Monday, December 29, 2008

For These Tough Times

It's time for another book review. I haven't exactly had a lot of free time to do much reading lately. I put the blame squarely on K.C.

Fortunately, the most recent book I'm reviewing weighs in at under 100 pages. But don't let the low page count fool you, this is a substantial book. Enough buildup. I'm reviewing Max Lucado's "For These Tough Times."

Lucado opens the book with a question from King David:
When all that is good falls apart, what can good people do? (Psalm 11:3 NCV)

The rest of the book focuses on the truth in how David answered his own question. David's response isn't the type of answer that I would expect. Listen to David's declaration:
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord sits on his throne in Heaven (Psalm 11:4 NCV)

"For These Tough Times" isn't so much Max Lucado telling us his thoughts on what people do when the chips are down. It is a reminder of who God is and what He has promised for us.

Lucado writes through 8 chapters:
  • Where is God?

  • God's Great Love

  • Eyes on the Father

  • Good Triumphant

  • The Bitter Taste of Revenge

  • In the Silence, God Speaks

  • In the Storm, We Pray

  • From God's Perspective

  • He uses Scripture from Isaiah to Psalms, to Romans to the Gospels to illustrate how our faith in an almighty, all knowing, all loving God is how people have dealt with tough times through out history. And still do today.

    Lucado closes with a Prayer for Troubled Times. In it he asks God to continue doing the amazing things in our lives that he has always done:
    And Sarah? Remember her prayers? You heard them. Joshua? Remember his fears? You inspired him. The women at the tomb? You resurrected their hope. The doubts of Thomas? You took them away. Do it again, Lord. Do it again.

    You changed Daniel from a captive to a king's counselor. You took Peter the fisherman and made him Peter an apostle. Because of you, David went from leading sheep to leading armies. Do it again, Lord, for we need counselors today. We need apostles. We need leaders. Do it again, dear Lord.

    Lucado's small book can be a big reminder of what the Lord has promised us and has done to and through us. I think Lucado has picked the right things to focus us on.

    Tell me what you think in the comments below.

    Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Reviewing Word of Promise Next Generation

    As some of you know, this has been quite a busy two week stretch for me. We welcomed my son, K.C., to the world and I've been playing catch-up ever since... :-)

    But, I had the perfect accompaniment for this time off from work. As part for the Thomas Nelson BRB program, I got the Word of Promise Next Generation New Testament (MP3 Set). I say it is the perfect accompaniment because it is an audio version of the International Children's Bible (ICB) done in a dramaticized way by several "stars" of teen and children's shows.

    "Children's Bible" you ask? Yup. Dramatic reading? Well, more than that really. Is it really good for grown ups? Hmmm, that's a judgment call.

    What I mean is, I was really glad to have a decent audio Bible during the times in the car and during those times when I'm holding my boy and can't turn the pages of a book.

    What I like about this audio Bible is that it incorporates professional actors, a professional score, and appropriate background voices and sound effects. Really well done. It is very easy to stay tuned in to what is going on, especially in the Gospels, with these nice touches.

    The problem, and it is a minor one mostly, is the fact that the actors are kids and teens. I mean, they are very good, but I have a little bit of a hard time buying a 14 year old Jesus. But for the most part, it can be easy to overlook if you focus on what is being said.

    The best part of the whole thing is how much my kids have taken to it. My oldest kids are fully in the Disney Channel generation and can tell most of the actors by hearing their voices. They are drawn into hearing the Scriptures because they can identify with the voices they hear. I like that. A lot.

    The MP3 version is very useful and easy to deal with. The whole New Testament fits on 3 CDs (24 hours of audio) and can easily be imported into iTunes and synched to an iPod or other MP3 player. Each chapter is a different MP3 file and the track info is included so you can see the title with book and chapter. This makes it very easy to get to a specific book and chapter. Specific verses not so much.

    All in all, if you have kids between 5 and 16, this could be a very good purchase if you want an audio Bible for them. For adults, young and old alike, you might try the "regular" Word of Promise New Testament audio Bible.

    Either way, these are good options for getting in God's Word daily/regularly. Do it.

    Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this title from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    Without Wax

    "Huh?" Yeah, that's what I said the first time I visited Pete Wilson's blog. You see, the title of Pete's blog is "Without Wax" and I was confuddled by it.

    Let me back up a moment, you see Pete is the pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN. I "met" Pete through Twitter and as a result, I found his aforementioned blog. I read a post that he wrote on the topic of pride and then looked at the comments section. The most interesting thing about that was not the number of people that were commenting on Pete's pride post (say that 10 times fast!) but the fact that Pete was interacting with them. And I don't mean just the perfunctory "Hi there. Thanks for commenting" stuff. I mean real and thoughtful interaction. Pretty cool.

    So that brings me back to "Without Wax", right? For the more dense folks around (like ME!), Pete explains it right on top of the page:
    The word "sincere" comes from the Latin words sine cera which means "without wax". The phrase comes from a practice where people would hide the cracks in cheap pottery with wax in order to pass the pottery off as being worth more than it actually was. Quality products were often stamped with the words sine cera to show that it had not been doctored, that it was in fact authentic.

    Go read Pete's blog and you will see that he strives to be "without wax."

    You will also see that he is interested in propagating the blog as community. Like my twitter-friend John says on his blog:
    [B]logging is about relationships. You see, I’m more interested in using my blogs to build relationships with other people instead of making sure that my own voice can be heard in the blogospheric galaxy.

    And that is why I appreciate folks like Pete and John and am very interested in how social media and web 2.0 and can be, and are being, used in ministry and evangelism for the kingdom of God.

    BTW, check out the Blogroll over on the right side for links to Pete, John, and several others that are without wax on the world wide web.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    This time it's personal...

    On the recommendation of someone I respect, I started looking at the Relevant magazine's web site last month. I liked what I saw there so I splurged for the 2 year subscription for $20.00. (And I got some great music in the RELEVANT Digital Sampler Vol 02 that came with the 2 year sub.)

    Well, earlier this week I got my first issue. I must say, it is very visually energetic. Sometimes the ads blend right in with the articles/content. But in a good way. The whole thing is really well put together.

    But what I found to be even better is the content. Two columns stand out for me: "Pursuing Personal Revival" by Randy Bohlender and "Bus Stops and Missed Opportunities" by Adam Smith.

    When I read "Bus Stops" I got that sorta uncomfortable, convicted feeling. You know the one you get when you see someone doing the right thing when you know you wouldn't have done it? Yeah that feeling. In his article, Smith describes being pulled, unwillingly, into someone else's stuff at a bus stop. He knows he should be willing to minister to these folks, but he just isn't feeling it. He pretty much phones it in and says
    I hope the next time I'm offered the chance to show the love of Christ, I won't be so self-centered as to only recognize it in hindsight. In my attitude, if not my actions, I failed those kids on the bus. However, I know God continues to bring me in contact day after day with people who need to see His love.

    So when our pastor started talking the next morning about "us and them thinking", it was like a lining up of "God stuff" for me. Mike got a laugh out of this joke but there is a lot of seriousness in it when you realize that it is really how most of us think:
    A Senior Master Chief is on the deck of a ship with several of his sailors and he started quizzing them. He asked them "If one of you guys suddenly fell overboard into the sea, what would the rest of you do?" Very quickly they answered and said "Some would go immediately to sound the alarm and the rest would get a life ring to throw to the man overboard." The Chief nodded at their answer and then asked them another question, "OK. What would you do if an officer fell overboard?" At that point the sailors paused and thought for a moment before saying "Which officer is it?"

    Fortunately, God doesn't make that distinction. He doesn't have a "worthy of salvation" and "unworthy of salvation" list. It is available for everyone. We've all gone over the edge and into the ocean. Sooner or later, we're going to drown, or attract sharks, or die of exposure if we stay out there.

    But God has thrown a life saver out to each of us in Jesus Christ. All we have to do is reach for it and accept the gift.

    For me, I have so much gratitude for this salvation, that I want to help others reach out to grab the life saver before they slip under. And these two articles in Relevant did a great job to remind me that the need and opportunities to do that are happening all around me. To people I know, people I don't know, people like me, people not like me, people that are "acceptable" by society's standards and people that are not.

    I gotta stop judging which of these folks floating with me are "worth it." I need to think more like Kevin Costner's character, Ben Randall, in The Guardian as he explains things to young Jake Fischer:
    Jake Fischer: When you can't save 'em all, how do you choose who lives?
    Ben Randall: It's probably different for everybody Jake. Its kind of simple for me though. I just, I take the first one I come to and then I swim as fast and as hard as I can for as long as I can.

    Time to start swimming....

    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Reviewing Field of Blood


    As I noted before, I'm in the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program. And I just finished the first book I received from the publisher: Field of Blood by Eric Wilson. It is the first installment in the Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy.

    Field of Blood is a novel with Christian roots and background. There is Evil in the world and it takes the form of the vampire-like Collectors that live on blood and possess living beings (people, animals, insects, etc). The story focuses on a particular set of Collectors who have been waiting at Akeldama, the field of blood where Judas committed his suicide (Acts 1:18-19). Given special power because of the blood spilled at Akeldama, these Collectors set out across the Earth looking to bring about the final destruction of humankind.

    It took me a little while to get in the swing of the book, I must admit. Wilson gives some historical background on the region but not on the characters. He instead lets the characters reveal themselves. It turns out to be a good way to develop the main characters and it gets me to start caring about Gina, the protagonist, and investing in the unfolding stories. So, I was really glad that I kept going through the initial pages to get to the real meat.

    Speaking of Gina, Wilson does a great job of building her character through the book so that, when it reaches the climax, her thoughts and actions are completely appropriate. The rest of the major characters are developed just as expertly.

    The book has a lot of Jewish and Christian reference: geography, history, belief, ritual, and theology. Wilson does a wonderful job of weaving this in to the story and it is completely relevant. It is not just hanging on to the edges awkwardly nor is it just introduced and pushed aside. The importance of the salvation given through Jesus Christ (called "the Nazarene" by the Collectors) is shown as important. It is also shown in a realistic light across the characters in the book. Some are sure of their salvation, some are beginning their journey, some do not believe at all. As the story unfolds, it is great to see how Wilson brings a character through the progression of distrust of religion on to a budding faith in Christ.

    This book ends with some resolution of the storyline but it leaves things wide open for the next books in the trilogy. More mystery is unveiled just as some pieces are revealed. I am really looking forward to the next book: Haunt of Jackals. I just can't believe I have to wait almost a year for it!

    If you like fantasy novels or even just a great story, go get Field of Blood by Eric Wilson. It'll be worth 400 pages of your time.

    UPDATE: To find out more about the Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy, and see a cool video trailer for Field of Blood, go check out Eric's site for the books at JerusalemsUndead.com.

    Per the recent FTC ruling, I am required to tell you that I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in return for publishing my review.

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    16 Things


    Thanks to the examples set by Steve and Janaki, I've got 16 things...

    • I am an only child.

    • I married a Jersey Girl who isn't anything like a Jersey Girl.

    • My first job was with my Dad making teeth (crowns and bridges).

    • I'm a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

    • I attended the University of South Carolina and Clemson University (graduated from Clemson).

    • I regularly drink coffee but I don't really like coffee.

    • My Mom and Dad are young as far as grandparents go.

    • My Dad has had the same job for 40 years and I have had 4 jobs in 15 years.

    • I love photography and graphic arts but I don't think I have much talent in these areas.

    • I am addicted to reading and am currently in progress on 4 separate books and 2 magazines.

    • I want to be better at sharing my faith but usually hesitate when the chance comes.

    • I once won a $10 gift certificate for being the fastest person to eat 5 saltine crackers and then whistle (it's harder than it sounds).

    • I also won a free pitcher of beer at Hooters because I was the first to name the hometown of KC and the Sunshine Band in a contest. (Hint: go here for the answer)

    • My first car was a 1967 Camaro SS/RS that needed a LOT of work.

    • My next car was a gold-ish 78 Toyota Celica hatchback that didn't need a key to start it.

    • I get bummed when I don't get many (any!) comments on my blog posts.

    So now it's your turn... Put up your 16 things and leave me a comment to your post.

    Peace

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Mondial? Mon dieux!

    Ok. This was too cool to pass up. This has the potential to be a huge, glorious timesink.

    Check out "so_many_a_second" over at studioludens.com. It "shows mondial statistics on a human scale."

    Here's a snapshot of what you will find there:

    First thing I think of is a way to marry this with Did You Know/Shift Happens...

    Peace.

    Book Review Bloggers

    If you haven't heard of it yet, go check out Book Review Bloggers at Thomas Nelson. It is a pretty cool idea (and I know it isn't a new idea) to get the word out about your products. The other thing I like about it is "I can haz free books!"

    Anyway, sometime soon, I wil publish my review of "Field of Blood" by Eric Wilson. It is the first book of the "Jerusalem's Undead Trilogy" (with Haunt of Jackals second in line).

    I am right at half way through Field of Blood and am enjoying it. The blend of mystery and vampire genres drawn on a Jewish/Christian backdrop is done (so far) very well by Mr Wilson. He is intertwining story lines in such a way that you think you know where he is going at times and are completely clueless at others. Not clueless about the story but about what's around the next chapter. A good way of building up tension and suspense. I'm looking forward to how he plays it out: what will be "solved" in this book and what will be left open for the rest of the trilogy to close.

    So, I should be done before too long and have the review here for you...

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Positive Thank You


    It's Tuesday again and I want to say "Thank You."

    It is Veterans Day here in the US. Here's a little background on what Veterans Day is and how it came to be.
    World War I – known at the time as “The Great War” - officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles outside the town of Versailles, France. However, fighting ceased seven months earlier when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. ”

    So, on November 11th each year, we take time to remember and say thank you to those who have served, and those who still do serve, our country's armed services. Many of whom have put themselves in, and are currently in, harm's way to protect people that they do not and may never know. It kinda reminds me of another story of love and sacrifice...

    So I want to take a moment to say "Thank You" to all of the veterans that have served and fought for this country and the people in it. Thank You to my friend Don who served years ago in the Navy and is proud today of the ultimate sacrifice that his son made in Iraq earlier this year. Thank You to my friend Randy who took the lessons he learned at West Point and the US Army in the 70's and became one of the finest leaders I know. Thank you to Tab who took care of a bunch of Marines out in the desert. Thank You to Michael M. for sacrificing so much time from his growing family to serve. Thank You to Brenden for his service in the US Army. Thank You to Bill for his 27 years in the Navy and his son Jeff who is serving in the Army in Iraq right now.

    And Thank You to my Dad, Kenneth, for serving in the Army in Vietnam in the 60's and teaching me what it means to serve, sacrifice, and love.

    We are all now and forever will be indebted and grateful to you and all veterans. Thank you for all you have done.

    Father God, I thank you most of all today for creating in these veterans a heart for service and sacrifice. I thank you for the opportunity to know men and women like this and to be influenced by them. Lord, I thank you most of all for the sacrifice that you made for each and every one of us. For Jesus Christ on the cross sacrificed for our ultimate freedom. I rejoice today in your love and grace for us. May I always remember this sacrifice and praise you. In Christ I pray. Amen.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    Cool technology. Also? Useful

    The video below is a free 30 second clip that I made using Animoto. What is Animoto? I'm glad you asked.


    Animoto.com is a site/application that allows you to make video slideshows using pictures and music you choose. The engine inside Animoto, with very little prodding from you, "analyzes" the music and mixes the pictures and effects with the music to produce the video. With a free acount, you can make 30 second videos like the one here. Long videos are $3.00 USD and you can even download or order DVD quality copies of your videos.

    So, side from the cool factor, what is there? Well, I think this tool can be very useful for lots of people. I'm specifically thinking about how we can use it in our church. We don't really have a media budget but have had more interest lately in how we could use it. Animoto provides an effective means of creating the content and a low-barrier-to-entry way of making it available. We're looking at creating a few slideshows as "bumpers" for some presentations coming up. I'll let you know how it goes.

    How do you think you could use something like Animoto in your church or in your business?

    (Hat tip: human3rror)

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Positive Results


    It's Tuesday and, even with all the election stuff going on, it's time to be positive.

    I'd like to point out someone that I think is making quite a positive impact. I've "gotten to know" this fellow through blogging and Twitter but we've never met in person. That's still a little strange to me on some level, but I'm getting over it rather quickly...

    Anyway, I follow John on Twitter and love reading both of his blogs: human3rror and ChurchCrunch.

    John is so obviously passionate about doing God's work that you can't help but smile. The thing that really makes that great is the way he pours that passion into the things he has been gifted by God with. From what I know of John, he is very talented when it comes to web-based technology (esp. Web 2.0) and is constantly digging into (and even building) technology for the purpose of serving God, promoting God's kingdom, and building up the Body.

    If you are interested in technology, passionate people, examples of practical Christianity, and the like: go follow John on Twitter, read his blog, and join the conversation with some comments.

    John's passion has inspired me of late to try to bring more of my gifts and talents to bear for the purpose of building up the Church and spreading the Gospel. I'm off to a slow start but I think I'm starting to make some progress.

    So, thanks John. Keep doing what you are doing. You're reaching a lot farther than you might see.

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    But I like the color blue

    It took a little longer than expected but I now know what color I am. Reading the rest of NCD's The 3 Colors of Ministry and taking The Three-Color Gift Test didn't actually take long. It was more about a few other things going on this weekend.

    Once I finally got around to opening the book again, it went pretty quick. Here's the basic info on how the gift test works:
    * 180 questions where you rate on a scale of 0 - 4
    * 30 questions that someone else that knows you rates 0 - 4
    * Some basic math to get 2 scores for each gift category
    * A couple of charts so you can translate scores into category ranks
    * Discovery of your potential 3 - 5 Manifest (active) gifts and 3 - 5 Latent (inactive) gifts
    * Reading descriptions about each of the gifts (30 in all)

    It probably took me around 15 minutes to go through the 180 questions, scoring, and ranking. If you need to find someone to answer the other 30 questions, it could take you longer. (I had folks at the house that were willing to help me out.)

    So, the results?

    Manifest gifts:
    1. Giving
    2. Wisdom
    3. Shepherding
    4. Knowledge
    5. Service

    Latent gifts:
    1. Evangelism
    2. Helps
    3. Discernment
    4. Mercy
    5. Leadership

    (I did 5 gifts in each area because of how they grouped.)

    Once you have your gift list, there is a small chart that has each gift according to color. Once I ranked mine, I found out that I have way heavy in Green and Red gifts with only one gift in Blue. And it was a latent gift.


    As you can recall from the picture at the right, that puts me pretty heavy in the "Creator" and "Jesus" areas and leaves me out of the "Spirit" section. According to the book, I've got wisdom and commitment, but little power.

    So, from here, I'll be reading up on what the book has to say about the gifts I've identified as my potentials here. After that, I'll be back to round out the review of the book and let you know what else will come out of this process.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    What color am I?

    As part of the "Long Range Planning" group for our church, we're looking at how we might use a spiritual gifts survey/assessment to help connect people to ministry, each other, and ultimately to God.

    We've been talking about several of the different surveys out there (and there are a lot) and we decided to try out the NCD's The 3 Colors of Ministry book.

    As the title suggests, it has something to do with 3 colors. There are three main areas, each represented by a different color, that correspond to the 3 parts of the Trinity. Ok, here's a better way to show it:
    The concept behind the circle and colors being that each part of the Trinity has a different "focus" if you will with associated gifts, tendencies, etc. For example, the red area, representing Jesus, has a focus on service and commitment while green, representing God the Creator, focuses on working and wisdom.


    After a brief intro to get you familiarized with the approach and the areas, the book has you find your starting point based on a self assessment of how well you feel a certain set of adjectives describes you. This should lead you to one of six starting points. Each of these starting points has most of your concentration in either one of the colors or a blend of two colors.

    So, I did this assessment to find where I'm starting. And I came out almost dead even across all three colors. There isn't a starting point for that one. I continued reading ahead thinking I had somehow messed up the assessment when I found these words:
    it might be that you are among the 4.6 percent who have a relatively "balanced" diagram with basically the same score in all three areas.

    OK, it looks like I'm special (just like my Momma told me). But wait, there's more...
    If this is the case, you shouldn't conclude that you have already reached your goal; this just tells you that there is no dominant problem area. In other words: Growth in each and every dimension would be beneficial for you.

    Hmmph! Special alright...

    Well, I'm not done with it by a long shot. I haven't even started the assessment for the actual gifts themselves. I hope to get that done in the next day or so. I'll come back and post the results and a further review of this resource. You can preview the book from the NCD site here (PDF).

    In the mean time, have you ever done a spirtual gifts survey? What were the results?

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    Why did Peter get out of the boat?

    I had a great conversation with a friend of mine this past week. I'm usually at work by 7:00am and my friend J is usually up around 5:30am each day. He says that I'm one of the only people he can count on being up early so we tend to have chats in the early morn.

    This week we got going on belief, faith, and trust. Let me back up a minute and give a little back story. J is the catalyst for me being "back on track" as a Christian. I was pretty far off the wagon when I met J in '07. He was open and shared his faith easily with anyone around. J is also a great encourager and was beside me as I helped get a Bible study going at my previous job. J is currently following a calling by God to teach people and to write and publish a book about faith and trust.

    In this calling, J has been out of work (as in not being paid wages or a salary) for well over a year. It's not all easy, of course. And that's why we had the conversation on belief, faith, and trust.

    As the money gets tighter for J and his family, the questions from everyone have come. Many along the lines of "What if God doesn't provide?" or "Where has He been to let it go this far?" And there is much encouraging to "have a backup plan."

    But is having a backup plan really trusting in God and His plan? Is there really a belief or faith that God will come through? I have to tell you, it's a hard topic to roll around in your head and heart. Especially when you are the head of a family, too. I've struggled with this myself as I've looked out on my career options/choices for the past couple of years.

    The story in the Gospel where Peter climbs out of the boat in a raging storm to walk to Jesus became a centerpoint of conversation between J and I this week:
    Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
    During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

    But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

    "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

    "Come," he said.

    Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

    Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
    (Matthew 14:22-31 NIV)

    It brought us to the question "Why did Peter get out of the boat?" Was it intellectual knowledge or logical reasoning? I mean, Peter had been on boats most of his life as a fisherman. He knew what happened to people who climbed over the side of a boat, especially in a bad storm. I have to go with something other than logic. Was it blind faith? Maybe. That might explain why he started sinking when he took in the situation around him. That is, with a little faith but no grounding in trust, he was easily shaken.

    If I look at Peter's story following this event, I see a man who goes back and forth in his faith and trust. Take a look at the night before the Crucifixion and we see Peter taking matters in his own hands using the sword to attack the soldiers coming for Jesus (John 18:10-11). We also see his triple denial of Christ (Mark 14:66-72).

    But that wasn't the end for Peter,was it? No. Move ahead to the morning that Peter sees Jesus on the beach. He jumps out of the boat to go meet Him. We see Peter's redemption in John 21:15-19. I think it is at that point that Peter gets it and can move on to become the Peter we know about in Acts. His belief and faith have become grounded in trust and love through his experiences and the work of the Cross.

    But I don't think Peter would have gotten there at all if he hadn't made a choice to get out of the boat the first time. My man J is out of the boat. Big time. I'm just peeking over the side in wonderment. J is starting to notice the financial winds and waves swirling around him.

    Prayers for J are certainly appreciated.

    (Note: I've had no training on theology, interpreting Scripture, etc. This is just my little brain working with what I got. Please feel free to give me comments on where you think I might have gone wrong on this.)

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Relevant?

    Wow have I been slack or what? I have been completely unmotivated to post anything recently. The biggest obstacle has been a feeling that I don't have anything worth saying.

    That may or may not be true but I've realized that this is another assault against my self-esteem by the enemy...and I've succumbed to it! Damn it!!!

    It became clear to me as I was reading "Pop Goes The Church" by Tim Stevens this week. What a great book. In it Tim discusses the What, Why, and, most importantly, the How around engaging popular culture inside and outside the church. He has some great insights in here and there are tons of concrete examples of what they have done at Granger Community Church and what other churches have done as well.

    So why did this book open my eyes to myself? One word: Relevant. Tim's discussion in his book is about finding ways to show people how relevant God is to them. For example, he describes a series that they did at Granger using a different Beatles song each week:
    In one service, "Eleanor Rigby", a sad song about the lonely people of the world, was performed. We followed with a message about the amazing love of God and the relationship he wants with each of us. The next week, the familiar Beatles' words, "You say you want a revolution" were sung, connecting with virtually everyone in the room who could identify with this desire to change our broken world. The service ended with a message which acknowledged that the world is broken but which described the revolutionary love that Jesus offers.

    OK, maybe you're thinking it's a gimmick. One more way that Christians use ambush or bait-and-switch techniques. But it's not. It is about a real desire to reach people with the good news of the Gospel and finding ways for people to make up their minds that it is relevant to their lives.

    And that's were I come back to me. In reading ""Pop Goes The Church" I realized that I had slipped into a sort of "maintenance mode" and each day that I wasn't actively praying, worshiping, seeking was another day that I viewed God as less relevant to my life. And one way that I was active in my relationship with God is blogging, reading other blogs, commenting on them, etc. I effectively pulled the plug on seeking. I was even getting to the point of letting several relationships just slide.

    Well, my eyes are open now. I don't have to figure out how to be relevant to an audience on the interwebs. I need to focus on the relevance of God in my life and keep actively seeking Him.

    Father God, I pray that you will strenghten and encourage my heart in always seeking after you. I ask for your help in quieting my restless and noisy mind so that I can focus on the relationship that you want to have daily with me. I am sorry for how lightly I have taken your Love for me and I don't want to do that again. Thank you for blessing me and my family. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

    Wednesday, October 1, 2008

    Positive Post Wednesday?


    Well, it seems like this was a forgetful week. But there is still time to be positive. Like I'm positive that I won't win any "graphic art" awards with my image editing ability above...

    Seriously, this week I want to say something positive about two people that I am proud to be working along side of. Our church has several ministry teams that are responsible for different aspects of the church's life: Christian Education, Pastoral Care, Worship, Mission and Benevolence, Evangelism, and more. These are not run or staffed by paid positions. They are volunteer teams. Each team has one or two Elders that are the team leaders. I am on the Evangelism ministry team. And our team leaders, Diane and Beth, are amazing!

    Both Diane and Beth take leading the Evangelism team seriously and they do it happily. These two are very creative, dedicated, intelligent, caring, and devoted. These wonderful attributes were seen extraordinarily in the efforts they put into helping with the recent Low Country Franklin Graham festival in September. Diane and Beth worked tirelessly getting people involved, establishing and attending various programs and events, and generally being excited about this opportunity to share the message of the Gospel and God's love with the greater Charleston, SC area.

    I'm also fortunate to be in a weekly small group with Diane and her husband. They set a great example for the other couples in the group.

    In Paul's first letter to the church at Thessalonica, he praised the Thessalonians for being a "model to all the believers":
    You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. 1 Thessalonians 1:6 - 8, NIV)


    I think that Diane and Beth fall into that category as well.

    Thanks.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Positively Beautiful



    It's Tuesday and you know that means it's time to be positive.

    In the summer of 1996 I lived in Hampton, VA and worked for a Defense contractor building software and systems. I was a bachelor living in a big (rented) house with 2 of my fellow software developers (and Clemson grads). Life went something like this:

    Work 9 - 10 hours a day Mon - Fri. Play golf and or basketball once or twice a week. Happy hour until around 11:00pm on Thur. Happy hour until around 3:00am on Fri. Saturday's were for whatever but often included a men's soccer league game. Sat nights often included a party at the big (rented) house. Sunday mornings were for sleeping and Sun afternoons were games for the U-15 boys soccer team I coached.

    Week in and week out. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    Ah, good times.

    In July '96, I went with a few friends to Virgina Beach to watch them play in their women's soccer league game. We all planed to go out afterwards (it was Thursday, you know). Before the game began, I noticed one of the women on my friends' team during warm-ups. It was pretty clear that this girl could play soccer. During the game, she dominated the midfield, embarrassed the other team's defenders, and shell-shocked the poor goal keeper. 90 minutes and 3 goals later, I learned her name was Kim. 6 hours later we were the only ones left sitting at the table we all had dinner at.

    12 years later and I'm more in love with her than I've ever been.

    You see, we got married a couple of years later and have been sharing our life, love, and faith with each other everyday. She is an incredible woman that I, and so many others who don't even know it, owe so much to. She encourages me, has faith in me, is strong for me when I can't be, is a wonderful mother to our girls, is a great friend (and my best friend), and supports me even when she sometimes doesn't understand me.

    I almost can't remember the times before we were together. I'm pretty sure I don't want to.

    Kim, I love you. Thank you for all you do for our family. I'm honored to be your husband.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Positively Youthful




    Brody started it (and maybe changed the rules some) and I've been slack about keeping up. So today, I want to tell you about someone who means a lot to some special folks.

    We have a Youth Director at our church by the name of Kari. Kari is a great person with a passion for reaching young folks and modeling how Christ works in her life. She has been with our church for a few years now (going on 4 maybe?) and has, in my opinion, made a huge impact.

    I had the distinct pleasure of going along with Kari on a youth mission trip to DC this past summer. My respect for her abilities, her faith, her passion, and her love for these kids went up a lot. Since then, I've gotten involved in the High School youth Sunday School and become a youth adviser. All as direct result of Kari's passion and work.

    Recently, we've had a vacancy on staff at the church and Kari has stepped up to help fill the void while we find a new staff member. Even with the extra work, she has not faltered in her work for and with the youth. Kari's dedication to her calling from the Lord and her mission to live out that faith through serving Christ through serving the youth is truly an inspiration to me. And others I hope.

    Thanks Kari.

    Thursday, September 11, 2008

    What does it mean to follow?

    Last night, my wife and I had our weekly home group meeting. Our group is made up of 5 couples from our church and has folks that have been married less than a yer all the way up to a couple that has been married 40 years. It's a good group.

    We are using the HomeBuilders series from FamilyLife. We just finished up the "Growing Together in Christ" lessons. Session 5 in that series of lessons is called "Following Christ" and has some good Scriptural references and conversation provoking questions about what Jesus means when he says "Follow me."

    But when I got down to question #7, I drew a blank. I mean, I literally stared at the question and the white space where my answer to the question would go. I could not think of anything to write down.

    What was the question you ask? Well, I'll tell you:
    What sacrifices have you made on order to follow Christ?

    For 10 minutes, I could not come up with anything. Not a single, solitary thing to write down there. Now, I did have some thoughts pop into my head but they seemed so, um, trivial. For instance, I thought about the "not sinning" things: I don't drink as much as I used to, I don't cuss in front of my kids (much), I go to church more often than I used to. But each time I thought of one of those things, I dismissed it. Those are not sacrifices.

    In the discussion last night, it seems that most folks had the same issue I did. No one had much, if anything, written in answer to the question. We had a long discussion on what sacrifice meant and we found several things that seemed like sacrifices that we made in other parts of our lives: someone took a lower paying job in order to have a shorter commute and more time with family, someone else gave up a two income family in order to have a stay at home mom for the kids. But were those sacrifices to follow Christ?

    I read what the Apostle Paul wrote:
    Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1 -2 NIV)

    I'm now wondering if I even know what this means. To borrow from Andy Stanley, I have all the information but what I need is the application.

    Am I taking Jesus for granted? In light of last night, probably so. Should I be? Of course not. Do I know what to do about it? Maybe.

    I'd love to hear from any of you that have similar thoughts or that understand this better than me.

    Monday, September 8, 2008

    Starting a new year

    Yesterday was the "Kick off" for the new Sunday School year at our church. I've volunteered to help teach the high school youth class and work with the youth group. I'm excited and nervous at the same time.

    Sunday's time was spent getting to know new folks (and teachers) and I saw immediately that there were some interesting dynamics. We have folks from 3 different public high schools, one private school, and home school, too. Many of them have been going to this church their whole lives, others are new to the area, and some are new to church in general.

    I've been given pretty free reign to handle lessons and have been told that discussions tend to veer off target. So I'm looking at lessons and materials that will be engaging and "not cheesy". So far, I have been incredibly impressed with the resources that LifeChurch.tv makes available through their Open program.

    We also have a subscription to The Thoughtful Christian so I can download material from there, too, like "Dealing with Daily Pressures"

    The key is going to be connecting with folks. I'm expecting to leave that part in God's hands because that's the only way I can really expect to make things relevant to that many teens... :-)

    I honestly pray that God will use me to reach these youth and to bring God's word to them in a way that they can make it a part of their lives.

    Tuesday, September 2, 2008

    What about giving?

    I'm thoroughly enjoying reading Francis Chan's book Crazy Love. With my current schedule the way it is, I only get in a few minutes at a time. But there are some great things in his book that either make a note about or just dog ear the page.

    One such dog-eared page in my copy of Crazy Love is page 118. I marked this page because this is what is known as Stewardhip season in many churches throughout the land. Stewardship season is basically the time when we start asking people to catch up on their monetary giving for the current year and go ahead and make their pledges for the upcoming year.

    For a lot of folks, this is "the part of church I hate." Money and religion together is a funny thing in our American culture, it seems. Churches, who can be trusted with the principles of eternal life, can't be trusted with money. Go figure.

    I understand that a lot of this sentiment comes from the highly publicized cases of unscrupulous characters using ministry as a business. It also comes from movies, books, etc portraying people using Christianity as a front.

    Most of all, I think it comes from a radical misunderstanding of what giving is and why we are called to do it.

    Francis, on dog-eared page 118, has a good view, I think. He points out that giving is rooted in and motivated by love above all. Take a look at John 3:16:
    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

    Why did God give? Out of His love.

    Francis Chan on giving:
    "Giving that is not motivated by love is worth nothing. Paul says that from this kind of giving we 'gain nothing'; however, when we give out of love, we gain much. Giving results not only in heavenly compensation, but also gives us great joy in out lives here and now. As we love more genuinely and deeply, giving becomes the obvious and natural response. Taking and keeping for ourselves becomes unattractive and imprudent.

    Remember the story where Jesus fed thousands of people with one boy's small lunch? In that story, according to Matthew, Jesus gave the loaves to His disciples and then the disciples passed them out to the crowd. Imagine if the disciples had simply held onto the food Jesus gave them, continually thanking Him for providing lunch for them. That would've been stupid when there was enough food to feed the thousands who where gathered and hungry.

    But that is exactly what we do when we fail to give freely and joyfully. We are loaded down with too many good things, more than we could ever need, while others are desperate for asmall loaf. The god things we cling to are more than money; we hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends. As we begin to practice regular giving, we see how ludicrous it is to hold on to the abundance God has given us a merely repeat the words thank you."

    I think that if churches teach more along the lines of "giving motivated by love" the Stewardship season and pledge drives would almost not be needed as an institution any more.

    What kind of difference would that make in your church and your life?

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Postively Tuesday



    Once again it is Tuesday, and I have something positive to say about someone who has been encouraging to me.

    My buddy Joe is one of those guys everyone should meet. Joe's the guy that got me to be serious about what being a follower of Christ means.

    Joe is the kind of guy that really shows faith, commitment, and trust in God. His life, and he's family, center on service to God and listening to and following what He has planned.

    With Joe's help and encouragement, I got back into having daily devotional time, opening up to others about my faith, and actively pursuing Christ in my everyday life. Joe's daily walk, including the struggles and strife that come with it, have given me the perspective to lean more on God in all things and not just on the "leftover" bits that I thought I could trust to Him.

    Joe does a great job doing what Paul writes of in Romans:
    Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.(Romans 12:9 - 13 NIV)

    Joe, thanks for being you and being such a positive example of discipleship. God bless you.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    Positive Post Tuesday

    Positive Post Tuesday

    Seeing that it's Tuesday, it's time for something positive....

    This week I've been reminded what it means to have people you can really talk to. I don't mean someone who watched the Olympics last night and can complain with you about how that one judge had it in for that one gymnast. I mean having friends that you can open up to without worrying about them running away in disgust and/or horror when you talk about the hard things in life.

    One of these people is Paul. Dr. Paul to be exact. Paul is a modern day Renaissance man: college professor, professional technologist, sailor, author, thinker, husband, father, son, friend, and Christian.

    I feel like I can talk to Paul about pretty much anything. About a year and a half ago, we started talking about work, life, and faith. Paul really helped me understand that I didn't have to compartmentalize my faith in relation to the office. It was very refreshing and freeing to "have permission" to be Christian at work.

    Paul has also encouraged me over the past few years by being in my corner when it felt like nobody else was. He and a few others really showed me what being a good friend is all about.

    Working together again feels like we getting the band back together...

    Thanks Paul.

    Friday, August 8, 2008

    Singalong with Phil

    Phil Wickman released his new album, Singalong, today. Go on over to Phil's blog and get your copy for FREE!


    It's a great listen. Thanks Phil!

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Positive Sounds



    It's Tuesday again so let's be positive.

    This week I'd like to introduce you to Anthony. Or AntG, as the cool kids call him. Anthony is a husband, a friend, a father, a son, a musician, a producer, an educator, and so much more. He and his family started up Hopewood Academy in Greenwood 5 years ago and Anthony started up Addeybug Music, Windup Rocket, and a solo career.

    AntG is the kind of guy that you just like to hang out with. Like Tim, Anthony has been active and outgoing with his faith in God. Over the years (since around middle school I think), Anthony has been an encouragement to me. It took a few years for me to realize the importance of that encouragement, but I'm glad to have known (and still know) Anthony.
    If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:1 - 2)

    Peace and Blessings, bro.

    Thursday, July 31, 2008

    Are you crazy?

    Do you spend your life longing for the day that it will end? Do you spend time pointing to another man?

    Do you find hope in dying with promises unseen? Do you want to learn ways better than everything you were taught to be?

    That just sounds crazy.... Or does it?

    Do you boast about filthy rags made clean? Do you see the glory in your Saviour's suffering?

    Do you live your daily life trusting Him for everything? Do you only take a step when you feel Him leading you?

    Isn't that crazy?
    For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe... For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, 25)

    I want to be one of the craziest people around....
    (Thank you, MercyMe, for reminding me about being crazy)

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Positive Post Tuesday





    Well, it is Tuesday and I'm jumping on the Positive Post bandwagon. Brody Harper started all this a while back and I'm just now getting around to it.

    Today, my positive post is about my homie Tim Keeler from my hometown. We became friends in high school and I always admired Tim. Mainly because he knew who he was and what he stood for.

    You see, Tim was a Christian when it wasn't "cool" to be a Christian out in public. You know, to unabashedly talk about God and Jesus and how He affects your life. He chose to be himself and not someone the crowds pushed him to be. And the most amazing things happened. People loved Tim and they never stopped. His easy way of sharing Christ and His love was so profound. I know I'm not the only one who Tim influenced like that. He lives out the words in 1 Peter 3:15:
    But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have

    Tim is a musician and an educator. I guess he always has been. Several years ago, with the help of a few friends (like Anthony!), Tim recorded and released a CD called "Passing Conversations" that I can highly recommend.

    Just recently, Tim has set out on a journey halfway around the world. He has moved to Japan where he will teach English as a second language. I'm positive that he will end up teaching more than that while he is over there.

    God bless you, Tim Keeler, and Godspeed to you.

    Friday, July 11, 2008

    Slogging through the desert

    Do you know Sisyphus?

    I do. The past few weeks I took over for him so he could get a break.

    Seriously though, I've been in a rut.

    And, as per my usual behavior, I've tended to make myself comfortable in it. And that's not a good thing. So I started beating myself up for getting comfortable. And that's not a good thing either.

    But then tonight, I visited some of my "regular" blogs (Evan and Eddie) and they kick started my brain.

    Evan talked about uncertain and alone in a dark place which helped jump start my thinking about my own situations. And then Eddie pointed me to a new blog from Edwin Crozier (which will also be one of my regulars now). In Edwin's blog I was reminded that I'm not as bad as I think I am sometimes.

    So, after some soul searching, I decided to talk deeper about it with my wife (quite a wonderful woman, I might add). See, that's important because when things get rough and I start beating my self up, I feel shamed. And when I feel shamed, I go silent. I also want to be alone. A lot. So talking about these deep, dark feelings with anyone is a change from my typical behavior.

    She was nice enough to listen and then, without being condescending, remind me that God uses times like this for our benefit, too. We talked about Moses on the back side of the desert and how God used his exile from Egypt to prepare him for the Exodus.

    At that moment I realized that not only had I cut myself off from a lot of the people around me but I had also started squeezing God out as well.

    Whoa! Time to stop that. I'm headed for some quality time with God. It's time to get serious about active prayer again and stop treating the Bible like a reference book and more like the eternal Word of God.

    Anybody want to keep me honest on this?

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Back to normal?

    Well, I guess I'm getting back to normal since I got back from DC.

    That sucks.

    I don't want to be normal. I want to be doing something special. I feel like something in me is yelling out to go back up the mountain.

    At the same time, I feel like it's "down here" where I really need to be (not to be confused with the band downhere) . And it's hard to do that, I'm finding.

    Go back with me, if you will, to our first morning in DC (Fri, 6/6/08). We're up and out of the church by 6:00am to travel across the city to So Others Might Eat(aka SOME). We're on tap to help setup and serve breakfast and lunch at their dining room. SOME isn't the biggest outreach and kitchen in DC (we went there later), but they do feed around 800 - 1000 meals per day.

    Upon arrival, we met our humble and helpful host, Tony. Tony gave us the lay of the land and fielded many teenage questions from our group. He was very gracious throughout. Then it was on to the dining room for the next 6 hours. I managed the dishwashing detail for all shifts. That meant that me and oen of our high schoolers made sure that we always had enough plates and cups for the dining room. Sounds easy, but here are some numbers to put it in perspective: SOME can seat 100 people at a time, they turn each seat about every 5 minutes, and they have less than 200 plates and about 150 cups. Let me tell you, we were up to our elbows in grits and eggs at breakfast and then covered in chili and soap suds at lunch!

    All the while, we got to meet and talk with the homeless and hungry of DC. We got to work with an amazing group of full-time staff and volunteers. We got to see the love of Christ in action everywhere we turned. Six hours went by way too fast.

    I could see the youth we brought with us seeing it too. Most of them had their world views expanded, even cracked open, in that short time frame. I admit that mine was stretched too. It would be again and again throughout the week.

    Thus began the mountain top experiences. I felt liek I was miles above normal. I felt like I was really connecting to God and working for Him. My heart took Colossians 3:23 seriously for probably the first time:
    Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Col 3:23 - 24, NIV)

    It was so easy to be that way. I was away from most of my daily routine and responsibilities (no work calls/emails/SMS, no daily commute, no church committee meetings), I was in a different geographic location and culture (Dupont Circle in DC is a whole lot different than suburban South Carolina), and I was spending day and night with a group of people that I didn't normally spend much time with. It was like being a different person without being a different person. I'm not sure that makes sense...

    Now I'm home. I'm back at work. I'm in the daily routines. It's not easy anymore. Eddie recently tackled some of this when he talked about feeling uninspired during the "good times" in life. That is, when things are normal and going along OK, we can lose the grip on our dependence on God.

    Maybe that's where I am. I'm back to the things that I feel like are mine. In DC, I was unencumbered and out of my element. That's where I found God waiting. I mean, He's always there waiting, but back home I've piled up a whole bunch of stuff (work, family, routine) to make a wall that shuts me off from Him.

    I know I don't like that wall. I know it's not the right way to live. I know it needs to change to stop blocking me off from God.

    I just don't know how right now...

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    Down the mountain

    I'm still in the process of putting pen to paper to get thoughts on the DC mission trip in order. In the process, I'm having a sort of crisis.

    You see, the trip and the work we did was an amazing experience for me. The opportunity to serve like that and living in community with the opportunity to teach and learn really lifted me up. I felt as if I was drenched in the Holy Spirit instead of sweat each day. It was a mountain top experience.

    Luke 9:28-36 describes the literal mountain top experience that Jesus has. He goes up the mountain with Peter, John, and James and experiences transfiguration and fellowship with both Moses and Elijah. The disciples with Him are awe struck (of course) and want to honor Jesus and the others. Instead, Jesus leads them back down from the mountain.

    Until the past few days, I did not connect the next section of Scripture with this one. But now it makes perfect sense. Luke 9:37-42 describes what happens coming down the mountain. Jesus performs a healing miracle and casts a demon out of a young boy.

    I say that I see the connection now because I have come down the mountain and am having a sort of depression or let down. Like Peter, I have this desire to stay on the mountain:
    As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.) (Luke 9:33 NIV)

    So I am torn between this desire and returning to everyday life. Neither is really feasible for me and, honestly, I think I'm only seeing my selfish desires here. I can't "live on a mission trip" at this point in my, and my family's, life. I can't settle for just going back to the same old daily routine. There must be something else.

    Back to the relevance of the two passages in Luke. The importance of the second passage is what has gotten clear: Don't stay on the mountain, come back down and serve others.

    It's what Jesus did.

    It's what I need to do. I also need to pray about it, I know.

    Father, I pray that you will continue to use me in service according to your will. I once again give to you my life and stake no claims to it myself. I submit to your sovereignty and humbly ask for your direction and guidance. May it be your will that is done. Amen.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    Link loved

    I got back from a mission trip to Washington, DC yesterday. Still trying to recover from the travel and process all the amazing stuff that went on. I expect to put up several posts soon on the trip. In the mean time, please enjoy these links to the blogs/sites of several folks that I enjoy reading and that have provided inspiration and support over the past months. Please take minute or two to visit them.

    Evan at Living With "God Vision"
    Eddie at Simple Life in Christ
    Carlos at Raggamuffin Soul
    John at Vertizontal
    Stephen at Thoughts of a Worshiper
    Gene at Jesus is Extravagant!
    Brody at "...in case you were wondering."

    (inspired by this post from Brody)

    Thanks and may God bless you.

    Sunday, June 1, 2008

    Theology

    In preparation for leaving on the mission trip to DC this upcoming week, I have been putting together a list of things to read. It's becoming a pretty good list, I guess. But I found one book that I had to start reading even before I left. My wife team-teaches the middle school youth Sunday school class at our church. They have been using a book called "Presbyterian Questions, Presbyterian Answers: Exploring Christian Faith" by Donald K McKim (who seems to be a pretty well written author). I've been a member of our current PCUSA church for the past 8 years. We pretty much joined back then so we could have a church to baptize our first child. We had joined a different church several years before so we could get married there. I'll admit, those aren't the necessarily the greatest reasons to join a church, but there it is. Prior to those events, I had been in Southern Baptist, Pentecostal Holiness, Church of Christ, Ghurch of God, and charismatic churches. So I didn't really know much about formal Presbyterian theology. Shoot, I really don't know the formal theology of any of the aforementioned denominations.

    So, my interest in this book was high immediately. I picked it up and read the first few chapters. It's written as chapters dealing with topics like Faith and Salvation. Each chapters has several questions that KcKim provides answers grounded in Presbyterian theology. Each answer is pretty simple and short, so no long treatise with extensive research citations. There are several Scriptural references for each answer.

    Now, the point is not to review he book and point out the ups/downs of it. The point, for me anyway, is to ask some serious questions about faith. Well, about my faith. The first of the many questions has to do with theology itself.

    How much does the theology matter in a Christian denomination? I mean, there are some basic things from Scripture that are hard to argue with, I would think. But it turns out that different denominations, and even churches within the same denomination, can have different interpretations of things like the virgin birth of Jesus or the "literalness" of the creation story in Genesis.

    The main point that started drawing me into this internal discussion had to do with KcKim's answers about predestination. I had just read Romans 8 in which Paul writes:
    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

    What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
    (Romans 8:28-39 NIV)

    So McKim's discussion about God's predestination and His elect piqued my interest. I'll probably go into more depth about the answers in his book in a later post. For now, I want to know:

    What is important about theology in the Christian faith?

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008

    Doing something

    A little while ago, I wrote about feeling a call to get involved in the world around me. There was some fasting and there was more praying. And God has been working....

    Almost out of the blue, the Youth Director at our church asked me if I wanted to come along on the summer mission trip to urban Washington, DC. Now understand that I don't typically do a lot with the youth programs. Not because of any reason other than my kids are elementary school age so most programs I'm involved in are their programs. So anyway, this would have seemed like it was coming outta left field if I hadn't been open to what God had for me.

    After praying about it, I felt that it was right where I need to be. So I'm headed off to The Pilgrimage in DC for a week (June 5 - 11) with about 15 folks (mostly teens) to get involved. It's not quite the same type of involvement that Evan has, but I think it's a good start...

    I'm not yet sure about what all we will be doing in DC but I am sure that it will be God's work as long as I maintain an open and humble posture (not something I'm especially good at, by the way). The Pilgrimage uses Micah 6:8 as their motto and I think it fits nicely with where I am right now:
    He has showed you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the LORD require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.
    (Micah 6:8, NIV)


    So I'm very excited to have this planned. I have a feeling that there will be something in all of this that heightens my awareness and experience of God in my daily life. And that, dear friends, is something...

    Father God, I humbly ask that you let your servant hear and follow your voice. May my heart always long for you in my life and may my hands always strive to do your work. Lord I ask for your guidance and, if it is your will, your blessing as we step out instead of just reach out. In all that we do, may God be glorified above all. Amen

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Time out for a public service announcement

    A friend of mine (Mark) has created a site dedicated to "Pragmatic conservation for all of us." Mark's site is called Who Saved Watt?! One of the cool things about the site is the Saved Watts link on the left side. It let's you calculate your savings for switching out compact fluorescent lightbulbs for the incandescent bulbs you have today. I recently switched out 16 60W bulbs in the house.

    Who Saved Watt?! also has several good tips on how to be practical in "being green."

    Enjoy.






    I saved
    480
    watts!
    www.whosavedwatt.com

    Monday, May 5, 2008

    Are We Rich Young Goats?

    Let me try to explain where that title came from...

    In a small group I'm in we have been doing a study of the Gospels called "The Teachings and Experiences of Jesus" (from the Serendipity Bible for Personal and Small Group Study). We hit on a powerful one-two combination the last two meetings: Matthew 25:31 - 46 (aka The Sheep and the Goats) and Mark 10:17 - 31 (aka The Rich Young Man).

    A quick paraphrase of the passages: (probably not doing the Gospels justice, but bear with me)

    In Matthew, Jesus is talking about the judgement of people based on their treatment of people in need. Those going to the Sheep side treated others well (food, water, hospitality, clothing, comfort) while those in the goat category did not.

    In Mark, Jesus is approached by a "rich young man" asking Him what he can do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus' answer to the man is to sell all he has and give the money to the poor. The man leaves sad. Jesus continues the lesson saying that (this is my take here) we cannot get in to Heaven if we value and hold on to the things of this world more than God.

    OK, are you with me so far? (If not, read the passages over at BibleGateway.com: The Sheep and the Goats, The Rich Young Man. I'll be right here when you get back...)

    Now, the reason I say this was a powerful one-two punch needs a little more background. I live in a land of suburban splendor that sits side by side with severe poverty and affluence. The make up of the group (indeed the majority of the church) is upper middle class suburbanites (me included). So, a lesson that has Jesus talking about taking an active role in the lives of those who are less well off followed by one where Jesus says "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:25, NIV) had folks feeling some, um, discomfort.

    Both of these lessons can strike directly in to the hearts of Suburbia.

    How easy is it to say that we put God first in our lives? How much harder to actually do it in today's world. How much easier is it to mail off a check or drop a few extra bills into the plate on Sunday than it is to spend time investing in someone else's life? If God told us to leave family members behind to follow Him, would we suddenly become very hard of hearing?

    Now, I'm not saying that being financial successful is bad or evil. In 1 Timothy 6:10, Paul writes "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (my emphasis added). So, it matters what you ultimately value with respect to your financial matters. Finances are like anger. Referencing Psalms 4:4, Paul tells the church in Ephesus "'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26 - 27, NIV). That is, it is not sinful to have anger or be angry. It all depends on what you do with it.

    So, where is this going? Good question.

    I recently finished a great book titled "Starving Jesus" by Craig Gross and J.R. Mahon (it was the impetus for this post). The book, and the nationwide tour that inspired it, are all about getting, as the authors say, "off the pew, into the world." The intersection of my experience with this book and these lessons in the small group have convicted my heart pretty seriously. I know that God wants me to do something, but I'm not sure what and, honestly, I'm kinda scared about it.

    So, I'm going to try to be very open about it all. My goal is to start from a posture of acceptance and submission to God. I will be praying a lot more and I will be starting a fast. I'm not sure for how long, I'm not sure that the duration really matters. By starting from there, my hope is that God will open the eyes of my heart to see what He has planned.

    I think I'm going to need all the prayers anyone feels like sending my way...

    Peace and Blessings

    Friday, May 2, 2008

    Executive or Assistant?

    I just recently finished reading John Eldredge's newest book "Walking with God." It's a really good read in which John chronicles a year of his life intentionally walking with God daily. I won't go into a detailed book review here but I will recommend it to you if you are interested in "conversational intimacy" with God.

    There is a part in the book where John talks about people's view of God in their lives. He pointed out what turns out to be something I've done way to often in my life. He says that our view is flawed when we try to set up our lives to be the way we want it and then treat God as kind of an executive assistant.
    We really believe that God's primary reason for being is to provide us with happiness, give us a good life... In Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrote that to enjoy our work and our food each day is a gift from God (2:24). We are created to enjoy life.But we end up worshiping the gift instead of the Giver. We seek for life and look to God as our assistant in the endeavor.

    This parallels what Donald Miller said in his book "Blue Like Jazz":
    For me... (God was not) a person, an actual being with thoughts and feelings and that sort of thing. To me, God was more of an idea. It was something like a slot machine, a set of spinning images that dolled out rewards based on behavior and, perhaps, chance... If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something nice didn't, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few times.

    How many times are my prayers worded like "God please help me do this thing that I have decided I must do" and "Lord, please give me the strength to do this thing that I want to do..."

    For me it is a control thing. I have this need to have some say in what happens. Some how my worth/value is tied to it. If I can only get this thing to happen in a particular way, it will be considered successful. If I have a string of successful things, then I will be considered successful. If I am considered successful, then I will be worth more, or be more valuable or more desirable, in the eyes of.... who?

    I mean, I'm blessed to have parents who have always been there for me and love me very much. I have an incredible wife who doesn't care if I build a $100 piece of software or a $100 million dollar company as long as I'm happy doing it. I have children that see me as being "priceless" as a Dad (ah, the innocence of youth!). So who am I trying to impress? Who is it that needs to see my worth?

    It must be me, huh? But isn't it always about me? Or you? Or us?

    What about our "assistant"?

    What about God?

    I find at least 11 places in the Old Testament where loving, serving, or obeying God "with all your heart" appears (NIV): 7 in Deuteronomy (6:5, 10:12, 11:13, 13:3, 3-:2, 30:6, 30:10), 1 in Joshua (22:5), 2 in 1 Samuel (12:20, 12:24), and 1 in Proverbs (3:5). All of them pertain to either loving or serving God with all your heart and all your soul.

    The phrase shows up 5 times in the New Testament: Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30 and 12:33, Luke 10:27, and Colossians 3:23. In the Gospels, the phrase is either spoken by Jesus or affirmed by Jesus as the greatest commandment to mankind. In Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells the "holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse" to work "with all your heart" as if working for the Lord.

    Needless to say, putting God first is so important that it shows up in this exact form so often.

    Since Eldredge is the much better writer of the two of us, I'll let him summarize:
    It's not that God does't want us to be happy. He does. It's just that he knows that until we are holy, we cannot really be happy. Until God has become our all, and we are fully His, we will continue to make idols of the good things He gives us.

    I highly recommend both of the books quoted here (well, actually all three of them. The Bible isn't a best seller for no reason...). If you want to look behind the scenes at two people discovering and learning about relationship with God, these are good choices.

    Peace and blessings.

    Thursday, April 17, 2008

    Monday, April 14, 2008

    Hi. I'm Barnabas.

    But at other times I'm Paul. I think I spend most of my days as Timothy though.

    Dr Howard Hendricks, Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, is credited with saying "Every person should seek to have three individuals in their life: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy." I am usually hopelessly out of touch, so even though he said this in 1993, I've just came across it recently.

    We are in the process of trying to get small groups started in earnest at our church right now. There seems to be a real need and desire for a couples/marriage ministry so, following on the attendance of several church members at Family Life's Weekend to Remember, we have decided to use the HomeBuilders Couple series to get started. To help get us going, we asked someone with lots of experience leading HomeBuilders groups to come in and speak to our "core" team.

    In his talk, the speaker introduced the concept of having a Paul to follow, a Timothy to mentor, and a Barnabas to partner with. Now it seems to me that the role of Paul is pretty clear and popularly known: the older guy who has been there, done that, and now dispenses wisdom and guidance to you. And while some what lesser known in most cases, the Timothy role is pretty easily identifiable for many: the younger person who has a mentor or guide and is seeking spiritual growth.


    The Barnabas role was the one that kind of took me by surprise. I recalled the name fro Acts But I had never really given much thought to who he was or if he was important. My first impression was related to facts: Barnabas traveled with Paul in Acts while Paul went from place to place and did a lot of great stuff. But once he was brought up in this new light of importance, I began to get who Barnabas really was: Paul's ally, his friend, his partner, his buddy, Sundance to Paul's Butch Cassidy (minus the violence and bank robbery). I can imagine times where Paul looked across the breakfast table at Barnabas and said, "Well, what do you think? You wanna do it?" and Barnabas replies "Oh yeah, I'm in!"
    While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3, NIV)

    As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. (Acts 13:42-43, NIV)

    Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:46, NIV)

    So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. (Acts 14:3, NIV)

    Now, recognizing the importance if Barnabas, I see where I have played that role for others several times before. But my struggle is to find the Barnabas in my life right now. I can be fiercely independent and stubborn when it comes to getting something done. Most of my life I have considered asking for help to be a big sign of weakness. This has hurt some of my relationships and probably stopped others all together. I've come to understand that my relationships with people are often a good barometer of my relationship with God (from my side). And asking for help is a major struggle.

    So I'm looking for the Barnabas in my journey right now. For my work on the small group ministry, for my daily walk with God, and for many other things I have or will have going on.

    Is there someone playing the Barnabas role for you right now? What are they doing to be Barnabas for you? How has it helped you?

    Wednesday, April 2, 2008

    Are you comfortable?

    Change.

    Does that word evoke a response from you? Do you like the response? Or did you cringe?

    I have found that there are few things that get a response from people like discussing or proposing change. I think this is because it is in our human nature to try to get comfortable. A friend of mine so liked getting comfortable, and avoiding change, that he adopted a mantra for his way of life: "Get in a rut early."

    While this may be human nature, I don't think it is the nature of God at all. And that may be one of the biggest things humanity holds against Him.

    I've heard it said time and time again that God finds us where we are. That is, He doesn't require us to change and get our lives straightened out and to get all our junk cleaned up BEFORE He loves us and accepts us. No, He takes us as we are. Praise God for that!

    The trouble comes in when we start to understand that He doesn't want to leave us where He found us. Se what Paul says:
    So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor 5:16 - 17 NIV)


    Perry Noble is the pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC. He has a good blog and recently posted "15 signs that you (or your church) lacks vision." Just looking at the first 4 items in Perry's list speak to the importance of change:
    #15 - No one is ever challenged to radically rearrange their lives to be a part of what God is doing.

    #14 - God hasn’t asked you to give something up.

    #13 - Everyone in your church is perfect. (If you are truly reaching lost people then you will discover that ministry is messy.)

    #12 - Nothing in regards to how you lead has changed in the past year.


    You can easily take this list and move away from the church and apply it to our lives in general. What has changed in your life as a result of inviting God in? Have you given up anything or added something to your life?

    I know that for me personally, this is a key part of my daily struggle. In my almost 38 years, I have found my self in rut after rut. Almost all of my own making. In my career developing software, I have often chased the goal of getting it 'just right' so that I don't have to change anything any more. In raising my kids I often get agitated because they won't do what I told them, how I told them.

    For all my high ideals, I just want to get to a point of comfort where I don't have to expend much energy, physically or mentally, to enjoy my life. There are plenty of things in the world that make that hard to do. And the Lord also upsets these plans.

    The Gospels are not passive in what they tell us. They are a call to action. Just like the disciples, we are called to "drop our nets" and follow. We are called to change things in our lives. Not in order to get comfortable in the world. Not in order to be accepted by a group of people. Not in order to "go along to get along."

    We are called to change things in our lives because God is changing all of creation. Paul tells us about the beginning of this change:
    All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:18 - 19 NIV)


    And John tells us where it is ultimately headed in Revelations:
    Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away (Revelations 21:1 NIV)

    He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" (Revelations 21:5 NIV)


    So now what do you think of change? I'm still scared of it at times and I still find it hard to accept or affect sometimes. And I'm praying for strength and wisdom to follow through with the changes that God is asking of me.

    If you feel so inclined, please pray too.