Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I love sports. Watching, playing, talking...I just love sports. One thing I wish I'd learned much earlier in my life was how to be more coachable. I don't think that I was ever a coach's nightmare but I never really learned how to take criticism well. And I certainly never learned to seek out criticism in order to get better. I preferred to learn from seeing and then trying to imitate. But that leaves lots of room for errors in form and technique.

"That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe." 1 Timothy 4: 10

I feel that matters of faith aren't too different for me. In the past year and a half I've learned a lot about things that I wish I'd known before. In talking with a peer, we both expressed this sentiment and my peer even said, "I find myself asking, how did I not know this already?"

I'm still learning about sports and faith, and I find myself asking this question more often than I'd like to admit. Going back to being a student has forced me to become more coachable. I'm reading books by respected theologians, and discussing them with professors and peers. Growing in knowledge is work. In sports, you're never too good to work on fundamentals. The same can be said for matters of faith. As followers of Christ, we are called to constantly work out our faith: spend time reading, discussing, and allowing ourselves to be "coached."

Monday, December 27, 2010

Room for error

I recently read an article in the school newspaper about a lecture given by ESPN's VP of event production (here's a link to the article http://dukechronicle.com/article/kristiansen-details-espn-s-evolution ), and thought his comments about risk and failure were interesting. I would encourage you to read the article, but if you don't want to: he basically said that ESPN has become what it is today through taking risks and getting involved in numerous areas beyond their original niche. In one of my favorite parts of the summary of his lecture, he says that "at ESPN... you're encouraged not to be afraid to fail."

"He told them:“Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere." Luke 9: 3-6

Failure is quite the F-word in the world/culture I come from. There's not a whole lot worse or more embarrassing than failure for many people (including myself) that I know. In fact, the chance of failure can be so terrifying that it becomes paralyzing.

Being freed from a fear of failure can be quite liberating, yet also perplexing as we're unsure how to assess our own performance. I can imagine Jesus' disciples feeling glad to have instructions for failure in their being "sent out" in this passage, but still wondering what would be the terms by which they were graded.

I wonder if freeing people from a fear of failure would produce more innovative and efficient work to be done at work, at home, at school...etc.? How can we become more accepting of failure as a way of encouraging responsible risk taking? What if we became less surprised by failure of our co-workers, friends, and family?

PS- It's also worth noting that Jesus gives the disciples authority to drive out demons and heal sicknesses before sending them out or instructing them in case of failure.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A knock at our door

Do you remember the time before caller ID, when you always answered the phone because you didn't know who it could be? Well, I feel a bit like that when someone knocks on the door. Very few times in the last few years have I gotten unannounced company that wasn't some kind of solicitation...but I still feel the need to answer the door when someone knocks.

So a couple of weekends ago, I heard a knock on the door early on Saturday morning. I opened the door to two young women holding bibles and a stack of pamphlets. We exchanged good mornings and asked if I had heard of Jesus...eventually they asked if I'd like one of their pamphlets...which I now noticed were actually small books. They handed me one and explained that it was free. I read the title: "What the Bible is Really about." I smiled a bit and explained that four seminary students live in the house, so we "...have lots of those kinds of books." I thanked them for stopping by, handed the book back to them and wished them well as I closed the door and they moved on to the next door.

While I never know exactly how to handle these door-to-door evangelists, it got me to thinking about how we do evangelism. How are Christians to witness to the faith they claim and adhere to the command of Matthew 28:19-20? There is insufficient space to completely cover the wide topic of evangelism, and i don't claim to have all the answers, but I want to point back to someone that has gone before:
"It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching." -St. Francis of Assisi
So I guess my argument is that explicit, intentional sharing of the Gospel is necessary, but perhaps what is even more necessary is that Christians constantly live as a people transformed by the message that we hope others will come to claim for their own story. I feel that St. Francis was emphasizing the importance of our interactions with others (and creation) should be as much of a sharing of the message and love of Christ as our explicit evangelism.

Click here to read my friend Jason's thoughts on evangelism. I like what he has to say on the subject, and I feel that what he speaks to in problem #1 addresses the often overlooked part of the Great Commission to "[teach] them to obey everything I have commanded you" Matthew 28:20a.

But back to St. Francis... I hope that in this week, you will find a chance to 'preach in your walking.'

Monday, October 4, 2010

Soaking up

Last week the area I live in got its first rain in about a month. While I understand the need for rain, it usually just annoys me- it ruins my plans and makes travel more difficult. Furthermore, it gets my jeans wet when I walk in it...and if you've ever experienced this, jeans take a long time to dry.

Have you ever noticed that if you stand in a wet spot long enough or walk outside in the rain your pants (and especially jeans) get wet and the wet area far exceeds the depth of the water? This phenomenon that seems to defy gravity is called "wicking" . I don't want to get into the science of it, but if you do...click the link on "wicking" or look it up on wikipedia. It's pretty interesting to read about, but usually pretty annoying to experience. Because, as I mentioned before, jeans take forever to dry, so a ten minute walk in the rain can "stay with you" for hours.

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Last year I took an intro to Hebrew course and came to love Deuteronomy 6:4, or what is called the Shema. The Shema is recited regularly by Jews and has been for centuries. Many of us are more familiar with verse 5- Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. But the language really starts to capture me in the next few verses. The passage instructs on what is to be done so that the people of Israel remember their God. They are to steep their very lives with the confession that there is one God, their God. By soaking in this proclamation, it becomes something (as the writer says) impressed on the hearts (we may think mind is more fitting) of the people.

How often do you "soak up" the Word? Do you spend long enough in it consistently for it to have some kind of effect on you? One discipline we could learn from the Jewish faith is the practice of rituals as a means to ingrain scripture into our heads and hearts. Spending enough time reading and reflecting on the words we have in the Bible could lead to more change than we think. We may find it "wicking" into other parts of our lives. Allow yourself to sit with the Word and take it with you this week. I hope you become saturated in some of the Word this week.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hold on loosely

In May I packed up all my belongings that I'd stuffed into a small bedroom and living room with the help of my parents before my first year of seminary. I'm really not sure how we made it all fit...I have too much stuff. I've always been somewhat of a sentimentalist, I have a hard time parting with things. Without the help of my folks to pack up stuff, and doing most of the packing over a weekend, convinced me that it was time to reduce.

"At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth." Mark 10:22

In the past two weeks I've parted with two things- giving them as gifts to friends. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to say that they were things that I "needed" (or even for that matter, wanted). But I let them go. Which is kind of big for me. And rather than throwing them away, I gave them to people I thought might actually have some use for them. After I gave the second item away, I realized that I'd accidentally come up with a way to reduce my possessions. So, I think I'll start a practice, of giving at least one thing away a week for the foreseeable future. In doing this, I hope to lessen the grip that possessing things has on me, and hope to become slower to consider things as being "mine."

Just something to think about.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Is it about reassurance?

The NFL kicks off soon. As a child, this was always a favorite time of the year...and I still love it. But this year a commercial caught my eye and got me to wondering about the church's perception in the public eye. Here, watch the commercial by clicking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gracQf60DrE&feature=related

While I think the commercial is funny to as a fan, as someone involved in serving the church, I believe it does offer some social commentary as to how the church is viewed by society. The commercial shows the priest meeting with the woman who discusses a problem and how she was dealing with it. Finally, when the woman is finished explaining, the priest offers a simple reassuring phrase that essentially communicates, "You're a good person." I wonder if that's all that is expected of the church these days?

Does the church exist merely to pat us on the back and congratulate us for being not as bad as some other people? Do we view our pastors and preachers as people to give us comfort and reassurance that we are good people? Have the church been diminished so much that it no longer calls people to be changed and pursue a life like Christ's, but instead is content with merely commending little virtues?

Don't get me wrong, I think that the church should encourage it's people, especially when there is something that is commendable. But the commercial portrays (and what I'm assuming much of society thinks) that the role of the pastor ends there- to offer that little "attaboy." If the church is to change its image from this quiet, listening and reassuring one to a transforming and dangerous to the status quo image, we must not get too involved in congratulating things done to be nice and begin encouraging actions inspired by obedience to the will of God.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I owe the inspiration and some of the content of this post to recent reading and discussions.

I would like to think that after years of working in the church and a year of seminary that I have a pretty good grasp on this whole Christianity thing... after all, it is sort of my life. But I recently had to check myself against the truth spoken to me by a good friend as I expressed some struggles and frustrations. The irritating thing is that I've talked about this before, I agree with it, but I seem to have forgotten it somewhere along the way.

"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire." " Hebrews 12:28-29

These words speak of God as a consuming fire- something uncontrollable. Have you ever witnessed a fire that is out of control? It's scary. How frightening to know that we're not capable of containing something. In this passage, the author states this exact thing in regard to a relationship with God. When we are in a relationship with God, we must realize that God is jealous (as Deuteronomy 4:24 says), and wants every part of our lives to be a reflection of God. Every part. When we stop insisting on containing our Christian urges, we allow this consuming fire to take control of every part of our being. We no longer make decisions thinking of ourselves, but rather do things with the will of God as our direction. Fires dramatically change the appearance of that which burns. I wonder how different I would be if I allowed myself to be consumed? And I wonder how it would be accepted...judging by the fates of Jesus and his closest friends and followers, I can see why it is so difficult to let this fire rage and consume ALL of us.

Monday, August 9, 2010

You may be good, but...

Early on, most of us learn that we're to strive to be the best at whatever we choose to do. Early in life, I thought that I would excel in some kind of sport...I practiced hitting game winning shots on my friend's driveway basketball goal... The point was, I was the best, the hero, and everyone would love me for that reason.

"Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent." Mark 3:4

During some recent down time, I have been catching up on television - I don't watch much during the school year and didn't have access to tv this summer. I watched a few episodes of Chasing Mummies. I'm a history nerd and I enjoy shows that explore ancient cultures, but there was something different about this show. It was more like a reality show than it was educational. The main character, Dr. Zahi Hawass seems to drive the drama of the show. As the man in charge and resident expert, it seems most of the rest of the crew and his coworkers concentrate on not setting off his quick temper. He is fast to scold interns for their mistakes and in the particular episode I watched, he even yelled at people for celebrating a discovery. I'm not sure how much is real and how much is for show- at times the interns seem to do some unbelievably absentminded things, and other times it seems Dr. Hawass is reaching to find something to yell about. It's obvious that he is both respected and feared, and he throws his weight around knowingly.
I like to do a job well and I'm not much of a fan of someone else messing things up for me. I'm also a pretty staunch rule-abider. However, when we begin to take ourselves, our jobs, or our rules too seriously, we create the possibility of valuing things more than people. Christ's message was simple on this subject- God's love is greater for people than for our rules. Dr. Hawass has some rules and ways of doing things that have made him successful. However, his way of doing things often results in interactions that are negative and further illustrate the inequality in the relationship. I don't mean to judge Dr. Hawass because I don't know what he is really like or what he believes...but seeing him in action makes me wonder how we (I) treat people when I am in task mode.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Apples to Oranges

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118:24

Comparisons can be fun. As a sports fan, I love comparing the statistics of different players in their respective sports. However, comparisons can be misleading. Afterall, there is no such thing as comparing apples to apples. There are too many variables involved in any situation- in baseball, a batting average can be afftected by the skill of a pitcher as well as the fatigue of that pitcher at the time of the at bat...

These may seem like trivial differences but they exist just the same. But I still love statistics and comparisons.
Comparing things in life seems to almost come as second nature to me (and I'm guessing I'm not alone in this). I compare this week's experiences with last week's and I compare this year's big events with last year's. It's difficult not to- our prior experiences help us to know what to expect...or so we think.

Expectations can often get in the way of enjoying the present. If we are constantly comparing this time to the last time, we miss so much of what this time has in store. It's too tempting to look at the past with either rose-colored glasses, or simply dread te coming of next time. Although comparisons can be fun and help us to know what to expect, we must not allow our expectations to get in the way of having a new experience. There is something new in store this time. Expect it to be different.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The other part

I remember one of the first lessons I heard about music- "rests are just as important as the notes. "

A few weeks ago I took part in leading a Taize worship time. I've participated in Taize services before but never had the opportunity to lead one. For those who haven't experienced Taize, it makes use of scripture, repetitive songs, and silence for a worship time that is intended to be reflective.

During the service, we read scriptures, prayers, and sang songs that repeated the same verse numerous times. However, taking the time to be silent proved to be very difficult for the leaders. When you're leading worship, a few seconds of silence can seem like an hour... and silence can be even more uncomfortable for those not in leadership as they anticipate the next thing to happen. Taize's tradition confronts this constant need for occupying participants through activity. The times of "dead air" are intentionally put into the service to allow time for communion with God through prayer.

Silence is worth seeking and not as scary as you might think. Silence allows things to resonate. Silence allows that which is unscripted and unplanned to become our focus.

"One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called Samuel." 1Samuel 3:2-4a

Friday, July 2, 2010

Staying true

Well the World Cup has wrapped up. I don't think I watched any of the games. Not that I'm anti-soccer, I just don't have easy access to TV this summer. So I get my sports fix through sports talk radio. The buzz has died down a little since USA's early exit, but for a while it seemed that there were endless sketchy calls made by referees and FIFA seemed completely uninterested in addressing these errors. After a few controversial calls, some of the sports world was calling for the implementation of instant replay. However, FIFA responded that they did not want to change the game that had remained the same for such a long time.

Having instant replay involved in sports is a relatively new debate. The NFL has perhaps the most open use of the new technology in popular American sports- allowing coaches to "challenge" plays that they think were called incorrectly. The NHL and NBA use instant replay to double-check only in the case that points are involved (goal/no goal in hockey, and 3/2pt shots & buzzer beaters in basketball). But sports purists still insist that the integrity of the game is being compromised, and FIFA echoed the sentiments of these purists by stating that officiating mistakes are a part of the game.

Well, without giving my opinion on this issue (and believe me, I have one), I wonder what we can learn from sports about being the church. Are we allowing ourselves to progress or are we endangering the purity of the church and its traditions? As the information age progresses and creates a newer, more techno-savvy culture, what must the church do to remain in touch with the world? I see both sides of the argument: traditions keep us grounded and rooted, but they can also keep us from progressing and cause stagnation. We must continue to evaluate and hold both tradition and innovation in a balance.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Please forgive my long absence since my last post- I've been without internet so posting has become more difficult.

"As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him." Luke 24: 15-16

Have you ever had one of those experiences when things just weren't what you were expecting them to be? I can remember a few years ago someone mixed up some of that invisible kool-aid, I took a drink, expecting it to be water, and was a bit disgusted as I got something other than what I was expecting. It's not that the kool-aid tasted bad, it just wasn't what I was expecting. I quickly got over it and enjoyed the kool-aid.

I suspect the two disciples in this story felt the same way as they walked to Emmaus. They were expecting great things from Jesus- everything was planned out...and then it went horribly wrong. Jesus was arrested & killed. And now they didn't even know where he was! (24:24) Perplexed, they pondered the past and weren't quite sure what to do next.

Things don't always turn out as we had planned. In fact, lately I've been learning the lesson that things usually don't turn out exactly as planned. At this point we have two choices- either get upset because our expectations weren't met, or accept it and begin to look for the way that God is moving...even though it may not fit with your plan.(24:25-31)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The trouble with independence

"When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me." Hosea 13:6

I've just completed my first year in seminary. So lately, I've had to answer the question of what it was like. My response is usually something along the lines of "The most difficult thing I've ever done academically, spiritually, and emotionally."

Let me explain. For the majority of my academic career, grades came fairly easy, and studying, although bothersome, never seemed to be too much of a burden. However, this year was different. The first semester stretched me almost to the breaking point. I felt the pressures of grades more than ever and, as the semester came to a close, my hope was that I would just pass my classes. This is something I can't remember ever feeling in any of my years in school. As you can imagine. I leaned heavily on God and others for support as the stress mounted and I felt out of control. In the end, all was well and I passed my classes with better grades than I expected.

But the feeling of being out of control made me rethink my approach to the spring semester- put more effort into the entire semester so as to feel less pressure at the end of the semester. It worked. I spent more time studying and writing papers and my grades improved dramatically. However, increased success led to more independence. Independence prevented much dependence on God.

Times of stress and uncertainty, although difficult, usually produce a great dependence upon God. It is in those times that we grow. Unfortunately, once those times pass, it's easy to go back to self-reliance. Independence, although highly valued in society, prevents the formation of deeply-rooted community with God and with others because when we are able to provide for ourselves, we become convinced we don't "need" anyone.

So, I hope that next semester I can find a middle ground between the past two semesters. Find the balance that allows for dependence and confidence.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

All about timing

A few weeks ago I took a break from studying for finals to go down to the beautiful Duke Gardens- a three-minute walk from where I attend class daily that I don't frequent enough. I took my lunch with me and promised myself I wouldn't look at the study materials for the exam I had that afternoon. I arrived and picked a different place (even though I don't go enough, I have a "usual spot") to sit and enjoy my lunch and creation. Two young mothers were playing with their children (I'd guess one was 3 and the other maybe 1 &1/2). They laughed, yelled, and just enjoyed the place. It was a refreshing change from being cooped up in the library with other sleep-deprived people.

Well it wasn't long before the younger guy started making his way toward a pond. He was curious and wanted to see what the water was like...at least that's what I think. Mom noticed, and trailed close behind as he approached the water. She took his hand a few steps before the drop off into the man-made pond. Upon reaching the side, he stretched his right leg out to step onto the water, and mom kept him from moving forward. He persisted, then she picked him up and carried him away from the water. As expected, he wasn't too happy and let her know about it.

I wonder how often I'm like that. I know what I want to do and I know when I want to do it. When I don't get my way, I'm not happy. But maybe it's a blessing in disguise. Maybe I just don't realize what I'm about to get into.

Everything is ruined!

"The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" -Numbers 11:4-6

I'm a very habitual person. I like predictability. I like knowing what's going to happen next. I like knowing what I'm going to do each day. I've been that way as long as I can remember. A great example is my morning routine- I wake up, immediately head for the kitchen for breakfast... and I know what I'm going to eat before I get to the kitchen. (I've seen this frustrate my mother when I'm home for holidays/vacations. She usually can't catch me to ask if I want something like eggs or pancakes before I have a bowl of cereal halfway eaten).

So Monday was a terrible day for a person like me. I walked downstairs after a bad night's sleep, put my frozen waffles in the toaster and pressed them down. Then I reached for the syrup. Ants. Ants- all over the bottle and they had managed to get into the syrup (i leave the top open to vent after I microwave it so the syrup is hot). Irritated, I poured the syrup out (to recycle the bottle) and used a paper towel to get rid of the ants that hadn't been on or in the bottle. I switched gears and decided that I'd eat something else. Then I went to pour my coffee. The heating mechanism had malfunctioned and i had cold coffee. This was remedied by a microwave, but on the morning of the first exam of finals week...I was not happy.

I'm not going to say I overcame it and looked on the bright side. No, I grumbled and complained to my roommate. I wasn't much fun to be around that morning, until I got out and moving and got things moving in the right direction.

Little inconsistencies and disappointments can really throw a day off. They can put you in a funk that only you can allow yourself out of. When irritating things happen, try to remember not to dwell on them and look at all of the ways that you are blessed with so much consistency in your life that you come to expect things to be "normal." Count blessings daily and try not to overlook provisions.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fanning the flame Part 2

This is the second half of a 2-part post. To read part one, click here.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I've always enjoyed having campfires and fires in the fireplace at home. I love tending the fire- poking the logs and moving them around to produce the desired amount of flame...

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." Ephesians 4: 22-25

Continuing to grow spiritually takes constant tending and attention. We must constantly expose new portions of our lives to the transforming power of the Gospel in order to experience the renewal of that "flame" within. Without new efforts and constant tending, it is easy to become stuck in a rut of complacency.

It is also easy to revert back to former ways, as Paul says. We can get sucked back into the temptation to gossip, fight, hold grudges...etc. But these things suppress the new life we pursue in Christ.

This week, I hope you'll tend your fire- try doing something a little different- pray somewhere different, pick up something new for a devotional time, spend time in the presence of other Christians... be creative- throw a fresh log on the fire.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Fanning the flame Part I

During a great holiday break this year, I enjoyed one of the things that I feel keeps most apartments from feeling like a "home" - a fireplace. I've always enjoyed the warmth, crackle, and glow during the winter months. I sit too close, lay with my feet propped up next to the fire, and basically hoard all the warmth that I can get (I'm sure my family appreciates it). I love the smell of the smoke from fireplaces in the crisp winter air outside. So...what's with all this talk of winter when the flowers are blooming and the days are getting longer?

Well, while I was home over the holidays, I was enjoying the warmth of the fire one evening and watching TV. I got distracted with what was on and failed to tend the fire. Finally I looked over and noticed that there was no flame and only the glow of coals. Now, the quick solution might have been to throw a few more logs on, light a match and turn the gas on to get the fire started. But that's just not me- I'm my father's son. I grew up crumpling newspapers with Dad to stick under the starter logs and watching him strategically light the paper to get the fire started. So, I took a piece of kindling and a hatchet and began splitting it into pencil-thin pieces and placing them just above the coals. After a bout ten of these strips had been carefully placed, I began lightly blowing onto the coals. After a few moments, the twigs caught fire and burned brightly.

"Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." John 20:21-22

The disciples were confused and scared. Their faith was hanging by a thread and in need of assistance. Jesus' calm nature and words of assurance fanned the flame of their spirits. We're a few weeks past the excitement of Easter Sunday, how is the flame of your faith doing? How are others? How might we cooperate in being a the breath that ignites afresh the fire?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tending needs

Last weekend I took a trip back to Texas for a job training. As always, it took two flights to get me there, and two to get me back to NC. On my first flight of the weekend, I tried to read but became very distracted by the actions of the man sitting next to me:
I said hello to him as he sat down, noticed he had a foreign accent, and also that he was too tall to comfortably sit in the seat. Then I went back to reading. Halfway through the flight, I noticed him getting restless- shifting in his seat. He seemed to be a bit distressed and his gestures and constant checking of his printed out itinerary and checking his watch (always followed by a palms up "how did this happen" motion). A number of times I wanted to ask him if there was anything I could help him with...but I never did.
Finally the stranger turned to me, "Excuse me, is there any time difference between North Carolina and Memphis?" I had pretty much decided that this was probably the cause of his stress. I answered, "Yes, we're going to gain an hour- so it's only 5:45 there. What time does your next flight leave?" He showed me his boarding pass and pointed to the time of departure, saying "7:30." I assured him, "Oh, you've got plenty of time. These time changes can be confusing." Our conversation continued a while longer, and then I went back to reading my book. His shoulders relaxed and he seemed to enjoy the second half of the flight much more.
"and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday." Isaiah 58:10

This stranger wasn't necessarily "hungry," but I did notice his distress. However, I hesitated to offer assistance, and justified it by telling myself it was none of my business. I wonder how often others do similar things. Is it because of our respect for personal space and privacy that we fail to be a people that help each other? This week, observe others, look for opportunities to help someone.

Monday, April 5, 2010

All quiet

I've never been an early riser (at least since being a kid and having the attraction of early morning cartoons). I'd prefer to stay up late and sleep until the sun is well over the horizon. But this year required a bit of a lifestyle change. So I started (reluctantly) going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. Since the time change a few weeks ago, I've actually sort of enjoyed getting up before the sun does.

There is something peaceful about the time from when light begins to infiltrate the darkness until the time when the sun appears and everything is visible. During a recent conversation with my roommate, he described that time as "quiet...undisturbed...a fresh start." I thought that was a great way to put it - there is something peaceful about the morning. The birds sing as the rest of the world slowly wakes up.

"Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days." Psalm 90: 14

This week, I encourage you to find out what time the sun will rise, set your alarm to beat it by about 20 minutes, then just spend some time watching the morning (from outside if possible).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seeking refuge

There's a video of me as a child (I was probably around 3), in which I'm playing and having a great time, then something upsets me... and I immediately begin to cry and run for Mom, who was holding the camera. Watching it can be humorous because I quickly go from the focus of the frame, to running straight at the camera, until you can no longer see me, but still making my presence known- by causing the picture to shake as I cling to my Mother's leg and cry.

What do you run to when you're upset? How do you cope when things don't go your way?

"Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress." Psalm 71:3

I recently opened up in a discussion with a friend and found myself speaking thoughts as they came to me regarding a particular difficult time in my life. It's not often that I "drop my guard" and actually let someone in... or even that I allow myself to be so transparent in the presence of another. I talked about the difficulties I faced: self-doubt, frustration, and dissatisfaction. More importantly I talked about how I dealt with these feelings: I suppressed and ignored them (not unusual for me), and found refuge in TV and media entertainment. Basically, I ran from actually addressing the problem. I'm sure I'm not the first to call it this, but I went into "survival mode"- just getting through each day until I could again see "my shows."

In doing this, I shut out both the people that love me and God. In survival mode, I set myself up as an old city under siege- walls up, doors closed, and nothing coming in or out. Truly a lonely feeling.

As a book that I've recently read states, the beauty of the Psalms is their transparency. The author says what they want to say and for the most part doesn't beat around the bush about how their feeling, especially in troubled times. The Psalms show that it is permissible to be angry- with God, with others. The Psalms show that we are allowed to cry out for help.

So again I ask- what is your refuge? Don't shut yourself in- speak up in your prayers and allow God's word to work as your comforter...not TV or other forms of distraction.

(I owe much of the thoughts in this particular entry to discussions with classmates, a recently read book, a group of guys that meet weekly to study Scripture, and a lecture that challenged me enough to re-examine some difficult times. Thank you, you know who you are.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fitting in

Have you ever caught yourself envying someone else's gifts or talents? I know it's a constant struggle for me. For as long as I can remember sports have been important to me. I love to play for fun, for competition, and I enjoy watching great athletes perform. I've always wished I were taller...thinking, "If I were just a few inches taller, I could..." But comparisons don't stop there: they exist in school, work, hobbies, etc. It seems I'm always comparing myself to others and rarely satisfied with myself.

"So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.' " - 1 Samuel 8: 4 - 6 (bold added)

Israel struggled with a similar problem. The people searched for an identity and desired what they did not have (and thought would make them better...more legitimate): a king. This desire consumed the people and caused them to forget the blessings of their uniqueness. Instead, they became self-conscious and viewed their special relationship as an hindrance and an embarrassment. In haste, Israel asks for a king to rule over them, forgetting that (as the Lord tells Samuel in verse 7) they are not rejecting Samuel as their leader, but instead are rejecting God as their king.

Comparing your gifts with others can be a dangerous thing. It can lead to forgetting your own gifts and blessings. Instead, celebrate the gifts of others and rejoice that you are unique!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

...and Thank You.

Some time ago I posted a devotional about presenting requests to God. I argued that you should pray confidently (almost demandingly). If you'd like to read that post, click here. While I still stand by my original advice, I would like to post an addition to it.

Recently I began reading a book that made me realize this approach may be more flawed than I originally realized. I don't think it's the action itself that makes it what would call "selfish" but the lack of discussion of how to react when the prayer is answered. I failed to include this important part of the post.

Too often I feel that many of my prayers are more like the wish lists that we come up with as children- lots of requests...then, when the gifts come, we are usually too swept up in the moment to really express proper gratitude for them. Sometimes I focus too much on what I want (or need) from God and fail to recognize the things I'm being given. And if I do receive what I am asking for, I'm afraid to say that I feel that my reaction is often underwhelming to God.

God, more than any giver of gifts, deserves to see your joy upon receiving what you requested. God deserves praise for delivering. God desires to share in your joy/relief/contentment. Don't deny this portion of your prayer life- allow your prayers to express the gratitude more than usual this week and in the future.

"I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me." Psalm 16:7

Monday, March 1, 2010

Preventing progress

"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6: 16-18

Fasting seems to be a popular topic during Lent as Christians search for ways of drawing nearer to God through an intentional devotional practice for a 46-day period. I was recently reading through this passage and I got something new out of it that I wanted to share:
Why does Christ encourage people who fast to do so in secrecy? Keeping fasting a secret seems especially hard in societies that seem to revolve around food and meals. But I think that there is a lot to be gained from not allowing your practice to be the topic of your conversation or be "written on your face." Perhaps the benefit to not revealing your fasting (or whatever discipline you've taken up) is not just to keep from coming across as pompous, but perhaps it serves a greater purpose- for the benefit of the one practicing the discipline.

Jesus describes ways that people might make themselves appear hungry during their fast to draw attention to themselves. This is their reward- getting the attention of others. But disciplines are meant to focus attention to God...to increase the opportunity to be shaped by our Creator, "formed" if you will. When we disfigure ourselves as Christ describes, we do the work of transformation in a physical way, preventing any spiritual transformation to take place...we are essentially preempting God's role by taking care of God's work in transforming through the practice.

I find that bringing too many others into a spiritual discipline seems to hinder it from being about God and me. Now, remember, there are people that you should be able to share things with: spouse, family, close friends, etc. The purpose is not to keep your spiritual life and disciplines from people, it is to keep it intimate enough so that God may transform you. Practice, and let God do the work of reshaping.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Searching for Identity

"One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray," Luke 11:1a

A few weeks ago I had a discussion with a great group of people that meet together to help each other through our first year in seminary. On this particular day, we were discussing prayer: how we pray, how we ought to pray, and what helps us deepen our prayer lives.

We talked about the difficulties we each have in prayer, the things that we can do to intentionally ready ourselves to spend time in prayer and the resources we use to compliment our prayers. Maybe the most striking thing to me was our discussion on how we pray when we don't know what to say: whether it be hurting, stressed, fatigued, confused, angry, sad, etc. We talked about the Book of Common Prayer as a resource to use in those times.

Additionally, we discussed what a blessing it is to have something to pray when we don't know how to pray that was prayed by Christ. How often do we recite the words of the Lord's Prayer without thinking about what the words mean? I know I've failed to recognize the enormous comfort of having that prayer to pray when we don't know what or how to pray.

Take some time. Focus on the words. Explore what it means to say them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The plank in my eye

For those who don't know me well, I'm very much a twitter-er. If you'd like to see what I'm up to on Twitter, click here. Over the past year and a half, I've enjoyed the community of twitter with friends and strangers. I've gotten to know people in ministry, in sports, and made connections with people that I otherwise, never would have come to know. Long story short, I really enjoy Twitter. I've had very few "bad experiences" with Twitter, but I'll share one here.

But first, one of my biggest peeves on twitter is the misspelling of words. The most common ones I see are people using 'loose' (simply defined as "not tight") instead of 'lose' (simply defined as "not win"), and 'definately' (which is less of a word mix up and more of a misspelling of definitely). Anyway, I get more irritated with this than I'd like to admit, and I'm sure I've misspelled my fair amount of words on twitter, but I notice other's mistakes and it seems to wear on me... Ok, now for the experience.

Last week I was corrected after posting a tweet with some false information. I meant well, and mostly did it out of haste (I was in the library studying and on little break from academics). At first it was an innocent exchange asking for some clearing up, then it became the topic of a blog post. My first reaction: embarrassed and angry. I was glad that I was able to learn something, but felt a bit humiliated by the fact that it was dealt with publicly. Granted, I may be the only one that saw the connection, but I still felt shamed.

But the more I thought about it, the more I became convicted of my own rush to see mistakes in the tweets of others. A certain teaching of Christ came to mind: "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Matthew 7:2

This is the verse comes just before the well-known 'plank in your own eye' verse. Christ teaches a valuable lesson: judging others usually only results in hypocrisy. Maybe Christians could grow from accepting that mistakes happen and judgment often only brings damaged feelings and broken relationships. Instead of making it public, correct mistakes as lovingly as possible.

PS: I'm not angry with the person who corrected me, I'm actually grateful. However, I do wish that it hadn't been so much of a spectacle for others to see. I'm grateful for learning of my mistake and for the opportunity to try to correct my own problem with expecting too much from others in an arena of informal sharing. Finally, the person never referenced me or my mistake in their blog post. They too, were reacting to a common mistake that they see and mine just happened to be the catalyst that sparked the blog entry. Again, there are no hard feelings anymore, I was just aware of my own feelings and how I might cause similar feelings if (and when) I correct others.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Party Bus Part 2

Something happened last week with blogger while I was trying to post, so you only got half of the Party Bus story. To read the first part, click here. Here is the second half:

So the driver told me he was taking all of these students to a frat party 20 miles away from campus in another town and would not be coming back until the early hours of the morning. He was apologetic and chuckled a bit.

Not being a partier and knowing I had to be awake for a lecture at 8:30am the next day, I started thinking of how to get home. While texting friends that could potentially pick me up, I was fielding questions from the very amused undergraduate students on the bus. They were curious, and we all saw the humor in the situation. To their credit, they were quite friendly: they invited me a number of times to "party with them." I politely declined and carried on a conversation with one guy about where he was from and his career plans, all the while getting messages back from a friend trying to figure out how to get me home. Well, we arrived at the party, I stood outside and waited for my friend who arrived 30 minutes later and in an hour, I was home.

Here is my favorite exchange with one of the passengers:
Random Guy: You should just go with it and party with us!
Me: How long are y'all planning on partying?
Guy: 'Til you go to sleep.
Me: (looks at non-existent watch on wrist) Well you'd better hurry up then.

So what can we learn from this as the church and Christians? People are lost in this world, searching for a place to belong, often times showing up somewhere feeling completely out of place (like I did). If we treat them in a way that communicates that they don't belong, they'll move on to somewhere else. We must seek to include people (just as the party-goers did for me), instead of judging them and pointing out the fact that they don't fit in.

"Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." 1 Peter 4:8-9

Monday, January 25, 2010

Party Bus

Last week I had the pleasure of attending The Blanks (aka "Ted's band" from TV's Scrubs) concert on campus. The concert was great and very entertaining, but my evening was just getting started as I left the concert. I live off campus and catch a bus to get back home. Well, it was raining fairly hard, which means I was running to the bus stop. I noticed lots of other students running to the bus stop, but figured that they were just getting out of the girls basketball game that night. I made it to the bus stop in time to get onto a bus and even have a seat (a rarity during the post-basketball game bus rush).
Well, to make a long story short, there was a special event going on that night, numerous buses had been chartered to take undergraduate students participating in rush week. I ended up on one of these buses. But I realized this about 15 minutes after we left the bus stop. After I realized something wasn't quite normal about this particular bus ride, I pulled up the gps feature on my phone and my suspicions were confirmed. We were headed west and I needed to go east.
After I asked the driver where we were headed, the other passengers caught on to the fact that I didn't belong- that I wasn't where I wanted to be.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Typing in Stereo?

"Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible." St. Augustine

I don't remember who or when, but I was once told that the current setup of the common keyboard is set up to intentionally slow you down. Maybe I wanted to believe it because I've never been a particularly fast typer. Truthfully, instant messaging chatting improved my speed and accuracy more than any of the exercises I ever had to do in school...but I digress.

I was skeptical of this so I decided to research it. The keyboard setup we're all familiar with is nicknamed the "QWERTY," after the letters on the top left (go ahead, look). After doing some research on the internet, I discovered that the other setup is the "Dvorak" (named after it's creator) and after reading from this site, I learned that it is designed for the one hand/finger typer- it couples commonly used letters closer together to limit the distance traveled to type letters (think of the letters Pat always picks on Wheel of Fortune: RSTLNE). Click here to read what Wikipedia has to say about Dvorak and see how it is setup.

I read somewhere else that in studies QWERTY users could type just as fast as Dvorak users. I guess that means that you should probably just go with what you're used to. But I wonder, how much do I do that makes things harder for me? How often can I "not get out of my own way"? How often do we, as Christians, do that? Search for a way to simplify and increase the effectiveness of what you're doing.