Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The power of consistency

"I bet you didn't think about me during break," said Princess to her tutor this week. Several times. Her tutor, John, is one of our adult volunteers at our church. He said himself that he would be an unlikely candidate to be a tutor, especially to be paired with one of our hardest fifth grade girls. But John decided to open himself to God's leading, step into an uncomfortable place, and see how he might be used. He is a quiet, unassuming man, and runs an extremely successful business here. Princess is loud, angry, and has had a fairly unstable life. Put them together and you have... two changed hearts.

Each time that Princess told John that he didn't think of her, he assured her that yes, he had thought of her often during break, and she proceeded to work hard, focused on her work. This is not the norm for her, and I think the fact that John came back this semester, willing to work with her and love her, spoke volumes to her heart. Here is a man, a good man, who came back again and who didn't forget her. A picture to Princess, and to me and John, of the loving God who finds us just as we are, loves us, and doesn't forget about us.

Like water on parched ground

So we're back in the swing of things at tutoring, this week being our first for the spring semester. I have been absolutely amazed at how smoothly things have run, and how the kids seem to be transforming right before our eyes. I go upstairs to our 3-5 grade classrooms and can't believe the calm up there. Some of this change is due to the amazing organizational work of Regina Clark and Melissa Lewkowicz, two friends who have been diligently making our program better and better. Some of this change is due to empowering and equipping "Room Mom's" for each classroom who answer questions and keep kids on task, and serve as a resource for the tutors. Some of this is due to the growing number of adults from our church who are serving as volunteers (see photo at right) and the fact that every child is now one-on-one with a tutor.

And I think undergirding all of this is that we have finally vocalized the vision for the program, which states that relationships are just as important to us as academics. This has freed our tutors to do what they really want to do, which is love the kids. Rather than worrying about whether they are getting all their work done or if they are getting the right answer, our tutors are focused on building trust and encouraging the children, which is then moving the kids towards academic success.

During our orientation meeting last weekend, I asked the tutors to do three things during the academic portion of our time: encourage constantly, discipline with purpose, and empower the children to learn more. I think that the encourage constantly piece is undergirding each of the other two, and as Regina said, the words of kindness that our kids are hearing is like water falling on parched ground. That these children would sit and quietly listen while my friend Bob read them a story is unheard of for us, and I think it is because they believe that they are loved and the words of kindness are soaking in.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Broad Themes from Luke

This morning I read the gospel of Luke in one sitting, which is unusual for me (I usually read small chunks of Scripture at a time). I usually just read a few verses of a book, think about them a lot, analyze them, and then come back the next day for a few more. But I had plenty of time this morning on a day away for prayer and planning, so I just kept reading and was looking for overarching themes rather than specific things to apply. Here are some things that really jumped out to me (this is the first of 3):

Theme # 1 – Authority: Jesus speaks a great deal about authority. When He sends out His disciples, He gives them authority to heal and cast out demons. When He sends out the 72, He again gives them authority, yet when they come back celebrating that this authority actually worked, He urged them to celebrate not their authority but their salvation. When Jesus teaches, people are amazed at what He says, and one of the comments that they often make is that He teaches as one who has authority. In short, His words carry authority, and I was struck by how little I live in that reality. I think I speak the words of Jesus hopefully, timidly, knowing that they have power for me but maybe not for you. Yet Jesus is THE authority in the world, the author of life and faith. When He speaks, it happens. When I speak the words of Jesus, they are words of authority, not for me to manipulate or use to get what I want, but they do have power to transform.

The story of the centurion who tells Jesus not to come to his house, but rather just to speak the word and his servant would be healed was another story of authority. The centurion recognized how authority works – the one in power speaks and those under him obey. He also recognized that Jesus had authority which all things must obey.

The 12 had great faith in the authority given to them by Jesus. Once, when they had been rejected by a Samaritan village, they asked Jesus if He wanted them to call down fire from heaven on the people. They had seen that when Jesus gave them authority to heal and cast out demons, it had actually worked, and so they saw no reason that they could also have authority over nature, too. Of course Jesus rebuked them (their desire for discipline was shadowed by an anti-Samaritan sentiment, I think), but to it was striking that they believed enough to even ask.

I noticed also that Jesus was willing to be under authority – God had put all things under Him, and Jesus did not have to submit to any man at any time. A crowd had once driven Jesus to the edge of a cliff in order to throw Him off, but He simply walked right through them and went on His way. But when the time came for Him to die, Jesus submitted to the authority of the Father, saying, “Not my will but yours.”

I wonder what it would look like for me to walk more in the authority of God. To believe that the words that I speak have power when I am being led by the Spirit. How would I minister and live differently if I believed that not only had I been given authority, but that Jesus still had authority in our world? Intellectually I believe and know that, but I don’t always live that way practically.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Work of Remembering

Earlier this week Diane and I met with Jenny and Dayna, two GUPY’s who decided to stay in Greensboro after their summer time here was through (Dayna has been here four years, Jenny since this past August). The idea behind the time was for Diane and I to encourage these young women in continuing to seek God’s heart for Glenwood and to see how they were doing living in our neighborhood. As we shared how we were doing, each of us seemed to be feeling a sense of hopelessness, and we felt like we were either just going through the motions or feeling angry. Our desire was to live transformational lives here, but when hope gets eroded, that is hard to do. The inability of the police to shut down two prominent drug and prostitution houses on our corner, the continuing cycle of brokenness in the lives of several of the women that Diane and I have gotten to know over the years, feelings of being uncomfortable and not entirely safe – all of these left us in an icky place. And because I knew that I had not responded to my struggles with prayer, I asked the others if they had, and the answer was a unanimous “No.”

The Lord brought to mind a Psalm that I had looked at briefly with my IV colleagues at our December staff conference, and so I had us look at Psalm 13, a very short Psalm but very appropriate.

PS 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

PS 13:2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and every day have sorrow in my heart?

How long will my enemy triumph over me?

PS 13:3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

PS 13:4 my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"

and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

PS 13:5 But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

PS 13:6 I will sing to the LORD,

for he has been good to me.

As we looked these words, we talked about how there were three movements in this Psalm. Verses 1-2 are just straight up despair, wondering if the Lord was even present, wondering how long things would be the way that they were, and on this particular night, that was where most of us were. Verses 3-4 are a prayer, asking God to do something about the things that are going on, and we realized that we were mostly stuck in verses 1-2 and not moving into the prayer of verses 3-4.

But how do you get moving again and get unstuck? God graciously provides a hint in verses 5-6. The work of remembering unsticks us and moves us to a place where we can pray and ask God to do something about the things that seem overwhelming. We remember that God has been good to us. We remember that His love is unfailing. We remember the salvation that He has given us. And so we trust and ask Him to look on us and to answer. God hasn’t forgotten us – His love is unfailing. And furthermore, His love for the broken around us is unfailing. We can look on them with Christ-healed eyes, believing that God has won salvation for them, that they, too, can rejoice in God’s goodness to them, if they would just believe that the needs that they fill with anything but Jesus can be met by Him alone (and that He longs to do that for them). God’s love is and has been unfailing, He has been good to me, and so I will sing and rejoice and believe that transformation will come as we seek Him in prayer, asking Him to work a miracle on Silver Avenue.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First Visit to the Dean Dome

This Saturday, Diane and I took Eliza to her first UNC basketball game at the Dean Dome (versus NC State), thanks to tickets from Aunt Julie, who is an EMT with the South Orange Rescue Squad. My day started with a special breakfast at McDonalds with Psalter, since she wasn't coming on the trip with us.

Then it was on to Chapel Hill. For me, it was a chance to further the indoctrination of Carolina in my oldest child, and so we parked on Rosemary Street to walk the mile or so down through campus to the game, rather than parking closer. I am still enamored with Carolina and provided a running commentary to Eliza of the different buildings and memories there, as she skipped and basically humored me by saying, "Uh-huh." We went to the Student Stores, and she got to pick out a "Carolina pink" t-shirt (which she promptly put on) and then we continued through campus, past the football stadium and down towards the Dean Dome, where we met my sister Carly, who is a freshman at UNC. We dropped Jacob with her to spend a couple hours in Craig Dorm, and then hustled down the hill to the game.

It was close to tip-off, which I hate to miss, so the end of our trip involved me running up the Dean Dome steps with Eliza on my back. We entered the arena just as the Heels were being introduced, and needless to say it was loud and a bit overwhelming to Eliza, but she hung in there, and by the five-minute mark of the first half was coloring away in her seat!

By halftime she was ready to go home, but luckily her friend River was at the game, too, and had an extra seat in her row, so Eliza spent the second half with River and her parents.

The game was a rout, which in some ways is not quite as fun, and then was the long walk uphill back to the car. Needless to say, all of us were absolutely zonked - Diane fell asleep at 8:30, I was out by 10 and Eliza slept until 8:00 this morning.
Going to a game carting a 1-yr-old and a 4-yr-old is not as easy as going alone, but it was worth it to have this first experience at a Carolina game with Eliza. Here's to many more!

Sunday, January 06, 2008


Each morning at my church, our staff team has “house time” where someone shares a short devotional thought that we discuss and then we close in prayer. Last week our Lead Pastor shared this article, which talked about how certainty in faith can be hard to come by, but rather than certainty, confidence in Christ may actually be what we should seek.

I resonated with this, and I went back to my office struck by the contrast between certainty and confidence and began to think about why that contrast seemed so sharp. To help me, I did a word search in the New Testament on confidence and certainty, just to see how and when they were used. As I read, it seemed to me that confidence is a more relational way of trusting and knowing, whereas certainty felt more antiseptic and head-oriented. A scientist can be certain that a formula yields a particular result, but they can only be confident that a friend truly loves them. Confidence gives room for wiggle and seems to give room for warmth. Interestingly, it gives room for failure, too, because it’s not 100% certain. If I tell one of my tutoring kids that I am confident that they can do it, it means that I believe in them, that I know their abilities, and I trust them. To be certain requires little trust or relationship, it’s just a fact. In matters of faith, certainty seems to put the burden on me – if I have really checked my facts, brought my head into complete alignment and intellectual satisfaction, only then can I be certain. But confidence puts the weight on the Lord and my relationship with Him. I am not certain about a lot of things with God and never will be, but I am confident in Him and in my relationship with Him.

The New Testament writers preferred confidence to certainty when expressing our relationship to God and our ability to depend on Him. We are encouraged to approach the throne of God with freedom and confidence; we are confident that He who began a good work will bring it to completion; we can approach God with confidence; we can enter His presence with confidence; we can say with confidence that He is my helper; we have confidence that we will receive from Him. All of these were from Scripture. The only “certain” verse in the epistles was in Hebrews 11 which describes faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

When I hear the word certainty, I think of my head. When I think of confidence, I imagine my heart and soul. I try and wrap my mind around certainty, but confidence is a core, relationally-anchored knowing. God is too big, to amazing, to mysterious for me to box Him into certainty in all areas of life. But God is my Father, my Savior, and my friend, which allows me deep confidence to trust Him in the mess and joys of everyday life.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Refreshed by blogs

I was dreading opening my google reader because I had not checked it in over a week, and when you subscribe to as many blogs as I do, new posts pile up. I figured it would be over 100, and sure enough it was 128. But because I had time, I began to read through the new posts, and I was so refreshed when I was done. Posts about babies' first Christmas, posts about loving the poor, posts about celebrating Christ, posts about family, posts about New Years, posts about sports and politics. I was able to catch up with friends, get new insight into my wife's thinking and heart, and see pictures of lots of people who are important to me. Not a bad way to spend an hour on a Saturday.