ten dollar bill in hand, and asked for a bag. When he went to give her change for the ten, she told him to keep it. He was startled. He asked if she was sure, and once she assured him that the answer was yes, his eyes began his water. He was very grateful.

A few moments later, when we were leaving, I stopped to tell him that Jesus loved him. I wanted him to know what would motivate a little girl to part with ten dollars for a single bag of pecans (though he made her take two). He said that his wife was having surgery in the morning and that he was trying to get enough money to buy her flowers. We surrounded him and had prayer for him and his wife. It was a beautiful moment.

Once we got back into the truck, Gracie made several comments about the experience. It was all her doing. God used her to be a blessing today... to hungry people at Highland, to a pecan salesman, and to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Words of My Mouth

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
Psalm 19:14

Part of the research for my Lingustics paper involves recording interviews and conversations and then transcribing them word for word, down to every stutter and "um". This takes a while, about an hour and a half for a fifteen minute conversation. But it is interesting to see what a conversation looks like on paper, if not embarrassing. You find mistakes and verbal ticks that you never realized were there. You realize that it takes you longer to communicate an idea than you would hope. I think my speech would probably improve if someone handed me a transcript of it at the end of each day. But is that something anyone would really want? A written account of every word, every stammer, every slip of the tongue, or worse?

I noticed that being recorded was a smidge unnerving at first for some of the participants in my study. Something about that microphone makes us want to watch our language a bit more carefully. After a while, they would loosen up and begin to speak more naturally. But they could never quite forget about that digital soundtrack they were creating. The truth is, though, that the record of their words did not stop when I pressed the "stop" button on the recorder. There was another tape rolling.

Jesus said, "I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken." (Matt. 12:36)

is unnerving.

May we not testify against ourselves on that day. May we not be found "a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips." May He put a coal to our mouths. May our be speech be seasoned well. May it spring forth fresh water to nourish those around us. May it bless and not curse. May we speak as though we are speaking the very words of Christ. And when the transcription is complete, may the Word made flesh find pleasure in its reading.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Bread of Life

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty."
John 6:35

I am tired and a bit overwhelmed. Wandering in the wilderness of scholasticism, I have two papers to write, one of which involves a good deal of research, in addition to my normal work load and two sermons to write during the same time period. And in the heat of this desert, I think I'm also catching a cold.

And yet... Jesus has drawn close and reminded me that He is sufficient. To be sure, He is sufficient to help me with all that needs to be done, but that is not what I mean. He is not a means to an end. Rather, Jesus is sufficient for my soul. There is no reason to fret, to stress, to worry. I will pray, "To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul" (Psalm 25:1), and God will send down His manna to give me just what I need just when I need it: Himself.

So I will do what needs to be done, one step at a time. I will worship Jesus and believe that He is my daily bread. I may be tired, but I will not go hungry.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to Identify an Idol

Tim Keller on how to identify an idol in your life. Taken from an interview on his latest book, Counterfeit Gods. (Christianity Today, November 2009)

"Look at your daydreams. When you don't have to think about something, like when you are waiting for the bus, where does your mind love to rest? Or, look at where you spend your money most effortlessly. Also, if you take your most uncontrolled emotions or the guilt that you can't get rid of, you'll find your idols at the bottom. Whenever I hear someone say, "I know God forgives me, but I can't forgive myself," it means that person has something more important than God, because God forgives them. If you look at your greatest nightmare - if something were to happen that would make you feel you had no reason to live - that's a god."

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Last night, after going to see Rumors at Smiths Station High School (what a great show!), I came home to find my family waiting on me with ice cream and the movie, Earth. We had been wanting to see this movie since it came out in theaters, but we never did until last night.

The visuals in this nature documentary were absolutely stunning even on our small little TV set. The captured shots of these animals are sometimes funny, sometimes scary, and most times simply awe-inspiring. It was also interesting to see the sun's course across the sky in the far north. Rather than run overhead to the opposite side of the sky from which it rose, it hovers just above the skyline and travels across the sky at that height both day and night. That is, it does until winter when the sun doesn't come up at all. The thought I kept having throughout the film is that no matter how creative our imaginary worlds may be, nothing could ever be more creative than the real one.

One of coolest features of the film was the way the camera could be sped up to accentuate the changes in plant life and weather. When observed in this way, even the most common flower is seen for what it is, a miracle. Miracles are all around us, they just move too slowly for us to notice in our fast-paced lives. It makes me wonder about the way in which God appreciates His world. Since God has infinite time and patience, how He must enjoy each little flower on each savanna, each snowflake atop each mountain, and each cloud formation rising from each ocean. How good of God to share His works with us! Yet we don't need infinity to enjoy them. We only need to walk outside.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Divine Appointment

My spiritual director once told me about a prayer that he prays regularly: Lord, help me today to be where I need to be and see who I need to see. "You'll be surprised who you will run into," he said.

It's more than just being at the right place at the right time. It's more than coincidence. When you are in that moment, you know there is Someone greater at work. It is a divinely appointed moment.

Take tonight for instance. In my Second Language Acquisition class this semester, I've had the pleasure of meeting a Hispanic man named German (pronounced "her-MAN"). German is from Chile, and he teaches English to non-native speakers in Columbus schools. Since I am in the process of learning Spanish, I felt compelled to get to know him a little better. We have often talked during breaks or as we walked back to our vehicles after class. For a while, I thought about asking him if he would be interested in meeting up sometime to practice my Spanish. Plus, who knows? Maybe we would end up talking about Jesus along the way. Yet, for whatever reason, I never decided to ask him.

Tonight, however, the opportunity fell into my lap. German and I were talking during the break. We were talking about plans for the future, and he mentioned that he would like to write a book. "About what?" I asked. He said he wasn't sure, maybe sort of a memoir. Suddenly, he opened up a bit. He said that he really didn't have anyone to talk to about stuff besides his wife. All of his good friends live back in Chile. Just as he finished explaining this to me, the professor called us back into the classroom. I returned to my seat in a startled awe at how God had revealed in that moment the reciprocal of my desire to meet with German. (This is the second time something like this has happened this year. The first was over the summer at Gethsemani with a Polish monk named Philip. But that is a story for another blog.)

After class, I did ask German if we could get together soon. We plan to. Divine appointment? We will see.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stetzer on Being "Missional"

The following is an excerpt from a post I found today on Justin Taylor's blog over at the Gospel Coalition. It is by Lifeway Research director, author, and missiologist, Ed Stetzer. You can read the whole thing here.

I thought this worthwhile to post especially for my Missio Dei readers. Stetzer talks about how "missional" Christianity has become a catch-all term for ministry as opposed to joining God in the very specific task of proclaiming the Gospel to all peoples around the globe. He makes some good points. If you have time, consider reading his entire post. The main thing I want to point out is this: When we say that we as Missio Dei value "incarnation before declaration," that should not be taken to mean that declaration is not important. Both are vital to being on mission with God as a people. It's simply that, too often, we Christians proclaim a Story that we aren't fully living out of ourselves. Before we can declare that the Gospel of Jesus is true and necessary, we must, by the Holy Spirit, put flesh and blood to it ourselves. Isn't this what God did in sending Christ?

Here is Stetzer:

"In refocusing on God's mission, many are focusing on being good news rather than telling good news.

Saint_Francis.jpgSt. Francis allegedly said,"Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." Interestingly enough, Francis never actually said this, nor would he have done so due to his membership in a preaching order. But it is a pithy quote tossed into mission statements and vision sermons in missional churches all around my country. Why? It seems that many in the missional conversation place a higher value on serving the global hurting rather than evangelizing the global lost. Or perhaps it is just easier.

I am not urging a dichotomy here, only noting that one already exists. It is ironic, though, that as many missional Christians have sought to "embody" the gospel, they have chosen to forsake one member of Christ's body; the mouth."

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Familiar Fragrance

Tonight I caught a scent that I have not smelled in what seems like years. It was my wife.

Katie and I were sitting on the couch at my parents house when I laid my head on her shoulder. This is when I caught the scent. It was a familiar, pleasant smell that reminded me of being a teenager. It was a perfume she used to wear when we dated. If I had closed my eyes, we could have been 19 again sitting there beside one another. It is no surprise that smells can take you back, but it is usually surprising when it actually happens.

In some ways, it would be nice to go back to that time, if only for a moment. So much has happened in the last 10 years. I don't think either one of us would have imagined being where we are today, and that is a good thing. It makes me wonder where we will be when 40 comes around. Maybe it's a bit counter-cultural, but I am mostly excited about getting older. I want to grow deeper as a person. I want to grow in our marriage. I want to see my children grow and become what they will. And all of that entails getting older.

If there is one word I would choose to describe my feeling about the future, I would say "hope" pretty much sums it up. This is not because I think my life will keep getting better, though I feel that might be the case. It is because no matter what happens, no matter what, I know Jesus is very soon going to make all things right. In that day, we are all going to live the lives we've always dreamed of. That is my future. And when, on the New Earth, I catch the scent of a familiar fragrance, I will close my eyes and remember that life has always had a bit of heaven in it.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Good Job

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
- 2 Corinthians 8:9

We had a great discussion in my Church History class today. We talked about things from abstinence vs. chastity, to what it means to exist for God alone, to the desire to do more in life than get a "good job" and get rich. I shared with them how my career path has led me to actually make less and less money as I have gone from TSYS to Crawford Road to Veritas. Continuing on this trajectory, I am only a step or two from working for free! I realize that this situation is temporary, and I am only kidding, but a point is to be made. I decided several years ago that I would rather do something meaningful with my life and make less money than to have a well-paying job that contributes little or nothing to God's mission. Now, I realize that we can work for God's mission no matter where or what our occupation is. There is something to be said for being salt and light in a place like TSYS. For me, however, there was a desire to contribute to the Kingdom in my career itself. It's that same desire that pushes me now to teach and to study and to lead a house church.

I love seeing this desire in others as well. A former student from my youth group is becoming a medical engineer. He has already designed prosthetic legs for amputees in poverty-stricken Vietnam. My best friend is preparing to enter graduate school to become a speech pathologist. My brother-in-law has just begun college with hopes of going to medical school afterward. I have a friend who spent her summer pouring her life into students at a youth camp. I have another who is debating whether to enter law school or seminary. I know a lawyer who uses his knowledge and skills to be a force for good in our community. My wife is two months away from becoming a nurse who will care for babies during their first days. I could go on. When you ask these people why they want to do what they are doing, they will not talk to you about money, power, or fame.

So why do we do what we do? There is never just one answer to that question. My prayer, however, is that one answer might have to do with following after the One who made Himself poor so that we might become rich.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Loves Like a Leap

The goal... is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
- 1 Timothy 1:5

This morning I ran across 1 Timothy 1:5 for the second time in recent days. It caught my attention both times, like an object in the ocean shimmering in the sunlight. I think the salience of these words is due to the simplistic beauty in which they stir a desire for what they describe: a pure heart, a good conscience, a sincere faith. It is also striking that these three are said to produce love. How is that, I wonder?

A pure heart is an undivided heart. It is a heart singularly devoted. "One thing I seek," the psalmist writes. A pure heart produces a more focused, intense love, just as a laser beam's power comes from its concentration of energy. How fiercely could we love if our hearts were not so divided within ourselves?

A good conscience is worth all the riches in all the world. What must it have been like drift to sleep under the stars in the Garden without ever rehearsing a single regret, misstep, or hurt? What is more, a good conscience is worth more than any sin which so cunningly connives to take its place. On the other hand, a troubled conscience leads to fear. And fear, not hatred, is the greatest obstacle to love.

A sincere faith comes from an unshakable trust in God and His Word. Doubt produces fear, and fear, indulging us in self-preservation, cannot love anything but safety. Love is always risky. We may give of ourselves fully, only to be rejected or let down. But a sincere faith considers this possibility and, choosing to trust the other, loves like a leap into the deep end and into the arms of the Father.

May God grant us a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. The goal is love.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Ephesians 1:2

Peace comes from being right with God through Jesus. But once that happens, peace manifests itself in every facet of our being. For example, when you are putting your children to bed at night, and for just a moment you sense the wonder and the brevity of being there in the dark, quiet and still, with two of the most beautiful creatures God has ever made, you realize that peace has overflowed your heart and spilled into your conscious awareness. And then, like a deer stumbled upon in a forest, your eyes meet as silently as statues, each afraid to move before the other, until peace disappears into the thicket. For now, you are left with the spillage, but that is enough. There is always tomorrow night.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Sole Cause of Man's Unhappiness

"I have often said that the sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room."
- Blaise Pascal

Monday, November 2, 2009

Giving Up

Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again. He told the rich young ruler that he had to give away all his possessions. I think being born again is much easier.

I recently was told by a catholic classmate that I couldn't be a minister because I am married. She said that a priest should give their "whole" life to God. I tried to explain to her that we Protestants feel that we can give our whole lives to God and be married. She didn't buy it. She has a point though. Take monks, for instance. Monks give up a lot for the kingdom, and there is something to be said for that. Father Philip, a monk of my age that I met this past summer, is alone in a small, dimly lit room tonight, probably in silence. He will probably spend his nights this way for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, it's all I can do to find a moment to write this blog. Many people will scoff at the monastic way of life. I certainly do not. The monks point us to the deeper reality of what it means to live for God alone. We can all learn to live for God alone, married or not. Thus, the monks have something to say to us all.

What does it mean to give up something for God? I once heard a preacher say that he sensed God telling him to give up soft drinks, and so he never drank another one from that moment on. I wish it were that easy for me. Old habits die hard. But this afternoon as I was driving home in silence, in my moving monastic cell, God spoke to another rich young man. Perhaps I place too much emphasis on giving things up. Perhaps God is less interested in us giving up things as He is in us giving up on things. Maybe I don't need to give up soft drinks as much as I need to give up on the idea that they can make me happy. I need to give up on the idea of anything making me happy other than God. Because nothing can. Jesus knew the rich young ruler could never be as happy in his palace as he would have been laying beneath the stars with the Creator of it all. The monks are not just giving up comforts, they are embracing the Comforter.

Of course, giving up on things may entail the giving up of things. So I will continue to stumble towards the freedom and joy of living for God alone. I only pray that He never gives up on me.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Mission and the Church

"It's not so much that God has a mission for His church in the world, but that God has a church for His mission in the world."
- Unknown

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Real Show

Tonight we went to the fall festival at Lakewood Baptist. I was kind of stressed beforehand because Billy and I had promised to play music for an hour during the festival. I enjoy playing, but it was still just one more thing on my to-do list. It turned out that I actually really enjoyed getting to play music with Billy again.

Before the "show," we went into the school office and rehearsed. No one knew it, but that was the real show. Just one empty room, two friends, two guitars, two voices, and an audience of Three.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One of Those Days

Today is one of those days when I question how much weight I can handle before the levee breaks. I feel as though I have no life, and when I do stop to enjoy it, I wake up the next day feeling even more pressed to meet deadlines. All I do is work, it seems, from morning to night. I can understand why our culture has drifted so far from God. It takes a lot to stay focused under growing work loads and stress. This is only temporary, but for me it will get worse before it gets better. Next semester will have me taking four classes at CSU rather than three. It's not the classes that bother me. It's the combination of those four with my Veritas four. Eight classes.

I don't want to complain. I am blessed to do what I am doing. It's just hard right now.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Wild Things

I got my wish. After Katie and I went to the wedding on Saturday night, we went to the late showing of "Where the Wild Things Are." I was really looking forward to this movie. And it was worth it.

WTWTA is basically a movie about a book about a kid, only made for adults. It is a movie about childhood and what it's like to be a child. It's really fun to watch Max and the Wild Things, but it's also dark and messy in many places.

The thing about children is that they are such a beautiful mess. They are so innocent and playful, yet in the next moment they can be utterly selfish and foolish. I wonder how much of this we really grow out of as adults. Just because we become more socially conscious doesn't mean we don't throw our own adult kinds of pity parties and temper tantrums. We all have a bit of a wild thing inside. Maybe the worst part of growing up is that there is no one to tell us "no" anymore. You want too much chocolate cake? You want to spend all your money in the wrong places? You want to stay up past a reasonable hour? Go ahead. Who's stopping you? Let the wild romping begin!

But we are forgetting something. We still live in our Father's house. We will never get out from under His roof. And for the wild thing, this is a problem. He will not be allowed his selfishness, his foolishness. Or either he will be allowed it, like a whole pack of cigarettes at once, until he is sick from all of it. Then he will get tired of being a wild thing, cross the sea back into the kitchen, and finish his supper.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Will Do My Part

Katie and I went to a wedding last night. It was a friend of hers from high school. I think it was one of the better weddings I have ever attended. The service was a bit long, but it was very beautiful and deeply personal. The couple and the ministers really highlighted the communal aspect of marriage with the language and arrangement of the service. After all, marriages are about more than the husband and the wife. Marriage involves the whole community, which is why you invite friends and family to a wedding. They are witnesses of the founding of the marriage covenant and are thereby participants in its keeping. When marriages break apart, the whole community is splintered.

I appreciated that one of the ministers officiated the wedding (there were two) explained the meaning of a covenant as opposed to a contract. A contract says, "I will do my part as long as you do your part." Perhaps this attitude works well in business, but it works terribly in marriage. Instead, a covenant says, "I will do my part whether you do your part or not."

I know a man whose wife has been unfaithful to him. This has been very public and humiliating for him. The community of people surrounding this couple have tried to bring this young woman into account. This is only right. Remember, marriage between two people is also a communal thing. However, this woman has failed to show any public remorse for her actions. This has caused frustration within the community. Still, the man has accepted her and has accepted the consequences of her actions. Why? Perhaps he is being a push-over. Perhaps he should not let her off the hook so easily. Or perhaps he is saying, "I will do my part whether you do your part or not."

The marriage covenant is not for the weak, the selfish, or the faint of heart. Rather, it is in the marriage relationship that we learn the true meanings of strength, selflessness, and courage. As Christians, who have been on the grace-receiving end of the New Covenant in Jesus' blood, let us remember the sanctity of marriage and faithfully display to the world this picture of the covenant love of Christ.

God bless John and Erin.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Meatballs and Blessings

Last night Noah and I had some guy time. I took him to Wendy's and then to the movies. I wanted soooo badly to see "Where the Wild Things Are," but all the reviews I saw said that it was not so much a movie for kids. Noah wanted to see "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" in 3D, so we did. I was actually pleasantly surprised with the film. It was quite humorous and had a neat story. It also turned out to be a movie with a father/son theme, so that's another reason it turned out to be good for us to see together. Plus, it had Mr. T.

I am proud of my son. He already has so many good qualities, and I look forward to seeing what God will do with his life. The main character has a father who has trouble expressing these types of feelings to his son. I think I do okay in this area in general, but there is a related matter I think I have neglected lately. Father James at Gethsemani said that my children need to hear a blessing from me every day. They need to hear, "I love you," but they also need to hear, "The Lord bless you and keep you."

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Pledge Allegiance

If you have ever been to a Vacation Bible School, you know the pledges. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America..." "I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for whose Kingdom it stands..." "I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God's Holy Word..." The pledges are usually done in that order.

For a while now, I have had some reservations about pledging to the Christian flag. Not that I do not pledge allegiance to the Savior and His Kingdom. But a Christian flag? Where did this come from? It seems to me that the Christian flag is only used so that we can salute the American flag in church. Think about it. When have you ever saluted the Christian flag without saluting to the American flag first?

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at the Veritas chapel service. I noticed as the children did the pledges that they did them in the reverse order. They pledged allegiance to the Bible first, the Christian flag second, and the American flag last. I thought this was brilliant.

Before I explain, let me say that I am not anti-American. I love America. I love living in America. I just think that the Kingdom of God is a bit more important than the USA, and I assure you that those two are not synonymous. (I recently saw a t-shirt that said "JesUSAves." Yikes.)

Now think about this. Which is more likely? 1) Pledging my highest allegiance to America makes me a better Christian, or 2) Pledging my highest allegiance to Christ makes me a better American.

I think we need to seriously consider the nature of our patriotism within the church. It is backwards for a Christian to pledge allegiance to America before the Kingdom of God. It is a shortcoming when we remember the fallen from U.S. wars, but forget the blood of the martyrs who passed our faith along to us and who continue to die for the faith even today. We must not drape our crosses with the flag of any earthly nation, and we must reserve our highest allegiance to the King and the Kingdom that will reign in the world without end.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This looks interesting.

Doug Wilson sounds familiar, but I think this is the first I have read of him. Here is an excerpt of a piece he wrote for The Huffington Post. I think it is brilliant.

"So if the universe is what the atheist maintains it is, then this determines what sort of account we must give for the nature of everything -- and this includes the atheist's thought processes, ethical convictions, and aesthetic appreciations. If you were to shake up two bottles of pop and place them on a table to fizz over, you could not fill up an auditorium with people who came to watch them debate. This is because they are not debating; they are just fizzing. If you were to shake up one bottle of pop, and show it film footage of some genocidal atrocity, the reaction you would get is not moral outrage, but rather more fizzing. And if you were to shake it really hard by means of art school, and place it in front of Michelangelo's David, or the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral, the results would not really be aesthetic appreciation, but more fizzing still.

If the atheist is right, then I am not a Christian because I have mistaken beliefs, but am rather a Christian because that is what these chemicals would always do in this arrangement and at this temperature. The problem is that this atheistic assumption does the very same thing to the atheist's case for atheism. The atheist gives us an account of all things which makes it impossible for us to believe that any account of all things could possibly be true. But no account of things can be tenable unless it provides us with the preconditions that make it possible for our "accounting" to represent genuine insight. Atheism fails to do this, and the failure is a spectacular one. Nor does atheism allow us to have any fixed ethical standard, or the possibility of beauty."

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Kingdom of Conscience

"I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe."
- Martin Luther on trial

I teach Church History at Veritas Academy in Phenix City. I let the class watch a movie this week called "Kingdom of Heaven," starring Orlando Bloom. The movie is about the conflict between Christians and Muslims between the 2nd and 3rd Crusade.

The main character, Balian (fictionally based on a historical figure), begins a reluctant hero, but soon becomes the defender of Jerusalem against the beseigeing Muslim army. Balian's arch-rival, however, is not Saladin, leader of the Muslim forces. Rather, it is Guy de Lusignan, the leader of the Knights Templar, who is determined to start another holy war against the Muslims. Guy is married to the princess of Jerusalem and is biding his time until her leprous brother, the king, departs to leave the position vacant.

(Spoiler alert)

At a key point in the movie, Balian is in a position to have Guy and his cohorts put to death. Bailan would then marry the princess and become the next king. Not only would this prevent Balian's own death, but also the impending holy war in which Jerusalem is sure to fall to Saladin. It is but "a little evil to accomplish a greater good." Taking his knightly oath to heart, Balian refuses to take part in such a scheme. When prodded to reconsider, he nobly speaks of the kingdom of heaven, "It is a kingdom of conscience, or nothing."

The movie raises a good question. Is it ever right to do wrong for the greater good? Or do we spoil the "greater good" when it is acheived by the wrong means? As I watched the film, I wanted Balian to kill his enemies. It would have spared the pain and destruction of thousands of Christians and Muslims alike. But I was wrong. That would have been the easy way out. Balian's way was unquestionably and incomparably more arduous, but it was pure. And though the battle was indeed lost, by God's grace many people were spared. And so the question for me is this: would I ever be willing to sacrifice my conscience for the "greater good"?

I pray not, though Jerusalem fall around me. When that time comes, may I be able to say with Balian the words that would later come from Luther, "Here I stand. I can do no other, so help me God. Amen."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Herald (n.): a) an official crier or messenger; b) one that precedes or foreshadows

"And for this purpose I was appointed a herald..."
- Paul (the first letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 7)

It's funny how one little word can pry open doors in your mind that once had blocked beautiful ways of being. Given the new responsibilities and challenges of our house church plant, I found myself turning to the book of 1 Timothy for some wisdom. There I ran across a word I had been recently exposed to in my reading of Beeson Divinity School brochures: herald. It's not that I had never heard of the word, but I had never seen it used in quite the same way. Timothy George, dean of Beeson, says that, as preachers of the gospel, we are heralds of another world. We bear the message of the gospel and of the age to come.

I can't quite explain it, but something about this wording is very meaningful to me. I've understood that we are stewards of the Good News for some time, but this is something a bit more. A person with the knowledge that they are supposed to share the gospel is one thing; a herald, however, cannot help proclaiming this news any more than the angels who sang of Christ's birth. This is what I want to be.

I am a preacher of the gospel. I am a herald of another world.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All Shall Be Well

"All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well."
- Julian of Norwich

I love being surprised by hope. In the midst of our wrestling, in the center of our struggle, like a light in the darkness, hope appears, incredible and believable at once. I say it "appears" because it has been there all along. Only now, it has had enough of our flirtation with despair. It rises, bold as the morning sun, demanding to be seen and believed.

Andrew Peterson sings:

"And the night can be so long, so long
you think that you'll never get up again
But listen now, it's a mighty cloud
of witnesses around you - they say
'Hold on... just hold on...
Hold on to the end'

'Cause all shall be well
All shall be well
Break the chains of the gates of hell
Still all manner of things will be well"


Monday, October 12, 2009

Our David

"Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."
- Michelangelo

Rob Bell told a story last week in Atlanta that surfaced in our discussion during worship this past Sunday. It's been on my mind ever since.

Two groups of artists participated in an experiment in which both groups were assigned the task of forming artwork from clay. One group was asked to focus on quantity of artwork while the other was asked to focus on quality. The results were interesting. The quantity group produced, in the end, quality art. After each piece was shaped, the group learned from their mistakes. They adapted their art-making, improving upon each piece. The quality group, on the other hand, sat around theorizing about the best way to make the art. They may have had some great ideas, but we will never know. After all their discussion, all they produced was a dead lump of clay.

This served as an example as well as a warning to our faith community. We can spend our time deconstructing the ways mission does not work. We can even theorize about ways to promote the good, the beautiful, and the true. In the end, however, what matters is that we get our hands dirty. May God guide those hands as we construct and mold and chisel whatever piece of His Kingdom it pleases Him for us to shape.

Only now, let us begin. After all, our David is somewhere inside the slab.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Divine Discontent

Divine discontent is the invitation to wait on God to do it better.

What is the next right thing?

Stop. Don't move a muscle.

Prayer is your work now. Move. Sweat. Trade calloused hands for calloused heart.

Listen. Do not write another word, except...


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bit and Bridle

When I was a teenager, I once went horseback riding with a friend. They say that horses can tell if you are intimidated by them. Well, why wouldn't I be? Have you ever climbed upon a horse? They are huge, strong animals. Anyway, the horse I happened to be riding was the most ornery of the bunch. When I pulled right, it went left. When I said to stop, it wanted to go.

Eventually, the road we were traveling ran beside a large pasture. What I did not know at the time was that on the other side of this field, through a small grove of trees, were the stables. My horse, fully equipped with this knowledge, large muscles, and the fear of its rider, made the decision to call it a day. It bolted across the pasture with me holding on for dear life. It was upon the failure of my "whoa!"s to convince the horse to stop that I noticed the wooded area we were approaching. Like a familiar movie scenario, I imagined entering the woods and being clothes-lined from the horse by a tree limb.

I needed to act fast. Think, Brad, think.

I had two options:
1) Jump from the horse. I looked down. Okay, what was the second option?
2) Cover the horses eyes with my hands. It works in the movies. But if I let go of the horse's neck, I might as well choose option one.

While I deliberated on the least potentially fatal action, option three appeared. My friend, the girl who owned the horses, charged her horse up beside mine like Indiana Jones, grabbed my horse's bridle, and coerced the beast to a stop. No later than when we slowed to a trot did I put two feet on the ground. I traded horses with Ms. Jones.

"Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding,
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you."
Psalm 32:9

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Death of Comfort and the Life of Suffering

I went to see Rob Bell in Atlanta last night with some friends. It was Rob's "Drops Like Stars" tour. He spoke about suffering and its role in shaping us into works of art. He reminded us that if you ask someone to describe events that have shaped their life, they probably will not say to you, "Last month I bought a new car." They will probably say something like, "The diagnosis made me consider what was really important in life." Or, "When our relationship tragically ended I was forced to reevaluate my whole future."

I wonder if I am too quick to run from suffering.

Rob pointed out that there is one kind of death in suffering, but there is another kind of death in comfort and complacency.

I wonder which death I am dying.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michelangelo and Me

I went to the doctor's office today to have some lab work done. Hanging on the wall there in the waiting room is a large close up of the hands at the center of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting, "The Creation of Adam." Adam's hand is on the left; God's is on the right. Their fingers almost touch... but not quite. I've always loved that painting, but today I noticed something about the hands that I had never noticed before. It seems like the fingers could touch.

They could touch, and yet they do not. Why? God's hand and entire arm is outstretched toward Adam. Adam's hand is ever so slightly limp. They could touch, and yet they do not.

I am so like my father, Adam.

Monday, October 5, 2009


I have been avoiding this blog topic since it entered my mind Saturday night. However, it won't leave me alone, so here it is.

Saturday night I watched an excellent movie called, "The Great Debaters." It's about a debate team from a small black college in Texas back in the 1920's. Their success grants them the opportunity to debate white college teams, and they eventually defeat the national champion Harvard debate team. Of course, similarly to "Remember the Titans," it was set in time of much racial tension. Those movies always get to me.

It reminded me of a scene from my childhood. I rode the bus most of my school years, and while most bus-drivers are notoriously bad-tempered, our bus driver, Otis, was a kind and friendly man. Otis also happened to be a black man. And there was one bus ride with him that remains in my mind to this day.

It was tacky day at Smiths Station Elementary School. I don't remember what I was wearing that morning when I stepped onto the bus, but it must have been interesting because Otis gave me quite an astonished look. I playfully responded to his inquisitive glare with, "It's tacky day, boy."

This was quite innocent. My friends and I had been calling each other "boy" for days until it became a regular part of our speech. I thought nothing of it. Yet when Otis dropped me off at my stop that afternoon, he stopped me. He gently explained, "I'm not a boy. I'm a man."

It hurt to be misunderstood. I hadn't meant the word literally. I thought he would have known that. It wasn't until years later that I realized how Otis must have heard my comment. It was a racial slur. Not too many years back, black men had been regularly and systematically called "boys." That Otis would have heard my comment this way makes me sick to my stomach.

Racial reconciliation is a matter that I feel deeply and strongly about. Working with teenagers, there have been many times I have had to condemn and correct common racial slurs or jokes. With adults, it is harder to do. I would ask everyone to consider your words and the impact they have on others. Language that is racially divisive is wrong whether it is in the form of a slur or a subtle implication. This type of language reveals more about our own hearts than the character of another ethic group. We can and we must do better than this. Love, on the other hand, is not rude. It does not delight in evil. It does not consider others as lesser, but greater. And I submit that this ability to love another, even those who are not like us, with even our private language is what truly separates the "men" from the "boys."

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Keeping with the theme of marriage, I thought I'd post some lyrics I wrote a few months ago. Our family was going through some rough times, and things were pretty insane around our house. I would never want to go through it again, but one good that came was that Katie and I really had to rely on one another. I know that I could not have made it (and kept my sanity) without her.

On the monumental television series, Lost, a character by the name of Desmond finds himself waking up to different decades of his life. With some help, he discovers that the only way to hold himself together and survive this chaotic and traumatic experience is to find a "constant." That is, he needs to find something common to every point he flashes to and find his center in that thing. Desmond finds his constant in his fiancee, Penny. Because of Penny, Desmond eventually pulls through. I think we all need that person who stays with us through the hard times. We need a constant so that we don't give up amidst the ever-changing madness.

This is a song I wrote for Katie.

London bridge is falling down
Rome is burning to the ground
Above it all without a sound
A diamond sky

The flower blooms and fades away
Never a joy without a pain
But even in the dying of the day
And in the night

You are like the starry lights when all the earth is raging 'neath its view
When everything is crumbling, you remind me some things never do
You are my constant, you are my constant

Jesus spoke into the blast
Found myself on a sea of glass
I might look down, but I can't look back
'Cause you caught my view

And if it looks miraculous when walking on the water's what they see
You are my reflection in the water when I lose my faith in me
You are my constant, you are my constant

The tide returns and it leaves again
A looping rhythm without end
And you can't get out where you got in
But when I'm lost, I find...

You are my constant, you are my constant
You are my constant, you are my constant

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I went to my cousin's wedding today. Now, weddings are not my favorite thing, but they are usually good medicine for those who have taken vows and need reminders. I don't mean that those in bad marriages need reminders; I mean that we need reminders so that we won't have bad marriages.

During the exchanging of the rings today, it occurred to me that the ring you wear as a husband or wife is not a symbol of your love and commitment to your spouse. It is a symbol of your spouse's love and commitment to you. Doesn't the giver say, "With this ring I pledge to you my love"? This is obvious, but I have not been accustomed to seeing it this way. Whenever I consider my wedding ring, I usually think about my commitment, not Katie's.

In a sense, this is right. I need to reminded of the vows that I made to her. But this reversal is so much more meaningful, I think. When I look at my ring, what I should be thinking of is Katie's love and devotion to me. When I think this way, my vows seem less like duty and more like joy.

This standpoint is also more faithful to the gospel of Jesus, which is what marriage ultimately points to. The covenant relationship between and man and wife is a pointer to the covenant relationship between Christ and the Church. The ring is the symbol of the former; the cross is the symbol of the latter. When you look at the cross, what do you think of? Do you think of how it symbolizes your love for God? I hope not. I hope we would look at the cross and think of God's unmeasurable love for us. When we see the cross this way, our love and devotion to God can only deepen. And so it is with marriage.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

So Help Me God

Today I was "sworn in" for the first time in my life. "Do you testify that this document contains the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" "Yes." And that was it. I am on the record. The documents were warrants for the arrests of our burglars.

This struck me on two different levels. The situation aside, it was quite a meaningful thing to give my word in such an official way. Those documents are official based on my word. It reminds me of one of Jesus' teachings: "And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'yes' be 'yes,' and your 'no,' 'no.' Anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matt. 5:36-37) Our word and our character go hand in hand. Too often, I am guilty of telling someone I will do something only to shirk off the responsibility later. Yet how good it is to tell someone "yes" and follow through! It is better to say "no" up front if we already know it is not likely that we will carry it out.

The other thing is that, at the end, the clerk said, " help you God". Now, I realize that God permeates, to the chagrin of some, the legal language of our nation, but the wording still gave me pause. The Old Testament is full of people who, when giving their word, would say, "May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I [fail to do what I have promised you]." These people were willing stake personal chastisement from the Lord on the keeping of their word. This is something like our "so help you God," I think.

The point is, as good as it feels to give my word in such an "official" way, my word should always be official. Here is where I need work, so help me God. Help me to let my "yes" be "yes" and my "no" be "no." Anything more (or less) is of the evil one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Merton on Direction

Sometimes it's hard to know if you are heading in the right direction. Is the place I'm at now where I'm supposed to be? Will the road I'm on lead me to where I am supposed to go? How do I know God's will? Those might be scary questions at times, but I would submit that the truly frightening thing is when we fail to ask those questions. The following is a prayer by Thomas Merton from his work "Thoughts in Solitude." It is simple, honest, and quite profound.

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust You always though I seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Burglary

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal..."
- Matthew 6:19

Our house was broken into today. Here's how it went down. Times are approximate.

9) 3:50 pm - As I turned into our neighborhood on my way home this afternoon, I noticed a police car on the next road over and a man who appeared to be in custody. Little did I know.

10) 3:51 pm - I stopped at the end of my driveway and got out of my truck to check the mail. One of my neighbors was parked on the side of the road in front of my house. He tells me that my house was just broken into. I say, "What?" He tells me that my house was just broken into.

1) 2:33 pm - A truck pulls into our driveway. A man gets out and knocks on our front door. No one answers.

4) 2:36 pm - Two other men get out of the truck and walk through the privacy fence gate into my back yard. The truck pulls out and drives away.

2) 2:34 pm - My neighbor from down the street, Kevin, sees the men and suspects what they are up to.

3) 2:35 pm - Kevin calls the police and tells them that a burglary is taking place.

5) 2:37 pm - Kevin hears the men kick in our back door. He urges the police to get there quickly.

6) 2:42 pm - The truck pulls back into our driveway. The two men from inside the house come out with our Nintendo Wii, our desktop computer, and various accessories for each. They climb in the truck and make their get-away.

7) 2:43 pm - The police have not arrived. Kevin, aka Jack Bauer, decides to follow the criminals and their recently acquired merchandise in his car.

8) 2:45 pm - As the thieves exit right from our neighborhood, they take an immediate left and are just as immediately intercepted by the police. The driver is held at gunpoint while the two passengers exit the vehicle and dash into the woods.

11) 4:37 pm - The police finally arrive at our house. We have been waiting in our driveway. They have our stolen belongings. We identify the items as ours. They say they will have to keep the items for now but that they should have them back by the next day.

12) 4:42 pm - We do a walk-through with the investigators. Our back door is smashed, and our door frame is broken. The house is in good shape, no vandalism or needless destruction. The aforementioned items are missing. The drawers in our bedroom dresser have been dumped out onto the floor. The kids rooms had not been touched.

13) 5:16 pm - Kevin comes over with his fiancee to repair our back door with a temporary fix so we can lock it for the night.

Now, the funny thing about this is that these poor thieves picked the absolute wrong house to burglarize. I list the following reasons:
a) We own practically nothing that a decent criminal would want.
b) Kevin is the epitome of a good neighbor.
c) God is gracious to us.

"...But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
- Matthew 6:20

Monday, September 28, 2009


"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."
- Matthew 24:35

Words amaze me. Have you ever stared at a written word until you saw the absurdity of it? Words are arbitrary symbols that we attach meaning to, and yet, when used with art and purpose, they are life changing.

On Sunday, I taught on Genesis 2:19-20 where Adam is allowed the privilege of naming God's animals. We talked about the power of language to shape the way we know and interact with our world. We talked about the power and responsibility of putting language to this gospel of God. But perhaps the most striking display of the power of words came from one of our young ones. Billy asked his 20-month-old son, "Gabe, who made the sky?"

"Gah." We all cheered.

"Gabe, who made the flowers and grass?"

"Gah." The room erupted. Gabe grinned a huge grin.

Slowly, we are all learning to enunciate this good news of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. We are learning to speak of that which words are insufficient to describe. And there is only one way to learn a language: speak.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friendship and Suffering

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
- Proverbs 17:17

I spent last night with friends. What a blessing to be able to truthfully write a sentence like that. Over the last two years, God has brought some wonderful new friends into my life. I have had some close friends move away, but I've also had the privilege of seeing some old friendships deepen.

In the midst of last night's joy, however, I was reminded of the struggles of an absent friend. My heart breaks as I think about the difficulties this friend has faced and still faces. And what can I do? My prayer is that this friend will know how much they are loved, and that they would find their place in such a community as I experienced last night. Let us love you with the love of Christ, who bought us with His blood, redeemed our fallen humanity, and resurrects joy in the midst of our sorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Call to Prayer

The clock tower bell rang out as I walked to class tonight. It always reminds me of the call to prayer at the Abbey of Gethsemani.

The sound reached me as I thought about a struggle I have been facing. The ringing was a comfort. I had been thinking about my love/hate relationship with food. I struggle with food for the same reasons most people do. I love food mostly of the unhealthy variety. I love to eat too much of it. I love the taste, and I love to feel full. I have come to see that I base much of my happiness in a day on the acquisition of these pleasures. At the same time, I want to be healthy and thin.

Over the last several years, however, I have begun to see this in a spiritual light as well. Our bodies should not take a backseat in our spiritual lives. We must see ourselves as whole beings and not in some gnostic division of the soul and the body, with the former being our only concern. So for me, the issue of food is a spiritual issue. This is what I pondered tonight.

I realize that I am guilty of looking to pleasurable things such food for my happiness. I am guilty of not trusting God to take this role in my life. In the end, that is the issue. I do not trust God to make me happy, so I look elsewhere. I want it now. I do not want to wait for God. Yet after all my gluttony, I am still not happy. I am still empty. Is this the truth of my heart? Do I fill my body in order to escape a greater emptiness?

A warm breeze blew across the walkway. A yearning for God rises. The peace of God settles. The clock tower chimes out a call to prayer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Help Me to Judge Rightly

I am a bit tired tonight, so I will simply post a beautiful prayer that I found on the Gospel Coalition blog. Did I just say, "Simply post a beautiful prayer"? I guess I am tired.

Help Me to Judge Rightly
Lord, help me to judge others
as I want them to judge me:
Charitably, not critically,
Privately, not publicly,
Gently, not harshly,
In humility, not pride.
Help me to believe the best about others
until facts prove otherwise -
To assume nothing,
to seek all sides of the story,
and to judge no one until I've removed
the log from my own eye.

May I never only bring the Law
to find fault and condemn.
Help me always to bring the Gospel
to give hope and deliverance,
as You, my Judge and Friend,
have so graciously done for me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sabbath Rest

"Then He said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.'"
Mark 2:27

A very important element of the house church that I did not mention yesterday is regarding the Sabbath. Now, when I bring up the Sabbath I do not intend to do so in a legalistic way that assumes my way is best. Nor is Sabbath-keeping something we do to earn points with God. However, I have come to feel that we are settling for much less in our spiritual lives (and the health of our lives in general) by not keeping the Sabbath well. The struggle for me has been finding the best way to actually have a day of rest. It seems impossible, especially in most of American church culture. If our Saturdays are full of "secular" things, then our Sundays are full of "church" things. We never slow down.

This is one reason we decided to worship from 1:00 -3:00 pm. For starters, we have the opportunity to get a little more sleep. I don't think this is necessarily being lazy. I think it is being obedient. The reason the Sabbath is one of the hardest commands to keep is that it is fun. We feel as though we're doing something wrong. In fact, what's wrong is not recognizing the God-ordained limitations on our bodies and souls. Secondly, the time is a bit counter-cultural. Sunday afternoons are prime time for many people. Sure, this requires a bit of sacrifice in some areas, but there are blessings that come with it. There is a beauty is allowing the body of Christ to "mess up your day." The truth is, I could stand for more of my days to get "messed up" in this way.

A final blessing I will suggest about Sabbath-keeping is that it reminds us that after all of our "doing," what matters most is to simply "be." It is not only a day of rest for our bodies, but for our souls. We, who are always trying to move and shake, must ultimately learn to rest in who we are in Christ. We also learn to "be" in community. Sabbath is a day where we slow down long enough to be present to the people who matter most in our lives.

Sabbath-keeping will look different for everyone. I am glad that, at least for now, we have found a way to enjoy this often neglected commandment.

"Be still, and know that I am God."
"Be still and know..."
"Be still..."
Psalm 46:10

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ordinary Things

Today we had our second Missio Dei gathering. In case you are wondering what goes on in a house church gathering, I will tell you what happened today. We are still working out a few kinks, but it's like this:

We opened up at our house at noon for fellowship. Blake and Megan showed up soon after along with Monica and Gracie (they had spent the night off). We sat around and talked for a bit. Pretty soon, Brian came with his lunch, and Billy, Megan, and Gabe showed up with brownies for everyone. Just before 1:00, Collin and Julie entered. Worship began a few minutes after 1:00.

I started us off by reading a few verses from Psalm 25 before Billy and I led a couple of worship songs on guitar. After the songs we took turns sharing things that are going on in our lives this week. This led into a time of prayer. We pray communally, so rather than everyone saying prayer requests and then a single person leading a prayer, we all voice our requests in the prayer, each person praying as they feel led. Once someone has voiced their request, they say, "We pray to the Lord." Then we all say together, "Lord, hear our prayer." This is our way of joining one another in prayer.

After the prayer time, Collin brought our teaching for the week. (Collin and I alternate weeks with the teaching.) We are working through Genesis, and this week we were still discussing creation. Collin was pointing out how knowing that people are created in God's image should affect how we view and treat others. Here are a few of his points: 1) God lives in perfect community with Himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) so part of being created in the image of God means that every person is wired to need community. 2) Every person is a physical and spiritual being. God shaped the first man out of dust and then breathed (spirit) life into the man. Therefore, everything we do is spiritual. 3) We should see each person as someone of great worth because each person bears the image of God and was given life by God.

During the teaching, the children sat at the kitchen table and made people out of play-dough. After they finished, we had a short children's teaching based on Collin's message.

Next, we sang more songs followed by a brief discussion on what Collin taught.

After the service ended, some had to leave quickly while others stayed for a while. Billy, Noah, Monica, and I played a few games of basketball in the driveway. Katie and Megan stayed in the kitchen and talked. Gabe also learned to blow bubbles with Gracie's help.

It was a good day. House church is filled with many ordinary things: brownies, conversation, basketball, and bubbles. This is how it should be. Shared life is in the ordinary things. And, as we were reminded today, everything is spiritual.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Close Call

"His lightening lights up the world;
the earth sees and trembles."
- Psalm 97:4

Tonight I came the closest I have ever been (or would like to be) to lightening. Katie, Noah, and I were on our way home when a torrential downpour began. It was one of those where you have to drive 2 mph with your wipers on full blast and you still can barely see the hood of your car. We were almost home when we were suddenly surprised with a brilliant POW! Lightening struck a transformer immediately to our left. We were so close that we nearly drove through the firestorm of sparks that fell into the road.

It made me think about the insanely unfortunate man from "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" who managed to get struck by lightening seven times before he died at a ripe old age. It also made me think of Martin Luther who was caught (walking!) in a thunderstorm and promised God he would become a monk if he were spared his life. He was and he did, thankfully for us.

The rain is still pouring outside our house, and the thunder is still raging overhead. I told Noah that we are safe now that we are in our house. (Our close call made him a bit nervous.) In a sense, I hope that's true. It would be a good thing to feel safer than that hapless old man in a thunderstorm. It would not be such a good thing, however, to feel safer than Luther at the cost of our fear and wonder of the One whose lightening lights up the world.

May we see and tremble.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Looking and Listening

Me: "Why is it that you always find money on the ground?"
Kindergarten Noah: "Because I'm always looking for it."

One of the blessings of songwriting is that it helps you pay attention to the world. You're always looking for ideas, parables that you stumble into from day to day. You're always trying to peer just beneath the surface of seemingly ordinary things. The reward is discovering a few rich ideas that find their way into music.

I found that preaching offers the same blessing, and now I see it in blogging. I'm trying to write once a day, and that fact alone helps me look a little closer at day-to-day occurances. Frederick Buechner, using another metaphor, calls it "listening to your life."

It was this very idea that I came home with from the Abbey of Gethsemani this summer. "This is my Father's world and to my listening ears all nature sings and 'round me rings the music of the spheres." Creation is singing God's songs. I knew that I needed to be a better listener. Here is a poem that I wrote while I was there called "The Cloud and the Ant." It is about looking and listening.

The Cloud and the Ant

Above, the cloud sails
away from the setting sun
that paints emerald and sapphire
across its shifting form.

Below, the ant crawls about
on the ivy leaves and stone
busy about some task
with such remarkable detail.

Above and below,
the cloud and the ant,
the heavenly and the earth-bound.
Another moment, another chair
and I’d have missed them both.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hills of Beans and Other Dead Metaphors

Monica told me that I made her night tonight. This is all because I introduced her to the term "hill of beans," as in, "That idea isn't worth a hill of beans." She had never heard the expression before. She asked me what it meant. I told her, but it got me thinking about something I recently learned of called the dead metaphor.

A dead metaphor is a metaphor that has been used so frequently that it is now an idiom, or figure of speech, but has been used for so long that no one knows what it originally referred to.

Take, for example, a phrase like "toe the line." Most people would probably write that phrase as "tow the line." This shows how disconnected we are from the original meaning. When a runner was about to begin a race, he would "toe the line." The line was the beginning mark for the race. Today, we use the expression to refer to conformity to a standard, much like the runner who set up as close as he could to the mark but no farther.

I'm curious to know where "it's raining cats and dogs" originated from.

Anyway, dead metaphors are quite interesting, and they begin to show up all over the place once the concept is pointed out. As far as Monica goes, it doesn't surprise me that she has never heard "a hill of beans." She had never heard of Garth Brooks either.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Blue Whales and a Big God

My daughter, Gracie, 9, is working on a report on mammals for school this week. She chose the blue whale. She absolutely loves whales. I don't blame her.

Monday night she was doing research online. She ran to the love seat where I was working in the living room. "Dad, look at the size of this baby whale next to this person! Whales can weigh up to 200 tons! Their hearts are as big as a car!"

She had a wonder about her. She got so excited that tears began filling her eyes. "Oh my goodness, I'm crying!"

I wanted to explain to her what was happening. I wanted to help her understand the source of this joy. But I was tired. I said nothing.

Tonight, I put the kids to bed. As I lay next to Gracie, I finally spoke: "Grace?"


"Do you remember the other night when you were telling me about the whales? Do you remember how you felt?"

"Uh huh."

"Do you know why you felt that way?"

She shakes her head.

"Sometimes when we see something really good, or true, or beautiful, it makes our hearts have that happy feeling. When that happens, God is giving us a way to know and understand Him better. He shows us good, true, and beautiful things because He wants us to see how good, and true, and beautiful He is.

And that's why you felt that way about the whales."

Practical Atheism

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"
Psalm 14:1

I did chapel this morning for the high school students. We read Psalm 14:1. Who is this verse talking about? A friend of mine is in a philosophy of religion class at Auburn University. He says that they mostly debate the existence of God. This is fine except that the discussions can get rather out of hand. Sadly, the Christians act just as abusive and disrespectful as anyone. My friend dislikes the class for this reason.

Too often, we use the Bible as a weapon against people we disagree with. It is the sword of the Spirit, after all. This verse is a case in point. It plainly says that those who say there is no God are fools. We assume this verse is about the atheist who wrote the latest best-seller blasting belief in God. We assume it's about the guy in our philosophy class. Maybe it is. But maybe there's more to it than that.

Notice the fool in Psalms doesn't speak with his lips, but with his heart. What is our heart? It is more than our affections. Our heart is our thinking, feeling, believing, will, and all our loves and hates wrapped into one. It is the center of who we are. How do we know what is in our hearts? Jesus said that our hearts will overflow into our speech and actions. Our hearts cannot stay hidden forever. Give it time, and they will leak. This is where belief or disbelief lies. Here is where the true atheist is found out.

There is such a thing as practical atheism. The practical atheist will probably say that they believe in God. They will attend church and fellowship with Christians. But practically, in their everyday lives, they live as though God does not exist. Our hearts will tell on us. If you can go days without thinking about talking to God apart from rote prayers, you might be a practical atheist. If you can make daily life decisions without considering God's direction, you might be a practical atheist. If you can wield the sword of the Spirit without ever allowing it to run you through, you might be a practical atheist. Who is Psalm 14:1 speaking of?

May we have wise hearts that acknowledge and surrender to the living God.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reasons Why

"Others have excuses; I have my reasons why."
- Nickel Creek

I actually created this blog on a whim after looking at my friend Bethany's. I have been wanting to journal more but seldom make the time. However, I am online quite a bit each day. It just makes sense, I suppose, to do it this way.

That said, these will probably end up being thoughts about my life or the life of my church. In other words, I doubt I will attract many readers. I will try to be okay with that since the purpose in this is mostly private anyway.

I am naming this blog "Needful Seeds," which comes from a line in an old SonColored Palette song: "...and echoes in the thundering clouds releasing drops of love rain down on all the thirsty ones, every needful seed." This, I think, describes what I am, what we all are. Seeds carry so much potential, but they need God's provision to grow into their yet unknown beauty. Hopefully, as I write and consider the life God has given me, there may occur a small bit of growth.