Saturday, December 02, 2006

Loving Your Enemies on the Street Corner

Diane pulled up to the house and I could tell she was upset (the tears gave it away). When I asked her what happened, she told me that as she was putting up a sign for our yard sale, a homeless woman who was panhandling on the same corner began to yell at her. “Why are you putting up a sign to sell your junk at a yard sale, when I’m out here hungry? You don’t look like you’re missing many meals (she seemed to miss the fact that Diane is 32 weeks pregnant). You probably wouldn’t even help me. Don’t put up that sign.” Diane put up the sign, told the woman that she had intended to help her but wasn’t going to now, and then drove off, watching the woman pull the sign down.
When she got home she was angry and hurt and frustrated. We feel like we are one of the “good guys” when it comes to the poor, and here Diane was getting blasted by this woman for no reason. She was also upset at herself for getting so angry with the woman. I was fairly angry, too, but then, as only God can do, the chapter of Luke that I read today came to mind. In Luke 6, Jesus tells the crowds that if they love people who love them, what does that say? Even sinners know how to love people who love them back. But followers of Christ are to love their enemies. To bless when we are cursed, to do good to those who don’t do good to us. And so instead of offering to go and give the lady a piece of my mind,  I offered to go and take the her some food.
But my sweet wife wouldn’t have that. Instead, she collected herself, then collected a big bag of food, and went back out to find this woman. When she found her, she got out and apologized for her attitude, and they actually hugged, and the woman apologized for how she treated Diane. Diane told her, “I know you weren’t angry at me.” And the woman said, “You’re right; I wasn’t. I’m just angry.” Diane noticed that the woman’s hand was bleeding (she had scraped it in a fall), and so she came back to the house and got her some band aids and wet wipes and Neosporin, and went back out again.
Amazing that God gives us chances to see His word prove true in action, giving us chances to let Him live through us. I could not figure out why the verses about loving our enemies stood out to me this morning – I don’t really have any enemies, and I wasn’t sure how to apply it. Then the Lord gives my wife the chance to live that out in a powerful way. How cool is that?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Is Homelessness Wrong?

Wild Willie, my anonymous random blogger who can be found posting on this site , asked the question, “Is it wrong to be homeless?” Well, first it depends on what we mean when we say “wrong.” Do we mean is it immoral? Sinful? Is it undesirable? Unsavory? Unacceptable socially? Wrong can mean different things, and I think that there are many answers, and I’ll give my best stab at a couple of them.

I don’t think it is a sin to be homeless, with sin being my definition of “wrong”. I do think that sin usually causes and sustains homelessness, whether that sin is personal, societal, familial, or a combination of those and more. People can end up on the streets because of their addictions (this is personal sin, which is often a response to numb the pain from familial or societal sin). People can end up on the streets because of mental disability (mental illness is a result of the Fall and also a societal sin of not caring well for the sick). People can end up on the streets because they lost their job or had a financial emergency and do not have the same financial safety net that I might have through family and friends (this is a result of societal sin, where wealth is predominantly concentrated among the few). People can end up on the streets because they just don’t want any rules in their life (which I think is a sign of rebellion in their spirit, which leads to rebellion against God’s authority, which is the root of sin). Children can be homeless because their parents have one of the above conditions (this is a combo of all of those above). Teens can be homeless because they are running from family or life (this is a result of their sin, familial sin, and more).

However, I have not met a homeless adult who said, “You know, the whole living in a house thing just wasn’t for me. So one day I decided to just give it all up and become homeless, because it seemed like a good idea.” (Homeless teens have sometimes given me that response, though I am not 100% certain that they believe that themselves). Certainly there are homeless now who remain in that position by choice – there are no rules, ultimate freedom (if freedom is defined as “being able to do what you want to do when you want to do it”, which I think is a poor definition of freedom). They may remain homeless by choice because they have given up hoping for anything else. They may remain homeless by choice because they are not yet sick and tired of being sick and tired. They have carved out a life for themselves on the street, and they like it that way.

Societally we do have a mentality that people should work for what they get, and we tend to not see panhandling as work, and so when we see someone with a “homeless, please help” sign on the side of the road, we tend to think that this is wrong. I don’t think that it is wrong in the sense of sinful, but is it God’s ultimate hope and plan? I just don’t know about that. It seems that we have been created with more dignity than what I see written on the faces of the homeless panhandlers – there is shame there, there is a feeling of not being productive, there is a feeling of being judged and looked down on, and work is a part of living out that dignity. Work is a good thing, given by God as part of what we do as humans.

Of course not all homeless panhandle. Some have jobs that just don’t pay living wage (societal sin); some scrape enough money to get by collecting cans and recycling them and provide just what they need. Homelessness has many more faces than I once thought, and it’s not just the people under bridges. It’s also the family that I know who has not lived in their own place in four years, and they have lived in at least 7 different places in the last two.

So is homelessness wrong? Yes. I think that it is wrong that there are people sleeping under bridged and in cars. I think that it is wrong that there is a homeless veteran in a motorized wheelchair who lives behind a gas station here. Homelessness is a sign of the brokenness of our world, of the lack of shalom (God’s peace and right living) all over our cities. A person is not in sin because they are homeless, but they are often homeless as the result of sin and brokenness, both in their own heart and life and from the sin and brokenness heaped on them by others.

I could be wrong. I’m not expert. Those are simply my two cents.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

They're Still Out There

Last night I had the chance to go out on Nightwatch again with the Salvation Army. In Nightwatch we visit various places where homeless people live in the city and take them some hot food, coffee, a blanket, and pray with them. We climbed under a lot of bridges and had the chance to talk with about 20 people and pray with each of them. Around 2:00 am (we started at 8:00 pm), I came home and got into bed, and a nagging thought has stayed with me from then until now – “They’re still out there.”

As I woke up at 10:00 this morning and went to take a nice hot shower, I thought, “They’re still out there.”

As I watched UNC beat State in football, I thought, “They’re still out there.”

They’re still out there – each of the men that we prayed with and gave food to are still sleeping outside on the street. One was sleeping in the front doorway of my church – we had spoken with him at about 8:30 pm, and saw him sleeping, somehow, on the concrete at 2:00 am in the cold night. There were men sleeping on pipes suspended beneath the bridges, men sleeping in abandoned trailers, men in church doorways, men on foam mattresses beneath highways, men in a shed behind a local business.

Sure, it’s nice that we gave them a warm hat and blanket and prayed with them. It’s nice that 5 Christians gave up their Friday night to do some good deeds. But for the rest of that night, and the rest of that week, those guys are still out there. And I don’t know what to do with that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bearing Fruit

As I was praying through some Scripture this morning, a verse lept out at me in a new way. The passage was Colossians 1:10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

As I prayed through verse 10, it struck me that Paul does not say "bearing the fruit of every good work." Isn't that how we usually view service to the Lord - fruit equals what I do and my works? "A tree is known by its fruit," we say, "and the fruit for a Christian is what we do."

But Paul tells us that in the midst of doing good works (which God has created us to do and prepared for us in advance, according to Ephesians 2:10), we are to baer fruit. And this gets down to the issue of the heart - when I am serving someone, am I bearing love and kindness, or am I bearing self-righteousness and duty. When I am taking time from my everyday life and want to focus on God's Kingdom and love people in hard places, am I bearing the fruit of joy or the fruit of joyless service?

GAL 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

These are the things to bear in the midst of good works. It is so easy as Christians to think that the works are the most important thing, no matter the attitude or heart. Discipline, sacrifice, cross-bearing are important concepts in many evangelical circles. And yet Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that to do works without bearing the fruit of love makes us a gong or a cymbal, makes our works impotent. To divorce the concepts of sacrifice and discipline from the fruit of the Spirit (rather than having those empowered and enabled by the Spirit) is to regress into being people under law, not the freedom of Christ.

May we, you and I, be a people who do not grow weary in doing good, and as we do good, may we bear the fruit of the Spirit, that God might be glorified and seen, not our works themselves.

Monday, October 30, 2006

All I have to offer

All I have to offer

Today I was stopped by one of our tutoring parents whose daughter started attending a few weeks ago. She asked me if our church provided financial assistance because she and her two girls were about to be evicted. As we talked, I learned that the father of her kids is supposed to give $650 a month in child support, but he has gone into hiding. So she is making due by working 37 hours every two weeks at $6.25 an hour, or $462 a month before taxes . Simple math tells us that, with her rent being $600 per month, she is not making ends meet, and even with child support, her monthly income would be almost 1/3 of what I make.

I was grieved when I came home, knowing that in about 24 hours or so, my month’s salary would “magically” appear in my bank account via direct deposit, and all my bills would be paid for, and soon our “new” minivan would be paid off (yes, I have now entered the Minivan Stage of life). While I didn’t feel guilty for what Diane and I have, the stark contrast between my life, and the life of this family really hit me. Her daughter who attends our program is such a sweet kid, and to think of the transitions that she has endured even in recent months (living in a hotel for four months before moving to this house) makes me cry. How can a child go through that and not shut down their heart? How can a parent who is facing such obstacles greet me at the door with a smile on her face?

I had to tell her that our church can’t help them right now and pointed her to the Greensboro Housing Coalition, and then we prayed on her front porch. It was all I had to offer, and, correct theology aside, I felt that it wasn’t enough. And yet I am thankful to be here, because prayer is what she needs. More than a check. More than a new house. She needs to be reminded that there is a God who cares, who loves her dearly, and who will take care of her and her family. It truly was all I had to offer, and it was all that she needed.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


So to continue with my numerical posts (See "80" and "40"), I am continuing to see God's hand at work teaching me through the tutoring ministry. A few weeks ago we only had 40 total tutors (about 20 each day), and I was leaving our time each week exhausted, drained, and unhappy. I thought that the answer was to get more tutors, but God had different plans. My unhappiness led me to talk with a pastor at my church who helped me realize that God has not gifted me in management and administration, but rather I am a visionary and a shepherd. Operating outside of my gift mix was sucking the life out of me, and he said something that gave me pause. "You've taken this ministry as far as you can take it." My first reaction was to think, "What? I can do bettter; who else could do this. If I stepped into a different role, what would I do?" But as we continued to talk, I began to realize that having someone come in to administrate would free me up to love the kids and love the tutors who are helping, and it could allow us to get to a point where more children and volunteers could get involved. I made plans to meet with a woman in our church who is an excellent administrator and business leader, and she is going to help restructure our program.
Within a week of this conversation, our tutor numbers began to go up, and we now have ove 50 (close to 60) tutors helping. Things have settled and I no longer feel overwhelmed. And I praise God that He did not give us 80 tutors right off the bat, because if He had, I most likely would not have gotten overwhelmed to the point of asking for help and seeing my limitations. He needed to show me where this program needed to grow and the ways that I couldn't get it there, and once that was accomplished, He has provided relief.
All this to say, I thought I knew what was best for the ministry and what I needed, but God has a bigger vision and a bigger plan than just survival in the right now. He is a God who builds and looks beyond what we see, and sometimes has to bring us to our knees for us to see that as well.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


From a baby-sitter:
Scott called to tell he didnt need a ride and before I hung up i said "i love you".
Eliza: was that your sweetheart?
Me: yes
Eliza: does he belong to you at your house?
Me: no, he has his own house
Eliza: well is he your husband?
Me: no just a good friend
Eliza: well i never heard of that. now is he a boy or a girl?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Relearning the secret

The past week or so has been a struggle for me. I think that the word that best describes the time would be "discontent." I was discontented with my friendships, longing for more than I was experiencing here in Greensboro. I was discontented with my house - if we could just re-do the bathroom and do some painting here and there and magically create a playroom for the girls, then I would be happy. I was discontented with our family car and the options for what we would buy next based on the money we have saved. I was discontented with my job, not enjoying tutoring or the leadership meetings I attended last week. I was discontented with my fantasy football team (having Daunte Culpepper as your QB in BOTH leagues that you're in will do that). I was discontented with my disc golf scores (despite getting to play on absolutely GORGEOUS days). You name it, I was discontented with it.

This is no surprise given the fact that I had spent very little time with the Lord in that stretch, and had begun to depend on myself and my abilities to make life work (which is no surprise, since if I am not dependent on the Lord, where else can I turn but to myself). I was churning inside, overwhelmed and tired from trying to keep everything together. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit broke through, reminded me of what I needed, and led me to set the alarm to get up early yesterday morning to spend time with my Father. As I poured out my discontent into my journal and read Ephesians 5, the contrast between the truth of God and the lies I was believing became more and more stark. For example, when I believe that it is up to us to save a certain amount of money and scheme to buy the most amazing $6000 car ever, I am not living in the Truth that God, my Father, is my provider. I don't have to provide for myself, nor can I. I am God's son, a child of light, no longer darkness, no longer and orphan or His enemy. I am a dearly loved child of God. Will my God not provide for me in love?

Phillipians 4:13 is a widely-quoted, much loved verse which says, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." But it was only a few years ago that I realized that this verse came in the context of Pauls saying, "11I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

The secret is Jesus Christ. Through Him. In Him. When my eyes are on Jesus, contentment is mine because I remember that in Him I have all I need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3). It seems so simple, even as I write it out, but I have recently seen again that it is so true. The secret of being content in all things is Christ.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Up and down on the Bus Tour

Yesterday I went on the Greensboro Housing Coalition’s “Healthy Homes Bus Tour.” This was the third annual Tour, and basically we rode around Greensboro on chartered buses to see homes that either had been improved due to the Housing Coalition’s efforts or homes that still needed work. It was very encouraging to see how the Coalition really is having an effect in terms of getting slumlords to comply with basic housing codes on their buildings and to see how Habitat for Humanity is making an impact on existing homes through its Home Repair program. There were some truly awful houses that have been either knocked down (and the tenants relocated to better homes) or repaired, and they seem to be on their way to reducing substandard housing in Greensboro by 50% by the year 2008.

However, inside I was so up and down as far as urban ministry goes (granted, I was pretty close to exhausted following being out of town for a few days).

As we drove through a neighborhood not far from mine, yet in considerably more disarray, I got excited looking at the houses there, seeing them as they could be and not as they are, and I felt excitement over possibly living there.

On the other hand, as we toured the city, most of the homes that needed work or had been neglected were in parts of town where mostly black or Hispanic people lived. The dividing line of race and class was so clear, almost as though I had not seen it before, and it broke my heart. It’s like there are two worlds in Greensboro and it feels as though the divide is unbridgeable. It’s not just a black-white divide. It’s money and privilege and ignorance and crime and more.

The last house we looked at was in a nicer neighborhood near UNCG with houses that probably are worth over $200,000. As we drove those streets, my heart longed to live there, to have shady sidewalks bordered by well-kept lawns, where things are quiet and orderly and predictable, where there was aesthetic beauty all around and just a peace that comes from life being similar to how it was when I was growing up. I was so sad that this was not my home and that this was not the part of town that I was called to, and I was sad that my heart was still so drawn to that part of life, even after five years living and serving here.

Not sure what to do with all I felt or whether most of that was emotion brought on by being tired. But my heart was heavy as I got off the bus and headed home. I’m so thankful that when I came in my door here on Silver Avenue, I had such a sweet family excitedly waiting to greet me!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Run, don't walk, to Blockbuster (or your Netflix que)

It's 10:35 pm on Friday night and I have about an hour of prep left before an evangelism training at Elon University tomorrow. But instead I am blogging, because Diane and I just watched a movie that I hope everyone who reads this will see if they have not. It's called "Akeelah and the Bee", and I can't tell you how much we enjoyed it. When I saw it advertised in Starbucks, I thought it was a cartoon about a bee and some Dora-the-Explorer-like girl, and even if I had read the fine print and learned it was about a spelling bee, I might have taken a pass. But this movie is about much more than simply the story of a girl who goes to the national spelling bee, because Akeelah happens to live in the Crenshaw section of LA, attending a school where they can't afford to put doors on the bathroom stalls. Her mom is struggling to keep her family together and in line, and Akeelah is a brilliant 11-year-old struggling between the goal of fitting in and blending in at her middle school, and the desire to win a national spelling competition.

So much of this movie resonated with us just from our experiences with kids and families here in Glenwood (which is certainly not Crenshaw, but many issues are the same), and what made my heart really sing is it spoke again a hopeful message that one at a time, people and families can be transformed. The layers and layers of her family and history are so neat to see as well - on first glance, you would see single mom, gang-banger son, daughter with a baby and no dad around, and you would just discount them. But as you learn more, their story and struggle is so much more complex. And this movie portrays community as so vital to the success of its members, which really excited and inspired me.

Even if you don't live in a neighborhood like Akeelah's (or Glenwood), you will be inspired by this story and entertained as well. Check it out.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Passive resistance circa 2006

Today I went into the K-2 room of our tutoring program to find one of our little girls lying on the floor crying. "Susie, get up," I said. No answer, no movement. "Susie, get up right now or you will lose your snack." No answer, no movement. This continues for a few more rounds until I have to pick her up and carry her to a chair. Then I ask her, "Do you know why you're not getting snack today?" No answer. Repeat five times. No answer. I can't take her home because her mom is not there (which brings up the subject of two kids under the age of seven at home alone all afternoon, but that is for another post). I can't spank her or send her to the principal or flunk her. She didn't answer, didn't look at me didn't move, and I was really not sure what to do short of carrying her outside to the free time area where most of the other kids were. Finally she decided to walk out there (still not talking) after I picked her up and made her begin to walk.

Later, I thought about the sit-in movements and the passive resistance tactics of the 60's and realized why they were effective. If you don't answer, don't move, just sit, there isn't a whole lot anyone can do with you. I just wish I hadn't faced it during our after school program.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

All you need is love

After speaking at Duke's IV meeting this Friday, one of the students came up to talk. Over the course of talking, the topic of evangelism came up, and she began sharing how she had kind of sequestered herself away from non-Christians since she had been at school. She said that she didn't know how to share her faith very well and that she tended to get defensive when talking with non-Christians. But as we continued to talk, we began to zero in more and more on what the problem really was. It wasn't a lack of apologetics knowledge or a tendency to get defensive. Ultimately she had wandered from intimacy with Jesus, replacing a loving relationship with her Father with a boring, religious list of things to do. And so evangelism for her was not an expression of the love of Jesus that she was receiving; it was something that she ought to do. She had thought that evangelism was all up to her, and the concept of depending on Jesus to love her non-Christian friends through her was so foreign.

She said that for a couple of years she had been asking God to give her a passion for Him; I imagine that she thought that was a feeling or a zeal for the Lord. But perhaps, I told her, what she needed to ask God for was not a feeling of passion, but rather a knowing that the Lord loved her.

My heart went out to her, because I longed for her to be set free to know more deeply the love of Jesus. That is the only thing to change and transform her heart. That is the only thing that would compel her to share her faith with her non-Christian friends.

I just found it interesting to be reminded that for most of us, a lack of evangelistic zeal or effort is not primarily linked to lack of knowledge or training or even "I ought to's". But rather it is linked to our awareness of and soaking in the Love of the Father given to us through Christ.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


So a couple posts back I had this awesome, exciting news that over 110 people had expressed interest in tutoring this year, and how I had prayed for at least 80 people to help, and how amazed I was at God answering that prayer.

As of this week we have 40 tutors TOTAL (approximately 20 each day) for the 40-plus kids that attend our program, leaving us again at a one-on-two situation.

I've been kind of running from this contrast of 40 and 80, running from the exuberance of thinking that my prayer had quickly and easily been answered. I haven't know what to do with the reality that we still don't have enough folks, even though I asked with "freedom and confidence" like it says in Ephesians 3. I haven't known what to do with the nagging thought, "Well, see, I didn't quite pray enough."

Tutoring goes on and we make the best of what we have. God has provided 40, and that is great news for us. But something in me is afraid to admit that I feel let down or that I got excited too soon, and the temptation is to default into a more cautious posture from now on when asking for needs to be met. To try and not get my hopes up. To be "realistic" (also known as cynical).

But I remember my systematic theology professor teaching us that to live cynically and hopelessly is to be lazy in our faith. Who hopes for what he already has? To live with hope is crazy, it is work, and it is our call as Christians, for we are never without it.

Where are the other 40? I don't know. But I am thankful for God's provision thus far and I live with the hope that He will continue to provide one way or the other.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Embracing my inner Ricky Bobby

I got the most awesome birthday present this weekend - a bunch of family members and friends chipped in and got me a chance to do the Richard Petty Driving Experience ! Those of you who know me well know that I actually do enjoy NASCAR and have for quite some time, and I love seeing how fast those cars go and imagining that I was driving one.

I used to mow the grass at home in Statesville and pretend I was Dale Earnhardt, Sr (there was no need to say "Sr" then because "Junior" was still just a kid) slicing my way to the front at Daytona. So the idea of first getting to ride at over 150 MPH around a speedway and then also getting to DRIVE a car that fast (I hope) around one is just awesome.

The day I got my present I was sitting outside just looking out at the street and grinning, and Diane said, "Are you thinking about driving that car?" Yes indeedy.

Maybe a NASCAR talent scout will see me and sign me to drive the Zondervan TNIV Study Bible Chevrolet, with co-sponsors Innova Golf Discs, the UNC Tar Heels basketball team, and Cheerwine. Look, momma, I'm goin' fast!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Quiet and Confused

It’s quiet around here – too quiet. Three nights a week I run in a nearby neighborhood (just feels a little safer) and in years past I would lament at how much quiet-er and “normal” it seemed from Glenwood. But last night I noticed that my street was equally quiet as this other place, and that was strange. Glenwood is very quiet lately – few police sirens (I don’t even see them quietly patrolling as much), fewer cars with loud bass, fewer people walking by our house yelling and cursing.

As I have seen this place change, it makes me wonder about the Benbow’s future here. I think that I have moved forward a great deal in not placing my personal identity in urban ministry (see Saying Bye to 'Urban Guy') but from a vocational standpoint, I am kind of tied to living among the poor for part of my urban job. One of the ways that GUPY students learn is from the opportunity to see and apply Biblical truths about loving the poor in the place where they live. As the poor move to other parts of the city and landlords buy up properties and rent them to more UNCG-related people, the GUPY experience begins to lose some of its relevance.

As I think about this, thoughts of moving to another poor neighborhood surface, and when they come, I just think that there is no way that I can do that again. Our first year or two here was so hard, scary, and lonely that I wonder if I could go to a new place and face those fears and discomforts all over again. But can I host something like GUPY in a place like Glenwood? Certainly there could be some creative solution, but I don’t see it.

Also as I think about moving and possibly replicating our strategy of reaching children via a tutoring program, I don’t know how that would work either. We have close to 50 kids who could potentially be coming to tutoring next week, and close to ½ of those live more than a mile outside my neighborhood (which is not far, but they are not right around the corner, either). When kids move away from Glenwood, we keep up with them, and continue to bring them to tutoring. So relocating to a new area with new kids would add to the 40-plus kids we are already serving right now.

In short, I am very confused. Diane and I have a dream of having a house near our home for college students to live in year-round, loving our neighbors with us. There is a possibility here in Glenwood, but should we pursue it? Is this neighborhood the place for that dream or is it somewhere else? If we moved somewhere else, would other members of our church go with us from the start this time so that we don’t feel so lonely and isolated for the first year?

Prayers for clarity, patience, and hearing from the Lord, along with a heart to obey despite my own fears and dreams, would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Our church is studying Ephesians right now in our sermon times, and we just finished Ephesians 3:1-14. Verse 13 tells us that "in Him (Christ) and through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence." When I first heard this, I was very excited that I had the freedom and confidence to ask God to help me with things in my life that need work, help, etc. This is a reasssuring truth indeed. But this morning as I was going over the text again, I realized that with freedom and confidence can come boldness and even crazy prayers that we might not normally pray. If I have FREEDOM to ask anything and CONFIDENCE that God hears and loves me, why are my prayers so small most of the time? God spoke to me and told me that I need to ask Him for what to pray, because left to myself I will stop short of asking for the things that I think are too big to be done.

After that Sripture time, I opened a Word document entitled "80" that I had typed on April 26th and then not opened again, mostly (I have to admit) because it seemed so ludicrous. In a moment of crazy boldness and freedom, I typed a prayer, asking God to send us 80 tutors for this coming year, so that each day we would have 40 tutors for the 40 kids that we hope will come. Kids need one on one help to best succeed and many times in years past we have been one on three, one on two at best.

I opened "80" this morning, because today on email I received our initial database of interested tutors, and there are 83 on the list. Some of them may decide to not help (like, say. 3?), but as I looked at that list, which more than doubled the number that we had last year, I remembered "80" and how I was afraid to look at that document or share it with others because "what if God didn't answer".

We as God's children have FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE through our perfect access in Christ Jesus. We can ask the Father anything, no matter how big (or how small), and we know that He hears and He doesn't laugh us off or ignore us. And, surprise, He even answers despite the fact that our faith is maybe 64% sure that He will. Let's be a people who are bold and ask God to do more than we can ask or imagine.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Administering grace

Somehow over the past months (not sure how long it has been really), I have gotten out of the habit of walking my neighborhood. I blamed it on being too tired to get up early with Joe, and then in the evenings I am too busy helping Diane with the girls. But the truth is that somehow, some way, fear had crept back in and was keeping me at home. Or maybe it was apathy. Or a mix of both. I know that there is little to fear here in Glenwood, especially in recent months as the streets have been cleaned up more and more. But maybe my fear has been the fear of being bothered. The fear of being stopped and talked to. The fear of seeing more needs that I just can’t meet. The fear of a new crop of neighbors and hanger-out-ers that I don’t know very well. And so I would rather stay in my little controlled world.

In the past, enough folks came by my controlled world so as to make it easy for me to love those that we moved here for. But foot traffic patterns have changed, and those folks are elsewhere, and so opportunities to share the love of Christ have been fewer. I’ve been feeling this for a while, not able to put my finger on exactly what was demotivating me and not able to muster up a good motivation to get going again.

But this Sunday our pastor preached on Ephesians 3:1-14, and in the early verses of that chapter, Paul talks about the administration of God’s grace given to him for the sake of the Gentiles. I had always thought this meant that God had administered grace to Paul for the sake of the Gentiles (and theologically that is true). But in the Greek, that particular instance of administer means “to be a manager of.” Paul is saying that he is a manager of grace from God, given the task of passing it on and utilizing it to bless others. Our pastor exhorted us, from a position of the Good News and our identity in Christ as motivation, to be good managers of the grace God has given us. And I realized that in many ways I was squirreling away the grace and time and opportunity of being here in Glenwood.

As I walked through the park tonight, there were a number of kids there and some middle school-ers (an intimidating age group in any neighborhood), and I thought, “God has given me grace to manage here. I have grace and gifts that are meant for these kids, for their families.” And the thought carried no guilt. It carried hope and purpose, and felt as thought it were leading me on that walk.

I want to be here on purpose and with purpose, and I need prayer and encouragement to walk the streets with Joe (our boxer) again, remembering that I am a manager of God’s grace, submitting my time and my plans to God’s desires to use me in the lives of others. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see that grace gets administered back to me from those I meet along the way.

(incidental note: this is post #100)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Baby Boy Pics

The one with the arrow is the indicator that this is a baby boy.

It's a ......

We had the ultra-sound this morning. For a long time I had really wanted a son, but in some ways had believed a lie that God wouldn't give me a son because maybe I wasn't cut out for it. He has been addressing that, teaching me about my security in Him, and the other week I was able to say, "Lord, I really would like to have a son, you know that, but if you give us a girl, I will receive her and rejoice at your gift to us." So while I was certainly anxious to see if we were having a boy or a girl, I was at peace with the Lord's plan for us. Diane and I do rejoice with this news, and are thankful that my office (soon to be our son's room) is already painted blue.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Reconciliation: it ain't just for preachin' anymore

For years now I have loved leading students and staff in learning the Biblical basis for racial reconciliation. Passages like Ephesians 2:11-22 really spell out that the work of the cross was not just a vertical reconciliation *man to God* but also a horizontal reconciliation *man to man*. (For an excellent sermon on this passage, you can listen to Solving the Biggest Problem in the World [the July 16th sermon on that page].)
I love watching people’s faces as they realize that the work of reconciliation is not something that we have to accomplish but rather a reality for us to live out. Jesus HAS DESTROYED the dividing wall and HAS MADE the two one, putting to death their hostility. The study is so applicable to the divide between races in America, especially black and white in the South, and I am encouraged to pray big prayers and believe big truths when looking at the power of the cross to reconcile any and all people across all lines.
But I have to admit that sometimes it is safer to relegate that finished work of reconciliation to racial issues. For me it’s easy to believe that the cross has truly canceled the dividing wall between black and white; it’s easy to hope that one day people of all colors will walk in the reality of unity that Jesus has won. But when it comes to applying that to my own sin, my own brokenness and how that affects my family and friends, well, I am reluctant to trust the fullness of the cross. In effect I say, “Well, sure Jesus paid for racial sins, and we can be reconciled, but I am not sure if the cross is big enough to handle my _____ (insert gross sin here).”
I know that good theology (and a great hymn) says that my sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. But I am also tempted to believe that the resulting relational brokenness between me and those that I hurt is too great. One day it will be fixed, in heaven, but for now it is best to just look the other way and try not to bring it up.
And so the Evil One divides me from people, shaming me into hiding my sin and just dealing with it on a me-and-Jesus basis. He tells me that to bring it fully into the light would be too hurtful. It would create too much pain, too much shame, too much brokenness and the best thing to do is just hide. Confession should be left to popular sins like pride or materialism or generic words like “lust” or “envy.”
Believing that lie had been costing me intimacy with my wife, intimacy with the Father, and intimacy with friends. I chose to embrace my shame and own it as my own, and not lean into the fullness of the cross, the truth that Jesus had, indeed, paid for all my sin and had, indeed, reconciled me to all those I had hurt.
But praise God for His tender, unrelenting Spirit, which continued to work on my heart, calling me into the light, and calling me to really test and see if the cross was as big and as good as I said it was. I teach students all the time about how completely free they are in Christ, but until this spring, I was not willing to lean into that freedom and see if it would indeed catch me as I fell.
Now it is true that the initial process of confession was not easy. It hurt, and it seemed produced more brokenness than healing at the outset. And the Evil One said, “See. Look at how awful you are. You should be ashamed. Better hide this from everyone else.”
But the Spirit had other plans. He said, “Your name is no longer Shame . It is Chosen. And because it is Chosen, you can lean into my love, my complete forgiveness, and you can pursue the reconciliation that you preach.”
And so I confessed again, bringing full disclosure to all that I had sinned against, and I shrank back, waiting for the hammer to fall. What fell was grace. Forgiveness. Love. I was received with open arms, looked in the eye and restored, loved with tenderness and commitment.
As the Spirit has led and light has been shed, chains have come off. Strongholds have been broken. And I am experiencing freedom and intimacy with Lord, my wife, and others that I have not had for years.
Don’t believe the lie that there are sins too big for the Cross. Don’t believe the lie that your name is Shame. The Lord has paid in full and is in the business of reconciliation. Yes across racial and cultural lines. But also across lines of brokenness for ordinary, regular lives like yours and mine. The Evil One would love to see us bound, divided and shamed. Confession and light make that darkness flee.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Learning to Receive

A few months ago I listened to a sermon called “The Principle of Reception” by Jack Taylor. The perspective he took was that when “life happens”, we can either reject the circumstances that are frustrating us or receive them as a part of God’s conforming us more to the image of Christ. Taylor’s example was husbands or wives who would say something like, “I wish my spouse didn’t talk all the time,” and then reject them, instead of receiving that spouse as God’s gift, perhaps to teach them how to listen. Surrendering our lives to God means that we receive the circumstances of each day, good and bad, trusting that these are what God has for us. John Piper has an excellent post on his web site after he was diagnosed with cancer which illustrates this concept of receiving.

In the Dominican, we felt pretty useless, and the temptation arose to wonder why we were there and if we had missed hearing God. We were tempted to think that if we weren’t producing, surely it was our fault, not God’s design. And so we could choose – reject feeling useless, rage against our lack of productivity, or receive this trip as God had planned it, entrusting ourselves to His sovereign care and working in our lives. Receiving this type of mission trip meant we had to receive a lot of other things, too. Like translation help during church services. Or translation help during small groups. Or translation help to talk with kids. Or being served our meals and not being able to help with much of anything. Or the gift of feeling useless.

In one of our last devotionals with the kids, the topic was serving others, and the question was, “Which is easier, to give or to receive?” The theme of the lesson was that it is easier for us to receive and harder to serve, but for me it is often the opposite. It’s much easier to give and serve than to be served and receive (ironic that I make my living based on others giving towards my support). As I talked with our group leader afterwards, he told me that God was teaching me on this trip how to receive, which will make me more able to lead and to give later.

This lesson was hammered home near the end of our time. One of the YWAM leaders had on a leather bracelet that some of my team members noticed, wondering where they might get one. Later, another YWAM leader came up and he had a similar bracelet on, which I pointed out to my friends. He noticed that I pointed, and immediately began to take it off, asking me if I liked it. Everything in me wanted to explain that, actually, I was just pointing it out to my friends, and I didn’t really want it (interestingly I had said earlier that I didn’t think I would right wearing one of those). But God reminded me, “You are here to receive. Take the bracelet.” And so I did, humbled by my friend’s selfless gift, and now I wear it as a reminder to receive.

God has many things planned for me in this life. Some of them are wonderful and easy. Some are hard and not very fun. I can reject the hard and humbling ones, tell the Lord I know better than He does how life should go. Or, while still acknowledging my emotions, I can choose to surrender and to receive. As Job said, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?”

This principle of receiving has been such a blessing in my life, because I am realizing that God’s biggest goal for me is not an easy life. It’s not prosperity. It’s not fulfilling the dreams I have for myself. His goal is that I would be more and more dependent on Him as my life, that He might live through me and reveal His life in me more and more.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Contagious Rhythm

One of the things I enjoyed the most in the DR was their exuberant worship. We went to church one Sunday evening with the Kings Kids, and worship was in full swing when we arrived. It must have been 90+ degrees in there, and there was dancing and celebration and laughter. It was apparent that the people there loved to celebrate Christ. In that particular service, the pastor preached on how we as Christians have a contagious rhythm (thankfully they provided a translator for us, which was a very gracious thing to do, since it extended his sermon). He said that people who are around us will hear that rhythm and eventually they will begin to dance, to move in time with the love of God.

Likewise, the Kings Kids had their own contagious rhythm when they worshiped. They, too, delighted in praising God and loved to dance during their songs. Most of you know, I am not much of a dancer. It’s not that I don’t like to dance – I really do enjoy it, actually. But I feel very self-conscious when I’m doing it and thus don’t feel free. However, to dance is to worship in the Dominican Christian culture, and as we sang with the kids and leaders, I found myself dancing with them. Simple moves (which looked more complicated when I did them) expressed delight in our God and delight in being able to worship Him with our bodies and our voices. I found my self swept up in their contagious rhythm.

Around that same time we watched a Rob Bell “Nooma” video, and he compared our relationship with God to a song. Or, rather, God is this amazing song, and we are all meant to get in tune and play it. In our small group time, we were asked what kept us from getting in tune with God’s song, and I realized that for me over thinking was a big bugaboo. Instead of letting the song lead me, I would try to figure it out. Many times in dancing, that is my Achilles heel – I try to think the steps, think the dance, and it gets really complicated. But the times when I am most free with the Lord are when I am not trying to figure Him out but rather receiving Him as He is and accepting where He has me at that time. During worship with the Kings Kids, I didn’t try to figure out there dances to get them right. I just did them, joining in their joy, enjoying worship in a new way. I let the song lead me, their contagious rhythm.

My relationship with God is not something to get right, to figure out, to reduce to certain steps at a certain time. It is more organic and live, more fluid and expressive than that. It is a rhythm, not a formula. But I fear messing up, looking foolish, and so I want to feel in control and love to analyze my heart and actions. May I remember the contagious rhythm and freedom of the Dominican as I walk with God here in the US; maybe I’ll even dance in church one day!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Gift of Feeling Useless

NOTE: This is the first post in a series about our trip to the Dominican Republic.

After two days in the country, we went to be with the ministry that we were helping for the week. They were staying at a camp way out in the middle of nowhere (45 minutes down a dirt road from the main road), and we only knew a few of the team members. We were working with King’s Kids, which is a two-week summer camp for Christian youth ages 8-18. The camp lasts two weeks, with the first week consisting of Bible teaching and preparing skits and dances. The second week the kids were to perform the skits they had prepared as an outreach at various parks in the city.

So we had a few things going against us. First, we were coming in to a community that had been together for a week already, establishing relationships. Second, most of us spoke little to no Spanish and most of them spoke little to no English. Third, most of their prep work for the outreaches had been done, so there was not any formal thing for us to teach them. Fourth, they are mostly teenagers, an awkard stage in any culture.

We got out of the bus and unloaded our stuff, and there was very little greeting or fanfare, and mostly the kid just looked at us and kept on with what they were doing. We were shown to our living quarters, which were very Spartan, and then we all wandered back to the main meeting area.

And we sat.

And we tried to say, “Hola.”

And we smiled.

And we began to wonder why in the world we were even there.

What were we to DO? What was our PURPOSE? What could we give?

And God showed us in that moment, and over the next two awkward days (the days before relationships formed despite language and cultural lines), that we were not there to give anything but to receive a gift from Him. The gift of feeling useless.

I am a leader. An elder in my church. A supervisor of IV staff. I have training and gifts and tools to help Christians grow. And none of that mattered. My resume was useless. They didn’t know what IV was. They didn’t really care about my “pedigree.” And so I sat with my team and wrestled with the need to produce.

What a rare feeling for me. I am usually in charge, in control, in the know. And at that point I didn’t have a clue and I didn’t even know how to ASK for a clue. And even trying to help with simple tasks, like making supper or cleaning up, made me feel like I was more of a burden than a help, because our hosts had to stop and try to figure out how to communicate to me that they wanted me to move the plates from one counter to another.

Which forced me to remember – I am a son. I am accepted. And there is nothing required of me except abiding in Christ as my life. If and when He wants me to produce something, He will show me, and He will produce through me.

This gift of feeling useless humbled us and led us to do the only work available to us, the work of prayer. I am so glad that we didn’t come in with plans and programs, because we would have been tempted to operate in competence instead of humility, and in the DR, with spiritual warfare rampant, the work of prayer is not to be taken lightly or forgotten.

In some ways it’s nice to be back in the US where I am “needed” and “able”, but in other ways, the gift of feeling useless is something that I miss. Who knows – the Lord may give it to me again soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Glenwood Camp Reflections

    I think that it surprised me how hard the Glenwood Camp was on me. I have known most of these kids for years and felt like I understood them to a degree, having lived in their neighborhood and led them in tutoring (and even some of them in Sunday School). And yet being with them all day every day for 10 days revealed a new level of cultural dissonance and differences that I had not experienced. That made me sad in some ways, that it has taken me 5 years in the neighborhood to get to that level of immersion, and I was surprised at how out of place I felt. I had posted on my blog about the kids speaking a different language when it came to words of kindness and love, but there is just a different language altogether when it comes to understanding the world. The way that my world works is very orderly, controlled, managed. It makes sense to me. There are rules to follow, and the rules are there to be obeyed, not one of many options to consider. Their world system is chaotic, parents loving them inconsistently and in ways far different than I would ever love my kids. For them, rules are an enticement to disobedience, boundaries are meant to be tested and pushed. Order is confining in some ways and is not trusted. Authority is not a safe thing. And so placing a controlled (controlling) person with a managed life governed by rules and systems in a position of authority (not trusted) over a group of kids used to chaos and disobedience was really an interesting mix. I found myself spending more time policing than I did enjoying the kids, more time governing than just showing them the love and life of Jesus.
    I’ve also been feeling much more “white” after camp than I did before. I felt the difference between me and the kids, the struggles I had with relating to them sometimes, and I am just feeling much more aware of my race than before. And I find my self drifting back into fear and shame again – fear of being rejected or hurt because of my skin color, shame over how much that I have. Last night we did a Bible study on God’s renaming of Jacob, and I am in need again of God’s reminder to me of my new name. He has called me Chosen, not Shame, not Fearful. If I am Chosen, then I can walk my streets as one sent, confident in my Father’s hand on my life. If I am Chosen, I can walk without fear – God has Chosen me, picked me, and He will be with me to accomplish His purposes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

More Glenwood Camp Reflections

I think that it surprised me how hard the Glenwood Camp was on me. I have known most of these kids for years and felt like I understood them to a degree, having lived in their neighborhood and led them in tutoring (and even some of them in Sunday School). And yet being with them all day every day for 10 days revealed a new level of cultural dissonance and differences that I had not experienced. That made me sad in some ways, that it has taken me 5 years in the neighborhood to get to that level of immersion, and I was surprised at how out of place I felt. I had posted on my blog about the kids speaking a different language when it came to words of kindness and love, but there is just a different language altogether when it comes to understanding the world. The way that my world works is very orderly, controlled, managed. It makes sense to me. There are rules to follow, and the rules are there to be obeyed, not one of many options to consider. Their world system is chaotic, parents loving them inconsistently and in ways far different than I would ever love my kids. For them, rules are an enticement to disobedience, boundaries are meant to be tested and pushed. Order is confining in some ways and is not trusted. Authority is not a safe thing. And so placing a controlled (controlling) person with a managed life governed by rules and systems in a position of authority (not trusted) over a group of kids used to chaos and disobedience was really an interesting mix. I found myself spending more time policing than I did enjoying the kids, more time governing than just showing them the love and life of Jesus.

I’ve also been feeling much more “white” after camp than I did before. I felt the difference between me and the kids, the struggles I had with relating to them sometimes, and I am just feeling much more aware of my race than before. And I find my self drifting back into fear and shame again – fear of being rejected or hurt because of my skin color, shame over how much that I have. Last night we did a Bible study on God’s renaming of Jacob, and I am in need again of God’s reminder to me of my new name. He has called me Chosen, not Shame, not Fearful. If I am Chosen, then I can walk my streets as one sent, confident in my Father’s hand on my life. If I am Chosen, I can walk without fear – God has Chosen me, picked me, and He will be with me to accomplish His purposes.

Monday, July 17, 2006

More GUPY Blogs to check out

In lieu of a plethora of posts from me, check out two more GUPY blogs - these students are really taking in a lot and being changed. It is amazing - God shows up and works His ways every year on this thing, despite my worries that He might now.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Check Out a GUPY's Blog

A few of the GUPY's have blogs, and one of them posts fairly regularly. THis week during our Bible study on racial reconciliation, she had an "ah-ha" moment, which she blogged about on this link:
Her blog site for future reference is As I get the blog addresses of the other GUPY's, I will post them.
We head to the beach with the Glenwood Campers in about 8 hours - please pray for our time there!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Kids Getting to Be Kids

We took the Glenwood Campers to Stone Mountain, NC for a one-night camping trip last weekend, and we had a really great time. My brother-in-law had given me and Diane a 10-person tent, which easily housed all of the boys, and the girls had several tents for their campsite. After setting up camp, we hiked down to the waterfall (think really big rock with water sliding down it rather than cascading over it), and for an hour it was a joy to watch the campers get to just be kids for a while. They smiled and laughed. They found crayfish and snails in the water. They splashed in the water, climbed from rock to rock, explored downstream. They had their pictures made standing in the water, swimming in the water, posing on the rocks. The cares of their families seemed to melt away, and even the hardest kids began to soften. I think that for many of them, carefree moments are rare, chances to just do the things that kids do, things that I had the chance to do hundreds of times growing up. Who knows how the Lord was able to heal broken places in their hearts by revealing His love for them in the beauty of that place?

My favorite time was taking a trail downstream with two of the guys who wanted to just explore, and to see them delight in the creek, the rocks, the water and the dense trees. I love the mountains and walking beside streams, and to share that with them and see them captured by that beauty was such a great connection. It makes me want to create more spaces for them to shrug off the burdens of growing up fast and just be kids.

One of my pastors says that a huge gap between our Glenwood kids and other kids is the gap of experiences – they’ve not been to college campuses for a football game or to a musical at the theatre. They’ve not camped in the mountains or spent weeks at the beach. Teaching them academics is important, but it’s just as important to broaden their experiences in the world.

Monday, July 10, 2006

A Foreign Language

One of the hardest things for me in taking part in the Glenwood Camp has been listening to the kids tear one another down with hurtful, hard words. It seems that five minutes can’t pass without someone calling another a name or making a comment about their hair or clothes. It’s especially hard to see two older brothers mock and degrade their younger brothers. We tried to address the issue with a devotional one day on a hike, but within minutes of ending, the biting words began again.

A light clicked on for me during small group, though, later that day. One of the passages we were looking at was Galatians 5:21-23, the fruits of the Spirit. I asked the boys in my group of they would rather be around someone who was loving, joyful, kind, etc. or someone who was hurtful and negative. One of them spoke up and said, “I’m always around mean, negative people, so that’s who I end up wanting to be around.” He went on to say, “When someone is nice and kind, I don’t really know what to do. I don’t really like it. It’s not natural for me, and I don’t trust them. It’s just weird, and I don’t want to be around them as much.”

I realized that for many of our campers, words of affirmation, hope, love, and kindness are so rare that they almost literally don’t understand them. It is almost as though we are speaking two different languages. Theirs is a language where status is maintained or achieved by tearing others down, a language where teasing and mean words are the norm, the way of relating, and where words of kindness are a sign of weakness. To expect kind words from mouths that are so unfamiliar with speaking them and ears that are so unfamiliar with hearing them doesn’t make a lot of sense, like plunking me down in the middle of China and expecting me to speak Mandarin with ease in just a few minutes time.

But my attitude at camp has been, “Quit saying these things. Quit hurting each other. Stop doing bad things.” This approach won’t work. An external solution to an internal problem is, in the words of Jesus, putting a new patch on an old garment. And so my role now, perhaps, is to speak my native tongue, the language of love, and see if immersion in that will begin to teach the kids a new way of speaking. I have hope that one day these kids will receive a new way of speaking as their hearts are captured by Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

GUPY Update, Two Weeks In

So the four interns have been here for two weeks today, and I think that they have had a good experience so far. For me and Diane, having all the GUPY’s living here in the house has been a real blessing and has really made us appreciate that Eliza and Psalter get to have such wonderful people around them for a whole summer.

The feel of this GUPY is very different from the other two. I am with the students most every day all day because we are serving mostly with kids in the community through things that my church is doing, thus they are not at their internships all day and then with me at night, as in year’s past. Also, riding the bus is less of a necessity and less practical since we are shuttling kids around a lot, so that part of the experience is not happening. Overall, I think that I have chilled out a good bit and am enjoying the students being here more. Also, I sense a change in my heart in terms of what I hope they will take from the project. While I don’t think they can escape learning about justice and the 3 R’s and having a heart for the poor, my hope is that they discover that those things must be under girded by a growing intimacy with Jesus. The students are each in a different place in this regard, and each has been eager to learn, both about Jesus and about the community here. Last week and this week we have been serving as counselors for a camp for Glenwood teens, and are really learning to cross cultures with the kids! After a few days of rest, we head to the Dominican Republic on July 21 for a 10-day missions trip with YWAM.

I also feel that I am entering a wait-and-see phase for the GUPY aspect of our ministry with IV. Glenwood is changing rapidly as drug dealers are being pushed out (or locked up) and prostitution is moving to other parts of the city. I only know of one place to buy drugs on my street right now (as compared to 5-plus in years past), and the bad elements of our neighborhood are being funneled and concentrated into one ever-shrinking area. This leads me to wonder what my family’s role is here for the future, and what GUPY will look like as the neighborhood continues to improve in terms of crime, yet remain diverse. More and more my heart seems to lean towards a project that is less about urban ministry and more about discipleship in an urban context, where the goal is closer communion with Jesus and where we are made aware of our need and of His presence as we serve. I have tossed this idea around before, but this time feels more peaceful and less generated by my fears and flesh.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Beginning to Understand

Some say you're not supposed to have favorites when you are doing things like teaching school or leading a group, but I just can't help the way my heart goes out to different kids in tutoring. One young man in particular is someone that I long to see freed to become all that he can be, and I wish that I could establish a good relationship with him. He likes me OK, but when I try to invest in him more intentionally, he pushes me away by not showing up and acting indifferent. Yesterday I got a glimpse of why.

I was picking his sister up for Bible School and giving their mom a ride home, and I met this young man's father. He was on a bike, talking with D's mom and sister, and then he rode off as we left. I thought he acted a little strange when I complimented him on what a fine young man his son was, and as we drove off, D's mom told me that his father had not seen him since he was four years old. We were not three miles from D's house, and obviously the father still had some contact with D's mother, and yet for almost 10 years he has been gone from D's life for no good reason.

I know the statistics and I know the realities of kids without dads. But to meet one of the dads, to see how close he lived yet for all intensive purposes was across the country, and to realize that D must know that his dad is close by but doesn't want to see him - this gave life and flesh to the statistics.

No wonder D doesn't trust me when I try to build a relationship with him. Yet all the more reason to keep trying.

The Third Year Swimmin' With the GUPY's

My summer interns arrived on Sunday night, and have already blessed me and Diane with their love and their enthusiasm to be here. I think that each of them feels called by the Lord to be here this summer, though they may not know why they’ve been called. They are asking excellent questions, and seem to really want to know the in’s and out’s of the city, and are eager to engage one another as well. One of the students is from Greensboro (well, the past 6 years) and it is really surprising her to discover a side of the city that she has never seen before. Another student attends our church when in school, and is noticing things that she hadn’t before in her drives into town.

This week in our devotionals and group Bible study time, we are looking at our identity in Christ. Not surprising, given my last 8 months of study on the subject, and it is great to watch the different responses and struggles with the materials. God is really at work in their hearts, and I believe is laying the only sure foundation for ministry – Christ in us, the hope of Glory.

During the morning we are helping with Vacation Bible School at my church, as over 1/3 of the 180 kids attending are from Glenwood. As I have reconnected with the kids from my neighborhood, I am reminded of how much I love them, how much I miss some who have moved to another part of the city, and how chaotic some of their lives are when they go home. It’s easy to go through the motions of VBS and just get them through the week, but today the Lord gave me a gift of being able to sit down with a Brother from church and pray in the sanctuary for the kids. Going through the motions is self-protective; it keeps me from being disappointed because I don’t hope and I don’t give my heart too deeply. But most of all it leads me to believe the lie that this is merely a week of VBS, a four-hour distraction, and God can’t do anything in these rough home-life situations.

But prayer is a sounding of hope’s trumpet, a declaration of faith that says there are seeds being sown, the Word is going forth, and the destiny of these kids is not settled. There IS a God who loves Him – my church is proof of that as we, His body, go out and pick kids up each morning, and as we, His body, teach them that Jesus is our friend and Jesus is life. Prayer is a reminder to me that God IS at work, even when we go through the motions, and that we always have hope because we always have the Lord.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Just Another Punk On The Street

My time with my young friend yesterday underscored my conviction about the importance and blessing of relocation as a strategy to reach the people that you feel called to minister to. Had I not lived in Glenwood and I had seen Sherman on the corner, he would have been just another punk on the street, a small-time dealer that I wish would get lost. But knowing him, having some semblance of relationship with him, changed that. It led me to talk to him, to have lunch with him, and by doing that, I got to know his friend as well, moving him from “punk” to “person” in my categorizing mind. Also, I keep thinking about the other guys on that strip, their life consisting of dealing and getting by, and I am so sad. I know, now, that they use to be little kids. They have moms and dads and grandmas. They want a better life than what they have. They are not faceless dealers, problems to be erased.

And it’s interesting how these guys who are dealing, supposedly to get paid and make money, don’t seem to have the best living situations. It’s not like their business is moving them out of the projects, into nice houses or better cars. The guys on the street level persist in the same circumstances while those over them, I imagine, prosper.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Culture Shock in the Post Office

Today was another unusual day for me in the neighborhood (funny how those things happen after Diane and I pray together for ministry there). As I was out and about near the house, I saw a group of guys on the corner, most likely doing what guys in my part of town do on the corner. But as I looked, I recognized a guy who used to live on my block, and so I pulled up to talk with him, and later, just felt led by God to back and invite him to lunch. He accepted and so a couple hours later I picked him up, and he wanted to bring a friend with him. Now this particular kid was a bit disconcerting when he was 12 years old, and now as a 17-year-old with a fellow street guy in the backseat, he made me pretty nervous. I’m driving down the street with these two, and my fears begin to get the best of me, so upon arrival at the restaurant, I phoned in for backup (my pastor, Will Dungee), who rode on out there and sat with us.

Our lunch went as well as one could expect. Worlds were colliding on all sorts of levels from race to class to religion, and I am sure the new guy was wondering what in the heck he’d gotten himself into sitting with me and Will. After lunch, my friend was asking me for $25 for court costs, as though I owed to him which really annoys me. But eventually he offered to work for it at the house, so he came home with me and cut my grass, and did a great job. (Incidentally, it was really interesting to see how he treated Diane when she came home – very respectful, lots of yes ma’ams and a genuine smile. Shows that he may have involvement in his life from mother figures). I paid him and took him home (about a mile up the road) and as I waited at the light with my window down, a guy on the corner said, “You need anything or did Sherman get you straight,” and I assured him that I was good to go before heading out.

Ten minutes later I was in the post office on a trendier side of town, talking with a friend from church who works for a multi-million dollar home builder, and we were surrounded by well-off people who I was very comfortable around. And it hit me – what just happened? I’ve gone from hanging out with two poor drug-dealing teenagers to being in a place that feels very safe and a million miles away. As I drove off, I saw a couple of young kids walking, and I wondered if they even knew that the world on the other side of town existed, and could not help but be struck by how far apart two neighborhoods separated by four miles can be.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Well, I want to get back on the bloggin’ horse with a post about a man that more people should get familiar with. Eugene Peterson has been a mentor and pastor to me for years now through his books and his translation of the Bible (The Message), and I have GOT to commend one of his newest books to anyone who will listen to me.
Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places is the first in a five-book opus for Eugene, with which I believe he is seeking to leave a legacy for the church after he has gone. In this first book, he divides it into three parts – Christ plays in creation, in history, and in community. I have only read the creation and half of the history parts and it has floored me.

For those of you unfamiliar with Eugene, one of the best things that I think he brings to the table is an awareness of the presence and activity of God in the ordinary, everyday events of life. Making a sandwich in the kitchen can be on par with reading your Bible if it is done in a spirit of knowing that God is alive and active in that moment. For a culture (even a Church culture) that lives for experiences and feelings and moments, this is a clarion call to remember that God is not a magician or a circus monkey, here to poof away our troubles or entertain us until we get to Heaven. He is God and He is always actively pursuing His creation.

Two of the things that have affected me most in this book are his thoughts on the Sabbath and a seemingly obscure sentence in the history section. For the Sabbath, Eugene makes a winsome and convincing case of the need for a rest to be built into the rhythm of our weeks. Rest frees us from the idolatry of work; it is good for our mind, heart, and soul; it is a gift from God and commanded by God; and it helps frame our weeks. A Sabbath gives us a chance to celebrate and reflect on God’s presence with us in the past week, and reorients us to have Christ-healed eyes through which to see the coming week. This weekend I took a 24-hour Sabbath from checking email and working around the house, and to know that I had made that decision almost made me feel like I was on a mini-vacation. I want to establish this as part of life’s rhythm for me and my family, and I very testing season of life is upon us with GUPY beginning next Sunday.

As for the obscure sentence that seemed to scream at me, Eugene was talking about reading the Old Testament accounts and stories before Exodus, and he describes different people that we have read about. Then he says, “We are getting a feel for the ways of God among us.” Now I know you might be saying, “Whoo, that is sooooo amazing.” But don’t lay on your sarcasm too thick just yet. What I realized through this (and through his teaching in general) is that I read Scripture to get a feel for the ways of God for my life. I read Scripture in good ol’ inductive Bible study mode and I emphasize that APPLY part, or “What does it mean for me?” But is Scripture about me? Or is it about God? And if I get a feel for the ways of God, will I not better understand myself? Because God is life. God is the source and author of faith and of love and of all things. To get a feel for the ways of God is to see myself correctly. The ways of God in calling obscure shepherds to leadership and fatherhood; the ways of God in using a talking donkey; the ways of God in somehow using my feeble efforts to love Him and love my neighbors; the ways of God in playing with my daughters or driving down a busy street. I need to recover a feel for the ways of God in Scripture and in life.

I urge you friend to check this book out. If you are in vocational ministry, Eugene will teach you to be a better pastor, and if you are in the ministry that comes from being a disciple, Eugene will remind you of the wonder and the presence of God in the things of your life that you find the most ordinary and most un-God-filled.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Final Roar = "MEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

Sorry to my legions of fans who have breathlessly awaited my next post. I have been on vacation for a few days in Boone, and it has reinforced my desire to move the city of Greensboro up 421 North.

My last post was kind of a downer, and I think that God has shown me some things about that load roar. As you can see in the title, the roar I was hearing was "ME!" After two weeks of intense pouring out at Rockbridge (and drained, I think, from the amount of prayer we did in our track) and then moving right into a week of intense class work for my Grace Life training, I was zapped. Zapped, plus spiritually spent, plus physically spent means that I was trying to find life anywhere I could, and that made life all about.... ME. MY needs. MY wants. MY feelings. MY tiredness. And the harder I looked inward for satisfaction, the more I lost the life I craved. I didn't want to admit it. I put the blame on everyone else, judging, finding fault. But it was ME that was the problem.

Thankfully God broke through, as He usually does, and revealed the backwardness and brokenness of my heart. And when I saw it, I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been) and saddened. Of course there is always grace and mercy when sin and self are revealed, and my Heavenly Father was good to me in His revelation.

So many lies to fall for. Such a crafty teller of lies that wages war against us. Sometimes with bold and obvious lies that we just buy into anyway. Other times with subtle, smoother lies that we fall for bit by bit. But he's so good at it because it's his native language. The father of lies knows how to communicate.

Thank God for the truth and the freedom that comes from realizing that the way out is to consider ME dead and to live in the reality of Christ as life. The more I try to save and find my life, I lose it. The more I lose my life, I find it. Crazy.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A final roar

In The Two Towers there is a scene in which Gandalf frees King Theodin from being controlled by the evil wizard Saruman. Saruman fights letting go of his prisoner, and with a tremendous snarl, lunges one last time at Gandalf before being silenced and forced to release Theodin. That makes me think of how satan works in the world in the life of Christians sometimes. Through different ways and means, he gets hold of us and ties us in knots, either in our heart or minds or in the consequences of our sin, and as we try to fight out of our own resources (or not fight), it becomes apparent that we need someone bigger than ourselves to save us. As the Lord works that salvation out, our foe does not always go quietly.

For the past couple weeks I have felt like I am in the midst of that final lunge, final roar. I have seen the Lord offer me great freedom and truth, but my sin and flesh and the evil one have dug in their heels for a “last stand” and the struggle is not ending as quickly as Theodin’s did. There are days when that roar has been more intense and pronounced, and I think, “That was the end of it,” only to find that not to be the case.

Now, I know that this side of heaven we will always struggle, and I am not speaking of a once-for-all lunge, after which I will be free from trial forever. Rather this roar is at a certain season, and I am ready to move into the next one. At this point, there is not much "joy in the margins" for me. I’m not very excited about our summer project coming up in three weeks, I don’t really want to live in my house or on my street. I feel overwhelmed by financial worries and by the prospect of wading into some very murky waters at my church as I come on the elder board. I feel very sad to not be in my Grace Life Training class, losing the community I had with my classmates. And I am still tired from camp because I have not taken any time off yet. All of that combines to make a bigger fight than I can handle and a louder roar than I can silence.

And yet the hymn “In Christ Alone” continues to call me to hope. His love and life are firm through the fiercest drought and storm. He has won victory and freed me from the grasp of sins curse. And as the places that I seek to find life and hope fail to bring me those, I am reminded and encouraged that I am to find those things in Christ alone. He knows my weakness and does not despise me for it, but accepts and loves me in it and is working to redeem it for His glory and purposes.

In some ways, this post feels like a Psalm. Often the Psalmist will spend a bunch of verses crying out, struggling, but usually in the middle or by the end, he orients himself to what is true about God and God’s character. Praise God that He and His truth are unchanging!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New blog for your perusal

One of the reasons I began JITM was to talk some about what's going on here in Glenwood. Some of my neighbors here who go to my church have some wonderful thoughts on life and ministry here, and so there is now a Glenwood community blog which we can all post on. It is a little more focused on life here and the questions and problems that arise. You can check it out at

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Obedient? It's who you are

Note: My good friends Alex and Macon and I have been talking about what is the proper motivation for obedience. Before reading my response, it might be helpful to read their thoughts. Alex's can be found at (look for the four posts on obedience), and Macon's can be found at on the Wed., May 31 post "Whither Gratitude?")

What is the proper motivation for obedience? Is it gratitude? Faith in future grace? Both? Or are we asking the wrong question?

As I hear us talking about a motivator for obedience, it sounds like we are giving ourselves a lot of credit and lot of responsibility. I believe that obedience as it is being discussed here is a secondary choice that can be accomplished in the flesh, and it is not the primary choice. (*Note: When I say “accomplished in the flesh” I am defining flesh as any way that we meet our needs or live our lives apart from God. Our obedience from God can be accomplished on our own effort, not in dependence on Christ, and all that we do of our own strength will be judged and revealed for what it is. See 1 Cor. 3:10-15. A non-Christian can be obedient and follow Godly principles.)

When presented with a problem/temptation, we tend to see it as, “Hmm, should I take my kid’s last piece of candy while they sleep and hope they forget about it in the morning or should I not?” In this discussion, our current options for obedience would be to leave the candy for our child, and we would use our chosen motivators to obey. On one hand, we could say, “Jesus, thank you so much for loving me before I even knew you. Thank you for your love for me, and now I respond to that love in obedience.” On another hand we could say, “Jesus, thank you so much for the hope that I have in you. I believe that by dying to my desire for candy, there will be a provision of future grace in some way for me as a result of that choice, and now I obey in that hope.” Or we could combine the two and say, "Lord, thank you for loving me and saving me from sin. Because of that love you showed me, I trust that you will continue to be good to me as I obey you now and in the future."

But the ultimate issue at that point is not whether or not I choose to obey. It is whether or not I choose to abide and trust Christ as my life. If I am abiding in Christ, believing Him to be my life, then I will obey. Every time. Without fail. Period.

Now, before you think I have gone Gary Birdsong on you and am preaching sinless perfection, let me assure you that I am not. I do not obey perfectly; I certainly sin. But my sin has very little to do with whether I make the right choice or whether I had a good enough motivator, and has everything to do with what I believe about my identity in Christ and how seriously I take verses like Galatians 2:20 (I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. This life I live in the body I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me) and 2 Corinthians 5:17 (if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation, the old has gone and the new has come). To choose sin is to act inconsistently with my nature in Christ and is to choose to believe a lie that there is something in this world that can give me the life that only Jesus has. And I already possess that life of Christ in me. (Note: These are only two of the verse that I could cite about the Believers identity in Christ and participation in His life now; see also Romans 6:1-13, which speaks of our death, burial and resurrection with Christ; 2 Cor 4:10-12; Colissians 3:1-14).

Alex referenced my love for 2 Corinthians 5:14, which begins, “For Christ’s love compels us.” I certainly love hearing and teaching that verse from a gratitude perspective, remembering the love of Jesus and letting that lead me to respond in loving obedience. But perhaps we could read that verse even more literally, remembering that the very life of Christ is in us. Christ’s love literally does compel us, because He is in me and I am in Him. His love is now my love. I am loving because Christ in me is loving.

The book of Ephesians is a wonderful presentation of the Gospel and all that we have in Christ, and Paul spends the first three chapters reminding us of the Good News, the love of the Father through the Son. And then in chapter four he begins calling Believers to live in response to that good news, aka obedience. This could seem a lot like a motivation of gratitude, but in chapter 5, verses 8 and 9 he says, “For you once were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord – live as children of light.” Paul calls us to obedience from our identity – light should not behave as darkness. It is hypocritical and inconsistent with our nature. We are light in the Lord, so live that way.

For years the verse “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15) motivated me to seek holiness because I needed to measure up to God’s standard (who ever could do that?). But in Christ, it is no longer a command to be followed but a reality to be expressed. Jesus is Holy. Jesus is in me. Therefore, I can BE/LIVE holy, as He in me is holy. (Many thanks to Shawn Morrison for showing me this a couple years ago)

So if we are new in Christ and holy in Christ, why do we still sin as Believers? The reason is that for years we have learned to meet our own needs in independence from God’s life, even when we have known Christ. We have not realized and believed that Christ is our life and that He will supply all of our needs, according to His riches in glory. And so we think that obedience is up to us, just like the rest of our lives, and this is a form of independence from Christ, not trusting in Him and abiding in Him as life. We, in a sense, have daily the same choice that Adam and Eve had way back in the garden – we can eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and try to motivate ourselves to obedience, or we can eat from the tree of life, Jesus Christ, and allow His life to be ours which will lead us to obey.

Alex cited Galatians 5:19-21, a long list of sins that could keep us from the kingdom. Paul has a similar list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, listing sins that keep the wicked from inheriting the kingdom. But then in verse 11 he says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. " Their identity had changed.

Obedience flows from identity and exposing lies with truth. I don’t have to live like the wicked anymore because that is no longer who I am. So, going back to the candy analogy, the Believer’s response is, “Lord Jesus, I know that your life is in me, and I trust you to live through me as I yield my will to yours. I trust that you alone have the life that I long for, and so I ask that your obedience be mine as I depend on you for all things.”

There was only One who was obedient, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was obedient on our behalf so that we could have access to His perfect obedience at any time, if we would but ask and believe.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I read The Prayer of Jabez

So on a friend’s blog there has been some conversation about how we can best be critical of the Christian subculture (calling out bad teaching/practices, etc) without condemning those who are learning from and seeking the Lord through those. One of the comment-ers has a great word – snarky – for comments that are kind of cutting or humorous, and I have found that over the years I have certainly made my share of snarky comments. One of the Christian subculture items that has received more than its fair share of snarks from me is the book The Prayer of Jabez. Not surprisingly, I had never read this book that I was criticizing, but mainly I was just railing on the idea that people were believing that a magic prayer from the Bible could unlock heaven’s blessing. I had heard how people were using the book to try and get blessings from God that didn’t seem to flow to others, and so I dismissed it (and I also had great fun mocking all of the Prayer of Jabez merchandise that was available, from neckties to a version for teens to a cross plaque with the prayer on it to a DVD to a prayer guide to a journal to a Bible cover… but I digress).

So something to effect of, “let he who is without snark snub the first book” came to mind, and so I decided I would read the copy of The Prayer of Jabez sitting on my shelf (sent to me by a church that supports me in ministry). It didn’t take an hour to speed read it, and as I did, I was really encouraged by what it was teaching me. I didn’t find a call to grab blessings for selfish gain. I found a call to pray big prayers, to ask our Father for good things so that we might bless others. I found a call to surrender our hopes and ideas of blessing to what He would choose to give us. I found a call to desire greater things of God through my life and ministry and the call to surrender my time and my talents for the kingdom. I was called to trust God and to find joy in being in over my head, as that would lead me to a place of needing Him. I was called to trust God to keep me from evil and to ask Him to protect me and my character and walk with Him.

Sure, there were a coupe places where I was tempted to get snarky, but mostly those were from thoughts that said, “Someone could read this and think that the author means ______.” But I am convinced that the author’s heart is for God to be glorified and magnified in his life. In short, I am glad that I read it. I know that all the things I have mocked in the past will not be that good, but I also now know not to reject every “it” thing in the Christian subculture before giving it a look.