Saturday, December 29, 2007

Grief and Semantics

Over the past two months, two things have grieved my heart, assaulted my emotions, and made me want to throw up - the seemingly eminent death of my grandmother and the implosion of my church.

In an odd twist of events, my grandmother is still with us, against all odds, fighting to recover in a rehab facility. Tomorrow will be my last day at the church I have loved and lived among for eight years.

As a result, I have been pondering the wrongness of two common statements.

1.) We lost my grandmother.
Death is not a loss for Christians, especially for the person who died. My grandmother is looking forward to heaven, longing to go Home. When she does go to be with Jesus, we have not lost her. We will not see her again in this life, but she knows Life as it was meant to be.
2.) We are leaving the church.
In a sense, we are leaving the church - the particular local body we have known and participated in for years. But (without arguing Perservation of the Saints and all that fun jazz) we will never leave The Church - the body of Jesus Christ, the Global Church, spread across all centuries and geographical boundaries.

This past week, I was comparing doctrines and theology with my uncle, a Presbyterian pastor, and my dad, an ordained Methodist minister. It was great to compare different viewpoints in a family setting. As we discussed certain things, my uncle said, "Ultimately it comes down to semantics, playing with words. But when you really look at it, these semantics are very important to correct theology."

True theology requires proper perspective. Death is not the end of life. A door closed does not mean death, but rather that God has provided new opportunities yet unseen.

We do not grieve as those without hope, but we still grieve. In grief, however, we cling to our hope, Jesus, and our hearts learn to trust Him when our emotional compass fails.

Jesus, may my heart learn to trust You.
I read this in a book today; it was quoting William Cowper's hymn "God Moves In A Mysterious Way." I wasn't previously familiar with the hymn, but I love these lines:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower.

I have been dreading the storms in my life, and in doing so, have not turned to the One obeyed by the winds and the waves. I know that God is good, and that He ultimately works all things for good. He does everything to bring glory to Himself, and that is always for our benefit. If only my heart would absorb this from my head!

Jesus, I believe, but help my unbelief!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I wrote this about two months ago for my English class. Communion has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but these two have impacted my heart more than any other times. Today’s service will join that league of memories.

Today, I took communion with the community called Axis, my youth group, for the last time. Our pastor gave us a chance to share what communion meant to us and what it meant for us today, December 16, 2007. I was the last of the students to share. For me, communion has always been a reminder of the Global Church, the body of Christ not only all around the world today, but the Church across all the centuries, the men and women of God who have remembered the sacrifice of Jesus at communion for 2000 years. Really, it started with the Exodus, at Passover, a physical action that commemorates God’s faithfulness for all eternity. And though this group is being separated, with some staying here and some called to different churches and new ministries, we are still a part of the Church. It’s not about Hillcrest Church or Axis Student Ministries, but it is about Jesus and His Kingdom. We are a part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and though I may not physically take from the same cup with this group again, I am in communion with the body of Christ, and that will never change.


The land of Israel is a place like none other on earth. The desire to experience it has captivated empires, conquerors, and pilgrims for centuries. This desire is not easily explained to those who have not been to the Holy Land. Some describe the feeling as similar to the comfort of coming home. For others, it is a chance to live and experience history. To me, Israel offers a deep sense of reality, a confirmation of faith and truth. This is where the battles of the Old Testament were fought. This is where the apostles preached. This is where Jesus grew and lived and walked. This is reality. However, at the Garden Tomb, this mindset is embodied like nowhere else.

It is early June 2001 in the Middle East. My family and I are nearing the end of our two-week trip, having toured the countryside of Judea and Galilee before our final days in Jerusalem. The sun blazes down, reminding us of how we have spent more time walking about today than traveling on the air-conditioned tour bus. I sit on a wooden bench under a pavilion tent with the rest of the group. My mom and brother are behind me; my dad is near the railing of the visitor’s lookout, video camera ever-present and filming. The only other American kid sits with his dad nearby to my right. Native Bible translators and pastors from Africa and Asia fill the area around us. Pastor Syvelle Phillips, who founded Evangel Bible Translators nearly 30 years earlier, has brought all of the pastors of EBT together to tour the land of Israel, knowing that Bible translation is done with more efficiency and accuracy if the translator has studied the land and culture of the Bible. Our family of four is the lone remnant of nearly 100 Americans who once planned to come with EBT to tour Israel before fear of terrorism caused them to reconsider. We have come to serve and learn from these men and women of God.

The scene set before us is one imagined and captured in media many thousands of times in the past 2000 years. It is not how I pictured it. There are no frightening storm clouds; the sky is not black with terror and death. The city sounds of the street behind us – cars roaring past while honking horns, people going about their daily lives, the commotion of the bus stop that sits between us and the hill – conflicts with my mental image of a dark heaviness smothering the scene. Of course, the plastic grocery sacks and other trash on the hill, framed by a chaotic bus station, rotating electric fans, and colorful tourist hats, add to the surreal qualities of modern day Golgotha.

We stand and walk a few yards further, entering the grounds of the Garden Tomb. As if we had entered another world, the noise of the city drops out. The atmosphere is saturated with peace and serenity. The confusing collision of ancient and modern cultures is left behind. We are surrounded by tropical plants, full of vibrant green life and colorful flowers. Paths are clearly marked by ancient pavement or white gravel. The site is mostly empty, save our group and a few people praying on benches set back amongst the foliage.

Before we come to the tomb itself, we approach a large winepress, the most compelling evidence that this is a garden tomb in the Biblical Greek sense of the phrase. My attention wanders, and my brother and I begin to quietly argue about something of great importance. I am sure moments like this made my parents occasionally wonder why they took the effort to bring a ten-year-old and a six-year-old halfway around the world. After a few threatening looks and a fireside chat from Mom, I distance myself from Robert for a few minutes. I study a sign posted along one of the trails, with the resurrection account written in English and Hebrew, and shame fills me. I am at the place where Jesus died for my sins and conquered death once for all, and I cannot find it within me to love Robert and obey my parents? Something is wrong with this picture.

I rejoin my family, no longer desiring to argue. We are near the tomb now, a cave carved out of white rock. Two large ancient crosses are etched in the stone. Off to the side, there is a stone lip and track which probably once held a large stone to seal the entrance. I go inside with Mom and Robert. There is room for a few people to stand inside without being pressed against the wrought iron fence surrounding the actual burial spot. This is the unfinished tomb of a rich man, as Scripture indicates, even if this is not the exact location. For a few minutes we stand, look, and take pictures, soaking in the significance of this place, before turning to exit. Above the door, a plaque contains a single simple sentence. The impact of the words cannot be overestimated, as they have forever changed history. “He is not here; He is risen!”

We sit down on benches near the tomb, designed for tour groups like ours. Pastor Phillips stands before the group, his red shirt hanging loose over his bent, thin frame. His voice and hand shake as he holds high the communion cup and addresses us, more from pure emotion than age or exertion. “We come to a place like this to remember. We take communion because we were commanded by Jesus to remember. It is a good thing to set aside time to stop and remember what God has done. The Romans did a similar thing to what we’re about to do. Roman soldiers, like those who ruled here 2000 years ago, swore allegiance to Caesar. He was their god. They would be dispatched all over the empire in his service, but they were required to come back every seven years to Rome. They would stand before Caesar, participate in a pagan ritual, reiterate their loyalty, and pledge and recommit their lives to him. We do not in any way want to emulate pagans or non-godly practices. We worship one God. But it is good to come to a place like this to remember, to recommit our lives and our focus to God, to pledge ourselves to His service.”

This comes from a man who has devoted his whole life to the Gospel, having been ordained as a teenager. I am surrounded by heroes of the faith, men and women on the front lines who sacrifice everything, even to the point of death. We sit and we think about the significance of this moment, at the place that defined all of history 2000 years ago. We eat the matzah cracker, virtually no different than the bread Jesus offered His disciples when he first offered it as remembrance for His body, soon to be broken. We drink the juice, a sign of the new covenant created by His shed blood. We pray. We remember. And we commit our lives, again, to the Resurrected One, to follow Him even unto death.

Mere hours later, we gather as a body for one last time. It is Sunday morning, and the smoke of the first car bomb of the new intifada hangs thick in the air, just blocks from our hotel. Pastor Phillips again speaks, emotion choking his voice. “When I was a boy, we would sing a hymn called ‘I’ll Meet You At The Eastern Gate,’ referring not to the physical wall surrounding us, but heaven.” He gestures towards the door, where outside smoke fills the sky. “We do not know what life holds. It is unlikely that we will be able to gather all together like this again in this life. But we trust God, and we will all meet again at the Eastern Gate.” We sing and we pray and we weep and we leave that place, knowing that God had spoken to each of us in a life-altering manner that will never be forgotten.

Fast forward six years. It is early July, and I sit in a church in Calcutta, India, at the end of two weeks with many of the same precious people. We prepare to take communion again, and I remember. I remember what Jesus has done for me, and what the daily action of applied remembrance looks like. It is the second time I have been privileged to be in community with heroes and saints of whom the world is not worthy. I remember how they worship in the midst of grieving a martyred co-worker. I remember how everything they do, with all of their being, is done for the glory of God and the sake of His Name. I remember the call Pastor Phillips gave at the Garden Tomb to take time every several years to re-evaluate and recommit. Today’s call to worship, to daily take up my cross and follow Jesus, still rings in my ears. As I participate in the ancient, holy ritual of a physical sign of remembrance, communion, I make a decision in my heart, of which the consequence is yet to be discovered. I will worship God alone. I will pledge my life in service to my God, regardless of where it takes me. I will live my life as if I remember.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Thoughts on The Golden Compass

“Dude, this movie is cool,” was the unorthodox thought that kept coming through my brain as I watched The Golden Compass. I think ice bear fights and a different old world with futuristic gadgets and aerocraft is cool, even if it comes in a not-so-great context. Yes, I know the movie is subtlety (or not so subtlety) encouraging atheism, and I know that Phillip Pullman, the creator, is an avid atheist and is anti-Christian, and I know I’m supposed to think its bad, but I think it’s so much more than all of that.

Please understand that I am not negating the previous statements. There are elements in the story that are quite contrary to my Christian worldview. There were parts I don't agree with or like; there are scenes that don't hide the allusion of bashing Christianity. However, I think The Golden Compass should inspire the Church to action, rather than causing the Church to stay home doing nothing but complaining about Hollywood.

So here are my thoughts on The Golden Compass.

1) It is an example of a movie that has an compelling plot, great graphics and cinematography, and good actors.
2) It is a good example of a humanistic worldview and the problems presented by this worldview.
3) Therefore, it provides a great opportunity for Christians to present an alternative, better worldview to those impacted by the movie or books.
4) It’s a reminder to the American Church that ‘atheists’ are telling great stories and making great movies, and the Church really isn’t doing much to impact the arts. And that must change – now.

I’ve read the first book and I’ve seen the movie. I’ve also read interviews with the author and director, plus many reviews of both book and movie. I’ve also read many reviews based on hearsay and secondhand knowledge rather than a personal opinion of the material.

The story itself, sans religious themes, has many exciting elements. It is set in a universe parallel to our own, which has different mystical creatures. One of the best things about the movie was the setting; the parallel universe is both old-fashioned and futuristic at the same time, and they blended it all together well. Ultimately, it is a story of redemption, an epic struggle in which the bad guys fight the good guys, friendships are tested and found loyal, and heroes are developed from unlikely sources. Seriously, what kid (child, preteen, teen, or adult) wouldn’t want to set off on an amazing adventure, protect and avenge his friends, and be rescued by a fearsome ice bear who destroys the bad guys?

Yet, the story comes from a very humanistic worldview. The governing authority seeks to redeem the world not for freedom, but so that it can achieve greater power and control. The cost of this redemption is the separation of human children from their souls in animal form, causing death for both child and animal in experimental stages. The story’s conflict comes into being because mankind rejects God and tries to redeem himself, leading only to death.

So what is the Christian response? I think Christians need to take the opportunity presented by this movie to offer a greater worldview in which God took our death that we may know life. God redeemed the world by becoming the sacrifice Himself! This is a great opportunity for parents to discuss worldviews with their preteens and teens, though I wouldn’t recommend it for young children (PG-13 rating). Families should discuss the differences in beliefs between atheism and Christianity, why those differences exist, and why they are important. No one will become strong and confident in their beliefs if they aren't exposed to contrary ideas and forced to defend their own. Then take advantage of a cultural event (aka, a new movie with a lot of cool elements) to reach out to kids who don’t have such a learning environment. Introduce Christian themes while contrasting the beliefs of the bad guys in the movie.

Christians seem motivated to reach out to culture only when the controversy is a positive spin toward the Church, such as that surrounding The Passion of the Christ. Scripture urges us to “make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” The days we live in are evil. The entertainment of our culture is typically not supportive of the Christian worldview. But this does not mean we shouldn’t engage our culture! We seem caught off-guard when an alternate worldview garners attention in media. We want to send a mass email about how bad a movie is and then run to hide behind the walls of the church. The Church has no reason to respond with fear, for we have the message of victory and of life. Often we seem afraid of any other view being presented, but if the Church does its job of showing who Jesus is in a world that needs Him, there isn't much contest. Reality trumps counterfeit every time. The world needs LIFE, but it will not receive it until they understand the gospel, as lived out in the lives of believers: living in the world but belonging to Christ.

The Church needs to impact people on a personal level, in daily relationships, but Christians also have an obligation to affect the culture as a whole. Christians have not taken a forward role in the arts, in producing music and movies and books and plays that appeal to mainstream America. Therefore, we have no right to be surprised or frustrated when people of other worldviews create media that represents their beliefs and thoughts. Pullman is a good and influential author who is also an atheist. I should be able to list a dozen authors who are also good and influential in their craft, but who are Christian and write out of their Christian beliefs. The Church cannot limit Hollywood involvement to remakes of the Easter and Christmas stories, with a few stories of implausible plots and weak budgets and casts thrown in for fun every now and then. We have to impact people where they are, and for many, that means taking our message out of Sunday School classrooms and into the cinemas, into the best seller charts, and into mainstream culture.

In an oft used quote, St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words." This is the challenge the Church faces today. First of all, we must be willing to preach the gospel in church, not a watered down self-help course. The gospel must be known before it can be spread. Then, we must know the truth and power of the gospel personally in our lives, so that it naturally flows out of us as we interact with the world. Handing out a tract and telling someone they're going to hell isn't the best way to reach people - reach people around you through relationships. By the same token, however, don't be ashamed of telling the Truth in those relationships; the emphasis is on living and 'preaching' together. The third thing is a natural step-up: as the gospel flows out of us in relationships, it must also be seen in our workplace - for some, this may be business ethics or in a classroom. But we also need to encourage strong Christian youth to influence the arts: movies, books, and music, but also video games, journalism, and Internet. Christian influence doesn't mean all the characters have to be Christian or become Christians. It doesn't mean Jesus has to be mentioned or an altar call given. But the themes and values should reflect the gospel - the greatest story of all time.

We have the greatest story of all time. What are we going to do with it?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We Go In Jesus' Name

My mom and I spent most of this evening at the hospital, as we have many times this week. My grandmother is currently hospitalized with multiple serious problems, and she is probably close to death. At almost 88 years, she is aware, as are we, that the clock alone is against her. Tonight, however she was doing better, able to joke and laugh with us and my aunt.

Awhile after my aunt left, my mom and I also prepared to go home. We prayed with her for a good night's rest and that God's presence and peace would fill the room. Her nurse, Carol, came in as we were praying, and when we were finished, she said "Amen! I'm glad you know how to pray." From her previous mannerisms and choice of words, we had suspected she was a believer, and she now confirmed it. "Yes, we're all believers here." Mom wanted to make sure my grandmother understood. "You hear that, Nanny? She loves Jesus, just like us." "Oh, yes," Carol agreed. "I couldn't make it through without Him." She took Nanny's hand then, and spoke as if she had known our family for a long time.

"Whatever happens, we go in Jesus' name. See, I had told you that you were blessed, having four kids who turned out like this - and one boy is a pastor too,right? See that's blessing; luck has nothing to do with it. It's only by the
grace and love of Jesus."
"Amen!" my grandmother agreed as forcefully as I have heard her in recent days. "That's right," my mom agreed. To Carol she said, "She's loved God all her life. She was always faithful to have us in church." Carol couldn't have known of the courage Nanny displayed daily to raise her kids in a rough and unpleasant, and at times dangerous, environment. My family is a testimony to the grace of God. All of this was dead on and true.

But it was the first sentence that struck me. "Whatever happens, we go in Jesus' name." I immediately took it for a double meaning, or perhaps one meaning that is not nearly as dichotomous as it first seems. We go with Jesus in life, obeying and walking with Him through everyday challenges. But we also go with Him in death. And whatever happens, we trust in the power of His name.

That's where I'm at right now. I trust my God, and He alone numbers our days. I will soon see my grandmother go with Jesus in death, but it is not an end. When she goes with Jesus, she will know what life truly is. I will continue to go with Jesus in this life, on this earth, struggling to see the rays of heavenly life through the dark mist and fog that so often surrounds me in the valleys.

Her walk with Jesus will differ from mine for a few seconds. She will go on before me to join the great cloud of witnesses, cheering me on as I go with Jesus, running my race on this planet. But then eternity will come, and I will know true life as she has known it for a few moments longer than I. We will dwell in the presence of God forever. That is our hope and our peace in times of trouble. And it is very beautiful.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Snow and Wonder

I am thankful for many things.

I am thankful that I am a resident of the grand state of Texas. However, with this great privileges comes a climate unlike any other. Perhaps the only way to accurately describe it is to dub it "Texas weather." Let the reader understand.

Texas weather is very persnickety, to quote my grandmother. This is to be expected. However, having it SNOW on Thanksgiving Day was totally unexpected and quite amazing. I love Texas.

And I love the God who created snow. Snow brings out a childlike quality unlike anything else. I think I may have been more excited, or at least more active, about catching snowflakes on my tongue than my four-year-old cousin. As I grow older, I have more things to worry about than if I have a bingo card with Cinderella on it (the great concern of the evening for her). But I never want to lose a childlike sense of wonder at the beauty of God and His creation.

Father, renew my childlike wonder that I may know You more.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


There have been some things I have been debating recently, things I have been struggling with, questions with no answers at the present time. And, as I have waged this internal struggle (man against himself, as my English teacher would say), I've come to a few conclusions that are much less conclusive than I would prefer. However, I know them to be true.

1. I don't currently, nor will I ever, know all the answers or will I cease to be surprised by life.
2. God is infinite, eternal, and unchanging in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth; and all these attributes reflect His glory.
3. Ultimately, my problems boil down to this: Do I trust God?

All of above are extremely obvious, I know. By no means does it take special revelation (in addition to what God has already provided) to come to these conclusions. I've been aware of the truth of these statements seemingly forever. But I forget, or I find I never actually moved these from my head to my heart in the first place.

Earlier in the week, I was talking to my mom about this. In my systematic theology class, we've been studying Christology. As part of looking at what Jesus said concerning Himself, we looked at his ultimate "I AM" statement ('Before Abraham was, I am.") and the Seven "I Am..." statements with subjective complements (I am the vine, I am the shepherd, etc). We talked about the power of Him boldly declaring "I AM YHWH!" with each statement. This, then, gives us two options: we spit in His face and declare that there is no god, or we fall on our faces and worship.

This isn't a new concept to me. I've heard it in previous Bible classes, including the ones my mom has taught. I've heard it at church and at home. I probably learned it by osmosis in the womb. It is one of the most foundational beliefs of Christianity.

Yet I felt like I truly got it for the first time this past week.

I mentioned other things to my mom that I had previously understood with my head but was completely confused about in my heart. Now, some of these things are finally starting to click. I said something along the lines of that I felt it was ridiculous that some concepts had taken me so long to truly grasp. Her comment was "'line upon line, precept upon precept' is how we grow. We don't get everything the first time; that's why the Holy Spirit is always with us, teaching us, helping us."

Sanctification is a long process. But God IS. He is everything we need. He is eternally faithful to the covenants He has made. And sometimes, all we can do is rest in this knowledge.

"I AM YHWH! There is no other."
So I will fall on my face and worship.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let Me Wander No More

Jesus, friend of sinners, hear,
A feeble creature pray;
From my debt of sin set clear,
For I have nought to pay;
Speak, O speak, my kind release,
A backsliding soul, restore;
Love me freely, seal my peace,
And let me wander no more.

Though my sins as mountains rise,
And swell and reach to heaven.
Mercy is above the skies,
And I shall stand forgiven.
Mighty is my guilt’s increase,
But greater is thy mercy’s store!
Love me freely, seal my peace,
And let me wander no more.

From the oppressive weight of sin,
My struggling spirit free;
Blood and righteousness divine,
Can rescue even me.
Holy Spirit, shed thy grace,
And let me feel the softening shower;
Love me freely, seal my peace,
And let me wander no more.

Let Me Wander No More
The Gadsby Hymnal #391
Words: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788.
Music: Brian T. Murphy, 2005.
© 2006 Red Mountain Music

Thursday, November 1, 2007


My soul is weak,
my heart is numb,
I cannot see.
But still my hope is found in You.
I hold on tightly, You will never let me go.
For Jesus, You will never fail.
Jesus, You will never fail.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I find myself longing for an eternal perspective I do not have.

I've read and am reading good books on the subject. Ted Dekker's The Slumber Of Christianity. John Bevere's Rescued and Driven By Eternity. David Shibley's Living As If Heaven Matters. I know about eternity, but it hasn't saturated my heart. None of it makes any difference if I don't allow the Holy Spirit to change me, to weave Himself into my DNA, and shift my focus beyond myself.

The world is so much greater than me and my bubble. There are problems so much greater than my test scores or my personal failures. I know this in my head, but it hasn't penetrated my heart. My priorities are mixed up, and I really don't like it. In 100 years, I won't care about anything that currently absorbs my time and focus. Yet my relationships -with God and His people- will have great significance.

I know my grandmother thinks about eternity. She has walked with God for almost 90 years, she is in constant pain, and she is ready to go home. She is much closer to seeing Jesus than I would prefer. She inspires me and challenges me in ways words cannot express. The inner strength and peace she constantly displays, despite perpetual pain and complete physical weakness, can come only from the presence of God in her life. People who check in on her say that she never complains; they always find her asleep in her chair or reading her Bible.

What an awesome reputation to have: to be at peace with God and with people in the face of extraordinary pain and challenge.

I want to be like her. I want my relationship with God to overflow into all areas of my life. I want to be at total peace, trusting God to do what He says He'll do, when He chooses to do so. I want to live so that Jesus shines through my weakness.

I am in desperate need of the gospel to rupture my bubble, the security of my world built on fantasy and falsehood, and to thrust me into a world dying without Jesus.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I feel dry and shriveled up inside.

That's not how I want to feel. I want to feel wonder, awe. I want to feel alive. I want to feel as though I know my God.

I know feelings aren't everything, especially when it comes to walking with God. An emotion-driven religion won't take you to any place of significance. But I'm struggling inside.

Why are you downcast, O my soul, why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

My favorite Bible story is of the two men and Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They're completely confused and lost. The turmoil of the last week is more emotional stress than I can imagine. At the beginning, for all they know, God is dead. Then Jesus comes up and starts talking with them. They don't have a clue who He is. He asks them what they're talking about and they explain. He basically says, "You idiots. Why don't you get this? This is what you've been waiting for your whole lives. This is what mankind has been waiting for 4000 years. Let me explain."

And as they walk, He explains everything. Going all the way back to the beginning, He goes through the writings of Moses and the prophets, showing how the whole point of everything was to point to Himself. They reach their intended destination, and Jesus starts to walk on down the road. They beg Him to come and eat with them. He agrees, and as He prays over the food, their eyes are opened and they recognize Him, right as He disappears, as resurrected God can do. Right before they rush back to tell the disciples, they say my favorite line:

"Were not our hearts burning within us as He opened the Scriptures to us?"

These men were devout Jews. They had memorized the books of Moses as children. They were very familiar with the prophets. They had heard it all of their lives. And they had spent the last three years with God Himself. And they were still hurt and confused and lost and completely unaware of the events surrounding them.

That gives me hope as much as anything. (My hope is in God alone, but it helps to realize other people, godly people, struggle with the same things.)

Like these guys, I've grown up in Sunday School. I've heard all the stories. My parents are both ordained; we talk about Scripture all the time at home. I would not trade my background for the world... but sometimes... I feel lost and confused and like the guys I'm thinking "I thought You were the One to save Israel...but I can't even see You." And the hundreds of hours logged in Sunday School goes out the window. All the knowledge (even good knowledge about God) in the world doesn't help if I don't see Jesus.

I want to hear the stories again, but as if I didn't know them and I'd never heard them before. I want to read Scripture and it to be real and not something I've read before but brushed over. I want to see it with fresh eyes and hear with fresh ears and be filled to overflowing with childlike wonder.

I want my relationship with God to be alive and real again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Insanity overwhelming my brain. So I'm clinging to this.

"Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me, for in You my soul takes refuge.

I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills His purpose for me.

He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me;

God sends His love and faithfulness.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; Let Your glory be over all the earth."

Interestingly enough, David wrote this psalm (57) "when he had fled from Saul into the cave." Escaping insanity originally inspired these words. It's nice to know I'm in good company.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I want to be in awe of my God.

We use the term rather lightly. I've sung a thousand times the words "I stand in awe" or "Our God is an awesome God." I am convinced over time words lose their original meaning, and nowhere do I find this so true as in the language we use to refer to God.

We are entering the High Holy days on the Jewish calendar, the Days of Awe. Tonight marked the beginning of Rosh ha-Shanah, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Sounding the Shofar, the New Year. In ten days, the Days of Awe will culminate in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

'Awesome' is so much more than a word that substitutes a deluge of emotions we feel, usually about something good that has happened, a synonym with 'sweet' or 'great' or 'cool.' But in a sense, 'awe' describes a whole bundle of emotions that can't be so easily packaged in another word.

Fear Wonder Unknown Amazement Mystery Numbness Power Silence

What was it like to hear the very sound of God at Sinai? What was it like to see God walking among His people in a furnace? What was it like to see God raise the dead? What was it like to see God rout His enemies in a supernatural instant? What was it like to see the physical glory of God in the desert? What was it like to see God in human flesh? What was it like to see God-in-human-flesh transfigured to look like God? What was it like to see God die? What was it like to see God resurrected? What was it like to see God walk through walls? What was it like to be in awe?

I want to know God. I want to know the holy fear of God. I want to be transformed as I see God for who He is. I want to be in awe.

Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm really happy and excited and I can't tell you exactly why. I'm not entirely sure myself, but I have my suspicions. I think I'm in love. The beauty and the wonder and the hope of the future just fills my heart with joy. I cannot believe I have existed this long, knowing that it existed and not comprehending the possibilities.

Yes, it. It is not a person, yet it is still beautiful. It is a simple program I never paid that much attention to. When I was little, it entertained my brother and I for a few minutes while Dad finished up at the office. Since I no longer need such trite entertainment, I thought its value was gone. Wow, was I wrong. The multi layered masterpiece you see above you pays tribute to its capabilities. It is not Photoshop. It is not even a cheaper knock-off of Photoshop. It is the one and only Paint, of Microsoft Corporations. Yeah, the free toy that comes with Windows Accessories.

Isn't it beautiful?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Current History

Do you ever find yourself caught between culture and history? I do, all the time. I love the depth of historical Christianity and the newness, the passion, of what God is doing right now, today, in my generation. These aren’t at odds with each other, but sometimes it seems like it. To me, this ‘conflict’ personifies itself in music.

I love the lyrics of the old hymns. Not the ‘hymns’ of the past forty years, but the true hymns centuries old. I love the fast, hard music of the youth. I don’t want an organ dominating the music at youth group, though there is a time and place when the organ is beautiful. Guitars and drums are no less beautiful, they just satisfy a different setting.

I hate archaic King Jimmy. I’m not looking for ‘thees’ and ‘thous.’ Those do not connect with the culture or serve a purpose in their distance (i.e., they are not more holy). In many ways, Old English is a different language than that of teenagers and adults today. Language is not the issue; what I am looking for is depth. I’m no fan of 7-11 choruses: 7 times repeating 11 words. There is so much more to ‘love God with all your mind’ than engaging in theological debates over obscure verses that don’t really matter.

My love of the hymns may be more of a personal preference than anything. (I’m the weird kind of kid who would rather write a paper than do a poster. I expressed this in class today to one of my friends, and she quickly offered to do all my posters this year if I would write her papers.) However, I believe the hymns are more than that. There is a sense of unity with the Global Church, reaching across time and space, when you sing words penned by a Christian who loved God and struggled with sin just like me 300 years ago. When you think that Christians all over the world have agreed with the words and used them to aid in worship for hundreds of years, there is comfort in that. And there is hope in knowing that those same believers who have gone before us ran their race and now cheer us on from the cloud of witnesses.

Hymns were once contemporary music that was controversial in that they weren’t Gregorian chants or the like. The lyrics are born out of theology and the struggles of real life. They are filled with emotion and overflowing with Scripture integrated into the words. Are there exceptions? Sure, of course, just like there are modern songs that are spiritually worthless.

I’m looking for a balance. I don’t want to live in the past, cause God is doing too many exciting things right now to live buried in what He did in 600 years ago. It is also stupid to ignore the some 2000 years of church history after the NT ends. Were they perfect? No, but we can learn from the men and women of God who struggled with the same things we face today, in different packaging. There is nothing new under the sun. C.S. Lewis says it is similar to joining a conversation hours after it began. Even familiarity with the discussion topic will not make up for the conversation that occurred before you arrived. You will still be missing pieces of the puzzle.

Worship is not about music or style or anything external. I should be able to worship God while I’m hauling rocks for His glory or when I’m singing to music I don’t personally enjoy. Worship is about my heart glorifying God. Corporate worship is about making Jesus more beautiful and believable and real in our lives. If I am not willing to worship in any setting, does God really have my heart?

God does not change. The way He relates to us and they way we relate to Him hasn’t changed in 2000 years. His character demands that we worship Him. Our lives should demonstrate our response to who He is. On an eternal scale, nothing else matters!

(But sometimes I just like to rant.)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bubbles of Christendom and Culture

Bubbles are dangerous things. They do not give an accurate perception of the world. As I strive to be more and more like Jesus, I realize that His perspective is often radically different from my own. I want my heart to line up with His, and this often requires that different bubbles within my life be ruptured.

These are three things that I've read in the past week. They convince me of the shallowness of my culture and convict me to live in such a way to be counter-culture.

Hurricane Dean is bearing down with full force on Jamaica and the Caribbean. My brother loves meteorology, and as we were watching an update on the storm, the newscaster was commenting how these storms are tragic for many tourists who cannot continue their vacations. There was no mention of the thousands of people living in extreme poverty just yards from the extravagance of the resorts.

A quote featured in World Magazine grabbed my attention.
"Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place." Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, on a survey by the group that found seven in 10 young Protestants who went to church regularly in high school quit attending by age 23.

That quote leads into my next point of frustration. I was flipping through a catalog put out by Willow Creek Association and this page caught my eye.

The graphs give 'The Top Five Reasons People Begin to Explore Christianity,' 'The Top Five Reasons People First Came to Their Church,' and 'Spiritual Behaviors.'

In the first graph, over half of the people beginning to explore Christianity did so because they grew up in church. The next options were "I felt something was missing in my life." and "I was searching for a higher purpose." Coming in 4th, at just under 20%, was "I was inspired by the way a Christian I knew lived his/her life." This means we aren't reaching the unchurched. We can't truly grow as a body if we aren't reaching new people. We won't reach people unless they see us living in such a way that we reflect the glory of God.

The last graph shows just over 50% of "Christ-Centered" people tithe, around 40% serve once a week, and less than 40% of Christ-Centered people "have six or more meaningful spiritual conversations per year with non-Christians." The other categories of "Close to Christ," "Growing in Christ," and "Exploring Christianity" decrease steadily.

The middle graph was predictable, but I was surprised by the first and third. I don't know how this data was collected or what it all means. I have by no means mastered any of these topics. I don't go out of my way to share the gospel like I should, and I'm trying to work on this area of my life. But if over 60% of the American church's strongest Christians don't have at least 6 spiritual conversations with non-Christians each year-only one every two months- the church is in trouble!

I'm not perfect. I have many bubbles I would much rather hide in rather than face the truth. But if the American Church wants to reach people, if we want to live as Jesus lived, we have to get out of our bubbles, get out of the walls of our church buildings. We have to take the gospel to our world. It won't come to us.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Preschool World Travelers

I was reading an article in the Dallas Morning News today entitled "Seeing the world with kids: Parents debate the best age for children to travel abroad." It was written from a purely secular, sightseeing view, but it had some interesting points.

"But Ms. Wheeler said that even if her children, who are now adults, don't remember their first trip to Nepal. they got something else out of their early travels. "I honestly think that it gave them an attitude for life because they learned to be very flexible," she said."

I would definitely agree with this, though I know some people who are experienced travelers and rather un-flexible. There are many benefits of traveling even without a spiritual dimension.

"If they're 4 or under, they might not remember seeing the Mona Lisa and feel the significance of that in the same way that an older child will. But a 4-year-old or 2-year-old will remember the sense of adventure, excitement, and growing curiosity all tied to the sense of travel. You're cultivating that adventurous, curious spirit."

Even more important than an adventurous, curious spirit, the love of God and His people all around the world was cultivated in my heart at an early age. The Holy Spirit began to stir in my heart a calling to missions.

My parents had a theory, and this theory ruined all hopes of normal childhood for our family. Their theory? You can't raise world Christians from within the bubble of suburbia. They have prayed that my brother and I would be world travelers with a heart for missions since before we were born. Since our births, they have gone out of their way to see that we experience what God is doing around the world. This was accomplished by hearing missionaries speak about their experiences, and taking us to the mission field so we could see it firsthand. My brother and I took our first missions trips as preschoolers. I was three when we went to Jamaica; he was four when we went to Russia.

Cultural and geographically changes do not go unnoticed by kids. Shortly after our return from Russia, the Elian Gonzales incident happened. My dad delights in recalling that as my brother and I heard the talking heads on the TV say he would be better off in Communist Cuba, my brother and I quickly refuted that by comparing formerly communistic Russia, which we had just seen, with America. At ages 5 and 9 we could easily see the massive problems of the Communist system, as manifested in the lives and problems of the everyday common people. An appreciation of our American system, and a longing to see justice and freedom for kids around the world, was already planted in our hearts. That kind of insight does not come from living within a bubble.

Looking back, I'm sure there were many moments when my parents thought traveling would be much easier without a pair of tired and argumentative kids. I'm also sure that many families don't feel called to do what my family did. However, I am extremely grateful that my parents didn't
"stick to the Disney and Carnival cruises until the kids are old enough to appreciate what they are seeing."

Even if I didn't absorb everything that happened as an adult would, my childhood and my worldview were forever impacted. My parents took the high road, and I am eternally grateful.

Harpaz, Beth J. "Seeing the world with kids." Dallas Morning News. 5 August 2007: 4I.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


In service today, we had a time of reflection before participating in communion. I thought about the last time I had taken communion, a month ago. We were in Calcutta after two weeks in Northeast India. It was the commitment I made during communion in Calcutta that I reflected on today. I have not forgotten it, nor have I broken my promise. But I am not any closer to fulfilling what God spoke to my heart. Take up your cross and follow Me. Worship in complete surrender and abandonment to Me, break the albaster jar of your life and let the world know who it is you serve.

Two Sundays later, essentially the same message was preached twice by different men. Today, two weeks after that reminder, God gave a quieter reminder, but I was able to grasp what had eluded me since returning from India: the ability to have complete freedom in worship and joy in the presence of God.

How I want to know Jesus more, not just rationally or intellectual knowledge, but a living relationship that affects everything I do. That is everything. What else can I live for?