After Success, Pray

One of the things I continue to struggle with in my life is knowing just how to deal with success.  Because we are taught to remain humble and because I know that all good things come from God, it sometimes feels almost like I'm doing something wrong when I acknowledge that, yes, I did something good. A while back I was honored to be in a group who got to hear from the producer of the movie Fireproof and one of the authors of Love Dare, Alex Kendrick.  As he discussed how they went into development of the film, he said over and over again that everything they did was prayed about.  There was only one thing that he could attribute any success to, and life-change to - and that was prayer. This week there's going to be a few posts coming up on the blog about some successes I've had recently.  Some dreams that have come true, goals of mine that I believe were God-given that have seen fruit.  I think it's important that we share in one another's joy.  I think it's important that we pause and enjoy the gifts of success that God has allowed us to partake in. I think we need to embrace success more often. But, in doing so, just as we need to pray from the onset of any endeavor, we need to pray during and after it as well.  Prayers of thanks and prayers of humility.  Prayers that any struggles or battles we fight along the way are there to make things better, to make us fight harder or, in more cases that we care to admit, to get our attention that we're doing it wrong. Even now, even as I'm writing this, I still feel like it's taboo to say, "Hey! I'm excited about this thing I did! Look!"  Or even the thought that a part of me worries that this post is really communicating to you: "Guess what! I prayed! I really did!"  Its so hard to find that balance of self-awareness of your personal success vs being prideful.  I think that's one of the reasons I've blogged so seldom lately. But... the fact of the matter is that the Lord has given me a season of success.  It could easily be gone tomorrow with one wrong word or one late project.  So I'm choosing to rejoice in the things that God has blessed my life with, labors that have seen success and - hopefully - will serve in their own way to spread the good news of hope and love. And thanks to all you who help teach me, give me grace, and convince me to share my thoughts with the world.
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Disciple Me

It's a subject that my wife and I talk quite a bit about: We need to be discipled. Not merely an all-inclusive general "we," not a community-based program in our church "we," but a very granular, specific "we" as an she and I.  We have great days, experiences and conversations where we sharpen each other.  We have people of all ages who speak into our lives, that we grow in Christ with, that we can learn from.  But... there are so few people who we can point to and say: this person specifically took time to teach me, to disciple me, to pass on wisdom, love, rebukes and passion for the Word. As my life fills up with more school work, with greater job responsibilities, with the lives of people that we're trying to teach and disciple... I worry that I will somehow miss the chance to even allow someone to speak into my life.  I worry that some day I might think, "Yes! I know enough!  I have achieved what this world calls success!" and - at that moment - somehow deny or ignore someone whose journey was meant to connect with mine. There are people I look up to, who I consider mentors-from-afar.  I have people who teach around me.  I have people I observe and learn from.  But I still feel a yearning for someone to develop that discipling relationship with me.  To hold me accountable to the plans God has for me and my family.  To teach me some of the so-many-things-I-don't-know. I don't know if it's just that the part of the people of God that I interact with have lost the art of discipleship, or if people for some reason think I don't need it.  I don't know why I've gone to great men of God and said "this is a need!" and then... nothing.  And I'm left still feeling that need, wanting desperately to fill a void that I know is in my life. But, as desperate and hopeful as I am about finding someone, or someones, to take an interest and disciple this child, I do so little to pass my little wisdom on and let others know that I am praying for them.  And, though I've (in)directly asked people to disciple me before... it's not like finding a mentor was actively on the top of my to-do list for 2009.  It was there... just not always at the very front of my mindset. So... What do you do?  How do you find a mentor?  What do you look for in someone else to disciple?  What's your discipleship story?
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The Near Future of the Bible: Audio from BibleTech 2009 Now Available

The good folks that run the BibleTech conference have made the MP3s of each of the sessions available for your listening pleasure!  If you care to hear my voice and ideas for 45 minutes or so, click on this link to get to my conference presentation.  Enjoy!
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The Microsoft Question: Supporting a 'Cesspool of Evil'?

A while back I added some contact information to my blog page so people could easily get ahold of me.  It's my personal opinion that, with the kind of blog I write, to be as transparent as comfortably possible.  If people want to get ahold of me, I'd love for them to.  I'm open to conversation and I love meeting new people.  Through people coming to this blog and through me reading other blogs, I've already gotten to meet some pretty amazing people.  Tonight, I got my first random phone call. I did not get a chance to ask if I could talk about him on the blog, so I'll call him Bruce (not his real name). Bruce called and quickly introduced himself to me over the phone before launching into his reason for calling: Bruce wanted to know how I, as a Christian, could support Microsoft. Now, let me first put a bit of context around my response.  The most important disclaimer is that, during this conversation and, as such on this bog, I made it very clear that is a personal blog and I do not speak in any way, shape or form as a representative of any Southern Baptist entity on this blog.  While I have the freedom to occasionally talk about my work or make note of the digital products LifeWay has released, the context of this blog is as digital media practitioner, who happens to be a LifeWay enthusiast, a gaming enthusiast, a comic book enthusiast and, of course, a spiritual matters enthusiast. Bruce's concern is that he sees a Microsoft as, and I quote, a "cesspool of evil."  According to Bruce, Microsoft is the number one proponent of abortion and "gays" in the world.  He later clarified that it was actually the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that was the number one proponent, but - according to Bruce - Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are the same thing. Instead of supporting the evil that is Microsoft, Bruce - a Linux enthusiast - I, as a Christian, have a moral obligation to use an alternative operating system (specifically, Ubuntu Linux). My Technical Response Bruce was quite concerned that I own a Zune, that I attended a Vista launch party, and that I like the Xbox.  In his mind, there were alternative MP3 players, that Ubuntu is better than Vista in EVERY way (literally), and that gaming is, well, evil. When it comes to computing I am, for the most part, platform-agnostic.  I choose the best technology for the job, the best software for the tool.  I like Final Cut for editing, but use Microsoft Expression Encoder for any encoding.  I like Motion for simple lower thirds, but love After Effects for the complex stuff.  I like Photoshop and Illustrator for image design, but Like Microsoft Expression Web for webpages.  I used OpenOffice in college, but like the advances Office 2007 has made.  I'll only code in Microsoft's programming tools because they are so darned perfect for beginners like me. From a purely technical standpoint, if you a creating content to be utilized by the widest possible range of people, you MUST have a Windows box.  At the very least, to test on.  It's a must.  To ignore at least doing some quality assurance on a Windows box is equivalent to not testing your content for 95% of your audience.  It's content-suicide to ignore Windows users. I thought it was interesting the Bruce suggested that I just run Windows as a virtual machine on a Linux box.  Doesn't that defeat the point of "not supporting evil Microsoft" by... well... supporting them? I appreciate the fanboy support for alternative systems.  Like I've previously said on the blog, I used to be quite the Apple fanboy.  But there comes a time when you're in the actual business of producing content that you realize that every system has it's strengths and weaknesses.  You may not see them in your daily work, but other people use systems differently.  Is Vista perfect?  No.  Is OSX?  No.  Is Linux?  Yes (according to Bruce).  Sorry, but that narrow-mindedness just doesn't work in a true business situation. Linux machines are great for hosting webpages.  Unix machines are great for databases.  Macs are great for creative productivity and home usage.  Windows machines are great for office productivity, gaming and home usage.  I appreciate your passion, Bruce... but as someone who currently has a Mac G5, two Vista machines and two PCs with linux distros installed on them (that haven't needed to be turned on since we moved to the new house)... I know how to use the best tool for the job. My Spiritual Response So the question remains (even though the majority of our conversation was Bruce explaining to me how/why I should use Linux): what is the moral and spiritual ramifications of using Microsoft tools and - thus - supporting them and their supposed support of immoral activity. Let me just be upfront and be transparent in my ignorance: I simply do not know how Microsoft invests its money nor how it is they may support immoral activity.  When pressed for examples, Bruce said he had articles about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supporting planned parenthood in Africa (a quick Google search pulls up this article on the topic).  Here's my problem with Bruce's line of thought on this particular issue: Microsoft is a separate entity to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As I tried to seperate the two in the conversation, Bruce adamantly said that "we all know that Microsoft is Bill Gates and Bill Gates is Microsoft."  I find this a troubling perspective on an organization, the undermines the lives (and opinions, families, morals and souls) of any organization's employees.  I also think that the nearly 90,000 Microsoft employees would disagree with Bruce and suggest that Microsoft is made up of more than just a retired founder. Irregardless, we're still left with the lingering question: is it morally ok to purchase products or content produced by a company who we've been told support immoral activities (whatever you define as immoral)? I'm not 100% sure what my opinion on this topic is.  In Acts, Paul uses a statue of an unknown god to tell the story of Christ.  He doesn't chastise theme for creating the sculpture, but instead utilizes the ways of their culture to tell the story.  Are we not allowed to do the same with today's story-telling mediums, of the digital kind?  Where this breaks down, of course, is that Paul did not pay the sculptor to chisel out the statue. I don't know that I have an answer for this particular question.  I think that it's ok to have some tension in our spiritual decisions.  On the specific topic of Microsoft, I'm as of yet unaware of any intentional "immoral activity."  Which leads to another spiritual question: if I'm ignorant of a corporation's wrongdoings, does it absolve me from any personal wrongs in supporting their questionable activity?  And, of course, this leads into one more question: what makes a corporation's activities "immoral?"  In my MBA courses we would talk extensively about social responsibility of corporations and there are some definitive wrongdoings (breaking the law, killing people, etc etc)... but a corporation's culture can never match all of the opinions of all of its customers (and non-customers who want to critique said company).  This will continue to be a topic for me to think about and explore. Epilogue In our conversation, I told Bruce that he sounded more like he was angry with me than he was concernedabout me.  He agreed: he told me that he was angry at the sin and that we are supposed to hate evil.  That Microsoft was evil and that my support of them is evil.  At this, my heart broke. I don't really know what Bruce's intentions were.  I found some of his comments on other blogs on the topics of politics, fundamentalism and, of course, linux.  Bruce does seem to be passionate and have strong opinions.  But so much of his language and posts (and our conversation) seemed fueled by anger, hatred and pride.  There is no question to me that he deems himself a better person, more "holy," and wiser than me because he uses the Ubuntu and I use Vista. Ultimately, in the end, I'm not sure Christ is going to judge me based on what operating system I used to mesh my physical and digital lives.  I'm not sure Christ is going to care whether I used Final Cut or Adobe Premiere to edit video to tell His story, the story of LifeWay, or the snippets of my life on YouTube. What concerns me is how things like this must look to people outside the church.  If Christian fight over the morality of operating systems... where is the love there?  Where is the grace?  If a brother in Christ prayed before calling me and approached me in anger - and he admitted he did both - where does that bring in the holiness and morality Bruce was seeking in choosing the "right" operating system? Bruce: I appreciate your sincerity in calling me and sharing your passions with me.  If you have found a company to be of immoral repute and feel the need to educate and question people's support thereof, I encourage you to do so in a mature, loving manner.  But next time let us talk about the spiritual matters and cultural ramifications.  Here's to hoping this post did not offend you, nor is of immoral substinance.  It was, after all, written using Internet Explorer running on WIndows Vista.
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is it ok to want to excel at my career?

A while back, I wrote about my struggle with being a "career Christian."  I am still struggling with what this means. Last week, there came a day when I was tired and - to be honest - a bit frustrated.  My boss swung my office to just check in and see how my day was when I let my guard down and expressed my frustration. My current position was created with some very specific expectations upon it to be considered a success.  The expectations were settled upon with the idea that there would be two of me.  In my first full quarter, we hit 75% of the expectations for the year (and there's only one of me).  In other words, I did pretty well and far exceeded expectations. I'm not saying that to be bragadocious; just practical.  It is also important to note the the various people throughout the organization who touch the work also deserve tons of credit for being able to handle the flow of work that my products added to their load. Unfortunately, we hit a snag or two this quarter on getting my content released.  So when my boss asked how I was doing I explained my two frustrations: 1) We have content that should be available, that's not.  This means a loss in revenue and - if we truly believe that our products spead the Gospel - it means people aren't hearing the Message as we planned (in digital format). 2) Last quarter I was a star for getting 75% of the expectations in one quarter.  This quarter I wanted to be a super-star. Now then... we should be getting the flow of content going again this week.  This post isn't about that.  This post is about how I felt after saying I wanted to be a super-star. It hit me hard that what I was saying and wanting was, simply put, not humble.  It wasn't me trying to help raise the calibur of my co-workers.  It wasn't me being meek or quiet or going with the flow.  I wanted to be recognized for the work I've done and I wanted to be given the freedom to do even more, better work. So I'm torn, trying to figure out the balance.  Is it ok for me to want to excel at my career, wanting to be the best, wanting to succeed head-and-shoulders above what was expected of me?  Is it ok to fight to go from doing 75% of my year's expectations in one quarter to try and get 100 or even 150% of the expectations the next quarter? Or, am I supposed to be humble and just accept the things get in the way and that things just are the way they are?  Am I supposed to be content with being a star when I feel like we could have done so much more this quarter?  Am I allowed to challenge myself to levels of success for my area that are far beyond what LifeWay envisioned, or should I be content in knowing that I could simply relax and do nothing until July and my work still be considered a success? I don't want to be content with great if I know that my work could be excellent.  I don't want to be excellent if I know that my work can be stellar.  But how do I balance success beyond anyone's expectations with humbleness?  Do I have to push down my own expectations of myself and my role so as to not be "too successful" or "too agressive" in making a great product?  Is there such thing as too good of work?
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What's Really Happening with Rob Bell

Rob Bell seems to be a touchy subject for a lot of Christians.  So I'm not going to touch any of that... I just wanted to explore about with what's actually happening with Rob Bell. Last weekend, we got to have dinner with our good friend, Finn, and his family to celebrate his graduation from Belmont University.  We sat across from this grandparents, and we talked about ministry and churches all night long.  It was wonderful to have the ears and attention of solid, devout Christians who were older, more mature, and knew more than us.  One of the topics that we talked about was this: Preaching is becoming an archaic, specialized form of communication.  We could only come up with two things in life that are similar in the approach and methods of most sermons: university lectures and formal presentations at work.  As such, it seldom matters how good a communicator is or what their topic is... most people nowadays simply don't know how to process a sermon.  It's either too much information or not presented correctly (for me, it's too slow... I take in much more information in a much shorter time period every day at work). Now then, if this is a problem for Christ-followers... what must it be like for a new Christian or someone who is just exploring faith and life?  To never have been exposed to a "worship service" before and to walk in and have to follow the lead of the crowd around them and listen in a way that they simply have never done before... is that a good perception ofwhat it means to be learning?  What, then is the point of preaching if not to teach... and if the point is to teach, then what are our churches learning? So why is Rob Bell being so successful with preaching?  If you don't think he is, that's ok.  But there are few people who have as many DVDs of their teaching as Rob does, and less that have gone on tour with their sermons (and then sold them as successful DVDs). Rob's teachings are like songs.  They crescendo and repeat and become famliar.  He teaches in a way that introduces you to ideas and concepts like you already knew them.  He's turning teaching into art. I don't want to talk about whether his content is good or not; this isn't the place for that and - quite humbly - I'm not enough of a Biblical scholar to tell you a valid opinion to your arguments.  But what amazes me is how he turns delivering a message into an art.  Just check out one of his nooma videos; one glance will tell you that he's got skilled people working to make a short film and they are passionate about doing so. Rob isn't alone.  He has a team that put together the message into an artform for those videos - I know, because their names are on the credits.  And in his sermons at his church, he often tag-teams with other speakers, to get the message just right.  Regulary, he turns into a character on the stage, turning to the theatrical. I'm not sure what's happening with sermons across the expanse of the church in the United States... but what's happening with Rob is he's turning it into an artform.  And I will listen and learn and recall a song long before I can recall a sermon...
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Jon Foreman's "Your Love is Strong"

I love dramatic, emotionally moving music.  It gives me a taste of another artists dreams/struggles/desires and helps to rekindle thoughts of my own.  95% of the time, however, the really good stuff is about breaking up or things of that nature. So upon listening to Jon Foreman (of Switchfoot)'s "Your Love is Strong" three times in a row today because it hits that emotional chord just right for how I feel spiritually, full of hope and yearning for God to simply be God... I figured I'd throw it out here, just in case you (yes, you!) hadn't heard it yet. You can listen to it here. Lyrics are here.
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I Preached a Sermon. Now What? (with a glimpse into Aaron's thought process)

This past Sunday evening, I preached a sermon on disappointment, and how grace and forgiveness is so much more beautiful than vengeance. My creation process for a sermon is a fairly complex one.  There are countless thoughts that flow through my mind from the beginning to the delivery.  I preach portions of the sermon in my head in between all the free moments in my mind.  I spend more time in the Bible than usual, being sure that the passages the sermon is culled from - and the supporting verses to help go deeper - are the right ones for the message. Then there is the transference of my mind's thoughts to paper which has always been a fairly hard thing for me.  My mental thoughts are fairly abstract.  I often think in fluid concepts or emotions moreso than I think in actual language and organized thought.  So, while I'm good with language, settling the mind down to actually put it on paper is often a chore. I often have multiple threads of thoughts going on at a time that all tie in together.  The ebb and flow of such thought always seems much more exciting than linear thought from point a to point b.  I'd rather explore. So, when composing this sermon I found my mind going through the concept in three ways: 1) The Theology of Sin/Forgiveness/Beauty of Grace 2) The Biblical/Historical Support for Grace from Human to Human 3) My own life Unfortunately, it's nigh impossible to communicate three things at once, since we have not mastered ESP.  Instead, I needed to communicate each thread in a linear fashion, then be sure to tie everything up in a bow at the end. What helped me get there was creating my powerpoint presentation.  By limiting myself to what could be contained visually on the slides, I was able to control the message and flow.  I ended up creating a side-bar to keep fresh the thoughts that came before. 31st Slide I ended up with 34 slides.  The final portion - practical examples/stories from my life - never made it to the side bar. I ended up spending probably 3-4 hours on developing the power point from my notes. So hours of preparation compress into a 35+ minute sermon, and my thoughts and theology were lifted into the air and communicated to a gathering of supportive friends and loved ones.  And, as they say in the story books: The End.   That's the pain of a pastor, I believe.  Your work and soul floats from vocal chords to the present ears, and then you have no control of it.  You're done.  You know for sure that no one will dote upon the message for nearly the same amount of time you spent preparing it.  And so, Monday comes... and you don't know if your child of a message is alive in peoples minds or dead and forgotten. With messages of the spirit, there's no way of knowing why any response is what it is.  It could be a moving of the Holy Spirit, or a hardening of a heart.  It could be lack of preparation, or a humanistic talent of charisma and engaging public speaking. All this to say, teaching/preaching is hard.  Let your pastor know when you agree (or disagree) with their message; doing so at least lets them know you processed it a little bit.  Hug them when they have a bad day, and blog about it when a message really resonates with you.  Pastors put their time, thoughts and theology into messages week after week; they need all the motivation they can get to let their children of words and phrases float on each week, dying on deaf ears or living in our memories.
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The Things We Don't Know (within our own Church)

One of the people I've been blessed to have in my life is Ariah Fine.  He is continually thinking, challenging, and loving.  Ariah loves to deconstruct (as I do) and - one of the reasons I love him and reading his thoughts so much - is that he very often comes to difference conclusions than I do.  He's a brilliant mind and an activist in ways that I could never be. However, we as humanity are not omniscient and hardly ever know all of the factors in play for any situation we're involved in.  Whether it be an inappropriate joke because we don't understand the connotations, a curse word being repeated by a child, or judgement on inaction when we don't know the histories of the people involved, we often - by very design of humanity, perhaps - bring our own expectations, biases and needs into any given situation. Ariah recently posted a blog post about whose role is is to take care of the poor and homeless.  I encourage you to read it, as Ariah has great ideas that may entice (or detract) you from the cause of helping the homeless and poor. But this post is about how we as humanity simply don't know everything.  In Ariah's post he mentions that Mosaic, while he was here, had one homeless man as a part of our community while he was here.  Unfortunately, that's not entirely true.  During the time Ariah was attending our community, I can distinctly remember at least four individuals struggling financially who entered into our church life.  One lived with one of mine and Ashley's friends for a while.  Another would regularly meet up with me and the guys on Thursday night when we would eat out, and we'd buy his food. The point of this is that Ariah was, without question, the most involved in helping and empowering the homeless and poor in the Nashville area from our church.  But while he was involved with the life of our 100-or-less person church, he apparently only ventured into the life of one of the four poor/homeless/financially challenged people who flowed in (and out) of the life of our church while he was here (we've had a few others since Ariah's left).  This isn't to say Ariah messed up or missed out... it's that even in the area he is passionate (and rightly so) about, there was more going on than one man could keep up with. All that to say... how Ariah and I "empowered" or "took care" or "loved" the poor/homeless is simply different.  He might say his way - working to politically change things, preparing lunches - is better.  I might say my way - getting to know them inside the context of the church, eating a meal with them - is better.  But we'd both be wrong. The fact of the matter is that both need to happen.  And more. That's the beauty of the church; we don't need to know.  The things we don't know are what makes us so strong and precious. Ariah was a part of our community... and so the things he did were things that the church did.  When you're as small as Mosaic is/was, then everything that its members do are symbolic of the things that the church is about.  The things that flow out naturally from the body become the passions of the church.  If it was forced from the pastor, it wouldn't work. I love the fact that I don't know everyone's pains and everyone's joys.  It makes for deeper relationships when I discover them.  It means that I can give grace - or be given grace - when someone messes up, or doesn't see eye-to-eye. I love Ariah, and people like him.  The church needs people like him just as much - if not more - than it needs technologists like me.  But we need to learn to support one another's passions and gifts and perspectives so that we are a more flavored church, rather than simply isolating things to that which the Holy Spirit has sent our way. It is clear the the Spirit has given Ariah a gift to seek the homeless and poor.  But the church also needs people whom the Spirit has given a passion for international immigrants, public safety concerns, understand laws to keep the church out of legal issues, web designers to help embrace church home seekers who are surfing the web, and men who are willing to play with children so our kids can see examples of stable, Godly men.  Just to name a few. And we'll never always know what is happening in all those ministries in our home churches... because they aren't our passion.  But, hopefully, the body can support each other and understand that God has gifted us in different areas with different passions because we are meant to be a body, not simply an arm... no matter how important that arm might be. 
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The 1,000 Foot View of a Fickle Public? (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog)

Scott McCellan recently posted a reader's response to the very idea of a magazine like Collide.  To pull from the posted quote:  You don’t seem to be interested in the 1,000-foot view. You take a myopic look at things like Facebook, etc. that will fade away and be replaced by something else in a year or two by a fickle public. In doing so, it seems like you promote the methods over the message. Any church that follows fads like that will always be chasing after the next thing in the never-ending quest to be “relevant.” Christ wasn’t interested in cool. He was interested in loving people, and in doing that, he redefined cool.  I'm posting my response on my blog instead of the Collide blog because I don't want anyone to be confused with my opinion on this matter with any kind of official Collide response (since I've written for them). First, I have to say how awesome it is that Scott would be transparent and post such a quote and response that's diametrically opposed to the very nature of the magazine, and open it up for discussion on his blog.  Second, I think that the respondent who wrote the quote is completely wrong on the idea of culture more-so than any kind of question about Christ being "cool" or about chasing something "relevant." The respondent appears (to me) to be frustrated with methods or the "fickle public"'s desires changing every two years or so.  The problem, to me, is that he thinks that churches interested in things like Facebook or some cutting edge technology or underground cultural shift is an attempt to be somethinig that the church is not. For me, acknowledging that I am, in fact, a part of mass culture and am influencing and partake in it, I see a very different side of this arguement.  It is not that the church is struggling to keep up with culture and "fads" but that the entire concept of "fad" has radically changed in the past few years. A "fad" is no longer a "fad" - it is culture.  Innovation follows innovation in today's world and, as such, the mass media and culture is always shifting and changing.  By the time any cultural shift hits mass/old media, the culture leaders have moved on to something else. The New York times recently produced an article on how the fast-paced world of blogging-for-pay creates additional stress and has negative health effects on the bloggers.  This may be true for most of us.  However, today's young adults have been blogging for years; today's children are used to blogging being a part of their lives.  Blogging wasn't a new thing to many people several years ago, and it's certainly not a "new thing" today.  But people still treat it as a fad. There are still many spiritual leaders who don't understand that blogging or Facebook groups or church web sites aren't some attempt by the church to catch up to culture.  I, instead, proclaim that it is the exact opposite. The freedom that technology brings to broadcasting a message means that, for the first time in church history, lay people can share their faith journey with the church - and world - at large.  No longer must the strongest, most Spirit-driven message come from the pulpit.  Instead it can come from a teenager's blog or a media guy's video cam. Magazines like Collide and sites like exist not so the church can chase after cultural shifts, but so that leadership can understand the changes their membership is goign through.  I fear a pastor who doesn't have a blog because it tells me that he won't be able to connect with where I am in life.  I fear a church that doesn't have a website because it means that they think people will find out their address by looking it up in the phone book (you know, that big yellow thing you throw away when they keep delivering it to you). My biggest fear, however, is that those of us who have embraced the new tools at our disposal won't be mentored and loved by our forefathers who have not embraced the technology.  That they will think it's all a fad and that we don't understand the 1,000 foot view and, as such, aren't worth investing in.  And all their knowledge and passion that could be broadcast to the world will simply die with them. So please, don't judge me and my kind as being fickle or not understanding of Christ's love just because we have the ability to flow with the changes in culture and understand that "fads" are either dead or the norm, depending on your point of view.  I'd rather learn from you.  I'd rather sit at your feet and discover what your heart is about and how your passions can still impact humanity on a person-by-person basis.  I want to know what has you so caught up that you want things to stay the way they always were... because I've never lived in a slow-enough-paced world to even know what that means. And, in truth, I can't wait to see what replaces blogs and what's after social networks and how videos change our worship services.  I can't wait until music ministers can embrace the internet and use tools like LifeWay Worship to gain access to hundreds of songs to find the right one to compliment the worship experience.  I can't wait until the seminaries provide completely online degrees so the pastors who can't take the time to leave their congregration can be better educated.  I can't wait until we get past this bubble of growth in the digital world and have a new common denominator where people are connected all the time and have been used to it so that it isn't so stressful on our bodies. And maybe then I can feel loved by the people who judge me and my tools of communication as worthless. 
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Preparing for a Sermon

This Sunday evening (April 6th), during the 6:30 service, I will be teaching at Mosaic. The last time I preached a full-on sermon (not lead a Bible study, but a full on teaching time to a church) was when I used to preach at Willoughby Baptist Church during my high school/college years (they're looking for a pastor.  A church like Willoughby would be a blast to work at).  Getting back into the idea and discipline of speaking is incredibly exciting for me. Preaching is a strange thing, to be honest.  For a pastor to be expected to come up with a teaching or lesson each week that helps the spiritual growth of the church he serves is a deal that gets less thought from the congregation than it should.  Preparing a sermon means so many things.  Not only do you have to do the research to be sure that what is being taught is theologically sound, but the message competes with all the other messages an individual recieves throughout the week.  A fifteen-to-fifty minute talking head on one subject is simply not replicated in any other medium for the common person, unless they are involved in schooling and recieve lectures from professors. So during the week, the pastor must bathe the message in prayer, to be sure that the words are from God, not just human utterances.  The pastor must be sure that any personal knowledge of issues in the church don't betray confidences from the pulpit, yet be sure that the message is applicable to the lives of the congegration.  And it's almost standard that the pastor must have at lest a good joke or two.  The preparation for a sermon is, without question, spiritually and mentally draining. Our pastor, Gary, is having dental work done and wanted to be sure that he would be well rested - and not too loopy - and has asked James Jackson to preach in the morning and for me to preach in the evening.  I'm settling in on an idea for the sermon... but this brings in only more questions. How do you decide what to teach on to a church?  If you have an opportunity to help the spirital development of the community closest to you, how do you whittle down a message that is meaningful, impactful, and representative of the lessons that life, friends and God has taught you? I'm excited to see what this week will bring me; what struggles, joys, revelations and humbling experiences.  It's an honoring, humbling thing to be asked to fill in for a pastor; thank you for the opportunity, Gary.
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A Real Prayer

I spent the summer of 2000 in Northern Ireland, working with a ministry there called Project: Evangelism. John Moxen will likely never know how formative my time with him there was. He was a temporary mentor, and I only wish that I had honored him with more of my time while I was there, or simply had been able to spend more time there in general. My three trips to Northern Ireland and Project: Evangelism are a part or the makeup of my spiritual life and are - in many ways - when I grew from a boy into a man. It was during this trip when I had perhaps my most emotional and spiritually draining prayer experience. I try to keep my conversations with God fairly simple. I find that Christ's example in the Lord's Prayer was pretty simple. It consists of honoring God, of asking for our most basic needs, and for God to shape us into His will. As such, I ask for little, try to give thanks a lot, and am more concerned with the simpler needs than extravagant, supernatural requests. Please don't think that I'm saying we shouldn't pray for such things; it's just not in the norm of my prayers. But this story is a story about one of those times when I truly believe the supernatural interceded. A trio of students who were there the summer I was on staff came rushing into the house in a panic. What was the cause? One of them had been attacked by a demon. Now... I don't know what really happened that night. I didn't see a demon. I'm not at all an expert on these things. Here's what I know: these students were scared. They were crying, they were freaking out, and something was desperately wrong. This was early evening, somewhere around 8pm. The boy who had been "attacked" went straight to the students' bedroom. I went in to talk with him and pray with him. I believe he told a genuine story. I believe that something happened that night. And I know this - there was a spiritual battle going on in the room, surrounding us. We prayed and prayed for what seemed like hours. In truth, it was probably somewhere between five and ten minutes. The passion was there, the urgency was there. I remember praying these words: "God, take your protection from me and offer him a double dose of your spirit. Protect him through the night." Moments later our prayers ended. Then I was driven straight to my bedroom. I was overcome with exhaustion. Every part of me was saying to go to sleep, to rest, and to simply let tomorrow come. My spirit felt naked and open. I don't know how all this works. I can't say that I have anything much to say about experiences with angels or demons or any knowledge of how I've been spiritually protected in the past. But I know that prayer is real, and that it is heard.
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writing a mass-market Bible study

so... I've been processing through the idea of writing a mass-market Bible study.  By that I mean a study that would be accessible to people across the U.S., whether via retail or via digital download and whether through a publisher or independently. Before I can allow settle into the actual process, there's a lot that I'm working through in my head about the venture in general.  I don't know that I need to find answers to these questions, just that I have to give them due diligence.  And, as I go through this process, I'm sure that I'll find more questions arise.
  •  Can my spirit handle it?
Twice a month Ashley and/or I prepare a lesson/session/space of time for our small group.  In the back of my mind I'm always working through what to say, how to say it, etc.  When I'm focused in on getting the time ready, it's usually a pretty strong spiritual battle for me.  I try to refine things, making sure that we're teaching what's in the Word and not simply regurgitating stuff we've been told by other people in the past. Preparing for the time with our small group is always spiritually exhausting.  Teaching others and sharing some of my spirit with them is a complex, supernatural thing.  And that's just for our small group, people who I know love us and would heap grace upon us if we ever did mess up somehow.  How spiritually stressful would it be to prepare a lesson/space of time for people I'll never meet who could use the plan however they'd like?
  • Why would I want to do it?
There are plenty of mass-market small group studies out there... let alone opportunities for groups to actually study the Bible, sans additional resources.  Would I be bringing any wisdom to the table, or just adding to the noise? Working for a Bible materials publisher full time, this is a topic I'm continually digesting.  I think we will always need to produce new materials because time keeps moving forward.  While the Bible doesn't change, the concepts and cultural issues it intersects with do.  Paul, the great theologian, never had to deal with cyber-sex or the potential for humanity living on the moon/Mars.  New materials allow us to shine the light in new places.  If I am to write any kind of study, it needs to be in conjunction with my life's story and the things that I am an "expert" in.
  • Does it meet a need?
Here's the need that I see: For the past four years or so, I've been doing dinner with a group of guys.  The members of this group have been fairly fluid throughout the years, but it's always been a time set aside for building relationships, discovering life, and eating good food. A couple of times we've tried to focus the time a little bit more toward some kind of spiritual study... but it's never really worked.  Amidst all the resources out there, we couldn't find anything that fit our flow of conversation and styles of learning.  Member books are a bit too clunky.  Men's studies are about being outdoorsy or sporty (which we aren't).  Many studies now rely on multimedia elements.  Preparation can be confusing. Those things I just listed are not bad things.  Member books and multimedia elements are perfect for many, many small groups.  But they just don't work with my guys.
  • Who would lead a study written by me?
I don't mean this as a belittlement to myself, but an actual concern: who would be the person leading it?  I know what I mean when I use certain phrases and I know I have a very stylized voice.  In many ways, I think that if I wrote a study I would want/need to give the leader the bulk of my efforts.  But how do you properly prepare a leader that you'll never meet?  And is there a way to prepare quickly, but also offer the opportunity to prepare deeply?
  • Who am I to write a study?  Or is it pride?
And this is probably the biggest one for me.  I don't know at what point it's "ok" to say "Hey!  I've got a bit of wisdom to share."  This is one of the issues that prompted me to write the "Career Christian" post. I've been told time and time again as a Christian that we should be humble and meek.  How do I reconcile that with saying "Hey, I wrote something good enough that you should pay for it."  If I do think I have something to say (and, to be honest, I do),  is it ok to be bold about it? Is it ok to think that God and Sister Wisdom have blessed me in a way that maybe, just maybe, I have something worth listening to?  Is it ok to say that it's worth it's weight in paper, ink, design, legal, shipping and editorial costs? So that's where I am, on this journey to writing a mass-market Bible study.  Feel free to pray for me as I continue to process through the opportunities, the spiritual angst, and internal monologues of these questions.
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i will disappoint you

at some point, it will happen.  it's inevitable. diving right into the point: i don't want to be perfect. could you imagine the pressure of being perfect?  having to meet everyone's needs and expectations all the time?  it would be impossible.  I can never truly be all things to all people.  And if I was some kind of perfect, then there's a chance that people might want to be in relationship with me because of my perfection, not because of who I am. so, to be frank, I will disappoint you.  and in that moment, our relationship gets to take an interesting twist: will you give me grace or not?  will you choose to still love me in my imperfection? Ashley and I lead a small group together.  We do our best to teach the things we think are important and applicable to our lives and the lives of the members of our little community.  Somewhere down the line, I'm going to disappoint them.  I'm not going to give the right advice or I'm going to have a lame week.  In some ways, I'm excited for that day.  I'm excited for the time when the community will be able to minister in love and grace to Ashley and I even in our failure. I have friends who are so much more loyal to me than I deserve.  I should call them, I should write them, I should carve out a spot of time for them, just for them.  But I don't always get to meet their needs (or even their wants).  I disappoint them.  And, in the hubbub and business of daily life, human desire for rest, and investment into entertainment I will disappoint them again - and maybe disappoint you. My wife and I have an incredible relationship.  But, there are times - and there will be times - when I will disappoint her.  I won't smile wide enough when she looks beautiful, I won't hear the true meaning of some deep statement, I won't say "I love you" in the right way.  Or worse, I'll due something truly harmful to us and her. But, even in that disappointment, we will relish in the oppertunity for grace.  If I was perfect, if she never had the blessing of an oppertunity to unconditionally give me grace, it would be unfair to her.  I hope it's only in little ways, but there needs to be times when I disappoint her so she can love me irregardless. Disappointment is so very, very key in the life of a follower of the Way.  What happens when someone disappoints you? Do you gossip about them?  Do you tear them apart in your head?  Do you decide that this disappointing moment is the defining moment of their character, even against years of knowledge otherwise?  Can this disappointment be sustained and become the new lens you view your once treasured relationship through? Or do we forgive this sin against our expectations for someone else?  Maybe we see a new side to someone we thought we knew so well, and are justified in our righteous judgment.  Would it not be so much more valuable to give grace to them?  Don't they need that more than they need a broken friendship? Oh, how I will disappoint you.  It will happen when I don't want it to, I'm sure.  You'll need me and my friendship and my love and mentorship and grace more than ever before... but I won't be there.  Or I'll say the wrong thing.  Or, for some reason - maybe I just didn't realize how important this one thing was? - maybe I just won't even care.  And I'll forget this post, I'll forget about love and grace, and then I'll disappoint you. Will you give me grace? Or will you disappoint me, tit for tat?  Will you hold it against me, that I'm not perfect.  Will my one wrong comment wrong our relationship forever more?  Will my uncensored emotional outburst break down what we've built over coffees and dinners and prayers?  Will my passive agression lead to a weak thought that cannot be forgiven? I know I'll disappoint you.  And I know you've been disappointed.  And you know who you will disappoint. Can we move past that, and see it not as some selfish wound, but a chance to love and give grace?  A chance to let the disappointment be tossed aside for a chance to share in a moment of growth?  A chance to practice loving unconditionally, just as He loves us? And if you don't, if you can't, or if you disappoint... that's ok.  I'll do my best to love you irregardless. And may you forgive me if I still disappoint you.
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the light?

I am the light, am I the light? You died, right?  I've heard it before, about the crown of thorns you wore, the beatings you took and the slurs and I heard the only one crying was a whore. If you ask me - and I know you didn't - but that's not the way to die... for a king to die.  So were you planning to die this way or is it untrue? I am the light is what you said; you died, you rose is what I read.  Your death had no frankencense, myrrh or gold. I would prefer a hero's death instead. I am the light, am I the light? I cannot match the way you lived.  I already know I'll do more wrong than what's right and I know you will ask for more than I will give. So I hear that you were sinless.  But I am so full of sin.  Bless me my Father, fo I cannot be half of what you want for me. Dress me in your light, your grace giving light.  God I want to be living.  I am tired of this body, so full of sin and dust.  Please Lord, by my king. And if I follow you and live in your ways - I will try to give my life away.  I want to be free but we both know how much you will have to forgive. I am the light, am I the light?
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Wisdom of My Wife: Works-Based Sin

In case you didn't know, my wife is brilliant. One of the things that so greatly attracts my soul to hers is the depth at which she processes and digests things of the spiritual.  One of the great beauties of her wisdom is that for all the deconstruction of ideas and traditions that are going on in the church today, she is always seeking to reconstruct a better understanding. I keep links to her blog on my sidebar, but I wanted to point out a post she just completed that I think is well worth anyone's time to read.  Over the past few years, Ashley and I have been working through what "sin" means.  A while back we had a conversation around the concept of works-based sin.  Tonight she posted a great little reconstruction of what sin might mean for us.  I encourage you to check it out and join the reconstruction process on her blog.
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A Hope Delayed, Part 2

 We left our hope with Jesus, amidst the news that our dear friend Lazarus was sick.  The truth of it is, Lazarus had died.  He was sick, and Jesus just kind of... hung out.  There was no rushing wind to save his life.  There was no hope offered to the situation.  Jesus did not react like anyone would have wanted Him to.  When Jesus found out Lazarus was sick, he didn't not leave because he was busy with something else.  he didn't not leave because it was a dangerous trip.  He did not leave BECAUSE Lazarus was sick.  The HCSB translates John 11:6 as:
"So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was."
Mary and Martha wanted hope, they desired love.  They made a plan - seek out Jesus - and he didn't not come to their add at a moment's notice.  He waited.  But then... then, there was hope:
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”John 11:11
Jesus decides it is time to act.  The disciples are nervous... it's a dangerous trip to visit their destination (Judea) because the last time they were there, there was an attempt to stone Jesus.  They think they are going to wake up a sleeping man, but Christ clarifies: they are going to go and wake the dead.Jesus arrives, and is strong for Mary and Martha.  He seeks out their faith, almost testing them.  The time has come for Christ to heal his friend and - before he even gets to the actual tomb, as he comes upon the location, we have one of the most memorized passages in the Bible:
"Jesus wept."John 11:35
What was His emotions at this point.  Christ waited, letting his friend die.  Christ's best friends essentially say they expected more of him ("if only you had been here").  And Christ, in his infinite wisdom, knew the danger, the excitement, and the torment He was about to unleash upon the crowd... and upon Lazarus.Lazarus was dead.  Jesus knows what's on the other side of death... whether it is Abraham's Bosom or Paradise or Purgatory or nothing until the resurrection... Jesus knew what He was bringing Lazarus back from.  Lazarus would breathe again, but he would also feel pain again, one day, ultimately, die again.
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”John 11:40-44
And that's the end.  That's all we know.  We don't have Lazarus thanking Jesus.  We don't have Mary and Martha thanking Jesus.  We don't have a recorded, personal moment of introspection or of joy or of life.  Just "let him go."Why?  Why is it like this?Jesus gave hope.  He answered the prayer.  I don't think he was simply healing a dead man.  He was healing a family.  He gave hope.  I believe that's all He ever wanted to give.What about our friends Caleb and Joshua?  They had hope of a promised land.  Of twelve who went to scout the land, only these two believed it was theirs.  They came to lead Isreal and the time was right to now take the land.  They spied on the ihabitants, and found them afraid.  They met a lady name Rahab, who would be included in the lineage of Christ.  They had faith; and the people now had faith in God.The priests were sent first, carrying the Ark of the covenant.  The were walking straight towards a flooding Jordan river.  And once all their feet were in the water, not a moment before, the river stopped and the priests and warriors together crossed over to Jericho.
 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt SeaThat is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.Joshua 3:14-17
 Joshua and Caleb had hope.  Mary and Martha were without their brother for four days.  Joshua, Caleb, and the nation of Isreal were without their promised land for forty years.And what of Jesus?  What hope did he find?When we left His struggle for hope, He had returned home and His childhood, adolescent, and twenty-somethings young adult friends offered Him no grand homecoming.  They offered Him no faith or hope; just a lack of belief and a lack of miracles.  Where did He find hope? Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.
32A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3: 31-35, also Matt 12:46-50, also Luke 8:19-21.
Christ's hopes, His family and loved ones were not his blood relatives, simply because they were blood they were His chosen family, the people who did God's will.  Christ's hope was in his small group.  His hope was in His community of believers.  His hope was in His bride, the church.And their hope, our hope, is in him:
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”John 11:16
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A Hope Delayed, Part 1

The most painful rejection happens at the worst times, by the people closest to you.  It doesn't have to be some grand betrayal or some physical altercation.  I think the level of pain is directly related to how deeply you know someone, and how deeply you think they know you. Rejection from a spouse of eight years is more painful than breaking up with a fiance of eight months is more painful than not getting a call from a girlfriend of eight days.  Getting fired from a job during the "trial" period is less dramatic than being cut off from a career of thrity years.  A teenager feels more responsible for a father leaving a family than a toddler can even understand what is happening.And so, life comes and we grow up.  In the American culture of the 21st century, we might graduate high school, go on to college or maybe get married, we become the leaders of our families.  Yet, when we return home for holidays or go out to eat with our siblings... there is this tension of how things were and how things are. If the tension is stressed, if the relationship breaks and if we are rejected by the people who know us the most... the people we grew up with, the neighbor pack of kids, our family, our loved ones... there is no more bitter pain than the people who know you the best telling you - whether it be vocally or through their actions - that you are rejected. This isn't a new phenomenom.  This is something that has gone on for years.  As Christians, it is important to realize one key thing: we aren't alone in this feeling.  This is something even Christ dealt with. Perhaps we should look at Mark 6:
1 He went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the  synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished. “Where did this man get these things?” they said. “What is this wisdom given to Him, and how are these miracles performed by His hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t His sisters here with us?” So they were offended by Him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household.”
5 So He was not able to do any miracles there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He was amazed at their unbelief.
 Christ was not expecting this.  He was amazed at their unbelief.  He didn't expect it and - if I might put a bit of imagination into it - he did not want to be rejected in this way.  Chapter 6 immediately follows, obviously, chapter 5.  In chapter 5 Christ healed a sick girl - so sick Jesus was told she was dead.  Before that he met a woman whose faith led her to touch his robes, taking power from them.  Before that he cast out the demon Legion.  Before that, in chapter 4, he calms a storm and the waves.  So going home you would think people would be happy to see you. But... they weren't.  They rejected Christ and he felt rejected.  These were the people he grew up with, who knew him day in and day out the past thirty years... and they made fun of him for it.  How could Jesus be teaching and know such things... wasn't He just the son of Joseph? So maybe they were just friends.  What about people who were sworn to protect your life, and you, theirs?  What if you had fought battles together, time after time?  And what if you and eleven of your best friends, people who would lay down their lives for you, were chosen to go and discover the future of your entire nation? Perhaps you ended up disagreeing and were in the minority.  These are your best friends... surely you can solve the dispute civilly, right? Perhaps you are Caleb, and in the book of Numbers you report back to Moses and Aaron that the land flowing with milk and honey is a good land, and that your people can conquer it.  Perhaps the whole community... your friends, your acquaintances, perhaps even your family members would decide that instead of listening to you, you should simply be killed instead (Numbers 14:10). This rejection, it is a hard pill to swallow.Our home might reject us.  Our entire community might reject us.  Surely, surely, Jesus would never reject us.  He would have a warm heart and kind words to ease our troubles.  He would come like a rushing wind to our aid. Christ is our redeemer, our Lord, our friend.  We expect that when we call upon Him, He will intercede.  He will make a change in our lives, or the lives we pray for.  If you were some of his best friends, you could say something that would surely stir His soul to reaction: "Lord, the one you love is sick," was the message sent to Christ my Mary and Martha in John, chapter 11.  But His response was not one of immediacy or comfort.  Chapter 11, v6: So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Mary and Martha went to Christ to heal Lazarus, and as far as they could tell, in that moment, He had rejected them. The most painful rejection comes from those who love us the most.
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107 stories

i'm not usually awake by the time we get to church on Sunday mornings.  i mean, i'm physically awake... but my body and mind hasn't left the cloud of dream/sleep just yet.  even though church doesn't start until 10 or so, I usually don't wake up until about quarter 'till and then it's a mad dash to get ready, out the door, and into church before the music actually starts.  so, for me, my Sundays typically begin with the opening chords on some worship song and the aroma of coffee. that said, i don't typically bring many stories with me on my mind to church.  i usually wake up with the "it's a new day" attitude.  today was different, though.  i woke up a little earlier than usual, so i was more awake.  i still had the events of the night before on my mind, processing through an awkward moment that happened. as i sat there, i wondered what other people's stories might be in the room with me.  i can't imagine that they don't all wake up late and rush out the door like i do.  perhaps they're still processing through whatever happened to them last night, or the week before... or perhaps walking into a church brings back a flood of memories from when they were a child. whatever it is... of the 107 people or so in church this morning... people bring in stories of their own, and they get to mix and mesh and drop hints of theirs and learn of other people's.  it's a strange tension. on one hand... i felt like i wanted to stop everything.  i wanted to stop the worship, stop the preaching, and just let everyone share their story.  not the deep stories... not the themes of their lives... i just wanted to know what everyone did that morning.  what got them to church this day. on the other hand... it was a beautiful thing that, amidst whatever pains and joys, lonliness and comforts, 107 or so people brought their stories and managed to get up, get out of bed, and spend a little over an hour to sing/listen/worship, listen to a pastor's sermon, smile and greet friends, and do lunch afterwards.  their stories for that day included a brief encounter with a Holy God and (just as important?) a brief encounter with His bride, the church. i'll be honest.. there have been times in my life where i was worn out and frustrated with the church.  even my own church has wounded me - and many of my friends - in the past.  but i made a commitment to the church... and like any marriage, there are sturggles and pain and victories and allure.  and, right now, i'm not simply "committed" to love the church... but I truly am falling in love with the Bride of Christ. if we let go a bit... accept people's stories and where they are... it becomes a much more diverse world.  the stories get more interesting.  it kills me that so many people have been hurt by churches, christians, faith-based entertainment, bible study publishing houses, non-profits and so on and so forth. i think the problem is that for so long the bride of christ covered her blemishes with makeup and didn't allow anyone to see her wounds.  she presented herself as a supermodel and a calm housewife; she wanted to be simple, she wanted to make everyone comfortable, she wanted to perfect.  oh, but real is so much better than a plastic mess. ashley is so beautiful to me when she doesn't bother to put on make up.  i love when she's able to relax and go the whole day in her pajamas.  sure, i love it when she gets all dolled up to go out and such... but knowing the real her is so much more beautiful than any fakeness she could put on. i love being at a point in life that i'm ok with not being perfect.  i don't want to be perfect... i want to be able to improve.  i want people to be able to give me real advice and put me on a better path.  i want people to know me intimately enough that they can call out the flaws in me, or tell me when i'm doing something off-character.  and that's the kind of relationship i want with the church.  i want to be able to go to church and be real, and let the people there be real with me. i dont have some kind of point that i'm building up to here, i'm just typing away.  there's no catchy ending, no twist or nuggest of joy to take away. i just love the church.  i don't always understand her, but it's good to be able to love her.
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the hope of melchizedek

It's good to know that we as current day Christians are not the only generation to be faced with questions, misunderstandings, and confusing traditions about our faith. In our small group tonight, we're going to be discussing one of my favorite topics that is missing from your typical Sunday School upbringing: Melchizedek.

Melchizedek appears only a few times in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there are direct references to him only twice (Gen 14:17-24 and Ps 110:4). He is a mysterious figure who could, seemingly, be nothing more than a brief cameo of a character in Abram's life. Melchizadek is much more, however; he is a key component in the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah.Melchizedek is, without question, one of the most mysterious characters in the Bible. He comes on the scene and then leaves so quickly with very little exposition to the reader about who he really is or why his blessing to Abram is so important. Jewish tradition surrounding Melchizedek only serves to further the mystery surrounding him (of course, as my wife reminded me to clarify, this is Rabbinic literature and not canon. I only mention this here because I find it interesting how many stories have accumulated about Melchizedek):
  • In the Midrash, the Rabbis identified Melchizedek with Shem son of Noah. (E.g., Babylonian Talmud Nedarim 32b; Genesis Rabbah 46:7; Genesis Rabbah 56:10; Leviticus Rabbah 25:6; Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
  • Rabbi Isaac the Babylonian said that Melchizedek was born circumcised. (Genesis Rabbah 43:6.)
  • Rabbi Eleazar said that Melchizedek's school was one of three places where the Holy Spirit manifested itself. (Babylonian Talmud Makkot 23b.)
  • The Rabbis taught that Melchizedek acted as a priest and handed down Adam's robes to Abraham. (Numbers Rabbah 4:8.)
The real problem comes, however, when we note that Genesis clearly states that Melchizedek was not simply a king, but also a priest to God Most High. This is quite an issue because, ultimately, all priests came from the line of Levi. Of course, Levi wasn't born yet (Abram/Abraham begat Isaac, begat Jacob/Israel, begat Levi) so Melchizadek is some kind of different priest. Melchizedek is decidedly not of the Levite lineage; in fact, he is not given any sort of clarification to his lineage. What we do know is that - seeing as he was a priest of the Most High God - Melchizedek had a relationship with God that was outside of God's calling of Abraham. According to Hebrews, Melchizedek actually trumps even Levi as priest, as Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek (Heb 7:9, 10) through Abram.

Central to our faith is the Christ is Messiah. Throughout the story of the Jewish people, prophets are given messages from God, many of which have a double meaning: a message for the culture of that day and a message that foretold the future. The lump sum of these messages come to prophesy the coming of Messiah, who would be a kinsman redeemer for the nation is Israel to heal the broken relationship between man and God from the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden.

This Messiah would be both a priest and king. We often hear of Christ referred to as the Son of David, as Messiah was to come from the root of Jesse. This is where the prophecy of Zechariah muddies things up: Messiah was to be both priest and king (Zec 6:13). Priests come only through the lineage of Levi, of which the kingly lineage (Davidic lineage, tribe of Judah) was not. So how could a man be both a priest and king?

With this need for Messiah to fulfill the prophecy and be both Priest and King, Melchizedek becomes a central figure to the validity of Christ as Messiah and, thus, a major character in the theology of our faith.Even more so, the priesthood of Melchizedek (the priesthood of Christ) brings us eternal hope. Looking back at the second reference to Melchizedek in the Old Testament brings us here:

The Lord has sworn an oath and will not take it back:

"Forever, You are a priestlike Melchizedek." (Ps 110:4)

The great theologian, Paul, explains it to us thusly:

The priests of Levi were finite and imperfect. Ultimately, their priesthood was to be abolished because a better priesthood came not "based on a legal command concerning physical descent but based on the power of an indestructible life." (Heb 7:17). So the history of priesthood is as such:
  1. Melchizedek was a priest of the Most High God, possibly reigning over the area of Jerusalem (as he was King of Salem, which some believe was the former name of Jerusalem)
  2. The role of priesthood was given to the descendant of Aaron, descendant of Levi
  3. The coming of Christ, through the power of an indestructible life, continued the priesthood of Melchizedek
Paul makes very clear the benefit of having a priest who has indestructible life, over the priesthood of Levi whose members ultimately die:

Therefore He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. (Heb 7:25). 
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