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.