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Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Pause

Taking a pause. Taking some time to soak up holiday.
In the meantime:

What I'm listening to.
Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I don't care how big of a diva he is: he's genius.
(Check out 'All of the Lights' and 'Monster').

What I'm watching.
Last night the Knuckles family gathered around the fireplace for a night of Toy Story 3. No matter age: I'll never grow tired of those toys. My brother also gave me season three of 30 Rock for Christmas: best show on TV.

What I'm reading.
Chronicles of Narnia!
I'm currently on 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' (which, did you know, is the second of the series, but actually the first of the seven books published?) and it's fascinating writing. I feel like I should have read them a long time ago. 'The Magician's Nephew' is the first, often forgotten, tale of the founding of Narnia. It's the story of the beginning, of how Aslan sings Narnia into existence, and how man brings evil into creation. It really is awesome: I can't stress that enough.

I needed a recent perspective change: and decided to get it from Luke. I've never been a big picture person: I'm always small picture/details. And while that's good sometimes, it's detrimental other times. Lately I've been focusing on the details and overwhelming myself with finding all the answers. I needed some tough words from friends to remind me of the big picture: of the Gospel, of heaven, of redemption. And so I found myself in Luke: and the things I'm learning are amazing! Things being read this time with a different perspective. I'm seeing how incredible John the Baptist was, what his story was like, what Jesus' ministry looked like, his temptation, his healings, his teachings.
Jesus' baptism: " Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. (3:21-22)
Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth: "He unrolled the scroll and found a place where it was written, 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.'.. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'" (4:17-21)

What I think you should read.
Some of my favorite bloggers have recently taken blog breaks: in the meantime, read what my sister is doing in Africa! She'll inspire you too.

What I'm learning.
I'm learning big picture. I'm learning the importance of spending time alone with thoughts and to place the things that are just between me and God right where they belong. I'm learning faithfulness to the process (patience has never been my strong suit). I'm learning the POWER of friends: community. The power of knowing you're not alone: the power of knowing you're loved and you're being walked beside and cared for. I feel like the power community has will always be amazing to me: I'll always be blogging about it.
This Christmas Eve was the one of the most important ones I've had: too long of a story to start here but I'd love to share with whoever wants to hear it!

What I'm memorizing.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

What I'm remembering.
The Gospel. The manger = the cross.
And the more you seek Him, the more clear His voice becomes.

Take a pause. Then keep going.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Dragon and the Lion


Eustace lives in the fantasy of Narnia as cousins to Edmund and Lucy: the king and queen. In the fifth book: third movie, Eustace finds himself on 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader' and immediately, he's incredibly unlikeable. His attitude is awful: the only words coming from his mouth are in the form of complaints. He doesn't like anyone, especially the ones who are trying to help him. He lives in a self-centered world and is confused when others don't seem to live in his world too. He really is terribly irritating and you just want him to get left somewhere.

In chapter six, Eustace stumbles upon a treasure and as he falls asleep thinking selfish, greedy thoughts, he awakens to find himself turned into a dragon. His first feelings are ones of sorrow, loneliness, and regret at his behavior as a boy. He slowly begins adjusting to his new life: longing to be a boy again. He lives in nagging pain that comes from a golden bracelet that's tightly stuck on his leg and that cannot be removed no matter how hard he tries.


Eustace tells the story of his transformation back to boy. He wakes up to see a lion saying to follow him. He leads Eustace to a well and tells him that he must undress first before he can bathe and relieve the pain in his leg. Eustace undresses himself beautifully: all of his dragon skin falls off: only to find himself perfectly dragon again. This happens three times.
And then this:

"Then the lion said.. 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I lay flat on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling my skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt.
He peeled the beastly stuff right off- just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt- and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me.. and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that, it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing, I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again.
After a bit, the lion took me out and dressed me.. in new clothes."

It's easy to get rid of the shallow parts of our lives. We take off our old skin: our sin: and then we realize we haven't even touched the deep stuff: the Sin. And we'll try and try on our own to get rid of what's unwanted, but it's too hard with human effort. It's actually impossible. Like Eustace, we'll shed the things we can see.. but without the help of Christ, it eventually rebuilds itself. And we'll try to avoid the hurt and pain of removal and transformation and correcting: but it's that hurt and that pain that produce resurrection.
In order to remove the pain our golden bracelets cause, we must be willing to go through even greater pain. And receive an even greater reward.


In 'The Pursuit of God,' A.W. Tozer writes about the Self being the veil that lives within each of us. He says it's the veil that hides the face of God. To get rid of it cannot be done by mere instruction: "when we talk of the rending of the veil.. there is nothing pleasant about it. In human experience, that veil is made of living spiritual tissue; it is composed of the sentient, quivering stuff of which our whole beings consist, and to touch it is to touch us where we feel pain. To tear it away is to injure us, to hurt us and make us bleed. To say otherwise is to make the cross no cross and no death no death at all. It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did for Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free."

And then he says this:
"THE CROSS IS ROUGH, AND IT IS DEADLY, BUT IT IS EFFECTIVE. It does not keep its victim hanging there forever. There comes a moment when its work is finished and the suffering victim dies. After that is RESURRECTION glory and power, and the pain is forgotten for JOY that the veil is TAKEN AWAY and we have entered in actual spiritual experience the Presence of the living God."

So welcome the pain and put on the new.
Colossians 3: 1-17 talks about taking off the old and putting on the new and what that looks like. Verse 3 and 4 say because you have died, your life is hidden in Christ: when Christ appears, then you will appear also. And 2 Timothy 1:7 says God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control. He's given us instruction and He's equipped us.
And He's died for us: showing us the ultimate pain and the ultimate resurrection.

Let Christ and the Gospel peel away your dragon and let Him put on your new clothes. Because it's absolutely necessary to experiencing new life. Because the best part of the dying is the rebirth. And because it's exhausting on your own. Free yourself.

And let the lion do His work.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Prayer of Jesus

Someone asked me a few weeks ago what the point of going to church was.
If we pray on our own, listen to podcasts, and have regular intellectual spiritual conversations with other believers: what's the reason to go to church?

Since hearing her question and thinking her thoughts, I started wondering too: why go to church? If you can be spiritually fed individually and within your own community, why bother with church? And my mind started rolling and my thoughts started going and I reached a place where I wasn't so sure what I was doing.

I think there are a lot of reasons for church to exist. For community. We need a place to belong, a place to gather and worship with other believers. To be active: to be moving and doing and loving and changing: to be a statement to the world. A place to bring our sin: a place to humbly bow down at the Cross. A place to praise the Gospel.

But what happens when the imperfections of humanity seem to shine above the work of God? What happens if that community becomes judgmental or if you don't hear the Gospel on Sunday or if you don't feel like anyone, yourself included, is actively loving like Christ? And then you think about the Crusades and indulgences and the sins of church run deep.
Because church is messy. It's imperfect. It's full of people of the world: trying and stumbling to live like Christ: people like you and me. It's hard to catch glimpses of God sometimes in church. Like Werewolf Jesus says, we're imperfect people who take our instructions from a book written thousands of years ago: it's inevitable we'll mess up. Church is hard.

And in the midst of these thoughts, a friend told me about John 17.

John 17 is Jesus' final prayer before He is arrested. He starts by praying for Himself and His earthly mission, then prays for the disciples, and finally He prays for US, his future believers.
He prays for His glory to be revealed through us and that we may reflect and imitate Him through our lives, that we may know that the same love the Father has for His son He has for us, and for future believers to be unified through His love.

Jesus loves us. Jesus loves church.

He loves believers thousands of years to come and the common bond they would all have: Him.
He prayed for us to know His love and to make His name great. To remember why we go: why we serve alongside each other: why we worship His name together. He prayed for us to be one: and we are one in church. Right before His betrayal, His arrest, His trials, and His death, He remembers to pray for me and for you and for the Body and for the struggle we would all face within that Body. He tells us what we need to do and how we do that together.

We honor Him by going to church.
And I think that's the best reason to go.
Makes you want to go everyday, doesn't it?

We honor the prayer of Jesus by becoming the fragrance of Christ to others.

Thanks, my friend.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beautiful Things

Sometimes there's no easy answer.
Black and white have turned to gray. There's confusion and impatience and frustration and sorrow. There's no understanding or peace or clarity. Nothing seems obvious. It's times like that when I just want to be angry or run away or lay in bed all day.. or all three all at once. It's hard to see the point. I focus on how I'm doing and on what I'm feeling and when that happens, I make God as small as I can to fit Him in the box I've made for Him.

I can't stop listening to Gungor's song 'Beautiful Things':

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll even find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

You make me new, You are making me new
You make me new, You are making me new

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

James 1 talks about the trials we encounter: the testing of our faith. He talks about how to live amidst the realities of life: how to count your trials as joy. James 1:12 says "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
The crown of life: the beautiful things He makes.
God's intentions in trials are always for GOOD: to strengthen and to make us MORE LIKE HIM.

What I'm learning in times like testing is the significance of the Gospel. In times like that: thank goodness for the Gospel. When there's grief: the Cross of Christ.
sorrow: the Cross of Christ.
hurt: the Cross of Christ.
confusion: the Cross of Christ.
anger: the Cross of Christ.
trials: the Cross of Christ.
Because WE don't have to fix anything. WE don't have to erase the past. Or heal the hurts. That's not even within our human capabilities.
God is the healer: all we are called to do is turn towards Him and LOVE. Love Him and love others.

He makes beautiful things. Out of our dust. And out of us.

Read some encouragement: my three favorite blog posts that help me remember:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harry Potter's Love

I've been spending a lot of time with Harry Potter lately.
If I could live in any fantasy or fictional world, it would be at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as one of Harry's pals. A part of that comes from my hidden childhood desire to attend boarding school.. but add wands and magic and a sport played on broomsticks? I think I would excel there.

I'm currently rereading Harry's sixth adventure: the Half-Blood Prince. If you haven't followed HP's tale, he's the boy who lived. He survived the killing curse as an infant and he is learning now, as a seventeen year old, that it is his responsibility, his fate, to defeat this same villain. In a crucial scene, his headmaster Dumbledore is desperately trying to get Harry to understand that, despite Harry and the villain Voldemort's connections, he has something that Voldemort doesn't have, will never understand, and in the end will be his downfall:
"You have a power that Voldemort has never had.. Yes, Harry, you can LOVE.. You are protected, in short, by your ability to LOVE!"

HP and Voldemort have a bond, a fateful connection, that gives them many similarities. Their minds share thoughts (literally) and they have many of the same gifts. Yet one will save all of the wizarding world and the other is of the most evil. And what sets them apart, the biggest difference, is LOVE. Harry can love. His mother died to save him: her sacrifice has given him protection from evil. Love, which Dumbledore calls 'the most powerful of all magic,' is what separates Harry from his evil counterpart. It sets him apart and it saves him.

And that got my wheels turning.

I want Christianity to stand out: and sometimes I feel like it doesn't. Sometimes I feel like it just blends in with the rest of the world's religions. We sound like all the other followers of all the other beliefs: they're passionate about they believe in too, they're fervent: I wonder how to tell the difference between them and us. How do you keep Christianity from just becoming another idea of where we go when we die? How do we stand out?
I've learned and experienced and been redeemed lately to know there are tremendous differences: but it frustrates me when I feel like I can't articulate it. How do you convince someone that what you passionately believe in is, in the end, way better than what they believe in? What's the difference between us and them? How can I make us stand out?

And what I'm learning the answer is, what it always comes back to, is Jesus Christ.
The Gospel.

His love.

His sacrifice.

No other religion has that.

And that makes the articulation of what sets us apart simpler to overcome. Because that is our difference: He is what makes us stand out. David Chadwick puts it this way: there are only two world religions: DO and DONE. Other religions preach that we've got to do, do, do.. and then do some more.. and there's still a pretty good chance we'll never reach that standard of perfection. But Christianity.. is GRACE. It's what Christ has DONE. David says it's either we do it on our own through our own righteousness OR God does it for you through the Cross. It's your choice.
And that choice comes in accepting Christ as Savior and standing out.

That Love and Grace are what separates us. And that can be easily shared (with the convincing not left up to me, but to the power of Christ): my story of how I've experienced and seen Christ work. The story of how I've made the choice and continue to make it every day.
The story of Christ.

It's as simple as that: Jesus. Just talk about Jesus.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I looked 'rejoice' up in the dictionary and it means "to feel or show great joy or delight." In "Counterfeit Gods," Tim Keller gives this definition: "to rejoice is to treasure a thing, to assess its value to you, to reflect on its beauty and importance until your heart rests in it and tastes the sweetness of it. It's a way of praising God until the heart is sweetened and rested, and until it relaxes its grip on anything else it thinks that it needs."
(Doesn't he just say things so much better?)

I've never been a good rejoicer.
I think it comes with grappling with self-centeredness.
I let things affect me more than they probably should and I'm not a big picture kind of person. I feel things and I don't stop feeling them until I've thought them over. That can take a while. So rejoicing hardly comes as my first response. It's hardly even my second. It's after I've thought through everything and come to some conclusion that I think it's time to rejoice.
But I've felt some freedom in knowing that rejoicing doesn't mean being happy all the time. It's so much more than an emotion.

I just finished "Counterfeit Gods" (I think TK should just sponsor this blog) and like always, he blows me away. He writes about counterfeit gods and idols and reminds readers that they're almost always good things: what a great word that idols can sneak up on you. His answer for dealing with them is to replace them with the Gospel and here's how he says to do that: "Setting the mind and heart on things above.. means appreciating, rejoicing, and resting in what Jesus has done for you."


My sister is currently living in Africa for her second straight year. She's living in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is the poorest country in the world. She teaches students at the local university and knows Swahili fluently. It really is just as awesome as it sounds.

She knows what rejoicing is. She's seen it firsthand.

Here's my favorite African story. When my parents went over there with a team to visit my sister and her team, they bought a motorcycle for a man at the university. A motorcycle was his only way of transportation (besides a long trek on foot). His motorcycle had been broken for a while and it was affecting how he got around and, in turn, was affecting how he lived his life. So the team bought him a new one. And my mom tells it that as soon as he saw the motorcycle, his gift, immediately after he saw it, he collapsed to the ground in worship. Head on the ground, weeping, praying, REJOICING. And my mom nails it when she said that he didn't go to the motorcycle first, ride it around, and thank God when he went to bed that night.
He rejoiced. Right away. He rejoiced despite his circumstances.

His first response was praise. He "treasured, assessed its value to him, reflected on its beauty and importance until his heart rested in it and tasted the sweetness of it." And I think the sweetest part of the story is that he treasured and reflected and his heart rested in God.. and not his gift. Not the motorcycle.
Because he rejoiced, because he knew to rejoice, he can loosen his grip on anything else he may think he needs. Like that motorcycle.

TK writes this: "It is when we rejoice over Jesus' sacrificial love for us most fully that we are most truly convicted of our sin."

Did you get that?

It is when we REJOICE over Jesus' sacrificial love for us most fully that we are most truly convicted of our sin.

It's when we stop thinking about ourselves. Stop thinking about what we've done or will do to make up for our sins or to prove our worth. It's when we fix our eyes on Jesus, on His cross, and think about what He's done. What He continues to do.

It's when we stop focusing on the motorcycle and start focusing on Who gave it to us.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


A good friend asked me recently what I was thinking about. "What do you think about on any given day?" he asked.

The real question is what don't I think about.

I think about jobs people have. I think about the impact Robert F. Kennedy's assassination had on our nation. I wonder why traffic lights are red, yellow, and green. I wonder what it's like to live in Africa. I think about prisoners. I think about the Taylor and Kanye saga and what it would be like to be a Kardashian. I think about parenting. I think about books, books, and more books.
I think about my life. The good and bad choices I've made. The people in my life. The ones that were in my life. The ones that could be in my life. What I'm going to do for the rest of my life. If I'm doing enough. My brain is a never-ending cycle of constant incessant thoughts. I'm an analyzer and I'm a thinker. It's a blessing and a curse.

And what often comes with a dangerously running mind.. is a dangerously running mouth. If I don't practice the discipline of taking my thoughts captive, it's harder to take my words captive. The filter of recognizing my choices becomes foggier and foggier. Every thought becomes accepted: starts to be believed: becomes reality. And then I act on it: lie or not.
Because when I don't filter, when I don't cement 2 Corinthians 10:5 into my normalcy, my thoughts develop a superiority. I'll assume I'm right, I'll know I'm right, and I'll tell you I'm right. My thoughts lie to me and tell me I'm in control. And like I said, I'll act on it: lie or not.

The mind is where it all begins.

In Beth Moore's study "Living Free," she calls the mind the primary battlefield. When satan wages war, that's where the battles are. She nails it when she writes: "If our thoughts aren't like God's, we can bet our ways, paths, and routes won't be either."

At Advance, we've been talking about satan and the different ways he lures us: but ultimately how he lost all rights to authority over our lives when Jesus died for us on the cross. Gossip is one of the ways in which satan rejoices and one of the ways in which my thoughts jump start my words: unfortunately negative. It's the game my dangerously running mouth loves to play. But from the stage tonight, words were said that my dangerously running mouth needed to hear:
Just stop talking.
Just shut your mouth.

That's a call to give up control.

It's a call to choose obedience. To recognize humility. To surrender. To memorize Scripture. To remember the transformation by the renewal of our minds.

To bow down to the Cross Jesus died on.

And that's simplicity. That clears my mind.

Frank Turek once described God like this: "Do you want to know who God is? Remove all the limits from your mind. That's God." And that literally BLOWS ME AWAY. If there were no limits to my mind!?

Think about it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Community Saves.

Have you heard of Mary Winkler?

She shot and killed her husband, who was a pastor, one night in 2006 and made national headlines when she tragically disrupted their seemingly perfect marriage. The picture of her and her sweet little family was plastered on every magazine cover in America. Heard of her?

I'm addicted to stories like this. I once read every book I could find on the JonBenet Ramsey murder and wrote the lead detective every thought I had on the case (yes, he wrote back. Yes, we're friends). I guess I'm most intrigued by the human element: what makes people do the things they do, how they get to where they are, what they were missing that led them to those choices. I would describe it as a passion.

A lot of thoughts ran through my mind while I watched Mary's story on Dateline NBC Friday night. It really was beautiful because there was a lot of forgiveness: her daughters forgave her, her husband's parents forgave her and are a part of her life now: there was a lot of grace shown.
But what my mind keeps coming back to is: community.

No one ever knew the real story of their marriage (no one) and Mary suffered because of it. Her husband died because of it. If there's ever a story about the importance of community, this is it. We can't ever live life alone. Ever. Maybe if Mary had told just one person that her husband was controlling, domineering, mean, physically and verbally abusive, forced her to have sex, that she walked around on eggshells: maybe all of this could have been stopped.

We're forgetting what community means.
We feel alone because that's where we're finding ourselves more and more. We strive so hard to be independent and to not seem needy or selfish that we're forgetting the essential: we're not wired to be alone. We're relational beings. We need each other.

My friend Marri tells the story of a painting she loved (still loves) that hung in the waiting room of her pediatrician's office. It's a painting of ten children of all different diversities holding hands and an array of brightly colored kites. She loves it so much: she describes it with such passion. She says it makes her feel cozy. She says it reminds her of the connection we all need.
She writes: "I wanted to hold hands with ten friends and fly kites. I wanted a spot on the wall where I belonged so that if I ever got lost, the yellow and black and transparent kids would point to the blank spot between their hands and say 'Right here- you belong right here!' And if you asked any person on the street- if you went down to Wall Street and asked the harried stockbrokers or the old people in the nursing homes or the Goth kids with black eyeliner and clicking piercings or the Real Housewives of Atlanta- if you asked them if they would rather do anything in the world or have ten friends to hold hands and fly kites with, I guarantee they'd jump into that painting with me."

Wow. You know she's right. We all want hands to hold. We all need hands to hold.

Meet Kathy.
Kathy was one of Mary's only friends. She attended Mary's husband's former church, but was never really friends with the soft spoken Mary. After the arrest, though, she visited Mary frequently in prison and the two became good friends. Kathy even offered to let Mary live at her house while she waited for her trial to start.

That's love winning. In the battlefield of our sin nature and the Spirit, that's choosing the Spirit to win. That's Kathy imitating Christ.
She's building Mary a community. She holding her hands out and giving Mary a kite to hold. She's telling Mary she belongs.

Kathy teaches me that when I become angry and bitter and impatient and resentful of the choices the people in my life make: who are the Marys in my life who could just use a little community of grace? Someone who doesn't need to be shunned for their mistakes or ignored to get a point across: but who can just imitate me as I imitate Christ?

God gave us community to remind us of who we are. Of where we belong. Of Who we belong to. Marri says too that we can spend our whole lives chasing that cozy feeling she gets when she looks at that painting. And she's right: that can be a desperate fruitless chase.. if we don't know where to find it.

We find it in the cross Jesus died on, in His resurrection, in His promise of new life.

"This is why God gave us community: because when we are left to ourselves, pride and self-consciousness set in at dark extremes, and we need community to shed light on them, to burn off the fog of seclusion. To remind us that we are neither better nor worse than everyone else."

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Transformation Baptism

I got baptized yesterday!!

By two of my favorite people and in front of my family and friends, I took the plunge.
And after a conversation with my friend Heidi later on yesterday, I started thinking about my story and what led me to that baptismal pool and what it all meant. She described her own baptism as "a fresh start" and I thought that was a lovely and refreshing way to describe it.

I've been reading Tim Keller lately and it's been a little like having my life turned upside down.

He continuously points back to the Gospel. Everything leads back to what Jesus did. The Gospel is the only way we grow. Reading Keller has been an incredible reminder of what I so often missed before and how far I've come.

In "Prodigal God," Keller digs deeper in the story of the prodigal son. He compares and contrasts the two brothers and shows how incorrectly they both lived: following the desires of your heart, like the younger brother, or doing your moral duty out of obligation, like the elder brother. Finding the balance between the two is finding Jesus.
"We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ."

He also says this: ""The choice before us seems to be to either turn from God or pursue the desires of our hearts, or repress desire and do our moral duty. But the sacrificial, costly love of Jesus on the cross changes that. When we see the beauty of what he has done for us, it attracts our hearts to him."

The whole time, in my 23 years, I missed that beauty. I missed that attraction. I learned about it for so long, it never clicked about what it all meant. I was an ultimate elder brother: I did everything I was supposed to do. I've gone to the same church my whole life. I learned the right things, sang the right songs, I was good. I believed in everything Jesus did and said and who God was: oh yes I did! God was automatic: my answer when things seemed confusing, when I felt guilty, when I felt like it had been too long since I remembered Him. I thanked Him for my day, for the food I ate, for the game my softball team won: yes, I believed.

But what I was missing was the hunger. The thirst. The Gospel. Jesus.

About six months ago, some friends and I started a discipleship booklet that went through the Christian faith in depth. And I remembered having the worsttt attitude about it: I already knew everything, thank you very much (hahaha). But that booklet changed my life!! Those friends changed my life!!
Because it hit me then: that's what Christ did!? And He knew that we would just keep sinning day in and day out but He did it anyway? That's what grace is!? How do I ever pay Him back!?

And the eye-opening started and I began feeling things I never felt before. And my transformation was underway.

Francis Chan said that once you've decided to follow Jesus, all hell is going to break loose. You didn't have an enemy before. And he's right: my life feels harder now. There are more challenges, I feel the weight of more things, I think about things that actually matter now. And I've never been happier. I've learned so much! My life has purpose now, has meaning, I've decided to live for Someone other than myself. It's just way, 100 times, better.

So that's kind of where I am. And kind of where this blog is. Me singing my new song. I'm knee deep in this journey, in this rediscovering, in realizing how much worse I am than I thought, how I saved I am, what Titus 3:3-7 really means. I'm imperfect and I'm humbled and I feel free: and that's proving to be way better than acting like I had it all together.
My baptism yesterday was my statement: my outward sign that it's a process and I've got a long way, but I've started. It was my public proclamation of who Jesus is and how desperate I am for Him.
Thanks for helping me celebrate my transformation!!

Friday, October 22, 2010

A-Rod and the Cross

I did something yesterday that I vowed I would never do.

I picked up Joe Torre's book "The Yankee Years."

For those of you who don't know, I love the Yankees. Probably one of my top five favorite things in the world (the other four being the members of my family). Baseball (softball too) has been threaded into our family since the day I was six and the Yankees are who we root for. We don't mind being proud followers of the evil empire.
And Joe Torre?
He was the manager in the glory days of the late 90's-early 2000's when the Yankees were so successful.. and then he bitterly left in '07 to coach the Dodgers.

Yes, I was one of those who took it to heart. Yes, I was that guy who wrote the meaningless angry editorial and had it printed in my small New England college's newspaper. Yes, I felt "betrayed" by his book and called it unnecessary.

Well, yesterday I picked it up (out of curiosity more than anything). I started skimming: and what I read blew me away.

He's human!
The players we watch and the players we cheer for and the players we boo: they're all human!
He wrote about certain players and their fear of failure and how that destroyed them mentally. He talked about the players he loved like sons. He talked about conversations, mistakes, personalities, his biggest regret.

And then he wrote about A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez has got to be the most hated player in baseball.. history. If you don't love him, you really hate him. He's rich, he's good, he cheats on his wife: why wouldn't you hate him?

Except that he's human. He's just like me and you.

He obsessed with his stats because no one must have ever taught him that a team isn't about individual achievements. He worked the hardest because when he failed, there must have been something more he could have done. He had a hard time fitting in with his teammates because he compared himself to them and when he found his way of doing things wasn't working, he was stumped.
Reading Torre's words, all I can think about is that A-Rod just wants to be loved and accepted. He just wants to please everyone. He's always been praised and liked when he put up big numbers: so in his eyes, what happens when he fails? He's booed, he's disliked, and that's the way his life goes. His acceptance is performance based. His value is performance based. He's used to living a me-centered comparison game and it's given him incredible insecurities.

Don't we do the same things? Aren't we redeemed for the same things?

Because I read about A-Rod's life and I think: I've been there! I've done that! I live that! I've compared myself to others, I've made standards, I've racked myself with guilt when I thought I could have done more, when I feel like I've let people down, I've been nervous to come before God when I knew I hadn't been spending enough time with Him. It's exhausting. It's not the way the Cross tells us to live.

The Cross tells us to look around and compare ourselves and see there really is no one weaker.. and then to know that WE'RE LOVED AND VALUED ANYWAY. Life isn't about being good enough for the Cross. It tells us that we're loved despite what we do. It's recognizing that we're all A-Rods. We're worse than we think we are and Titus 3:3-7 has saved us.

I'm guilty of judging A-Rod. Of thinking his actions weren't a reflection of something deeper. Of gossiping about him. Of holding his flaws against him. I think it's a part of being a fan of a team but I question if it is. In those tumultuous months and during his continuous slumps, I wonder what I would have done if I had come face to face with him. Ridicule and question his ability? Or hug him and tell him he's loved and valued even if he never gets a hit the rest of his career?

In the end, I probably won't finish the book. I'm a nostalgic person and reading about the past and then watching the Yankees look awful against the Rangers makes me miss the old Yankees and the October nights staying up late watching World Series games with my family. It defined my childhood.

But the book was worth skimming in what it reminded me:

We're more like each other than we think. We're in this together.
The Cross frees us from performance, approval, and people pleasing.
Jesus died for you. He died for me. He died for A-Rod.

And the Red Sox: I guess He died for them too.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Motherhood: what a wonderful job.

I spend a lot of time with kids. Kids of all ages. I love them. And after getting a Guthe gift to spend four days with their three tinys, I've realized something that's been knocking on my heart for a while:

Motherhood is the best job. Ever.

The three I just finished watching are just so full of joy. They play, they laugh, they love each other: it's so infectious. They say hilarious things that make me laugh, they sing and dance to Fee's "Happy Day," and they think a fort in the living room is the coolest thing ever. Yes I was so thankful when naptime rolled around for a few moments of silence: but then I found myself counting down the minutes until the tinys woke up again.

Motherhood is so great.

Yes. I realize the longest consecutive stint I've had working that job is for eight days and so I have very little experience (actually I have none at all), but I'm gaining tremendous perspective.

I've been thinking a lot (and I have dear friends who remind me) that life is all about choices. You have a choice.. in everything. A choice in what to say, how to respond, how to react, if you want to act like Jesus or not. And more often than not, what happens when I lash out or the nastier sides of me show, it's because I made the wrong choice. The choice is there: it's just a matter of whether we choose to acknowledge it.

Parenting is all about choices. What to say when your child is making you want to scream. When you're exhausted. When you just want a second alone. There's a better way than your instinct.

It was 6:20 in the morning on Day 2 and one tiny wanted one thing and another tiny wanted another. And I wanted something completely different: time for a shower or time to just crawl back into bed for another three hours. And I remember getting to the point of frustration. And I remember feeling like my frustration was about to show and I remember noticing the choice. (That really never happens to me: I usually just make the wrong choice and deal with the consequences afterwards). But I noticed the choice this time and made the right one: I took a moment, hugged and kissed each tiny, and got them what they needed.

There's always a choice.

In "The Reason For God" (only halfway through but its easily climbing its way into my top five books), Tim Keller says that the "primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things. It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship with God."

And then he says this: "If you don't live for Jesus, you will live for something else. If you live for your children and they don't turn out all right, you could absolutely be in torment because you feel worthless as a person."

Having a family is good. It's great. God calls us to have families: it's in the Bible! We're supposed to love our children, care for them, teach them, guide them, lead them. But when we attempt to live for them and make them into ultimate things, that's when we lose sight of our higher dependency.

Being a parent is a call to higher dependency.

I read what Tim Keller writes and I think about my brief "parenting" stint and I think about how hard that is. Every single second is spent pouring into your kids. Pretty much everything you do affects them in one way or another. You can forget about everything else.. and the only reasons could just be that you're busy and you're tired.

So how do you do it? How do you stay dependent and humble? How do you not make the caring of these awesome, beautiful, God given creatures your identity? How do you remember in the chaos that you're ultimately not in control?

And my good friend Todd says this:

Walk with God and love your kids and God will make it happen.

It's as simple as that, isn't it?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God chasers

Do you ever wonder what heaven will be like?

I think about it all the time. I wonder if we'll know each other, be able to have conversations. I imagine angels and thrones and lights that blind us and millions and millions of worshippers. I imagine BEING WITH GOD.

It'll be new. Perfection. Peace. Beauty. Serenity. Worship. Glory. Divine Contentment.

God's Word says this:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Rev. 21:1-4)

Doesn't that sound like the most amazing place you've ever heard of?

I'm tired of this Earth. I'm tired of this sin. I'm tired of these distractions. I'm so tired. I just want to worship the One who became my sin, who showed me grace, who saved me, who made me an example of transformation, but so many things get in the way. I get in the way. Does that ever get easier? Do the distractions ever go away?

In heaven, there won't be any distractions. There won't be any more sin. No more pain. Or divorce. Misunderstandings and miscommunication will be gone. No more insecurities, uncertainty, division, pride, jealousy, greed, anxiety, temptation. No more lying, no more thoughts to control. There won't be any more desire to fit in, to be popular, to be cool, to have the latest trends. Sex won't be an object of fulfillment. No more disease, murder, suicide, rape, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, molestation, pornography. The need to speak truth will be gone because we'll be surrounded by Truth.

We'll be completely satisfied.

Doesn't that all sound... heavenly?

Satan does his best to distract us from bringing heaven to Earth. He discourages us, frustrates us, fills our heads with lies. It's so hard to focus on heaven when this Earth is filled with such hell. It's so hard to think about this place where God will dwell with us, where the greatest blessing will be unhindered fellowship with our Creator.

But my good friend Mark tells me there's hope. There's hope for that Kingdom and I know he's right. Yes there's hell on Earth, we help bring it too, but we as Christians have an understanding and a hope in this Divine Other World.
2 Peter 3:13 says this:
"But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."

Our hope ultimately depends not on our works, but on God's promise. On new life. So when I feel impatient and sad and sick and tired, I remember that hope. Amen.

My Werewolf Jesus friend blogs this about heaven:

and we'll all be up there together, God chasers, awake and giddy with that specific combination of excitement and relief that comes from waking up from a dream - no matter how good or bad. and like all dreams do, maybe our times on this version of earth will fade from memory and all that will be left is the lessons we took away. the lessons in love and mercy, kindness and joy. forgiveness and patience. the kind of lessons that cs lewis says will make us "more solid, more suitable for heaven".

(God chasers: I love that. Be a God chaser with me).

All of this is making us more suitable for heaven.
I just can't wait to get there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Cross

Who believes what we've heard and seen? Who would have thought God's saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole.

Through his bruises we get healed. We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost. We've all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong, on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn't say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off—and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, Even though he'd never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn't true.

Still, it's what God had in mind all along, to crush him with pain. The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin so that he'd see life come from it—life, life, and more life. And God's plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul, he'll see that it's worth it and be glad he did it. Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant, will make many "righteous ones,” as he himself carries the burden of their sins.

Therefore I'll reward him extravagantly—the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn't flinch, because he embraced the company of the lowest. He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many, he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

Isaiah 53

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Living Disciplined for Christ (without Taco Bell)

I recently spent a few days fasting, which, to me, is an intense form of discipline. Discipline is not my strong suit, whereas food is, so to say I was nervous would be putting it lightly. I was prepped and warned that every time I got hungry or my stomach growled, to pray or read the Bible. Easy enough.

I was hungry EVERY SECOND. It sounds obvious now that the hunger would be constant, but I had never experienced that before. I stay pretty consistently satisfied on my diet of Taco Bell and pita chips and hummus.

The hunger dominates you.

But that’s when the most is revealed. When I was the hungriest and the most uncomfortable and without what I needed, I saw how spiritually undisciplined I am, how little consistent time I make for God, how often I go to my friends for my spiritual needs before I go to my knees, how little I serve. I found myself with plenty of time to clearly answer the questions of what being spiritually disciplined looks like to me and how to apply these things once I brought food back into my life.

The only thing that took my mind off the hunger was thinking about God. Praying. Knowing other people were praying. Reading His Word. Reading other people’s words. When something essential was taken away from me, the only way to survive was on a higher dependency.

There’s something about the dependency during a fast that we don’t get everyday. It’s incredible. We go through life comfortable and satisfied, getting what we want and calling on God when we need it. When we’re consumed with worldly things, we push God a little further away.. whether we mean to or not. Being uncomfortable is when I think we learn the most. Becoming desperate to live by God’s Word is when we grow the most.

I'll be honest: fasting was one of the hardest things I've ever done. It was so challenging. The days felt like 80 hours instead of 24 and Big Macs looked like heaven on a plate (yes frenchpressedfridays). I was close to passing out during a mandatory intern luncheon: Jersey Mike's never looked so good.

But what's growth without a challenge?

And the coolest part of my fast? The things that were revealed to me were not the reasons I began my fast in the first place. They were just an added bonus! The fear over my future that I was letting consume my life was replaced with peace AND I was given the opportunity to see and pray over these new realizations that were revealed. I love the way God works.

I was watching the movie "The Book of Eli" last night and I couldn't help but think about my fast. I’m still wading through my thoughts from this movie and the verdict is still out on whether I liked it or not, but this part I love:

Denzel is in possession and is the protector of the last remaining Bible on Earth. He reads it every day and won’t let anyone else touch it. He’s got the whole thing memorized. People thirst for it and hunt him down just to get their hands on it. Food and water are precious commodities. Lives are dismal and dark and evil and there's a desperation for truth. There are people who would do anything to get their hands on that Bible. They’re desperate.

That kind of desperation reminded me of my fast. Knowing that drawing close to Christ was my only option made me practically not do anything else but read the Bible. I wasn't content doing anything else. I couldn't wait. That kind of desperation didn't exist when I was full and satisfied. That kind of desperation made me disciplined.

I pray to always be that desperate for the Bible, for truth to be revealed, even when my stomach is filled with chalupas. I pray to be disciplined for dependency.. because what’s the point of living for Christ if we’re not going to recognize our need for that higher dependency? I pray to not sink back into my undisciplined, do-it-myself ways. I pray that comfort will no longer satisfy me. I pray to want more than my complacency and to never come to a conclusion on seeking and desiring Christ.

I'm back cruising the T.B. drive thru, but I feel a little more disciplined this time. To leave my fears behind, to seek Christ first before I seek my corner, to selflessly serve, and to realize that a #6 is not the real food of life.

What wonderful disciplines.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Drops like Stars

i just spent the past three hours at barnes and noble by myself: reading, writing, and people watching. mm that's what i love the most.

i was thinking about picking up a trashy People magazine with elin nordegren on the cover after about two and a half hours.. but i wandered over to the christian inspiration section instead and picked up rob bell's 'drops like stars.' it's the only rob book i haven't read and it's short enough.. so i found a comfy chair and started reading.

it's a weird little book, pretty unconventional. he writes a lot about suffering and references art quite a bit. but one section he writes about stripping away things in life.. and he quotes mark twain as saying,

if i'd had more time, i would have said less.

that blew me away.

because for me, it's just the opposite. if i could do things over again, i would have said more. if i'd had more time, i wouldn't stop talking.

that's when it hit me.

it's not about what we say. it's never about what we say.


it seems so obvious now. why would i ever think it was about what i say?? what i do?? of course i can't be a good anything.. duh. everything i do is inadequate if it is done without Christ.

i keep forgetting that and over and over again i'm reminded of how thankful i am for His grace.

and then rob bell writes about going to a counselor and how every time he mentions the word 'mistake' or 'failure' or 'sin,' his counselor says:

the God who wastes nothing.

He wastes nothing! nothing is failure! even the failed pieces are essential. rob bell writes that it isn't just a failure, it's an opportunity.

to be bitter or better.

closed or open.

more ignorant or more aware.

more or less tuned in to what God is doing.

we have a CHOICE to make, a CHOICE on how to react when we mess up. there are two ways to see things, two ways to respond, and we have a choice on how we are going to let things unfold from this point on. will we humbly admit where we've wanted control, where things have veered, where we can learn and grow? will we become more aware of God's presence and be open to how He's shaping us? will we rebuke satan by the fact that we're loved and secure in Christ's blood? will we accept the reality that we're forgiven?

there's a choice.

(and when i read rob bell, i start to write in sentences instead of paragraphs).

and then it reminds me of francis chan and forgotten god and this big lesson of discipline i've been learning in this season of my life.

it all comes down to discipline.

if i'm not disciplined in seeking God first, then none of my life makes sense. if i'm not disciplined in getting on my knees and asking for help, then i invite God to take part in my life, to see and approve of what i'm doing, instead of willingly asking to be a part of what He's doing.

sometimes i get on these 'freedom highs' and feel so pumped to be free.. but what kind of freedom am i living if i'm not being disciplined? a lazy, unorganized, unmotivated, me-seeking kind of freedom. a freedom that fits God in.

and i'm left with realizing that it's not all about what i do or say, but about what Christ does or says through me. i can't be a good anything if i'm not actively pursuing the Spirit and if i'm not humbly abandoning myself.

there are a lot more thoughts still brewing on francis and discipline..

(read what my friends are writing: when hell comes to town and inception).