Thursday, October 15, 2009

Elevator Speech

During a meeting in my office yesterday, the phone rang. Usually I would ignore it in favor of the people that were sitting in my office, but I was surprised by the name of a colleague on the caller id, so I picked it up.

As it turns out, it was a group of people using another person's phone. One of them told me that they were all chatting about me and "the different personas that [I] have gone through since I have been with the firm." It was a light-hearted conversation about the fact that I wore a black cowboy hat every day for about a year (I really liked that hat, but eventually Tracy gave me an honest assessment of it), that I used to ride a motorcycle (though I never rode it to the office and, unfortunately, did not ride it very often), that I recently have shaved off my facial hair, etc.

At the end of the conversation, one person asked, "What persona are you going for now?"

I didn't know what to say. I attribute it partially to the fact that there were still people in my office listening to half of the conversation and I felt like I needed to get off of the phone. But I also attribute it to the fact that I did not have a ready answer to that question. That second point bothers me. The question is a perfect invitation to talk about what is important to me. To persuade. To direct.

In business, this is similar to the elevator speech. The idea is that you get on an elevator with someone and they ask you something like "What do you do?" You then have thirty seconds, or less, to clearly articulate who you are and how your services or products may help the other person. It is not exactly a sales pitch - that will take you more than thirty seconds. It is just enough to convey the primary points and, hopefully, get you into a situation where the person asks for more information.

I'm not saying that I have the best business elevator speech in the world, but I had never even thought of a personal elevator speech before. What is the thirty second answer to the question? In my prayers almost every day I include a request that God help me to be a living example of a Christian man. To show people, through my words and my actions, what a relationship with Christ means and has done for me. To honor that relationship in the way that I live, and to let that be obvious to others. Yet, when asked "What persona are you going for now?" I didn't know how to answer the question.

I know that I quoted this passage here only a month ago (a different translation), but the whole idea of shifting personas has really drawn me back to this passage:

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

Romans 12:1-2 (Message).

So what is my personal elevator speech? I honestly don't have it all figured out. I am going to be working on it. But after spending some time thinking about it, I know that shifting personas is about culture - fitting in (or consciously not fitting in, particularly in the case of the cowboy hat). My real persona is about being fixed on God and letting Him change me and direct my life. So, like I said, I'm working on my personal elevator speech. The next time that the opportunity presents itself like that, I want to be prepared with an honest answer so that I don't miss that ministry moment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Better Vision

I want to be clear about this from the start - this topic deserves a much better post than I am probably capable of writing right now. Still, though, I find myself sitting in front of my computer now, so here I am.

Last night I had the privilege of attending the release party for the cd Better Vision ( It is a two disc set of Christian music. The first disc is original music by members of Christ Church, my church home. The second disc is original music by other area Christian musicians. The whole event was fantastic - dancing, singing and praising.

The concert involved at least 20 different musicians (I am sure it was more than that, but I cannot really picture them all in my mind right now) who played for two hours. There also was all of the tech crew and support - photographers, videographers, set-up, etc. There were people who were taking care of the technology needed to allow the whole thing to be broadcast on the internet.

In short, it was a major production. People were running and and off stage; in and out; moving instruments; and performing. I can't really estimate crowd size, but it seemed like the worship center was pretty full.

As I mentioned above, this was all to celebrate the release of the Better Vision cd. I read today that they sold over 200 copies of the cd in the first day.

While I may have enjoyed myself, I probably would not be writing about it here except that there is something else that is extraordinary about it. The musicians are not making one cent off of the sales of the cd. Instead, 100% of the proceeds are going to support an organization that is very near and dear to my heart - Hope Africa Ministries, Inc. ( All of the production costs were covered by the musicians themselves and donations.

When some of us talked about forming a non-profit here in the states to partner with our friends in Kenya to help them with their God-given vision for work in Sakwa, we dreamed of partnering with churches and businesses and individuals to raise the necessary funds to move towards the goal. But, this project kind of came out of nowhere. We were contacted by Brian Greene, one of the musicians and the executive producer for the project, and told that the musicians working on the cd really felt called to do something even more then just spreading the Word through their music. They wanted to do that, but they also wanted to use their gifts to directly support Hope Africa. Other than asking for some photos, the logo, and some basic information, they did it all. The incredible music, the inspired copy and the powerful design and layout.

So, while I sat (and stood) and enjoyed myself last night, I was humbled. I was humbled by the work of this group of people. I was humbled by their selfless use of their gifts. I was humbled by the presence of God in the project and in the room. I have never doubted the call that I feel to be a servant of God in and for Sakwa. But last night was a reminder that God can pull people and talents and gifts and energy and excitement from different areas and use them together to serve His purpose.

Sometimes I think I have a good idea of how this whole project in Kenya should turn out. Sometimes I really feel like I have the long range vision. But last night I was reminded, once again, that my vision is not important. I was reminded that it is God's vision that matters. A much, much, much Better Vision.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Forget the Purpose

There are a lot of things going around in my head this evening. Probably several that I could, and perhaps should, write about. But, I'm not there. So, an easier post. [As I re-read the post before actually putting it up, this did not end up being the easy post that I thought it was going to be when I started. I think it drew more out of me than I expected.]

I've written before about worship. What I think it is; the rules that I think apply (or don't); etc. Recently I was reading from the book of Isaiah, and found what it said about the topic to be interesting.

Isaiah was a prophet, and I have read that the New Testament quotes Isaiah more than all of the other prophets combined. Although Isaiah was close to a number of kings, it seems pretty clear that he did not pull any punches. In fact, my brief research indicates that although Isaiah outlasted four kings, the fifth had him killed.

The portion of Isaiah that I am focused on now is 1:10-20. It is too long to quote the entire passage here (I just tried it). If you are reading this, I suggest that you take a second to look it up. In fact, I will go beyond that, go to (or a similar site) and look for the New Living Translation version of the passage. It's ok, I don't mind waiting for you to find it and read it.

Ok, now that we are all on the same page, because I know you looked it up - Wow! Sick of your burnt offerings? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts? Your celebrations are sinful and false? Remember, this is the Old Testament that we are reading. There are pages and pages and pages of the Old Testament that address nothing but the burnt offerings, the incense and the various celebrations. In fact, I think you could read most of the Old Testament and come to conclusion that offerings and gifts and celebrations and rituals is what worship is all about. After all, they are described in very fine detail.

But, I have always thought (ok, I've thought it for as long as I have thought about such things, which honestly isn't that long) that reading the Old Testament in that way is wrong. Sure, there are a lot of rules about the worship practices, but you can't separate them from the point of worship. The best analogy that I can come up with right now is music. Music can certainly be seen and studied as a series of notes, tempos and sound levels to be played by various instruments. But music, of course, is more than that. Its essence is more about expression and emotion and feeling - things that don't really translate well to the sheet music. If you tried to strip all of that away, you would end up with nothing but a complicated set of rules and directions - like you get when you strip the essence of worship from the Old Testament.

This passage from Isaiah really hits me on the head with that and not losing sight of the real point of worship. It screams to me, "Stop focusing on the rules and rituals, focus on the worship! I'm sick of you coming to me out of habit and blindly following a bunch of rules. I'm sick of you acting like you are worshiping, but really just going through the motions! Come to me and mean it. 'Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.' [1:17a]"

Then, amazingly, despite the frustration, "Just listen and obey and I will take care of you. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.' [1:18b] But if you don't, there is nothing to be done for you - 'you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.' [1:20]"

I try hard not to worship for worship's sake. I try not to let myself just go through the motions. I try not to take Communion without thinking about what it means and why I am doing it. I try not to lift up hands in prayer that are covered in the blood of sin. But, sometimes I admit that I probably fall into a routine. This rather pointed reminder about focusing on the purpose of my worship is helpful to me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"No Fair!"

If there is one thing that my kids say over and over it is "No fair!" Or, the slightly longer version, "That's not fair, why does she get to . . . ." They constantly compare what is going on in their life with what they see in the lives of others. Our usual response, when not completely annoyed, is to try to draw them back into their lives. Something along the lines of "Well, maybe their Mom and Dad think it is ok to let their kids (climb on the statues here in the Sculpture Garden) (run around the restaurant like crazy children) (throw things at the animals in the zoo) (you get the idea . . .), but we don't." Of course, sometimes we go with the shorter version, too - "Because I said no!"

I guess, though, it is kind of misleading to suggest that only the kids do it. Sometimes I do it, too. Often, though, when I think like that, it is more value laden. "It's just not fair that that person gets recognition when they didn't really do very much." "It's not fair that they treat people so poorly and still get treated so well." "It's not fair that they do not have to work as many hours and they still make that much money." Whatever it is. Sometimes I just don't think that people get what they deserve. And, of course, implicit in that is the idea that I am getting something less than I deserve.

Recently, I have been reading the book of Job. Most people are familiar with the general facts. I apologize in advance for this very simplistic overview, I recognize that this summary does not really do justice to the Book. Job has been incredibly good - he is described as "blameless and upright." Job 1:1 (NIV) He leads a good life and gives praise to God. Satan gets into a discussion with God and basically says something along the lines of - of course Job loves you, look at everything you have done for him. If you take everything away, he will curse you. God allows Satan to take away everything Job has, and inflict him with illness, but not kill him. During the period that Job has nothing and has gone off by himself, he is visited by friends who essentially tell him multiple versions of "you must have done something wrong." Job argues with them and cries out about his unfair treatment. Ultimately, God himself comes and rebukes them all. Job does not curse God to His face as Satan had predicted, instead he essentially apologizes for questioning and repents. God makes him "prosperous again" and gives him "twice as much as he had before." Job 42:10 (NIV)

What caught my attention related to the topic of this post, though, is not the general theme of the Book of Job. Rather, I have read and re-read one of the things said to Job by Elihu. Elihu is not one of Job's three friends, but someone that had been listening to them speak with him. The Bible tells us that he is younger than the three friends and, it seems out of respect, he waits for them to stop talking before he virtually explodes with anger and launches into a long speech. His role, the themes of his speech and how he fits into the entire Book can be much discussed and debated. But, I am grabbing on to two verses. Elihu says:

"God is leading you away from danger, Job, to a place free from distress. He is setting your table with the best food. But you are obsessed with whether the godless will be judged. Don't worry, judgment and justice will be upheld."

Job 36:16-17 (NLT)

Go ahead and read it again - more slowly than the first time. Tell me that you didn't say to yourself - "wow, that is me." The only way to make this more directly apply to me is to insert Tony where it says Job. I am certainly guilty of looking past what God is doing for me and how He is caring for me and focusing on whether I think other people are getting away with something. WHO CARES?!? I know that "judgment and justice will be upheld." I also know that I don't have perfect knowledge of the situations. Still, though, as I admitted above, I find myself thinking those kind of thoughts.

I've been using this passage to try to change my outlook. To try to look at the food that God is putting before me and the places that He is leading me. I can't honestly say that I have been 100% successful, but I think it has been a good exercise. I encourage you to give it a try. Stop being obsessed with how others will be treated. Stop comparing and making a judgment that what you are getting is not fair.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is it Hope?

I should probably preface this post by saying that I have a great relationship with my Pastor. We have been to Kenya together twice, experienced a lot of things together, and have talked about auditioning to be a team on The Amazing Race. So, if he reads this, he will not be at all surprised that I do not 100% agree with him on something.

A few weeks ago, the Senior Pastor at our church sent out a kind of midweek encouragement. In it he wrote about a local crime that had generated a lot of attention and excitement in the area (particularly for his family since apparently the perpetrator, who was on the run, came running through their back yard). He used that as a springboard to reflect that he believes that the root cause for a lot of criminal or antisocial behavior is a lack of hope. He then explained that at least part of the calling of Christians is to demonstrate and share the transformative hope of Jesus with others.

That got me thinking. Does my relationship with Jesus give me hope? I guess at some level it does, so perhaps he is correct as far as he goes. But, on a more fundamental level, it is not really about hope at all. Hope, after all, suggests that there is some doubt. I "hope" that something will happen when I recognize that there is some chance that it will not.

But, a relationship with Christ is about a whole lot more than hope. I don't "hope" that God will provide for me. I don't "hope" that He will guide me. I know He will. My religious beliefs give me a whole lot more than hope, they give me faith. I know that God has plans to prosper me and not to harm me. Jeremiah 29:11. I know that God will protect me. I know that He will provide for me.

That isn't to say that my faith is perfect and I never wonder or question - far from it. I often find myself fearful, or praying that He does address whatever concerns that I have. But is to say that I think the job of Christians is to do more than teach people to have hope in Jesus Christ. We need to help people to have faith in Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 4, 2009

"There are so many wonderful things in this world . . ."

A few months ago we had a movie night at church. The movie that they showed was The Tale of Despereaux. I was kind of wandering in and out of the movie doing other things and talking to other people, so I am not really in a position to do any sort of a movie review. But, I do remember one scene that made a big impression on me.

In the movie, the main character is a mouse. But, he doesn't really act like a mouse. He is too adventurous. He likes to read books, rather than eat them. And, this is kind of an embarrassment to his family. So, he is being trained on how to be more mouse-like. In that context he is told "There are so many wonderful things in this World to be afraid of, all you have to do is learn how."

That idea has really stuck with me. I was reminded of it not too long ago when I was walking back towards the office from getting coffee in the morning. In front of us was a mother walking with her daughter, keeping a tight hold on her hand. The little girl - probably about five - was kind of skipping along and looked very happy. As they came near the Metro station, there was a homeless woman sitting on a little ledge. The woman is in the area fairly frequently - she doesn't say anything, hold a sign, or ask for money. She just sits there. In any event, as they got closer, I noticed that the little girl looked at the woman and made eye contact and smiled. The woman looked up and smiled back. As the girl skipped past, still holding her mother's hand, she waved and the homeless woman waved back. Then everyone kind of went on about their business. Other than perhaps feeling a slight hesitation as her daughter slowed down, I don't think the mother even noticed.

I've written before about the invisibility of being homeless, and that is not where I am trying to head tonight. What I want you to see in this story is that the little girl had no reason to be afraid, or intimidated, or concerned that she would be asked for something, or anything else. She just saw a woman sitting there who smiled back at her.

We have to be trained to be afraid. Sometimes, of course, that is good. Don't touch hot things, they burn. Don't walk up to a car if a stranger is offering you candy. Those kind of things. But, the truth is, there really are many wonderful things in the World that we learn to be afraid of. Things that may otherwise fascinate us, or intrigue us, we learn to be afraid of. Think of something that you fear. Is it bugs or spiders or sharks or lightning or heights, or what? If you could put aside that fear, I think you could see that the things on that list are really amazing (I recognize that heights doesn't really fit in, so think of the amazing view).

My daughter right now is going through a phase where, for some reason, she is afraid of being outside - particularly in the dark. A couple of weeks ago we built a fire outside at night to roast marshmallows and hang out. Less than a minute after going outside, she asked about going back in. She asked about foxes and whether they come out at night. She asked about wolves. She worried about snakes. Every sound scared her. At some point, despite the fact that I was right next to her and we were roughly twenty feet from the back deck, she was panicked and had to go back in.

I know that with little kids it is just a phase, but I wanted to use it to illustrate the point. There have been lots of times in the past where she has enjoyed the fire pit and marshmallow roasting. But, something caused her to be afraid of things. Just like the mouse that was being given lessons on how to be afraid. We teach our children. Society teaches us. Be afraid of differences. Be afraid of people that speak another language or worship a different god. Be afraid of taking a risk. Be afraid of things that are not like what we are used to.

I fall into it as much as everyone else. But I think awareness of the issue helps. I also try to think of the words of Paul in Romans - "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:2 (NLT) I don't need to fear something because the ways of the world tell me to. I need to try to see it through God's eyes and let Him transform me and the way I think.

Even though we often focus on the bad, there are a lot of wonderful things in the world. Try not to be afraid when you discover them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Don't Take a Vacation from God"

A few weeks ago, we were on vacation in the Outer Banks. If you are familiar with the area, you know that there are two primary roads running through Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, etc. There is the Beach Road, which, as you probably can guess, runs closer to the water. And, there is the Bypass, which, as you probably can guess, has more lanes and a higher speed limit. From time to time, we would run out to the bypass to get somewhere. Each time that we did, we passed a church with a sign out front that said "Don't Take a Vacation from God - Services 9am 11am."

I've been thinking about that sign a lot lately. I realize that I did not write here at all during the month of August. When you look at the general drop off in the number of posts each month over time, that is not very good, either. I'm not out of ideas for posts - to the contrary, I just keep writing ideas down on a little notebook. I just don't actually take the time to write them out here.

I also have now fallen weeks behind in my One Year Bible (I am on August 13). I haven't completely stopped worshiping in the morning - I still take time to pray and read a short devotional before I start working - but I am taking less time and not reading the Bible.

What does it mean? Am I Taking a Vacation from God?

I have been very busy at work, and I do have the general impression that it is going to be very important to stay busy and get as many others busy as possible, but I haven't cut out or shortened morning exercise.

I recently read something that I have heard many times before - "Show me your checkbook and what you do every day, and I will tell you where your priorities are - no matter what you say." It kind of made me angry. Does the fact that I spend too much time at the office mean that I care more about my work than my family? Does the fact that I have jumped into working earlier in the morning mean that I am putting work before God?

The thing is, I don't think it works that way. I need to keep clients and colleagues happy at work so that I can have the opportunities with my family that we are able to have. It has been said more than once that "the law is a jealous mistress . . . ." (Joseph Story 1829 lecture at Harvard Law School)

I think God understands (and of course He knows). God certainly warns us not to worship false idols and the Old Testament shows His reaction to that on multiple occasions. God definitely does not want us to turn our backs on Him, and He will do whatever it takes to try to prevent that. But, ultimately, we are called into a relationship with God and Jesus. Of course we worship and give praise, but I think it really needs to be more than that. for most of my life I never would have even dreamed of saying this, but I feel like I have such a relationship.

While it is different than a friendship and I do not want to denigrate the relationship in any way, I am still going to use the analogy. Friends love each other. Friends want to spend time together in fellowship. Friends want to hear about problems, fears, questions and successes. But, friends understand the sometimes the amount of contact fades for a while. Friends are happy when it picks back up and are not angry about the fact that phone calls and emails got shorter and less frequent for a while.

I think God feels the same way. I don't think that I have taken a vacation from God. I think of a vacation as an escape, or getting away from something. I do recognize that I have not been paying as much attention to the relationship as I should. I do recognize that I feel better when I do pay more attention to growing that relationship. But, God is not angry. While it is not an excuse to ignore Him, or to go off and do whatever I want to do, I know that God is waiting with His arms opened wide and a happy smile on His face. And I know that even when I am not noticing, He is holding my hand.

That gives me great comfort.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The View from Above

At the end of last week I went to Houston for a meeting. It was a relatively quick trip - arriving around 9:30 the night before and leaving around 3:30 the next day. Even in that short time, though, I was reminded why nobody should go to Houston in the summer - it was unbelievably hot and humid. My hotel was not on the underground tunnel system, so I had to walk outside for 5 blocks. By the time I got there, I think I needed to shower and change my clothes!

But that is not why I am writing.

It was a very clear day for the flight home and I sat next to the window. At some point I looked up from my work, looked out of the window and looked down on the world. I could see hills and water, some roads, divisions of the land and cities. Basically, I could see some of the bigger features. It made me think about those beautiful, classic pictures of Earth from space - the swirling clouds, the green and brown of the land and the blue of the oceans. From that level, you really only see the major features.

I guess that I am kind of intrigued by the different views from above. When I used to have room in my office for a coffee table, one of the things that it held was a book that I was given as a gift from a friend. The book was full of pictures from around the world - all of which were taken from a helicopter looking down. Sometimes it was obvious what you were seeing, and sometimes you had to really study the picture or even turn back and look it up. It was a complete change of perspective that de-emphasized the little things that we usually see and emphasized the bigger picture.

In any event, while I was sitting in the plane looking out the window, I started to try to imagine how God sees the Earth. How He sees all of those perspectives at the same time - the view from space down to the most intimate view of an individual. And He sees them all at the same time. Now, I recognize that God doesn't see things in the same way that we see them, and that He does not have the same physical and mental limitations that allow us to only see one view at a time. But that recognition doesn't make it less amazing, it makes it more amazing! God, the creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all living things, still stays actively involved in everything. He doesn't have to appoint managers; He doesn't limit His involvement to matters of a certain size; He doesn't require a lot of procedures for a meeting; He doesn't only give his attention to people of a certain level of importance. Instead, at the same time that He focuses on the global, He is willing and able (indeed, He wants) to focus individually on you and me and everyone else.

I find it simply incomprehensible. If you have ever played one of those games like Sim City, think about it on even that scale. Once you get a few buildings going and have some roads, businesses, etc., you have to start focusing on big issues. You could never focus on individuals, you have to start working in broad brush.

But not God. God still has all the time in the world for each of us. He has time to listen to our problems, to celebrate successes, to comfort, to guide and to scold. If God - the creator of the World - is willing to spend that kind of time with each of us, how can we ever deny Him? Instead, we should seek every opportunity to come into His presence, offer praises, share and seek advice. He is already reaching out to us - we just need to reach out to Him.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


When I first started getting more involved in my church, and, in particular, first started getting more involved in missions and spending time with the youth, a topic that came up time and time again was personal testimonies. I would hear a lot of people talk about needing to be able to share the story of how you came into a relationship with Jesus and what has happened in your life as a result of that relationship. If possible, to compare and contrast the before and the after.

To be honest, I'm not sure I ever really got it. I have shared at least the outline of my personal testimony here before. It is an intensely personal thing and while incredibly important to me, I wasn't really sure what difference it would make to someone else. I viewed the act of sharing the personal experience as more important than what was actually said - opening myself and letting someone see something raw and undistorted by the "spin" I may put on things so people hear what I want them to hear (or so I don't reveal my true self). That I got. The idea of making yourself so vulnerable to someone else can really change the relationship. But, as I said, I didn't think the actual details were all that significant.

Recently, however, I am beginning to change my position on this. I have been making my way through the book of Acts and reading about Paul repeatedly sharing his testimony. Now, in fairness, Paul has a pretty dramatic testimony since it involves his transformation from Saul (who went out to round up early Christians) to Paul (who was sent by the Lord to spread the Word) during his conversation with God on the road to Damascus. Acts 9:1-19. But what is important to me is not that his testimony is so much more dramatic than most, but that he shared that testimony at seemingly every opportunity. He shared it in multiple prisons, he shared it in multiple cities, he shared it with commoners and he shared it with kings. He used it as a way to reach people that, for whatever reason, were not being reached in other ways.

Thinking about it made me look back to the reports of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man in Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus stepped ashore, he is met by this man who had not worn clothes or lived in a house for a long time. He lived in the tombs and had repeatedly been driven into solitary places. When Jesus asked his name, he replied "Legion," because many demons had gone into him. Luke 8:30. After Jesus had cast out the demons, the people from the town and the countryside came to see what had happened. Seeing that the person was dressed and "in his right mind", they could have had all sorts of reactions. They could have celebrated or been in awe of Jesus' power. At the very least you would expect that they would be impressed and invite Jesus to stay with them and to speak with them.

But that was not their reaction at all. The Bible tells us that they were afraid. Luke 8:35. Rather than asking Jesus to stay, "all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear." Luke 8:37 (NIV) Jesus left, as they requested, but he did not give up on trying to reach the people there. Although the man he had healed begged Jesus to go with him, Jesus sent him home, instructing him to "tell how much God has done for you." Luke 8:39 (NIV) And, he did just that - he "told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." Luke 8:39 (NIV) Jesus sent him to share his testimony to reach the people in that region that were too afraid to listen to Jesus himself.

I know that there are many other places in the Bible where the Good News is spread by the sharing of personal testimonies. These are just two examples that came to mind today. But they really have me rethinking this whole idea of the importance of being prepared to share your testimony. Although I suspect that there are few of us that can tell stories of having our demons cast into pigs to fall off of a cliff, or of being blinded for three days after having a conversation with God in the middle of the road, I think that all Christians have something to share. Even people that are just starting down this road and just getting their feet wet or just starting to get to know Christ have something that led them to that point. Being prepared to share that with others when the opportunity or need arises is important. I'm not comfortable at all with forcing the conversation or with sitting down with friends and neighbors and saying "let me tell you about why I am a Christian." But, I have been in a lot of unexpected situations where someone asks me about my beliefs or asks me about why I do certain things I do. At those times, I am always happy to be ready to share my testimony - be it the short version or the long version. And, I have found that sometimes this leads to the next step - with them asking additional questions and me being able to share more and more. In those situations, maybe I am reaching them in a way that going to a sermon, or picking up the Bible, wouldn't.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Noise Cancelling Headphones

I have this really nifty set of noise cancelling headphones that I wear with my IPOD when I exercise or when I am on an airplane. They are the big, over the ear kind. While that makes them a little more of a pain to lug around, I really do not like the little ones that fit inside the ear. In any event, if you have never used headphones like this, they are pretty neat. I don't pretend to be able to explain how they really work, but my understanding from looking at them is that they have an external microphone/sensor that picks up outside noise. Then, assuming that you really want to hear what is coming through the headphones, rather than the outside noise, they electronically kill or mask that sound. It is not 100%, but they do a pretty amazing job of blocking out all of that extra noise and making it easier to hear your music and hear it more clearly.

In church this weekend, Pastor Bob made some reference to blocking out all the noise of the world and my headphones came immediately to mind. Well, my headphones and a song that I heard on the radio last week called "Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns. I've heard the song a bunch of times before, but for some reason last week I really listened to it and thought about it.

To really give you a good sense of the song would require me to reprint all of the lyrics here and I don't want to take up that much time or space. The short version (and I recommend that you Google "Voice of Truth lyrics" and read all of the lyrics or better yet, listen to the song) is that the song talks about wanting to have the kind of faith that it takes to step out of the boat onto the waves or to stand in front of a giant with only a sling and a stone. But the waves and the giant call out and laugh, reminding us of the times that we have tried and failed and saying "you'll never win."

"But the Voice of Truth tells me a different story
the Voice of Truth says "do not be afraid!"
and the Voice of Truth says "this is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth"

I love that last phrase - "Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of Truth." The Voice that tells me not to be afraid. The Voice that tells me it is for His glory and I therefore cannot fail. Sometimes I can find it maddeningly hard to do that. I get caught up in all the other voices, all the distractions. I hear the giant telling me that I will fail and reminding me of past failures. I can't block out all the noise of the world.

I need my noise cancelling headphones to help me. I've looked, but I have not yet found a set of actual headphones to do this. I have found that my wife, my good friends and my church can do a pretty good job of it at times. But, the best set of noise cancelling headphones that I have found for these purposes so far is my Bible and time spent in quiet prayer. I've shared here before that I often need God to hit me over the head with a message, and sometimes I struggle to figure out if I am really hearing the Voice of Truth or if I am hearing the world, or what I want to hear. But even in those times, I have discovered that my only hope of finding the answer to those questions is taking time to stop and really open myself in prayer to listen.

Friday, June 19, 2009


This morning I have spent a little bit of time reading from Acts. I generally try not to write on something I just read because I like to think about it and internalize it and see how it applies. But, I'm going to ignore that rule today.

Acts is a transition book in the New Testament. It talks about the period between the death of Jesus and the time when there are established churches. It shares the accounts of the brave disciples that spread the good news of Jesus throughout the lands.

One of those accounts is about how God led Peter to an understanding that God's plan was for everyone, Jew or Gentile. Peter is in Joppa where he is staying with a tanner spreading the Word. In the middle of the day he goes up to the roof to pray and gets hungry. The he sees heaven open and "something like a large sheet" being let down that contains all sorts of "four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air." Acts 10:10-12 (NIV) When a voice tells him to get up, kill and eat, Peter protests saying "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." Acts 10:14 (NIV) Then the voice speaks to him a second time and says "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Acts 10:15 (NIV).

This happens three times. While Peter is still sitting on the roof, trying to figure out what it means, some people arrive at the house asking for him. The Lord tells Peter that men are there looking for him and that he should net hesitate to go with them. Peter then goes down and introduces himself to the men and asks why they have come.

It is then that Peter learns for the first time that they have been sent by "Cornelius the centurion" who they describe as "a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people." Acts 10:22 (NIV). They explain what we have already been told earlier in Acts, that an angel appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter.

Again, Cornelius was centurion. Not only was he not a Jew, he was an officer in the Roman army. The brutal, occupying force that most Jews resented and despised. To put it bluntly, no good Jew would have anything to do with Cornelius. We are told that Cornelius gave money to the poor and genuinely sought God, but he was still a Roman soldier. Jews could not even enter the house of a Roman.

Nonetheless, Peter listened (again, that listening point unintentionally comes up in a post, maybe I should listen?) and goes with the men to Caesarea. Cornelius, having been told by an angel to send for Peter, knows something big is going to happen. So, he has a house full of guests. The Scripture tells us that Cornelius had called together his relatives and close friends, and that it was a large gathering of people.

I can only begin to imagine the things going though Peter's mind as he walks into the house. I imagine him praying and kind of wondering "what have you gotten me into, God?" But, he walks in and says "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean." Acts 10:28 (NIV) Then he asks why Cornelius sent for him. Cornelius again explains about the visit from the "man in shining clothes." When Peter next speaks, he says:

"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35 (NIV)

As Peter goes on talking and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes on all who heard him speaking. The Jews that had accompanied Peter are amazed that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Gentiles. Peter says "Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have." Then he orders that they be baptized. Acts 10:47 (NIV)

I think it is fair to say that we all carry around some personal prejudices. Some are more overt than others, but I think at some level everyone puts people into groups and makes judgments based on those groups. In some ways, this follows on my last post here - we all too often see with man's eyes, rather than God's eyes. Peter was no different. Tradition and education and church had taught him to separate things between clean and unclean, pure and impure. It made no difference if it was food or things or people. But God broke through that. God made clear that Peter should not be deciding that something was unclean - God had made it clean. How different is that from any of us? We can look around at all the sin (including our own sin) and declare people unclean. Or, we can recognize, as Jesus did while choosing to spend time with the likes of tax collectors and prostitutes, that God cleans us all. That Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world - not just mine and yours, or those of people like us, but everyone's.

"God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35 (NIV) God told Cornelius, the Gentile, the Roman centurion, to call for Peter. God told Peter to go and to put aside what he had spent so much time believing (that he should not even enter the house of a Gentile). God poured out the Holy Spirit on everyone in attendance.

Shouldn't we do the same? Shouldn't we find the bravery - or more appropriately the faith - to put aside our prejudices? Shouldn't we recognize that we were all unclean until we were washed in the blood of Jesus? Shouldn't we welcome the opportunity to share the Good News with everyone, regardless of where they grew up or what they have done or where they live or who their parents were?

Just something to think about. Enjoy the weekend everybody.

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Washing Cars

On Monday, my daughter and I decided to make use of part of our afternoon by washing Tracy's car and my car. We had fun doing it together. She decided that she really liked washing the tires and would focus her efforts there. She also really liked using the hose to squirt the soap off of the car. We had fun making rainbows with the spray.

The problem is that I get a little obsessed when I wash cars. I can spend hours washing, finding spots that are not clean enough and re-washing, using just water on the inside of the door frames and the thresholds, getting up inside the wheel wells and trying to get the inside of the rims. By the time I am done, I usually have cuts and scrapes and bruises all over my hands (yes, I recognize how pathetic that is, but your hands get soft when you spend most of your life in an office). Although I didn't go that crazy on Monday (I didn't have time, I had promised that we would bake and decorate a cake, too), ultimately my daughter got bored and went inside after we finished Tracy's car. So, I washed my car by myself.

Although I don't take the time all that often, I really like having clean cars. I like the way they shine and look so much better when they are clean. I feel like it is a statement of some sort. I feel like everyone sees it. I don't really worry about the inside. I mean, sure, I pick up the big pieces of trash and clean up spills and stuff like that. But I don't get much enjoyment out of vacuuming, cleaning the leather, washing the windows, using the Armor All, etc. It is not very often that anybody sees the inside of our cars anyway. Usually the only people that ride in them are family and other kids - they have already seen the mess and probably helped to make it.

In church recently we have been studying David. And, coincidentally (or maybe not, who knows), in my reading time before work I have been reading First and Second Samuel (actually, I am now in First Kings). In any event, over the last few weeks I have read and thought about the following passage from First Samuel multiple times. For people that may not be familiar with it, let me set the scene a little bit. God has sent Samuel to see Jesse in Bethlehem and to anoint one of Jesse's sons to be king. Samuel fears for his life, but listens to the Lord and goes (there is another post in there). When he arrives in Bethlehem and meets Jesse and his sons, he sees Eliab first. Immediately Samuel thinks "Surely the Lord's anointed one stands here before the Lord." 1 Samuel 16:6 (NIV). I admit that I do not know much about Eliab other than what it says right here, but Samuel obviously was impressed and thought that he looked like a good king.

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'" 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV).

I'm sure the analogy is pretty obvious (and that most people reading this saw it coming a long time ago). The way that I clean cars is seeing things the way that man sees things. It is a lot easier to focus on the things that man looks at than it is to focus on the things that God looks at. Rather than struggling to make real change of the heart, we can just try to cover it up. We can focus on keeping up a good public appearance.

It works the other way, too. Just like Samuel, it is easy to get distracted by the shiny things, the outward appearances. We tend to make a quick judgment of someone or something based on what man looks at. Just as God corrected Samuel, I think that God challenges us to look beyond what we see. I think that God desires that we learn to avoid becoming distracted by the outward appearance and to look at the heart instead.

There is a song recorded by Brandon Heath called "Give Me Your Eyes." There is a lot of great thoughts in the song, but part of the chorus really plays into what I am focused on this morning:

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity

If only we could learn to see with God's eyes and to see as God sees. And if everyone saw as God sees, maybe we would spend more time working on the inside than we spend working on the outside. Just think of how much everything would be different.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Loving Strangers

There are times in my job where I travel a fair amount. It is kind of strange - there is no pattern to it. I can go months on end in the office and then go three or four months where I am headed somewhere at least once a week (usually only for one or two nights - thankfully). So, I find myself on trains, or in planes, or sitting in an airport, fairly regularly. All of these events have one thing in common, they put me in relatively close contact with total strangers (the person in the next seat over, or whatever). And, fairly regularly, I guess because of the close quarters and shared circumstances, these total strangers want to talk.

Usually, I have no interest in talking. I want to work, or read, or really just get to wherever I am trying to go. I have a rule in those situations. If someone insists on talking to me, they have no right to the truth. My theory is that they have no right to know why I am headed to Dallas, or what I do, or whether I have any kids, or what I think about the big news story. So, I can tell them anything. It becomes a game. I can be anyone on my way to do anything - a doctor being called in for a special consult; a budding race car driver on my way to meet with potential sponsors; a professional gambler; you get the point. There is a fair amount of danger in some of these options - suppose you accidentally pick something that the person asking knows about? Well, that usually ends the fun, but it also successfully ends the conversation that I never wanted to have in the first place.

I haven't actually played this game in some time. But, for reasons that I cannot explain, I have been thinking about it a lot. I've also been thinking about another situation that I find myself in sometimes - the reception or party where I'm not particularly interested in being there. In those circumstances, I can't really just start making things up to entertain myself - these people generally have some idea of who I am, or that I am a friend of a friend, or something. But the point is the same - I'm not feeling any connection to the people, so I find a way to avoid interaction as much as possible.

In thinking about these situations, I have come to the realization that for some reason I am making a kind of value decision. While I don't really think about it this way at the time, I am making the decision for some reason that these people are not worthy of my story or my opinion or my time or my conversation. I'm deciding that I am not going to share myself with them.

Just to type it is embarrassing. I don't think of myself like that at all.

Besides, who am I to make that decision? How do I know when something that I may say may be important to someone? Perhaps more selfishly, how do I know when someone is going to share something that turns out to be incredibly important to me? What have I missed? What opportunities for growth?

What makes it worse is that I have had some amazing interactions with total strangers - conversations that make me see things in a different way; interactions that really teach me something; challenges; unexpected views of grace. And, even with these experiences, there are times when I consciously avoid them. Sad.

We are called to be in relationship with God and with one another. We are to love each other. I now recognize that I have been avoiding that when I do the things that I have discussed above. Or perhaps more accurately, I've been wanting to control it. Wanting it - like other things - on my own terms. Rather than letting God lead, I want to be in control.

Recognizing the failure is only half of the battle. I recognize and confess that it is a form of sinful pride and a failure of faith. As I said, it has been lain upon my heart for reasons that I cannot explain, but it has been there for the last few days. I trust that I was made aware of it for a reason. I've asked forgiveness and vowed to focus on the issue and do better. I write tonight as a reminder of that.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Familiar Strangers

On Sunday I had the rare pleasure of about three hours driving with a friend (top down, beautiful day). She and I went to Kenya on the same trip and both share a passion for what we are part of there. In fact, we were driving to and from an organizational meeting for the US-based organization that we are forming. Most of the time when we are together for any real length of time, it is all about business - logistics for a trip; supplies; who is going; goals; dates; etc. But, on our drives on Sunday we didn't really talk all that much about Kenya, we just talked about what is going on and what we are feeling.

It was a great contrast to a phrase that our Pastor inserted into his sermon on Sunday - familiar strangers. The sermon was not directly about that point, but it was a phrase that really struck me. I wrote it down immediately. It made me kind of look around the room and think about how many people fell into that category for me. Even worse, it made me think about how few people didn't fall into that category.

Then I started carrying that phrase around with me. I've thought about it while looking around at work. I realized that the same thing is true here - most people are really nothing more than familiar strangers. I don't really know them and they don't really know me.

Why? There are people that I see most weeks at church; people that I see almost every day at the office; people I say hello to and people I talk to. But I don't really know them. At the Big Picture level, they are still strangers. What does it take to move past that? I can fall back on the pat "shared experiences" answer, but that is kind of lame. I think it takes more than that. There are a lot of people that I have spent a lot of time with and shared intense experiences with, but who I never got to know. And there are people that I hardly ever see at all, but I still feel like I know them.

I think the number one thing it takes is effort. Not that effort is enough, but it seems like a necessary first step to building the type of trust that allows people to share themselves. It is getting to the point where you are willing to take a risk and share your own vulnerabilities. It is dropping all the effort that you put forth to present an image of yourself and letting people see you. It is being honest. It is not hiding. Keeping it real.

And then working to maintain it. Making sure you have those opportunities. That you don't ignore it. That you don't lose touch or let things go by.

When you get there, the relationships are extraordinary. There is real love and caring for one another. There is a person that you can share anything with. A person that you can trust with anything. A person that can praise you and tell you when you are doing something wrong. A person that you know will always be there for you. I praise God for the gift of every one of those people in my life.

I'm finding that it is the same with God. Oh, of course He knows. There is no point in trying to hide something, but that is not the point. It is the act of affirmatively sharing it. Asking the questions. Sharing the doubts. Giving the thanks. Begging for help. Letting down your guard. Sometimes it is tempting (and easier) to try to keep Him at arm's length - a familiar stranger. "Oh sure, Jesus? Yeah, I know Him. Uh-huh." Or to ignore the relationship. To get caught up in other things. To try to figure everything out on my own, rather than going to Him. To decide that I have other stuff to do, or that I will do it later, or that I am just not feeling it, or whatever.

But, when I don't, when I get past all that, when I nurture the relationship, when I really keep it real with God - what a relationship! A friend. An advisor. Someone to share victories with (and thank for those victories). Someone to lean on when I fail. Someone to gently prod me. Someone to hold me accountable.

A relationship of love.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"This really is real"

My soon to be five year old daughter has a very strict bedtime ritual. We can only deviate from it if it is really late, or we are not at home, or something like that. A key part of that ritual involves reading three books. Thankfully, they are not the same three books every night. They are just three books that we pick out from her room. There are some favorites like "Pajama Time," but lots of times they may be new books that we have checked out from the library.

Usually if I am home in time, she will let me read to her. When I am reading, we often use a book of 5 minute Bible stories as our first book. Last night she specifically asked if we could read one of those stories. We have just been working our way through the book from front to back. Usually we read the story, which has been written in a way that seems to be directed at kids that are a little bit older than she is, then talk about it afterwards. I will ask her what happened and explain to her what was going on. It is not exactly heavy theology, but we already have talked about some heavy topics like Joseph's brothers selling him to be a slave and Pharaoh deciding to kill all the baby boys.

Last night we read about Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Since it is only a five minute Bible story, it left out a lot of the details (particularly all of the details about the Israelites questioning God and begging to go home), but it mentioned several of the plagues and discussed the parting of the Red Sea and Pharaoh's troops being drowned.

As I was getting towards the end of the story - I was in the part about the Red Sea - without meaning to interrupt me, my daughter looked at me and quietly said "This really is real."

It really struck me. This is a story about God turning the water red, sending frogs and flies, sending violent hailstorms, parting the Red Sea, etc. There are a lot of things in there that can be hard to believe - things that are well outside of our normal experience. Yet, something about it made my five year old reflect that this is real. It wasn't a question. She wasn't confused. She just believed.

I can bring a lot of junk to my reading of the Bible. I bring my experiences, what I have learned in school, what is going on in my life and what other people have taught me. Sometimes that can weigh down what I am reading. It can make me wonder - "can that really have happened?" It can make me look for alternate explanations. It can make me just kind of skip over some parts. My daughter's simple statement, though, really brought me back. There are several places in the Bible where Jesus addresses children and the faith of children. But, for me, last night's experience reminded me of Jesus responding to his disciples' question about "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

He [Jesus] called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

So, I'm going to try to learn from my daughter. I'm going to try to be better about approaching the Bible and what I read like a little child. It probably will not be easy, but it definitely will be liberating and I think it will strengthen my relationship with God.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Be Careful What You Pray For

A few years ago I was speaking with a recovering addict in New Orleans. His life was pretty rough and he had not been clean for long. But, he had found his way into a supportive environment, was working and was rediscovering his belief in Christ and working to re-establish that relationship. We talked about a lot of different things. And, to be honest, I don't remember most of them. But one thing that he said has stuck with me.

He said something very close to "I'll tell you one thing I've learned. Never pray for patience. I used to pray for patience all the time, then I figured it out. God doesn't just give you patience. You don't just wake up one morning and suddenly have patience. God puts you in lots of situations to let you develop patience. It drove me crazy. I'd find myself in some situation and get really mad and inpatient and blow my top. I'd want to go shoot up to calm down.
Then I'd pray more and more for God to give me patience. And it would happen all over again. Now that I've figured it out, I'm not going to pray for patience anymore. I'm not ready for that. No, don't ever pray for patience."

Although I realized that it was probably pretty true, I kind of thought of it as a funny story at the time. He was so earnest and sincere. It was a lesson that he wanted to share with me. "Don't ever pray for patience" is what he said. But, it has taken me a few years before I have really started to recognize the lesson that he was sharing with me that day.

I have been with my new firm now for about four months. To be perfectly honest, there has been a lot of adjustment. It is a different place - I do not mean that in any disparaging way, it just has many differences from what I was used to. Things are run differently. I'm not "in the know" anymore. I'm uncertain of my status. I no longer work with some of my closest friends.

I have spent a ton more time on business development activities. In the last four months I have spoken on two panels, participated in two pitches to prospective clients, spent a lot of time working with my new colleagues to figure out if there is a way that they can work with my clients, helped with alerts, researched emerging issues and helped identify prospective clients in connection with multiple other practice groups, tried to put people I know in touch with lawyers doing particular kinds of work, etc., etc. I'm writing now from a hotel where I am after making a presentation to a group of clients and then socializing with them for a few hours. Frustrated about the amount of time that all this takes when there is work that I need to get done for my existing clients, I recently remarked to someone that I have spent more time on business development in the last four months than I did in the preceding 5 years!

It was really then that I hit me. I'm sure you've had this kind of experience when you say something, or hear something and suddenly things become perfectly clear. It just clicks.

As I mentioned above, one of my personal issues at my new firm is that I do not know where I stand. I'm not sure what is valued. I'm not sure how I compare to my colleagues. Are they billing more hours than I am? Are they responsible for more things than I am? Are they responsible for more important things than I am? What is the standard? In the midst of this discomfort, I've repeatedly turned to God in prayer. I've repeatedly shared with Him my doubts and fears and said - "God, I think what is important here is business. Where does it come from, who is responsible for it, and how much of it is there. In addition to just plain needing more work for myself, I think to be successful here I need to be opening more files."

I must have prayed 45 times something very close to - "God, if it is your will [note that writing these posts has helped me move forward on some things!], help me today to do what it takes to be successful here."

Even thought I didn't say it this way, by that what I really meant was - "God, please let me get a phone call or an email today from a client on a new matter." There have been a few times in the last little bit where that has happened, but most days go by without a new matter coming directly to me. It was not until I made the comment to my colleague about all the time that I have been spending doing business development that it came to me. I've been repeatedly praying that God help me to do what I need to do to be successful at my new firm. That hasn't resulted in me just suddenly waking up one morning with new business. What it has resulted in is God giving me a lot of opportunities to develop that business.

I think the lesson that person in New Orleans was trying to share with me - whether he ever would have phrased it this way at the time, or not - was that God does not always answer our prayers in the exact way that we would like. While it certainly happens some times, often He does not just grant wishes. Often He puts us in situations, or presents us with opportunities, or gives us a chance, to get to what we are praying for.

Even if we don't really recognize it at the time.

So, maybe the title for this post is a little much. Maybe it would be more accurate to have it be something like spend some time thinking about how God is answering your prayers in ways that you didn't notice. But, I am leaving it as it is - because that is how it was shared with me a few years ago and it stuck with me until it was time for me to understand.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

He rose so that I may live

I've been tossing this post around in my head since sometime in November. Since it has to do with the resurrection, it didn't seem to make sense to write around Christmas. Then I thought about it some more and thought maybe I would write it as we got closer to Easter. Then at Easter it seemed almost too obvious of a time to write it. Over those 5 or 6 months, I have come back to the topic from time to time and thought about it, but I've never attempted to write it. Now that I finally sit down to do so, it seems bigger and I hope that I can adequately convey my thoughts, not have them sound like something you have heard or read a hundred times, and really share what has been a significant discovery for me.

For years when I have thought about the resurrection, and its importance, I have focused only on the idea that Jesus had conquered death. I recognized that it was important to demonstrate that Jesus was God, to fulfill prophesy and to show all of us that there is no need to fear death. But, frankly, I didn't really go any deeper than that. Instead, the importance of Easter, I thought, was really the crucifixion and death of Jesus. The idea that thousands of years before my birth, He took my sins upon Him and died for them, so that I would not have to.

I don't want this to sound like I am downplaying the importance of the crucifixion and the sacrifice of Jesus for my sins. It is still an issue that I struggle with all of the time. Although it should not be, I sometimes let it become a weight, a burden - the idea that Jesus died for my sins. Where He apparently thinks that I am worthy of such a sacrifice, I know better . . . .

But, for the first time, I really started to think about the importance of the resurrection in the whole picture. I'm still trying to figure this all out, and you may think that I am way off, or that I am missing something, or that everybody knows this. But, I write to worship and to share where I am.

In Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, a study guide for students, Max Lucado writes this fictional dialogue by God addressing our fear that we can make God stop loving us, or that there are limits on that love.

"You wonder how long my love will last? Find your answer on a splintered cross, on a craggy hill. That's me you see up there, your maker, your God, nail-stabbed and bleeding. Covered in spit and sin-soaked. That's your sin I'm feeling. That's your death I'm dying. That's your resurrection I'm living. That's how much I love you."

I got lost in that simple sentence - "That's your resurrection I'm living." It helped me come to realize that the resurrection is not just another miracle. It is not just the fulfilling of a prophesy. It is an essential part of the entire thing. Jesus had to be resurrected, so that I could live. Jesus died a human death on the cross for my sins. Without the resurrection, I died with Him. His rebirth is my birth - it is the living after the sin has been stripped away and forgiven. It is one of the reasons why it is significant that Jesus did not return as a ghost, but again, as a living human. As it says in the gospel of Luke talking about Jesus appearing to his disciples after the resurrection:

"They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, 'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.'" Luke 24:37-39 (NIV)

Paul, in Second Corinthians says "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:15 (NIV)

I have heard multiple times the phrase - "He died so that I may live." As discussed above, I agree with the staggering importance of the death, but I think that it is equally accurate and important to say - "He rose so that I may live." That, too, often is something that I do not think that I deserve. But it is an incredible example of His love, commitment and power.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Danger of Getting Fat and Happy

In Deuteronomy, Moses has finished leading the Israelites to the Promised Land. It is just on the other side of that river. The forty years of wandering are over and the people are about to reach the land that is overflowing with milk and honey (after, of course, a little bit of warfare that will be necessary to get rid of the current occupants). God has told Moses that as punishment, he will not be permitted to cross into the Promised Land himself. Under God's instruction, Moses calls all of the Israelites together and speaks to them, telling them "all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them." Deuteronomy 1:3 (NIV)

There is a lot in that speech that can and should be studied. One of those things that I have been thinking about is the warning in Deuteronomy 8:10-20.

"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. . . . You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed, Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God."

The New Living Translation has a slightly different version that I find interesting. Both translations tell of Moses talking about God leading the people out of slavery. From there (replaced with the ellipses above), Moses talks about how God cared for the people as they wandered the desert, providing protection, water, manna, etc. Picking up at 8:17, the NLT reads "He did all this so you would never say to yourself, 'I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.'"

It is a subtle distinction, and one that may not even really exist if you read the NIV version with that in mind. But I think it is important not only that Moses is warning against thinking that we are responsible for our successes, but reminding us that God has done so much for us that we should never be able to make that mistake. These words are just as applicable now as they were at the time. Sure, I haven't had a host of plagues befall my enemies, had the Red Sea parted so that I could escape, have water spring forth from rocks or have food fall from the sky, but I have had protection from God. I have been provided for. I have had solutions present themselves that I never would have dreamed possible. How many times have all of us thought, or said, "There but for the grace of God go I"?

When something good happens, when we achieve success, it is easy to look back at the hard work we did to get there. The hours that we put in working towards that goal; the training or studying. And, of course, to some degree, all that is fair. We did make sacrifices and work hard. But, it is then that it is important to remember that it is all because of what God has done for us. How He guided us, put us in the right place at the right time, surrounded us with the right people, presented the right opportunities. If we forget that, and forget to give glory to God for our successes, we lose focus. We start to focus on the fame, or the adulations, or the money, or the certificate. In short, we focus on the earthly rewards. Those can become gods with a little g that Moses warned of and explained will lead to our destruction.

Too often, I go to God in prayer only asking for something - in times of trouble, or when I need guidance. It is good and right to turn to God in those times. It is equally good and right, however, to turn to God in times of celebration, too. Just to take time to thank Him and to praise Him. I hope that you will join me today in taking a few minutes to give thanks to God.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Somewhere in the Middle

Recently, as reflected in several posts, I have been really trying to explore how I get to the next step in my relationship with God. How I really, truly, let go and let God. How I say "As You Wish." And how I even know when I have. How I get comfortable that something is really what God wants, not what I want. And how I reconcile all of that with the idea that despite God's master plan for my life, not every step needs to be scripted by Him - I believe that sometimes He just lets me choose any of the multiple paths to get to where He wants me.

As I have been struggling with this, I have been listening to the song "Somewhere in the Middle" by Casting Crowns a good amount. The song really speaks to me. I suggest that you check out the complete lyrics, purchase it for your IPOD or buy the CD and listen to the song. But, just to get the point across, here is a verse followed by the chorus (I apologize in advance for the much longer quote than usual, but I want to share at least this much):

"Somewhere between my heart and my hands
Somewhere between my faith and my plans
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves
Somewhere in the middle you'll find me

Somewhere between a whisper and a roar
Somewhere between the altar and the door
Somewhere between contented peace and always wanting more
Somewhere in the middle you'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender
Without losing all control?

Fearless warriors in the picket fence
Reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end
We are caught in the middle

With eyes wide open to the differences
The God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His
Or are we caught in the middle?"

I think the song does an amazing job of capturing the struggle of truly giving it up to God. I particularly focus on the question "How close can I get, Lord, to my surrender, without losing all control?" That is exactly where I find myself a lot of the time. Losing all control is just plain scary. But until then, aren't I really just that person claiming to have "deep water faith" but hesitating or fearing or refusing to take the step into the deep end? And that part about trading my dreams for His . . . .

Sometimes, I think I do take that step into the deep end, but I don't even know if that is true. If I decide that I am comfortable with something, does that mean that I have let go? Isn't the point of faith doing a cannonball into the deep end because you just trust that God is in control? Instead, rather than diving in, my progress often is more like slowly getting into deeper and deeper water until what seemed very deep before is now nothing to think about. And, hey, progress is progress. It wasn't too long ago that I wouldn't have stepped into the baby pool.

But what makes the song so special to me as I try to figure this all out, is the ending.

"Lord, I feel You in this place
and I know your by my side
Loving me, even on these nights,
when I'm caught in the middle."

I have reached a point where I recognize that God doesn't want me to be in the middle. He doesn't just want some of me. He doesn't want me just getting close. But, I also believe that despite the fact that I am not there yet, God with his infinite patience has not given up. God is by my side, cheering me on, and loving me even though I am still Somewhere in the Middle. Even right now as I sit in my office writing this, I can feel that presence.

I don't know where people reading this may be in their own personal relationship with God. If you have made that next step - Praise God! But, in my experiences with people, I think a lot of people are like me; somewhere in the middle. Some have just taken the smallest of steps into the baby pool, and some are almost fully underwater. The point is regardless of where you are, while God may still want more of you, He is by your side and loving you. Don't forget to take notice that.

* * *
I always re-read my posts at leastonce before I put them up (which likely leads several of you to ask why I don't catch more of the typos then). When I did that this time I decided to make edits to the first paragraph to be more honest. In the first draft, almost every where that it says "I" the first draft said "you" o r"we". While I am interested in the topics in a generic sense, it is really in order to apply it in my own life, so "I" is much more accurate.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Servants' Entrance

Two weeks ago I attended a United Methodist Volunteers In Mission training session at Dranesville United Methodist Church. The training was to become "qualified" to lead an UMVIM trip. Although I have had the training before, I decided to take it again. I feel strongly about church members (e.g., non-clergy) having the opportunity to lead mission trips. I want to encourage as many people as I can to step out in mission and in order for that to happen, the church leaders have to be comfortable that there are people to lead them. So, because I want others to take the training, and because I hope to lead another trip myself at some point and want it to be a success story, I thought I would take the training again.

But, I digress.

In addition to the person leading the training, the church's lead pastor - who has himself participated in something like 140 mission trips - was there all day. To start the day, he took us into their chapel, spoke a little, gave us some quiet time for reflection and prayer, and then led us in prayer. It was a good way to start the day. But, what really moved me, and inspired this post, is that he pointed out a sign that typically hangs over the only exit from the chapel. Everyone must walk through that door and under that sign, which reads "Servants' Entrance"

What a great reminder that when we leave that church and go out into the world, we are called to be servants. As Jesus said "[W]hoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28 (NIV) Jesus himself, the King of the Jews, came to earth - to live and die as a human - not to rule, but to serve. Even as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the adoring crowds greeting their long-awaited king, He was not coming as a ruler. As we all know, he was coming to serve all of us.

While I do not know it to be true, I strongly suspect that a lot of people spend more time in this week between Palm Sunday and Easter thinking about Jesus and their faith than they do at any other time of the year. Of course, Christmas is great, but this week is what it is all really about and what can really make you think. So, while I know that I would benefit from the weekly reminder that the folks at Dranesville UMC get, particularly this week, while so many others are thinking about it, and when the message is so clear, join me in trying to remember that we are called to be servants.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Please Excuse Me While I Remove The Plank From My Eye

This morning I drove Alex and one of our neighbors to school so that they could be there at 6:30 for a field trip. We briefly parked and I walked them into the school. As I was driving off, my car made a "dinging" noise and the door open light came on. Since there was a line of traffic trying to get out of the school parking lot, I couldn't really pull over right away. I will admit that I was a little bit frustrated that they had not closed their door when they got out. I may have uttered a few comments under my breath.

Eventually I got to a spot where, without stopping the car, I could lean over and open and close the passenger door. It made the satisfying "thunk" of a door securely closed and I kept on driving.

Then I looked down and saw that the light was still on. For those of you who do not know, I have a little car that only has two doors. Obviously something was wrong with the warning lights on my car again, because the only other door is the one that I got in. Then, for the first time, I considered whether it may just be me that didn't close the door. And, of course, it was. I opened and closed the door and the light went off - all was well.

I immediately felt pretty bad for my self-righteous condemnation of the kids for not closing the door when they got out of the car (ok, ok, in all honesty it never even passed through my head that it may have been the neighbor's kid, I assumed it was Alex). Then I thought of the passage from Matthew:

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)

I am sure that there are many other examples in my life of the need to remove the plank from my eye, but my quick (thankfully solely internal) criticism of my son for something that it turns out he didn't even do really struck home this morning. It emphasized to me how quick I have been to criticize a lot of different things and people without taking the time to look at my own issues.

I'm going to try to do better.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Don't Be Afraid of Giants

As I continue trying to make my way slowly through the Bible, I am finding that I have never read - or at least never really considered - large portions of the Old Testament. I find that it can be difficult reading, full of references to unfamiliar places, lists of names and detailed instructions on the creation of the temple, types of sacrifices, etc. But, I am also getting a lot out of it and finding it relevant to my life.

In the Book of Numbers, the Israelites reach the Promised Land and send twelve leaders to explore it and to report back on what they find. Numbers 13:1-20 After forty days of exploration they return and report that the land is all it was reported to be - "a land flowing with milk and honey." Numbers 13:27 But, they report that the people who live there are giants and that their towns are large and fortified! Numbers 13:28 "We can't go up against them! They are stronger than we are!" Numbers 13:31

Only Caleb and Joseph argue the other side, making a speech that I would do well to give to myself every now and again:

"The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don't be afraid of them!"

Numbers 14:7-9 But the Israelites, still untrusting and complaining that they would have been better off as slaves in Egypt, don't only ignore them, they talk of stoning Caleb and Joshua! Numbers 14:10

For any who do not know, or who do not recall, as a result of all of this, there begins the forty years of wandering the wilderness - and, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua, all those who were twenty years or older at the time die without ever making to the Promised Land. When the people hear that this is to be their fate, they try to make a quick apology and move on into the land, but because the Lord was not with them, they are driven out. Numbers 14:39-45

But, my point in writing today has to do, once again, with learning to trust God. How often are we the Israelites, putting our trust in God, right up until the point that we face giants? Then we balk and allow ourselves to be ruled by fear. We start trying to find our own solution to the problem. We doubt. Oddly, at the very time that we should be putting our trust in God to continue to lead us and protect us, we don't. We all have our personal giants that we meet on the path that God has laid before us. Whatever they may be, the key is remember that it is the path that God has laid before us. He has taken us to where we are, and He will take us past (or through) whatever stands in that path. It is then that we should remember Caleb and Joshua who saw the giants, but stayed strong in their faith and put their trust in the Lord. "Do not rebel against the Lord, and don't be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don't be afraid of them!" Numbers 14:9

Friday, March 6, 2009

Elevator Theology

While I am not sure, I am willing to bet that most of the people that read this blog are people who know me. That likely means that you either live, or lived, in the Washington, DC metro area. So, you know that DC is not like most other cities in at least one major respect (no, I am not looking for the fact that the citizens of the District re-elected Marion Barry as Mayor after he was caught on tape in a sting operation). There are no tall buildings in DC. If you spend most of your life in this area, you don't even really think about it until you go to another city. Then you see things that you don't see in DC.

Things like elevators with television screens showing news headlines, the weather and advertisements. I had only really noticed these in other cities where the elevator ride to the 30th floor, or 67th floor, or whatever, may actually take a while. Since you are trapped in the little moving box with a bunch of other people and everybody knows that it is not socially acceptable to actually say something to someone that you do not know on an elevator, there is nothing else to do. Everyone just kind of stares directly ahead looking at the doors anyway. And even that can be awkward. After all, everybody knows that even making eye contact in the reflection in the elevator doors is not socially acceptable. So, somebody came up with the idea of giving everyone something to look at - and to sell advertising. So, now, everyone stands in the elevator with their heads looking up to the elevated screens learning the word of the day, or some factoid, or the stock prices.

Well, in my new office building in DC, we have those screens in the elevator. My office is on the 11th floor, which is the top floor of the building. I have not timed it, but the elevator ride cannot take more than thirty seconds on most trips up and down (I know, I know, it would be healthier if I took the stairs - but then I wouldn't have this to write about!). That is usually time enough to get two little tidbits. This morning in the elevator, for example, I learned that there are between 40,000 and 100,000 mountain goats in the United States and that the House passed a bill yesterday that would let bankruptcy judges unilaterally alter the terms of mortgages.

By now I suspect that the few of you that are still reading are wondering where in the world I am going with this. So, I will get to my point.

I think in a lot of instances we are getting too comfortable with just getting things in tiny little bits: Facebook status updates; news in the elevator; Twitter; skimming the headlines. And I think there are a lot of times that this same thing applies to exploring and developing our faith. We want it easy, we want it quick and we want it convenient. Maybe we will show up in church, but there are a lot of other things going on, so the service better not run over. Oh yeah, and the preacher better not drag on and on. Share the Word, make the point, and move on.

The problem is, if our faith is supposed to be alive and we are always to be growing in our faith, how can we be doing those things without a deeper level of commitment? Without truly rolling our sleeves up and getting into it? Over the last year I have moved to a point where I take time to read the bible, or a devotion, or something, almost every day and I regularly spend time talking about faith issues with friends. I'm not saying this to shout my own praises or say look at how good I am - far from it. I am sharing it because I believe that it has moved me forward in my faith. It has helped me to actually incorporate this all into my life.

In Chapter 5 of the gospel of John, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. The Jews question and challenge him. Among the things that Jesus says in response is this:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40 (NIV).

I know that quote seems a little out of line with my point. But I do not think it is. Jesus is not condemning them for studying the Scriptures. That, of course, is a good thing, an excellent thing even. Instead, I think this passage demonstrates that what Jesus is concerned about is the inability to do what needs to be done to bring the Scriptures into life. To take it to the next level.

It is not the Scriptures themselves that bring us eternal life, it is the relationship with Jesus. We need to do what needs to be done to develop that relationship, to nourish it, and to have it be a part of who we are. To have Jesus as our constant companion. I know that I couldn't get there by only doing this in bite-sized versions on Sunday mornings. A relationship with Jesus is about more than a quick fix. I think church is an important part of that relationship - it is a time we set aside to worship. But, I encourage everyone to look for ways to take another step - to strengthen and grow that relationship.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"As You Wish"

Not too long ago, Tracy and I were sitting around and noticed that "The Princess Bride" was on television. Although we came in somewhere in the middle of the movie, we had to watch. What a classic - fighting rodents of unusual size, Andre the Giant, and the classic lines - "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." and "Have fun storming the castle!" I could go on and on, but I digress.

For those of you who have not seen the movie (shame on you) and those who can just use a little refresher, the basic story is a quest for true love (not to be confused with "wuv, tru wuv" which "will fowow you foweva" as the Priest says in the marriage scene). Buttercup is living in the country with her stable boy Westley whom she orders around. He responds to her demands with the simple phrase "As you wish." Over time, Buttercup comes to understand that Westley loves her and to recognize that she loves him. Their relationship is interrupted, however, when Westley is reportedly killed at sea by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Buttercup, who is now betrothed to Prince Humperdinck, is kidnapped and the kidnappers are chased by the Dread Pirate Roberts, who ultimately takes her captive himself. With the Dread Pirate Roberts now being pursued by Prince Humperdinck and his forces, Buttercup fights to escape only to find out that the Dread Pirate Roberts is her beloved Westley when he once again utters those three words "As you wish."

The movies goes on, but I want to focus on that statement of love, sacrifice, commitment, trust, faith and servanthood - "As you wish." I thought about this when reading the gospel of Matthew recently. Multiple times Jesus says something similar. As an example, at Gethsemane, where Jesus went with his disciples after the Last Supper, twice he walked off alone to pray. The first time, knowing that he was going to be arrested, betrayed and crucified, and "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" Jesus prayed: "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:38-39 (NIV, emphasis mine). Then, just a little bit later, Jesus prays: "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done." Matthew 26:42 (NIV, emphasis mine).

There are a lot of remarkable things about these exhortations, starting with the fact that Jesus is so fully God in human form that he is even making them. Like you and me, Jesus asked for a way out - "if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." I find that remarkable. A whole theology is in that point.

But what I am focusing on here is the rest of what Jesus says and does. He submits to the will of God. "Yet not as I will, but as you will." "[M]ay your will be done."

That is a hard one. Talk about putting your faith where your mouth is. I know that I talk about wanting to follow God's will and wanting to let His will be done. I even pray "Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven." But still, when I am praying, when I am talking to God about what concerns me, about what I hope happens, about what I want, about what I fear, I rarely remember to say "may your will be done" or "as You wish." Since I have been focusing on this the last few weeks, I have really noticed its absence in my prayers. Even in mid-prayer I have paused and thought about it. Wondering if I really have the strength to say, and mean - "God, these are my problems, this is what I want" and then add "but more than that, I want what you want." Being able to say, and to mean, "as you wish" means having reached a place of love, sacrifice, commitment, trust, faith and servanthood. It means acknowledging that I am not in control. It means telling God that I know that He will take care of me and that, if it is His will, I will do anything and can go through anything.

I have found that thinking about this point and incorporating it into my discussions with God makes a big difference. If you already do this, that is great. If you don't, give it a try for a while and see if you feel different afterwards.

* * *

Sorry that it has been so long between posts. It is not that I haven't been thinking, I have just been distracted and haven't been writing. I'll get back to it.

I also can't figure out why the dates get messed up. I guess that is what I get for starting a draft to make notes for myself . . . .


I have heard a number of times that it can be very dangerous to approach someone who is drowning. Apparently they struggle and fight and in the process can injure their rescuer or even push them under water. The survival instinct kicks in and they don't even know what they are doing.

I thought about this the other day when I was listening to the song "By Your Side" by Tenth Avenue North. There are some pretty serious lyrics in the song that can really send me thinking - things like "why are you trying to earn grace" and "why are you still searching as if I'm not enough" (I mean, whoa, both of those are talking directly to me) - but it is the chorus that recently has caught my attention:

And I'll be by your side
Wherever you fall
In the dead of night
Whenever you call
And please don't fight
These hands that are holding you
My hands are holding you

I suspect that I probably fight God's hands at least as often as I reach out to hold them. In times of struggle, or confusion, or fear, a survival instinct kicks in. I thrash about. I desperately search for something to grab hold of. Like a drowning victim, rather than seeing the hands of my rescuer and relaxing and letting myself be saved, I fight.

Thankfully, it isn't possible to push God under, or to hurt Him in the struggle. God walks on the water that I am drowning in. And despite my struggling, His hands reach out and lift me up. Although I say that I know that God is by my side and there for me at all times, although I say that I know that He will always answer my calls for help, in those times I still fight the hands that are holding me. Rather than remembering that my Saviour is there, I forget. Sometimes along the way I remember the way out. But often it is not until someone reminds me, or I just can't fight any longer and give in, that I stop fighting.

I know some people that go through life not just saying that God is there for them, but living it and knowing it, every single second. It is not that bad things do not happen to them, or that they do not struggle, it is that even in the midst of those times they do not thrash about - they calmly reach out. I long for that. I feel that I have come a long way, but sometimes I am like Peter.

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
Matthew 14:28-31 (NIV)

That is me. I test like Peter - "if it's really you God, then . . . ." When I hear the answer, I can feel so brave and confident and full of faith that I step out of the boat and begin to walk towards Jesus. But, when it gets scary out there I doubt and begin to sink.

So, all this just for me to admit to myself (and psuedo-publicly to those who read these posts) that I still have a long way to go. And it is not that God has anything to show me, or to prove to me - He has already done all of that. This is on me. I'll keep on working at it.