Monday, August 30, 2010

I've Moved my Blog



Thursday, August 19, 2010

3 Things I'm looking forward to

1. Church - I'm excited to get into the rhythm of worshiping with friends and being challenged by the body of Christ at Vestavia.

2. Challenge - I don't miss the homework one bit, but I miss wrestling with ideas and being forced to think through Biblical, theological, and spiritual things with my good friends at seminary.

3. Community - it's best when you're learning and living with people who love you and push you, and i'm excited to enter back into my birmingham community.

Friday, August 6, 2010

thoughts on "living a better story" PART 2

Of course the best thing about the desire to want to live a better story is that it reveals a deep hunger in our lives for making an impact, for joining a cause bigger than ourselves. It can be just the right message for someone who’s listless and wandering through life without any kind of anchor. It can also be a good wake-up call when you’ve sort of dozed off at the wheel and gotten too complacent and comfortable with life.

So for all those reasons I think the “living a better story” philosophy has some great things going for it. But I think in the end it’s really just a distraction from a deeper commitment, a commitment that is harder and less glamorous than we might like. One of the great attractions of “living a better story” is that it makes you think of all those stories you love the most. Whether they are tales of adventure, love, war, or whatever, you immediately identify with your favorite characters and think about how awesome it would be to start living a little bit more like them.

But the problem is that most stories highlight the 10% of life and completely gloss over the 90%. The most dramatic scenes are often what we remember the most, but we forget that the decisions made in the most dramatic scenes are cultivated over years and years of making everyday decisions.

N.T. Wright recently penned a book entilted After You Believe which deals with the exact thing I’m referencing. He argues that character isn’t something you make a decision about one day and then immediately become a person of good character. He reminds us that character is forged over time, through days, months, and years of making small, seemingly insignificant decisions.

I’m realizing that when I pay too much attention to the big moments in life (the “most dramatic” ones) I miss so many little things. The decisions I make every day are often so much more significant than how I make them out to be. How I treat people, how I attend to the responsibilities that God has given to me, how I speak and use my time all make up the 90% of life that isn’t so glamorous. I don’t know about you, but most of my days aren’t filled with uber-dramatic moments where I’m deciding on some heroic course of action. But then again maybe they are, but maybe they are hidden in the guise of the plain and simple and everyday.

It’s not that I’m against living a better story. It’s just that I think it’s too weak a philosophy to build your life upon. In the end, as a follower of Christ I am to make him my foundation. My life already has significance and meaning. I don’t have to go around searching for it. Jesus Christ, the Word, the Creator, lives and dwells inside me and has redeemed me from myself (read: sin). He is renewing me everyday, transforming me from the inside out. Even when I can’t see or feel him at work.

And that is where it is sometimes hardest to have faith. That is where my faith has to be placed in Jesus Christ, not myself. So I guess what I’ve been trying to say is that living a better story isn’t a bad thing, it’s just an incomplete thing if it’s not anchored in Jesus Christ.

New Andrew Peterson music

Thursday, August 5, 2010

thoughts on "living a better story" PART 1

Life seems such an adventure when you're traveling about. You feel excited about exploring new places, seeing new things, and even the little moments have a tinge more mystery to them than usual. It's pretty much the way I felt for an entire semester back a few years ago when I studied in London. Around every bend seemed to be something fun and new to do, and that season of life was filled with exploration. The hard part, though, is finding the adventure when you're not traveling about. Which is exactly where I am.

Summer is always the time when everyone is moving around. Vacations, mission trips, weekend trips, moving to a new city. Summer seems to be a great time to do all those things. And usually I'm right there with all the other travelers. But not so this year.

I don't think I would have appreciated Wendell Berry's writing while I spent my semester in London. His is a writing style that embraces a two-feet on the ground kind of approach to life, that rooted "I am here", "I know every inch of this property" philosophy of life that seems kind of old-fashioned. Until you are in the thick of it yourself.

There are times for moving, times for exploring, and times for growing in the shoes you are already in. Ecclesiastes says there's a time for everything, and maybe this is what it's hinting at. It's much easier to look back fondly at the adventurous times in life and gloss over the more ordinary bits. I can spend hours remembering London but I have a hard time doing the same with other parts.

I've noticed a trend in people my age, and maybe I guess just "my generation" in general. A trend of wanting to "live a better story". I don't know where it started, and I'm pretty sure it's not just something that's sprung up in the last few years or so. But it's been gaining a head of steam, and it's cropping up in books and blogs and all sorts of other media. I've sort of latched on to it myself because I really like a lot of things about it. But I've become equally wary of it as well over the course of the summer.

If all I do is think about how to live a better story and then go and pat myself on the back when I go and do adventurous or bold things, I don't think I'm doing anything other than seeking to fill an empty void. A carpenter doesn't spend all his time transfixed by the beauty of his hammer, unable to work, and then when he actually does use the hammer, stop and marvel at its power. No, he rather gets on with it. He makes things.

Maybe this whole thing about wanting to live a better story is really just a lack of faith that God can work in the mundane and ordinary parts of life. I certainly do want my life to count for something greater than what I can do on my own, and I want people to see Christ in my actions. But sometimes it's not about helping another person. Sometimes it's about confronting the great fear and doubt and uncertainty raging inside my own heart, the fear that maybe God isn't actually working in my life. Sometimes it's about slowing down enough to be in communion with him, to be still with him. To find him in the everyday, the ordinary, the plain.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Halfway to Christmas

August is almost here. And august, at least for students and teachers, is a transition month. I've gotten used to the day to day routines of summer life, but those are about to go away. I don't really know what to expect with this new school year. I'm nervous and excited all at the same time, which isn't really any different than how things were last year.

This time around, some of my dearest and closest friends won't be around for the day to day and week to week. We're all setting out in different directions (well, at least they are) and it seems adventurous and exciting to see them go and follow where they've been led. Every now and then a good shake-up is what you need in life, and even though I'm a mixture of sad and hopeful about this next year, I'm comforted when I look back and remember what God has done in the past when I've felt similar apprehension about the future.

Things won't be the same, but they don't need to be. I try to remind myself of Moses and Abraham and Joshua, how they all must have felt as they set off in new directions. In a way, you've got to be kind of crazy to really follow where God leads.

Lifelong friends are a precious gift from God. They are the people who you can come in and out of life with, not see for long periods of time, and still find warmth and connection. People are the best gift God gives to us outside of our relationship with him, and I feel so blessed to have people in my life who I can share life with, listen to, and share struggles.

To my friends who have moved and are moving (the farmers, James, Paul and Andrew) I want you to know how much I love y'all. You have blessed me beyond measure, and it's been an honor to be your friend.

I look forward to the new roads ahead, and to following where the Lord leads.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Walking, not running

I was out running the other night, making my way through a dark trail because in Texas you have to wait until the sun is long gone before it's remotely possible to enjoy outdoor activities not including water. Things were going along smoothly until about 10 minutes into the run. That's when I started to realize that I should have waited an extra 30 or so minutes because dinner wasn't done digesting. What I thought would be a good long run turned into a walk instead.

But it was awesome. It was great to be forced to slow down, to actually hear the crickets chirping and the water moving in the creek by my side, to hear the big swoosh of tree limbs as they swayed with the force of wind. I had wanted to run, but it turns out I needed to have that walk, instead. I sort of laughed because this happens to me a lot. I want one thing, but it turns out it's not really what I need. A great reminder to me that being in control isn't always the best thing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


It's beautiful when you can come back to a place you've been before and find something new. As you realize new dimensions to a familiar thing, that familiar thing becomes something more dear to your heart. It's why friendships and relationships get better with time. It's why the best music gets better the more you listen to it. It's why you keep coming back to something long after the initial thrill of excitement has worn off.

And it's something that I am discovering in my walk with God, too. I read a few chapters from Hebrews last night, and the Word spoke to me anew, even though I've read it before. I guess I am learning to be thankful that walking with God isn't a transactional thing, where I learn a set of precepts once and then go on about my life. I'm more like a small pile of embers that continually needs to be fanned into flame by the Spirit.

And as I continue to apply myself to reading the Word and doing what it says I am involving myself in the process of rediscovery. I make too many mistakes and fall too often for my walk with God to be defined in terms of progress of some sort. I am infinitely glad this day that the progress that our world defines itself by and prides itself in is not the benchmark of faith.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I have a hard time being content

"But wherever it is recognized that the power of death has been broken, wherever the world of death is illumined by the miracle of the resurrection and of the new life, there no eternities are demanded of life but one takes of life what it offers, not all or nothing but good and evil, the important and the unimportant, joy and sorrow; one neither clings convulsively to life nor casts it frivolously away. One is content with the allotted span and one does not invest earthly things with the title of eternity; one allows to death the limited rights which it still posses. It is from beyond death that one expects the coming of the new man and of the new world, from the power by which death has been vanquished."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Ethics

I read this and stopped and thought about it for a moment, because I have a tendency to think of the boring or dull moments in my life as things to be avoided. I want it all to be exciting, "meaningful", when in reality it is all meaningful already. To find God in the everyday is sometimes the hardest thing to do when I'm blinded by my own expectations.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What was it like, for you?

So it's Saturday morning. I'm finishing up my little pot of coffee I made earlier, enjoying the quietness of the morning. Summer has flown by, don't you think? I realized just the other day that summer is already half way over, and the way that realization dawned upon me it was as if I had been spinning my wheels inside a windowless room, unaware of time.

The pace of life during school this past semester was always hard to describe. It would be slow and steady some weeks, while others were just horrendously jam-packed. One week I'd be able to enjoy and think about the stuff I was assigned to read and write about, while the next I was trying my hardest to cram it all in and crank a decent paper out. This summer though, has been different. Very steady pace, with limited variation. And you know what? I'm finding that I like both.

But one of the constants among the two different paces of life has been weekend retreat. A few years ago I went on a spiritual formation retreat where the speaker talked about Sabbath and how we as busy college kids could learn a lot from the habits of ancient Christians who practiced rest, solitude, and reflection. At the time it was a revolutionary concept to me. It sort of took me by storm. At first I had to be really make an effort to make time during the weekend for sabbath rest. Then, slowly, it sort of sunk into me and became something I looked forward to, anticipating throughout the week.

Everybody has a different idea of what Sabbath is, and I think that's one of the great things about it. Some people really get into the solitude thing, while others just enjoy feeling free from work. I've found that I just really like the openness of the time. What I mean is that I like having (even if it's brief) unscheduled time, time where I can sit and hang out with friends if that's what's going on, or time to read a good book, or any number of things that brings rest and relaxation.

If i don't watch it, it becomes difficult for me to unplug. I know most people have an easy time just hanging out and doing fun stuff, but for some reason I find it sort of difficult after a heavy week in the books to disengage. That's where the unscheduled time comes in. I found that most of the time I needed a bit of time to fully unwind, and that's where the old habit of sabbath came back to help me.

I was thinking about all this as I was sitting down with my coffee this morning. The quiet all around me, unscheduled time before me. It's good to work hard, to be stretched, to do something hard. Because that's when the rest really becomes valuable. It's when you're able to appreciate the people and blessings in your life that they start to mean more, and sometimes it takes a little unscheduled time in order to count those blessings.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

all kinds of debt

I recently had lunch with a good friend of mine who is a successful banker. He has an MBA and is working towards a doctorate, and I was enjoying soaking up his knowledge and wisdom about all things economics. In just a few short minutes I realized how much I do not know about all that kind of stuff, and how much I base my decisions about both personal and governmental finance on large generalizations I've made through the years. Needless to say it's great to have friends who are gifted and knowledgeable about things that I am not.

One thing he recommended me to do was to start reading some business magazines. He said the Economist was usually pretty trustworthy and went in depth in its articles. I decided to pick up a copy, and I've spent some time this week reading through its sections. Just last night I finished their special section on debt. Each week they tackle a specific issue or country with about 20 pages of analysis, and while it's a bit overwhelming at first, the writing style was easy to read and i found that i was beginning to understand how debt works and how it has affected our world so much in the past few years.

But I'm not interested in just the pure economics of debt. I'm interested in what it has done to us as people, as individuals within a system, living and breathing and making real-time decisions. As I was reading the article, it became clear to me that the culture of debt that we live in has seeped through to every part of our lives, and affects us in more ways than we even realize.

One of the reasons we have piled up such an enormous public and private debt as a country is because of our "buy now, find the money later" attitude. Since there are so many ways to finance something, buying a product doesn't seem like a monumental decision in the moment. We learn to buy from impulse, and the whole business world has learned to cater to this impulse nature by focusing on design and aesthetics in a product, figuring out how to make us become emotionally attached to the products they are selling. As a result, many of our purchasing decisions are made on the surface, on the fly, if you will.

Because I believe that habits in one part of life affect every part of life, I think that the "impulse buy attitude" we've cultivated in our society permeates all parts of our lives. It's clearly a part of social networking, where we learn to connect on multiple fronts with tons of people, but few of the interactions achieve a level of meaning that a personal interaction achieves. It's a part of our educational system, where learning how to skip and flit through large tomes of data by boiling them down to the "essential points" has adversely caused us to misrepresent and mischaracterize entire movements of thoughts. Our society values nimble thought, and we've learned how to achieve it.

You may not see the connection as intertwined as I see it, but I think our shopping (read: consumeristic) habits have bled into our entire lives and led us down pathways with consequences we haven't quite fully realized. We are people, in many ways, dealing with all kinds of debt. Learning how to save and be smart with resources is the same remedy that would help us with many of our other social problems as well. Learning how to value and invest in people, diving deeply into subjects of interest and becoming good at them. Overcoming these kinds of impulse habits doesn't happen overnight, and doesn't require us to chuck the baby out with the bathwater. Impulse is a positive part of our human nature, as is our ability to critically think and evaluate. But we need to learn how to effectively achieve a balance between the two.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Essentially an Ethical Problem

I've been trying to figure out what exactly is going on with the gulf oil spill, and I'm running into the same problems you are probably running into as well. There seems to be confusion everywhere: from both BP and the government. We're seeing the classic battle of government vs. business being played out, and I'm already tired of the partisan answers that have been flashed by both sides. Political opportunism reeks as I hear politicians use this disaster to further their own ends instead of trying to come up with a way to help the people most affected.

Some people think the disaster proves we need more government oversight of industry. Some claim that this is the turning point for the environmental movement, a salient visual reminder of the consequences of industrialism. Others blame the government for the confusing response. There's plenty of blame to go around, sure, but is now the time to be trumpeting the blame so loudly when real peoples lives are, to put it mildly, in upheaval?

I think the oil spill further reveals the ethical problem facing America and it's leaders. From a macro to a micro level, ethics is eschewed as a tangential issue of little relevance to a society which has more to worry about than what is right and wrong. After all we're on the cusp of technological breakthroughs and business innovation. Who has time to stop and wonder if what we so blatantly term "progress" is actually the right kind of progress?

We don't need, as some would assert, to harken back to our "Christian roots" at the founding of our country. The fact is, there was very little that was Christian about our founding, unless you equate Christianity with a kind of therapeutic moral deism. Rather, we need individuals inside the Church to take civic responsibility seriously. We don't need to "take back the government", we just need people who will actually listen, discuss, and be willing to come up with smart solutions to tough problems.

The gulf oil spill is a complicated mess, too complicated to neatly place blame on one side or the other. It shows, however, that we as a society have more to do in terms of catching up morally and ethically to the vast complexity of technology that we let rule our lives.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Technology vs. Creation = Creation Wins

I crave beauty. As I spend more time with technology, gadgets, and web development strategies, I am constantly aware of a nagging urge to be in the presence of beauty. The natural world is alive in a way that exudes beauty and energy. Technology only approximates beauty. It attempts to mimic what we find everywhere in nature.

I've been researching design over the past few weeks, looking at it mathematically, conceptually, visually, and ideologically, asking the question: “what makes something beautiful?” One thing has become clear throughout my research: God is the ultimate designer, and anything we humans design is nothing if not a distant approximation of what he has already done. Technology is driven by functionality on one side, but equally as important it is driven by design. If something doesn't both feel right and work right, it's hard for that piece of technology to gain widespread use. From cars to cell phones, design and functionality are the two key principles driving technology.

But the more time you spend with technology, the more lackluster it becomes in comparison with the grandeur of God's created world. There are constant annoyances, bugs, caveats, and problems with every single piece of created technology. Show me, though, one design or functionality flaw in an oak tree. What about a duck? Each thing that God created was and is perfectly designed for the role for which it was created.

I see so much arrogance and greed in the world of technology. I start to adapt these habits myself when I'm blindly following where they lead. There is a constant urge under the surface to have something more, something better, and to have it exclusively. It's why people wait in line for a product, why people devote their entire lives to blogging about a particular device and/or company. Of course technology is not all bad, and I would hate for that to be the point taken from this little rant. However, I've noticed firsthand how difficult it is to turn off the roaring engine that is the desire to possess something new. It is perhaps one of the most silent, yet dangerous dispositions to let creep in to your life. It is the exact opposite of contentment, and the Bible is clear throughout that a constant desire for material possessions (mammon) is sinful and idolatrous.

And that is where beauty comes in. All around us is a world created by God that we all too often fail to recognize. Technology drives us inward, but creation points to the Creator. With such created beauty everywhere around us, it should sadden us all the more when horrific man-made disasters like the gulf oil spill occur. We would all go up in arms if someone were to throw a can of oil on a da Vinci, Monet, or Rembrandt painting, yet I am surprised and confused by the response, or lack thereof, of many professing Christians to the oil spill. Where is our sense of creation care? We are highly protective of our “own” possessions, but when it comes to the world that has been given as a gift for us to live in, we balk at our responsibility.

I appreciate technology, and I get excited to think about the possibilities and new horizons that it opens up. But I am equally aware of the frightful limitations and negative consequences that it brings our way as well. More on this later.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Lies Beneath

A few days ago news came out that nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral resources lies beneath the surface of Afghanistan. The New York Times article gives more detailed facts, but I want to focus on the implications behind this discovery. I happened to first hear the story while driving back from spending the day with Andrew Crosson at Schlitterbahn water park in south Texas. We were listening to NPR at the beginning of the long drive back, and they had a 5 or 6 minute spot about this particular story.

Honestly, the first thing I thought about when I heard this news was not how great it would be for Afghanistan, but how much more oppression, greed, and manipulation would follow. While having that much untapped potential under the surface seems like an incredible blessing, I can’t help but think about the multinationals that are licking their chops, ready to pounce on this already impoverished nation in order to simply gain a larger profit.

This seems like the story of DR Congo and Nigeria all over again. Relatively poor, unstable countries that were found to have huge natural resources which huge multinationals soon began to extract, only to lead to terrible exploitation and poverty for the vast majority of citizens. Hopefully Afghanistan won’t go the same way, but it has the conditions needed for this same tragedy to take place.

For one, it is a nation that in the middle of a war. Politically, its stability teeters on the edge of survivability at the best of times. In the worst, it’s been labelled as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Then consider its economy. Because of the war, long-term planning that we take for granted in the relatively stable and secure West is not an option for people that are just trying to make it through the winter. As a result, cash crops are by far the easiest and most profitable business for most citizens, and the most lucrative cash crops are the ones that become illegal drugs.

The government is not quite stable, while the economy still searches for profitability in something other than illicit drugs. One would hope that the news of all this new wealth under Afghanistan would lead to a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous future for these people. They have endured a tremendous amount of both internal and external strife in the last few decades, and they certainly deserve a brighter future.

Let’s hope the story of DR Congo and Nigeria (along with numerous others) doesn’t repeat itself in Afghanistan and that, indeed, this is news to celebrate for a people who surely deserve some good news.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Think of it as a Gift

I'm slowly reading my way through Karl Barth's Dogmatics in Outline. I was caught by an idea that corresponded to what I was reading in Scripture, and it helped shine a light of gratitude into my heart, so I wanted to share it.

In one of the first few chapters, Barth talks about proving the existence of God. He thinks these proofs we've constructed about the existence of God don't really do anything but prove our short-sightedness. He thinks the other way around. To him, the idea of God is more concrete than the idea of himself. The experience of life can seem like a dream; how do you know it's real? Basically, he is working from the framework that God is the solid rock of understanding and that we are like shifting sand.

It's a highly philosophical point, and one that I don't quite know that I fully understand, but the Spirit brought an "aha!" moment to me as I was reading this section of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 2:

For the Spirit searches everything, even p the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person's thoughts q except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now r we have received not s the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this t in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,u interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual

The realization dawned on me: knowing God is a gift! To interact with, to think about, to have a relationship with God is quite an astonishing thing when you stop to think about it. It is a precious gift to know him. It's undeserved grace. Knowing God. It helps to think of it as a gift. This isn't a relationship I control or manage. It's interactivity, it's submission and obedience, and it's joy.

I'm not sure that's what Karl Barth intended when he wrote that section of his book, but the beautiful thing about communicating the things of God is that the Spirit works to bring understanding in mysterious ways.

Friday, June 4, 2010

3 things

1) 3 songs i'm loving right now

Susan Enan Bring on the Wonder
The Boxer Rebellion These Walls are Thin
The Radio Dept. Heaven's on Fire

2) 3 books I'm loving right now

Philip Yancey & Paul Brand Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Khaled Hosseini (sp?) A Thousand Splendid Suns
C.S. Lewis The Grand Miracle (a collection of selected essays)

3) 3 observations from happenings this week

The Armando Gallaraga almost-perfect game fiasco seemed to get everyone riled up except Armando Gallaraga. Do we place too much emphasis on sport in America when an umpire is getting death threats because he missed a call?

The Oil Spill disaster continues. BP has not responded appropriately, and most Americans don't seem to care that this might be the biggest national environmental disaster in our history. Should this teach us a few things about how we live in God's created world?

Sprint showed off its newest 4g phone this week, the HTC Evo. Added to Verizon's HTC Incredible and the new iPhone due out in a month, phones are getting more powerful and will vie for more of our attention. But as much as I love technology, I'd rather have a nice, long, personal, face-to-face conversation with a good friend any day.

Friday, May 28, 2010

some thoughts on translations

Good morning! The last few days I’ve been working backwards through Proverbs. I started with chapter 10 and read backwards because that’s not something I usually do, and I wanted to see what it was like. I spent an evening in the section about staying away from the adulteress, trying to soak up the wisdom of “can a man put coals in his lap and not be burned?” (6:27).

I’m bad about placing differentiations on sin. I’m a pro at rationalizing what’s right and what’s okay, and what’s not okay but probably isn’t too bad. But reading these chapters, and really, this whole book, is a solid reminder that the way of wisdom turns away from all unrighteousness. Not in a holier-than-thou elitism, but in a pure, humble heart that honestly desires to please God. If I’m honest, more often than not i’m more concerned with pleasing myself than pleasing God, and my actions, words, and thoughts reflect this.

So Proverbs is turning out to be a wonderful dose of medicine to my heart. I’ve been reading it in the NLT, because I enjoy the beautiful translation that they employ. It is so difficult to balance beauty with precision and accuracy in translating. I know this from the last year of Greek. Sometimes you want to force a word here or there but the context just won’t let you do it. But the thing I like to keep in mind when I’m translating is this: as a translator, i’m trying to make the text as clear and as beautiful as it is in the original. I’m not spinning my own narrative. I’m not pushing my own theological opinions. I’m trying to do the best I can with my knowledge of english and greek/hebrew to bridge the gap between the two.

Peterson’s Message is a little bit too much on the side of subjectivity. When you stray as far as he does from original meaning you begin to make leaps that you just can’t sustain. But texts like the NIV, the NLT, which are closer to the original while still being readable, are a better blend of the beauty/clarity/precision triangle. If I’m honest, after learning Greek I have a hard time reading a looser translation of the New Testament and would rather have a more literal translation. But the Greek language, just like English, deserves to be unchained from the strict shackles of literality if we’re going to let the Spirit speak in various ways.

Achieving a good balance is the goal, at least it seems that way to me. I need the hard-nosed literal translations (NASB) as well as the looser, freer translations (NLT, Good News). And in between, the NIV and ESV emerge. All of these translations are worthy of our time and attention, because they bring us closer to the Word, and that’s the whole point of it all. Not to develop some uber particular way of interpretation, but rather to just spend time with God through his revealed Word. As I’m reminded in Proverbs 4, “My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart.” That’s the whole point. When the words penetrate our heart, our actions can't help but be changed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

beautiful reminder

Wisdom has built her house;
she has carved its seven columns.
She has prepared a great banquet,
mixed the wines, and set the table.
She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come.
She calls out from the heights overlooking the city.
"Come in with me," she urges the simple.
To those who lack good judgment, she says,
"Come, eat my food,
and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;
learn to use good judgment."

Proverbs 9:1-6 (NLT)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Learning from Lebron

I’m not going to spend an entire post exclusively talking about sports, even though that would be so much fun (i’ve always wished I could blog for ESPN, ha). But something kind of hit me as I was watching the collapse of the cleveland cavaliers in their playoff series against the Boston Celtics. A collapse few saw coming, but when you really begin to think about it, it’s easy to see why it happened.

In case you’re lost, here’s a quick rundown. So the Cavs were favorites to win the NBA title going into the playoffs this year. They have the best player on the planet in Lebron, and, did I mention, they have the best player in the planet? They don’t really have many other marquee guys but that didn’t seem necessary. They had Lebron. Lebron would carry them to the title.

They cruised through the first round, but then the collapse started. They met the Boston Celtics, a tough, veteran, talented team who absolutely crushed them into the ground. I was watching the game at the Farmer’s house, and Andy and I both marveled at the way Boston was simply beating the Cavs at all the fundamentals of the game: desire, teamwork, focus, hustle, leadership. You name it, the Celtics were outshining the Cavs.

Lebron mostly had amazing statistical games during the series (except for one game), including the final game where he had a triple-double. But the problem wasn’t so much with Lebron as it was with the rest of the Cavs team. They looked scared, tentative, even disinterested at times, as if they expected Lebron to make every big-time shot while they spectated.

Shortly after the game I was left trying to figure out how something like this happened. The best team in the NBA loses embarrassingly without even putting up much of a fight. And then I realized, it’s the Lebron effect. The Cavs employed a “we can win it all without really working as a team or being interested in each other because we have Lebron”. And, you could see a little bit of that ego surfacing in Lebron. He didn’t need help. He could carry the Cavs on his own.

The 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers teach us that you can be successful with a one-man show, but you can’t make it through adversity as a team with one guy. Every player on the court is important and needs to do their part. And when one player sees another player who’s disinterested or frustrated, it’s their job to encourage their teammate and get them back on the same page. You can’t do it alone. You’ve got to stick together. These are the kinds of lessons that, while they come from a game, transcend sport and touch the very center of our lives as human beings as well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Do I believe this?

I really like the image of God as shepherd, walking with us, his sheep. I like the image because I find myself so often like a sheep that has wandered away from the shepherd, following my own nose and ending up in peril because of it. I like to do my own thing, create opportunities, make things happen. None of those things are bad traits, in fact they’re all wonderful if they are the natural outflow of life connected to God. The problem is when they are the result of me thinking I can do it all on my own.

Walking in faith is no passive activity. It’s not like closing your eyes blindly to the world around you and acting like you don’t have a care in the world. No, faith is confronting those fears and anxieties face to face, which takes quite a bit of courage. And because faith is a daily journey, it’s new every day. When I wake up in the morning, and I’m reading some particular passage of Scripture, I have to come face to face with faith and ask myself, “do i really believe THIS?”

1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” So this is the verse I read this morning, and as I read it I thought, my goodness, do I really believe this? Do I really believe that we don’t know what love is until we’ve sacrificed something for it? This verse could either be a really nice spiritual thought for the day, or it could end up being a radical, transformative message for how I live my life THIS day.

And really, isn’t our interaction with God, and with Scripture, supposed to be like that every day? What am I going to do with what this says? How does this change me? What does this require of me? Faith! Is that what faith looks like? Scanning even the most mundane parts of our lives and finding out that God is there too, wanting to make us more like him?

Do I believe this? It’s such a disrupting question. Faith is disruptive. It’s unpredictable. It requires much of me. Thank goodness my Shepherd is right there with me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Three Things

Three Things I'm Thankful for Today

1. Cross Canadian Ragweed's song "Burn Like the Sun" because it has an awesome electric guitar solo. The whole cd (Happiness and All the Other Things) has helped me recover my air guitar skills.

2. being healthy enough to run. i'm not thankful for this precious gift of health enough.

3. meals. not heart-attacks-in-a-sack like i ate all during finals, but real, genuine meals!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

driving white-knuckled through a Texas thunderstorm

I could see the clouds looming in the distance. They were like a dark wall in the sky, and i was heading right towards them. Just a few weeks ago we had a series of storms pass through birmingham, and I remember looking out the window trying to figure out which direction they were coming from. I had to resort to looking at an online radar to figure out where and when the rain was coming. There was an element of surprise in this, because with all the trees, hills, and valleys, most of the horizon was invisible to me.

Fast-forward to yesterday. I’m on my way back to Dallas, and I’m about 20 miles into east Texas. That’s the first time I saw the clouds. For the next couple hours they were my backdrop. And with each mile I drove, I was inching my way closer and closer to this line of thunderstorms.

It got me thinking about how we react to stuff that happens to us in life. There are times when something comes right out of the blue and surprises you, leaving you spinning with either joy or confusion (and sometimes both). Then there are the times when you can see something coming for miles and miles. There is a sense of foreboding as you wait for the inevitable to happen. All you can do is brace yourself.

My path eventually collided with the oncoming storm. I found myself in the middle of a good ole Texas thunderstorm, wind whipping up patches of dust and trees shaking with the raucous gusts. Rain fell on my windshield like bullets from a gun, with those big splatters that leave crater-like impressions on the glass. The cloudline was so low and dark it seemed to brush against the tops of the trees. I turned my wipers on full blast, put both hands on the wheel, and just drove right on through it.

Sometimes you can brace yourself for things that happen in life, and sometimes you get blindsided. Either way, you’re never fully in control, and thunderstorms have a great way of reminding you of that fact. When the good times, and the bad, roll in, we’re called to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, not getting consumed by the current around us. There is something reassuring about that call. It reminds us that our attitudes and our reactions are choices. You can either ride the roller-coaster of daily emotions or choose to let joy and hope light up your life regardless of the circumstances.

Monday, April 5, 2010

His Glory Appears

The glory of the Lord God Almighty is too intense for our earthly bodies to behold. That is why the closest approximations we will get are metaphors, or visions of the imagination, if you will. Too often our worship is self-centered, limited in scope. Rarely do we take in the full breadth, depth, and sheer height of our majestic Lord and Savior. The Word gives witness to our great God, and opens the eyes of our inner spirit to God. The Spirit itself comes alongside the Word and shakes us out of our stupor, beckoning us to the beauty of the Lord. If only we would lift our heads and turn our eyes away from our own reflections.

Light is one of the most common metaphors in the Bible, and it is closely connected to the glory of the Lord. The encounters of God in the Old Testament tell us that God cannot be seen face to face. The New Testament depicts the glory of the Lord so blinding Paul with its brilliance that he is brought to his knees in utter subjugation. The glory of the Lord is both beautiful and terrifying.

If you have ever seen a shaft of sunlight pierce a line of dark clouds, you begin to understand the metaphor. If you have ever seen a sunset that so captures your attention all you can do is utter monosyllabic words like “wow”, you begin to understand the metaphor. If you have ever woken up to a bright, beautifully sunlit day after several repetitively gloomy days, you begin to understand the metaphor.

One of my favorite worship songs declares: “and His glory appears, like the light from the sun”. Metaphors like this, along with the breathtaking witness of Scripture, reorient my imagination around the living Savior. And oh, does my imagination need reorienting. It too often functions in the goopy, smelly mess of sinfulness that I live in. It needs rescue, just like the rest of me, every single day. It needs the fresh breath of the Spirit to wake it up, to fill it with newness and goodness instead of filth and destruction.

Worship fills the imagination with a glimpse of the beautiful glory of the Lord. It arrests our hearts with images of light. And the worshipping heart cannot help but bleed this light into the world around it. There is no fathomable way that the heart can contain the light of the glory of the Lord. It is too powerful. It is too strong. It is too intense. It is never contained. It passes through, filling and awakening, but shining through to others. It is not ours to control, but is instead a most precious gift.

Worship brings our hearts into closer communion with the Trinity. It envelops all elements of time. We look to the past, seeing the transforming and utterly astonishing act of Jesus Christ being crucified but rising victorious on the third day. We look to the future, declaring our hope in the promise of our Savior. And in the present, our imaginations are being transformed. What an incredible gift the Lord has given to us, worship.

Faith Life College

The idea for a college ministry website has been germinating in my mind for a long time. I’ve only recently taken purposed steps to make that vision become a reality, and I wanted to share it with you.


It’s called FaithLifeCollege, because I want to emphasize topics and posts that are intersecting points between faith in Christ and life as a college student. It’s fairly straightforward, then, when you begin to think about what kind of content will be appearing on the site.

The main idea is to try to engage and connect with a college demographic that includes such a broad range of people.

So, take a look at the site, let me know what you think, and let me know how you think it could improve. I very much appreciate it!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On this Saturday

Listening to:
The Avett Brothers: Four Thieves Gone
This is such resonant music. It’s the kind of music that one moment makes you rest your head on your hands and stare out the window and then the next start tapping your foot in a delightful rhythm. The Avett Brothers have a way of making me wish I was walking through a wooded path.

The branches of a tree gently moving with the breeze. And the sun as it slowly moves its way across unconquered sky.

About Greek and how learning this language is teaching me so much about faith in general. I am such a “wantitallrightnow” person and Greek just won’t give itself up that easily. It’s teaching me to work slowly, steadily, to come back day after day, and to be patient when it doesn’t come as natural as I wish it would.

Thankful for:
The way the sun, in these particular few weeks before summer, is more warming than annoying, and for the way the earth brightens up with a bit of splashy sunlight. Makes me constantly want to go outside.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week Meditations

It’s difficult to really take the time necessary to slow down and get quiet when the world pays little attention to the significance of this week and keeps going at the same frantic pace as usual. I’ve found myself already struggling to quiet my heart and mind around the remembrance of this week’s events. There is just too much going on, and I set the bar so low for myself. Why is this?

Well for one, it’s not like my spirituality dramatically changes during the major events of the Christian calendar. These days were not meant to be more holy and spiritual than any other day, but rather they are beachheads, reminders, if you will, of the great story of God’s saving work in the world through Christ. So instead of trying to hype myself up for this week I simply need to slow down and open up the eyes of my heart and mind to imagination. I need not to construct more edifices of spirituality, but to clear away the muck of artificial idols that litter the landscape of my life. And in this clearer space the gruesome, brutal, difficult parts of the Christ story will invade the very parts of my heart that need it the most.

There is just so much to think about this week. So much happened in this relatively short span of time. And with such vast, upending implications. Like Christmas, it’s best if I can learn to just immerse myself in the story of Scripture and let the Spirit convict me and lead me to the places I need to go. And there’s no better place to do this than through the community of Christians he has placed around me.

So as I’m trying to clear away this area of space in my life, I want to leave you with a link to some wonderful holy week reflections by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Andrew Peterson. Here it is.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Kindle: A Review

I’ve been using Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader for a few months now, and wanted to write about my experience with the whole e-book world. I was hesitant at first, because I was afraid that by capitulating to the Kindle I would, in essence, be condemning physical, printed books. There is this huge debate going on, centered mainly around electronic versus physical media. Like almost all debates right now in America, each side is so polarized that it’s hard to get a clear picture of what is actually going on. On the one side you have e-book users, who say convenience is supreme, and on the other hand you have old-school hold-the-book-in-your-hands people who think the e-book trend is a defamation of the sacred ethos of reading.

The problem is, once you actually use a Kindle (or any type of e-book, for that matter), you realize that the external debate is largely blown out of proportion. I love the convenience and simplicity of the Kindle, but I still enjoy holding a physical copy of a book and underlining the pages. And to my astonishment, you don’t have to give up physical books when you start using a Kindle. People would like for you to think that by purchasing an e-book reader you are inevitably saying goodbye to ever holding a physical book in your hands, but that’s just absurd. The truth is, living in both worlds is better than either one by itself.

For the physical book purists, I can see where the e-book format seems repulsive. But let me explain some of the benefits. For one, you don’t have to carry around multiple books (especially when you travel), as they are all stored in one device. As well, at least on the Kindle, the digital-ink that they use is the same experience for your eye as reading printed words, so you don’t experience eye fatigue like you do reading from a computer screen. The digital ink also allows the Kindle to be read even in direct sunlight (i’ve done it, and it is fabulous), which can sometimes be difficult even with a physical book (and almost impossible with a laptop).

The other advantage besides convenience and ease-of-use is the way that the Kindle brings different types of media into one location. I wasn’t familiar with the Kindle version of magazines and newspapers until I started using it, but as I started to investigate these features I found them to be some of the most compelling cases for owning one. Allow me to explain. Not only can you get most major newspapers and magazines delivered wirelessly to your Kindle, but you get them before the printed versions are available. Magazines tend to generally cost a few dollars more per year than their physical cousins while newspapers are usually about the same price or a little cheaper.

Most people write-off the newspaper and magazine feature for the Kindle because it doesn’t deliver the stunning graphics and pictures that you get with a nice, glossy magazine. I can see where that could be a problem. But, on the other hand, I’ve found myself actually reading magazines and newspapers cover-to-cover without the distraction of pictures and advertisements. For someone like me who gets distracted by all the extraneous elements in a newspaper or magazine, the simplified, text-only emphasis allows me to focus on what the writers are actually trying to communicate, and in so doing, I’ve found that I’ve had a much better experience with these types of media than ever before.

Sure, the Kindle and e-book format has its drawbacks, but on the whole I’ve enjoyed using the device and have found it a great counterpart to physical media. It isn’t going to replace the printed book any time soon (that’s just ludicrous), but there is definitely a niche for what it provides. Overall, I find the device to be great for what it says it will do, and as long as you don’t expect it to be anything more than what it promises, I think you’ll have a good experience with it as well. Finally (and I may decide to explore this further in another post), I think the e-book market is going to help change the publishing and writing world in a positive way by bringing innovation and leveling the playing field that has been marred by mega-publishing firms and their strangle-hold over the book market (from writing all the way to distribution). So, if you get the chance to use an e-book (and specifically a Kindle), go ahead, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Reform and Mother Theresa

Everyone has a strong reaction to Health Care Reform. Those opposed have let it be known quite certainly that they are opposed. Those in favor have trumpeted loudly their opinion on the matter. And even those in the middle and those who enjoy a certain level of political autonomy have joined the chorus just as strongly, except their line is “quit the bickering!” All sides have weighed in.

I am not concerned here with whether or not Health Care Reform (henceforth HCR) is in and of itself right or wrong for the United States. I am more concerned with how we move forward. How we, more specifically as Christians, move forward. So how do we respond Christianly in such a raucous environment?

“Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness”
Disoriented. That is how I would describe most of our responses to the political moves in Washington over the past few decades. We have either thrust Jesus into the role of glitzy politician or divorced him from real life by relegating him to a distant “spiritual” realm. Both sides have been a part of both moves. People on both sides of the isle would like to champion Jesus as the raison d’etre for their cause. Just as equally, both sides have wanted to dismiss Jesus altogether and simply focus on the “reality” of the world situation.

After so many years of this, we have wedded ourselves to Washington. Instead of centering everything in our lives around the Kingdom of God and the hope therein for both present and future realities, we have settled for a kind of psychotic fixation on Washington. This means that we are either incredibly elated or utterly crushed by the decisions of politicians. Our responses are evidence of this. What does it mean, though, to seek first and foremost the Kingdom of God? Would it really change the way we respond to Washington?

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus”
We must strip away all the incorrigible layers in our hearts. We must do business with God, asking him to forgive us and cleanse us. In Christ’s life we find the way to move forward. Jesus lived a life fixed upon the will of his Father (read John for particular emphasis on this theme). This did not mean that he removed himself from daily interaction, though, as if he were somehow detached from the world. Instead, his close communion with his Father invigorated and established his activity and pursuits on earth.

What is establishing our actions and pursuits? Are we trying so desperately to create God’s Kingdom on earth that we are forgetting that He himself does this? Is our conception of Heaven so small that we think it must be some far-off ultra-spiritual realm completely different than this green earth that we live in now? We all tend to both directions throughout the courses of our lives, and I think the great difficulty right nows lies in cultivating the garden of our Hope in Jesus Christ.

In Him all things hold together”
Our very imaginations need a transformation, a radical centering around the hope of new life in Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection form the entire reason for our existence. In Him we find our orientation to the world and to the HCR situation specifically. We live in the hope of promise, the belief that God will continue His saving work on earth. This hope in Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our activity in the world. Therefore we are not hopeless when things seem difficult and neither have we arrived when all seems good.

Our task as Christians remains the same as it always has. We are to love God with our entire lives and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We are to embrace the broken, the despised and rejected of the world. We are to care for the spiritual and physical needs of all people. Simply put, we would do well to study the habits of saints like Mother Theresa, who have given their whole lives in humble service to others. Washington does not dictate the Christian’s response to the world. Our eyes are fixed on Jesus. He has told us what to do. But the hard task of doing it remains up to us. May we all humble ourselves before our Lord and Maker and ask Him to make us people who “live by the Spirit”.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Staying Informed

How do you get your information regarding what goes on in the world? How do you really figure out what you think about contemporary topics? I’ve been doing some self-examination when it comes to these types of questions, and I’ve been startled at what I’ve found.

I had to instantly separate the question “how do you figure out what you think about contemporary topics?” from “how do you stay current with the news?” There is a subtle difference in the question that hints at a problem with which we are just now coming to grips. I’m referring to the tendency we have today of falling into the trap of “news-byte” syndrome. Most college students or people my age are too cool to admit they watch television (unless it’s “occasionally Lost or the Office”) and so would immediately recognize the troubling trend on network and local news of watering down news items into 30-second clips. But this trend has been going on for a while, and people my age haven’t really watched network news for years anyway.

The new “news-byte syndrome” comes from the internet. From facebook, twitter, and the social networking worlds to the google news, yahoo news, etc., we are falling into the same trap as those who watch news on TV. We are staying current, yes, but do we actually know anything about what’s really going on? It goes like this: I check twitter, see an earthquake has happened somewhere, and click over to google news to figure out more. I quickly scan the bare-bones article and move on. I’ve now made myself informed, or so I think.

The problem is, I’m substituting a wide, sweeping, and generally shallow approach to news information for a more sophisticated, intelligent, and deeper understanding of what is going on around me. The problem isn’t necessary the news media. There are plethora of web sites and tv shows that give you a relatively “in-depth” understanding of an issue. I just don’t stay plugged in long enough to pay attention to them.

Our opinions (and i’m speaking here of people my age) and stances are being formed by our “fill-in-the-blank” approach to information. In this model, we pay attention long enough to think we have all we need, then we “fill-in-the-blank”, make the mental jump, and leave the topic altogether. After all, you have to find some way of organizing and categorizing the vast amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

But it gets really tiring to try to keep this model up. And you start to realize how shallow your understanding of issues is when you talk to people who are actually informed on issues. At least that’s been my finding. So I’ve decided to try and alter the way I’m taking in information and processing it. I’m reading magazines like BusinessWeek and Time in order to get deeper into issues I previously knew very little about. I’m watching video clips of the PBS News Hour so I can better understand what’s happening around the globe. These are just some small steps. And they aren’t really taking that much more time out of my schedule. I’m just using my time better.

I think what it comes down to is this: I can see myself slipping into this kind of “informed haze” where I know the basic facts about what’s going on, but have never engaged with the issues themselves in a deep manner. And then I’m walking into my local polling booth without any idea whatsoever about what I’m getting ready to do. And that’s just a lazy way out. That’s no way to show gratitude to the countless people who have sacrificed for my generation to have the opportunity to vote. That’s simply no way to be a good citizen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Response

I don't have much in the way of coherent thoughts to offer right now, so I'm going to just post a poem I wrote recently called "In Response".

You skirt the edges of my mind,

You pound in my very chest,

You linger in a quiet thought,

You burst through the bleeding west.

Your love is like a roaring furnace,

like a journey back to home,

Your voice is warm, in thundrous silence,

calming me when I’m alone.

You are preeminence, august, glow,

You hold the world, its beams,

my hope.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Better Resurrection

A poem by one of my favorites, Christina Rossetti:

I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numbed too much for hopes or fears.
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimmed with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.

My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see;
Yet rise it shall - the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.

My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perished thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snow, Roots, and Hearts

The falling snow this morning has me thinking about the parable of the sower. I'm not sure how or why this connection came to mind, but maybe it has something to do with the way the snow is falling so beautifully but melting as it lands on the ground. You could spend hours watching the snow fall and look expectantly down at the ground waiting to find a white blanket, but instead all that you would get today is a picture of soggy, saturated mud.

Our church has been reading and listening through the New Testament during the season of Lent. The goal of this endeavor is to become more acquainted with the Scriptures that we profess so heartily yet spend such little time with. As we have been going through the Word the past few weeks, I've been astonished at how much the Spirit can do through such a simple act.

Jesus' teaching on the Sower is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the synoptics) and thus we can infer that it is pretty important teaching. The story goes that there was a farmer who went to sow seed, but the seed had problems taking root. Some of the seed was snatched up by birds, some of it fell on shallow soil that inhibited the growth of the seed, thus causing an immature plant to be scorched by the sun, and other seed fell among thorns, which choked the growth attempts of the seed. Then there is the good soil, which received the seed and there it flourished.

I wonder, if Jesus were to examine the soil of our hearts today, what would he find? Would he find shallow soil that is filled with the rocks of distraction, idols, and indecision? Would he find soil that is filled with the thorns of self-centeredness, deceit, and fear? I wonder what he would find.

The seed that fell on the good soil "took root". The seed on the shallow soil, "immediately sprang up, because there was no depth of soil". My heart is, more times than not, the shallow soil. I assume that if I do my Christian duty of spending a few minutes a day with God I am fulfilling what I am supposed to fulfill. But what a shallow approach! The seed of the Word, then, continually fails to take root.

Would that my heart be fertile soil. Would that I tend to the garden of my heart, digging up the weeds and clearing away the debris. Would that I clear time each day to calm down and receive the Word.

Because I know the power of the Word to change my heart, my life. But do I really want it to?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

From a distance

Christianity, from a distance, seems safe. Christ as preached by many in America seems tame, passive, and lifeless. Why have we deluded ourselves into pigeon-holing the Gospel to fit our desires?

It is so much easier to live life with Christ as your self-help coach or "co-pilot" than to let him reign as Lord over your life. When you spend only a few minutes a day in solitude with God, it is all too easy to let the other 23.95 hours be ruled by your own ego. I speak from experience.

What happens when Christ invades your life, though? What happens when you earnestly yearn for a deeper connection with God? What happens when you start immersing yourself in the Word of God?

You become like a seed. You fall into the soil of God's creative power, die, and are reborn as a beautiful, new plant. John captures it in his gospel: "verily I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit".

But why have we confused ourselves into thinking that this decision is merely a ONE-time decision made when we decide to follow Christ? The "moment" of salvation has become distorted in our contemporary context. We have placed so much emphasis on making a decision for Christ that we have failed to properly explain that it is a decision that must be made every single day.

Each day is a creation unto its own. It is not yesterday, neither is it the future. It is a precious gift. The Word also says "Choose you this day whom you shall serve". But we are content with believing that if we've made our one-time decision we've done what it takes to punch our salvation-ticket.

The "choose you this day" version of faith, though, is what we need to learn. We must, as a generation, immerse ourselves in the Word, giving Christ complete Lordship over our lives, praying for the faith to be able to follow where he leads. This is the kind of Christianity that is not safe. This is the kind of Christianity that requires much of me.

No, it requires all of me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

two of my favorite books

I would like to introduce you to Leif Enger. Maybe you've heard of him, but I'm guessing you probably have not. Therefore I'm going to spend the rest of this blog post trying to convince you to read his two books: Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome.

There are very few contemporary writers who capture the full essence of being human without becoming overly fixated on employing wordy prose in the descriptions of their characters. So many writers, you can tell, are trying so hard to find their voice that it just becomes awkward to make it past a few chapters. So they usually resort to one of the many ready-made formulas for whatever genre they wish to be successful in.

For instance, look at all the magic themed books that came out after the popularity of the Harry Potter series. Or take a peek at the burgeoning vampire fiction at your local bookstore. These are just the big-name trends, but each sub-genre has its own little formula for what it means to be popularly successful in the publishing industry. (sidenote: for the Christian version, just walk through the "Christian living" section of your bookstore and read the different titles. it's amazing how many popular titles have personal pronouns or some sort of need-based marketing gimmick.)

But then there are the few writers who push away from the crowds and go out on their own in search of their creative voice. These are the writers who are few and far between, and sadly, they usually don't receive much attention. Sure, there are the occasional Khaled Hosseini's (The Kite Runner) who write incredible books and are enormously popular, but there just aren't many.

Leif Enger is one such writer who has largely escaped attention. His two novels were well-received and are easy to find in bookstores, but you don't find many people talking about them. They have that elusive quality to them. They charm readers, but people seem to quickly forget.

For the past three years I have hardly read any better fiction. From the classics to popular modern titles, I just can't find another novelist who writes with the ease and gravity of Leif Enger. He writes in a style that makes you forget the time. But the best description for these two books is beautiful. Instead of taking you to a different world, his writing inspires you to see the world in a completely different fashion. He is a writer who has noticed the beauty around him, and his novels, in all their story-telling goodness, also have that added delight of re-awakening your mind to the beauty of the earth.

Please tell me someone has heard of Leif Enger. If you have not, I hope you will take the time to stop and at least read a few chapters of either book. I don't think you will regret the experience.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

7 Words

Challenging. Fun. Colloquial. Inspiring. Brisk. Introspective. Expressive.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Scripture as our Playground

Communication creates our interpretation of reality. Words form the very backbone of how we live, think, and express ourselves as human beings. They have power far beyond our understanding, yet they are as commonplace as the air we breathe.

I agree with the social critics who have said that those of us in America live in a culture that devalues the word. It's not that we have lost all sense of what words mean to us, rather it is that we have allowed the visual image to supplant the word as the primary way we find expression.

If it is true that communication creates our interpretation of reality, then the amount of images we take in daily plays a tremendous role with how we perceive our lives. Basically, images shape us more than we realize. And as we are moving, as a culture, to a more image-saturated culture through the mediums of cell-phones, television, and computers, we are losing our ability to communicate through the word.

Words requires our minds and imaginations to form a picture from within, while an image requires no imagination to understand. Both words and images are incredibly powerful forms of communication, but we've let images carry us too far and have thus become word-weary and word-wimpy people.

Some examples, you ask. Certainly. How about our ability to listen to speeches, or in a context that hits closer to home, how about our ability to listen to sermons? It's one thing for a 5 year-old to get fidgety after 10 minutes, but it's another thing altogether when the entire congregation can't make it past 15 minutes. Or what about our ability to sit and focus on reading a book? I often find it extremely difficult to focus for the first 20 or 30 minutes I sit down to read, because my mind has been traveling so fast and needs time to acclimate to a slower pace.

If our imaginations were athletes, they'd be out-of-shape. But not dead. Not dead. We still have the ability to recapture a truer sense of imagination even though we are surrounded by a culture that is doing everything it can to force-feed us pre-processed images. We can do our best to re-acclimate ourselves to the written word, tearing ourselves away from the televisions, computers, and cell-phones in our lives that keep us away from face-to-face interaction. We can do our best to re-learn the importance of reading good books, the kind that stimulate us to think and imagine the world in different ways.

And ultimately we can re-learn the significance of the word in our lives by digging into the Scriptures and communicating with God through prayer. By reading His Word to us and learning to communicate with him through prayer we will be enrolling ourselves in the greatest class of all time, where the teacher is God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. In this classroom we will learn how to be shaped and moved by the Living Word, and we will see the beauty of worshipping through the spoken and sung word.

God is at the center of this endeavor as Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit. By focusing in on, and communing with the Trinity, we will come to the fullest understanding possible of the power of the word for our lives. The Scriptures are our playground in all of this--the best possible place for our imaginations to reside.

Let the word come alive!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Deep Waters

"Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me." - Psalm 69: 1-2

This is what most of us feel at different points in a given week without being able to articulate just what "it" is. Sometimes it's sudden, hitting you like a strong current. Other times it's gradual. You wake up and just feel down. The kind of expression David is talking about here can be either sharp or throbbing.

Where are the waters coming in to your life? Where do you feel the current swirling around you, with no dry ground nearby or life-raft in sight? I think sometimes we do a good job articulating our daily fears and concerns to others and experience the relief of having someone else share a burden with us, but if we're honest, I think most of us do an even better job hiding these fears deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts.

We as a generation are not very good at listening. I am a pretty bad listener. I don't exactly know why we're just not very good listeners anymore, but maybe it has to do with all the distractions, both internal and external, that crash around in our minds like hyperactive bumper-cars. Listening requires presence. It requires attention. Both of which are hard to do when you have a cell phone in your pocket and a list of things to do begging you to attend to them.

We're just pretty distracted, when it comes down to it. And these distractions are tools the enemy uses to keep us busy when we know we need to slow down. These distractions in our lives are like sunglasses that dull the magnificence of the hope found in the promises of God. When we are distracted, we don't pay attention to the foundational promises of our faith. Like the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us. Or the promise that God's wisdom is better than our wisdom. Or even the life-altering promise that God has a plan and purpose for our lives.

We need to learn to meditate on these promises and there find deep wells of encouragement. These promises are the lifeblood of our hope as Christians. They are what enable us to face the coming waters and stand steadfast. I love how David ends this Psalm:

"For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners...For God will save Zion"

He is standing in the turmoil of the present but rejoicing in the hope of the promise of God. This is our way forward. Not glibbly shutting our eyes to the struggles around us, but standing in the midst of them and proclaiming the truths of God's eternal promises to us. There we find encouragement and strength strangely not of ourselves. There we find the Risen Savior. And He is all we need.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Like Fire

I watched the movie Dante's Peak last night, in its entirety, on AMC. So I saw more commercials than I needed to see for the entire week. I muted a few of the commercial breaks, but ended up passively waiting through the rest of them to get back to the movie. Some observations:

We are told two things when it comes to our image/appearance/self-worth. Either A) we do not look good enough or are not good enough so we need a product or service to make us look and feel better, or B) don't let people determine your worth, you are amazing just the way you are. Both options are lazy misconstructions of how we are really supposed to handle ourselves. They've both got enough truth in them to make us want to go in their direction, but they are dangerously flawed as well.

There's something about love that makes it like fire. You cannot come into contact with real love without being changed. I don't have to tell you that for you to intuitively understand what I'm talking about. Love changes you.

Now, the beautiful thing about grace is that God does not require us to clean up our act before coming to him. He just wants us to come to him. And since most of us are screwed up in so many different ways, there aren't many people who end up coming to God with white robes on. We come to God as we are, but the love that we come into contact with changes us.

I too often shy away from the hard task of sanctification. I end up either relying too much on my own strength or thinking that it's just a needless attempt at doing something that's not really possible. But sanctification is not something we can choose to ignore, because in so doing we cheapen grace. Coming into contact with God's love changes us, every day, transforming us into people that are more Christlike.

It's why we keep getting back up when we fall down, because of the strength of the grace of God. His love compels us forward, and every time we make mistakes he calls us closer to himself.

You and I are called to be holy, to lay ourselves before the altar of the Lord. Sure, God is full of grace, but living with the mantra of "i'm not perfect" is just an immature way to live out a relationship with the living and active God. It comes down to this: do we really believe God is powerful enough in his love and grace to change us, to really transform those deepest parts of our lives where we do not let anyone else go? Are we willing to come completely before him and ask for his help? And are we really ready for the consequences of such a radical step of faith?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

When's the last time you surrendered yourself completely to Christ? Your talents, your hopes, your dreams, your failures, your uncertainties? After days and weeks in which I've lived completely in my own strength, everything just seems so tense and difficult. My head and heart race off ahead and leave my will faltering in the dust.

We weren't meant to approach surrender like camels approach water, just drinking every once in a while. Camels can go days and weeks without water. We simply cannot go days and weeks without the water of surrender. Exhaustion steals on us quickly.

I'm learning the simple, yet hard truth of surrender. Every day. To Christ. Trying to live for God does not substitute for complete and total surrender. It's like walking on hot concrete without shoes. The hymn comes to mind, "turn your eyes upon Jesus". The Word reminds me "come to me", "take up your cross and follow me". "Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will preserve it".

Sunday, January 24, 2010


I love the way certain themes seem to thread themselves through the events of a day. I'll read something in the morning that comes up in a later conversation and then gets confirmed by yet another conversation. It's as if someone wants me to learn something. I think you've probably had a similar experience.

Well today one of those threaded themes was choosing Christ. In the interspersed events of the day this theme kept finding its way to the surface, slowly working its way into my mind and heart. Sometimes I think the Lord works this way because I'm too stubborn and inattentive to notice something unless He reminds me several times. By the end of this particular evening, though, I finally realized that the message I had been sent was centered around the daily choice I make, whether to sacrifice myself to Christ and be under his lordship, or to choose to live by my own wisdom and understanding.

I needed to be reminded about this choice, because it had lost its sharp edge in my heart. Choosing Christ each day should remain something that my heart is sensitive to, not something that I either don't think about or put off to do later. That's the "sharp edge" that I need to have in my heart. Sensitivity.

"Choose you this day whom you will serve; as for me and my house, we shall choose the Lord". This decision I make has such vast and far reaching implications on the rest of the day, yet how many days do I go where I don't even think about it? If I'm honest, most days I take myself too seriously and don't take God seriously enough. I'm all too ready to dive into the challenges of my day, but when it comes to surrendering myself to Christ in order to seek His direction first, well, that's something I need a lot of help with.

Thankfully it's not something to get discouraged about, but is something to be encouraged about. Each day is new. Each day affords opportunities that will never happen again. And even when I'm fumbling around, unable to choose Christ, He always prevails. It's because of his love that I desire to surrender myself to him, and this helps me remember that this whole "choosing" business isn't about outward action but is instead focused on my inner heart of hearts. It's in these moments that I realize what a patient Lord I serve. And this gives me new hope for today.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Learning to live without

I was browsing google's fastflip news source when I came across a U.S. News article about things we Americans are learning to do without during this recession period. The author lists 21 things that we've learned to curb or do away with altogether. I identified with a lot of items on the list and I think you will too. It's good for a laugh, too. I think cultivating creativity is one of our most important calling as Believers, and this includes employing creative measures to curb poor spending habits.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fragrance of Christ

It's powerful what a certain smell can conjure in your memory. Whenever I smell an orange being peeled, I immediately think of track season, because all the track moms would bring us orange slices to eat in between events. Other smells bring back more specific memories, time-bound memories, and bring crashing to mind the intensity of that moment. They can be positive or negative associations, too. A scent can repel you from something or it can draw you in and put you at ease.

I was thinking about this when I came across Paul's metaphor of us as fragrances in 2 Corinthians 2. In this little snippet of Scripture he says that we are a "fragrance of Christ" to the world around us. A sweet smelling fragrance in the midst of the stench of death and hopelessness.

I don't often feel like a sweet smelling fragrance of Christ. I would not compare my life to the latest Giorgio Armani fragrance, and most of the time I wonder if people can even tell that anything is different about my life. But Paul's reminder is that I don't have to go around wondering what kind of fragrance I'm putting out, as if one day I can produce stench and the other day something intoxicatingly beautiful.

Instead, Paul simply says that I am a fragrance of life among a fragrance of death. This gives me tremendous hope, realizing it does not depend upon my effort. I don't have to try to be a different kind of fragrance, I am a different kind of fragrance already. Christ has done the work.

Our lives tell a story, and our lives give off a fragrance. In Christ we are assured that both are redeemed and given new dimensions. Just because our effort doesn't determine the goodness or badness of our fragrance doesn't exempt us from doing something, however. We are called to go into the world, to bring that fragrance to the world.

So while we don't have to go around wondering what our lives are smelling like, we are commanded to go and bring that fragrance to other lives. Which turns everything outward. It exposes the lack of trust we have in Christ to actually bring about that sweet fragrance. It's easier to ponder how we smell, trying to produce a "better" fragrance, than it is to simply trust that Christ makes us sweet smelling fragrances and that all we need to do is walk by faith.

"Cease striving", the Psalmist reminds us. "Come to me", says Jesus. "Seek first the Kingdom". If we reorient our lives around Christ, He will take us where we need to go. He will guide our steps and take us to the places that desperately need the fragrance of Christ. What a good thought, that we don't have to try so hard on our own. All we have to do is follow Christ, placing our complete trust in Him, and submitting our lives to radical obedience. He will show us the way.