Thursday, August 22, 2013

Go For Launch

My son's newest favorite joke: "When do astronauts eat? Launch time!" (Just don't let him know you've heard the punch line if he comes up and asks, "do you want to do jokes?")

The countdown to launch is an exciting time. Thanks to the Internet you can listen in when launches are broadcast by NASA television or streamed by Spaceflight Now. You can hear the launch director ask each person responsible for a part of the launch, or a function of the launch vehicle, if they are a "go/no-go" to go ahead with the launch.

"Weather" "Go"
"Flight software" "Go"
"Fuel" "Go"

And my favorite from The Simpsons: "Make rocket go now!"

(For an idea of how intense and involved this is, check out the countdown for a Space Shuttle launch. And that list is only a summary; a lot more goes on behind the scenes.) The countdown may be exciting to those watching or listening in. It is exciting for the lay-person. But I guarantee you it is stressful for those involved. Months, if not years, of preparation have come to fruition. And even the best preparation does not completely eliminate the risk of the entire thing blowing up.

I mentioned before that I'm working on small group curriculum for my church. Well my countdown is now at t-minus two weeks and counting. Am I ready? Are you kidding? There is so much to do between now and "launch" that it is hard for me to picture how we're ever going to get there. Thankfully, I have a group of great people who have been working very hard to make sure the details all fall into place.

If you have a small group campaign or a curriculum launch, please pray for those preparing it. They need to seek the best way to launch the small groups, make sure they cover the essentials, take the proper steps, and prayerfully figure out the secret to being successful. (and as helpful as all these links are, I'm not really doing any of these- at least not in any traditional sense)

So to say the least, I'll be pretty tied up the next couple of weeks. Not to mention it's my "busy season" at work which means I haven't had the down-time I usually have during the day to work on this like I would normally. And I still have a lot of irons in the fire.

In the meantime, here are a couple important announcements. First, the Antelope Valley Christian Writers' Conference has been cancelled. While that takes some burden off my shoulders it is bittersweet. I am friends with the person who organizes this and I know how much hard work he's put into it. Second, I haven't been as active in social media as I would like. One reason is the busyness of work, but the main reason is that I haven't updated my phone in pretty much forever so none of my mobile Twitter clients work. What also doesn't help with respect to this blog, is that StumbledUpon no longer supports link-shrinking with, so I've been using HootSuite. I like that platform a lot, but I don't like its interface on my phone. Oh well, beggars can't be choosers. Regardless, this post needs updating when I'm finally back up and running fully.

Given all that, you won't see any posts here for a while and you might not see me around on social media (but I'll still be posting links on my Facebook page!). Please pray for my "launch" and I'll be back in the swing of things before you know it.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What Will People Remember?

I remember as a kid debating his "worth" with a friend. We were trading baseball cards and I needed his to complete my All Stars. But he wouldn't give it up. "He's the best hitter in the game, and one of the best all-time." I didn't believe it. I'm a National League guy myself, so the best hitter in the game was obviously Tony Gwynn. And as far as all-time? At that age, my knowledge began and ended with Ted Williams. So of course I figured fair value was one of my "doubles" like Jerry Hairston Sr. (respect the specs!)

But the numbers don't lie. One of only four players to have hit 300 home runs, 3000 hits and hit for .300 average (Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Stan Musial being the others). He's a Hall-of-Famer. He is the only player to have won batting titles (for best average) in three decades, and his best season is the closest anyone has come to .400 since Williams did it in 1941.

With that last one, if you're a baseball fan you've figured out who I'm talking about- George Brett.

For the die-hard baseball fan, stats mean everything. They offer comparisons across generations and eras (no, I won't get into steroids here) which means you can say George Brett and Ted Williams in the same sentence. (Or even George Brett and Hank Aaron, but that feels weird)

But ask a casual baseball fan about the legacy of George Brett and they are likely to remember this:

This happened 30 years ago; an outburst memorialized with an anniversary. I don't even have to play the video. I've seen it so many times I know exactly how Brett looks as he storms out of the dugout. I know, because I see that face in the mirror sometimes. And sometimes I see it in my son.

I showed this video to my son not long ago after one of his epic temper tantrums. I told him, "here is one of the best players to ever play baseball, but all most people remember is this." I continued with the fatherly pep-talk of he can be anything he wants to be in life, do anything he wants to do, but if he can't control himself none of that will matter. All anyone will remember about him are his outbursts.

I think he took the lesson well. Of course, I don't set a good example. My temper is probably my greatest vice.

There's a story about a boy who struggles with his temper. His dad tells him to go pound a nail in the fence every time he gets angry, to take out his frustrations there. Over time the son grew tired of pounding nails into the stubborn old wood so one day he approached his father and handed him the hammer. "I'm done," he told him. "Good, now go out and take out all the nails," the father replied. "But dad, the fence will be filled with holes!" His father then explained how that's what anger does. And no matter how much you try to fix it, it does damage that can not be so easily repaired. Anger leaves holes.

Yes, this lesson was for my son. But it was just as much for me.

"In your anger do not sin." (Ephesians 4:26)

Monday, August 12, 2013

When We Love the Least of These

A little over a year ago I was part of a book club reading Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis, which documents her time in Uganda eventually adopting many of the kids she went to care for. I was reminded of her when I first heard the story behind the award-winning Documentary Blood Brother. Similarly, this documentary tells the story of Rocky Braat who went to an orphanage in India for a "short term" missions trip to find himself and found much more instead.

This story is compelling enough but Braat's friend, filmmaker Steve Hoover didn't stop there and has made a new documentary, Gennadiy about a priest in the Ukraine who "rescues" homeless kids from the streets. I put rescued in quotes because his methods are unorthodox to say the least. Hoover is currently running a Kickstarter campaign that concludes tomorrow.
So this is supposed to be a "music Monday" post, so I added the video for Audio Adrenaline's song, Kings and Queens. As a parent, seeing children suffer tears at my heart but as a Christian, seeing people like Katie Davis, Rocky Braat, Fr Gennadiy, and the Hands and Feet Project from Audio Adrenaline encourage me that there is hope out there.

Without further ado, here are some videos. Grab a tissue.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Daily Worship

As some of you know, I've been busily writing small group curriculum for my church with a group of very talented people. Besides the usual lesson + discussion material, we are also adding daily devotional and weekly accountability topics. During our last meeting this raised an intriguing question- what is the difference between a devotional, "quiet time", and personal study. The worry was people committing to the daily material if they are already dedicated to a personal study.

So what do you think, what is the difference between these three acts of personal worship?

We concluded that you can tell a lot by the name. A quiet time is just that- a time to withdraw to a quiet place (Luke 5:16) dedicating that time to God. There is no script, no manual for what this looks like. I know some people who write poems during this time. Some will hide away in a prayer closet to be free from distractions. Others will sing praises to God. The goal here is a quiet, secluded recharge of your soul. In physical terms, think of rest. (My newest blogger-buddy, Rick Dawson has a great series on this very thing that is worth checking out)

A devotional likewise is self-explanatory. This is not necessarily a time, but rather a topic this is "devoted" to the Lord. Devotionals are short and simple by nature. You can buy daily or weekly devotionals at any Christian bookstore. You can even get daily Bible verse/deep thought calendars. The goal of the devotional to feed your soul; water the soil, if you will.

Which brings us to personal study. There is not a one-size-fits-all description. Some prefer depth, others breadth. Some people will do a word-study on a particular issue of need (purity, boldness, the promises of God). Still others will dig into the original Greek or Hebrew of a specific passage. This is not necessarily daily, but it can be. But it requires more significant time and focus than the other two. This is like eating a full meal, versus drinking milk. Or rather than just watering the soil, this is applying fertilizer.

It is important to note these distinctions. When I was a "baby Christian" I was taught how to have a catch-all quiet time: spend x number of minutes in Bible study (a chapter a day in the Gospels was always recommended as a good place to start) plus y number of minutes in prayer, usually following the "ACTS" outline.

And that was it.

More depth of study (referencing the nobility of the Bereans) and instructions on prayer (considering Jesus' own personal instruction to his disciples) were talked about and implicitly encouraged, but we were expected to figure these things out and mature on our own.

This hurt me spiritually. I soon outgrew the basics of the quiet time and started delving more into personal study. But in doing so, I lost out in my devotional and prayer life. While I've recovered to some degree the discipline of devotion (thank you daily devotionals from YouVersion!) I still struggle with growing in my prayer life as I mentioned in my sermon last week.

But I now see that just like I can't eat the same thing every day for lunch (even though I do), I cannot feed myself spiritually the same way all the time and still walk away satisfied. My meal plan needs diversification and it needs a balanced diet.

What about you? What method of personal worship do you prefer or trend to most? Is there one area you particularly struggle in?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Day in the Life

The following are notes from my sermon last week titled "A Day In the Life". You can listen to it here.

A Day in the Life- from our series of Beatle’s tunes called “Get Back”. I used the song as a springboard for discussion and as the outline for my lesson using Acts 3 as my narrative.

From the song, “Got up, got out of bed, ran a comb across my head…” Are our lives really that different? We all have the same routine: get up, get ready, do what we have to do, come back, go to bed, start over. Our lives fundamentally all look the same. So how do we live a life that stands out, that makes a difference? What does a day in the life of a disciple of Jesus look like?

The song begins with the verse, “I read the news today, oh boy…” The first point is “I read the news today… oh, boy”

-what is our reaction to the news today? Do we get depressed, angry, stressed out?

-Francis Chan “Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives. Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace towards others, or our tight grip of control. Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s ok to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional.”

-Just a couple months before what we read in Acts 3, the disciples witnessed Jesus arrested, beaten, and killed. In fear they locked themselves away, unsure of what was going to happen next. But Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them, giving them confidence to face the world.

--Where do we get our confidence from? -Our response to the news in the world needs to be prayer

--Acts 3 begins with Peter and John going to the temple to pray

--I’m not a prayer warrior. I’m challenged by this quote from Martin Luther, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”

---The “epic quiet time” is an intimidating thought. Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves to pray. So here’s a tip- pray three times a day for 10 minutes each:

1) In the morning, praying for the day ahead
2) At midday, praying for the here and now
3) At the end of the day, giving thanks for the day that was

-Which is exactly what Peter and John were doing in Acts 3:1. Jews in Jerusalem would go to the temple three times a day to pray: 9 in the morning (see Acts 2), midday, and 3 in the afternoon (or evening in other examples)

-Psalm 55:17 “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.”

-If we can get in that habit, it’s not too much of a leap to “pray continually” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

--rejoice, pray, give thanks / morning, noon, night / three prayers

The middle section of the song begins, “got up, got out of bed…”. The second point is Got Up and Got Out

-we are not called to live a monastic, cloistered life isolated from the rest of the world. The disciples didn’t- they went out. The end of Acts 2 mentions that they spent every day in the Temple courts.

-Acts 3:2-8

--this was their regular routine. We know they went three times a day. We know from chapter 2 that they went every day. We also know from chapter 1 that they lived together. So you have to figure they went the same way, the same time, seeing the same people. The man they met was also there every day and we read later that everyone recognized him. So you have to wonder, how many times did Peter and John pass him by?

-We pass by needs every day. It is hard to break out of our routines to take notice the people we see every day. What a difference it would make to take the time to get to know the cashier that always serves you at the bank, the checker you always see at the grocery store, the beggar you see every day at the same intersection.

--“silver and gold I do not have…” It is easier to throw money at someone’s problem than it is to take the time to get to know them and their need. To quote Gustavo Gutierrez “So you say you love the poor? Name them”

-Peter and John knew that giving this man change would not bring about change. So they offered something that would have eternal impact: “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth…”

--It is Jesus’ name, not our efforts, that has power (v 16). John Stott writes about this verse, “The power is Christ, but the hand was Peter’s.” It takes both. Jesus needs us to be his hands and feet, but we need His power to have a lasting impact (and not get stressed out by relying on our own power).

-Peter and John went about their daily routine, acting in Jesus’ name. Brennan Manning writes, “God is calling each and every Christian to personally participate in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.” And later, “Jesus said the world is going to recognize you as His by only one sign: the way you are with one another on the street every day.”

-Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that “whatever you do, do for the Glory of God.”. A.W. Tozer writes about this verse, “Paul’s exhortation to do all to the glory of God is more than pious idealism... It opens before us the possibility of making every act of our lives contribute to the glory of God.”

-every day, every act

--so as you go about your daily routine, ask yourself what you are doing in Jesus’ name for the glory of God. As you get up and get out, consider that there are no small moments, no insignificant actions, and that everything is an opportunity to make a difference in Jesus’ name.

--If you’re afraid, remember Peter who sunk while walking with Jesus on water because of a little wind. Who assured Jesus he would stick by him but gave in to peer pressure and denied him three times. But this same Peter saw the resurrected Christ and “received a spirit of boldness.” Because of this, he would draw a crowd.

The third point plays off the lyrics but mixes it up a little: I Made the News Today, Oh Boy

-When we live our lives in Jesus’ name, people will notice. What do you do then?

--1 Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts, revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

--if you’re living your life in Jesus’ name, you need to be prepared to explain why. Why do you make the choices you do? Why do you have the hope that you have?

-Acts 3:12-end

--Peter used this opportunity to share his faith. He was able to share about Jesus because he knew Jesus. He was able to share about the Old Testament promises because he knew them. We cannot share what we do not know.

-how is your Bible study? Can you honestly say that you “know” Jesus? Do you spend time with him, getting to know him, sharing everything with him? Do you know the foundations of your faith so that you can “share your faith” with others?

-if we skip to Acts 4:4 we read that their number grew to 5000. So let’s talk about “sharing our faith”

-imagine Peter and John saying to this man, “silver and gold I do not have, but here’s an invitation for church” or Peter saying to the crowd that gathered, “if you think this was great, come back Sunday at 10:00 and see what we’ll do then!”

--no, Peter shared right then, right there, about Jesus. He didn’t wait- he shared what he knew. He shared about Jesus because it was in His name that this man was healed. It was in His name that Peter and John lived their lives. And it made an impact. When we share our faith, it needs to be more than just an invitation to church, we need to literally share our faith. Who is Jesus to you, what has he done in your life, what is he doing now? Be prepared to give an answer.

-one day, one act, one diversion from their regular routine changed this man’s life forever and saved the souls of 2000 men.

-A.W. Tozer: “Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. The motive is everything. Let a man sanctify the Lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act.” There is no common act when you live your life for the glory of God in the name of Jesus.

What makes A Day In The Life so recognizable is how it ends. An orchestra builds what is called a glissando, building up to a crescendo. Note after note, louder and louder, higher and higher; our lives, if we are living in Jesus’ name are building towards something great. Then unexpectedly John, Paul, George, Ringo pound on pianos in the climax of the song. That last note lasts 42 seconds. What we build will last for eternity.

If we live a day in the life a disciple, in prayer, in action, and in the word.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Short Drive For Forgiveness

I remember when the news came out. It was the turn of the century, a new millennium, a jubilee year for the church. To celebrate, Pope John Paul II declared that Catholics could earn an indulgence by taking a pilgrimage to a [long] short list of churches or holy sites. Conveniently for me, one of those churches was the Diocese of Denver.

It was just a few years earlier that JP2 (as we affectionately called him) visited Denver for World Youth Day- the same event Pope Francis I is currently celebrating in Brazil. Yesterday's headline was how his convoy made a wrong turn and got caught in a throng of pilgrims and revelers. If you're not Catholic, it is hard to describe the celebrity status of the Pontiff- but seeing all those people crowding themselves closer to the non-popemobile is worth more than my words.

I was one of them nearly two decades ago. I remember being shooed away by Secret Service as my friends and I got a little too close to the helicopter landing site at Mile High Stadium and later allowing some nuns a better view (right next to a barricade) of the Pope's convoy on his way to mass at Cherry Creek Park.

All that to say, I get it. But back to 2000 I was faced with a dilemma. I had stopped attending the Catholic church, so I wasn't technically in the "good graces" required to receive the indulgence- a remission of the "temporal penalty" of my sin. At the same time, I had spent the previous two to three months studying the Bible and coming to my own convictions regarding the forgiveness of sins. So I had a choice to make, take a short convenient drive to downtown for a temporary fix to my sinful nature without changing my lifestyle, or actually repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of my sins (Acts 2:38).

I'll leave you guessing which I chose.

At home I have an old Catholic Bible. In the inside cover are a list of indulgences from Pope Pius XII based on the frequency with which one read it. When I open that Bible and look at those I scratch my head, wondering how that doctrine survived the Protestant Reformation. I figure many others felt the same way when they saw last week's headline "Pope forgives Twitter followers". The news resonated, even if it got the theology all mixed up.

I'll leave it to others to recap the subject and correct the doctrine. Meanwhile, maybe you should follow Pope Francis on Twitter to cover all your bases. (or just trust the atoning blood of Jesus instead)


Monday, July 22, 2013

Redemption in the Desert

The need for redemption is a universal theme. In music this can be expressed lyrically, but since the dawn of a relatively new medium- the music video, it can also be expressed aesthetically. (did you know that 40% of all YouTube views are of music videos?)

These two songs have nothing to do with one another, other than this common theme found in their videos. That, and they're both really cool songs.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Some of My Best Friends Are Worship Leaders

A good friend of mine got married last weekend. At his groom honoring, his best man showed a video slideshow of some of his favorite memories with this brother. Based on the pictures, the groom looked like a pretty fun guy.

Of course I already knew this- he was a worship leader.

I wasn't in any of the pictures. The narcissist in me always feels insecure at times like these- doubting the depth and value of our friendship- but the reality was that I lived an hour and a half away. As I was watching his pictures- fooling around with mixed martial arts, out on the shooting range, cooking dinner with his buds- I was content to admit that that's just not me. Does that make me less of a friend? Of course not! But the context of our friendship is different. While the friends in these pictures stood beside him on his wedding day, I was behind the scenes as his wedding coordinator. (I need to be reminded sometimes that I "have the gift of administration" and I fail badly when I try and be something I'm not)

There are different kinds of friends: the goof-offs, the memory-makers, the initiators, the deep all-night talkers; then there are the rocks, those friends who will always be there in any time and any circumstance. I'm embarrassed not to be the former, but I recognize the need for the latter.

When I got married, I told my wife that I was like a faithful old dog- she won't be able to get rid of me, I'll follow wherever she goes, and I smell and drool. I think I'm pretty boring; she tells me she was attracted to me because I'm interesting. My daughter thinks I'm funny. I think both are lying to make me feel better (just kidding, I just struggle to see myself that way).

So some of my best friends are worship leaders. I need those friends- the outgoing, the flamboyant, the risk-takers. At the same time they need me- the introvert, the faithful, the reliable.

How would you describe your style of friendship?
Are you comfortable in that role?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I'm Full of It

The Apostle Paul admonishes us in his letter to the Ephesians to "be filled with the Spirit." (v 5:18).

What, you thought "it" was something else?

The "it" in the title is usually related to something that rhymes and smells. We say it about someone when they are talking nonsense or we think they are lying.

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31)

I don't see a lot of nonsense there, but the disciples were definitely full of it.

In Mark 4, Jesus gives us the "Parable of the Sower" (title in the NIV); a story about four seeds that are planted in the ground (so not really about the sower at all): one falls on the path and is eaten by birds, one falls on rocky soil and cannot establish a root, one falls among weeds and thorns and gets choked out, and one falls on good soil and produces a harvest 30-100 times larger. (v 3-8)

When the disciples approached Jesus confused, Jesus explained that the seed is the word of God. The first seed is snatched by Satan before it can take root. The second seed is planted in shallow hearts and cannot survive dry spells. The third seed gets choked out by the worries and distractions of the world. But the fourth seed is planted in good hearts and produces fruit. (v 13-20)

The seed is the same. The only difference is the soil.

We can take a couple of religious extremes when it comes to the saplings produced by the seed. On one hand, we can rejoice for even the smallest leaf even if it will soon wither and die, counting it as "fruit" by adding it to our church rolls and counting towards our attendance. On the other extreme, we can judge the saplings that don't survive as if something is wrong with them.

Both are obviously wrong. The young sapling didn't choose where it would be planted- it is the product of its environment. There is no such thing as a bad seed. And both extremes fail to do anything to help that young sapling.

Who will pull the weeds and cut back the thorns in a Christian's life to help him or her grow strong? Who will till and break up the hard soil so that the Word of God can establish deep roots that can survive any draught?

Like I said, I'm full of it. Sometimes "it" smells. You know what "it" is? Fertilizer.

I look at the role I play in my church family as "the guy who spreads the fertilizer". I focus on teaching- spreading "it" around in marriages, parenting, friendships, hermeneutics, theology, and on and on. My heart aches for the shallow roots, fearful of the day when the sun beats them down. So I keep "laying it on thick".

Paul told the Corinthian church that he plants seed while Apollos waters it. (1 Corinthians 3:6-9) Some of us are planters, some are waterers. Some are even weed whackers. And some of us smell like fertilizer.

(I ask for your continued prayers as my teaching ministry is beginning to take off at my church. If you don't see many updates here it is because I'm busy writing small group curriculum. And please pray for this bit of exciting news- I've been asked to preach a couple Sundays from now. Please pray that I don't stink up the joint too much!)

Monday, July 08, 2013


When I share songs on my "Music Monday" series, it is usually to call us to think more deeply about a song's meaning- asking what hits us deep down when listening to it, and what lessons can we apply to our daily lives. It is one thing to have a favorite song that you love to listen to, but what does it mean to you? We get in the habit of driving around with the radio blaring and it so easily becomes nothing more than background noise. We often don't slow down to actually listen to what the song may be singing directly to our soul.

And this includes secular music. We need to recognize that the people we reach out to, those who are in need of the Gospel message, have worldviews shaped by their media- music, television, the internet. So when I share a song like last week's, we need to consider the perspective of the singer/songwriter and think about how others may also relate.

Like last week's "Good Man", this song is another favorite of mine and expresses the need for redemption. It is a song about our personal demons. And the video reminds us that we all have our demons that we hide. But because of the Gospel of Jesus, those demons do not have to define who we are.

(as a complete aside, the advertisement that played for me prior to the YouTube video was a Chevrolet ad with John Legend singing "Made to Love". Right when he sings "there must be a God because I saw you" the commercial zooms right in to a Chevy cruising down the street. Like I said, our worldviews are shaped by media- and we are always being sold something.)

Thursday, July 04, 2013

A Better Country

I pick up my Chai Tea and take in my surroundings. At one table is a Filipino couple drinking coffee and working on their computers. A young Persian girl is talking on the phone over in the corner. And I am just about to sit down with two of my best friends- a refugee from El Salvador and an African American from North Carolina. All of us in a Starbucks at the corner of a shopping center with a Mexican supermarket as its anchor.

I turn on the news and see a democratically-elected president toppled only one year after his election by a military coup while his allies are being thrown in prison and dozens are killed. Meanwhile at home our elected representatives have the lowest approval rating of any organization ever polled by Gallup yet no blood is spilled.

Our country has been called a "melting pot" and our government the "grand experiment". Depending on your political leanings and who is in office you might have a few more colorful adjectives to describe your temporary home. Maybe a "melting experiment" might fit. You might not like the current administration or you may be celebrating the recent decisions by the Supreme Court. Either way, you and I can sit down and have coffee together without risk of physical harm, imprisonment, or political retaliation.

And Sunday, in an environment when many political decisions appear to be counter to the Bible I read and follow, we can still come together and worship in freedom.

American Stock/Getty Images

We live in a pretty neat place.

But this place is not my home.

I love Hebrews 11, often called the "Hall of Fame of Faith". While the stories of Biblical heroes are inspiring, it is their motivation that always moves me. Describing Abraham the author of Hebrews writes, "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God." (v 10). Of Moses he writes, "He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time." (v 25)

Their motivation was not in the here and now. They were looking forward to something more, something better. "All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own... [T]hey were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." (v 13-14, 15-16)

As you celebrate our country today (assuming you're reading this in the US) I urge you to long for a better country- a heavenly one. I pray that together we long and strive for a Kingdom with Jesus himself as priest and king, independent of any political party or movement. And I ask that you remember that this is not our home.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Good Man

I wasn't planning on sticking with hard rock with this week's Music Monday post, but then I heard this song which became a new favorite even before checking out the lyrics. I'm not familiar with the band Devour the Day or their predecessor Egypt Central. But this song definitely makes me want to explore their back catalogue.

I could nit-pick theology like I have in my last two posts, but these guys don't claim to be a Christian band so I'm not going to hold them to the same standard. (although I do sense a bit of Paul in Romans 7 here, and I they ask the question we need to be prepared to answer "am I worth forgiveness?")

Without getting any deeper, I recommend just turning it up and rocking on. \m/

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Attention Subscribers!

(all three of you)

Have you ever blinked and an entire month has gone by? I completely missed June. I know it happened- Father's Day, my mom came to visit, the kids got out of school; but I'm pretty sure we just celebrated Easter.

Anyway, the end of June brings the end of Google Reader. I've been meaning to post an update on this, but like I said June flew by and the end of the month caught me by surprise as well.

What this means for you

From my rough tracking, a majority of my subscribers follow me through Network Blogs and/or Google Friend Connect (used to be networked users on Blogger) so this won't affect you. The RSS feed (if you use it) should still work as it gives you multiple options besides Google Reader.

But if you use Google Reader to follow my blog then you need to find a replacement ASAP.
I just imported my subscriptions over to Feedly (there's a helpful automatic import button that will do this automatically for you) but I haven't used it enough to say one way or another whether I like it. It is the number one recommended replacement it seems, so there's that.

Because I rely on my iPhone/iPad for remote reading I was also able to import my subscriptions into Pulse and Flipboard; both are good for different reasons. (See my post on Social Media for why I use what)

I wish I could be more helpful, but I'm navigating through this as well. I'm not 100% sold on Feedly, but Flipboard and Pulse are working pretty well. (Although I haven't tried to add any subscriptions to either since importing my Google Reader subs)

More Tips

For other tips, here are a couple of links for you. I thought I had more bookmarked from when Google made this announcement, but I guess not.
Sorry for the late notice. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

God's Architect

Did you check out yesterday's Google doodle celebrating the 161st birthday of Antoni Gaudi? To be honest I had never heard the name so I clicked out of curiosity. And I was completely blown away.

Once upon a time I was into architecture and considered that as a career field prior to college, so reading about Antoni, dubbed "God's architect", had be glued to my screen. His masterpiece, if you're not familiar, is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This basilica (anointed such in 2010; not technically a cathedral since a Catholic bishop does not serve there) began construction one hundred and thirty years ago and still isn't finished. In fact, it isn't expected to be finished for several more years. Despite being commissioned in 1882, the Sagrada Familia did not celebrate its first mass until its dedication by Pope Benedict three years ago.

I encourage you to check out this profile from the Christian Science Monitor that came up when you'd click on the doodle. Included is an embedded video from 60 Minutes about Gaudi and the basilica that includes such tidbits as the fact that the highest spire is 3 feet shorter than the nearest mountain because Gaudi didn't want to upstage God.

What is fascinating about this story is how this one man was so dedicated to a single project all with the intent of glorifying God. This building became his life's work and his legacy. And since he knew it was so complicated, so grand, that it could not be completed in his lifetime, he built many scale models so that others could complete his work.

About those others: three generations of one family has carried on the legacy; a young architect never returned home after visiting it while touring Europe; a Japanese sculptor converted to Catholicism while working on this project. There is just something captivating about this place and now I feel I must someday visit.

Gaudi wrote, "A church is the only thing worthy of representing the feelings of a people,
for religion is the highest thing in people." His design is intended to tell the two-thousand year history of the church in a single building. In a culture where we spend millions on churches as monuments to ourselves, such a purpose is inspiring and refreshing.

Was Gaudi Crazy? Maybe. But I think about the Universal Church. While not a physical construction project, we have been works-in-progress since Jesus himself walked this earth. So much today is made of being like the First Century Church that we forget they too were imperfect. God has been refining us, sculpting us, for two millennia. And we're still not finished.

Paul described the church as being "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:20) He writes elsewhere,

"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple."
(1 Corinthians 3:10-19)

Our construction is incomplete. You and I are each individual spires in God's temple, reaching up towards heaven. Reflecting on Antoni Gaudi's life work, I wonder what it is I am building?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Be Somebody

Last week I nit-picked some lyrics from Skillet's song, 'American Noise'. To stick with Christian hard rock, I'm going to pick on Thousand Foot Krutch this time. Just as I really like 'American Noise', I'm also a huge fan of 'Be Somebody'. However, this one lyric always gets under my skin whenever I hear it.

In the song, TFK describes their redemptive relationship with God through the lens of their own insecurity and immaturity. It's a great song as it speaks to a need we all have- to be somebody- and acknowledging that we can really only "be somebody" in Christ.

But there's one lyric where I think they have the relationship between them and God backwards. They sing, "I'm just the words you are the sound." Short line; like I said I'm nit-picking for the sake of discussion. But when we consider that "In the beginning was the Word..." (John 1:1) regarding Jesus and Paul writing that "All scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16) it seems to me like a glaring mistake, especially since it wouldn't change the flow of the song to simply switch roles: "You are the words, I'm just the sound." I believe this is closer to the truth and is how I try to live my life- I'm just noise, but God gives my noise purpose through the Word.

That aside, this is a powerful song. A song of hope and encouragement. Consider these lines:

I'm just a boy inside a man...
I'm just a speck inside your hand,
You came and made me who I am...
So when they say they don't believe,
I hope that they see you in me...
We all want to be somebody...

Now watch the video:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Unanswered Prayer

Jesus taught his disciples that if they believed a mountain could throw itself into the sea, if they prayed for it, it would happen. "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11:22)

I wonder how many cancer patients believe that God can and will heal them only for it not to happen? Or from a more worldly perspective, who here hasn't prayed for some level of success only to have victory elude you? (I pray to win the lottery all the time, but I haven't yet. Of course, it might help if I buy a ticket)

So there must be some fine print in there somewhere.

We can imagine Jesus, agonizing at the garden, praying that "this cup [would] be taken from [him]." (Matthew 26:39) Here was the Son of God, who taught his disciples how to pray, asking God for something fully believing God could answer that prayer. But he added this caveat, "yet not as I will, but as you will."

God's will is like a "get out of jail free" card for prayer. God doesn't answer your prayer? Not God's will. Things aren't going your way? Must be God's will.

Tell that to everyone in Colorado or Oklahoma who recently lost their homes.

Needless to say, citing God's will can be unsatisfactory for some. So we need to dig a little deeper. Why isn't it God's will? What else does he have planned? We answer those questions by saying God is refining our faith, or there is something he wants us to learn, or there is something better out there than what we are praying for. The last one is clear in Jesus' case. The cross was a better outcome for humanity, if not necessarily for Jesus, than any other alternative.

Remember the country song "Unanswered Prayers" by Garth Brooks? He sings, "Some of God's greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers." In the song he reflects on a girl he like that he prayed would like him back. But then he looks at his family, and recognizes that if God had answered that prayer he wouldn't have the blessing he has now.

We can all relate.

So let's look again at Jesus. In John 17, we read about three of Jesus' prayers.
  • The first, for Christ to be glorified for finishing the work God gave him to do. (v 1-5) I think we can all agree that God answered that prayer. Two thousand years after the cross, we still praise Jesus' name.
  • The second prayer was for the disciples, that they should remain faithful to the end as they are sent out to proclaim the Gospel. (v 6-19) History shows us that each of the disciples, with the exception of John who is believed to have died under house arrest, died a martyr's death.
  • The third prayer was for you and me, Christians who would come along later after hearing the word passed down from other Christians. Jesus prayed that we would be unified in our faith. Look around. Has God answered this prayer? (v 20-26)
Again, this is the Son of God. I am sure he believed his prayer would be answered. I seems unlikely that his prayer was outside of God's will. In fact, Jesus prays that we will be unified so that the world will know that God sent him. So it is no coincidence that as we become more and more divided, fewer and fewer believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

 Jesus left this earth with one unanswered prayer. Why? Was it to increase our faith? Is there something we need to learn? Is there a better answer in God's will?

Jesus prayed for unity. I look around and I just don't see it. Maybe Christ's prayer needs to become my own.

Monday, June 17, 2013

American Noise

This song has been stuck in my head for a couple of weeks since hearing it on Air1. After looking up the lyrics, I felt I had to point out some "bad theology" for this Christian hard-rock band.

The hook in the chorus is "drink deep in the morning... see what the day will bring." It sounds like a Scripture reference, no? But the only scripture that could apply to is Proverbs 7:18 and is in reference to a prostitute. Proverbs 7 continues, "My husband is not at home... and will not be home till full moon." In contrast, in this song the verse is sung in hope, a plea to be free from the distractions of "American noise".

Or is it?

Instead could this lyric be ironic, alluring us like the prostitute of Proverbs 7 away from God? Another words, is the chorus the American noise and the verses the lament over its cacophony?

I seldom dissect a song so much, but the lyrics are so catchy and strike a chord with me. Our "American noise" keeps us from living like God intends, becoming lazy in a comfortable brand of Christianity. (If you read my blog very much, you recognize this is a consistent theme.)

Not to mention I'm not much of a Skillet fan, so this song stands out to me that much more.

What do you think of Skillet's new release? What do the lyrics say to you?

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Jesus Award

I consider end-of-year awards for elementary-aged kids to be more akin to participatory ribbons, where every child has the opportunity to feel special for something. "Way to go, Johnny, you didn't send anyone to the hospital this year. You get the most improved bully award!" But when you pray for a child's character, some awards stand out above all the rest.

When we were expecting our firstborn, we prayed for his (or her, we wanted to be surprised) character. We prayed he would be caring and thoughtful, putting others first. We prayed he would be trustworthy and honest, being a light to the world around him. And we prayed that he would be joyful and a loyal friend, the type of kid everyone would want to be around.

Back in kindergarten, my son received the "caring" award. That, in and of itself, doesn't sound that impressive, but it is what he did to earn it that I am most proud of. There was a classmate who broke his arm in the middle of the year. While his cast was on, he wasn't allowed to go out and play during recess (I don't know if that was from the doctor or the parents) so he would spend recess-time reading or coloring in the office. Not wanting his friend to feel alone, my son would give up his recess time to hang out with him. (Of course this had the added benefit of being able to bring toys in that they could play with together. But oftentimes sacrifice can lead to other blessings.)

"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. " (Matthew 23:36)

Yesterday, my son won an "honesty" award. Again, the award itself wasn't nearly as significant as what it was for- he would frequently come to his friends' defense when another classmate would lie to get them in trouble. (And as much as he liked to argue when he was going through that 4-5 transition period, my wife and I would joke that he'll make a great lawyer some day.)

Earlier this week I went with my son on a field trip. Besides getting to spend that extra time with him, I was able to watch him interact with his friends. Driving home I asked him, "so of all your buddies, who would you say is your best friend." His answer surprised me; it was the main troublemaker in class. He continued, "I guess you could say I'm the friend to the bullies." I asked him why and he answered, "well, bullies don't have any friends and everybody needs a friend." Of course I warned him that "bad company corrupts good character" (1 Corinthians 15:33) but I did so with tears welling up in my eyes.

What proud parent doesn't want to boast about their child? But that isn't what this is about. No, my son convicted me and challenged my faith. His character is an answered prayer, I cannot forget that no matter how hard some days may be with him. But his character also challenges me. Am I willing to sacrifice my time- my playtime- for another? Do I stand up for others, valuing truth over friendships? And do I go out of my way to love my enemies the way that Jesus taught?

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said we need to be like little children?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Being Radical Right Where You Are

You can put away the suitcase. You can take your house off the market. You can take a deep breath in relief because you don't have to move to a Third World country in order to be a "radical" Christian. Critics of the best-selling book by David Platt may disagree with me, but as I've reflected on my own life I have seen radical displays of Christianity in unexpectedly normal places.

David Patt recently posted about looking back on Radical, the impact it has had, and the misconceptions it has spawned. I take from his post that in hindsight he would have rather sat down and personally taught through the material with every reader, rather than record it all in a book to be read independently for the reader to draw their own conclusions. I've written about this before in response to one criticism, that you cannot judge an author by the limits of a book's pagecount. But we critique anyway.

The recent swarm of debate was kicked off by a couple of articles. One in Christianity Today and the other in World Magazine; neither were particularly complimentary. And like with anything on the Internet (posts about Mark Driscoll or Rob Bell for example) a single shot fired results in a volley of replies. Here are just a sample from my reading list:
These posts cover the gamut of reaction- from flat rejection to thoughtful consideration of implications, to breaking down the basis for Platt's theology. What these posts show, is that being "radical", or "crazy" to refer to Francis Chan's Crazy Love, or "not a fan" (Kyle Idleman), or "all-in" (Chip Ingram) is that the Christian lifestyle presented by these authors is not as black and white as some critics would lead us to believe.

It is possible to be a radical crazy Christian who is not just a fan of Jesus and who is all-in in their commitment to follow Christ while not fitting in that particular stereotype. You don't have to sell everything you own to be a "good" Christian.

Now let me be clear, Jesus did say "those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples." (Luke 14:33) I don't want to water that down. It is important to have this conviction. But it is just as important to define what "everything" is. Everything is not necessarily material possession; it includes time, energy and emotion; it costs relationships, hopes and dreams; and it is uncomfortable and will set you apart from the rest of the world. But that does not mean moving across the globe to spread the Gospel.

Looking back in my relatively short (read: naive) Christian walk, I have had several opportunities to be "radical". I remember regularly attending Cocaine Anonymous and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for a group of addicts. During that time I held weekly Bible studies in halfway houses. My wife and I ministered to single mothers. I have walked the streets to hand out food to the homeless. I held the hands of someone with AIDS and prayed fervently with tears running down both of our faces.

I don't list these things off to boast but to highlight that you never know where the opportunity to minister to another might arise. None of these were planned. None were expected. In fact every time I've tried to plan something along these lines, I have fallen flat on my face. Ministering to crack addicts was because of a relationship with a friend who needed support during a dark time. Serving single moms came about because of existing relationships. We would have one over for dinner, or watch another's kids while she interviewed for a job, and over time it evolved into so much more. Feeding the homeless has become a family tradition, and it wasn't even my idea! The victim of AIDS saw me in a restaurant studying the Bible with someone else and sought prayer and support.

Each of these were "radical". All of them happened in the course of my everyday life.

I haven't had a radical experience like these in a while. I could be legalistic and beat myself up over that, but I won't. I will instead pray that God opens my eyes to the radical opportunities right in front of me. I know they're there. They are there for you, too. You don't have to travel the globe to find them.

(Addendum: I should add that my examples are by no means exclusive. There are many other means not only to be "radical" but also "missional" in your day-to-day. One of our ministry staff coached his son's soccer team. I know many who frequently have neighbors over for dinner. I use my vanpool as an opportunity to share ministry activities and events. I could go on and on, and still not have to move to India.)

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Irons in the Fire

Have you ever felt like nothing was going on? That you go through your normal routines and nothing seems to change? Then suddenly out of the blue everything seems to happen all at once and you have trouble keeping up. It feels like you have too many irons in the fire.

This happened to me recently. I've been blogging now for a majority of my Christian life. Although I started off with dollar signs in my eyes from the yet-to-be-written bestselling book, my focus has changed considerably. For some time now, I have been more interested in teaching than writing. Not that they are exclusive necessarily, but it's rather the focus of what and why I write.

So to grow in this area I have been debating ministry programs- either degrees or certifications. I've wondered about changing my career, possibly to go into Christian counseling (although I admit, I am incredibly blessed by my job which I enjoy very much and have found success in). After about a year of prayer and internal debate, I enrolled in the online program at the Athens Institute of Ministry. No, I won't be able to put MDiv or DMin next to my name, but I will get certification and quality instruction to grow deeper in my Bible study that hopefully I can pass on to others. I'm almost done with my first class, Old Testament Interpretation and I've been loving it so far.

Another prayer, related to my writing and this blog, is to change my book-writing focus from "Christian Living nonfiction" to specific small group study. Although I had a plan to pursue this intentionally, to actually have a completed project by the end of the year, God had other plans for me. I was recently approached (actually not that recently, but time flies) by my church to develop small group curriculum for our entire congregation. So God answered my prayer, just not in the way I thought. (And if you see the frequency of my posts drop, this will be the main reason why)

To add to all of that, in my time blogging I've picked up a thing or two about online ministry and social media. We've recently started a technology ministry at our church and I sat in on one of the meetings. Naturally, that volunteered myself to help in multiple areas, the latest of which is maintaining my church's Twitter account and test-running our new Church Management Software.

So it's funny. All this happened within a month of each other. Meanwhile at my job, other prayers have been answered. Projects I've been working on for a long time are picking up steam and I'm increasing in my responsibilities. As if I need more on my plate.

To say I have a lot going on would be an understatement. I have a lot of irons in the fire.

So all this to say, thank you for reading and following my blog. I pray that you find my content helpful in your walk with Christ. And I thank God that this platform as opened up the opportunities it has, although not in the way I ever could have envisioned.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Just Another Blog

I mentioned before that I subscribe to 88 other Christian blogs. I am ashamed to admit that since that post (only last week!) I’ve added three more. I don’t expect others to be as interested or to read that much. I barely expect myself to be able to follow everything. But with so many voices online, all with similar interests if dissimilar doctrines, I often wonder if I am adding anything to the conversation.

In other words, if I filled this space with bullets for everything I’ve read (that I think is worth passing on- only a small fraction of content from those 88 sources I share either through my Facebook page or via a RT in Twitter) would what you get out of this site be any different than what you get out of it now? (Assuming of course, that you’re at least getting something from my 600+ posts)

I recently got an e-book to read on my commute (as if I need something else to read!) and was checking out its reviews on Amazon. There were a couple of negative reviews, noting that the content was unoriginal and was derivative of another blogger’s work. Those reviews prompted the response that the works are similar because the two authors run in the same circles (or swim in the same waters if you prefer that metaphor), and it soon became an accusation of this blogger versus that blogger (the 21st Century version of he said she said).

I’ve attended a few writers' conferences and my insecurity going in is always questioning myself whether I have anything worth sharing, a story worth telling. And I always come away with the same encouragement- my story is not your story. Even if we witness the same event, my experience- how I perceived the event and what I took from it- is unique to me. You might tell the same story, but you will tell it differently. And chances are, the people I tell my story to are different than the people you will tell your story to. So there is value in both of our stories, as similar as they may be.

I wonder if the Gospel writers had this same insecurity. Imagine John Mark writing his account of the life of Jesus: “Geeze, no one has ever heard of me and I’m only riding on the coattails of Peter. Maybe someone else should write this, like that Q guy from Star Trek” (kudos if you get the joke) Or what about Matthew: “You know, Mark already got most of this down. I don’t need to add anything. But Mark was missing a lot of Jewish theology and Messianic prophesy, yet I don't want to come across as critical of his work. Not to mention I’m not a writer, I’m a former tax-collector. And it’s clear from what Mark wrote that no one liked me in the first place. Who would read what I have to write?” Or Luke: “Dammit, Theophilus, I’m a doctor not a historian! (two Star Trek references in the same post?) There are already other accounts of Jesus’ life, I don’t need to add to all of that. And who wants to read about what happens after Jesus dies? I mean, that’s pretty much the end of the story isn’t it? I don’t think anyone would really be interested in all the times I was hanging out with Paul. He killed Christians for a living, I’m not sure I want the world to know we’re friends on Facebook.” Or what if John was insecure about his book being so much more radical (pun intended) than the other best-sellers on the shelves?

Can you imagine if these writers remained silent because they felt the story was already told?

So my story may not be unique. My insights may not be that innovative or original. But this is my story, and it's worth being told.

Friday, May 31, 2013

You're Not Alone

April was Autism Awareness Month and May was Mental Illness Awareness Month. It's coincidental they line up because they are only matching letters- Autism could just as easily been covered in August and awareness for Mental illness in March, but alas here we are. The two are linked although when someone mentions "mental health" our thoughts jump straight to depression, schizophrenia or other maladies. Yet the Autism Spectrum (which technically includes Asbergers Syndrom and not as officially includes ADHD and bipolar disorder) deals with many of the same social stigmas, especially at church. So I have done my best to cover both subjects to the best of my ability (and to the limit of my emotional capacity). Of course I cannot cover it all, so here are more posts on the subject.

The news of Matthew Warren's suicide in April prompted many Christian bloggers to offer up their thoughts on mental illness. I think this is too important a subject to be covered by a single post, or even a series of posts. Additionally, everybody has their own personal story of mental illness impacting their lives. So below is a compilation of posts that I've found on the subject. Please feel free to add your own in the comments. (And a huge hat-tip to Adrian Warnock who has continuously posted on this subject throughout the month over at the Patheos blog portal. You'll see many posts from him below.)
The posts that got this started:
On mental health:
On depression:
On medications and treatment:
On suicide:
Other conditions:

I've closed out each of my previous posts with a reminder that if you are struggling through dark times, if you feel alone, if you feel the church has rejected you, to have hope. Some of us do understand. You are not alone. I pray these resources are an encouragement not only to you, but are useful for the Church as a whole to better understand, better relate, and better sympathize with those who are struggling and know of no where else to turn but to Jesus and his bride.

Flashback Friday: Tips for a Faithful College Life

The end of May means graduations for many. I know students with senior-itis have been counting down to this weekend for months. This is a repost from last fall.


[Last September] the teen I’ve been mentoring for the past few years is head[ed] off to college. As a last blast before he left, I put together a series of studies to prepare him for the collegiate life. I based these on personal experience, having been converted in campus ministry and honestly, never wanting to leave. I figure some of you might find this useful.Consider it cramming, spiritually.

Time Management (Ephesians 5:15-16)

College is the first time many are living on their own. You don’t have anyone to hold you accountable for your time. Classes aren’t a set 8:00-3:00 schedule. One of the greatest blessings of college life is time. But like many other blessings, it can also be a curse if you do not manage it well. Success academically and spiritually on campus relies on your ability to manage time.

Homework: build your schedule, including all your classes, meals, and sleep. Don’t forget to plan out your weekends too.Compare with how time is spent now

Sleep (Proverbs 6:9-11)

Review: review your schedule from before. Did you plan for approximately 3 hours of study per hour in the classroom? Did you schedule time to eat, sleep, have a quiet time? When are you going to do your laundry? Even if you have every hour accounted for, things come up. The campus ministry wants to play volleyball on the quad Friday afternoon. There’s an all-night devotional Saturday night. Part of managing your time well is being flexible so that you’re not bit by putting things off until the last minute. I missed a community outreach/devotional one Saturday because I put off doing my homework too long and was behind in one of my classes. It happens.

All-night study crams, the exhaustion of long lectures, and just being on the go 24/7 introduces you to one of the benefits of your flexible schedule in college- the nap. It is an art that must be perfected. Because if not... well if Proverbs 6 didn’t convince you, read Proverbs 24:32-34 a point so important the Bible repeats it.

This scripture became a running joke in my campus ministry. Yes, it’s ok to rest when you need to, but don’t let it become a habit. The afternoon nap takes time away from sharing your faith, serving in the community, studying your Bible, and doing your homework.

Yet rest is critical to success. How many flame-out after the all-nighter? One time when cramming for a final, one of my friends stayed up all night by taking No-Doz (replace with 5 hour energy, Monster, or Red Bull these days). He crashed and slept through the final. When you are well-rested, you are more receptive and you stay healthy.

Homework: if you’re not doing it already (and this assumes school hasn’t started yet), start imitating the same sleep schedule you plan on following at college to get your body used to going to bed and waking up at the same time.

Responsibilities (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Chances are when you go off to college you will be living with strangers, either in dorms or in an apartment or household. Even if you pick your dorm-mate, you will still have to build new relationships with neighbors and classmates. Ideally, your future roommate is another believer, but there are no guarantees. To minimize stress in those relationships, it is important to establish responsibilities in the house, apartment, or dorm. Delegate and assign. Accept responsibilities. Learn to do laundry, wash dishes, make dinner. Share the load. Nobody likes a freeloader. Make sure “each part does its work”

If possible, contact your future roommate in advance and find out who owns what. Who has a microwave, who has a coffeemaker, who has a DVD player. Share, and expect to lose DVDs, break dishes, ruin furniture. It’s part of being young and irresponsible. But you don’t have to be completely irresponsible.

Homework: Make a list of what you’re good at around the house. What is your favorite meal to fix? Are you good at cleaning the sink, but hate cleaning the toilet? List it out, let your roommate know. That way you can work to a middle ground.

Relationships (1 Corinthians 15:33)

College is a great opportunity to meet new people, but be warned that those influences rub off. Never again will you have the same opportunity to stay up late and muse life. I remember studying the Bible with a Wiccan, trying food I’ve never heard of at the multicultural center, being introduced to new music, and so on. While you’re making new friends, keep your closest relationships with those who share your values. It is important to keep an open mind, that is how we learn new things and learn to relate to others, but you need to be on your guard against allowing relationships to define who you are.

Homework: Before you leave, be sure to get the contact information (cell, email) of your closest friends. It is unlikely you're all going to the same place for college. but stay in touch. Facebook, smartphones, Skype, etc make it that much easier to stay in touch.

Prioritize your relationship with God (Psalm 143:8, Mark 1:35)

Make sure you plan consistent time with God.Even though I mentioned before that you will be blessed on campus with free time you never knew you had, that time fills up quickly. Homework, ministry events, just having fun will fill your days. Make sure you keep your relationship with God a priority. Wake up early. Pray. Study your Bible. (Want to know an easy campus evangelism tip? Open up your Bible and read during lunch at the food court of your Student Union. And watch people come to you!)

This also relates back to relationships. You will never be closer to a friend as you will be when you are in the battle together. There's just something about getting together with friends to pray while watching the sun rise that bonds. Funny story, that I admit didn't happen to me: a couple of people in my campus ministry were out early one morning and a cop stopped them because they were acting suspiciously. Seeing people out running before dawn was no big deal. But two people walking back and forth on a sidewalk praying looked funny.

And these times are the ones you'll be able to share when you've grown old and crusty and have your own blog (or whatever they'll have then)!

Make opportunities for evangelism (Luke 10:2, Acts 8:4)

This is a time in people’s lives when they are looking for meaning, for significance. They also have a lot of free time. There will be endless opportunities to share: on the way to/from class, lunch at food courts/student union, dorms, quads, intermurals, etc. Don't turn down the opportunities for the late-night talk, the diversions on you way across campus, and so on.

Also take advantage of on-campus activities and organizations. Those are perfect opportunities to meet new people, try new things, and get more out of your college experience. Activities like student-government, intermurals, community service, and on and on, there is literally something for everybody. (spoken by someone who used to be a campus activities director)

Put Romans 12 into practice

Be transformed, but not conformed by the world. Be humble, exercise your gifts (and discover new ones). Love, rejoice, share, practice hospitality. Endure persecution. Love your enemies.

Remember, you will never have a time in your life such as this. Make every moment count. Cherish the memories you'll make. Make new friends. Try something new. Above all, glorify God in all you do (1 Cor 10:31)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Shelter from the Storm

In 1999 a tornado struck downtown Salt Lake City. It was unprecedented and unpredicted. Yet locals responded almost instantly with disaster relief. The primary reason was credited to the Mormon Church's teachings on preparedness. From the AP: "For decades, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have urged members, which make up about 70 percent of Utah's population, to stockpile a year's supply of food as a hedge against the unexpected. Before survivalism was popular, Utah companies sold food in 40-pound bags, 100-hour candles, and water storage barrels. And the church has a silo filled with 19 million pounds of wheat just in case normal distribution systems break down."

A couple of years ago a wildfire forced several evacuations south of us and a local high school was one of the evacuation centers. That high school was only a mile and half from our church building. it seemed like a perfect opportunity to serve- to deliver food, clothes or blankets or just to be present to provide comfort through prayer. But we did none of that. Why? One, because we weren't prepared and two, because our church facility isn't centrally located in the community no one was physically near to respond.

I don't share this out of disappointment, but rather with the benefit of hindsight to consider what we can learn and what we can do better.

Bobby Ross Jr wrote an article in Christianity Today on the response of faith-based organizations to the tornado that hit Moore, OK. What was fascinating in that post was how different denominations and organizations had their particular niche. You didn't have twenty different organizations all bringing fresh water; some groups specialized in preparing and distributing meals, others in medical care, others in meeting basic needs of clothing and shelter, and still others specializing in grief counseling.

So what lessons can we learn from Salt Lake City and Moore, OK?

  • Don't take on too much.
Obviously it is too much to ask a single congregation, no matter how big or small, to do everything. I like how the groups in the article above knew their strengths and didn't try to grasp beyond their reach. My church and your church need to identify one thing we can excel at and direct our resources there. Is it a food bank? Is it pastoral counseling? Is it manpower to sift through rubble to look for survivors?

  • Have a disaster-plan.
What if an earthquake strikes Sunday morning, do your brothers and sisters know where to go and what to do? If there is a disaster during the middle of the week, does your church leadership know how to reach everyone and is there a centralized meeting location to meet for immediate help? Who is the point-person(s) to contact and coordinate relief?

There are several pieces to this:
  1. Being linked up with the local Red Cross to let them know your church is available for evacuations and registering with the local VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters, mentioned in the CT article above) so that they know you can help and what your resources are on the relief side
  2. Having a current contact list with emergency contacts (out of the area in the case of local disaster) of church members, having specified rendezvous points (because phone lines may be down or jammed with high volume) and having a specific communication plan (who contacts who and how to manage accountability) when it comes to checking on the welfare of the congregation
  3. And having supplies and resources in case of emergency- disaster kits including food and water, medical supplies, and blankets/bedding for those who are hit hardest in your fellowship. Plus it is important to have funds in reserve so that supplies, hotels short-term, or just benevolent hand-outs for those who may have lost homes. (So many churches today operate on a razor thin budget that this may seem impossible, but what would your church do if one or many of its members found themselves homeless due to natural disaster?)
These are just a few tips and are by no means exhaustive. A good article for reference is this article from Leadership Journal.

Yesterday the freeway through town was closed due to a massive sandstorm caused by winds gusting to 60 miles per hour. The winds in Oklahoma reached 200. My house shook. Cars struggled to stay on the road. Yet what we experienced was nothing compared to living in tornado alley. However, we live right on the San Andreas Fault. I joke that when the "big one" hits, we'll have ocean-front property. Yet personally I don't have a 50 gallon drum full of purified water. I don't have gasoline or a generator. I don't have a year's worth of non-perishable food in my pantry. If/when a major earthquake shakes our community, will I be prepared?

And if I'm not prepared how can I expect my church to be?

You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
and a shade from the heat.
(Isaiah 25:4)