Thursday, March 31, 2011


Psalm 37:20

But the wicked will perish:
The LORD's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields,
they will vanish—vanish like smoke.

I find this verse much easier to understand in the context of verse 19. We’ve just been given assurance that in times of trial, the righteous will be satisfied; the righteous will have at least “just enough.” But, the wicked will perish. To our 21st century ears this seems so harsh, and to others, it points to the “schizophrenic” nature of Christianity: a loving and just God willing to punish so harshly.

I see it differently. The universe has an order. As creator of that order, God communicates truths about it for us to understand. It can be difficult to follow God and rely on Him in times of prosperity. The Hebrew Bible constantly reminds us to “remember” how God brought us from captivity and how easy it is to forget our God when we’re living in the land of “milk and honey.”

When times are good, it is hard to follow God, and many of us choose not to. We were just promised however that those who follow God in the good times will be preserved in the bad. We’ve learned to rely on God with food on the table, so now we can easily rely on his provision when the cupboard is bare. He will sustain us. But the wicked, we’ve been living for ourselves and exploiting the fat of the land. I’ve gotten by on my own, but now, there are times of trouble, and I’m not good enough to make it on my own. I am a sheep without a shepherd. So while the righteous continue to live on the sustenance of God, I perish in the famine thinking that I can somehow make it on my own.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Psalm 37:19

They will not be disgraced in times of adversity;

they will be satisfied in days of hunger.

On the surface, this sounds pretty nice. If I’m one of the righteous, I won’t suffer like everyone else, my God will deliver me from all hardship.

Not quite. It seems that we will face days of adversity and hunger. Hearing that I will be satisfied in days of hunger doesn’t say to me that I can always expect a full belly. But I can expect my needs to be met. The problem is, we spend too much of our time worrying about our wants being met. We get consumed with a fear of losing our comfort and privilege that we’ve mistaken it for necessity.

This gives us a false sense of reality that in hard times we’re really suffering and struggling when the truth is that now we can not only trust our God to provide, but we can experience the grace of our God’s provisions. Times of adversity and hunger can become the times that strengthen our faith immensely as we learn to rely on God to satisfy rather than on the world to indulge.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Psalm 37:18

The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.

That’s quite daunting. “The days of the blameless are known” but who among us are blameless? Every measure that we devise shows over and again that next to God’s holiness we fall way short. I doubt there are wasted words in the Bible. If there were no blameless to be known, this just wouldn’t be here. Can this verse be talking to me?

I’m so glad that inheritance is used again here. It reminds me of so much language from the New Testament about our inheritance in Christ. It reminds me that I am blameless through the grace of Christ.

So much of this Psalm relies on the conditional; it seems that so much of our world is based on conditions. If, then; over and over. The very operation of our universe seems to work on a very cause and effect, conditional set of principles. It’s almost like conditionality is a natural law. If being blameless is the condition for salvation then we’re all lost. And that is the beauty of grace, entering a system of conditions and breaking the back of sin and death. Forever.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Psalm 37:17

for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.

Sometimes it can be quite difficult to live a holy life. That is such an understatement. It is always impossible to live a holy life. It seems so much easier to live my way; do what I want; and look out for myself. If you’ve been reading these posts so far, you’ll probably recognize that last sentence as pretty close to the definition of wickedness that I’ve talked about so much. So by now I should know that no matter what sort of power I seem to exercise over my life; and most certainly over other’s lives, it will surely not hold.

While the righteous way seems more difficult, we’re promised that the Lord holds up the righteous. I wonder if in times when we feel as if God is letting us down, as if we’re living a holy and righteous life and still flailing; maybe we’re still striving in our own ways. How many of us can truly give up those ways to completely yield to God.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Little Easter Reflection 2

I admit that I'd never really even heard of lent until I was over twenty years old. I didn't have any understanding actually of the role of sacrifice and self-denial in Christian theology. The metaphor of being in the desert meant nothing to me.

I remember March 1991; I'd not missed an Easter service in my life. We were a very regular three time-a-week church family growing up, so it wasn't just about Easter, but there was still that sense and understanding of something special about Easter. This was my first year of college, and I had grown ever so spiteful of my faith. I wasn't backsliding, I was consciously and intentionally working to destroy my faith. I didn't want it. It was worthless to me. March had been amazing. I'd travelled to Florida with new found friends, hosted several guests on our return, and saw them on their way Easter morning. I'd gotten so caught up in the excitement that I didn't even know it was Easter until noon.

I took a walk by myself. The first time I'd really let myself be alone without some sort of distraction for a while. On my walk I sensed a great feeling of emptiness and despair, but I could not shed thoughts of Jesus. Looking back I feel like I knew that I would be running from God for quite some time, but He was holding on and watching all the way. I feel like I have a better understanding of being in the desert because of that experience and the years that followed, and for some reason, the video posted below brought all of the memories of that days experience rushing back to my brain.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Psalm 37: 16

Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;

This one seems easy. Even if it isn’t much, what I have in righteousness is greater than all the wealth of wickedness. We get so obsessed with quantity in this world that we often neglect the power of quality. I guess that is what a throwaway society does to us. I want more and I want it now. But a closer look at this verse seems to throw us a little quantitative curve. Not only is the little that the righteous have better than the wealth of the wicked; it is better than the wealth of MANY wicked. I think of the ancient Egyptian belief of one’s heart being measured against the feather to determine one’s fate in the afterlife. I imagine an army of wicked men one the scales, balanced on the other side against a single, lonely righteous man.

One who had lived a life of weight. The weight of God’s righteousness. A single life of great value in the kingdom of God. And I think, I want to be that type of man.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Psalm 37:15

But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

Swords and bows; this seems to be the tools of wickedness. We all have a pretty strong arsenal of swords and bows in our life. Swords and bows are weapons of offense, not defense, but in many of our lives, we’ve learned that the best defense is a good offense.
For me, it is usually words. I’ve developed a pretty keen ability to fire away some of the most hurtful lines, usually delivered at just the right moment to gain some sort of advantage over others.

But where does this get me. I usually find myself filled with hurt and regret when those weapons have been used. I’m broken. History provides numerous examples of the oppressors weapons of choice coming back to defeat them. The non-violence movements of Gandhi and King are excellent examples, but even looking at the fall of empires shows us that when we rely on weapons of offense, the tables are quickly turned.

This also leads me to think of our own nation at this time. Our swords and bows have so often taken the form of economic superiority. Would it be a surprise if the world of economics also became the sword that pierces our own hearts?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Psalm 37:14

The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.

It seems odd that the poor and needy could be “brought down.” One would think that the poor and needy are already down. But we see countless ways in which the poor and needy are constantly kicked down.

A few months ago I was in a car accident. No fault of my own, I stopped to avoid a car that was in the middle of an intersection running a red light. While stopped, a truck hit me from behind. Through no fault of my own, so I assumed that everything would be taken care of. Luckily, I have insurance. I am wealthy enough to give someone money each month to hold in case something bad happens. Luckily, I can afford a policy with a low deductible of $250. If I weren’t blessed in this way, what would I have done with an undriveable vehicle needing $2500 in repairs that I couldn’t afford. How would it have affected my job without reliable transportation. Two months later and I still only have compensation for half of the damage. But I’m not complaining. Just sad to think of how this event could have been so devastating for someone else not in my shape.

I don’t bring down the poor and needy or slay the upright, but I am so vested in a system that does. I don’t draw the sword, I just let an institution or an idea draw it for me. Too often I get caught up in my individual piety and forget that this world is bigger than me. It really is quite hopeless to see myself as one of the wicked described in this verse. It really is quite hopeless. Hopeless.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)

May we strive to be like Christ in whom our hope rests. Living in this world, but not of it. Fighting the system of oppression and seeking a new way of life given through the resurrection of our Savior.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Psalm 37:13

but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.

It sure does seem harsh to find our Lord laughing at the fate of others. But I do think that in the context of this chapter, it isn’t quite so. This chapter provides repeated warnings against fretting over evil doers and getting too wrapped up in their goings on. To put it in perspective, here we have God, laughing.

We can laugh at things that are of no consequence. Or when we are confident of the outcome and know that something is harmless. A few years ago, my football team, the University of Virginia Cavaliers played the USC Trojans. We were just out of our league in this game. From the opening kick-off, it was clear that we didn’t have a chance of winning. On one hand, had the USC fans and football program laughed at and ridiculed us it would have been humiliating. But, on the other hand, they could afford to relax, not get so worked up over a bad call, laugh it off when one of the opposing players got a little hot.

I think that God’s perspective of the wicked is much like that. He knows what is coming to them. He knows they can be a thorn in the side of his children. But he also knows the final score, and in the big picture, they’re not making as much noise today as it really seems.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Psalm 37:12

the wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;

At first glance, it is easy to take this verse to justify all of the hardships we face in the world. We can feel a little better in our pain knowing that the wicked are gunning for us. But I think that it may also provide a check. How often do we plot against others or clinch our teeth in their presence. In this entire chapter, we see the righteous as meek and gentle, the evil are the one’s who are engaged in… well, evil.

But perhaps the very act of plotting and gnashing puts us in the same category with the wicked. Maybe Psalm 37: 12 and other verses like it should encourage us to be mindful of how we react to others instead of giving us reasons to expect persecutions and hardship. Sometimes we even come to expect this treatment from others if we live a holy life. So much so that we live on the defensive and begin to plot and gnash; I think that might have just created a circle.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Psalm 37:11

But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.

So if, people are always looking for a fight, they’re probably going to find it in someone else who’s ready to fight. In a survival of the fittest scenario it would seem that the fighters would eventually kill each other off. So who does that leave? The meek. And if the meek are all that is left, who is left to fight? Ergo, great peace. This seems pretty logical to me.

But we still drive ourselves and our will directly into the selves and will of others. We drive ourselves toward our own will instead of God’s and inevitably we butt against something, usually someone who derails our path. Do we yield? No, we fight. And in the process, damage is done, wounds are given, and life is sucked out of us slowly. The meek will enjoy great peace.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Little Easter Reflection 1

My earliest memories of Easter are green pants and a yellow shirt. I hated dressing up when I was a child, but I never minded putting on my Sunday best for Easter. One year I remember my mother buying me a bright green pair of dress pants with a yellow polo style shirt to match. I remember loving putting it on and wearing it. I don't remember much else about that Easter, or any other Easters from my childhood, so I don't really know why this outfit stands out in my mind so much.

I also remember that as soon as I got home, the clothes were changed because the last thing I wanted to do was get myself messed up and dirty.  That's kind of what salvation is like.  Christ cleans us up, we put on "the clothes of Christ" and are made into something new.  That's what Easter is; the making of something new and fresh and clean.  God has entered my life through Christ and I am a new creation.  Clean and bright.  Why would I want to go out and get that dirty?

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Psalm 37:10

A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.

We fretted a lot in this Psalm over the wicked. Now God promises that they will not be found in a little while, but what do we do? We still fret. The wicked have all gone, and now that we have the land, what are we doing? We’re looking for them.

So much wrong and evil finds us in our everyday life, but we make it so much harder by looking for trouble. The Lord’s Prayer asks that He “deliver us from temptation” but we are so filled with self will that don’t recognize our need for this deliverance. Do we need evil in order to be good. Sometimes it is easier to bemoan the presence of evil knowing that by comparing ourselves we can come out looking good. But when we stop looking at evil and turn our eyes on God we find ourselves poorly lacking.

We find that in ourselves we can’t make it. And we learn that we must turn to our Savior.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Psalm 37:9

For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

We make jokes in our family about who gets what when my parents die. Some of you might think that is nothing to joke about, but I think it has become a little bit of a defense mechanism. If we make light of dividing our parents belongings when they die, we put out of our minds the very likely reality that they will die. In a healthy relationship, the inheritance is the last thing we want to think about.

An inheritance can seem like a long way off, maybe we even do such a good job at denial that it seems like it will never happen. I think our reward with the Lord often fits this pattern. It seems so far off and distant, that we really lose sight that we will have an inheritance in due time. At some point in the future we will be so well off, that all of the trouble we’ve endured will seem small. But we allow it to get out of sight. Out of sight out of mind. And we seek our own will; to take what we think we deserve now rather than waiting for something even better (that we don’t deserve) later.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creativity, Gratitude, and a Big Win

Creativity, I believe, is the very image of God in every one of us.  Whether expressed through the words of a story on the page, hard work and effort to run faster than before, or in our relationships with others that nurture and sustain humanity.  We find no greater honor on this earth than for others to recognize this creative gift inside of us and value its goodness.

But it can also be devastating when this creative impulse gets overlooked or meets with derision.  This fear of rejection often stifles our natural creativity.  I know this fear, and even today sit anxious about how the public will judge my creative work.

Earlier today, the Hook, a local weekly newspaper here in Charlottesville announced me as the winner in their annual short-story contest.  John Grisham judged and declared my story the winner.  I am abundantly honored that he found value in my work.  The newsmagazine will publish my story this week, and while I’ve written on this blog for several years and published a few articles elsewhere, I find myself oddly self-conscious about this one.

I’m hopeful that public responds positively; I’m hopeful that the public responds at all.  I would like to thank Hawes Spencer and the Hook for sponsoring this contest.  Also, Stephanie Garcia who took the time to interview me and write some very kind things about me in the Hook.  Of course a thank you is in order for Mr. John Grisham for reading the stories and taking the time to judge them.  And I want to thank my wife, the only eyes to see this story before Mr. Grisham.

And thank you.  I appreciate all of you who have followed and supported my efforts at writing through A Pot of Stew and Teaching Underground; if you are new to this site, I thank you for your eyes today and hope that you will visit again.


Psalm 37:8

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.

How many times will we find this word “fret” in the Psalm. What do you fret about? I tend to fret when I don’t think that things are going to come to the conclusion that I think is best. I tend to think that things aren’t going to come to the best conclusion when they don’t go according to my plan. I don’t know if you are the same, but simply put, this means that I fret because I think that my way is the best way.

When I worry that things aren’t going to turn out for the best, I get angry. Usually it is a person that stands in the way of my plans (the one’s that lead to the best outcome). This means that I have an individual outside of myself who is causing my life to be less than it ought to be. I get angry. My anger expresses itself in wrath, be it words, actions, or passive aggression. My attention is turned onto a person or a group that I think stands in the way of something good and my resulting behavior to correct that person ends with an outcome worse than if I had given up my way from the start.

This Psalm says so often; trust, wait, don’t worry, don’t fret, be patient, trust, trust, trust.

Trust that God’s way is always better than my way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Psalm 37:7

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when men succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

What is the secret to comedy?


OK, that joke probably makes no sense at all in writing. Timing is so vital to everything in our life. As a teacher, we often pose questions and wait. We don’t wait for an answer, we wait for time to think. Too often the overzealous student pipes in before the question even leaves your lips wanting to please with an answer. Others will focus too much on details and run the class down an unrelated path. But when it works right, the students have had just enough time to think, process thoughts in their brains, and with just a few prompts from a teacher AHA! That’s it!

Waiting patiently on the Lord allows us to reflect. If we’re told to be still before the Lord, it is on him who we reflect. Pondering his being waiting for his prompts and hoping to gain his insight. But often, we jump ahead. We think we already know the answers so we blurt them out and try to move on to the next thing. When we’re expected to go deeper, we get impatient and start to look around. We see the rest of the world moving, moving , moving. “OK God, I’ve got it, now let me go. Look over there, look at what they’re doing.”

Do not fret.

Be still.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Psalm 37:6

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

A sunset is settling, relaxing. But the sunrise, if you’ve had a good night before, the sunrise is energizing. This verse says that the Lord will make your righteousness shine. As a result of trusting the Lord, (see v.5) he will make our righteousness shine. Our righteousness will wake up the world, energize the masses, and bring on a new day. By noon, the shadows are all but gone, the sun overhead, everything is in the light of day. Our cause of justice will light the world, exposing all of the dark places for what they really are. Does your life do this? Mine sure doesn’t seem to most of the time.

I think it goes back to the trust. I remember a time when I’d lift my son up to a bar on the play ground; higher than both of our heads. He liked to hang as long as he could before telling me he was ready to drop. I had to catch him, and the easiest way was for me to hold the back of his legs and ask him to let go, dropping his head and shoulders into my other arm. If I didn’t do what I said, he would end up head first on the ground. It took a lot of trust. At first, he’d try to drop straight down, kicking his legs free of my arm. The result, I’d more or less break his fall but he still crashed. Then he’d drop, but instead of letting me catch him he’d contort and try to get his arms around my neck. The result, I’d crash with him on top of me.

Perhaps without trust, we end up ok, but not really how God intends. We’re mostly peaceful and happy, not crashing too hard. We feel God’s presence in our lives, but our righteousness doesn’t shine like the sunrise or our justice like the noonday sun.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Psalm 37:5

Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:

Commitment means a great deal to me in my faith life. I first committed myself to Christ around six years old. I’m sure I didn’t understand all that it meant, but I remember that with all my heart I wanted to live in God’s way. I did my best for most of the next eleven years, but then I really fell hard.

As a young adult I struggled to shed my faith. I not only rebelled in my behavior, but in my mind I tried to leave this immature belief in God behind. I was mostly successful, but my heart would never agree that Jesus was not real nor present in my being. So after about four years of struggle I gave up, and ignored my faith. This time of my life was perhaps more dark than the period of struggle.

Finally, after about four more years, everything changed. EVERYTHING CHANGED! My world was turned upside down and I didn’t discover faith, I discovered that commitment means something and my faith had been reawakened. I discovered that even when I tried to break my agreement that Christ was not going to break his. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do! He will act, he will abide, he will provide. And even when we break our commitment, he finds ways to show us that he is worthy of our trust.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Prayer for the First Sunday of Lent

Dear God,

We enter your presence humbled that you will hear the needs of our heart.  We thank you for our many blessings.  You have given to us in abundance.  All that we need your hand has provided.  But like spoiled children, often the more we have the more we want.  Forgive us for our sin Lord.

Thank you for inviting us to join you in this journey of Lent.  Christ himself set us an example who being in very nature God, did not consider it something to use for His gain, but humbled himself in obedience even unto death on the cross.  May we remind ourselves of this self-sacrifice during this season of Lent.  Teach us to be thankful for and faithful with what we have and free us from the never-ending quest for more.  May we remember that just because it is possible for us to buy it, to eat it, to own it, or to keep it, that sometimes it truly is better to sacrifice.

This week has touched our hearts with yet another disaster stealing many lives and disrupting countless others.  In tragedy so large we don’t even have the language to know what is needed.  We want to pray for a fix, but what is broken cannot be restored without fault.  But we know that you have a way of making things new in ways even better than we can imagine.  We pray for your healing and restoration in the pacific.

We also pray for our own hearts and minds, along with those around the world.  These tragedies can shake our faith.  As we travel this Lenten journey and face tragedy both global and personal, may we remember that you are not a God removed from our suffering.  We know that Jesus wept while here on Earth, and we take strength from knowing that our God was, is and will ever be with us.

We are a people of blessing, may we live lives worthy of your call God.  We pray these things together and offer you the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray,

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Psalm 37:4

Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

I think the order of this verse is important. Delight in the Lord comes first. I think that we like it the other way. When we get the desires of our heart we are pleased with God, but when we don’t get our way we start showing displeasure. Unfortunately when delighting in the Lord doesn’t come first, the desires of our heart tend to be self centered, self serving, and short term. In the long run, it is probably good for us that we do not get the desires of our heart when we do not delight in the Lord. When I am not delighting in the Lord, my desires are probably wishes that would result in a great deal of heartache for myself and others. On the other hand, when I find myself delighting in the Lord, I find my ways closer to His ways and the desires of my heart become worthy enough to see the light of day.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Psalm 37:3

Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

To trust is to truly agree that someone is who they say they are. I’m not just talking about identity, but character. That’s why it is so hard to find trust in our world. We spend so much time trying to manage our image that very few of us really show the world who we truly are. Maybe that’s why trust is such a hard thing for us when it comes to God. Trust in the Lord and do good. Doing good doesn’t seem like the right thing to do. Sure we want to do good and we want to be good, but when push comes to shove, we want to do what is right for us.

That’s when it all starts going wrong. Trusting God allows us to believe that His path is the path to peace. It allows us to believe that even though our way seems to make sense, He has a better idea. It is the path that allows us to “dwell in the land” of safe pasture rather than meander through a world of uncertainty.

2011 Update:  It is difficult to read this post on March 11, just hearing the news from Japan and knowing that many people in Hawaii are anticipating destruction.  In the wake of Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and flooding, these words about safe pasture seem empty.  Of course some will say these destructive acts of nature are "God's will" or some divine punishment.  I can't help but think that God's intention is to walk beside his people in times of joy and in times of sorrow.  

This is the lesson of Christ that we celebrate this Lenten season-- God was among us, suffering with the least of us, not escaping the hardships of this world but enduring them and overcoming them in the end.  Events such as today shake our faith, but rather than causing us to believe that a Tsunami is evidence of the absence of God, I believe that it is an opportunity to discover the presence of God looms even larger in the midst of crisis.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Psalm 37:2

for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

I’ve never had much luck with grass. It grows where I don’t want it, and it dies where it is supposed to grow. The thing about the grass though, is that just like all “green plants” it has a growing season. Unchecked it can grow like crazy. This verse refers to the “evil men” and “those who do wrong” in the previous verse. We like to think that evil has such an immediate effect, but just like the grass, before it withers, it grows. We gauge our life too often on how good things are, thinking that we must be in God’s will if everything is going well. And then when it crashes we start looking for the reasons that it all went wrong.

I mentioned my luck with grass. I can easily drop a handful of grass seed and water on a brown patch and see daily results of growth. Sometimes I get excited that I’ve finally succeeded. But just as quickly as it grows, the brown patch returns. This is comforting to think that while the wicked may prosper for a season that a day will come when it gets its due reward. But I also fear that there are places in my life where the green grass grows. Places that I mistake for goodness because of how it looks today. Places that will soon wither and die away.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Surely, He Has Borne Our Grief

This post originally appeared last year on Ash Wednesday.  I thought it would fit well with my daily posts on Psalm 37 during Lent this year.

Growing up Baptist, the liturgical traditions are not always the most familiar to me.  Of course, yesterday, Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of the Lenten Season for the Christian church.  Only as an adult did I learn about the practice of giving things up for Lent, and even later than that about the observance of Ash Wednesday.  Though I've participate in Ash Wednesday observances, several things struck me differently this year.

First, if you read this blog often, you'll remember that I've had a bit of an infatuation with the book of Job for about a year now.  If you watch the t.v. show Lost, I'm convinced that the plot has something to do with the plot of this book.  I seem to be finding "Job" in many areas of my life, but the more Job comes to mind, the more his story points me to Christ.  As I received the ashes last night, I remembered that Job, after hearing from God says "my ears had heard of you now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."  Faced with the tangible reality of God, Job recognized the only possible response was to acknowledge that God is God and he is not, to see the greatness of God compared to the frailty of man and experience the gratitude of grace that God is indeed mindful of us.

Second, I noticed a phrase from our pastor for the first time as he said he would "impose" the ashes.  It seems so strange that we would enter the Lenten season with an "imposition" on us.  Indeed, the act of giving something up for Lent may in itself seem like an imposition on our daily life.  But this is a beautiful idea.  Christ has imposed himself on us, and taking the sign of the cross on ourselves becomes a sign that we willingly accept the "imposition" of the cross.  Jesus said that we must "take up our cross daily."  Sounds rather unappealing that Jesus would become an imposition on our life.  Who wants that?

I do.  I will take the imposition of the cross, the burden of Jesus, become a slave to Christ, because the impositions of the world on my life are far too taxing, the burdens I create for myself too heavy to bear, and the masters of money, food, media, and habits demand more than I can keep up with.  May your Lenten journey show you the way to the cross, where you may lay down your life to save it.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs
      And carried our sorrows;
      Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
      Smitten by God, and afflicted. 
 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
      He was bruised for our iniquities;
      The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
      And by His stripes we are healed.


Psalm 37:1

Do not fret because of evil men
or be envious of those who do wrong;

Sometimes I wonder how much of our righteous anger is really about envy of those who do wrong. We spend so much of our time condemning certain behaviors that I think that it might be wise to first examine ourselves to determine if we’re being so judgmental because deep down inside we hate seeing “them” having so much fun. Watching others suffer because of their wrong-doings and evil deeds reminds us of why we try to walk the straight and narrow. Seeing evil reap its due reward in the short run motivates us to seek goodness. But it doesn’t seem to happen that way. When we look out on our world and see how evil people seem to prosper, our temptations become that much greater.

We’d like to see a world where the cost of evil is easily seen, but we don’t. For now we simply have to trust the promises of our faith and strive to seek God and His will in our lives instead of feeling cheated because we’re not allowed to do things that everyone else is getting away with. Rather than fretting over or envying those who do wrong, our hearts need to be set on things above, our eyes set upon Christ and the path He’s laid for us, knowing that it is the best path regardless of what we see around us.

2011- I first wrote this a few years ago.  Reading it today, I can't help but think of Charlie Sheen.  I'm usually pretty annoyed by the celeb-gossip news of the day, but I've been strangely taken by his story.  It makes me wonder if part of our infatuation with Mr. Sheen doesn't reveal our own hearts.  Do we secretly enjoy his meltdown as a just reward for his behavior, or are we rooting for him to overcome?  I said in the introduction to these posts that Christianity is a story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration.  I pray that I can have a heart that sees the image of God in every created human, hoping for restoration rather than waiting in anticipation for judgement.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Mardi Gras

I knew about Mardi Gras long before I ever had a clue what Ash Wednesday or Lent were all about.  After watching "Easy Rider" in college, my friends and I swore that some day we would celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  That never happened-- probably a good thing.

You may not know that Mardi Gras marks the end of "Carnival" which literally means "farewell to the flesh."  The very next day marks the beginning of a very somber period of reflection in the Christian calendar.  As with Advent before Christmas, the period of Lent marks a remembrance of Christ's journey to the cross.  We already know the end of the story, and often this familiarity breeds apathy.  There is great value in making the effort of immersing ourselves in the story that we might fully understand how it is reflected in our lives.

For many Christians, Lent is the season of giving up, but whenever we create space, something moves in to fill it.  Without mindfulness of purpose, the sacrifices we make for Lent become vain.  Several years ago I made the effort to read through Psalm 37 during the season of Lent, writing daily reflections on each verse of the psalm.  This year I want to revisit this Psalm and post my daily thoughts.  Each day between now and Easter, I will share my reflections on the 40 verses of this psalm.  I hope this will be an encouragement to others who have chosen mindfulness in their Lenten journey.

As always, if you wish to add your thoughts or comment on any of these posts feel welcome to do so.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Prayer for Transfiguration Sunday

Good Morning Lord,

We lift our voices high this morning singing praises to you alone.  Glory be to you, our God. 

You are there with us on days that are filled with joy and on days filled with sadness.  On bright, sunny days and on cloudy, rainy days.  During our times of busyness and those times of rest.  You are with us on days that begin and continue to feel chaotic and on days where everything goes smoothly. 

We pray for patience... we pray for understanding... we pray for peace... and we pray for love.

Our Father, you have provided us with mountain top experiences where we feel so incredibly close to you and we thank you for these moments.  Thank you for the grace moments that remind us that you are real and that we are your children.  Thank you for coming close to us and loving us--

Help us to let these moments empower us. 
Help us to love others as you love us.
Help us to be the hands of Christ and serve.
Help us to react and go without hesitation.
Continue to be with us in our moments.

We pray these things as you taught us to pray, Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power forever and ever.  Amen.

*Thanks to my wonderful wife for this post, she wrote this prayer.

What I Learned at Church This Week

After the early service at church last Sunday, I had a conversation with a friend. He commented on a prayer I'd offered in the early service.  I suppose a little more of my life crept into this prayer, because as I talked with this friend he expressed that the idea of servant-leadership really spoke to him and that he had really been trying to work this out in his own life as a business leader, a husband, and a father. Those last two stuck out to me, because that is what I needed to hear from God this Sunday morning.

I stood there drinking coffee, in the transition time between services thinking about how God comes to us in the most unexpected times; or is God coming to us all the time and we're just not paying attention. So I decided for the rest of the morning to take note of everything that God was trying to tell me that morning at church. Here is the list:

1) Servant leadership is not just a concept for the nation and world; it's probably even more important in the home.

2) Sports and other activities can be a burden or a blessing, it is really depends on what you make them. (learned from non-lesson related conversation in SS)

3) Children are capable of great creativity and great beauty. But they are also capable of the opposite. (learned by watching kids participate in the worship service)

4) Trying to serve your self and serve God leads to either guilt and self-loathing OR obsessive doubt and anger toward God. (learned from the sermon, but it wasn't really the main point, or even any point)

That's just in one Sunday, and only #4 is related to the sermon.  I may post about each of these in the future, but tomorrow I plan on a second round of taking note of what I learn in church.  I know that lot's of people question the value of "Sunday morning church" and see it as more of a relic than relevant, but I really believe that God honors our commitment of time and community and uses this time to both bless and prepare us on our journey.  I look forward to what tomorrow brings.

8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
   for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
   for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, LORD,
   for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
   for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
   lead me on level ground.    (Psalm 143)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What the Hell Rob Bell?

Pardon the title, but it appears that a prominent religious leader, Rob Bell, has stirred quite a nest of hornets by raising this very question, even prompting John Piper to declare "farewell Rob Bell" in his twitter feed.  If you're not familiar with Rob Bell, he's well known for a series of short Christian videos known as Nooma.  I have enjoyed these videos for several years in addition to podcasts of his sermons.  He is also the author of several books; I've read Velvet Elvis and Jesus Wants to Save Christians (For fellow Central Virginians, this Rob Bell is not to be confused with our long time House of Delegates Representative)

One of the most telling illustrations from Velvet Elvis challenges Christians to stop looking at their faith as a wall with individual bricks making up the elements of our faith.  For one, when these small elements of our faith are broken, the wall's integrity is compromised.  For two, when we build a wall, we want to stay inside of it and protect it.  Bell argues that Christian faith is more like a trampoline.  When a spring or two (the elements of our faith) give out, the trampoline is still just as functional as before.  And unlike a wall that we defend, a trampoline is a joy that we invite others in to play on.

Bell says that certain doctrines should not "make or break" our faith.  As an example, he uses the Virgin Birth.  I remember him taking much heat for that.  He didn't disavow the Virgin Birth, he simply showed that with this metaphor of faith that even a doctrinal tenet as strong as the Virgin Birth should not be such a strong part of our faith that if it turned out to be untrue that our faith as well would be proved untrue. (On a side note, it appears that the 2011 American Catholic Bishop's "New American Bible has remove the reference to Virgin Birth from Isaiah 7:14)

But apparently, his statements about the Virgin Birth didn't go nearly as far as the claim in his new book at upsetting the Christian community.  His new book Love Wins is due out April 1, and the short video promo and news release about the book this weekend was too much for some to handle.  Here's what the publisher says:
Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived
In Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith--the afterlife--arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic--eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.

In this video trailer, Bell asks "Is Gandhi Really in Hell?"  Seriously, what Christian wouldn't be ready to tackle that question.  These are the types of questions that should shake our faith to its very foundation.  How many good Christians have lived a life of anxiety worried about the eternal soul of a loved one?  How many people struggle with the question of what happens to little babies that die and what is the age of accountability?

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

These are questions that I'd rather avoid; on one hand, the answer could be one that I find hard to live with, but on the other it could be an answer that contradicts much of what I have been taught my entire life about heaven and hell.

Apparently the reaction to Bell's new book in the "twitter/blogosphere" rated among the Oscars in terms of popularity over the weekend and the beginning of the week.  It's kind of crazy to think that so many people are ready to attack his theology before the book is even released.  As the title says, Love Wins, not only that, but truth wins, and if I find myself on the wrong side of truth I want to surrender before dying defending a lie that I've come to believe.

So I don't know what Rob Bell has to say about the Christian doctrine of Hell, but I am quite grateful that he has chosen to wrestle with the question.  I hope that the rest of Christendom will just as eagerly pursue the truth with humility.  I can neither stand in defense or judgement of Bell's theology, but I will always support the value of asking difficult questions.