Monday, November 26, 2012

The Thorn in Thanksgiving

Cursed is the ground because of you... thorns and thistles it shall bring forth 
for you.
Genesis 3:17, 18

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:20

All good things come to an end.
We all know it, and we all mourn it just the same.

When I entered the dark of Noah's room last night, I could tell he was upset. He sat on the edge of his bed, head down, motionless. From the glow of the Christmas tree in the next room, I eased over next to him and asked what was wrong. Unresponsive, he sat there in silence for some time while my mind rehearsed possible causes for my son's sudden sadness. We'd had a great day together, and before that, a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend: good food, a lot of laughs, a long reunion with relocated family. Why such sorrow after such joy? At last he spoke, and in his answer I discovered that his sadness was not in spite of the joy - it was because of the joy. The last moments of Thanksgiving were slipping away, stealing with it the happiness from his young heart.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Children of God: What We Are

How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1

Sometimes you can hear a truth so much that it becomes a truism, something that you accept as true apart from any serious consideration or experience. The danger of an uncritically accepted or unexperienced truth is that we can become inoculated against the effects of that very truth, choking out the fruit of joy it naturally should produce. For example, as a child, I grew up hearing over and over that God loved me. While the blessing of hearing the message of God's love throughout your childhood is invaluable, the fact that "Jesus loves me" was, for many years, just that: a fact that I learned, much like I learned that 2 + 2 = 4. It wasn't until my sixteenth year (still graciously early in my life) that I truly experienced in my heart the love of God that I had previously known only in my head. By God's grace, the love of Jesus made that long and crucial journey from the head to the heart, and it changed my life.

The miracle of becoming an adopted child of God is another truth that perhaps many have come to accept mentally without a full realization of what being a son or daughter of God (of God!) means experientially. However, adoption doesn't change an orphan's life by merely creating a mental category for family. The orphan's life is beautifully and joyfully changed through the relational and emotional experiences of belonging to a family. In the same way, how should our own adoption by God change our lives? As sons and daughters of God, how can we not only understand what it took to secure our adoption (see part 1), but also begin to live more intentionally and more joyfully as the very children of God?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Children of God: What We Were

How great is the love the Father has lavished upon us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! … Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.
1 John 3:1, 2

To my surprise, I have been involved for the last few months in the start-up of a non-profit organization called Clement Arts. Our mission for Clement Arts is to celebrate the gospel through arts and orphan care, providing fund-raising support to adoptive families in the process. (You can read more about that here.) I am surprised by this work because, as is often the case with God, it is so much better than what I originally intended. Over the last year, the idea for a simple album of songs has turned into a way to demonstrate the gospel to our community by highlighting and supporting those who are called by God to transform orphans into sons and daughters.

As God led us to Clement Arts, I continued to discover and rediscover the ways in which adoption is a picture of the gospel. Christians have long understood marriage to be more than the lifelong commitment between one man and one woman. That commitment is a beautiful thing, but there is a deeper reality at work. The deepest reality of marriage is that it is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, a relationship that will exceedingly outlast even the most enduring marriage. In the same way, we can view adoption from a horizontal angle: Adoption is a way for a husband and wife to have a child; adoption is a way for an orphaned child to be given a loving family. This itself is a beautiful angle from which to view adoption, and that idea alone is worthy of support. But what happens when we approach adoption from a vertical angle? When viewed vertically, adoption becomes a picture of another deep reality: our salvation into the very family of God. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


One of my favorite poems:

by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


LORD, lest I be completely
  two-dimensional as a screen,
  present and absent as a missing remote,
  poor as a few cheap laughs,
  useful as a dial-up modem;

Before I completely
  subscribe to the simple over simplicity,
  waste a lifetime on prime time,
  entertain my imagination to death,
  watch everything and do nothing;

Would You unplug my heart?
(Or at least recommend a book?)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Morning (This Too Shall Pass)

It's a dim, sleepy Monday morning
This too shall pass
I'm thankful for my job, but I don't love it
This too shall pass
It's almost lunch time, and I'm getting hungry
This too shall pass
Tonight I'll spend quality time with my son
This too shall pass
My daughter will play with her JV volleyball team
This too shall pass
Home late from the game, my wife will climb into bed,
and I'll put my arm around her
This too shall pass
If we speak of the day, I will highlight my victories
and hide my failures
This too shall pass
I may have been bombarded by temptation
any number of times today
This too shall pass
On some of these counts, and against my better will,
I most surely will have fallen
This too shall pass
From the Fall, I will have walked all day long with a limp
from the nerve damage in my leg
This too shall pass
Still, I can walk around just fine by myself
This too shall pass
Finally, body laid down to rest, I will drift off
in unconscious expectation of a new day to come
This too shall pass
But one night soon, my dimming eyes will shut
for the long, dark sleep of death
Beloved, this too shall pass


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

Sunday, August 5, 2012


I am
a small speck of sand
of Abraham and no one
One among the countless ones
Uncounted, unaccounted

I am
a pin point of light
pricked on accident it seems
in some corner of canvas
of ever-expanding night

I know not how, sojourner,
you saw, nor why, star-gazer,
you cradled me in your hand

Is a granule a great world
with grand canyons and peaks and
vast ocean deeps to explore?

Is a beam of light some bright
burning ball all ferocious
and fair in life-giving blaze?

I am
no world and no sun
Yet you count me your own, and
I am - solid, fertile, bright? -
I know not what, only that

I am
not what I would be
had you not searched sand and sky
and said to one orphan child
of millions, "You are wanted"

Friday, July 27, 2012

Grace and Truth: A Christian Response to the Culture Wars

My spirit is shell-shocked. My heart is grieved. 

Perhaps there is also some frustration and even some anger, but mostly there is grief.  My grief is due to the most recent installment of the American culture wars which have been raging for some time, polar wars between conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, faith and unbelief. We stare across the battle lines in disbelief, from whichever side we’re on, disbelief that our opponents could possibly have done or said or believed that. My grief comes not from the fact that we disagree, or even that we disagree so passionately. Passion is one of our great qualities as Americans. What grieves me is that our disagreements so often cause us to demonize and demoralize our opponents, and sadly, this has been done by both camps of the culture wars.

Recently, Christians have been labeled as hateful bigots for holding to a Judeo-Christian sexual ethic based on Biblical teaching. (And yes, this sexual ethic is found in the Old and New Testaments, including the teachings of Jesus.) On the one hand, the accusations of hate and bigotry seem like nothing more than a rhetorical strategy for shaming people out of an “outdated” Christian ethic. Who wants to be labeled as a hate-monger or bigot? On the other hand, there seem to be many people for whom these labels are more than a strategy. They honestly believe these things about Christians. Hence, my grief.

If I’m honest, I have to admit that having my heart and motives judged based on my beliefs also makes me a little angry. It’s quite unfair to be grouped in with the likes of Fred Phelps (of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church) when I and many other Christians genuinely strive to love and respect all people in our day-to-day lives, regardless of their age, gender, race, politics, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Yet while I might respond in anger to labels, I do not want to respond in anger to people, even those people who see me as their enemy. 

I know that I’m not the only one who doesn't want to be labeled, Christian or non-Christian. I know that we all struggle with the best way to navigate the mine fields of the culture wars. But I’d like to offer the following to Christians in particular as we respond to cultural attacks. These are thoughts, not pre-packaged solutions, but I hope they might be helpful.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Napoleon Bonaparte on Jesus Christ

 Napoleon Bonaparte on Jesus Christ:

"Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him. ... I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than a man.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Coliseum and the Seduction of Sin (or: Alypius and Us)

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.”
Luke 11:24-26 

In his book Confessions, St. Augustine tells the story of his friend, Alypius, who later became a Church bishop in Africa. Alypus, a young man drawn and enticed by the blood-lust of the gladiator games in Rome, had quickly become addicted to the violent sights and sounds and smells of the coliseum. Augustine, although not yet a Christian, was against the gladiator games, but he did not wish to challenge his young friend in the matter for fear of straining their relationship. However, through some impromptu remarks in a lecture, God used Augustine to convict the young Alypus of his error and turn him away from the games, resolute to forsake them at once and for all. 

The alarming part of this story is what comes next. The lure of the blood sport had not entirely left poor Alypius. Augustine recalls in his confession to God:

"He had gone on to Rome before me to study law - which was the worldly way which his parents were forever urging him to pursue - and there he was carried away again with an incredible passion for the gladiatorial shows. For, although he had been utterly opposed to such spectacles and detested them, one day he met by chance a company of his acquiantances and fellow students returning from dinner; and, with a friendly violence, they drew him, resisting and objecting vehemently, into the amphitheater, on a day of those cruel and murderous shows. He protested to them: 'Though you drag my body to that place and set me down there, you cannot force me to give my mind or lend my eyes to these shows. Thus I will be absent while present, and so overcome both you and them.' 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Nothing Is As Good As It Seems?

What makes a good thing good?

If I love my wife and kids, is this love simply due to chemicals in my brain? If I show compassion to someone in need, is this kindness merely the chance result of an evolutionary trait which helped our species to survive? If we answer the questions affirmatively, we must be prepared to say that there is nothing inherently good about loving our families and showing compassion to those in need. It's not that scientific explanations are necessarily wrong; it's that they are in themselves insufficient to account for goodness. At best then, all acts of love and compassion are neutral, being simply cause and effect, actions no different than a soda fizzing over when shaken. At worst, phenomena such as love and compassion are "good" if they help us personally and "bad" if they don't, a definition which prompts the question of whether we're even still talking about true love and true compassion. If you react against this kind of utilitarian use of "love" and "compassion" for one's own personal ends, perhaps it would be helpful to consider what your negative feelings are based upon.

Monday, April 23, 2012


I don't recall breathing
Today or the first time.
My heart went on beating
Without a bat of my eye.
I must have blinked.

All the while, You
Kept me together,
Every atom
Pulsing with life more alive
Than breath and blood
Blowing through my being
Like the Spirit, where it pleases.
I have no say
And did not then see
All that is not contingent
Upon me.

"O my God, even then Thou wast my keeper."
- St. Augustine

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Perpetual Novelty

"God alone is the perpetual novelty."
- Ravi Zacharias

I have a tendency to be impulsive. I get an idea, and then I obsess over that idea until I act upon it or am absolutely prevented from acting upon it. This practice works well when I have a really good idea. The problem is that not all of my ideas are really good.

For example, I once visited a local music store in Tennessee about the same time I started listening to the bluegrass band, Nickel Creek. Inspired by Sara Watkins, I decided that my life was not complete until I owned a fiddle. Katie was not convinced that I needed to purchase a fiddle right at that moment, so I waited and bought one online as soon as we got back home to Alabama. I can't remember which lasted longer after that, playing the fiddle or paying for the fiddle. I still have the instrument though, and maybe one day I'll get the impulse to pick it up again.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Most Important Thing About My Life: Thoughts on Turning 33

Today I am 33 years old.

Perhaps there is nothing particularly special about being 33. The ability to drive a car has long since lost its novelty. I have endured enough long lines to know that while democracy is a privilege, it is not always enjoyable. I already can drink alcoholic beverages if I want to, and it's too late to act like that's a big deal. And fortunately, I have a few more birthdays until I'm "over the hill," whatever that means.

But for me, there is something more special about this birthday than every one of the typical milestone birthdays. For me, there is quite a significance in turning 33 years old. As far as we know, this is the age at which Jesus Christ was crucified. I am now the age Jesus was when He laid down His perfect life for my sinful life and reconciled me to God.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Other Side of the Mountain: Solitude vs. Isolation

Jesus went up the mountain alone. He climbed among the crags and trekked beyond the trails in search of solitude. Here the noisy and needy crowds would not follow. Here no one would find Him. Here there is momentary rest. He sits down upon a lofty ledge and slowly inhales the mountain air. Alone at last. He closes His eyes and exhales the very breath of God. Jesus is alone with His Father.

This was not the first time Jesus had sought a solitary place to worship and pray. He had often come privately to the mountainside, and He had just recently spent forty days in the wilderness apart from any human company. It seems clear that these habitual times of solitude were important in the life and ministry of Jesus. And many of His followers have learned from their Teacher the value of solitude in the Christian life. Most of us are at least familiar with the practice of a "quiet time." It is indeed very good to be alone with God.

But Jesus did not stay on the mountain. He did not build a cabin. He did not become a hermit. He did not forsake the crowds for a cloud. He always came down from the mountain and lived among the people once again. In fact, this time He climbs down from the cliffs with a certain twelve of the people on His mind. In just a moment, He will call the Twelve by name, and they will come to Him. On the mountain Jesus chooses solitude. Here in the valley, Jesus chooses His new family. He is most certainly choosing not to be alone. Jesus knows it is not good to live in isolation. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sanctifying Spaces

All is yellow. All is wet. These alternating truths can only mean one thing: spring has arrived.

It's the time of year when lawnmowers and weed-eaters emerge from their hibernation, ready to feast on winter weeds unwelcome in the newly green grass. There is work to do in the world just outside our doors, and the song of spring beckons us to begin.

There is something sacred to me in all of this cutting and cultivating that happens when things once again begin to grow each year. It reminds me of the relationship I have to this place where I live. Most days, I drive my vehicle right into its midst, step out onto the paved driveway, and am indoors within a matter of a few steps. I have barely breathed the air. But now my feet are once again on the grass. My hands are once again in the earth. I am now in the sunlight, and now in the shade of the trees with which I share this space. My task is to care for it all, to do what I can to make it beautiful.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Glorify God

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field...
Genesis 3:1

What is true of the serpent is true of his inventions. The most deadly sins are the most subtle, pride being chief among them. Sure, pride can be noisy and brash, an ugly display of self-important pomp. But in this way, pride is often like the obvious swindler who, eliciting our devout rejection, enables his partner to pick our pockets in the diversion. Subtle is the pride that comes from being selfless. There is a way of glorifying God which is really a way of glorifying ourselves. This is the serpent's insidious masterpiece, one that I am learning to guard against.

Monday, February 6, 2012

D'Artagnan and the Meaning of Devotion

In the classics book club I belong to, we recently read The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. The Three Musketeers, as you may know, is a tale of swashbuckling heroes who are such friends that one may gamble with the others' money after squandering his own, who are so brave that they are ready to fight to the death upon so much as an insult to the color of their horses, and who are so devoted as to risk life and limb in service to their lord or mission. Put that way, the story sounds quite interesting. In truth, none of us in the club liked it much.

For me, the biggest take-away from The Three Musketeers was a single word, one I've already used to describe our heroes: devoted. The word was spoken by the main character, D'Artagnan, who ironically is not one of the three musketeers of the book's title. While he pursued his love interest, Madame Bonacieux, with irresistable romantic charm, D'Artagnan told her that he was completely devoted to the Queen of France. He did not mean by this word what we might mistake him to mean.