Wednesday, February 27, 2008

lent and chocolate

We're about halfway through the season of Lent. Lent is not a common practice in many Baptist churches; and I didn't plan well enough for us to really observe it at Convergence; but I did talk a little about it Sunday...

I gave up chocolate for lent this year. A really big deal for me. I love chocolate. I've done pretty well--there have been a couple times when I almost ate some--not on purpose, but just because I forgot. Which tells me I may not be thinking and praying about this very well...

I've also been trying to practice silence more--being still and silent in prayer (my friend Josh's idea). It's been really good. 

Talking about silence and listening in church, and practicing it more myself, is preparing me for Easter.  Meditating on his death and resurrection is helping me to think more about the idea of expectation, anticipation, longing for connection with Jesus. 

I feel like I'm closer to Him than ever--I'm trying to live in an attitude of prayer most of the time. It is easier when things are good--and these days I experience his love in much of my life--my family, my job, my friends...(it does get tougher when I'm tired and grumpy; but that's life...)

Lisa and I leave for NY early tomorrow; we're going to the International Arts Movement conference. Should be really good! But I already miss my family. (GMU has a late game; so I'm staying at my friend Kenny's house tonight).  

Saturday, February 23, 2008

more on belonging to God

OK, yesterday I wrote about belonging to God, and realize some may read my opening as contrasting belonging to God with having right theology and doctrine...and I'm sure many would say you can't belong to God without right theology and doctrine.
that's just not an argument I want to get into. My point was that we often make too much of making sure people are right, to the detriment of helping people to be loving. I think God wants us to be learning and growing...but I think it saddens Him that so many Christians are spending so much time and energy critiquing and criticizing each other, because they don't agree on theology and doctrine.

I want to know God more intimately; I want to understand His heart and mind and perspective as much as possible. But I don't want to set myself as the judge of others; and it burns me when others try to do so. God is big enough to help us know what He wants us to know. 

I think we should pursue truth, but even more we need to love and serve and give. We need to look for what God is doing and get in on it. There is way too much poverty and hunger and oppression and slavery and illness and death and violence and war in our world. In light of that, most of our debates over theological interpretation seem trivial to me.

I hope that when this life is over and I'm completely in God's presence I'll get the answers to my questions; until then, I need to spend my life caring for others.

Friday, February 22, 2008

belonging to God

Whoever belongs to God hears what God says.
John 8:47

Belonging to God. Not having the right theology. Not having the right doctrine. Not having all the answers. Belonging to God. If I belong to Him; then I hear him. I get really irritated when I hear or read people who have it all figured out, and are critical of those who don't agree with them (probably way too irritated).

Although I'm sure they don't mean to, their attitude often seems to communicate that God belongs to them, rather than they belong to God. I mean their idea or understanding of God must be captured and defined and then held up as a standard to which all others must agree and comply.

But I think belonging to God is completely different. It's all about being His child. It's first about receiving His unconditional love. It's about loving and seeking and reaching out to Him. Being held and loved and cared for by Him. I don't get everything about God. I don't understand a lot about the state of the world and God's role in it; i.e. evil and suffering. 

But I trust that He is here. I might not always "get" Him, but I belong to Him. I experience His love in countless ways--through the joys of life with Him--my family, my home, my friends, my faith community, my books, my music...

He created me. He is working on me. He loves me--when I'm right or wrong. When I'm wise or clueless. I am His. I belong to Him. And although it's often scary, I think I hear Him more and more.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

how God speaks

Sermon on the Mount by Gerald Shepherd

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
Hebrews 1:1-3

God's greatest form of communication is not the Bible--it's His son. Jesus. John says Jesus is the Word of God.

In human form He brings the message that God tried to communicate to his people for thousands of years. He fulfills the law that God gave His people, that they couldn’t obey.  

Jesus is the Word of God, He embodies all that God wants to communicate to us. The Bible is where we go to learn about the life of Jesus.

God speaks to us through Jesus, especially the words and actions of Jesus, that we read in the New Testament. If we want to know God’s heart, God’s desires, God’s plans, God’s wishes, God’s perspective…we’ve got to know Jesus.

We've got to read His words, and learn about the events of His life. We’ve got to let His words and thoughts enter and fill us. We’ve got to meditate and ponder and pray—and as we do that, we listen, and allow His spirit to speak to us.

If we want to hear God through Jesus, a great place to start is Matthew 5-7, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.  

Here He summarized beautifully what God has to say to us. The bottom line is to love God and love people. We can spend hours dissecting that, asking exactly what does that look like for us as individuals, and as a church; but that's the starting point. Love God, and love people. If everything we do meets the criteria of those commands; we can’t go wrong. 

As we ponder how God speaks; I am challenged to really make time and space in my life to listen and just be with Jesus. I sometimes get so caught up in ministry and theology, that I miss out on the real experience of connecting with Jesus, my savior, my creator, my friend, my father. I am reminded over and over that it always comes back to silence--making time to be present with Him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

hearing God

We've been talking about the importance of listening to God; being present with Him, silent before Him.

This week we started talking about hearing Him. If we're silent, if we're open, if we're making space in our lives to listen; what does it look or sound like when He speaks? How do we hear His voice? How do we know it's His voice we're hearing?

Again, in worship this week, I encouraged us to spend some time in the questions, rather than look for quick answers. One question we ask is "What am I listening for?" (Or to be grammatically correct--"For what am I listening?")

Am I listening only for specific answers to specific questions? Or am I simply listening because God is there, speaking, working, loving, reaching out?

Instead of coming to God only with specific questions or problems or requests, I need to go to God open to hear what He is saying, looking for how He is working in my life, seeking His perspective instead of my own. I need to ask for what He wants, rather than telling Him what I want.

If prayer is about more than just asking and answering, if it's about connecting and communicating with God, them I need to approach Him without an agenda, with more than my prayer list; I need to approach Him truly open for whatever He has to say.

Over the next few days I'll look at some Scripture passages we looked at while talking about this.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Wendell Berry--my new favorite writer

I just finished A World Lost by Wendell Berry. Wow. The best book I've read in a long time. He is an amazing writer; writes the most poetic prose I've ever read. I'm eager to read all of his work.

Rather than write a lot; I encourage you to look at this website--all about his works, life, reviews, blogs, discussions,etc.

thanks to Josh and Seth for recommending him!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

prayer--just being

There is a significant difference between doing and being; and recognizing that difference can have a big impact on our prayer. Life, especially in this area, is busy. We are always doing, and therefore become more comfortable with it.

At work we do all day. At home, we work on the house or yard, cook or clean; when we stop, we watch TV or listen to music.

We tend to do the same thing in church--always doing something--praying, singing, reading, listening, talking--we spend our time doing things, rather than being present with God.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for God and our relationship with Him is NOTHING. Sometimes we just need to be present with God.

Prayer is an attitude of God-consciousness and God-surrender that we carry with us at all times. I want to live every waking moment with an awareness that God is with me and that he is actively involved and engaged in my thoughts and actions. 

God wants to hear our thoughts, fears, questions, desires, feelings...but before we take our stuff to Him, we need to take time to be still and silent before Him--just listening; just being.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Ok, I don’t want to get all political, but I have to say that yesterday was profound. I voted in the VA primary, and it was the first time in over a decade that I was really excited about voting for a presidential candidate. 

As a pastor I try to be accessible to all people; and don't want to say things that will put up walls. I respect people, even with different opinions and perspectives--heck, my wife and I rarely agree when it comes to politics, and I love and respect her deeply.

Anyway, I am excited about the history being made here. There is a good chance we will have our first female or African American president. There is a good chance that our next president will take steps to get us out of the civil war in Iraq. These are exciting possibilities to me.

It is so rewarding to participate in this process. In the midst of a hard week, voting gave me a lot of joy and hope.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

more thoughts on prayer

One theme, probably the main theme, throughout the Bible is that God wants to be in relationship with  us. He knows us and wants us to know Him. He loves us and wants us to love Him. He communicates with us and wants us to communicate with Him.

Prayer is the primary way that communication happens. It is how we know and hear and talk to God.

If we believe that God is God and I am not; then the thing we should do most is listen. God has a lot more figured out than I do. How am I going to know God, and learn from Him, if all I do is talk to Him, telling Him what I want and think and feel?

If prayer is going to help us know and hear God, we've got to shut up and listen. We've got to stop going to Him with an agenda each time and just be with Him.

I love being with my children. We don't have to do anything, just being with them is pure joy...listening to my 21 month old sing, hum, try new words...watching my 5 month old smile and giggle when I talk to him...holding my pre-teen daughter when she is hurting or upset..I love just being with them.

God wants the same with us--to just be with us. To be by our side as we walk through life. Prayer happens when we are as aware of Him as He is of us; when we acknowledge Him and live life with Him. It isn't always doing anything in particular; it happens when His spirit and ours come together.

Monday, February 11, 2008


OK, last post of the day. Don't forget to vote! I recently found out that in VA, you don't have to be registered as a Democrat or Republican to vote in the primary. As long as you are a registered voter, you can choose which primary to vote in. 

So go make a difference in this historic election year!

read this blog

You really need to read this blog--unwordable words. He echoes a lot of my thoughts; but much more eloquently! It's great (but really long--give yourself some time)

a couple excerpts:
"if the church isn't ready to start hitting the issues with explanations based outside of our cultural mindset as well as being willing to dive deeper, the church could die..."

"in order to live a life that embodies the Gospel, we must dive deeper into the scripture than the standard sunday morning message and apply scripture to our lives, rather than applying our situation and culture to interpret scripture."

why pray?

Two weeks ago at Convergence we invited people to give their questions about prayer; the most common was "why pray?" So last night we talked about that. 

We had a small crowd; so I thought I'd post some of what we talked about. I'll probably do it a little at a time throughout the week.

One of the things we are trying to do is move beyond the common answers. In recent years I have been examining some of the things I was taught years ago and continued to hold onto without thinking (how to read the Bible, how salvation works, nature of prayer, church, that Jesus is a republican...)

I have also become aware of the huge divide between the conversation we usually have in church, and the conversations I have in seminary classes, and with others in ministry.

In church we often try to address a topic in an hour; or if it's really big, in a series over a few weeks. Either way, the goal often seems to be to figure out whatever we're talking about; and by then end of the sermon or series, we act as if we now have all the answers and move on to something else.

But in class, we talk about a topic for two hours a week for four months; and still don't have it figured out. We dig a lot deeper and really wrestle with Scripture, history, different understanding and interpretations. We also learn to work and think for ourselves, rather than just telling people what they should believe. (I want to do the same as a pastor).

Now I know church is not seminary. But I do think it would be good for our discussions to go a little deeper; for us to be more real and honest with questions, and not just settle for simple answers. 

One gentleman expressed concern that we not make Christianity more mysterious than it is--wanting to be careful to not be like cults that elevate secrecy and mystery.

I understand that; but I think in our context the greater challenge is to not simplify the Bible or our faith. The Bible is full of mystery. It's not a simple how-to-live-life manual. 

The fact that we found 366 verses that mention prayer; and that we had a lot of great questions come out of that, tells me there is a lot to dig through to understand this one topic. People have been studying the Bible for 2000 years and still can't agree on it. We need to dig in, and keep at it.

So we're not going to be afraid to get our hands dirty. We're going to dig deeper, discuss, ask hard questions, and most of all practice prayer in the coming weeks; not just to figure it all out, but to encourage and challenge each other on the journey of living life with God and one another.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

death and life

Thursday I attended the funeral of a gentleman who passed away after a nine year battle with cancer. I did not know Alman well; we saw each other once or twice a year for the last few years; but he was one you remember. He had a dry sense of humor and was always fun to talk with. 
I went to visit him about a week before he died. I was nervous on my way to his home; not knowing how alert he would be; what we would talk about. Although he looked very thin; his eyes were the same--full of life and wit.

He joked about feeling like the pope, the way people were coming one after another to visit him, most probably feeling uncomfortable. What do you say to a man who is going to die soon?

I have been in enough similar situations to know that the best thing is to just be real and natural, and most of all, listen. We talked about basketball--Alman was a UNC alumn. 

On the wall behind the sofa where Alman sat was a print of Rembrandt's The Prodigal Son. I don't know a lot of art, but knew that one. Henry Nouwen wrote a wonderful book based on the painting. Turns out Alman had read the book as well, in fact said it was one he went back and reread periodically. 

So we talked about the painting, and the book, about how the main idea is that at different times in life we are like all three characters in the story--the prodigal son, returning home after living selfishly; the father, forgiving and welcoming his son; and the older brother, jealous of his forgiven brother.

For just a few moments I felt so connected to this man who accomplished a great deal in this life, and by all accounts was an honorable, loving, Godly man. It felt strange to walk out knowing it was the last time I would see him. I was taken back to my father's death, and then thoughts of my own death. 

I don't really have any profound thoughts. I believe in heaven; although I don't know what it's going to be like--I think our modern supposings are more hopeful than accurate--I think it's something beyond what we can even imagine...

but being around death usually challenges me to live more now--be more present with my kids and my wife; try harder to enter the lives of the people I do church with; most of all it challenges me to connect with God, to seek Him, be with Him.

One of the ways I'm trying to do that these days is through silent prayer; just being with Him and listening to Him. So I go back to the beginning of this post and enter a time of prayer where I contemplate this beautiful painting, and the love of God behind it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

nature writing

I'm part of a writing circle that meets weekly, led by my friend Nina. Nina is great; she gets me thinking and writing like I haven't in years. 
Today we wrote about nature. Nina showed us a picture of a beautiful beach and asked us to write. (It wasn't one of these, but close enough). Below is what I wrote in response to the image.

Why do I see images of places that I long to go to, be in, experience, live in; yet I stay here, in a city that I don’t really love, that feels heavy and crowded and busy and rushed.

I love the beach and blue water and mountains and trees and waterfalls. Why do I live in a place that doesn’t really have any of that? I look at pictures like this and am filled with longing. I remember times when I have visited places filled with such beauty.

Sanibel Island. We vacationed there three years ago, and it was wonderful. White sand, cool water, waves, shells, amazing seafood. We spent days walking on the beach gathering shells, biking along paths, looking at incredible plants and flowers and trees and animals.

One morning I got up and rode to a local coffee shop to get some work done. I imagined that I was a famous writer, that I lived on the island, and spent my mornings writing in the coffee shop; listening to the stories of both locals and tourists.

Then I thought, why couldn’t I just find a job in a place like this, and be in beautiful surroundings all the time? Would I grow weary of the beauty of nature if I lived there? Would I tire of the beach and ocean? Would it lose it’s mystery and magic?

I don’t know, but I would like to find out. I’m starting to think that life is too short to wait to try and risk and experiment and pursue dreams.

Then I realize that is a lot of what we are doing here at Convergence. We are trying to risk and experiment and pursue dreams. I love what I am doing. I think it’s just the location or setting that I wish were different.

My life has been marked by moves to new places. Maybe there is another one not too far off—and maybe next time I will look at the world around me and choose someplace that grabs my desires and dreams the way this beach does.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


What a night. I just finished watching probably the second greatest upset I've ever seen, as the NY Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl (the greatest upset was Mason beating Connecticut to advance to the Final Four in 2006)...
But the highlight of my night was dinner and communion at Convergence. We had our first annual chili cook-off. Our panel of expert judges chose my friend Jason and my step-father Jerry as the winners! There was some great chili!

Dinner was great, then we moved into a time of prayer and reflection, focusing on confession. I'm afraid it's an act that we don't take seriously enough; but scripture addresses it often.

I encouraged people to confess their sins to God; and we gave them the opportunity to express confession creatively, by writing or painting. We also had communion tonight. 

Jamie and I prayed and took communion together; it was powerful. I had to confess I haven't been very loving lately; but sharing that worship experience tonight was very healing. 

It was really cool watching people pray, paint, write, take communion, listen to music--worshiping in individual ways; yet together as a community.