Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Happy Advent

The Tail has been Wagging the Dog.

I am officially the world's worst blogger. I hate that, because I really like to read them. I love checking in with friends through their blogs. I find some blogs to be very life giving and challenging, while others I like to read because they make me laugh. I do not set out with much purpose in this blog of mine, other than to perhaps try and process some things.

I was talking with an 83 year old Methodist preacher yesterday and he quoted John Wesley in saying, as an 83 year old, I am still working out my salvation." I think that is sort of my goal here.

So as I write this now, my office phone is ringing and will go to voicemail, I have unanswered emails in my inbox, and I have closed the door to my office to be here with you today to say to you: May this most holy season be a blessing to you, and may your lives be filled with the wonderous presence of Christ.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Once a month, our church staff shares communion and has a time for a devotion in the Chapel on the first Tuesday of the month. Last week, Dr. Mike Marshall, our Executive pastor asked if I would lead the devotion and serve communion with him for the staff. He had opened the chapel early that morning, but when we arrived a couple of hours later, we all noticed that there were some additional items in the chapel that were a little out of place. They were simple, everyday items that normally, one would not notice or think odd, but the placement of these items is what struck us as odd.

There was a pair of glasses set next to the communion elements, a bottle of water placed on the left side of the alter, in the center of the alter, someone had placed some money in an offertory envelope and leaned it against the cross, and on the right side of the alter, was placed a wooden and brass crucifix and an Al Green’s Greatest Hits CD. At first, the reaction seemed to be, who was in here and were did they mess with anything, but we quickly realized that someone had left these items that had significance, and they began to take on symbolism in different ways for each of us. I for instance, was captivated by the glasses next to the Bread and Cup, almost as if God was saying to me, “See what it is I am doing in this sacrament, and what these elements mean.” Others were impressed by the money left, still others by the crucifix, water, and the Al Green CD (Who doesn’t love “the Reverend?”).

Two things really struck me that morning. The first is that I am embarrassed at our first reaction. I think we, for a brief moment, were thinking of the altar as our own. This is one of the problems we see with the Pharisees in Scripture, that they had an inside track to God, where Jesus comes and kicks the door wide open. I hope this person who left these items will come back, using this chapel for prayer and to commune with God.

The second thing that struck me is that God really wants to speak to us through everything that surrounds us. All of creation is His, and it is right for Him to use everyday things to tell us He loves us, to speak to us, and to reveal Himself to us.

I think of what Elijah must have experienced on the mountain side in I Kings 19, the windstorm ripped the trees the earthquake shook ground, the firestorm burned the earth, but the Lord was not in these things. Then, a gentle whisper was heard and Elijah stepped out of the cave to meet the Lord because the Lord was in this whisper, and not in the other. God reveals himself in unlikely forms and fashions. This message of the glasses near the bread and cup revealed to me, by my own admission, that my eyes were out of focus that morning, and that with the proper lenses, I could then see clearly what it was that the Resurrected Christ was doing for us through the sacrament that morning.

Throughout seminary, I heard the phrase, “we need the eyes to see and ears to hear, because God is doing things all around us.” If we aren’t careful, we might miss seeing God in action.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Storytelling and the Sermon

I was talking to my buddy Josh the other day, and we were talking about this idea of telling good stories. He told someone recently that if they need to schedule a meeting with a large group of people and are trying to explain something new, to tell a story. I really liked this.

He and I began to talk about trying to tag-team this discussion on our blogs for the next few weeks, to try and bring out some thoughts on the concept of telling the Story of Jesus, and telling it well.

He is gone on vacation this week and I will be gone for a week, so stay tuned. When we are both back, I hope we can uncover some good stuff.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Storytelling Matters

I have been taking a break from reading books from the shelves in the bookstores with placards sitting on top of them reading, "Christian Inspiration," or "Religious." I have been taking a break from these and instead, I have been reading stories. I must admit that I was a little concerned when I first realized my lack of interest in the more formational books that I often read. This week, I have been reading The Shack, and the jury is still out because I haven’t finished it, but I like what I have read so far. I read a Stephen King book a few weeks ago called Duma Key, and I read Cormac McCarthy's latest book, The Road a few months back. All of these stories draw the reader in, and this is key.

A few weeks back, I read Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What. In this book, he talks about Jesus like a friend would talk about another friend that he really loves and admires. Sort of how the disciples might have talked about Jesus to their friends that hadn’t met him before. The reason I love this is because Miller discusses Jesus in ways that reveal he knows Jesus, and is known by Jesus. I found myself really believing him when he talked about Jesus as if he had met him for coffee that morning. Storytelling matters.

I wonder if when we talk about Jesus, or tell stories about Him, if we do a good enough job of telling the Story? One thing I learned in seminary is that there is an art to storytelling and that this is a dying art. This is why when we meet good storytellers, we remember this about them. We tell others things like, "you have to hear this person speak/preach/tell a story," and we love to hear them recall accounts of an adventure, a mishap, or a funny situation. We hang on their every word. I think this is a gift, but I also think it is an art, something we can work at improving.

Have you ever wondered why some people think church services are boring? Is it the message that is boring? Maybe, but probably not. I think it has more to do with the delivery and the way the Story is told. Rob Bell is going to be hosting a conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan in a few weeks called Poets Prophets Preachers: Reclaiming the Art of the Sermon. If you are a pastor and don’t get excited about this kind of thing, you should be slapped in the face, splashed with cold water, or something of the surprising nature should happen to you.

In his book, Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson asserts that God primarily chooses to communicate with His people through the re-telling of His Stories. In the Old Testament, the word “Remember” is written over and over again. At Passover, the youngest child is encouraged to ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Why, so the people will remember the Story by retelling it, but also believe it. Isn't this one of the primary reasons we preach, so that others, along with ourselves, will remember and believe?

Storytelling matters, and this is why we need to reclaim this art.

(Below is a picture of the Melanesian Brothers and Sisters telling the Story of the Prodigal Son)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

This Life of Downward Mobility...

This life of downward mobility is something that keeps coming up in conversations all over the place. I first remember thinking about this (I mean really thinking about it) a few years ago when walking through my seminary campus with my friend JD and he slowed a bit as we approached a small cemetery. He pointed and said "this is what seminary is all about." I had a lot of conversations when I was about to leave seminary about my relationships being closer with seminary friends because it is with these people that you learn to die. I said it a lot because I think it made me sound like I knew what I was talking about. It wasn't that I didn't believe it; it’s just that I am not sure I really understood it.

I think after seminary, I began to really see, from inside the church, what it meant to be in a state of selflessness and to live into a call to follow Jesus, and that this is a life not for the faint of heart.

So Thursday, I had lunch with Joe Nader and Dale Williams, both these guys live in other towns, so it was a real treat to just be with them. We laughed, talked about life, and God, and jobs and job interviews. The thing with Dale is that with him, you can cut the crap and get to the heart of the matter without all the details. No beating around the bush with this guy. The other thing I love about Dale is that when he prays, he says a lot of "mmm hmms" and "yeses." It’s as if someone is talking back to him but no one else can hear. I love to watch this and to pray with him. Oh, and Dale has an African soul. I will tell you about it sometime.

So today he prayed over Joe and me and there was something he said in one of his prayers that has remained with me. I chewed on it, told others about it and am now sharing it with you.

"Dare I pray that we might descend into holiness?...Yes, yes I do...But we will not go alone. No, you will go with us..."

I have always thought of holiness as something we work upward toward. Not downward. It seemed like something to attain, as we climb up toward God. But it is downward mobility that takes us to holiness. Humbleness and humility, and sometimes humiliation. This is the road to holiness. It is difficult, scary, and sacrificial. But we do not go alone. We cannot go alone. We need Jesus in us as we journey toward the cross. Dale recognized that to go into holiness is difficult and can be painful, like refining fire. Sometimes, what looks like death is really life giving. We see cemeteries and they don't draw up images of happiness and joy, but sorrow. It is when that decension is made and complete, when the "crucified with Christ" happens for us, that we will begin to make our upward climb. None of this, do we do alone.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Jesus was all alone on the cross so that we don’t have to be. It is a giant we can face if we know we don’t have to do it alone.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Old Homes Smell Funny

As some of you know, my wife, daughter and I moved back to Texas back in December. We still have a home on the market in Birmingham, so if you are looking to buy a house in Birmingham...

Anyway, we moved into this tiny little home right by the TCU campus that was built in 1929. It is in a perfect location for my morning commute to work, and for Alison, there is lots of great shopping nearby, and for Ava, lots of parks and fun kiddo stuff to do.

Our little tudor style cottage came complete with original window, those old heavy solid wood doors with the crystal door knobs, among many draft old house house sights, sounds, and smells. It smells like Granny's house. You know what I mean, right?

Along with fresh paint and new carpet in two rooms, there have been an assortment of smells wafting around our little old home. But one day a couple of weeks ago, Alison said, I think something may have died under the house. I thought, no, probably just a combination of paint, carpet and old drafty Granny's house smells that she must be catching a wiff of.

But finally, I opened my closet one day, opened an access panel to under the house and it hit me, the smell that can only be described as "DEATH." I called our fix-it guy and he came to have a look. I thought we had a mouse or a rabbit that may have gone under the house to die, but it was something else.

Yesterday, Alison called me and told me, you will never guess what it was that they pulled out from under the house. A cat. A great big swollen cat. The guy who pulled it out had a bad experience with it too. I won't tell you what happened, but it wasn't pretty. So things are pretty fun around our house, now that the cat is gone and we can get back to our life as normal in our little, old, drafty house.

A side note: On the way home from work yesterday, I saw a sign in our neighborhood with a white cat with orange spots with the word "MISSING" written across the top. I wonder...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Very Cool

My friend Josh Agerton loves these little Vespa scooters. I don't think he was looking at this kind, but I think he was looking at buying a regular scooter pretty seriously last year. I loved this when I saw it on my friend Steve Beard's site called Thunderstruck.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

No Man is an Island

Over the last few weeks, my wife and I have been watching lots of movies that we have missed since our daughter was born nearly two years ago. We have free HBO for a couple of months and have all but neglected our Netflix account. If it weren’t for these sources, we would not see movies. My friend JD says that when you have kids, you go from the theater to Netflix. Out of all these movies we have watched, there have been two movies that have really remained with me over the last few weeks. Does that ever happen to you? Do you ever watch a movie that stays with you? It’s either the story, or a compelling character, or perhaps even something that shakes you to the core.

For me, it has been The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and There Will Be Blood. These are two of the most incredible movies I have seen in a very long time, and there is a vein of sadness that runs through both of these films. The main characters in both films are completely and utterly alone. They have family and friends, yes, but they do not really let these people in. After a time of this self inflicted isolation, these men begin lose trust in people. They develop a sense of paranoia and assume that all are out to get them. They push away those closest to them away, causing conflict that isn’t necessary. These were men with wealth, respect, and power. Other men wanted to be them, and in the end, they are alone. They have no one.

I think of how easy it is to fall into these kinds of patterns. We can easily become isolated individuals if we aren’t careful. We learn to work alone because we often don’t trust others to do what needs to be done. We don’t let people in because we don’t want to be found out. I think also, that we are afraid of being hurt, but in the process of protecting ourselves, we end up doing just that. I have learned that to embrace love is to embrace suffering. God takes risks by loving us. He lets us in even though we have a history of leaving. But to embrace love is to also embrace what makes life worth living. To be alone is to be in Hell, apart from all things that are beautiful. I’ll leave you with a quote that says this better than I can.

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it up carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable... The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love, is hell."
- CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Coming around again...maybe

Well, apparently, this is a struggle for me, to blog I mean. My wife has really been good about maintaining hers lately, but not me. I like to space mine out over five months. I blog just enough so that blogger doesn't delete my account. I don't really think they do that, because if they did, my blog would have been taken down a long time ago.

So lets have some updates, shall we?

Alison, Ava, and I moved to Fort Worth, Texas just before Christmas and we love it.

I started a new job at downtown church.

We moved from a brand new home in Birmingham to a home that was built in 1929 in Fort Worth. A little drafty.

Our cat officially hates us after the move and has tried to run away no less than five times in the last month.

Not all of our furniture made it through the move unscathed.

My commute to work is short. I haven't had to buy in over two weeks.

More to come. Hope to post again before May.