Thursday, December 31, 2009

But I'm Not Done with Christmas Yet!

It’s been kind of sad to me that at least two people have told me that they were glad Christmas was over. In some ways I can understand what they mean – it can be a very busy and stressful time (probably not the type of celebration the Lord had in mind), and after months of hype, it can seem like Christmas will never just hurry up and get here and stop cluttering up our schedules.

But why do we stop saying, “Merry Christmas” after December 25th? Why do the Christmas music radio stations yank the Christmas songs at midnight on the 25th and everyone rush to plan their New Years Rockin’ Eve? It seems to me that December 25th marks the beginning of a season of celebration, a season of rejoicing that our King has come, not the end. Christmas day should be merely the start of the party. My friend David has “Joy to the World” as his ring tone all year long because Jesus’ coming is joyous news both in December and in July.

Isaiah 9 tells us that unto us a child is born, to us a son has been given, and He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. If you are confused, He is the counselor. Weak? He is the Mighty God. Alone? He is the Father who has brought you into His family. Anxious? He is the Prince of Peace. The Lord of light and life has come, humble and weak, yet possessing the very life of God that He will one day give to us, and I think we turn off our celebratory lights way too soon.

I am not sure we know how to celebrate well in our culture. We love events, but as soon as one is over, we dash off to the next one, relishing in the build-up and the hype so much that the event itself never delivers, leaving us empty and moving on to the hope that the next party might do the trick. (Are the heart-shaped boxes of candy on display in Wal-mart yet, because there are only 45 shopping days left until Valentines Day?)

Will you join me in lingering over the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us? Joy to the world, let earth receive her king, this day and every day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Foiled Again!

I have tried and tried to keep my kids from the commericalization of Christmas, but I have been foiled again! Here is a recent exchange between Eliza and her babysitter, Anna:

Anna: Eliza, what do you want for Christmas?
Eliza: Well, I used to want peace and love, but now I just want a coloring book.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

It is what it is and that's OK

God is doing a new thing in my heart regarding our Wednesday Community Fellowship dinners at Grace. Each week over 150 guests (most of them homeless) come for dinner and a message of hope, and this is one of the ministries that I am responsible for in my role as Director of Outreach. I came in with high expectations of myself – I was going to cast vision and usher in transformation, taking this ministry to the “next level,” which in my mind meant fixing/saving our guests. The less that transformation happened, the more frustrated I became, feeling like I was failing and not knowing how to make things better. And so the dinner stopped being a simple act of kindness, a meal of hope. The dinner stopped being for me an opportunity to fellowship with friends that I have grown to know and love.

But lately I am letting go with expectations for change. I do deeply desire that my friends find work, find shelter, find healing and hope. I want to see their lives look different. But I cannot make that happen, and right now I am not receiving clear direction from the Lord on doing much differently on Wednesday nights. What God has been leading me to do seems so simple – have a couple of worship songs each week (and God provided someone to do that); involve guests more in the dinner (so we are having a guest pray each night for the meal and will soon do another testimony night in place of the message; give the guests a chance to pray over some of the requests we receive each week; pray with our church staff team each week for the prayer requests that come in. I am letting go of trying to fix and simply being available to love and enjoy our community.

That sounds really simple, and it sounds like I am not “doing anything.” But I think that this is the ministry God is giving us at Grace right now. Maybe everyone else who serves at WCF understood this already. But it’s taken me a while to see that it is what it is, and that’s OK.

Good news from the GUPY's

As I continue to keep up with graduated GUPY’s, one of the things that excites me most, even more than their work for the Lord amongst the poor, is how many of them are continuing to grow in understanding the depths of grace and the gospel. They continue to wrestle with the inconceivable wonder of grace, the freedom that the Lord gives us from sin and its power over us. They continue to stretch their souls to truly receive all the love that the Lord has for them.
Here are some quotes from three GUPY's blogs:

it just continues to strike me how we as humans continue to try and earn our salvation through works or words or ritual. Our forgiveness has been accomplished already. Christ said "It is finished," so why don't we believe him?

I will always cling to the hope that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Gal. 5:1). This is no excuse to sin, of course, but it is an excuse to live by the Spirit, free from the law that I cannot fulfill on my own. That is why Christ came, to be the sin offering for me, so that the barriers are now broken a friendship with God is possible. I will continue to look to Old Testament laws as good moral guidelines, but I know that the Lord calls me to more than just following the rules. He calls me to a life led by the Spirit, a life that is dead to sin and former ways and is alive...fully alive in the confidence and hope of Jesus. He doesn't want me any other way.

God sees through all of my junk & pride. ALL of it. Yet, His decision to love me never waivers (*absurd!*). He gently provides a dose of rebuke, a lathering of forgiveness, and the empowerment to change.
These days He’s trying to teach me that there’s no need to waste my time putting a PR “spin” on my sin and failure or covering it up with cute suits and church event attendance or respectable titles and empty words. And He’s using His unconditional love to break down the facades, take off the layers of my ish, and slowly reveal the daughter with humility and character I was meant to be– not the fraudulent one attempting to run fig leaves through a sewing machine.
It feels so icky to my sin in its depths, but I am genuinely thankful that Jesus doesn’t want to leave me this way.

I believe that this work of God in these young men and women will bear fruit for a lifetime, leading them to love others and to give the good news of the gospel away to so many who need to hear it, including people in their own churches!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Notes From My Advent Journey

God got me thinking about advent well before Thanksgiving, which is a blessing because I usually think about advent about halfway through and then I sort of feel it’s too late and say. “We’ll get ‘em next year.” (That happens to me during Lent, as well) To aid my advent journey, God also provided me with two companions for my advent journey, two books actually: Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross, and Stations of the Crib by Joe Nassal. Living the Christian Year was a gift from IV Press (one of the perks of still being on IV staff), while Stations of the Crib was a delightful, random find at St. Francis Springs retreat center.

I would highly recommend both of them, for different reasons. Living the Christian Year gives you plenty of Scriptural food for thought, offering 6 different Scriptures each week of advent, and a short meditation on each Scripture. For example, this week’s focus was on lamenting the brokenness of the world, and I have found my heart crying out over the darkness all around, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus,” echoing the haunting cry of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Stations of the Crib is a powerfully-written call to hope consisting of 15 meditations on the birth of Christ. The writing is simple, beautiful, and it speaks directly to the heart. I have been particularly struck by three meditations: a call to be silent and ponder Christ’s coming, written in response to Zechariah’s forced silence before John’s birth; a call to be hopeful not just for the future, but hopeful for the past, knowing that while we cannot undo our past, Christ’s grace and mercy enables us to see it with hopeful eyes; and a call to let Jesus interrupt the hurry of life, to get in our way and force us to deal with the presence of this holy one who has come.

In some ways I feel pressure to have an “aha” experience, to be able to write down “Advent 2009 was about FILL IN THE BLANK.” But this morning the Lord reminded me that advent is about creating space for Him to fill our soul more and more fully, to birth something new that might not be immediately seen or understood, yet would be present and real all the same. And so I will continue to wait.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fullness of Joy

Last week I had the chance to preach at our church, and the topic given to me was “joy,” going with an advent theme. Hoenstly, I was surprised at what came out (though I shouldn’t have been, as most of my GUPY’s would tell you that I only have one sermon that I preach – Christ in you, the hope of glory). My take home truth (sermon-class talk for "main point") is that if we truly knew that Jesus came to give us more than forgiveness, that He came to give us life, we would live lives of joy-fueled obedience. If you’d like to listen to it (it’s not long), click here and download it to your favorite PC/Mac/iPod. Below is my closing (I was preaching out of 1 Peter 3:3-9; 13-15):

In the first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, Jed, Granny, Jethro and Ellie Mae pull up to their new home and go inside. Their mouths hang open as they stand in the foyer and look at the chandelier and the spiral staircase. Granny tells Jethro to bring her iron cook stove in from the truck and asks Ellie Mae to gather wood so that she can cook supper, despite being told that there is a brand new stove for her to use in the kitchen. When she sees the kitchen oven, she sets to work building a fire inside it. Jethro comes down from the upstairs and says, “There’s a whole other house up here, Uncle Jed,” to which Jed replies, “Git down from there – like as not that belongs to someone else.”

If only they'd known that they had a stove that would cook without a fire. If only they'd known that the whole house belonged to them, not just the downstairs.

And while we laugh at the Hillbillies, we are so often the same way with our salvation. We are amazed at the forgiveness of Jesus, as we should be, but we never begin to explore the fullness of the life that He has given us. We try to apply our old way of doing things to the new life that He has given and it just doesn’t work. We doubt that all that God says about His love for us and His work in us could possibly be true. And so we stay in the foyer of faith, missing out on the fullness of joy.

Could this Christmas season be the time where you discover afresh the joy of Jesus Christ? Will you fix our eyes upon Jesus? Will you prepare your mind for action, looking at all you have been given in Christ, and will you respond with a loving obedience, fueled by joy, that our lives might be consistent with the life of Christ in us.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lights on Silver Avenue

It’s no secret that I love Christmas, pretty much everything about it. I especially love the lights that people put up, and my wife has done such a wonderful job of putting simple, beautiful lights on our home.

But as I drove home the other night, seeing my house made me realize that there aren’t many Christmas lights on Silver Avenue. I don’t think it’s because people are “too poor” to put up lights, though some are. But I think it speaks to the lack of ownership that people have on my street and in my neighborhood. College students just passing through and renters just finding the least expensive place to stay. I remember when I was a renter, I didn’t do much of anything to decorate the outside of my home; we just put up a tree and some decorations inside. But as an owner it’s different for some reason.

I wish there were more lights on Silver.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grace in the moment

In a recent sermon, I told a nice story about a time where I was arriving home from work exhausted, and I remembered to pray to the Lord, asking Him to be my life and to love my family through me. It was a nice analogy of holiness working its way from the inside out, and it happened to illustrate what happens when we remember on the front-side to depend on Jesus.
But often times the rubber meets the road for me when I am in the midst of an independence streak and I realize the fruitlessness of my actions. At that moment, when I realize that I am failing the Lord and others, I tend to just press on in my funk, reasoning that since I didn’t get it right from the beginning, it’s too late to start now.

Yet isn’t that where faith and grace really kick in, when we’ve already taken the wrong turn, made the wrong choice? When I’ve already overly-fussed at my son for pooping in his bed and decided internally to have a grumpy morning from that point on? When I’ve already decided that I am too tired and frustrated to try depending on Jesus so I am just going to handle things my way, no matter how bad they get? Those are the very moments where, despite the enemy’s whispers to run, my call is to stand and remember. I have been given new birth into a living hope, and that truth is good all the time and is not dependent on my past five minutes of behavior. It is dependent on Jesus Christ and the loving grace of our Father, who takes the time to interrupt my independence and offer me life.

I think that for most of us, we swing and miss the first time through. But our identity has not changed, and God is calling us to surrender our way, surrender our guilt, surrender the thought that we’ll just get it right the next time, that we might see Jesus meet us in that very moment, giving us, as Peter wrote, “everything we need for life and godliness.” Amen and Amen!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Music Suggestions

Need some new music to get your Christmas spirit goin’? Let me be your guide. First, my top three Christmas albums:
1) Joy by Bebo Norman, Ed Cash, and Allen Levi
2) Behold the Lamb: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ by Andrew Peterson
3) The Silent Stars by Alli Rogers

The first two have been on my list for years and would be a welcome addition to any musical library, but I have to say that Alli’s record is getting pretty much constant play on my iPod right now. She has written some amazing original songs, and has redone a few Christmas hymns. Her voice is very soothing and it’s a worshipful, relaxing Christmas CD. Check it out on iTunes.

Also, if you are strapped for cash, go to and check out free music by lots of great artists. My favorite free Christmas finds there are the offerings from Justin McRoberts , JJ Heller, and So Elated (and Justin’s “Deconstruction” CD is amazing, too).
You can also go to this site for a free holiday download featuring one of my favorite artists that I found on noisetrade, Katie Herzig. I have liked all of the songs on the CD.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm - Refocus

Many well-meaning Christians have begun to wage a war against “the war on Christmas,” urging us to boycott stores like Old Navy because they say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” If Old Navy employees said “Merry Christmas”, though, would it infuse hearts with Jesus? Would He receive glory from the sale of yet another sweater sewn by poor hands? It’s doubtful.

The greatest way that we can resist the storm of Christmas commercialism is to set our hearts and minds on Jesus. It’s one thing to say that Jesus is the reason for the season; it’s another to seek Him with earnestness and conviction in the coming weeks, getting to know His heart and His ways beyond the story of His birth that we are celebrating.

Instead of lamenting the loss of Christ in Christmas at the mall, our time and mental energy could be better spent thinking on all that was given to us in Christ. Our time and physical energy could be better spent giving generously to those who cannot repay us, just as God gave His life to a world that could never repay Him. Our time and emotional energy could be better spent praising the Author of Life rather than reviling those who ride the cultural wave each December trying to make a buck.

There was a lot to pay attention to during the days of Jesus’ birth and early years. Shepherds came stumbling into the stable late at night, smelly outcasts rejoicing over a tiny baby. A jealous and evil king destroyed all of the Jewish boys ages two and under. Wise men came from far away lands to give ludicrously expensive gifts. An old man and an ancient woman in the temple of God broke out in prophecy and praise of God when Jesus was carried into the room by His parents.

And Luke tells us that Mary looked at all those things, all the commotion, and treasured them and pondered them in her heart.

Perhaps resisting the storm is built on quiet pondering and on treasuring, not being engulfed by the hubbub all around (or railing against it), being consumed with the One who has sparked all the commotion.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm, A Word About Budgets

Budgets can be restrictive or they can be freeing. We can celebrate our decision to willingly limit what we spend in order to give more away, or we can labor under a false law that says in order to really be a Christian we have to deny ourselves stuff. We can see budgets as keeping us from getting what we want, or we can see them as protection and freedom from the byproducts of overindulgence. And they can be a product of grace and love, as ask Christ to help us allocate well what He has entrusted to us. Paul urges the Corinthian church to excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7). Giving is by grace, and a budget empowered by grace enables us to excel in the grace of giving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm, Part 2

I also have to fight the notion that loving my kids equals getting them stuff. I love to bless my kids, but I have to redefine what "blessing them" is. Some friends of mine have already thought through a version of this question when it comes to school choices – one segment of the Christian culture would say if you love your kids and want to bless them, send them to private Christian school or at least the best, more homogenous public school (which certainly is one definition of “best”). But my friends have redefined what “best” means in that they want their daughter to have friends of all races and economic backgrounds and that they want her to learn to love the Lost as a part of everyday life, so they send her to a very diverse public school.

Diane and I are just doing that same redefiinf work in the area of Christmas spending. And, because our kids are young, we have the chance now to shape what Christmas looks like in terms of presents and in terms of giving, because they don’t have years of gifts to stoke their expectations. Now, coming from a big family, our kids will get presents from their grandparents to add to their mounds of stuff that they already have, and I even try to ask my family to scale back what they give us.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Steps to Resisting the Storm, Part 1

So how to we take active steps to resist the coming storm of Christmas commercialism? When I was at the CCDA Conference in Cincinnati, Jim Wallis of Sojourners said, “Budgets are moral documents. How we spend/allocate our money shows what we really value.” He was speaking in terms of government spending, but this is also true of our own budgets. Jesus said that where our treasure is, there will our heart be, and so how we allocate the money God gives us reflects our values.

The way that Diane and I set boundaries for how much to spend at Christmas is the same way that we set boundaries for what we spend every other month of the year - our budget. Month to month, we set aside what God has led us to give first, and then we figure out how to live off of the rest. For Christmas, we limit what we budget for gifts, and then we stick to what we have set aside. I recognize that many of you have budgets for Christmas, and the way that our budget helps us resist the storm is that we set aside/budget a small amount. In order not to get caught up in craziness, Diane and I limit what we have available to spend.

When I think about my parents, sisters, and my own family, there is nothing at all that we need. Of course I always have a wish list of things that I want, but when I think about what I need, there’s nothing. That helps me spend less. I also have to fight the notion that gifts have to be large/expensive/multiple in order to be loving. I love to receive gifts (it’s my love language), and I love to give them – I almost want to unwrap the gift for the people I am giving it to because I love to give presents. But giving simple, yet thoughtful gifts, can be just as exciting. It can be more challenging to buy gifts with less money because you have to make decisions on what is really important to those people, and you buy less things on impulse and instead buy them with care and forethought.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Whack! Snap! Crack!

Today as I raked leaves in our backyard, Ben (the guy who walks all through our neighborhood and collects metal to recycle) approached with his shopping cart. We had recently cleaned out our basement garage and one thing sitting there was an old wicker crib, which had been mine as a baby and then had been Eliza’s. I had forgotten that the springs at the base of the crib (which supported the mattress) were made of metal, and so it surprised me when Ben began whaling on the crib with a hammer. Sure, we were throwing it out anyway, but something in me was sad to see this crib whacked apart, broken for scrap. Nothing really more to say or think or analogize. Just weird and sad to see my old crib being turned into scrap by one of my more interesting neighbors.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

There have already been rumbles on the horizon. It seems that they are heard earlier and earlier each year. And as November marches to a close, the storm will grow louder and more confusing, so its best to get ready now.

Will you be ready when every TV ad tells you that love equals expensive gifts? Will you be ready when shopping centers and malls sell you an experience that promises peace and joy but never delivers? Will you be ready to follow the wise men as they leave Bethlehem, going "another way"?

It becomes increasingly difficult in our culture to separate the noise and colors of the Christmas trappings from the true heart and meaning of what we are celebrating. That's why now is a great time, the best time, to prepare our hearts to stand against all that will be coming our way very soon. I figure if the stores can roll out the Christmas trees before Halloween, we can begin our advent preparation before Thanksgiving.

I long to live differently this Christmas, to begin to really teach my kids that Jesus is what Christmas is all about and to do that with more than just words. I long to give generously and meet the real needs of others, not to increase the clutter in my already full home. And I long to find more of Jesus when there is less under the tree. It gets really hard to do that as the season progresses.

Black Friday comes and tempts me to buy lower-priced electronics that I don't need. I want my children to be happy and when I see the things that their friends get, I want my kids to have all of those things, too. I have my own wish list as well, and I love to buy things for my wife that she would not usually get for herself. And then when you kick in the familiar Christmas songs that strike up images of shopping trips and presents with bows, before I know what is happening, I am using up the money in our Christmas present budget instaed of coming in well-below what we have set aside.

So I am starting now, preparing my heart for more of Jesus and less stuff. I am listening to a podcast from Imago Dei church in Portland, which has launched The Advent Conspiracy (click here for the podcast, which has Advent Conspiracy sermons from 2006, 2007, and 2008).

And I am praying that I will captured more by the wonder of Emmanuel, God with us, than by the craftiness of the advertisers who hope to make a buck off of my sentiment and my Savior. Will you join me in living differently this Christmas?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Living the "get to" life

Deuteronomy 6:20-25: In the future, when your son asks you, "What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?" tell him: "We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders--great and terrible--upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness."

Recently on the weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser, one of the personal trainers asked the contestants why they were participating in the show, and most gave a generic reply, "Because I want to get healthy." She replied, "That is not a goal or a motivation that is going to see you through. If you are going to turn down tasty, high-calorie foods and drinks, you have to have a more compelling reason than, 'To be healthy."

And so the contestants began to talk about their dreams: to break cycles of heart disease and obesity in their families; to see their children and grand-children grow up; to be married and have a family; to be confident in their appearance and to see themselves as beautiful. As their deeper motivations were revealed, their resolved was strengthened, and instead of saying, "Why do I have to turn down this fried food and this margarita," they instead said, "I am freely choosing to give this up in order to see a better thing come to pass."

Too often Christians seek to live a "good life" from motivations that will never sustain us. Fear of disappointing God, guilt over past mistakes, a desire to be liked by others - all of these motivations will eventually leave us dry and living under a system of rules designed to merely maintain life, rather than to push us to abundance in Christ.

Our mindset should not be "I have to follow God's rules." Instead, God's laws and instructions in Scripture guide us to the "get to life." We get to live in Christ, turning from the world and pressing toward the things of God. He has rescued us and recreated us in Christ to be His sons and daughters, our lives resonating with the life and voice of the Spirit. The "get to life" is a lasting motivation that frees us to embrace God's Kingdom growing within us, and it frees us to participate in building God's Kingdom in the world.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The good news and bad news about the kingdom

When Jesus says, "The Kingdom of God is here, repent and believe the good news," there were was implicit in His pronouncement that there was also a king in charge of said Kingdom. That can be good news or bad news, depending on the King and depending on our desire to be ruled.

First, the character of the king shapes the kingdom. If the king is good, just, kind, and governs his people with their good in mind, it's good news that there is a king. It can be freeing to know that there is someone in charge who has your best interests in mind and also has the power and authority to do what is best. But if the king is a tyrant, bent on getting his own way, leading by fear and eager to prove his king-ness by pressing his thumb down on the people, it's bad news that there is a king. It can be paralyzing to know that there is someone in charge who sees you merely as a disposable component in his Me-Machine.

The movie "300" (and the book "Gates of Fire" by Stephen Pressfield) come to mind, as there is a great contrast between two kings during the battle of Thermopylae - King Xerxes of Persia and King Leonidas of Sparta . Xerxes is bent on his own name and he magnifies his name by crushing those who oppose him, by feeding the senses of those who will bow to his whims, and he will stop at nothing to extend his kingdom. He sends waves and waves of soldiers, sacrificing thousands while he stays far away from the battle lines. He leads with whips and chains. Leonidas is bent on the name of his country, desiring that Sparta be known as a great nation and that its people remain free. He does not send his men to fight and die alone, but instead he goes and lives with them, leading them from the front lines, steeling their courage with his own. He leads with freedom and by example. As I raed "Gates of Fire" years ago, I couldn't help but see Jesus in King Leonidas. Jesus did not stay far off from His people during the battle, but instead came to lead by example, to show courage and compassion and to reveal the face of the king to his subjects, eventually laying His life down for the freedom of the people.

Second, our desire to be the king instead of the kingdom member can affect how we hear the good news of the Kingdom of God. If we are eager to rule our own lives, it is bad news that there is a king, because our place on the throne is being challenged. And all of us start out in this place of rebellion against God's kingdom, thinking ourselves the masters of our own universe, and the world around us reinforces and encourages this thinking, telling us that we deserve to be the king and to have life our own way. If we're not careful, we can live our whole lives in the shadow of this lie, and that includes people who have trusted Christ for salvation, because all Christians (me included) struggle with giving lip service to God as King while maintaining our own kingdoms.

But to all of us, God gives us the gift of brokenness, if we will receive it as such. The brokenness in our lives is meant to show us the truth that we are not in charge, that there is a king and it's not us. If we are humble, we will see our failures and struggles and the failures of those around us as signposts pointing to the only One who is good. Looking at our world today, we truly need a king who will rule with justice and kindness, with righteousness and integrity. And that King exists, if we would receive Him. Sadly, we too often prefer the way of Psalm 2:1-3, seeing God's reign as confining and as something to be thrown off, forfeiting the grace that could be ours.

There is a King and we are not it - this truly is good news.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What is the gospel?

This morning my friend Wes asked me, "What is the gospel?" My first answer was going to involve the life, death, and resurrection of Christ for the salvation of all people. But then he clarified by quoting a Scripture that talked about the good news (gospel) of the kingdom of God, and it jogged my memory. In recent weeks I have been reading a book about how to strategically help the poor and at the same time I have been studying the book of Mark. As I have read each of them, I have been struck by Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God, and how focused Jesus was on proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

In Mark, Jesus begins His preaching by saying, "The Kingdom of God is here - repent and believe the good news." It seems that Jesus equates the good news with God's Kingdom advancing on earth, not merely with salvation. The Good News that Jesus speaks of is that healing and justice are coming forth, that righteousness is being lived out between people and wrongs are being bent back right.

As Wes and I talked about this, we realized that salvation is often preached in churches as the end but perhaps it is better understood as a means to an end, and that End is the Kingdom of God. No one can enter the Kingdom of God apart from salvation in Christ, but once we are "in", then what? Does our story with God end with our knowing more and more fully how much we are loved and how fully we have been saved? Surely not. We are brought into the Kingdom of God because of His love for us, certainly, but there is a greater purpose. We are called to participate in Kingdom building, not merely by inviting people to salvation through Christ's forgiveness and life, but by living lives that reflect the heart of the King we serve. The church in the West has emphasized the need for each individual to enter the Kingdom, but that has come at the expense of proclaiming the broader mission and heart of God.

Perhaps we have so many Christians struggling to live out their faith because the object of end of their faith is too small. If the best that we can aim at is to be less sinful, to be more devoted in worship, to occasionally share the message of salvation, no wonder our reach seems so short. There is a work of magnificent scale occurring, a work of healing and justice, of freedom and transformation, and our salvation in Christ allows us to be free to participate in this Kingdom work for the glory of God.

How might we use this in sharing the good news? This is one stab at it: . In general, I like where he is going with this idea, though I think that this particular diagram too quickly glosses over our own brokenness and our own contribution to the brokenness of the world. But it does point us to a bigger mission, a great story, and invites us into the End we are created for, the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Exhorted to Run the Race

In recent weeks I have struggled with fear and discouragement in regard to our church's dinner for the community. Now, these struggles come as no surprise to those who know me or who read this blog. But what has surprised me is who God has raised up to urge me forward. Sure, there are the usual folks - good friends on staff at church, my wife, ministry partners. But God has also been speaking truth and hope to me from prophets that I didn't expect.

People like John, a man who had been regularly attending our dinners, and each week he would speak to me and encourage me on my message. I asked him to start coming early to pray over the sanctuary, and now he arrives over an hour early to help set up and to pray. Recently, when I was close to being overwhelmed with doubt and fear, I sat down to talk with him (not telling him my struggles), and he began to speaking to me about the goodness and power of God. He began to speaking about the power of God's Word to change hearts and lives and about the presence of the Spirit in our church on Wednesday nights. He told me that even those who are opposed to our ministry are brought each Wednesday by God, because He is trying to reach them and love them, too. And that night John closed our volunteer meeting with a prayer that almost made the floor of the sanctuary shake. He was mentoring me in trusting in the Word of God, of putting my hope in His power and goodness, and as he talked to me, his eyes danced with confidence in the Lord.

People like Cleveland, who I met a few days after his son died. He needed gas money to go to the funeral, which our church was able to help with. We sat and prayed together, and he came once or twice to a Bible study that I lead, and then I didn't see him again. Until a recent Sunday when he walked into my office and said, "Surprise." He told me that he has a steady job and that he is thankful to God every day. And he said, "You keep doing what you are doing. You are speaking the Word, and this church has a powerful ministry. You keep at it and God is going to move. God has big things in store."

Many folks in our church know Bonnie and the power of God in her life, and I have long respected her as a mentor in how to love the addicted and hurting. I was lamenting to her that I didn't think what we were doing on Wednesday was effective. Lives weren't changing left and right. People seemed stuck, and I wanted to just restart the whole thing or scrap what we had been doing. She told me that the regular preaching of God's Word was no small thing, and that if we stayed the course, He would move in His own time. Preaching the Word is not insignificant, and only God brings the harvest. Her simple, quiet words set me free from so much of the pressure I was putting on myself to be bigger, better, stronger.

Each of these members of my "great cloud of witnesses" knows the struggles of the streets and the power of God to change any and all things. And their encouragement and trust of God's work in me has helped me move forward in confidence. I've not been an addict or homeless; I don't know the way forward for most of the people who sit with us and eat each Wednesday night. But I know the Lord God, and I believe that His word is true, not just for me but for all. And I am committed to proclaiming it. They have helped me to see that this "simple" thing would be enough, and I know that we are in this work together.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Snag a copy of The Naked Gospel

I have mentioned the book The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church a couple of times in recent posts, and I wanted to let you know that you can get a free e-book version (and also a Kindle version, for thos of you who are that techno-savvy, available on until October 15th at Please check it out (you will probably want to buy a paperback version once you start reading the e-version), but check it out. It clearly describe the Believer's position in Christ, the great exchange that has already occurred, Christ in you, the hope of glory. It will really challenge your ideas about the life God intends for you as a Believer, and I believe it will bring great freedom to your soul.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Tired of schozophrenic worship

Who am I really in Christ? The Scriptures tell me that I have been recreated in Him, a new creation that is holy and righteous. The Scriptures tell me that I have been given life, and that I have been once and for all reconciled to God. They tell me that I am no longer a slave but a son, no longer unrighteous but righteous. But I get mixed messages on this from the Church.

Often during musical worship and in prayers and sermons I am told that I am an unworthy sinner, that I am a sinful man, that I have no business being anywhere near the Lord. In the same song tonight at a Christian conference there were lyrics calling me to raise my filthy hands and then calling me to raise my holy hands. Which is it - am I an unworthy sinner or a holy saint (and don't tell me it is both)?

Tonight I was told that in order to be forgiven, I have to confess my sins, citing 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." What about the sins that I didn't know I committed, the ones that I never confessed? Are those covered, too, or are they held over me, God tsk-tsking me until I remember to say that I am sorry? (For an excellent take on what I think the answer to this is, check out chapter 22 of The Naked Gospel).

When I took communion tonight, the focus was solely on the cross and on forgiveness for what I had done in the past. Has Jesus not paid for my future sins yet, or do they get paid for when I commit them and then confess them? When I confess sin in my life, is to activate God's forgiveness or is it to expose the lie that I have fallen for and bring myself back in line with Truth? Is communion just about the cross and the blood (represented by the cup), or is it also about Christ's body being given that we might have life (represented by the bread)?

Sometimes it seems that modern-day Christianity thinks that we cannot really worship God apart from thinking about how rotten we are, like seeing our sin adds to His glory. And tonight as I wrestled with feeling prideful for not wanting to focus on being a sinner, I wondered if focusing on my sin would be just as prideful. Either way it is about me, isn't it?

The cross and forgiveness were not the end of God's plan - they were the means to the ultimate end, which was God's purpose of restoring life to our sin-dead souls. Romans 5:10 says, "For if, when were God's enemies, we were reconciled [already done!] to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life." God is holy, righteous, and good, free from sin, and the gift of God to all who receive Christ is that we become holy, righteous, and good, free from the power and enslavement of sin. This doesn't mean that we don't ever sin - I'm too aware of my weaknesses and failures to say anything that absurd. But sin no longer defines me or my relationship to God, and I don't have to keep going back over my failings again and again to have a worshipful appreciation of what God has done for me Christ. I have been taken from death to life, from light to dark, from enemy to son and friend. This has already happened. When I sin, it is an aberration inconsistent with the work of God in me, and my job is not to focus on that sin but instead to remember Who God is, thereby learning who I have been recreated in Christ to be. Seeing God for who He is and recognizing that life in me leads me to worship.

It's as though the Church is afraid to really teach the good news of our new life in Christ, because we can't believe it is really that free, that good, that we could have that little to do with any of it. But it wearies me to be taken back and forth, from sinner to saint, unholy to holy. I am who I am all the time, regardless of my actions or experiences, and this not of myself, it is the gift of God. That does not make me want to sin more but rather exhorts me to live in a manner consistent with the life that is at work in me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sin at work in me

I am reading a book called The Naked Gospel: The Truth You May Never Hear in Church by Andrew Farley, and it has been amazing (I first got it free as an ebook and have now ordered it as a real book). I love any books that remind me of the exchanged life message, that remind me that my life is hidden in Christ, that remind me that I am not identified by my failures or successes but in Christ alone, and this one does it very well.

One thing that really stood out to me afresh was his development of Romans 7:14-20, in which Paul says that there is a foreign agent/power at work in me (and you) called sin, which is waging war against the life of Christ in us. This is different from a sin act or sinful things that we have done. And so Paul says, "Now if I do what I don't want to do, it is no longer I who do it, bt it is sin living in me that does it." Sin is in me, but it is not me. And so when thoughts and feelings come to mind that are contrary to the Lord's will, I usually feel like I have completely blown it, that I am destined to always fail and let the Lord down. The reason I feel this is that the thoughts and feelings sound and feel like me. For example, today during church I was thinking on the goodness of God's grace, the refreshment of the Gospel, and then out of nowhere came fearful thoughts about the guy from last Wed night, and then the shame of not trusting God as my refuge. I didn't want to have those thoughts. They just came, but they sounded like me - that was sin at work in me, trying to distract me from dependence on God and His love.

But Scripture is clear that I have died with Christ, and that I have been recreated with His life and His Spirit. And so I agree with Paul in Romans 7:20 that when I don't do the good that I want to do, it is not I but sin at work in me. And it is freeing to know that in my heart of hearts, in my truest place, I do not desire sin. My spirit agrees with Christ and loves all that is holy, right, and good. Because the temptations of sin sound and feel like they come from me, it sometimes feels like saying no to sin is saying no to myself. But as the author says, "As God's workmanship, our regenerated selves are not the problem. Sin is the problem, and our calling as new creations in Christ is to say no to sin and to say yes to who we really are."

So do I still sin? Of course. But I am realizing that the temptations and thoughts do not have to hold sway. They do not have to be obeyed or bowed down to. Instead, I can call them out for the lies that they are, no matter how real they feel, and I am free to live in my standing as a holy and righteous son of God, not based on my own works but on the life of Christ given to me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I Just Wanted to Preach It, Not Believe It!

Last week at our dinner for the community I preached on Psalm 46, which begins, "God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." That psalm had really been working in my heart that week as I had wrestled internally with questions of calling and direction, especially, "Be still and know that I am God."

As I preached, a woman who is a regular at the meal walked to the front and stood just below me, coughing a strange, disruptive cough. It wasn't a cough where she was sick - it was very intentional, and someone in the crowd said, "That's a demon." Not knowing what to do and lacking proper intercessory backup, I stopped and prayed quietly, and then finished up. That certainly rattled me.

Then a group of people showed up late for the dinner (we shut the doors at 6:20) and wanted to eat, and we usually don't serve those who come late. Among the group was a guy who has been fairly beligerent in recent weeks due to his involvement in a religion that is very anti-white (not Nation of Islam) and who thinks that our preaching each week is full of lies. As I foolishly engaged him in a small "discussion" of his theology, I was more and more frustrated, and finally I told him that in order to come and eat at the dinner, he needed to stop leading "Bible studies" at his table while the speaker up front was preaching. This didn't sit well with him, and as I walked off he said angrily, "That's OK, because your day is coming. Your day is coming." That shook me more.

Regular readers know that one of my biggest struggles in life is fear, and that fear often overwhelms and even cripples me. That was the case that night as I struggled to think about anything except what he meant by that threat and how he might carry it out. I called a good friend to talk, and when he heard what I had preached on that night he said, "Remember when Jesus was taken to the desert to be tempted? The first thing that Satan attacked was the word that Jesus had just received from the Father. God had just told Jesus that He was His beloved son, and Satan attacks with, 'If you are the Son of God.'" He reminded me that I had just preached on God being a present help in trouble and in the face of fear, and I had been attacked both during the preaching a just after it as well.

Psalm 46 is a great Psalm and there are times when I feel like things in my soul are crashing all around like the mountains, and I need to hear that God is in control. But for me and many of my friends in the church, it's not often that we are really afraid in a physical sense. We have fences and alarm systems and safe neighborhoods and we don't take many risks, if we are honest (and just because I live in Glenwood doesn't mean that I exclude myself from this statement). Moving Psalm 46 from a nice message for "those people" who are on the streets and facing danger all the time into the realm of my own personal, lived theology is harder than I thought. Do I really believe God is my help and my refuge? Am I willing to be still and know that He is God when my mind is racing with worry and irrational fear? I found myself praying Psalm 46 all day Thursday, calling my soul to believe the truth. I'd much rather get to test and live out messages about grace and mercy and hope than messages about trusting God as my shield and safety. But He knew that my night was going to go that way and this is a part of His process of maturing me, growing me in dependence on Christ for the glory of God. Cooperating might be hard, but it is good.

Freedom and the law

My friend Jenny has been asking some good questions of the Lord regarding the Law and the Spirit and recently in her blog she put some of them out there:

What exactly does Paul mean when he talks about sin "seizing an opportunity through the commandment" yet "the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good?" And isn't it possible to serve God with both the mind and body, rather than, as Paul states, "I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin?" Does the law refer to teh Old Testament or to legalism? Or both? And if Jesus is the fulfillment not the abolishment of the law, then what does that mean for me in regards to being free from the law?

I took some time today to think through these questions and here are my answers (and boy did they refresh my soul!)
When you said "isn't it possible to serve God with my mind and my body" I think you were referring to Paul saying "with my flesh I serve the law of sin" - flesh here does not mean literal flesh or body. Instead, flesh is our way of making life work independent of God. The flesh is any way of meeting our needs for love, acceptance, righteousness, peace apart from Jesus. So this can look like being the "good Christian" who always does what is right or it can look like being the party person who "eats, drinks, and is merry for tomorrow we die." The NIV usually translates "flesh" as "sinful nature", but that is a poor translation because it implies that we have a good nature and a sin nature battling out. No, we have on nature, Christ's. The flesh is our old way of making life work.

When Paul says the law (lowercase), he is referring to the Old Testament Law, both the Ten Commandments and then all of the other regulations that God added, and then also the regulations that men added in order to help them keep the God regulations. Legalism is a system by which we try to earn, obtain, or maintain right standing before God by our own efforts and ability to "do the right thing." It is self-righteousness, which is opposed to God, because God calls us to live only in Christ's righteousness. There is no one righteous, not even one, except Christ.

When Paul talks about the law seizing the opportunity in Romans 7, he is saying that the law did what it was and is designed to do - to put us to death and reveal our bankruptcy of soul apart from God in Christ. The commandment is good - it is a good thing to not covet (ref: Romans 7:7). Coveting leads to all manner of sin. The problem is not the law - it is holy and righteous and good. But the law can never make us righteous. It can only reveal the sin in our heart, and what the law really is designed to do is to lead us to Christ. Paul calls the law a tutor, which guides and holds our hand to point us to Jesus. Galatians 3:19-25 speaks to this - in fact, Paul asks the very same question that you ask, "What then is the purpose of the law?" Paul is asking this rhetorical question because he has just established that righteousness is given freely, not through the law. The answer to "what is the purpose of the law" is that the law was given to lead us to Christ. In fact, in Galatians 2:19 he says that through the law I died to the law (also see Romans 7:4)! (The whole letter to the Galatians was written because people in that church were being tempted to keep the law instead of living by the Spirit. Galatians would be a great book for you to read in this discussion.)

1 Corinthians 15:56 reveals clearly that the law can never help us defeat sin. Our tendency in the flesh when we struggle with sin is to try and set up laws and boundaries to make sure we don't do that again. But this verse says that the law actually empowers sin! Sin in us rises up and says, "Oh yes I can; you're not the boss of me!" It's like when you tell a kid not to look in the closet because there is a present hidden there - it's all they can DO to not, because the law entices their desires.

Jesus fulfilled the law because you and I never could. He put an end to the law through his life, death and resurrection - He obeyed the law perfectly, not just by the letter but by the intent behind it. He paid the price for breaking the law, which is death. And He rose that we might have a new way of life and righteousness -the Holy Spirit of God.

You are completely free from the law, because you have died to it. You no longer have to tithe, to observe the Sabbath, feed the poor, worry about whether your clothes are a cotton-poly mix, wear a head-covering, avoid pork, fast, sell all your possessions and give them to the poor. Jesus obliterated the law and replaced it with the Spirit. Now if you give, it's when and as the Spirit leads. If you feed the poor, it's when and as Christ in you leads. If you rest/Sabbath it's as a response to God.

Free from the law means free from the law - radically, completely free. Free to do whatever you want, even if it is sinful, actually (I mean, does free mean free or not?). But Christ in you is not sinful, and living more and more dependent on Him will lead you to live freely in holiness and righteousness, living out of your true identity. Romans chapter 6:15-18 talks about how we are now dead to sin (and to the law), and how our response to this is not to go and sin all the more but to rejoice and walk with Christ, letting Him lead us in loving righteousness.

We don't like living by the Spirit because it takes us out of the driver seat. We can't be in control and we can't measure our success in keeping the rules. The law will always be attractive to our flesh. (Derek Webb has two great songs about this -" A New Law" and "The Spirit vs the Kickdrum." Check them out on iTunes.)

Thoughts anyone? I'm getting free just typing this!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What a Life

Last week when I woke up on my birthday, I lay in bed for a few minutes, thankful for another year of life. And as I thought back over all I have been given, all I have done, I couldn't help but be extremely grateful to the Lord. I've been to 9 countries on 3 continents; seen the Tar Heels in four Final Fours; traveled to many awesome cities in the US (San Francisco, Oakland, Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, San Antonion, New Orleans, Indianoplois, New York City); my three children are all healthy, loving, and beautiful; God has graced me with a wife who is kind, beautiful, and who has become my best friend over the course of our nine years together; I have friends near and far who genuinely care about me, asking me great questions about my journey with Christ and who help me to see myself in a less-critical light; I've been on a tremendous journey with Christ, learning more and more about His love and grace and how fully He has called me His own; wonderful parents and step-parents who have loved me from day one and who continue to encourage and support me; beautiful and kind sisters; an amazing in-law family; a wonderful ministry support team, some members who have given towards our IV support every month for 12 years; many trips to the Dean Dome and Kenan Stadium; a healthy body and strong mind; the chance to serve God as my vocation; transformation of sufferings, sin, and hardships into signs of God's goodness and faithfulness. It has been a wonderful life, and Lord willing, I'm just getting started. What a gift.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Celebrating the fruit of faithfulness

Six years ago we went from bus stop to bus stop, inviting kids to come to tutoring at Grace Community Church. I set up at the church and waited with two college students who were going to be our tutors, and no one came. Dejected, I went home, and as I was getting out of the car, three children came walking up the hill, an hour late but headed to tutoring all the same. We soon realized that our church was a bit too far for the kids to walk, and so tutoring moved to our living room, and we hosted a handful of children and a couple of college students each Monday to do homework.

Today, I will pull out of the Grace Community Church parking lot in a school bus bought for the tutoring program, and I will pick up 41 of the 52 children enrolled in our program, children who now come two days a week for homework helps and reading enrichment. Waiting on those 52 children each day will be 52 tutors, three Room Moms, several childcare workers (to watch the children of parents who tutor), and a full-time tutoring program director. They will spend half an hour playing on a donated basketball court, laughing and running and jumping, and an hour working with their very own tutor, and for some of them, it will be the second, third, or fourth year with the same tutor. We will have two high school seniors aiming for college, and over 20 middle schoolers. Over 30 young girls will stay after tutoring on Mondays for dance class, and it's possible that in the spring, we will offer our program on Wednesday with an arts enrichment focus, giving the young men something to do as well.

This is nothing short of the grace of God. God's grace to sustain Diane and Melissa and John and me during our first overwhelmed and clueless years. God's grace to provide Regin and her gift of infrastructure, and His grace to provide Suzanne and her gifts of creative education and passion for the kids. God's grace to provide salary for Suzanne, funds for the bus, snacks each week for each child. God's grace and love for these children to send hundreds of volunteers to them. God's grace to give us favor at UNCG, NC A&T, and Bennett College, connecting us with eager and gifted college students, including more and more African-American students. God's grace to provide adult tutors willing to take off of work early, to lug their young kids to Grace, to give of their free time. Amazing. And we have only begun to get good at what we do. Here's to a wonderful year this year.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Soul Weariness and Relearning Ministry, Part 3

When I was being introduced as the new Director of Outreach at our church, one of the pastors told the leaders of the church that he believed I was the person to take outreach ministry at our church to the next level. What he meant was that God was going to use me to do new things in outreach. What I heard was that I was going to produce lots of things for God in the area of outreach. And so I quickly relaunched one ministry and began pressuring myself to see transformation come at a more rapid rate in another. I thought that "next level" meant bigger and better. Now I am reevaluating, and I wonder if I even know what the next level looks like. I thought I had drawn a bead on the next level, that I knew what everyone needed. Now I'm waiting and seeing, unsure of myself.

I think what I really want is to not feel tired inside anymore. But I don't think getting rid of my weariness is best. Tiredness of soul is leading me to new places. It's forcing me to learn patience and to embrace the teaching of Christ when He compared the Kingdom of God to a seed. A seed is small. It's life begins beneath the surface. Nothing that the farmer does can make the seed grow. Often it seems like nothing is happening. But in time, life appears, pushing its way up through the soil. And then there is still more time before fruit appears, and still more time for the fruit to ripen, and how any of these things happen are really a wonderful mystery. And in order for a seed to bring life, it has to first fall to the ground. I think that something in me is dying, and in God's time, the seed that is falling is going to grow into something new.

I want to take Jesus as His word, rephrased so wonderfully in The Message: 28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." *Matthew 11:28-30

Living freely and lightly in the unforced rythms of grace sounds great to me.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Soul Weariness and Relearning Ministry, Part 2

I don't really know how I got to this place of soul weariness, but I don't think it is a bad place to be. I think that it is time for me to relearn and rethink what it means to be a minister, what it means to care for others. I think that it is time for me to listen more and speak less, to have more questions than I do answers.

But it feels like going 65 miles an hour and then throwing the car into reverse. It's opposite of my flesh, of how I have formed my identity in the Christian world. I want to be busy and important, and there is a perverse pride that comes with having too much on my plate. I relish being competent and avoid looking clueless at all costs. I look at some of my cohorts in ministry, at how packed their schedule is, full of events and people, and I find a desire to measure up to their standard welling up. But right now my soul can't put that desire into action. That's a good thing. I am in season of quiet and study, of waiting and relearning.

Last week I was at UNCG prayer-walking with two IV colleagues, and as we prayed, I kept thinking, "Maybe we should talk to this person or that person. Maybe we need to stop praying and start asking people what they think about the Lord. Maybe we need to stop praying and do something." But the Lord had led me to Psalm 40 before our walk began, and God began reminding me of the first verse - "I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry." And as I began to feel the urge to do something God told me to wait. He told me that if I needed to walk and pray the campus for a year, that would be enough. He told me that when He wanted me to do something, He would make it clear and that He would be the one to lead, guide, and initiate. My job was to wait and seek His face.

As I talked about this with a friend recently, he asked me why I so often felt compelled to make things happen, and I told him that sometimes I felt like if I didn't do something, who would, that I felt as though the Lord was asleep at the wheel sometimes. Now I know that most of you would never think something like that, and I certainly would not say that aloud, but my "lived theology" reflects that I think the world is gone to pot and it's up to me to fix it, with or without God's help. I know - arrogant.

And so I am learning to listen. I am learning to say no and to trust that I am no one's last hope. Right now I say no mostly because I am tired, but I find that as I say no, the needs are still being met. The Lord is showing me that He is the one who provides and saves, and as I listen to Him, I may be lucky enough to be part of His means sometimes.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Soul Weariness and Relearning Ministry, Part 1

Ever since GUPY ended I have been keenly aware of a weariness of soul that is not going away quickly. I'm used to being tired after a full summer, but usually have bounced back by now, and I feel that I am in a strange season right now. My job description has me in positions to regularly work with and care for the poor, but my heart wants little to do with the poor right now. I find myself saying no to most every request that comes my way, and I find myself cringing when I see someone in need sitting at the church. In the past my first reaction would be to try and help them (maybe fix them is a better phrase), but now I want to avoid them. With my spiritual tank empty and my physical tank slowly refilling, I have no desire to fix anyone and right now I don't believe very strongly that I could. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because there is no real power in me to fix anyone.

Part of me fears that my recent apathy towards the poor, even a disdain for the poor, has been lurking in my heart all along but I have simply been able to cover it up with conviction and energy and religion. When the tank is empty, when you can't fake it anymore, is what you find at the bottom of the barrel what was really there all along?

Another part of me feels like I am having to relearn what ministry is all about; not just ministry to the poor but ministry to anyone. For so long, I have equated ministry with fixing. How could I love someone if I didn't try to fix whatever it was that seemed to be wrong with them? It seemed unloving to simply listen, pray, and then leave them in the same state that I found them in. I think about one of our Wed night guests who is homeless. Each week they have the same prayer request for a job, shelter, good friends, President Obama, and world peace. There is only one part of that prayer request that I can affect right now - I could be his friend. But because I can't help with the job or shelter (or world peace), I shy away from this man.

Diane and I recently watched The Soloist, and near the end is a poignant scene where the reporter, who has been trying to fix the life of a homeless man for months, is told by his ex-wife to stop trying to fix the man and simply be his friend. I saw myself in that reporter, and I saw the great freedom that his ex-wife's advice offered. Freedom from fixing, freedom to simply love.

I wonder how firmly I really believe that God is the one who heals, fixes, brings growth? In my Stephen Ministry class, we have learned that we are the care-givers and that God alone is the cure-giver. My soul is so worn out from trying to cure that I am willing to let God take a crack at it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Who's the Nerd?

Today I was talking with some friends and was sharing about how many of my friends were nerds (note: a nerd is someone who is smarter than me and can run theological circles around me). Then I proceeded to tell them a dream I had the other night.

I had just finished a book called North or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson, which is a fantastic story about 3 young kids who have discovered that they are heirs to a long lost kingdom and are being chased by the evil leaders of their world. It is a non-stop adventure, and I highly recommend it (after you read the first story in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, which you can find at your local library). I read the book in two days, reading late into the night, and so it was fresh on my mind as I went to sleep. In my dream, I was talking with NASCAR driver Ricky Rudd, and we discovered a secret scroll. Suddenly, the powers of darkness discovered we had the scroll and came to get it back. So Ricky jumped into his stock car and sped off, chased by the minions of darkness.

Upon hearing THAT story, my friends looked at me and said, "Who's the nerd?" Touche. (Side note: I have NASCAR dreams every few months or so, usually either involving me driving in a race or hanging out with Dale Earnhardt, Jr).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A New Understanding of the Prodigal Story

I've heard many sermons on Luke 15, the story often called the parable of the Prodigal Son or even the Prodigal Father. Years ago I read Henri Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which examines the story from several different perspectives. I've studied the parable many times on my own and in groups. But I had never seen Christ as the "renewed older brother" until this week.

I am reading The Prodigal God by Tim Keller, and late in the book, he writes that when Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal (wasteful) Son, He preceded it with two other parables. In the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin, someone goes and looks for what was lost, searching desperately until they find it. But in the prodigal son's case, no one goes looking, and when the wasteful son returns to the father, his self-righteous brother is angry. His brother coming back and being restored as a son means less inheritance for him. Jesus was telling these parables in the presence of the Pharisees (religious elite) and "tax collectors and sinners" (religious outcasts), and clearly the role of the older brother in the story is meant for the Pharisees.

The end of Jesus' story, it's punchline, shows us how the older brother misses the true heart of God, the heart of compassion and mercy, as he refuses to celebrate the return of the lost brother. But his misunderstanding of the Father's heart was revealed much earlier in the story when the older brother does not go out and search for the younger. If the older brother truly knew the father's love for him and for his brother, that love would have compelled him to go and find his little brother. If the older brother had known the celebratory spirit of the father that rejoices when lost things are found, he would have tried to get the welcome-home party started much sooner.

Jesus is the older brother as he should have been, and we are all the younger. If any brother had the right to say to the Father, "I've done it all right, and I'm not going to share my inheritance with those losers who have already squandered what you gave them," it was Jesus. Yet Christ is the true Son, and He knows the Father's heart intimately. He knows that the Father's love and inheritance are things to be shared, and He knows the joy of celebratory love. And so Christ went to find us, right in the midst of our lostness, before we knew we needed to come home, and invited us back. He is an ambassador of the loving and merciful heart of the Father, who longs to restore us to our place as sons and daughters of the King.

As I read Luke 15 this morning, I wept. They weren't tears of guilt that said, "Man, I just don't seek out the lost younger brothers enough." They seemed to be tears of understanding. Somehow the older brother missing the heart of the Father revealed more clearly to me how Jesus embraces and emobodies it. We were sought, we were given life and sonship. And that gift didn't just cost the Father, it cost the Older Brother. To welcome us back as sons means that we now have an inheritance, an inheritance that should be Christ's alone, but that He joyfully shares with us. And to give us that inheritance cost Jesus unbroken fellowship with the Father. It cost Him heartache and rejection. and it cost His very life. I want to make my home in Christ and in the Father, that I might join in the search party. Not out guilt or shame, but compelled by love, a son who has been welcomed and wants to welcome others, even at cost to myself.

Odds and Ends

Does anyone watch Wipeout on ABC? Wednesday is my longest day of work (7 am until 8:30 pm) and when I come home, I am toast. Watching people bite the dust over and over again on an abusrd obstacle course, all the while being mocked by Sports Center anchors is just what the doctor ordered. I was crying last week watching it, barely able to breathe.

Not that I can watch NASCAR anymore since ESPN robbed it from the working man and put it on "Big Cable" (we only have "Big Cable", featuring ESPN, from December to March for Tar Heels Basketball; the rest of the year we have "Baby Cable with about 8 channels), but two top ten finishes in a row for Dale Junior has been nice to see.

On the sports note, watching the sagas unfold at Louisville and Memphis (and by extension UK) makes me thankful for Roy Williams.

Last year I had pictures of my mutant carrots. This year, may I present the eggplant that looks like a person.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Life the Blob

In 2001, Diane and I moved to Glenwood to answer the call of incarnational ministry, because we believed strongly in living among the people that we wanted to love and reach out to. Then, a year and half ago, I began working for our church, which is 3 blocks away from our house - the commute is amazing! I was given the role of Director of Outreach, which seemed like such a good fit - I was already reaching out in the neighborhood and loved the poor, and so now I could just extend those into my work week. I would be working with our Wednesday dinners for the homeless, helping handle calls for financial assistance, and working with our outreaches to youth in Glenwood. Last week I realized how that sometimes is more than I bargained for, more than I really want. On the good days, I am glad to be seen as "the pastor" on Silver Avenue, and I welcome the opportunities to extend church ministry at the home and vice versa. I love the chances we have to hang out with the youth if they come to our home.

On other days, I wish there were more separation. It's hard for me each day when I pass one of the women who was asked to leave our winter shelter (along with her daughter), seeing them living in a rooming house infested with drugs. It's hard to see some of the men and women who come to the dinner, knowing that they are barely making rent or living in a home without water or lights. Our wonderful housemate and friend Suzanne, who hangs out with our kids, eats dinners with us from time to time, and is also our teammate on the Glenwood ministry team, also reports to me as her supervisor at church.

And so it hit me that my life sort of all runs together, and it sometimes is more wearying than satisfying. I wonder if it might help to have a different role at the church so that my work role was a little different than my neighbor role. Or perhaps I just need to be content to live in the tension. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The tension of blessings

I realized recently that one of the blessings and trials of living where we do is that I am constantly reminded of my wealth and privilege. To know that we are the only family on our block who owns our home and two cars is humbling. To have kids come to our three-bedroom, one bath home and talk about how big and beautiful it is reminds me of the true blessing it is that my children have such wonderful rooms to call their own. In an uncertain economy, I know that if things go south for us financially, we have family who can help us out, a safety net that most of my neighbors don’t have. I know that as a white man, I have access to people and opportunities that many around me simply don’t have. When I see the family situations around us, when I see the havoc wrought by children born to single moms too young to care for them, when I see the brokenness of unmarried couples trying to live out a commitment that they have never fully made, I realize how blessed I was to have the parents and family that I have. When I see the lonely, I appreciate the gift of wonderful friends.

Seeing these things are hard on my heart because the temptation is to feel guilt for all that I have been given. They are a trial because I can’t drive around the corner without seeing a household that is broken and in need of healing and no hope in sight. They are a trial because some days I just don't want to see anymore, but there isn’t a day that I can miss it because I know so many of the people and situations going on around me.

But these realizations are a blessing because it keeps my heart grounded and thankful. It reminds me of all I have been given and leads me to places of contentment that I could not reach living elsewhere. I am reminded that all that I have is a gift from God, nothing that I earned, and that makes me more and more likely to part with what is “mine.”

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Transformational community

I’ve recently been studying 1 Peter with some dear friends, and I have been greatly encouraged to press forward in ministry with our Glenwood Team here in Greensboro. Peter writes his letters to “exiles” and there are many times that those of us who live in Glenwood “on purpose” feel like exiles, strangers in a strange land. To feel like a stranger even when you are home can take a toll on your soul, and I take great encouragement from Peter’s exhortations to put my hope not in the seen but in Christ, my living hope who has won my salvation and my eternal place with the Father.

But I began to notice even more that this hope is to be shared in the context of community; that we are to express and experience this hope together, not in isolation. The gospel has transformed us from the inside out to love each other deeply, from the heart (1:22), and the evidence of our transformation doesn’t show up in our religious checklists but rather in how we treat one another.

Peter spends many of his opening lines reminding the church of all they have been given in Christ, and he exhorts them to live holy lives. But the way that this holiness plays out is not in the music that we listen to (or don’t listen to), the TV shows that they watch (or don’t watch). Instead, the standard of holiness isn’t found on a morality checklist but rather in whether or not we are loving God and loving one another. If love is our standard, what to watch/listen to/do will take care of itself., because we will want to obey God and honor our neighbor. Peter does give a checklist, but his list deals with relationships – how are we speaking to one another; are we sowing dissent by our words; are we guarding our hearts from anger and envy. Holiness is revealed in community.

And Peter reminds the church that their witness to the people around them is tied to Christ indwelling their community. Each believer in Christ is a living stone, he says, and everyone knows that you can’t build a building out of just one stone. But when you have many stones, you can put them together to make a dwelling, holy to God and displaying His power and love.

He tells them that they are a chosen people, not merely individuals, but a chosen community that belongs to God, and that the end result of our community should be glory to God, advancement of His mission on earth to seek and save the lost.

Too often I think of myself as a chosen person, an individual pressing forward on my own little path with my own little tasks to accomplish. But God has given me so much more than that. He has brought me into a community, a people, that can reveal the love and Christ in ways that my life on its own cannot. One of the greatest weapons and deceptions of satan is to make Christians believe that they are alone in their journey of faith. To isolate and divide, to cut us off from those who exhort us to run the race (Hebrews 12:1) is an excellent strategy, because the power of unity in community is transformational, both for God’s people and for the watching world. I think that God is moving our Glenwood Team towards this standard. There are days when we may feel like exiles, but we are not alone. We are part of a chosen people, a community raised up for the glory of God, and the blessing of living here is that it is so much easier for us to see our need of one another.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

I Needed That

Tonight is the last night of GUPY, and we had quite the celebration. Our friends Gene and Lisa Brown had the entire team over for beer-soaked brats on the grill and an amazing dessert that combined chocolate chip cookies and cheesecake. Then we headed downtown to The Idiot Box, an improv comedy club, and were joined there by some good friends from Grace. The show was excellent, and it just felt good to laugh for an hour and half (it made me want to get back into improv, and, by the way, I love the look on people's faces when they hear that I used to perform - I guess I am just not funny anymore). And as the show was ending, bluegrass musician Sam Bush was cranking up a free concert right across the street, filling downtown with banjo, mandolin, and guitar. While I get really bored during their more progressive "jam" songs, the bluegrass flowed freely for the most part, and I was thankful to be treated to a free concert of my favorite music.

I'm not usually one to write "this is what I did" blog posts, because I don't think that it's particularly interesting for other people to read highlights of my Saturday night. But after a very tiring summer, this night with the GUPY's, with friends from church, and with co-laborers in Glenwood was very sweet and refreshing. Good food, laughter, and music do wonders to lighten the soul, and I am so thankful to have the memory of this night with the GUPY's. It was simply a good gift from God from start to finish, one that was right on time. I needed that.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

That I Would Be Good

It's amazing how music can stir our souls, isn't it? Music can refresh and energize us; it can calm and relax us. Music is tied to memories (which I think is the main reason that I continue to listen to and enjoy Abba and Stryper), and it can help us connect to God when our hearts are hard.

Music often reminds me of the Gospel and of the love of God. One of the most surprising songs that does this is That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morrisette. It's a song that both lyrically and musically expresses the longing to be accepted, to be OK, even if everything that we think is wrong with us never really gets fixed. I think it's the cry of every heart apart from Christ, a cry that gets expressed in lots of different ways depending on the person. I think that it is funny that I hear the Gospel in this song, because it doesn't have a redemptive end where everything gets fixed and solved. The longing to be good seems like wishful thinking, something that would be nice if it could ever happen.

But for the person who is rooted and grounded in the forgiveness of God and the acceptance that is given through Christ's life in us, this song really is a signpost that points to the goodness of God. As the song reveals our brokenness, all the ways that we have tried to make life work and failed, the Spirit speaks into those places and reminds us that in Christ, we are good. In Christ, we are accepted just as we are. In Christ we are loved and we have access to the only life that will satisfy our souls.

It's been almost 10 years now since I first heard this song, and yet it still points me to the One who is good and who gives His goodness freely to us, no strings attached.

That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette

That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds

That I would be fine even even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand if I was not all knowing

That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy

That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be goodWhether with or without you

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Only Victory

This summer has been very hard for me and my family to say the least. I could list all the reasons, but suffice it to say, it's been a season of struggle, and as a result, I have been wrestling to rest in Christ. I have recently realized that I've been believing two lies: 1) I don't do enough for people (my work never really solves problems and there is always someone that I don't help or someone I could help more) 2) I am a failure (when it comes to GUPY, when it comes to my work as outreach pastor, when it comes to being a dad, I always fall short of the mark that I have for myself). As you can imagine, living under this standard is not much fun, but I realize that the tired-er I get, the less likely I am to consistently connect with Jesus, living the abiding message that I preach.

So the other night I was sitting on my porch praying and listening to music, and I began to listen to a CD that I had downloaded but never taken time to play. And the song "My Only Victory" began to play, and as I heard it, I began to weep. It revealed so clearly how I had subtly shifted my hope from Jesus to: my ability to make a difference, my ability to live a holy life, and my own failings (and my ability to make things right). And it reminded me of the freedom that comes from trusting Christ. Life is not all about me or about my talents or ability to get things done. I cannot live for the applause of the poor or of the congregation, and I cannot hope to erase the lies of failure. Christ alone is good. Christ alone is who I serve. Christ alone enables me to love, to live a holy life, and to turn from sin. He is truly my only victory.

My Only Victory by Justin McRoberts

Should all the poor know my name
And all my gentle mercies every heart proclaim
Should by my own tow hands all the world be changed
The truth will yet remain:

My only victory is Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection.

Should my heart be pure and true
And my mind be bound to wisdom through and through
Should ever my spirit, Lord, cry out to you
This one things still is true:

My only victory is Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection.
I place my hope alone in Jesus and the coming of His Kingdom.

Should I fail in every deed
Should I confuse the things I've wanted with my needs
Should I return the curses of my enemies
The truth will ever be:

My only victory is Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection.
I place my hope alone in Jesus and the coming of His Kingdom.

The joy of Catch

I recently had a chance to play catch with one of our kids from tutoring - you know, the game where you throw a ball back and forth.... and back.... and forth. And as I was telling my friend Suzanne about it, she said, "I never really understood that game. Just throwing the ball."

I had never thought much about it, but as I explained to her what Catch really is, it helped me understand why two gloves and a baseball can be an awesome thing.

When I was a little boy, playing catch with my dad was my most favorite things to do. I could have spent hours in the backyard tossing the baseball with him, and I would wait eagerly in the evenings for him to come from work, gloves at the ready. For one thing, Catch was one-on-one time with my dad, just me and him. We didn't have to talk a lot - there was something great about just being together, outside, watching the evening fade. Catch involved a back and forth exchange - it's no fun playing by yourself. As I grew older, Catch allowed me to test my strength, to see how measured up, so I would try to throw harder and harder, making his glove pop louder and louder, seeing if I could make his hand sting through the leather. Eventually I tried my hand at pitching, seeing how accurate I could be in hitting his mitt (usually ending up with my dad making many trips down the hill in our backyard to recover my wild throws).

If we ever got bored with simple back and forth, there were always variations. Grounders and Pop Fly's became favorites, and I learned to not be afraid as the ball skipped randomly over the grass and sometimes popped up at my face, and I learned to shield my eyes from the sun and use two hands to secure the ball when it landed in my glove. In the winter, we would put a ball in the pocket of our gloves, having rubbed neatsfoot oil all over it, and the wrap it with raw-hide to get it ready for spring.

Playing catch with my young friend the other day was me passing on a gift that my dad had given to me, a gift of time and attention. I could tell Darrius was thrilled to have 20-30 minutes of my time, just me and him. He was excited to learn to throw harder and more accurately with just a couple pointers, and he grinned ear to ear as he showed his mom how he could pitch. When I first suggested Catch to him, he said he'd rather just get a bat and hit. But I think now he sees the simple joy of trowing a ball back and forth.... back and forth..... back.... and... forth.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nine Years – amazing!

On July 8th, Diane and I celebrated nine years of marriage (albeit in different cities, as I was out of town with the Glenwood Camp). Over a belated anniversary dinner this weekend, we thought about how far we had come, how far the Lord has brought us, and it is simply amazing to see what God has done.

Some couples have hard first years of marriage and they realize that in the midst of those first years. Some don’t have hard times much at all. I think our first years were very hard, but we didn’t know any different – we just thought it was normal. But looking at where we are now, I can clearly see a mighty work of God, and I am so thankful for how good marriage can be when you work at it and when you have the grace of God at work.

Broken of much independence, I have come to trust and depend on Diane as my friend and partner in life. Broken of the illusions that we had about our ability to love one another well on our own, we have each grown in depending on Christ to be our love and our hope. Broken of fears of being known, we are growing in intimacy and communication.

I could not have imagined that marriage could have gotten so much better and that we would still have so much opportunity to grow.

And how about my smokin’ hot wife? Prettier than that hot July day that I married her, and growing more beautiful to me every year.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fruit will come, hang in there!

Six weeks ago I preached on John 15, the parable of the vine and the branches (click here to listen/download). For my sermon I used a live tomato plant and an artificial Christmas tree, and I urged us to abide in Christ, in His life, and that if we did, fruit would come.

And then I took my tomato plant home and I waited and watched... and waited.... and watched.... as it bore flower after flower, but no fruit. I watered it. It was planted in good soil. But no fruit. Finally, in desperation, I went ahead and hung it upside down from our front porch, because I had planted it in a bucket for that very reason. More weeks went by, and still no fruit – flowers yes, but no tomatoes.

But this week ….. fruit! Small, barely able to be called tomatoes, but still, fruit! And I think that there is more to come.

Some of you may be struggling to see Spirit fruit in your life. You’ve been doing your best to rest in Christ, to trust Him as your life, but there’s nothing to show for it. Hang in there. Remain in Christ, and fruit will come.

You may feel like you have been doing everything in your power to remain, but life is just getting more and more away from you, that your world has been turned upside down. Hang in there, and remember - it took turning upside down for my tomato plant to bear fruit, too.

Remain in Christ, and you will bear fruit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Psalms to the rescue!

In response to recent blog posts and prayer letters, many of my friends have written to encourage me, and I know that many have been praying or me. Interestingly, most of them have included encouragement from the Psalms, urging me to reorient my heart and my mind to the truth of God.

Psalm 27 has been prayed for me, that I would see the face of God in the land of the living and that the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear. Psalms 137 and 138 have been given to me, urging me to look for how the Israelites moved from the despair of Babylon to becoming bold and stouthearted. I have been given Psalm 46, that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Is it because my friends know that I love the Psalms? Maybe. But even more, the Psalms continue to offer real responses to real life, while always pointing us back to the truth of God. Reorientation, turning to a correct alignment and focus.

Hebrews 12:2 urges us to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. A friend recently preached on that passage, and over and over he exhorted his listeners to look to God, not to our problems. When we focus on our lives, our issues, our sin, our fears, we lose balance and perspective. But to fix our eyes on Jesus, reoriented to the truth of who God is, brings correct understanding.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hedging my bets

In thinking through my consistent  struggle with fear, I have discovered a nagging seed of doubt that consistently grows and bears the fruit of fear. It’s an age-old question, one that many have struggled with – basically, why do bad things happen to good people? I know that being a Christian does not exempt me from suffering or pain, though my life has been relatively free of both. I know that people who are deeply committed to Jesus fall dead of heart attacks, die in car wrecks, have homes knocked down by tornados. And so this knowledge often trumps what I read in God’s Word.

For example, Psalm 91 is full of assurances of the Lord’s presence. The Lord is described as a fortress and a refuge, a God that we can trust in all things, the God who will save us from things that will ensnare us. It says that we will not fear the terror of night or the arrow that flies by day, and that no harm will befall you. When I read that Psalm, I am emboldened. I have the courage to do things that I normally would shrink back from.

But then I remember the bad things that have happened to good people and I feel like it’s silly to trust the Bible at face value. So I read the Bible and in my heart of hearts, I believe, but in my flesh, I hedge my bets, not willing to entrust all of my life to God. At the root of this is my desire to be in control. If I can worry about what might happen, if I can foresee it and then prevent it, then even if God didn’t come through, I would still be OK. For me, fear and worry give the illusion of being in control, which is safer than walking by faith.

My prayer is that I would stop hedging my bets, acknowledging God’s love and His control over all things, and that His word would lead me to greater faith, an anchor in the midst of my ups and downs.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tired of fear

We all have a default in our flesh, a mode of reacting that we turn to when life gets out of control. For me, that mode has been fear. I remember crying and crying in fear of any number of ailments when I was younger, from gum disease to my knee locking up. I feared dogs from a young age. I remember a period of weeks when I imagined that a boy from the next neighborhood over was patrolling our neighborhood on his dirtbike, looking to beat me up, and cringed in fear in my house. When we first moved to Glenwood, I was afraid to walk the dogs, and as we have had children, my anger in the morning when they wake up early is generated by my fear of being tired. I don’t know where that seed got planted and how its roots got so deep, but it seems as though fear is, if not a constant companion, a very familiar visitor.

I think that I indulge it because thinking about what I am afraid of, and what could happen to me, gives an illusion that I am in control. If I can imagine every unseen danger or possibility, I won’t be surprised (goes the thinking).

But it wears me out. I think of the hours and hours that I have spent walking in fear, worrying about things that never came to pass, and I know that I’ve wasted a lot of time. And I can see that I have passed this default of fear to my children, a negative inheritance for their soul. And I don’t know how to beat it.

Yesterday some dealers down the street rode by on a moped and yelled something at me as I set up the yard for a cookout. When my friend and I drove by their house a few minutes later, they yelled again. And now I don’t want to walk my neighborhood. I don’t want to go to the community garden because I am afraid. Did they yell at me because they saw a police officer stop and talk with me on Thursday? Did they know that he was telling me about their activities, giving me a heads up and asking me to let him know if I knew anything? Were they now looking at me as a threat, a snitch? And so home doesn’t feel safe, even though I don’t know what they said, but I have filled in the blank for them.

I’m tired of fear, and I just don’t know how to move forward and be free from it.