Saturday, December 31, 2011

Great thoughts from Rob Bell's goodbye sermon

A couple days ago I listened to Rob Bell's final message to Mars Hill. I love listening to Rob--his voice adds passion and wonder to his words. I posted a link to this message on my facebook page, but suggest you get the podcast and listen, rather than just read.

I thought I'd share a few parts of his message that spoke to me:

this church, this place, this community, was once simply a
hunch. a dream. a vision. 

a picture in the mind of a new kind of church for the new world we find ourselves in. 

a church that was fearless in confronting the injustices and systems of oppression that lurk around every corner and at the very same time deeply committed to the personal, intimate experience of following Jesus, of experiencing the joy and peace that transcends space and time. 

a church that found the stale, old categories of liberal and conservative boring and irrelevant because we'd experienced resurrection, which includes and affirms anything and everything that brings liberating, new life wherever it's found irrespective of whatever labels and categories it's been given because of an abiding conviction that the
tomb is,
after all,

a church where the main thing was actually the main thing.
a church that understood that there is a simplicity on the other side
of complexity, 

aware of all of the various interpretations
and theological perspectives and complicated systems of thinking and analyzing 

and yet with a clear, resolute sense that Jesus is doing something in the world, bringing water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, peace to the restless, presence to the lonely 

and we are invited to join his movement. 

that Jesus is ultimately not a proposition you intellectually assent to but a person you say 'yes' to.

I love Bell's messages. This last part, which I put in bold, is an important piece for all of us--whatever labels describe our theology. We easily get caught up in thinking, intellectualizing, arguing, debating, defending, and questioning--our beliefs, our interpretations, our preferences...

I need to remember that what is most important is knowing, experiencing, following, pursuing, longing for, crying out to, imitating, and living in Jesus.

It's not about what I think about Jesus, but how I relate to Jesus. And it seems that as I get older, this doesn't become easier, as I used to think it would. My always-present questions about life, death, God, the Bible, people, religion, everything, make my pursuit of Jesus more challenging than ever.

So while my understanding might not be as simple as it used to, I want to grow in my ability to say "yes" to Jesus, no matter what. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Emotions

You always hear about how the holidays are an emotional time. Times like this seem to enhance whatever we are feeling. Those who are grieving loss, feel it even deeper; those who are experiencing joy are even more excited.

Tonight I spent some time reflecting how I am feeling a lot of different emotions at once. During the past week I have felt humbled, proud, nervous, grateful, angry, defeated, determined, happy, peaceful, anxious, eager, and tired.  That's probably not it, but all I can think of now.

Getting into basketball season reminds me how much I miss my friends in Virginia. I miss going to GMU's games with the guys. I miss Andy's goofy sense of humor. I miss just sitting with the guys, feeling so great about everything in life.

I miss my parents, and my brother, and all my friends in VA.

But I also love our life here. I got a promotion at work last week--my boss has shown me a lot of trust and been pleased with my work, and is giving me more responsibility. I am excited about that.

I really enjoy the people I work with, and the challenges of my job, and the feeling of accomplishment.

I am having a blast with my kids. I love going to work, and I love coming home.

Jamie and I are having fun with her family--having people over for dinner, hosting game nights, being able to get together with people spontaneously.

We are stressed about Christmas, still last minute shopping to do; but it will come together.

In the midst of the time when everything is supposed to be about Jesus, it's so easy to get busy and push him to the backburner.

So I pause tonight to seek Him.

In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
let us strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying: Come, Lord Jesus!
—from A Brief Statement of Faith

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


"A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
       'Prepare the way for the Lord,
       make straight paths for him.
     Every valley shall be filled in,
       every mountain and hill made low.
       The crooked roads shall become straight,
       the rough ways smooth.

     And all people will see God's salvation.' " (Luke 3: 4-6, TNIV)


How do we prepare for the one who is coming? How do we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus?

Life is full of preparation. It seems like we spend a lot more time preparing than doing. We spend our childhood preparing for adulthood—what do you think we are doing in school? Twelve years, then four or more in college. Why?

Preparing to be an adult, a contributing member of society. For the first 20 years of life, we’re not really doing anything, just preparing for what comes next.

Many of us spend our early adult years preparing for marriage and parenthood. We’re out on our own, taking responsibility, learning how to be a grown up.

Once we have a job and a family, we spend time preparing for our kids’ future, and retirement--working, saving, investing, thinking about what we will do when we’re older.

In church we read, study, and serve, preparing to do what God wants us to do.

But none of that preparation compares to the preparation in which we now find ourselves. For now we are talking about preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus.

It’s the time when we celebrate who God is in our lives, and what God has done; but even more, we look ahead at the celebration of what is to be as we follow him, both in this life, and the life to come.

True celebration doesn’t just happen. It takes preparation. Think of the joyful times in life, and the preparation involved there. The greatest day of my life was my wedding day. 

Jamie and I were engaged for eight months. There was a lot of work that went into planning the wedding. We didn’t want it to be perfect, but we did want it to be fun. We wanted it to be a celebration, and for everyone to enjoy themselves as much as we did!

So we planned and talked and dreamed. We went to other weddings and learned what we liked and what we didn’t.

From beginning to end, we planned for it to be a day of celebration. A lot of people told us it was the best wedding they been to. The ceremony was beautiful—we had music that was meaningful—Ash’s favorite song, Jamie’s mom played violin, her  sister Marty sang.

Ashley was a big part of the ceremony, as we made vows to her, and invited her to participate on the stage with us.

While we were taking pictures, our guests were already eating and laughing and listening to music. Once we joined the reception, there was dancing, great food, and wonderful cake. The whole day was a celebration! It was great, because we prepared for it.

I think the second greatest day of my life was the day Brady was born. I got Ashley at seven—she was already trained. I didn’t have to prepare to welcome her into this world. But with Brady, it was a brand new experience. I read books, watched videos, went to child-birth classes, talked to other dads…

When day came, I was as ready as can be. I’m emotional, and started crying about five minutes before he actually came out—and for a while after! What a celebration!

Both those events were great; and were made greater by the preparation that went into them!

In less than two weeks we celebrate the biggest event in history—the Incarnation. The event where God took human form, being born as a baby. We need to prepare to celebrate His coming.

   " And all people will see God's salvation. " (TNIV)

This is the goal of Jesus coming. Not to celebrate a holiday. Not to give and receive presents. Not to sing carols and eat great food.

Not to draw close to family and watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Not to decorate the tree and drink eggnog. These are all Christmas traditions; and they are wonderful.

But the goal is for all people to see God’s salvation!

When we prepare ourselves for the coming Jesus, we see Him more clearly, through all the distractions of modern Christmas. We celebrate Him, and not all the other stuff that Christmas has become about.

When we focus on Him and not all the cultural trappings of Christmas, we also help others see what Christmas is really about. While I love the joy of Christmas morning, I think I love this time of preparing, and looking, and expecting, almost as much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Help me select a new blog title

It's been a long day--Brady was sick with a fever so I stayed home with him and Cash (I figure with Cash in preschool for 8 hours most days, I'd keep him at home with me, too).

Good day, but tiring.

I'm not going to attempt to write anything tonight...but I have been thinking that I don't like the title of my blog anymore. I have no new ideas, but want to brainstorm. Here are some words/ideas that go through my mind these days. I'm open to any and all suggestions--doesn't have to be a complete title, but even partial thoughts and ideas. Thanks!

asking, seeking, searching, learning, wondering, working, playing, wrestling...

not much tonight. I'll come back to it tomorrow.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Great fiction--newest Stephen King

I recently read Stephen King's latest novel, 11/22/63. It's about a guy who goes back in time to try and stop the JFK assassination. (More about this book later). But reading it, and thinking about it after, I was thinking about how I grew up with Stephen King.

OK, not literally, he has no idea who I am. But I grew up with him, or actually, his books. My memory continues to fade as I get older, but I remember my first King book--The Shining.

I was in seventh grade. I remember sitting in art class hiding my book under the table and reading--I couldn't put it down as I followed Jack Torrence's dark journey to insanity.

I remember being afraid to turn the lights out at night, as images of the Overlook Hotel filled my mind.

When I finished The Shining, I went to the library and read King's two other books at the time, Carrie, and Salem's Lot. Both were terrifying--yet fascinating.

It wasn't just about being scared. King drew me into the stories, into the lives, the towns, the relationships of the characters he created. They were just so real.

Since then, year in and year out, I have read every book King has published. Over 60 in the last 35 years. I remember the anticipation each time I learned a new book was coming.

I remember getting absolutely lost in the post-apocalyptic world of The Stand--still my favorite of King's books. I go back and read it again every few years.

I remember feeling like a kid again in Eyes of the Dragon, King's beautiful nod to the traditional fairy tale.

And every few years, for the last 30, I have traveled through Mid-World with Roland, on his quest in the Dark Tower series.

I remember the thrill of discovering there were more King books out there, secretly published under another name. I had one of the first editions of Thinner, published before people discovered Richard Bachman was King. I remember the excitement of finally getting a copy of The Bachman Books.

I have experienced joy, wonder, amazement, fear, anger, and peace as I lived through each of King's stories. 

I have had dozens of conversations over the years with people who think King only writes horror. I love telling people that don't read his work (especially those who piously say, "His stories are evil,") that he wrote the books on which the films Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, and The Green Mile were based.

Not horror or evil at all, but stories of love and loss and perseverance and beauty and life and death and hope. And that's the bottom line in all of King's stories. Hope. Hope that there is more to life than my pain and struggle. Hope that love really will conquer. Hope that good really will win out over evil.

If you have never read any of King's books, you are missing one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. Give him a shot, I promise you won't regret it.

Here is my current ranking (because it may change based on my mood) of my top 5 Stephen King books:

1. The Stand
2. The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)
3. The Shining
4. The Eyes of the Dragon
5. The Green Mile

Getting back to where I started, 11/22/63 is probably in my top 10; in time I'll be better able to assess it's place in the body of King's work. But right now, I think it's the best thing he's written in 15 years. While the premise sounds like science fiction, it's really a love story, and a very good one. And the conclusion is one of King's absolute best--a beautiful, haunting, perfect ending.

I'd love to hear from other King fans--what are your top 5?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God in our differences

So two months have gone by, and I haven't written a thing. Which means any readers that were hanging around are probably gone. I've promised and committed to start writing again too many times.

So I'll just say I'm writing today, and I may or may not write tomorrow. or next week.

I always struggle with what to write. Not because I don't have any ideas, and not because I don't know how to express them, but because in this world where everything is accessible, I do sometimes worry about how what I say will be taken by some.

When I peruse my friends list on Facebook, I see that I have an incredibly diverse group of people who I consider friends (or at least acquaintances, or people I'm interested in or curious about or respect or admire--or just like to see what crazy stuff they say).

I also work in a job where I network and build relationships with people from all over the landscape of American church life.

Recently I had two phone conversations at work--doing my job of networking and trying to get to know people and learn how Logos can help them,

The first conversation was with a gentlemen who works for a very conservative para-church ministry. They are very dogmatic, and somewhat controversial in their methods. Their faith perspective is very black and white.

I do not read the Bible the same way this gentleman does. He would probably consider some of my views heretical. I believe his heart is good, and that he longs to follow God, but I don't agree with some of the ways he perceives God, faith, salvation, and doctrine.

After I got off the phone with this gentlemen, I called a woman who teaches in a progressive seminary. She is an older African-American woman who has achieved a lot in ministry and education.

She told me some of her story, the things she has fought for, the adventures God has led her on. I loved listening to her, and felt a spiritual connection.

I'm pretty sure my theology is much closer to hers than to the gentleman I talked with earlier. Near the end of our conversation, after we had developed some trust and comfort with each other, she told me that she had googled me before we spoke, and that what she found helped her be open and trusting with me.

After we talked, I thought about that. I am pretty sure that if the first gentleman I spoke with had googled me, he would not have been very positive about some of what he found.

I once had a church revoke in invitation to serve as an interim pastor after reading some of my blog posts on religion and politics a couple years ago.

All this makes me cautious about what I say, knowing anyone could read it. I don't really care if people disagree with me personally, (although I want to make sure I am always communicating in love, and not judging those who disagree with me).

But I do want to be careful to not alienate people with whom I work and network.

I had a conversation today that spoke to this topic. A family member who is a talented musician was recently asked by a Catholic church to work there part-time providing music in worship.

Another family member became very upset when they heard this. I don't know what was said, but I think that this person has a very negative view of the Catholic church and was concerned for the other person's spiritual well-being if they did anything for or with a Catholic church. The second relative urged the first to not take the job.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me wonder. There are thousands of Christian denominations. Not hundreds, but THOUSANDS.

Each one believes that they honestly and accurately seek and follow God as directed by the Bible. Each one does it a little differently. There are a lot of smaller differences, and a lot of huge differences among churches and denominations.

I've written about this before, but it's still on my mind. I believe more and more that God is far more OK with our differences and disagreements than we are. I believe God is big enough and forgiving enough and patient enough and accepting enough to put up with all our conflict and confusion.

And personally, I believe he is OK with our questions and doubts and confusion; probably even more than he is with our certainty and dogmatism and determination.

My faith has more questions than answers these days.

I am dealing with this as we search for a church. This morning in worship, as we sang carols and hymns, I sensed God's spirit more than I have in a while.

Yesterday, at a day of training with my team at work--made up of conservatives and liberals (well, at least one--me), Calvanists and dispensationalists, baptists and sort-of-charismatics--I experienced God's presence.

I sensed his joy and laughter at this room full of very different people, with different views of God, working to get to know one another, learn from each other, and accomplish goals together.

I think God might be more present in our differences and diversity than He is in our uniformity and agreement.