Monday, November 8, 2010

Recounting: Part 1

“When was the moment that you first fell in love with me?” She asks, waiting patiently for my response.

The question comes repeatedly, sometimes on dates and dinners, but most often on anniversaries. I know this may sound insensitive, but for a while I couldn’t understand why my wife had such a terrible memory. “Haven’t I told her this story a hundred times?” I would think to myself.

I soon realized that it was not gaps in her memory that I needed to fill in for her. She wasn’t asking because she didn’t already know. She wasn’t having memory lapses about this particular area of our journey or some type of chronic amnesia that seemed to only crop up on special days. She wanted to hear the story of our love’s genesis again. My wife wanted us, in the present moment, to bring the past forward to re-present this eternally significant moment of our story.

When we recount our story, we relive the feelings that surfaced in those cherished moments. Essentially, we bring a portion of the past to the present, and it subsequently causes us to look forward to the future of our love. Our story needs to be continually told.

The beauty of the Eucharist, or Communion, is that it does just this. This act stands as one of the most significant actions of Christian worship. It’s an action that not only crosses geographical limitations to unite us with believers across the globe, but suspends the limits of time to connect us to Christians from every generation who have partaken in this simple, glorious act.

The centrality of the Eucharist in Christian worship has been lost in much of Western Christianity. Many contemporary churches see it as more of a nuisance that clumsily hacks into their struggle for “relevance.” (When you’re entire service is geared towards those outside of the community of faith, it becomes an awkward addition to any church gathering.) But since they consider it an “ordinance,” they appease their spiritual consciences by taking part in it quarterly or yearly. Much of the significance placed on it by the early church and the majority has been abandoned, and the vast weight of the rest of historical Christianity has been lost.

When we partake of the bread and the wine, it is effectively a recounting of the story of the gospel. At its most basic level, it is a joyous retelling of the story of God’s salvation of humanity. It is an action that is inextricably linked to the ancient past in its echoes of the Jewish Passover, but even this connection does little to fully explain the heavy depth of the union of spirit and flesh that the meal declares.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Unintentional Hiatus

Most sabbatical's are planned or announced beforehand. Not so here.
Hope to get back into the swing of things soon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sifting Opportunity

Opportunity usually arrives in erratic surges; at least that’s what I’ve noticed in my life. The only predictable characteristic of opportunity is that, inevitably, there will be an ebb and flow of when it presents itself; a small gush against the shoreline, full of possible new paths or prospects, followed by a recoil of circumstance, drawing out the moisture of chance from the sand and leaving desert-like sterility in its retreat.

When opportunity does spring forward, presenting numerous paths or doors to be explored, the difficult task of sifting through the choices that are presented has to be undertaken in order to discover where, exactly, the Spirit is drawing. This is not easy for me. My first instinct is to follow opportunity wherever it leads and ask questions later. But every door that opens is not always meant to be walked through. Every path that presents itself is not always meant to taken. Sifting opportunity is difficult for me because I always have had this nagging sensation that I’ll miss something life-changing if I make the wrong life-choices. For whatever reason, I feel this strange omnipotence when it comes to having the ability to screw up my own life. Oh, how foolish I am.

But opportunity must be placed inside a sieve to determine its ultimate worth and meaning for my family and our journey. A good opportunity is not necessarily the best opportunity for our lives. Ultimately, some opportunities must be turned down. I’m learning not to jump forward just because something presents itself that sounds appealing, but to wait and ponder and pray.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Celebrating Obscurity

A good friend of mine had a birthday the other day. In our brief conversation that morning, he jokingly mentioned his fear of getting older and becoming irrelevant. I responded by saying that I had already embraced the fact that I am destined for a life of obscurity and irrelevance.

After we hung up, I thought about that short exchange a little deeper. Have I really become content with the place that God may have for me? For whatever reason, contentment is something I've always really struggled with. I know a certain level of discontent is good and keeps us striving and pushing forward, but I think my issue goes a little deeper.

I heard a statistic once that stated that something like 70% of people between the ages of 18-25 think they are, in some way, going to enjoy some type of notoriety or fame. Everyone wants to be famous, and apparently, most young people in this age bracket actually believe it. Our culture is obsessed with fame, and the church is no different. Even most ministers (though most would never admit it) secretly want to pastor a mega church, or be a best-selling author, or sign a record deal.

Years ago, I wrote a song (partially, anyway…which apparently is my writing style;) that had the following lyric, “Take my hand and follow me, into the bliss of obscurity”. I was struggling then with the prospect of never being anyone in the eyes of the world. I wrestled with that reality then, and I think I still wrestle with it from time to time now. When we think of obscurity, of drifting into the background and blending in with everything else that goes on in our world, most of us are gripped with a nagging fear. Christianity doesn't automatically make us immune to this desire.We long to be unique and valued by others. We hope that our lives will stand out and that we will enjoy some type of notoriety in whatever field or ministry we find ourselves in. We all want to be known and celebrated for who we are and what we accomplish. And of course, unlike everyone else, we’re convinced that we would carry our “fame” with a modest humility.

But this is not the path that the vast majority of us will take. In fact, Christ promises the exact opposite. Parenthetically, if the culture of 1st century Judea had been as obsessed with fame as we have become, I’m confident that Christ would have included a fame amendment to go along his “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” speech to the rich young ruler.

Why is obscurity so frightening? Why is it hard for us to settle into the prospect of just having an “average” life?

Father, grant me a deep peace that overrides any other urge in my life. Fill me with a sense of Your purpose and Your notoriety and not a lust for my own.

So, I take my seat at the table of obscurity that God has prepared for me; where anonymity rids its inhabitants of any pride, greed, or itch for notoriety; where all eyes turn to celebrate the only One worthy of fame, the One who deserves this feast.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Stepping on anyone's toes?

Saw this first on Scott Bailey's blog.
And think, this is what most contemporary western churches aspire to.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

God bless Nashville

I love this city.

If you would have asked me 10 years ago, my response would have likely been different. At 17, I was at that age where all you want to do is escape from the place you grew up. It’s in those late teen years that you tend to view every part of your childhood with repugnance.

But now, I’m ready to embrace, respect and, yes, even love those various pieces that have come together to make me who I am. Nashville has so much to do with that. Even with the tourist traps, the dense cluster of jaded musicians, and the constant barrage of demos being passed around to no one in particular by aspiring singer-songwriters, I absolutely adore this city.

I was listening to a father talk about his feelings toward his son last night. He told a story where his son had gotten injured and taken to the hospital. The father told of the panic and emotion that rose up in his soul at that moment. It was in those few seconds that all the love he had for his son surfaced, overwhelming his emotions.

Strangely, I think I’ve felt something similar for Nashville in the past few days. I could never really understand how much I care for this city and the people that call it home until the aftermath of this past weekend’s flood. The pain that this city has undergone in just a few days breaks my heart. But the way the city is coming together in the midst of the tragedy is amazing. Half a dozen benefit concerts have already been scheduled. A telethon is scheduled for tonight to raise money for the Red Cross and its effort to provide relief to those that are coping with the loss of their loved ones, homes, and possessions. The city is brimming with volunteers ready to help in whatever way they can. When you see people coming together like this, the true emotions you have for a place quickly surface.

I pray for my hometown as it starts on the long road of rebuilding and recovery.

God bless Nashville.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The greatest song I’ve ever written…

I have a constant ache to create.

I believe that we’re all born with it. I think it is part of being made in the image of God. We’re created to create, just as He creates. Our creative capacities and impulses no doubt differ from one person to the next, but as a whole, I believe that every human has an innate desire to craft something of worth. Whether you are a songwriter, poet, painter, parent, interior designer, or anything else, I believe that this longing to create something of value and beauty resides in us all.

My desire to create has been satisfied, to some extent, over the past year. That doesn’t at all mean that I don’t feel the urge to write a melody, or a poem, or a song on a regular basis. That compulsion still exists and I have to attend to it constantly, sometimes quenching it, sometimes appeasing it, sometimes postponing it.

But for the most part, over the last year, my creative inclinations have been temporarily contented. I think I have a pretty good understanding of why. If you feel like you’ve composed a masterpiece, it’s very hard to go back to writing anything less…;)

Happy birthday, my son.
March 8, 2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

20 years with Christ

Today is my birthday. I say that not to provoke well wishes from anyone who may stumble upon this post, but to simply connect today with a much more notable attribute of this time for me. When I look ahead to the coming year, the most significant part of it that stands out is the fact that this spring will mark my 20th year in my walk with Christ.

I could write for hours about my stubborn resistance to sanctification over these past twenty years, my obstinate hesitancy to trust the God I’ve walked with all this time, but that’s not my intention here.

I want to look back at the wells of water that have quenched my thirst along my journey, the Ebenezers that have been raised along the path, the altars that I’ve built in order to remember the unwavering faithfulness of God. I can, without hesitation, sing with the psalmist “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” because that has been the theme of my journey thus far.

I can look back and clearly mark the moments of mercy. I can still taste the goodness of the Lord that I experienced along the way. True, the deserts have been arid. There have been times where I have felt so off course. The communion I’ve shared at His table has been consistently sweet, though I’ve rejected His friendship more times than I can possibly count. My faith has often been misplaced. My vain and corrupt searches for my own kingdom have left me exhausted. I’ve doubted, wandered, and resented. I’ve been skeptical of His goodness, wrestled with envy, and grappled with apathy.

But I have tasted and the taste still lingers, even in times of disenchantment. The wellsprings along the path have always led me into an even deeper relationship with the One I journey with.

And He continues to invite me onward… into the next twenty years.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I’ve always been fascinated by the Cistercian Order. I’m completely intrigued by those that feel called to a disciplined life of prayer and physical labor in quiet community with their brothers in the faith, drawn out from the world in order to seek God more fully in mind, spirit and body. On several occasions, I have had the opportunity to journey north to the oldest Trappist Monastary in the U.S., The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and to stay in the retreat house adjacent to the monk’s quarters. The Trappist monk’s life is a beautiful picture of kinship, full of quiet wonder at the work of God in and among men. The Abbey itself is situated in the hills of Kentucky, surrounded by dirt roads, dense woods, and farmland. Some of my fondest memories of communing with God come from my times of retreat there. It probably has a lot to do with my personality, but times of solitude and quiet tend to revive my spirit and work to reposition my focus on the true things of God, His mercy, and His purposes.

Trappists monks are signified by their fervent, disciplined devotion to prayer. I, on the other hand, am not. I’m, at best, undisciplined and listless. I want to be defined by constancy, devotion and self-discipline, but I would more likely be identified by my timidity and insecurities. Letting myself be overtaken by subtle distractions is one of my many, many vices.

As a protestant raised in the contemporary church, I grew up with the obligatory suspicion of anything liturgical. The mantra in my life, as it is with most contemporary churchers, has been “no one should dictate how I communicate with God” (a very Western/American influenced view of prayer, I’m sure). By default, we’re taught that prayer should be conversational and somewhat informal, and trust me when I say, I believe there are numerous aspects of this viewpoint that are positive and that I will always hold to.

The problem with completely shunning all things liturgical is our own inability to articulate prayer at times. Though we feel free to talk to God whenever and however we want, we just don’t do it most of the time for some reason. For the average believer, prayer is needs based, as opposed to relationship based. And because we’ve tossed out the scripts, we’re often times left like actors with no lines to read. True, spontaneous improvisation is immensely desirable, but can sometimes feel insufficient. Quite often, if we don’t have anything we’re supposed to say, then we just don’t say anything at all.

Before you write me off, let me give an example.

My son has had trouble sleeping the last few days. He started waking up more frequently and became less and less able to put himself back to sleep. Jes and I got into the bad habit of pulling him out of His bed and putting him between us in ours so that he would quickly fall back asleep and we could attain blessed silence once again. We realized that we were going to have to start leaving him in his bed in order to train him to fall back asleep on his own. The first few nights didn’t go too well. He would wake up several times and be completely inconsolable. We had to just let him cry for a while. Well, this has become an ebb and flow of a few days with great sleep followed by a few more days where he chooses spend much of the night restless and crying. When he’s chosen not to sleep, I’ll occasionally kneel beside his bed and try to soothe him back to sleep by rubbing his back. In some cases, this results in me rubbing his back for 30 or 40 minutes straight at 4am. In those moments, I’ve wanted so badly to pray, mostly because of the quietness of the moment, the physical discomfort of it all, and the otherwise ungodly hour that I find myself awake at. But for whatever reason, exhaustion, frustration, etc., I can’t seem to find the words. My spirit longs to commune with God in that moment, but my fatigued body won’t let my mind clear up enough to find the words to speak. This is where the recitation of prayers consoles me. It acts as a physical catalyst for communion with God when my mind is hazy and my body is weary… “Lord Jesus Christ, take all my freedom, my memory, my understanding, and my will. All that I have and cherish you have given me. I surrender it all to be guided by your will. Your grace and your love are wealth enough for me. Give me these, Lord Jesus; I ask for nothing more.”

Prayer is a curious thing. Communication with the living God from our current state would seem to require so much more preparation, effort, or will-power than it actually does. But for whatever reason, we’re invited into the conversation that is already taking place between the Spirit of Christ in us and God the Father.

Prayer changes us in ways that no other spiritual discipline can. It gently, never forcefully, aligns us with the work and will of God. It leads us into the stream of God’s flowing current. His purposes invite us in, despite the language we use, whether we are reciting a prayer or bringing the tired, wordless groanings of our spirit. By the time we position ourselves to pray, we realize that He has already begun His work in us.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Prayer of Martin Luther

iMonk posted this a few days ago, and it has stuck with me ever since I read it.
You can find the original post here.

"Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.

My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen me.

I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent, that my love may go out to my neighbor.

I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust you altogether.
O Lord, help me. Strengthen my faith and trust in you. In you I have sealed the treasure of all I have. I am poor; you are rich and came to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; you are upright. With me, there is an abundance of sin; in you is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore I will remain with you, of whom I can receive, but to whom I may not give."

-Martin Luther
May we walk with the same humility as our fathers in the faith; quick to recognize our ignorance, even quicker to confess our sinfulness.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Because of Your mercy…

Jes and I have had many conversations about ministry in the last week. More often than not, our dialogue moves easily into a mutual sense of how undeserving we feel to share in the work of the Kingdom. Our lives are nothing extraordinary. We struggle to find God in the everyday routine we often find ourselves in. We have to work to engage in a consistent prayer life. All too often, we are content to leave God in the background, finding ourselves consumed with the effort it takes to get through each day.

The truth is: we absolutely don’t deserve any place in ministry. As I’ve gotten older and have become all too aware of my own perpetually bad habits, stubborn sinful inclinations, and apathetic tendencies, I grow more and more certain of God’s unrelenting mercy. I’ve shed any sense of entitlement to worldly importance that my younger self sinfully held onto. Any good that comes, any task He graciously includes us in, any person that we are commissioned to effect in a positive way, any positive thing that happens in our life is solely because He is merciful.

“Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!
I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my Hope in Him. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is still young.” Lamentations 3:21-27

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nouwen on Authenticity in Friendship

"When we dare to speak from the depths of our heart to the friends God gives us, we will gradually find new freedom within us and courage to live our own sorrows and joys to the full."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Moving with the Whisper

The very nature of God’s created works suggests that He plans, motivates, and even encourages change in His created beings. The earth is full of the evidence of God’s ever-evolving, systematic plan for his creation to progress. This cyclical motion of development all around us suggests that our lives are meant to follow the same pattern.

From a theological standpoint, many would say that the only reason why anything changes is because of the resulting decay of man’s fall. But I don’t agree. I think change comes with purpose, though its purpose can often be difficult to define. Our best chance of moving with the Spirit of God is to loosen our grip on our own future. Ambition can naturally result in planning, and forecasting our own future is often helpful, and in itself, not sinful. But when the plans we’ve created for ourselves become anchors, causing our sails to resist the winds of God’s intentions, then they become barriers to the intentions of the Spirit. But when the prayer “Your will be done” is a fundamental phrase in our prayer life, our plans are never a hindrance, because they’re never beyond the reach of God’s swiftly progressing story of salvation in our lives.

Lately, it seems, change seems to come relentlessly in my spirit.