Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Sometimes I think I was more of a contemplative when I worked at TSYS. There was just something about sitting isolated in my cube in front of a computer screen all day that gave you time to think and write. I had to be there, and though my job was to write in database languages, the English language had so much more life. And so my mind would wander, and my keyboard would record what I saw and heard.

Now there are so many distractions. I am more free, and yet true freedom exists within some boundary. Not that I am itching to go back to TSYS. It was a good job, and I am immensely thankful for my time there, but those days are past and I am thankful for that, too.

It's no wonder the monastics write the way they do, with thoughts that usually reside two or three levels deeper than most of us exercise from day to day. The monks are confined to the same place and to the same work day after day. This is torture - unless it's your calling. And unless, because of the regimen, your spirit is able to delve into the depths of the mysteries of God.

I'm not sure what I'm getting at except that maybe if we want to contemplate the riches of God in Christ Jesus, we might have to give up some freedom in order to gain it truly. We might have to give up some entertainment. We might have to submit ourselves to boredom, which is the greatest fear of our generation. And when we are willing to do this, and when we sit still for just another moment longer, perhaps something in the depths will begin to be seen and to be heard: light and "wake up!"

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Wrong Drink

"You never get what you want
You never get what you want
And I don't think it's my fault
You never get what you want, do you, baby?"
- Patti Griffin

The other night we were on our way to Billy and Megan's house. We were only a mile our two from our house when I decided that I was very thirsty. I had just watched Katie take some change out of my cup holder and put it into her purse. "I'm thirsty. Get that change and let me stop at the drink machine."

"You can get something to drink when we get to Billy and Megan's."

"No, that's 30 minutes away. Just let me stop."

We pulled into the grocery store parking lot in Smiths and parked next to the drink machine. It was on Katie's side, so she got out. "What do you want?" I couldn't decide. "It's between Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Sunkist Strawberry." "Well, just decide," she said as she stood beside the machine. After a moment or two, I decided that a Sunkist Strawberry sounded tasty and refreshing. Katie put the money in the machine, and the can dropped to the bottom. As she got back in the truck, she handed the drink to me: "It's hot." I took the can from her. It was hot. Oh, well.

Now, how was I supposed to know that when I selected that drink in that drink machine at that grocery store and opened it, that it would spew all over me and my truck interior? I couldn't have known. But that didn't stop Katie from declaring that it's what I get for making us pull over and buy a drink for me. It's times like this that, if you believe in a sovereign God who wills even the life and death of sparrows, you wonder why He would allow such a silly and meaningless annoyance as a spewing beverage on one of His children. But if God is truly sovereign then such a nuisance may indeed be silly, but it is never meaningless.

So what does it mean? I think I know, but I don't want to talk about it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Acts Four and a Ford Explorer

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had... There were no needy persons among them."
Acts 4:32, 34

We have a faithful sister in our church who is going to serve at a youth camp for the summer. Throughout the year, she ministers to teenage girls and to the homeless and needy. She is a student at Auburn. And she needs a car. She needed a car.

We studied Acts chapter 4 in worship today. We like to say that we believe in a capitalistic society and a socialistic church. We're mostly joking; the church of Jesus should transcend those categories. What we mean is that we want to be as united as the early church - "there were no needy persons among them." We took a step closer to that today.

After worship, Billy and I went to purchase a Ford Explorer for our sister. Then we, along with Katie, Megan, Carter, Fifi, Gracie, and Noah, drove it to her house. Her parents came outside (they were privy), and she soon followed. She emerged from the house with a curious wonder as to what all of us were doing in her driveway. I dangled the key from my finger and lifted it toward her. A look of astonishment came over her as she took the key and began to hug everyone. It was a great moment.

The Scriptures are not meant to be merely read, or even studied. They are meant to be lived. I hope we accomplished that in some small way today. I hope that the Word of God takes root ever deeper into our everyday lives. I hope that Bethany has many adventures in her Explorer, the first of which will come as she leaves for the camp in North Carolina this week. And I hope that our Jesus is glorified by His church. Solo Dei Gloria.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forever Young

"Forever young, I want to be forever young.
Do you really want to live forever, forever, forever?"
- Forever Young by Alphaville

"I only smile once in a while
'cause I don't want the lines on my face."
- Fall Apart Again by Brandi Carlile

I heard an ad on the radio tonight about a product that takes away aging spots on the skin. In the commercial, a lady calls to cancel her cosmetic surgery because she has discovered this product. Cosmetic surgery used to be for the rich and the famous. Now, more and more people are going under the knife in order to defy time and maintain a youthful appearance.

The god of youth is a cruel god. She only loves us when we are beautiful. With each passing day, her heart yearns more and more for someone else less aged. We may fret, we may sweat, we may spend our last dime trying to please her, but after all is done she will leave us still.

But there is God who grows sweeter with time. This God would have the wisdom of a gray head before the vanity of youth. This God reveals beauty to those who embrace the person He is shaping them into rather than one they always wished they could be. This is a God who generously rewards "a long obedience in the same direction." This is a good God who blesses the young and the old, and who never leaves us or forsakes us.

Do not wish away your wrinkles or your gray hair. Act your age. A lifetime is nothing to be ashamed of.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What I Have I Give You, pt.2

So now that we know what this healing is a picture of and what it should point to in our minds, namely the restoration of all things in Jesus, let’s rewind and take a better look at how this microcosm of restoration came about. There is a crippled man who has been carried to the Temple gate where he must beg in order to earn a living. Peter and John are on their way to afternoon prayer. The crippled man sees Peter and John and asks them for money.

Now, when this man (who is probably seated on the ground) calls out to Peter and John, what is the first thing they do? They look at him. They look straight at him. Have you ever seen someone approaching you on the street, and you just know they are going to ask you for money? What’s the first thing we’re tempted to do? Look straight ahead. Don’t look at them and maybe they’ll keep going by. There was a man, I can’t remember his name, who became voluntarily homeless for a period of time on the streets of a major city. One of the things he noted was that during this period, no one on the street would make eye contact with him. Imagine being around thousands of people every day and being essentially a ghost to all of them. Over time, this has a huge affect on an individual’s self worth. The first thing Peter and John do is look at this man. He would not even look at them at first, perhaps staring at the ground in shame. Peter tells the man, “Look at us!” They look him in the eye. They treat him as an equal. Before they do anything, before they give this man anything, they give him their attention. They give him dignity.

The next thing we notice is not what Peter gives this man, but what he doesn’t give him. “Silver and gold I do not have. It’s all plastic these days, man. You know how it is.” Peter does not have what this man is seeking. He quit his job to follow Jesus - he doesn’t have any money! There’s a way of giving to the poor that is simply putting a band-aid on the situation. Now, there’s nothing wrong with giving money, but Peter is interested in something deeper. When Peter is finished, this man won’t need to beg for money. Who cares if Peter doesn’t have silver or gold? We have to keep this in mind when we’re building for the Kingdom. We can do good for people, but if our good works don’t point to Jesus, we’re merely handing out band-aids. We can’t build for the Kingdom without telling people what we’re building for. We can’t just point to the Kingdom with telling people how they can enter the Kingdom. Do you see? If Peter had given this man a coin in Jesus name, he could have bought a loaf of bread, but he could never have gotten inside that Temple gate.

“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” And he offered his hand. Now, think about this. How did Peter know that when that man took his hand and stood up that he would be able to walk? Peter did not heal the man. He told the crowd, “We are just ordinary men. God did this.” How did he know Jesus would back him up? I think maybe because Jesus had told Peter he would. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it.” And so,“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Peter tells the crowd that it was by faith in Jesus that this man was healed. I want to ask, whose faith in Jesus? The crippled man’s? We not told that this man is a follower of Jesus. We don’t know what this guy thinks about Jesus. We're not even told if he became a follower of Jesus after the healing. I'd like to think he did, but we're not sure. So whose faith healed the man? I think it was Peter’s. Peter acted for this man’s good and trusted Jesus to back him up. Peter trusted Jesus to bring restoration to this man through his own faith and action.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

Top two Father's Day moments:

1) Gracie: Part of my sermon today was to encourage us to be willing to get involved for the good of people and trust Jesus to bring restoration through our faith and action. On the way to our Father's Day lunch, Grace told me she had a dream last night that fit with this theme. She was at a prison where she saw a woman who seemed like she had been a prisoner there for a long time. The prisoner saw another woman, possibly a visitor, and reached out to hug her. The other woman completely ignored the prisoner and walked away. Gracie said, "I woke up and was thinking about that. Is it better to help someone who may or may not have done something bad, or is it better to be safe?" That is the question, isn't it?

2) Noah: When I opened my Father's Day card, Noah informed me that he had especially helped to pick out the card. He then sat in my lap and read the words to me, as if he had written them himself: "If true wealth in this world were measured by how much a man is appreciated and admired, Dad... you would be one of the richest men on earth." Indeed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

What I Have I Give You, pt. 1

Acts 3:1-21

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. As we think about fathers and the things fathers do, one thing we can say is that fathers fix things. You know, when you’re little and your toy breaks, what do you do? You bring it to dad, and he fixes it. Fathers also do a lot of handiwork and repairs around the house. Now, I’m going to be honest, I am a total failure at stuff like this. I don’t fix things. I can’t fix things. I don’t know how, and I never cared to learn, I guess. I can hang a picture or some blinds or change a tire, but beyond that I’m clueless. Now my dad, on the other hand, can fix all kinds of things.

So the other day, our toilet was running constantly. It wouldn’t stop running water, and so we thought, “This isn’t good. Our water bill’s gonna be through the roof.” So I went out to Home Depot and bought the parts and fixed the toilet. Well, actually my dad came over and looked at it, and then we got the parts and we fixed the toilet. Okay, well, actually he fixed the toilet, and I just kind of stood there for moral support. That’s how it is when we fix things together. He fixes the thing, and I offer my presence and an occasional tool. Basically, I mostly offer what he could probably do himself.

And this story (Acts 3) really begs this sort of question: What do we have to offer the world in Jesus’ name? It’s really Jesus doing all the work, so why does He need us? What do we have to give?

So we find ourselves at the Temple in Jerusalem. And we’re in front of one of the gates that lead to an inner part of the Temple. Only certain people can make it to worship beyond this gate. Only Jewish people can come in. No foreign worshipers. Only men can enter. No women. And no one who is ceremonially unclean or who has physical disabilities can enter. Now there is a crippled man who is being carried, maybe by his caregivers, to the entrance to this Temple gate where he will sit as worshipers enter. He's there to beg for money. Now, begging was a little different back then because this was essentially the Jewish welfare system. Charity was greatly valued in the Jewish culture, and so this man knows he will be taken care of financially by worshipers who can go deeper into the Temple than he can. So this is not a guy asking for money to buy beer. This guy is doing what he can to have his needs met, and he is relying of the goodness of God’s people who have been blessed with health.

The man has been carried to the Temple gate at three in the afternoon for a reason. This is the time of a call to prayer. People are making their way to the Temple at this time to pray together. We’re told that two of the Apostles, Peter and John, are part of this crowd who is gathering to pray.

The crippled man at the gate sees Peter and John passing by, and he asks them for money. Peter replies, “We don’t have any money, but we’ll give you what we do have. In the name of Jesus, get up and walk.” They helped the man up, his legs became strong, and he began to walk and run and leap. And guess where he runs? With Peter and John right through that Temple gate.

So that’s the scene. After this, a crowd begins to gather, and just like on Pentecost, Peter has words to explain what everyone is witnessing.

Now, we need to realize that miracles are never for their own sake. Miracles are never just for a show. Miracles happen within a specific time and place in order to point to Jesus in a unique way. The tongues on Pentecost said two things: the Messiah has come and He’s available to everyone, all peoples, all languages.

Peter explains to the crowd what this miracle means. His main point is familiar: Jesus is the Messiah. It was by faith in the name of Jesus that this man was healed. But it’s not just about this man’s healing. It’s about Israel being restored to God. Peter says that the people need to repent, change their thinking and living, so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord and that He may send Christ, who will remain in heaven until when? Until the time comes for everything to be restored. This miracle is about more than a man walking. It’s about restoration on a grand scale. It’s about the restoration available to all people in Jesus, first to the Jew and also to the Gentile.

Click here for Part 2.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Help Me!

In her book, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells of the two best prayers that she knows: "Help me! Help me! Help me!" and "Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!"

19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon, spoke of God's response to our cries for help: "The answer to the prayer is certain, if it be sincerely offered through Jesus. The Lord's character assures us that He will not leave His people; His relationship as Father and Husband guarantee us His aid; His gift of Jesus is a pledge of every good thing; and His sure promise stands, "Fear not, I will help thee."

Thursday, June 17, 2010


There is a poison in bitterness;
Lord, bleed my heart before it's too late.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Name Game

Today was the second day of my Concepts of Fitness class. We are active in this class, and since it's helps to all know one another, we played the name game today.

I hate the name game.

In case you've never had the fortune of playing, the name game can take many forms. The idea is to learn the names of each person in a newly formed group by forcing everyone to do it all at once and on the spot through some kind of activity. Ours involved forming a circle and throwing a ball to someone as you call their name.

The reason I hate the name game is simple: I have a terrible memory. This makes me terrible with names. I have trouble remembering a single person's name who just introduced themselves to me two seconds ago. Now I have 19 people whose names I have to learn all at once. The pressure!

It reminds me of something one of our camp pastors, David Rhodes, said at a youth camp one year. After informing us youth pastors that he is a serious introvert, he quipped, "If I don't speak to you, it's not because I don't want to. It's just that I'm afraid of you."

I'm proud of myself, though, because I actually did quite well at the name game today. I memorized everyone's name and called a person the wrong name out loud in front of the entire group only once. There is hope for me yet. Now I am thankful, because it really does make the class much more enjoyable when you know everyone's name and a little about them. Social situations greatly improve if you are proactive from the beginning. The longer you wait, the harder it is to get to know people. You can't bring brownies to your new neighbor after they've been living next door to you for six months. But once you take a deep breath and get over that hump, the rest of the ride is quite enjoyable. Introverts like me have to work hard to learn this lesson. Until then, there's always the name game.

The Ideal

I went to the late $1.50 movies tonight with my parents. This turned out to be a rare treat. How many 31-year-olds go out to a movie at 9:45 pm on a Tuesday night with dear old Mom and Dad? This either makes me lame or very blessed. You decide.
We went to see Clash of the Titans. I love these kinds of movies. I loved the old Clash of the Titans growing up. And I l...iked the new one. No, really, I did like it. Perseus vs. the Kraken. Good stuff.

In adventure movies like this (and in many types of movies, I suppose), you see the story of a hero, the ideal man, and a heroine/damsel-in-distress, the ideal woman. We are drawn to these figures because we all have a desire for the ideal man/woman, and we all desire to be the ideal man/woman. Pretty soon, we realize that we are not, and never will be, this ideal person. Nor will our spouses ever live up to this standard. Our flaws are too obvious, and while we may have some measure of success in hiding them from the world, this is an impossible effort in a marriage.

So what do we do? Some, seeing the flaws in their husband/wife (and too often forgetting their own), seek too easy a solution for this dilemma. If we don't currently have the ideal man/woman, we can find other means to have him/her. We can cheat. And cheating can take many forms. We can sacrifice our faithfulness and seek perfection in another, whether real or virtual. Or we can pressure and force our spouse to fit the mold by whatever means necessary, whether ridicule or plastic surgery.

But it's not real. It's plastic. It's counterfeit. We may as well love a mannequin, perfect body and no soul.

There is only one way to make our spouses more beautiful. Love him. Love her. Love him as he is. Love her as your ideal. When we desire plastic people, it is probably because we have plastic hearts. But it is love that transforms them. And it is our love that elevates our spouses to all that God created them to be. It is faithfully loving a real person for a lifetime that is truly heroic. It is love that makes the ideal man, the ideal woman.