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.