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Between the Sundays

As a kid you’re told not to judge a book by it’s cover. And since most people will watch a movie before reading a book in today’s world, I guess it might be more appropriate to say that we shouldn’t judge a movie by it’s trailer alone. Either way, it’s the idea that what exists between the front and back page of a hardcover novel might be more intriguing and meaningful than the artwork on the front would have us think.

I was introduced to the same idea as it pertained to faith quite a few years back now. It’s been said that we live life between two trees, the initial tree in the Garden of Eden and the final Tree of Life in the New Jerusalem. We stand between the fall and the final redemption of man. And most of the scriptures depict how we as humans, being pursued by a loving God, discover and respond to that redemption.

Of course there are climactic moments to which our attention is often drawn, such as the birth narrative and the resurrection story. There are significant elements of transformation that flood our minds like the birth of the church or our own transfer from the darkness to light, addition to grace, fear to love. One can’t forget the seasons of reformation like that of Luther in 1517 or that time when you and many others committed to a season of prayer and saw local congregational regeneration. All of these moments happen between the trees.

I’ve recently been saying another phrase/question that has slimmed down a vast amount of days between the trees. For me it takes faith to a new depth, or new focus maybe. It goes a little like this: “How do we live between the Sundays?”

So much of what we consider church, in the grand year 2013, takes place on Sunday. We gather. We sing. We receive offering. We pray. We shake hands. We fellowship. We take communion. We may even break bread together. But how is it that we participate in church between the Sundays? That’s been the place that has most troubled and convicted me as of late. How do we practice the very sacred acts of the body during the week together? How does what happens in the lives of believers, intentionally intersecting with one another, during the week become more intriguing, significant, and meaningful? Is it just small groups? Is it just another study? Or is it about adopting a common rhythm, practice, or way of life. Hmmm…

I am eagerly, maybe even desperately, seeking community that begs for the interaction of the church between the Sundays; interactions that rival or even exceed the gathering for worship each weekend. I wish to come alongside hearts that are hungry for the discipleship process becoming a true rhythm in their lives. I need people who push me to beg for fellowship, interaction, accountability, and inner transformation.

Sundays are great. But I’m still looking for those ready to live between the Sundays as well.

* Acts 2

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“…and It Looks Amazing!”

Two of my clients recently participated in the Knoxville Half Marathon. It was a complete training challenge for them both, mentally and physically. And I am pleased to say that they both rose to the occasion and did stupendous, of which I was very proud.

I’ve been a part of cycling events that involved just over 1,000 cyclists and those were pretty big. However, it was pretty inspiring, and wild, to see 8,000 runners bouncing themselves over the starting bridge and onto their mileage destinations of 5k, 10k, half, and full marathon.

The end of the run led participants through hilly downtown Knoxville and onto the 50-yard line of Neyland Stadium, home of the Tennessee Volunteers. Ok, for a little sidetrack now. That stadium is pretty impressive! It’s massive, and I can only imagine the swarm of orange that descends on that place during the fall. Now, I know that I wasn’t born here and don’t quite have the full rabid UT spirit in my blood as some do. Either way, I would like to, at least once, participate in that wildness, in that stadium. Alright, back to the story.

At the finish line, announcers were reading off the names of people crossing the line. Nearly every runner would throw his or her hands up in victory, even after suffering in agony for the last few miles. One client said that when he got the stadium a sweet little lady helping with the event looked at him and said, “The finish line is just inside those doors and it looks amazing!” When he told me that, a little flare went off in my soul. I was seriously stirred inside and I knew there was something the Lord wanted me to learn from that statement.

Faith and life can be much like a marathon. We start off excited, nervous, and energetic; bouncing our way over the starting bridge. A few years into the journey we face some steep hills that test our endurance, character, and preparation. There may even be points when we just want to abandon the race, to become a spectator, or surrender to the struggle. However, it’s at those moments that we must remember who the author and finisher of our faith is; our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the one on whom we fix our eyes.

I can imagine that when my journey on this planet comes to a close, I’ll be rounding that final corner of life’s marathon. When I close my eyes here and my soul awakens in eternity, I can just picture a sweet old saint that has gone before me standing just before the kingdom gates saying, “The finish line is just inside those gates, and He looks amazing!” Those final few steps toward my Savior will be made in confidence. All the pains endured in this world will melt away. I will be home.

Some days, if I’m completely honest, I wish that moment were sooner than later. And yet, that’s selfish. I will have all eternity to enjoy that moment. While I remain on this cosmic floating ball, I need to help others discover the author and finisher of their faith. That’s a huge responsibility, but even more so it’s a great privilege. Want to join me?

* Hebrews 12:1-4

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St. Patrick’s Day: There’s More to It

Today is the famous Kelly Green day fondly called St. Paddy’s. And if you are a half Irish guy… it just seems like a day that completely needs celebrated! What’s really amazing is the lesser known story of St. Patrick. He was quite the stellar missionary actually.

Little is known of Patrick’s early life, though it is known that he was born in Roman Britain in the fifth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father and grandfather were deacons in the Church. At the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken captive to Ireland as a slave.[1] It is believed he … (more).

Oh, and you might want to wear green or you might get pinched. That and I would strongly consider some corned beef and cabbage too!

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I Hate Death

I hate death, or do I? That’s the question I have been pondering since Sunday afternoon.

I arrived at my normal Sunday afternoon bike club ride and started chatting with the regulars. The weather was gorgeous, finally, and slew of new people were there to enjoy it as well. One regular was missing though. I asked Lee, “Where’s Steve? He didn’t return my texts about riding today.”

“Oh, you don’t know?” he replied. “Steve died on Friday. I don’t have your phone number and I thought you heard…”

Solemn. Silent. Confused. I really couldn’t hear or process much of what he said.

I didn’t know because my only cell phone or media connection to the group was Steve. I had showed up last July and he introduced himself, invited me to ride other times, and we swapped phone numbers. Now someone that I rode bikes with 2-3 times a week was gone in an instant. I felt horrible.

He hadn’t been feeling good lately. He’d even went in for a serious of tests to determine why he felt “off”. But the doctor had just released him saying,-- “He’d get hit by a car on the bike before he’d have a heart attack.” That was the quote Lee told me. The next day he passed in his car on the way to the hospital, heart attack at 52. Steve Newman was a believer, a great guy, a good cyclist, and he had become a friend.

That leads me to the statement: I hate death. I do. I know my situation is selfish in nature due to the fact that thousands are dying all the time; cancer, war, malnutrition, poverty cycles, violence, and on and on we could go. Either way, death angers me. It means that a person I shared life and truth with was ripped away. The body of the soul I have grown to know is now an empty shell in a box, and then the ground. The separation is immediate and abrupt. It’s no wonder this wasn’t God’s plan for man, and it’s a true marvel that death is not the end. However, until the end or my end comes, it is something with which I will wrestle.

The scriptures state that “the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).” And so I will continue to hate the finality of death. But the bigger question is will I hate the present nature of death in my life the same? Will I hate the sin that produces death and destruction in my body, in my soul even? Will I stand against it with such defiance because I know my God has conquered both sin and death that I may have victory, and have it in abundance here and now? Will I, because of God’s amazing grace, then hate the sins that steal, kill, and destroy my heart?

Something tells me this level of hatred just might produce the life for which I long.

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Policemen or Pioneers

I’ve been processing a few thoughts in my head as of late and I’m going to toss them out for your consideration, opinion. The swirl in my head seems to arise out of the role of the church. Now it’s important to know that I don’t mean the only role of the church, but certainly an over-arching theme and mission. Even more important is to know that I mean the church as people and not as institution. With that premise, let me share a little about what I’ve been thinking.

When I think of policemen, I have the stereotypical thoughts most others do. And when I see them on the highway, it’s like a shark in the water (cue Jaws music). However, to be fair, policemen are called to serve and to protect. They serve communities by patrolling or directing traffic in school zones. They also protect us from danger or disturbances. There is a specific sense of safety they generate. One can begin to rest in the idea that the grime and crime of the world won’t bother you when they’re around.

I wonder if the church ever gets like that? The church looks for ways to serve each other, meeting the real and felt needs of other saints. The church even patrols the saved populous to be sure they are safe from the outside world and it’s influences. The beat cops of the church crack down on law-breaking, dispensing tickets to encourage behavior modification. The church serves, it protects.

As much as it feels wrong to pick at a practice that perpetuates the safety bubble of the church members, I wonder if the body of Christ was meant for something different, something more.

When I think about a pioneer heading west on the early plains of the American landscape, I can’t help but think of the word danger. There was wildlife, wild natives, rugged terrain, brutal weather, and the mystery of the unknown. Pioneers probably had to shoot a bear, ford a river or two, and ward off sickness without a walk-in clinic. They were expanding the borders and boundaries of their land and their influence; it was treacherous and beautiful all at the same time.

When I think of the church, I imagine that the pioneer life could be a good description. I picture the people of God advancing the kingdom of heaven. I envision expanding borders of Christ-like influence into the dark corners of cities and the hidden recesses of people’s hearts. I sense a desire for danger, mystery, something worth dying for, living for (a spirit like that might light the fire of more men — the sex that abandons the building of church faster than their counterpart). To me, the word pioneer seems to be a great word to define the early church. It would be hard to be bored in a first-century, pioneer church. However, would that some word be used today? I wonder…

I don’t know about you, but I want don’t to be content with events that secure our safety or add to our comfort. I want to pursue the wild, unknown space of people’s hearts, both lost and found. I want to be pioneer for the Kingdom of Heaven. I long to rally with others who desire to (re)claim the bountiful hearts that belong to our great King. It’ll take investment. It’ll be risky. But oh the adventure it will be– to God be the Glory!

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Like Sands Through the Hour Glass…

My college roommate took a bet one time that he could watch a soap opera for a week and then stop. After one week, in my opinion, he lost. He was hooked for most of the semester. We would all say that soaps don’t usually depict real life. However, after watching the news for a few days this week I’m starting to wonder. Here are a few of this week’s crazy stories, and my non-politically correct thoughts about by them.

1) The Pope Resigns. Not in over 600 years I think I heard has a pope resigned. People are freaked about it, but if the guy doesn’t want to be 80 and mumbling the midnight mass with a strained neck because he can’t hold up the silly hat, then more power to him. At least he realizes it and prayed about the decision. More than you can say for other world leaders. And I did love joke about, “Guess what the Pope gave up for lent this year…” Ha!

2) Cruise Ship Looses Power and Gets Tugged Home. I don’t know what was crazier, the fact that a high-rise city was left floating in the dark or the fact that this was given so much press. They weren’t dying. They could’ve been life-flighted in case of individual emergency situations. People spoke like it was horrific to be stuck on a cruise ship without good sanitation conditions. Hello, welcome to neighborhoods in India and Africa that have greater population and worse conditions. Besides, they’ll get treated like kings their next go round. It’s a Carnival compared to places all over the globe.

3) Meteor Strikes Russia. What!? Are you kidding? Can you imagine a Russian businessman calling into work from the hospital. “I won’t be in today. My car and I got hit by a hurling space rock!” Or how about “No school today on account of fire balls from the sky!” That’s just crazy.

4) The Washington Redskins Refuse to Change Mascot Name. Oh my word! Really! Are we really that upset that an Indian mascot is being called red? We have comedians degrade our president everyday. We have commercials and reality shows that reinforce the redneck, gay, and crazy college stereotypes everyday and we are upset that a team mascot has the word red it it? What do want to call them: The District of Columbia Lawmakers? I think that’s even more offensive.

5) Olympic Hero Charged with Murder. Authorities in South Africa are stumped as to why double-amputee runner Oscar Pistorious supposedly murdered his live-in model girlfriend. The Blade Runner, as he was nick-named during the Summer Olympics, did not flee– it’s no hit and run so to speak. There were no signs of forced entry to the home and prior domestic disturbance calls lead investigators to believe this was definitely a murder of passion. However, Oscar strongly denied the charges. I just hope his defense isn’t, “If the shoe doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Well, I guess that’s just the world we live in… and these are the Days of our Lives. ;)

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Addiction

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I recently watched a movie about a man who struggled with a profound alcohol addiction, which in turn led to him destroying his life with other drugs, losing his family, and ending up in prison. It was tough to watch at points because, as in any good story, you are compelled to pull for the main character. You want him or her to succeed. You want said character to change, to renew, to overcome. And if you’re anything like me, you want the fictional characters in stories to kick their addictions and bad habits even more than you want to kick your own.

“Well, I don’t have an addition to drugs,” you may say. Which is great. But in many ways we all have negatively addicting behaviors. We watch to much TV, eat too much, drive recklessly while texting, or even bite our fingernails when bored or nervous. Whatever the addition is, it can be controlling. And so we by will power, divine power, and positive peer pressure power, we commit to change. We cease all activities that led us into our first addiction in hopes of finding the freedom we desire.

You may have noticed that I wrote first addiction. Here’s why… My wife and I were talking about addictions the other day (mostly because she is hopelessly addicted to me– she’s incurable though). Ok, back to the story. And she mentioned that we always replace one addiction for another. I somewhat agreed and commented about that’s why you almost always see the crew at an AA meeting outside smoking. They are kicking alcohol but a new or rising addiction is smoking. Or you might see it as an overweight women addicted to work that loses her husband to an affair will suddenly become addicted to the gym and fitness. Addictions so often replace addictions.

So is that true freedom? Is my devotion to Jesus a guilt-soothing addiction that’s replacing the sin nature my flesh seems to crave? Or is it a choice that allows me to experience real freedom in my life? Am I truly following Christ or am I fleeing negative choices?

I have been struggling with the idea that addiction replaces addition completely because of the truth of the Spirit of God that has been placed in me. The Holy Spirit empowers me, counsels me, equips me, and renews me. That renovation of the heart can’t be just addiction replacement– it can’t be. That transformation is the process of being recreated. From what I understand from the scriptures, by His grace, He is making making all things new and we are a new creation in Him. Therefore, I choose to believe that my addictions are giving way to a newly designed DNA of the soul. I believe that is where I will find true freedom.

And where the Hulk says “you won’t like me when I’m angry”, I think you’d like me more when I’m free!

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