Friday, December 19, 2008

How Can This Be?

Greetings you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!

With this, the word of God comes to Mary. How difficult to think that God could favor one young girl so much that she would be chosen to bear the Savior of the world. What did this "favor" look like? A teenage girl had to deal with misunderstanding and scorn for bearing a child conceived without a husband. A young woman had to carry the burden of knowing that her son was not like other boys. A lady had to deal with uncertainty as her son grew to speak of a heavenly father. A mother grew to learn that while other mothers would release their sons to loving and beautiful brides that would bring them children and joy that her son would be released to world that would reject him despite his undying love for it. A mother watched her son suffer embarrassment, humiliation, and death for a cause that seems so lost. How unfair to the rest of humanity that God showed favor to Mary.

Is a blessing a blessing if it is not shared? As Christians, do we hear the words "greetings you who are highly favored." Too many of us hear those words and think that being set apart and favored by God means that we have somehow earned a place that sets us above the the drunkards, the pornographers, the gays, the fornicators, the greed of the market, the bigots, the poor, the illiterate, the prisoners, the thieves. A blessing from God on me doesn't make me better, it makes the world better. We pray for favor from God, we ask his blessing too often as nothing more than a selfish plea to give me a life of comfort, safety, prosperity. We should say, give me any life you wish. "I am the servant of the Lord, may it be unto me as you have said."

Advent is a preparation for the coming. Christ born into the world, Christ born in us. May you take the favor of the Lord as Mary and gladly bear the burden of Christ and the burden of His cross for a joy that transcends this world.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Day After, And I'm Still Thankful

It is incredible that an entire nation would set aside a day to "give thanks." A thought that has stuck in my mind lately is the idea that if we approach life from a perspective of victory rather than defeat, what a difference it would make. I first encountered this thought when someone framed the recent election and its effect on racism with that idea. He said that if we compare it to Joshua and the Israelites, even when they occupied the land promised by God, they'd experienced the victory, but it did not mean that hardship was over and more work needed to be done. We've elected a president of African descent, racism isn't over and done, but we approach it now from the other side.

Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome this world. That is what I am thankful for. And with a thankful heart, we are freed from trying to win the game and commissioned to play with dignity and honor. Imagine a football team leading 49-0 in the fourth quarter. They still play to win, but they play now for the fun of the game. A classy team will begin to bring out the best in their opponent, but imagine the coach of this team getting called for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing a close call. What kind of jerk would do that while winning by 7 touchdowns.

I'm thankful that our victory is won and that I can be freed to play just for the joy of life. It would be unsportsmanlike to just sit back and let things happen as they may, but I don't have to get caught up in the little frustrations the world sets in my path. I can simply take them and move on, all the while trying to bring out the best in those who oppose me.

Truly understanding thankfulness gives us the perspective to live life from the vantage point of victors. Respectful and honoring, but victors nonetheless, inviting all to join in this joy.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

UnAfraid-The Election Edition

So part one of my thoughts on being Untangled deals with fear. Mainly, I think of fear as entangling for me because fear usually freezes me in my tracks. When I get afraid in life, I usually just stop. No going forward, no going backward. But lately, I've been focusing on fear in a different way. First, let me say, that my four year goal is that by the next presidential election I want to cast a vote that is an informed decision voicing my preference for the next leader of our nation. I would like to think that will be true this year, but like many Americans, I have allowed myself to become too emotionally involved in this race. I had hoped that by reading Shane Claiborne's "Jesus for President" that I would temper my political feelings, but alas, it did not. I remember 1992, my first presidential contest; several of my friends and I took pride in slogans like "don't blame me, I voted for..." and we even threw around the false threat of moving out of the country because of the election. Eight years later, I must say, my life continued much as it had for the previous 20. And the next eight years brought a change of administration and again, my life stayed much the same. My political sway has changed over the years, but why should I now fear that the next four or eight will be any different. Paul reminds us that we are not of this world, and Jesus had a pretty effective ministry under the rule of a government much more oppressive and brutal than ours. If Paul's words can be so filled with hope, while often writing from the cell of a jail, then how much more should ours be filled with hope in our time. This lack of hope and burning fear leads us to label a young visionary a terrorist and to hang an effigy of a public servant who has put herself out as a candidate for service to her fellow citizens. I will cast my vote, but I will cast it in hope that regardless of who holds the name President for the next four years, that my allegiance will be pledged to "Thy Kingdom Come". No more fear, because in this world we will have trouble, but take heart, this world IS overcome by He who knows not the difference in liberal and conservative.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I mentioned in the last post a bit about my last weekend at camp. The theme of this camp was untangled, and it provided a great opportunity for me to think about all of the things that tangle us up in this world and keep us from leading an unhindered life for Christ. While thinking about the theme, I kept putting two ideas together. First, I thought about my time as a teenager working construction. I always had to put away the tools at the end of the day, and by the end of the summer I'd become notorious for making a tangled mess of the cords. I learned that being tangled doesn't lessen value or importance, but it certainly hinders usefulness.

I compared this to Paul's words in 2 Timothy. Paul seems so exhausted, yet while at the end of his rope, he seems fulfilled in the thought that he's given all. The only thing that it seems he has left to do is to make sure that Timothy is prepared to carry on the good work that had begun. To do this, he used numerous images to encourage Timothy to stay Untangled from the world so that he could carry out God's purpose for his life.

So I then wondered, what tangles me up in my life. It may not be fair to generalize this to everyone, but when my life is tangled, it's usually a matter of fear, distraction, or just plain inactivity. What do you see in your life that tangles you up and keeps you from all out following Jesus?

I'll write more about each of these "tangles" in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I just finished a wonderful weekend with seventy strangers in the middle of nowhere. How’s that for a first line. I’d never done anything like this before, but several months ago, a youth pastor named Jerry Varner from Richmond asked if I would come to their annual fall discipleship retreat to speak to his group. He shared his vision for the weekend and explained his thoughts on the theme “untangled.” Even as we spoke, ideas began to generate in my heart and brain. So, I became their guest for a weekend at Watermark’s Camp in Scottsville, Virginia.

It was inspiring to share my life for a weekend with so many youth and adults who were eager to know God and His will in their lives and the world. The teenagers could be described using the fruits of the spirit, and their leaders’ compassion and heart for Christ showed in everything they did. The staff of Watermark’s Camp, and especially the owners, Travis and Angie, are exceptional people. I would call them exceptional Christians, but they simply live the life of Christ followers that really should be the normal-, which truly is exceptional in this world.

I encouraged the youth at this camp to live a life that is Untangled and Unleashed for God. Now, I press on trying to continue on my journey, Untangled and Unleashed for God. In the next few weeks, I’d like to share a little about the message of this weekend in shorter posts. For now, thanks to Southside Nazarene Church for taking a chance on me and sharing in the ministry of the gospel with me. Thanks to Watermark’s Camp for the great works they are doing for God in Scottsville, Virginia. And thanks to Chestnut Grove Baptist Church in Earlysville, Virginia for providing a home for my family and me and equipping us for this ministry.

Pastor Jerry had some very great things to say about this weekend as well. You can read about it here on his blog at the Journal of Student Ministries. So, as did he, I will send all the credit to God and pray that he continues to use me in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. Grace and peace.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What are you wearing?

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Colossians 3

I read this scripture to our youth this Sunday, and we talked about each word and what it meant. I posed the question after discussing these words-- "so how are we doing with that?" Sadly, in my world it doesn't seem like any of us are doing to well with that. It seems that suburbian culture has bred a new line of apparel that looks more like what's in it for me, I can be better than you, don't get in my way, and I want it now. Compassion is an afterthought; a good way to kill some time or make ourselves believe that we're doing something good for the world. It usually takes the form of enabling others to recreate themselves in our image rather than bringing them closer to the image of God.

When Jesus said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, I wonder if maybe he really meant it. Not as hyperbole or metaphor, but maybe he really meant it. I hope to ask myself how I'm doing with this frequently. Does my flesh show compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience? Not usually.

So for now, maybe it would be better for me to clothe myself with Christ before giving up on a world that is adorned with self.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Time for a Change

Have you ever needed a fresh start. Every year, September and October seem to be the toughest season of ministry for me. I always find the fall of the year deflating. I get to the point where I want to cry out, "Why God, why after I pour all that I have into these teenagers do you reward me with nothing. It's like beating my head against a wall. I sacrifice so much and it is all to no avail." Then I'm reminded of Elijah. "God, they want to kill me. I'm the only one left, and now they want to kill me." Remember that. That was right before the earthquake, fire, wind, and all the other natural disasters you can name. But God came to Elijah in a whisper. Sometimes I think that Elijah needed a swift kick. "Listen to what you're saying Eli, have you forgotten how I took care of you, how I'm taking care of you now. Get over yourself and get back to work, I've got big plans for you." God didn't do that though. He calmly whispered to Elijah and gently set him straight. I need that whisper now. To be reminded that all of the chaos that I am in the midst of will not provide the truth of the message that I need to hear, but the gentle, caring voice of God is present-- I must choose to listen.

This is my start. Again. And I will probably start again, again. But for today, I've changed the blog. Our church now has its own, and my official voice as its minister will be found there from now on.  I've deleted previous posts from this site that relate explicitly to my ministry there and renamed the blog "A Pot of Stew."  From here I hope to continue to share my journey of keeping focused on the big picture while living in the small one. Grace and peace to us all.