Friday, December 7, 2007

thoughts on becoming an author

it's been said that there can be no true confession before man, and I think that, to a large degree, that's true. Man will always try and paint himself up prettier than he is in actuality because he, in his heart of hearts, still believes that sin is a game of comparison. he doesn't want to believe that he is truly as bad as anyone else. and so within his "confession" there are subtle lies and knowing omissions. and his "confession" serves as a testimony to his vanity and to his lack of faith in the all-surpassing grace of God.

could i write a book? hmmm....

if i endeavor to do this, to write in such a way that my soul is laid bare, i must make this a practice in honesty. there mere thought of such a practice is terribly frightening. i am bound to disappoint everyone i know. i am a far greater sinner than any of them have imagined. of this i have no doubt. i can imagine the look of horror upon my grandmother's face as she reads of my sexual failures, the anger of my grandfather when he learns of my loose tongue, the great sadness of my mother when she learns of how i turned children's books into drinking games, and the cold shoulder sure to come from the ministers that i have served alongside when they see the thoughts of my twisted, perverse mind.

all of these i must be willing to face for the glory of His name. i must stand steadfast and believe that He who set me free from the bondage of sin and death will surely hold me fast in His love. i must believe that the single greatest thing that could ever happen to me is that my sins would be exposed before the world like they were plastered up on the billboards of every highway in the country so that i would have no place to hide. i couldn't run anymore- the only place that i could flee would be into the sweet, ready arms of Jesus, clinging to Him with all my might. He'd be all I'd have. He's all I have any way, and maybe it's high time i realized that.

i owe the last realization to derek webb.

i know You are my Father; You've called me Your kid

i don't know how it is that i always seem to be surprised by God's perfect timing, but it never fails that i am amazed by how perfectly He orders everything and how He is continually working things together for my good.

i've learned that much of my earnest assesment of my life takes place in the shower. i'm not exactly sure why this is- it certainly is inconveinent to battle life's tormenting questions of purpose while sleepily scrubbing myself with slippery soap sans stilo- but it happens almost daily. as i rest my head upon the shower wall, water tumbling down my face, i am plagued with the questions of my future. this has happened for as long as i can remember, but this year the
magnitude and volume of these answerless questions has intensified.

i work for a high school discipleship ministry and i substitute teach. i fear that i am good at neither. i am almost a year out of college now and no closer to uncovering who i am and who i was made to be. this semester alone i have seriously considered going back to school
to pursue a master's in english, going to divinity school, trying to work for ucf, going through assesment for campus outreach staff, seriously pursuing a folk music career, seriously considering worship leading, going back to school to study philosophy, writing, getting a
teaching certificate, continuing my four-job way of life, and, most recently, abandoning hope. i think that i can be rather successful in the last pursuit, but only in the last pursuit.

yesterday i went to lunch with a friend of mine named caleb chancey. i use the word "friend" rather lightly here, because, until yesterday i hardly knew anything about him. i knew that he was cool, that he took pictures, that we shared some mutual friends, but that was about the extent of our friendship. i wasn't substitute teaching (which makes a day seem even more unproductive and useless), so we decided to meet at a new, trendy cafe on 2nd avenue.

we enjoyed chicken paninis and sugar cane infused ginger ale as we talked over our lives. caleb seemed to stumble upon being a photographer- he studied english at several different schools before landing in birmingham at uab, dropping out to begin his work as an intern for abryan photography- but his purposefulness day-to-day was astounding. he still isn't entirely sure what he wants to do with his life, but each day he wakes up with the assurance that he is where God wants him for right now. and then he goes at it, full force, as though working for the Lord and not for man. "if i do this, take pictures, every day for the next fifty years, that'd be great, but if God takes it away tomorrow, i'd be fine with it, and i'd do whatever it is He wants me to do," he said, "it might even be good to have less options."

what struck me was caleb's true dedication to live each day for the glory of God, wherever He is and whatever that entails. it seems like such a simple lesson, but somehow i'd been missing. somehow, i'm sure, i'll miss it again. while there is no fault in planning for the future and looking ahead, there is great fault, even deep sin, in fearing this unknown, as if God were not in absolute control, as if the unknown to me were unknown to Him, as though He did not order the stars into their place and govern the movement of every particle to the utmost of the glory of His name. the simple lesson gave way to a great and terrible truth: my faith is so weak.

Jesus again and again urges us to have faith like children, trusting in the goodness and love of our great Father. Something seems to happen to us as we age, as we "grow up"- we feel that we grow more wisened, more aware of the "ways of the world," and we lose our innocence. cynicism replaces optimism. sarcasm replaces enthusiasm. popularity replaces individuality. and a numbness whitewashes our souls, where we come to distrust everyone and we mask our doubt with the words of faith we know that we are supposed to believe in.

why can't we trust God? why don't i? why do i live as though i trust Him with nothing, as though He were somehow less-trustworthy than i? Christ, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Resolutions, First Draft

Based on the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Undestanding that I am incapable of doing anything without the aid of God, I plead by His mercy that He might help me keep these resolutions, should they be agreeable to his will, for the glory of His name.

1. Resolved, to live with all my might for the glory of God, to order my steps to walk as Jesus would have walked, to act in such a way as displays the light of Christ that has redeemed my soul from death, to labor that others might know the riches of his mercy and grace, and to continually venture to explore ways to promote the aforementioned things.

2. Resolved, to examine myself to see whether I have neglected any part of the above resolution at the end of every week, month, and year, and to entreat upon the mercies of God in repentance of all that I have neglected.

3. Resolved, to think often of the great promise of heaven and its joy, knowing how lacking my mind is to comprehend its treasures, and often of hell, that it might inspire within me great compassion for my fellow man, to pray for them and plead them with all my might to turn from their sin and cast themselves upon Christ, and that it would remind me of the depths of my sin, what I deserve, and cause me more and more to loathe the sin within me in order to root it out.

4. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God (Edwards, Resolution #8).

5. Resolved, that I should live in all aspects as I should wish I had done at the hour of death, and to never do anything that I would be afraid to do at the hour of death or at the return of Christ.

6. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same (Edwards, Resolution #28).

7. Resolved, to pray with an urgency and passion as though prayer were my foremost labor in this life and the primary means by which God conformed my will unto His own: to beg of the Lord to spare sinners from hell and to destroy the sin within me and to praise and thank Him for His greatness and goodness.

8. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long, viz. with the greatest openness, of which I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance (Edwards, Resolution # 65), and to lay bare my soul and sin before my fellow man for their edification and to ask for their prayers.

9. Resolved, to fight against the sin that lives within me with every breath, no matter how unsuccessful I may be in the fight, and to trust that Christ, the Good Shepherd, will lead me to Himself, that He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.

10. Resolved, to simply speak the truth in all matters, excepting in the preservation of life, liberty, or happiness to be taken unjustly.

11. Resolved, to improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my safety, knowing that I confide in my Redeemer (Edwards, Resolution #53).

12. Resolved, to imitate that which I admire in others and to avoid imitating that which is less than praiseworthy.

13. Resolved, to live in such a way that possessions were of no consequence of me, but the state of others' souls were of infinite importance; to live in such a way as that I have no more than what I need when I die and that I have labored to my utmost to see that others enter into the Kingdom of God upon their deaths.

14. Resolved, to be unashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for all who believe.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Let Me Not Be Ashamed of the Gospel, For It Is the Power of God for Salvation...

On my way back home this morning, as I listened to Ben Harper’s “God Fearing Man,” my focus was held by the feeling of rot deep in my stomach- it was a mixture of coffee on an empty stomach, a slight nausea from lack of sleep, and a sickening sense of guilt flavored ever-so-slightly by a tablespoon of shame.

My heart had been stirred by Nikki Wilcox’s prayer to open First Priority thirty minutes earlier, that we all would live lives of “unashamed faith,” and yet, though I amen’d her words, it took me no more than ten minutes before I again cowered behind the man others wished I was, affirming the lies they held as truth and preserving false unity at truth’s expense… My soul has grown so weary of false representation, and I have resolved and purposed myself over and again to be as genuine and forth-coming as I possibly can, and even still, in a moment of truth, I faltered, preferring to maintain decorum at the expense of the offensive & liberating truth of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The speaker this morning began his sermonette by quoting a story by Joel Olsteen, a man whom he highly recommended and a man who’s mere name compels my stomach into turmoil with disgust, bile, and rage. The lesson was on “God’s good versus God’s best,” and it was a series of pleasant stories with Jeremiah 29:11, of course, misappropriated for an Olsteen-esque “God wants to give you the absolute best” conclusion. What the speaker meant, of course, by “God’s best” is exactly what Olsteen means by it- though cleverly disguised, both men really are saying that, as Christians, God desires to give unto us precisely what WE want instead of what He wants for us (Adding to my misery, the speaker also misremembered the stories of Jonah & the big fish as well as Moses’ stuttering problem). And thus, like the Levite in Judges 17 &18, God becomes a means to an end, a way to get what we want. God is made into our own image, fashioned just the way we would like him to be… cute and cuddly, overwhelmingly generous, dismissing justice for the sake of mercy, and spoiling us rotten…

After it was over, the speaker approached me amongst students and told me, “Great job.” I stammered back, “Yeah, you too.” He followed this exchange with his grand plan for the two of us: we should hit the road together, a la Third Day and David Nasser, with him as a speaker and me leading worship. I laughed it off. “All right, all right... Except we’ll be sure infuse some youthful vigor, right?” I shot back. He chuckled, as did the half-dozen students still in the choral room.

Sitting back in my car, with Harper crying, “I am a God-fearing man” into my ears over the clang of his steel guitar, I realized the implications of what I had just done to those six students… I had just given affirmation to this man and, by implication, to his prosperity gospel. And there was no way to right this wrong… The kids were gone… The trite words of this well-meaning man were echoing in their heads while bold truth had been painted o’er for a more “pleasant” scene…

Dear Sweet Merciful Lord, let me be a God-fearing man and refuse to stand by any and all falsehoods declared in Your name, for the sake of Your glory among the nations.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Various Notes on John 11

These are all the various (and non-linear) notes that I could remember from reading John 11, namely Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, as I sat in Mrs. Breeze's class during my off-period, sans Bible.

"This sickness is not unto death"- Jesus knows that Lazarus' illness will not result in death, that is, the ultimate daeth- eternal separation from God, i.e. the only death that truly matters. For, as Kierkegaard would attest, what good would it have done for Lazarus to have been brought back to life if Christ were not He who is the Resurrection and the Life. Humanly speaking, death is the end, but for the Christian, it is merely the turn of the page, a minor event in the scale of eternity. Following suiy, just as the ordinary man is afraid of death and shrinks back from it, like a child is fearful of the things that should not frighten him, the Christian, like the adult, understands that which is truly terrifying.

The disciples urge Jesus not to go back to Judea, because the Jews there want to stone him. Knowing this, Jesus goes any way, fully aware that raising Lazarus from the dead would ultimately seal his own death. Christ goes to Judea knowing that He has already begun his march to the cross. Lazarus (also viewed allergorically as us, the Christians) is brought to life by Jesus's self-motivated decision to give himself up to death, his willingness to bear the punishment of the sins of man. As Caiaphas so prophectically speaks, after he and other leaders begin the plot to kill Jesus immediately following Lazarus' resurrection and once many Jews (including, no doubt, some of those who had previously wanted to stone Him) began to believe and place their trust in Him, "It is better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish." He speaks prophetically with only a false understanding the words he has proclaimed. Surely Caiaphas meant that, since He likely assumed that Jesus was like the other "Messiahs" that had come and gone, those who had led revolts against the Roman authorities, that it would be better to "strike the shepherd" so that the "sheep will scatter" than to have the full force of the Roman army to come and, once and for all, blot out the name of "Israel" from the face of the earth. But what Caiaphas did not grasp, and what the Apostle Paul so obviously understood, is that, by Jesus's death, all those who are Israel (meaning all those who are truly a part of Israel, including those who have been grafted in and not necessarily all those who have been descended from Abraham, those who have been "cut off," for, as it is written, "not all those who are of Israel are Israel). By his wounds, we are healed.

Notice also how Jesus meets us where we're at in how He deals with Mary and Martha. He meets Martha, who tells him that if He had been there Lazarus would not have died. She adds, "But even if You will it now, you can bring him to life." Jesus responds, "Your brother will rise again." I feel like Martha's next response is similar to how we respond when someone attempts to comfort us after the death of a loved one by saying, "He/she is in a better place now"- words meant to elicit peace, but words that merely sound cliched. Many Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead, so (my interpretation, which I feel is validated by Martha's response and Jesus's response back to her) is to blithely (I think) reply, "I know that he will rise again on the last day..." Jesus rebukes her, calls her faith to awaken once more, screams into her soul, "I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE. Anyone who believes in me..." essentially, any one who believes in Him will not die even though he dies. Jesus calls her faith into action- for her heart to mean what her words say. She responds back to Jesus by declaring that He is the Son of God. Her faith comes alive.

As for Mary, He meets her in an entirely different way. He weeps. It is incredibly important to remember that Jesus, as evidenced earlier in the passage, is fully aware that Lazarus is dead well before the news has even reached him, that He is convinced that Lazarus's death is not the final story, but that Lazarus died so that the glory of God would be displayed, and that He did not weep when he met Martha, though she too was Lazarus's sister. He weeps with Mary, because ours is a God of compassion, who mourns with those who mourn, who comes alongside us in our pain, agreeing that ours is a fallen world, that this is not the way that things should be, and comforting us with his promises and messages of hope.

Lazarus as us: Lazarus is dead- has been for four days and the stench of his rotting flesh is now noticable. There is no dount that he is dead. We, as Ephesians 2 declares, were "dead" in our sins. As Paul declares elsewhere, we have the "aroma of death" about us. There is no dount that we are dead. There is no hope for a dead man. A dead man cannot raise himself to life. A dead man can't choose to get up and walk. He's dead. He can do nothing but rot. He's going to stay dead and be returned back to dust. Then... though there is no hope for us, Jesus says to Lazarus, just as He says to our dead souls, "Arise! Come forth!" Now, where there was death, there is now LIFE! He speaks and we rise! His words give us rebirth! We rise and come to Him, as if we could do anything else. Anyone who has been dead and understands what life is does not wish to return to death, but follows the source of life.

Clayton helped to start this chain of thoughts- Jesus also commands the people standing outside the tomb to take the "robes of death" off of Lazarus. He is alive, but still covered in the linen wrappings that were the mark of his death. Two things:

(1) Lazarus as us again- though we have been given new life, we still have within us our sin nature, the cords of death that so easily entangle us. Slowly but surely, as we come to truly understand what it means to be ALIVE, to not have to be dead, to arise and follow Christ, we go to work taking off these clothes of death, removing sin from out lives so that we make have more of the appearances of being alive and less of the appearances of death, that we are more able to move and to run after Christ, that we are no longer dragged down by these things which marked our former selves.

(2) Lazarus is aided in removing the "robes of death" by the living people around him. Look at this in relation to the body of Christ. One of the primary duties of the body, of those that follow Christ, is to help those newly alive to help them see the "robes of death" that are still clinging to their living bodie, the sin that is preventing them from truly walking as Jesus walks, and to help them remove them. They can see the sins of their brothers and sisters, and, in love, so that they will not be hindered in their walks with God, help expose the evidences of death still attached to the living body and help them remove them from their lives forever.

This is my favorite story in the Bible, because there is SO MUCH here. It tells so much about jesus, how we came to know Him, and our lives now...

For Now We See Through Glass Darkly, But Then...

I never cease to be amazed at the goodness of God or how little I know about Him and His ways.

We (the illustrious members of the unfortunately named "Big Time Ministries") held our bi-annual retreat for the junior high students, the fifth installment was dubbed Bravehearts, this past weekend, and I, more than a week later, have still not quite found the ability to articulate the ways in which God moved or all that He showed me. First, it was simply unreal- we had 130 boys from Mountain Brook Junior High School, plus 30 of mine and Coach Skip's high school guys come as leaders. Something only explainable as supernatural happened at Camp Mac, and thirty-one of those students said that they, that very weekend, had finally understood what it truly meant that Jesus died for them.

These high school guys were so pivotal; we held a meeting four days before we left and cast a vision for them- essentially letting them lead (with some guidance) and explaining to them how they could have such a tremendous impact for the Kingdom. They caught it, and it was incredible. They loved on the kids, mixed up with them during lunch, team times, stayed in their cabins, worshipped alongside them, asked them the hard questions, and, most importantly, portrayed Christ to them. That, more than anything else, was the most striking difference about last weekend. Two of my eleventh graders, including Alex, a student I mentioned in a previous blog who became a Christian a mere two months ago, shared their testimonies, and the j-high students are still talking about them...

It also got me thinking- wait, wait, have I so often overlooked one of my primary roles as a Christian? To cast a vision for others about how they can make an impact for Christ in this life? Isn't that what disciple-making is all about? Simply saying: The light of Christ is in you, now here's how to best let it shine that you might ignite a spark in others? And so often I am foolish enough to believe that I have been saved merely for my own sake, instead of catching a glimpse of God's greater plans at work...

Apologizing for my inability to be anything other than either ultra-serious or utterly inane

Monday, October 29, 2007

Whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed

(October 26th- Pre- Big Time "Bravehearts" retreat)

Only Father in Heaven,

How often I live as though I have no faith. And, while I may have faith, I certainly pray like I have none. If I truly believed the things that I tell others about prayer- that it is the primary means by which You conform our wills to God's, that You as the potter mold us into the image of Your Son, and the way that You have chosen to use us for Your will in this world- then certainly I would pray with more urgency, purpose, and power. Surely I would pray with more humility, fervor, and awe. No doubt I would simply pray more. God, I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen.

What do we have to offer these kids save for Christ? There is nothing... All else will fall away as dust or, worse, will only help strengthen the chains that keep them enslaved to sin, in bondage to eternal death, and destined for hell. Let us as leaders know nothing among these students except Christ and Him crucified.

Many many fall in love with You this weekend. May they see the joy that is in our hearts that comes from the greatness of knowing You, Lord.

You are light. In You there is no darkness. May we walk in the light as You are in the light. Amen.

Friday, October 5, 2007

forbidding mourning...

i have no idea how to grieve. absolutely none. it's positively horrifying. i realized this peculiar fact late last night- in the face of death, i find myself always either playing the stoic, unfazed by the most terrible of news, or i allow my mind to play the drunk and obliviate, just like i did the first time when anna broke my heart. i was, be it temporarily, not a part of this world, but wandering about like a stranger in a strange land or a zombie- the living dead.

certainly there has to be some balance between a "time to mourn" and "death has been swallowed up in victory," right? i should not be made to sit idylly, seemingly unaffected & unmoved by the news of my Aunt Bettie's passing, nor should i be hopelessly distraught, because this mortal death is not the final death at all (did not Christ raise a little girl, Lazarus, and even Himself from the dead, assuring the disciples not to fear because Lazarus's sickness was not unto death?). however, inhumanly, instead of weeping, i withdraw.... into a place where i no longer have the ability to think or feel or, for a time, even move. and so, i sit here on the couch in our dirty house that was my make-shift bed last night, fingers growing heavier by the second, eyelids longing to draw close and shut out the world and its vendetta against life and beauty, mind reminiscing over the fleeting and suddenly fuzzy memories of Aunt Bettie chasing my grandmother around the backyard with a plastic bat after an Easter egg hunt, her battle with my dad over a box of chocolates, the sound of her aged, country voice calling my name, the ferocity with which she loved Georgia Tech...

And then my mind lingers over the words of Dylan Thomas, so fresh in my mind, so filled with morbidity & darkness and simultaneously ponders the words of David Crowder, so honest and filled with hope in the power of God. O God! I believe! Help my unbelief! It is so hard for me to claim your promises now in the face of blackness & bleakness! My heart feel so far from joy and hope and, yet, cannot bring my eyes to tears.... I just feel, empty. Thanks Ray... Maybe I will always feel this way- at least until the sun turns black...

Can I really claim to love her if I cannot cry over her death? God, I believe I loved her. I want to believe it. I need to believe that I loved her. Curse this intolerable weight! How can I hope to stand against it?

Christ, be with us now and at the hour of our deaths- stand by us and help us to live well for you and only for you, that we might come before your throne and hear you utter the most beautiful words any human could ever hope to hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." You hold the keys of life and death, nothing can withstand your will, and no one can say to you, "What have you done?"- O Living God, hold me close in your arms now...

"Why are you so downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
For yet, I wll praise Him,
My savior and my God" -Psalm 43:5