Monday, February 28, 2011

Good Day - And, Marriage

I was very busy today. Incredibly so. It was non stop from 8am to 7pm. But I felt the Holy Spirit in the midst of it all. And it doesn't even have to make sense. It was the peace that knows no understanding. Really amazing.

But I miss my wife. She's holed up at her Mom's house recuperating from a tonsillectomy. She is really my everything. We are a great partnership. Running the house without her comforting presence is really odd. It feels empty. Especially at night when I'm getting ready for the next day and putting the little guy to bed.

A bit on Marriage:

Beautiful the marriage of two Christians who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the faith they practice. They are servants of the same master...nothing divides them...they pray and worship together, instruct and strengthen one another...side by side they visit God's church, face difficulties together, and comfort one another. They have no secrets from one another; they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts. Psalms and hymns they sing and Christ rejoices and gives them peace. Where two are there, He is present with them...and where He is...evil is not.

Adapted from Tertullian - 3rd Century AD

Much Love.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gearing Up for Another Long Week

One thing I'm starting to slide on is my commitment to prayer. It's amazing how 'real life' will interrupt your prayer attempts. Honestly, I've never been this busy in my life. Hosting the Keller study, Working 60 hours a week, volunteering in other ways at church, Singing in the group at church...being a loving and attentive father and husband...etc. Wow. Now is the time that I really need to be in prayer. But there just doesnt always seem to be time.

When I'm not in the Word, and I'm not in prayer...I become very distracted. I get overwhelmed by stress and worry. Christ tells me not to worry. But how can I rest assuredly in Christ when I'm not living in Christ?

I'm off to pray.

Much Love.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Singing In Church II

Just got back from Church Band practice. So awesome. I am singing lead with another girl who's way more trained and talented than I am, but I'm hanging in. There's also some other singers, guitar, bass, drums, organ and keys. How awesome is that! Clearly I'm excited. At the end of each practice we pray and I felt truly happy tonight for the first time in a while. That kind of Joy that C.S. Lewis described as a foretaste of things to come.

Last week at church went really well. This week we're off, and it's just the older folks in the choir leading the musical efforts. The choir is really important to our Anglican tradition. There are some older hymns that are absolutely beautiful and scriptural. We've got to keep that tradition up. A Mighty Fortress, and How Great Thou Art...etc.

I'm working facilities tomorrow, which means I'll be there at 8am until about noon. Setting up and breaking down. It will be a long morning but the behind the scenes stuff is important too.

Well, I've got to go pick up my son. My wife had surgery yesterday. She's recuperating at her mother's house this weekend and she wanted to spend a little bit of time with him. I'm feeling much more uplifted than I have been in weeks. Work has been really weighing on my heart. I'm trusting in Jesus, knowing that i'll be taken care of.

Much Love

Monday, February 21, 2011

God showing up again

So I was talking with a client for some time this afternoon and the topic shifted to how his belief in God is giving him the strength to forgive his wife for her infidelity, and helping him cope with his addiction issues. Well, that was all I need to hear. We went 40 minutes over our allotted time. Luckily my next client was running late.

One of the things he said was that his mother always told him that if he'd only stop running from his problems, they would go away. I thought about the truth in that as he spoke, and remembered hearing that Native Americans often told their children after waking from a nightmare to go back to sleep, face the enemy, and he would never appear again.

So as I laid down to bed tonight, I opened up the Message Bible that I recently ordered. I flipped to Lamentations. There's has been a lot of pain and violence in the world lately, and I wanted to read a bit about suffering in the bible. New Zealand has just been hit by a devastating earthquake, there are protests and riots across the middle east, etc. One of the great things about the message, is that some of the more archaic reads in the old testament are made a little more palatable.

The first page I turned to had this verse:

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The "worst" is never the worst.

There you go, I thought. Another example of God showing up in His word, correlating straight to my daily experience. This was the first page I opened. I wasn't searching for an hour to find some sort of connection to my day. I want to do my best to record these experiences, (they really do happen a lot), because they're so easy to forget or to chalk up as coincidence. And then one asks, Where are you God? I know God is with me everyday, and the more I engage Him in discussion, the more He shows up this way. It's a good life.

Much Love

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Location:Java Divine

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Awesome Day

Our little praise band did really well in church this morning. It was the HS all day long in that little chapel. It felt awesome. I went to bed barely able to sing the night before, prayed about it, had some tea, and in the morning I felt like my throat was completely healed. It was strong. Everyone performed incredibly. A great start to the day.

Then our little family found a home that we really like, and that I believe we will make an offer on this week. We will get the approval letter from our mortgage lady at BBT and also have some research come in from our realtor so we can craft a reasonable offer. I'm really stoked for this house.

I went into work for an hour and got my attorney life organized a bit. It went well. God had his hand all over the day today. I'm ready to diligently advocate for my clients tomorrow.

I came home and prepared the Reason For God study a bit. It's starting to come together. On Wednesday night we'll have the kickoff party with pizza and salad. We'll introduce the book a bit, talk about the Land of 100 Hills Coffee mission, the Raleigh Rescue Mission opportunities...and of course our church.

It's been a very busy couple weeks, but God has provided the time and space I've needed to get everything done. Life is a blessing and sometimes I feel that I'm getting much more than I deserve. And then I realize that I am getting much more than I deserve. And then I think of the free gift of the grace of Christ. And I remember how good is our God? Very very good.

Much Love

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Prayer of the Pharisee

After I went to bed last night it dawned on me that my blog on drinking made me sound very much like the pharisee in the bible that thanked God he wasn't as bad as other people:

Luke 18:9

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
I don't think I'm any better than anyone else who's struggling with issues that I've chosen to avoid. I simply wanted to express how it was made clear to me last night why I choose to abstain from alcohol. It reinforced the fact that I have no business going near the stuff. There's no good in it. But my post also made it clear how easy it is to fall into the trap of becoming judgmental. I always need to remind myself that there is no good that comes from my efforts alone. Any success I've had keeping away from the booze, or bettering myself in anyway has to be credited to the grace of God. I need mercy, for I am as big a sinner as any. 
Whew! I feel lighter now. It feels good to give it away. Much Love.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Looking Outward

I'm glad I don't drink anymore. For me, it was fine when I was single and had no family. Drinking made me look inward and focus solely on myself and my own desires. 

When my son was close to being born, I knew that ultimately I'd have to give it up. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Trying to find the energy to function after working 50 - 60 hours a week is hard enough as it is. The last thing I need to do is throw a nice hangover into the mix. 

I heard a sermon that described sinning as being completely in tune with your own needs. Being completely hunched over so that the only thing you could see is your own feet. Through being healed you are straightened so that you can finally see the world around you. Finding a new life in Christ helped me straighten up and focus on the needs of my family. It was something I wouldn't have been able to do without the power of the Holy Spirit.

I was in the company of people that enjoyed drinking to excess tonight. It reminded me of the sermon. Everyone was detailing things about themselves, recounting stories about their own lives, totally in tune with themselves. When someone else wanted to talk, they would just talk louder on top of each other. It became a shouting match, but no one noticed, because everyone was focused only on what they were trying to convey. No one was really listening. Everyone was hunched over staring at their own feet so to speak. It was sad.

I'm glad I don't drink anymore.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A quote by J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his son Christopher:

We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’. If you come to think of it, your (very just) horror at the stupid murder of the hawk, and your obstinate memory of this ‘home’ of yours in an idyllic hour (when often there is an illusion of the stay of time and decay and a sense of gentle peace) are derived from Eden. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 110)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Reason For God Study

I've been working so hard on getting this study together after work that I'm a little bit delirious. As such, I'm just going to post the study guide that I finished typing up as an example of what I've been doing. Exhausted, but excited. Here's a taste of some of what I've been up to:

The Reason For God - Group Leader Guide 

Your Role: 
Not a teacher. These are tough issues, some of which have been debated within Christianity for over a 
millennia. Even Keller during the DVDʼs has to say ʼI donʼt knowʼ a couple of times. Thatʼs OK. You are a facilitator of discussion, as someone who has read the material and have access to the questions. 
You are a loving servant. Make people feel welcome, and safe to voice their opinions. Everyone will be at a different point in their spiritual journey. Trust in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to guide the way. The issues are deep, and conversation will flow if people feel relaxed and safe. 

First Meeting: 
Have everyone go around and introduce themselves, and why they chose to do the study. Play the name 
game if necessary. Get email addresses, share your contact info and establish the rules of the group. (1. 
confidential, 2. no question is too stupid 3. Weʼre set to end every night no later than 8:45, although 
lingerers are welcome.) 

1) Always be prepared. Read, answer the questions, and pray. 
2) If unsure, tell them that youʼll research a topic over the week. (Be sure to follow up). Always feel free to take it to Willa or another group leader that week. 
3) Donʼt preach or be dogmatic. Encourage discussion in a way that allows for a variety of perspectives. 
Build the trust. 
4) Donʼt fear the silence after you pose a question. 
5) Use open ended questions like ʻWhat do you think?ʼ or ʻHow do you feel...ʼ 
6) Avoid questions that encourage yes or no answers. Watch Keller do this during the vids. 
7) Use ʻThe Ger Methodʼ. If an answer is confusing or just flat out wrong...nod thoughtfully and 
say...ʼThatʼs great mate...anyone else?ʼ 
8) Model servanthood, love and care. Create friendships. 

Final Thoughts 
This book is sort of like the graduate level course of Strobelʼs ʻCase for Christʼ. It can be a challenging 
venture for people. It will be helpful to the group if you have been diligent in reading the chapters. Because the answers donʼt come from the DVD...they are laid out in those chapters. The DVD 
discussions however, will provide a great example of leading a small group in discussion. 

Lastly...our main objective isnʼt to prove that Kellerʼs right or that any objection to Christianity is baseless. Our objective is to build relationships and model the grace of Christ. In Yates' sermon last week he talked about doing more than just giving. Itʼs all about sharing life with people. Get to know your group. Make them feel welcome, and welcome their thoughts and ideas. Follow up with them. Email them. Care about them. 

First Cor 2:1-5 
And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spiritʼs power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on Godʼs power.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gearing up for the Keller Bible Study

I've been working on this Bible study that I'm hosting. I pray that it goes well. We've got around 70 people signed up and this book can be challenging. It's not exactly a beach novel. But I'm trusting in the Holy Spirit. I can only offer it up, and people will do with it what they will. 

As I was reviewing the vids tonight Keller mentioned a world war one poet named Edward Shillito. He wrote a poem addressing the comfort we receive when we understand that God has experienced our pain. I think it's beautiful.

Jesus of the Scars
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow;
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars we claim Thy grace.

If when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know today what wounds are; have no fear;
Show us Thy Scars; we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Trinity

Since the word “Trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible, some wonder whether the early church simply invented the doctrine. The term “trinity” comes from the Latin trinitas. This term was used by the church father Tertullian (ca. A.D. 160-230) who wrote about “a trinity of one divinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Some are troubled that the word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible. But the absence of this word in no way invalidates the doctrine. Many important biblical concepts are conveyed by terms not actually contained in the Bible — for example, terms like Biblecanon, and inerrancy. Surely nothing in the text prohibits the use of extrabiblical terms to express proper meaning. Although the word Trinity doesn’t appear, Scripture clearly reveals the doctrine.
Here is the Trinity doctrine in six biblically based propositions:
  1. There is one, and only one, God (1 Timothy 2:5).
  2. The person of the Father is God (2 Peter 1:17).
  3. The person of the Son is God (Titus 2:13).
  4. The person of the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4).
  5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct and simultaneously distinguishable persons (Luke 3:22).
  6. The three persons (Father or God; and Son or Christ or Lord; and Holy Spirit or Spirit) are frequently listed together in a triadic pattern of unity and equality (John 14:26).
Thus, the Trinity doctrine is derived directly from the content of Scripture. Though the apostles of Jesus were Jewish monotheists who believed strictly in one God, they nevertheless recognized that two other persons (the Son and the Holy Spirit) were spoken of as God. All three persons possessed the qualities and prerogatives of deity. The apostles therefore modified traditional Jewish monotheism in light of the revelation concerning the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back In Action

Had an awesome, rejuvenating meeting with The Well leadership team tonight.

We're guiding about 70 young adults through the book 'A Reason For God' by Tim Keller. Getting an eight week program together for something like this is intense. There was 8 of us around a table just getting to work for the glory of God. It felt awesome, and was just what I needed after a week of feeling a bit restless with my faith. We'll have a kick off party in about 10 days. We'll have food and various tables set up with mission opportunities, info about our church, registration etc. Then each week after, I'll give a quick intro to the group, we'll watch a dvd, and then break up into small groups to discuss. The topics are challenging, and deal with the overall theme of reconciling the existence of God in a post modern world.

I am really pumped. It's one of my favorite books. I'll be working this week at getting the study guide together. I'm going to be crazy busy. Work in itself sometimes holds me down for close to 12 hours in a  day. And now I'm gearing up for this study. But I'm excited. I feel invigorated for this. God has me all inspired again. He's truly amazing. If DWI defense law got me this worked up, I can only imagine what kind of attorney I'd be...

Well, I need to sign off. I've got some work to do to get this thing off the ground.

Much Love.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Busy Weekend

Life is just so worldly. It's hard to be distracted by all these concerns and stay focused on God. I'm looking forward to getting up tomorrow and heading to church. I'm singing tomorrow, and that always makes me happy. We're plugging in for the first time ever. There's going to be guitar, bass, drums etc. I think some of the older folk may keel over, prayer book in hand.

The wife and I are looking at new homes. I've kind of fallen in love with a house. I can't get it off my mind. There's a lot of upside to it. It's 100% financed through BBT. It's not in the best neighborhood, and the schools aren't stellar for Noah. This causes concern. I think it need to take it to the Lord in prayer.

There's not much to say tonight. I feel like the past week I've been a bit distant from God. There's a direct correlation with my prayer life and my connection with Him. If I'm not engaged in daily prayer, I fall away from the faith awfully quickly.

Hopefully a better post tomorrow. Much love.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Evil?

Because God Wants Our Love!
Life can provide some new challenges when you decide you are going to try to live in Christ. The sinful aspect of our nature doesn't 'suddenly' disappear as a result. For me personally, I loved to raise hell as a younger man. I did it well for decades. But sadly, the only thing you earn by sinning and raising hell is a pit of emptiness and a quicker end. Physically and spiritually. My old lifestyle only sped up my arrival at the ultimate stop over (death), and I've recently been trying to slow that bus down a bit.

This process of 'applying the breaks' (so to speak)... has included learning about and preparing a variety of defenses for my faith. It's been a fun process. I love being a trial attorney, and CHristian apologetics is somewhat an extension of that. You see, I couldn't just take a leap of faith and believe that God came down to earth and manifested himself as Christ, made the ultimate sacrifice, and most importantly...defeated death through the resurrection...if I couldn't intellectually defend and justify it. Because lets be sounds like a fantastical fairy tale. And my heart can not rejoice in what my mind intellectually rejects. But for reasons that this note won't endeavor to address, I am at a point in which I'm intellectually satisfied that all of it actually happened. I'm satisfied that the resurrection is in fact true, and that it provides the main turning point in the physical and spiritual history of human kind. 

So lets look at defending the faith. I often hear from non-believers that God can't exist because there is so much evil in the world. And no loving God would allow that kind of evil and suffering to run rampant. But yet, if God created the universe, it seems would've had to have created evil too. But if there's no sin in Him, and evil exists, then perhaps God doesn't exist after all. The syllogism goes as follows:

1) God created everything.
2) Evil is a thing.
3) Therefore, God created evil.

This is a flawed argument. The first problem is that to admit there is evil, presupposes that there is a perfect measure to compare it with. Otherwise, you wouldn't recognize it as evil. It would only be a happenstance of the natural universe. Not right or wrong. So if you can recognize something as evil in the world, there must be God.

But secondly, and more deceptively...the syllogism includes a category mistake that non-believers will try to trip you up with. You see, premise two is wrong. Evil is not a 'thing'. Evil is a real lack of the goodness of God. Here's an illustration: Evil is the same as a donut hole. What is a donut hole made out of? Nothing. But it's exists.

Well...OK...lets say for the sake of argument that I'm right. Evil is a 'lack'...and it's 'real'...but it's not a 'thing'. If God is so magnificently all powerful...why would he create a world in which this 'lack' could not only exist...but flourish in such horrible ways?

The answer that has been making sense to me lately, and is actually beautifully layed out by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, is as follows: (My version is not quite as good as Lewis')

Evil exists because God gave us FREE WILL. Evil came about because God gave us the ability to choose freely. Couldn't he have created a universe in which all we see is him?...with no choice but to fall to our knees and worship? Of course. (Sounds like hell though if you consider it...a world of 'automata' as C.S. Lewis put it...invoking images of Clockwork Orange with our eyelids permanently pulled back.)

But God actually WANTS us to have the opportunity to completely ignore him if we so choose. God is perfect. He is all good. All holy. He is a creator. And if he is going to create...he is going to create the most perfect thing that can possibly be created.

The most perfect thing of which I speak, the most perfect thing that God created, MUST allow for the potential of evil. Why? Because that most perfect thing is TRUE LOVE. And the only way to experience true love...perfect love...altruistic non-conditional when it s FREELY GIVEN. When you freely choose to partake in it...despite the consequences. Anyone who's been in a dysfunctional relationship can attest to the fact that you can't MAKE someone love you. You can't MAKE them stay. But when they choose to freely offer their's the best gift conceivable. Despite our flaws, God chooses over and over again to dole out unconditional love upon us. Even when we usually don't deserve it, and that gift of love is called GRACE.

God wants our true love in return. And to have our true love, he had to endow in us the ability to choose him freely. The ramifications? There are going to be a lot of people who freely choose to completely tune him out. (And how easy that is to do with all of our modern distractions!!) As soon as you tune him out, say no to've actualized the potential for evil. Why do we have the potential in the first place? Because God wants our true love.

To summarize: In order to allow for perfect love...God created a universe that has free will, and free will allows for the possibility of evil, which we then actualize when we choose to ignore God.

True Love requires a free choice. It requires FREE WILL. And when you freely choose to make the leap of FAITH that allows you to accept God's GRACE, you will experience JOY. (Which transcends the temporal happiness that we so often insist on finding in worldly things.)

And even though I ponder and try to understand these things...(and that's all this essay attempt to better understand God and my purpose) often I choose to tune him out. So many times, throughout my day, I'm tempted to look the other way and ignore God. Even though I've received glimpses of unadulterated Joy...I still try to find happiness on my own. In fact, I often can't get through two lines of a silent prayer before my mind wanders off to something else. It seems to be in our nature to worry about our own priorities. To take our own lead, and to play king of our own little worlds. To dictatorially search for happiness as opposed to accepting Joy. And that's why I'm doing my best to give my little kingdom over to God. Giving my faith a go, and reaching out to accept His Grace. Because I'm so damned flawed. I tried to be the ruler of my own world for years and years. It wasn't a success. I'm not a good enough person to be an Atheist. Without a celestial judge on the bench...why bother trying to be good? I certainly didn't.

The answer? For me it lives in the cross and the resurrection. I don't need to figure it all out on my own. I'm not riddled with guilt for my slip ups. I don't need to 'earn' my way to heaven through good deeds and be 'better' than other people. I don't have to repetitively perform outward actions in a certain way, or at a certain time. Nothing that I could possibly do would be more effective than the work that was done for me on the cross. I love Biblical Christianity for that reason. It's all I've seen that offers complete assurance of where I will end up one millisecond after my death, and a personal relationship with a living intimate God while I'm here. My thankfulness and joy at knowing my savior intimately commands my outward acts of faith. Nothing else. I don't act faithfully because I'm hoping to earn a spot in heaven...I do it because Love flows two ways down the spiritual highway. As I see it, the goal of Christianity is not to become a better person by following the law...but to enter into a living relationship with Christ. Only through him will I become lastingly (eternally) transformed. And that transformation will allow me - (Lil ole me) - to become a pinprick of light in the universe, a personal intersection where God's Kingdom and the Earthly Realm are allowed to meet.

Ultimately I do have one job to do. I need to choose to accept that the work has been done for me...the work which was given as a gift of complete Grace and Love. Accept that on my own, I can't accomplish a whole lot. I need to accept that the only way to 'earn' the righteousness of God's grace, is to on my knees, ask for Christ's help. Then everything will eventually fall into place. I've seen a rebirth of my heart in the last couple years. A lot of my old self has indeed died, and a new heart has been reborn. Knowing that I have been Forgiven and Loved by Christ's perfect can I decide against forgiving and loving everyone around me? Whether they deserve it or not. God knows I didn't deserve it! The resurrection has been alive in my own breastplate, and it's been an amazing feeling. And slowly but surely, I tune out a little bit less from God every day. Through the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, my eyes are slowly opening to the goodness of it all. I'm starting to see it man!

Woot! I'm pumped about it. I'm so riddled with's ridiculous. But I've got a reason for hope now. And trust me...I looked for it in a million other places before I looked here. This is the last place I thought I needed or wanted to go. It's been a heart changer.

Galatians 4:6

Ephesians 1:18

Much Love.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

--CS Lewis

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Christian Life

One of My Favorite Descriptions of the Christian Life:

I am not what I ought to be.
Ah! how imperfect and deficient.
Not what I might be,
considering my privileges and opportunities.
Not what I wish to be.
God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him.
I am not what I hope to be;
ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as He is.
Not what I once was,
a child of sin, and slave of the devil.

Thought not all these,

not what I ought to be,
not what I might be,
not what I wish or hope to be, and
not what once was,

I think I can truly say with the apostle,

“By the grace of God I am what I am.”

—Cited in Letters of John Newton, p. 400.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

From a Hike - Winter 2008

I needed a break from studying so I headed out into the wilderness. Ok, it was a bike path through the woods. But I was alone, and there was no one in sight. It was nice and warm, above 70 degrees. The trees were completely barren, and the forest floor was awash with flattened leaves. After about 15 minutes of twists and turns, and some time after a slight divergence onto a golf course - (I watched two old farts line up for a sliced and the other faded...I thought: If they had only been born one person...they could've made the tour...) - I noticed a barely trodden path into the woods, and up the side of a hill. It was a medium incline. I glanced behind me and seeing no one around...I hopped off the paved path, into the forest and up the leafy trail. 

That's when things got interesting. I was suddenly completely alone, and on the edge of a great forest. I felt like I had just fallen through the Wardrobe. I began to climb up the small leafy path, and through the trees. (Now, I want to write a detailed description of what followed, because it was so wonderfully spirit filled and vivid. Such a change from my study quarters.)

As I approached the top of the hill, I realized that I was about to overlook quite a summit. And as I crested the top of the ridge, all of a sudden...I was hit with a cacophony of sound. It was loud, when just a minute before, all was silent besides my tripping through forest debris. Suddenly all I could hear was at least a million frogs chirping away from the bottom of the valley that I only now could see. In fact, the ridge overlooked such a steep slope that I couldn't really see to the bottom. I noticed a dead tree stump to my right and hopped up. Only then could I see completely over the ridge to the bottom of the valley. There was a river running through the middle, and the frogs must've been making the waterway their home. It was interesting because, had I not taken the leafy path up the hill, I never would've heard the frogs, or realized that there was such a sudden drop only 50 yards from the paved bike path. 

So I sat on the stump for a bit trying to remain silent and appreciative. I mean, the view over this hill was into...wilderness. No golf course...I could've been in Greenridge State Forest. (I did see a sign that it was a preserve instituted by the City of Raleigh.) After some time, as they always do, the animals began to flit about again. I noticed some things I had never seen before. To my right, about 10 yards away were two woodpeckers. Not the large ones with the crested red heads, but the smaller ones with the red breast and black backs. I didn't know that woodpeckers traveled together. One was clearly male and the other female. They were busy flying back and forth amongst the smaller trees in the underbrush of the forest. I thought the pair together was interesting. Love...exciting and new.

The frogs chirped away.

After some time, I hopped off the stump. As I landed my arms flew up a bit, which scared out of the canopy one of the largest hawks I have ever seen. In his beak was a lifeless animal, (or was it in his talons?)...maybe the size of a skinned rabbit. He flew...or glided perhaps is a better description...across the valley, above the frogs, over the river, and into a tree on the incline on the other side. As he soared he let out a shriek, the likes of which I have only heard in the movies. 'EEEEEEeeeeerrrrrrrrr.' Super high pitched and shrill. You can imagine something before a shootout in a wild west flick. Another cool bit...He landed next to another hawk about half his size. If I hadn't watched the trajectory of his flight, I never would have noticed them sitting together on the other side of the valley. They blended in so well. But there they were, heads a bobbing...silently adjusting on the branch. I watched for another 30 seconds or so...then larger hawk flew off again to the left. I lost track of him in the distance. When I tried to find the smaller hawk, and the branch they both had just been sitting on...I could not.

So I kneeled down on the path and looked around for a couple minutes. Sometimes when I'm in the woods, I get the sudden feeling that someone may be watching me. You see, more than just being paranoid, I know what it's like to be silently sitting in the woods only to be startled by the oncoming noisiness of a hiker coming over a ridge. For the hiker, it's really hard to notice someone sitting motionless at the base of a tree, or partly concealed by a tree. In fact, there have been times when I've heard the onset of people coming my way...voices echoing, tree limbs snapping...and I've just remained still and let them pass by me. Often, they've never noticed my presence. It's not until you stop moving, stop kicking up the underbrush, stop talking...that you notice how quiet it can get in the woods. I guess its a metaphor for life huh? You want to feel the weight of God's presence? Shut your mouth for a bit...unplug from the internet, and be quiet. So maybe someone was watching me...or watching over me...either way it put me on edge a little bit. It made it easier to imagine what ancient people meant when they wrote that God should be 'feared.' His presence is so powerful, that when you accidentally stumble into can almost feel the weight of it pressing you to your knees. Perhaps respect is a better word...except for the fact that it can be pretty scary. Maybe it's not God who's frightening...maybe it's the realization of your own insignificance, the understanding of your own inadequacy in His presence.

Anyway, the point is...I suddenly felt small and vulnerable.

I decided to say a little prayer. I know, I atheist pals would be rolling their eyes at this point...but when the Holy Spirit moves you, there not a whole lot of choice in the matter. So this is what happened next. By the way, I'm not making any of this stuff up. It just happened an hour ago. 

I was still silently crouched in the middle of the forest, on a bed of dead leaves. I got down on my knees, and bowed my head. No sooner had I mouthed 'Lord, forgive me for my transgressions...' When I heard from above, the sound of a booming avalanche. Having already been a little bit on edge, this was a bit much. I must admit...I cried out briefly like a little girl. It startled me. About 20 yards away...a gigantic tree limb, the size of a small tree itself, had snapped from the ceiling of the forest. It was heavy enough to rip down branches of all sizes as it fell. I couldn't believe how loud the initial 'crack' was. It landed with a thud to the forest floor kicking up a pile of leaves and limbs. Boom! I was close enough to feel the impact.

I didn't know whether to take this as a good sign, or perhaps not such a good sign. I sat there looking around, scanning the undergrowth for a while. I quickly wrapped up any prayers, and moved out of the forest and back to the bike path. To say the least, I was quite a bit unnerved.

I was left with the feeling that God had imparted to me this: "You're a good guy. But if you're going to walk around professing to know need to live it too. I hear you, you're forgiven...but never forget...I'm real, I'm here, and I'm powerful. Respect it." Of course I didn't hear these words...I just felt like that was the message of my experience. Which I think...I how the Holy Spirit talks. Like mental telepathy, but straight to your heart.

Upon reflection, it was a great thing. It was a good hike. I wanted to jot it down so I wouldn't forget any of it.

Now back to the books.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Back From Practice

I'm starting to really enjoy Monday nights. We're gearing up for a transition to some more contemporary types of music in Church. So we've formed a little group, and it's starting to come together pretty well. I'm singing, and we also have a high school girl who can blow the roof off the place. She's excellent. It's fun to sing with her because she's always on pitch. Three other high schoolers on guitar, bass, and drums. Our two adult music leaders rock out the piano really well.

What we're working on is called praise music I guess. I'm not really sure, since I wasn't really into church and church music growing up. I remember there was this Catholic girl that lived on my street as a kid who was really into modern Christian music. Even at the time, I thought it was wacky that you could be entering your teenage years and not rebelling at all. Listening to exactly what your parents would love for you to listen to. That to me was odd. But I guess she knew Jesus before I did. Now I don't think listening to praise and worship music is odd at all. Of course, I'm 37 years old.

Work is going well. I'm really, really busy. In my opinion we're understaffed for the amount of cases we're handling. But to make that gripe too often starts to sound like you can't handle it. So I'm waiting to see what happens. The lid has to blow off somewhere. I'll rejoice when they hire a third attorney. That's all I'm saying.

I've been doing what I can to make a positive impact on my clients. I had a case today that made me a bit sad, and in turn demonstrated that I've grown up a bit. Back in the day as a young attorney at the PD's office in Baltimore,...the fellas and I used to clamor to represent the good looking young female criminals. The party girl that was on her third DWI, the prostitute who just got started and wasn't ragged out yet by drugs...etc. We'd check out a mug shot, grab the file and say..."I got this one!" Jeez, even writing it now sounds kind of tasteless, but I think part of it was trying to stay sane in an environment that was sensory overload with sadness.

Well today, I represented a girl all of 21 who was has been charged with prostitution. She is a great looking girl and pretty smart. And probably has a really acute, although pretty well hidden case of bipolar disorder. Of course I don't know that for sure...but her decision making is off at the very least. I ended up positioning her case for a dismissal, but as I left the courthouse and walked to my car...all I felt for her was sadness. She was a vortex of despair. She had that thing where she's not really focusing on what your'e saying, but instead thinking about where she's going to get her next fix. I mean, she's engaging, but she's also distracted. As I drove away I saw her talking to some old guy outside the courthouse. I felt like making a u-turn, rolling down my window and shouting 'Go Home!' I almost did.

It was just sad. And so I was wondering how I could have better handled the situation from a Christian perspective. She needs to know she's valued and loved unconditionally. Somewhere along the line she lost her belief in that. It's tough, because she hasn't hired me to bring her the gospel, she's hired me to get her case dismissed. And I'm really good at what she's hired me for, and not so good quite yet at bringing up the good news. Anyway...that was a bit of a rabbit hole I wasn't intending on going down with this post. I think the point is, as you grow up and get a bit more mature...the gravity of these situations hits home in a more profound way. I saw her not so much from a worldly perspective, but more as a lost soul who has no hope. That was a hard thing to stare at.

Well, that was a bit depressing. I'll give it to prayer tonight. There's a lot of street people out there with mental health conditions. I'm going to make that a focus of my prayer tonight. It will be good especially because my little family has been blessed enough to look at buying a new home over the past couple of weeks. Only by the grace of God have I been given the opportunity to be doing that. I'm thankful.

OK...good night.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

God's In Control

So today I found myself hanging out, and talking theology in a cozy environment with one of the more respected theologians of our time. I am truly blessed. 10 years ago, I was living completely for myself and doing my dangest to satisfy my every fleeting whim. Now I'm getting up close and personal with people like Norman Geisler, Tim Keller and Michael Green. I've met Dinesh D'souza and Lee Strobel, who've written some great evangelical and apologetic books that have inspired me. I've met leaders in the Anglican church like Robert Duncan and Todd Hunter. Amazing. Inspiring people that have given their lives to Christ.

Today it was Michael Green. From Wikipedia:

Green has been a prolific writer, with much of his work written for a popular reading audience, although he has also contributed to academic studies. Many of his best known books discuss the twin topics of evangelism and apologetics.
One of Green's objectives has been to equip lay Christian believers in their grasp of the gospel message, and to then have confidence to converse with others about faith matters. These practical objectives are very clear in books such as Evangelism, Now and Then and Sharing Your Faith With Friends and Family. At a technical level Green has contributed a valuable academic study of the praxis and theory of evangelism in Evangelism in the Early Church. This work explores the development of evangelism through the New Testament texts and from the early church fathers, and is a basic text in Christian missions. He has built on those foundational studies in his advocacy of evangelism at a parish church level, both through his personal ministry and in his book Evangelism Through the Local Church.
His apologetic work has generally focussed on popular misconceptions and objections held by non-Christians. In books such as You Must Be JokingWorld on the Run and Why Bother With Jesus, Green deals with attitudes of religious indifference and scepticism. He also addresses a variety of objections concerning religious hypocrisy, religious pluralism, and popular questions of doubt and unbelief. He has also examined the evidences for the life, death and resurrection of Christ in Man Alive and again in the revision of that book The Day Death Died.
He has considered aspects of apologetic methodology and strategy in his co-authored work with Alister McGrathAside from his apologetic writings, Green has also addressed issues of discipleship in the Christian life, ministry and leadership in the church, the doctrine of baptism, pneumatology (the Holy Spirit) and demonology. He has also written non-technical commentaries on certain books of the New Testament...etc. you get the drift...the guy is a big deal in his circle. He has been referred to as the Billy Graham of Europe. And here I am, sitting in a bar with about 20 other people shooting the breeze with him on the topics of Christian life, evangelism and theology. What?!?
Last week, I got to spend three days in a small room listening to Tim Keller. Now I'm on to Michael Green. God indeed has a plan for our lives. It was sometime in the summer months of 2006 when Reba interrupted me from doing some online fantasy football research (very important) to inform me that she was pregnant, (and I went straight to church for the first time in eons), that God put me on a road to the bar I was sitting in today. Oh, and I had a coke. I was sitting in a bar for two hours drinking soda, on superbowl Sunday, talking about Jesus Christ. This is ME we're talking about here. You don't believe in the transformative power of the living Christ?? The proof is manifest in the changes I've undergone in the past five years. Praise God.
So, I didn't miss the opportunity to ask a question on the topic of last weeks blogs. I've been struggling with the question of Calvinism. About how we can exercise Free Will if God's in complete control of everything. About what it means to be an Anglican, and whether the 39 Articles are more Arminian/Weslyan than Calvinist...etc. So I addressed it to Green.
Here's what he had to say. Which was brilliant by the way...
First, he stated scripture supports both a strict and a moderate view of the five points of Calvinism. The scripture says that some are elect, but it also commands to spread the gospel to all of the world. That God has a perfect plan for your life, but that you are also free to decide to accept him or not. Ie: That God is in Control of all things while we also exercise Free Will. And because Green is who he is...he immediately pulled this verse out of his theologian cap to back up his point: 
John 6:37 "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will never cast out.
There you have it in one sentence. The strict election of Calvinism in the first part, and the more moderate free will approach of Arminianism in the second. It's like a father holding out his finger, and the child looking up and grabbing it. You can't grab it without God enticing you towards it...but it's up to you to take a hold of it. If you reach up to grab it, God will NEVER pull his hand away. Green said further that in his daily life as a priest he employs both Strict Calvinism and more Moderate Calvinism. He said that before he goes to give a sermon, he is on his knees as an Extreme Calvinist. Giving complete glory to God and acknowledging that God is in complete control of his preaching. On his knees Green asks for help, knowing that nothing good can come from the sermon and out of his mouth, unless God is directing it all. And then, from the pulpit, his conduct is that of an Arminian. He is telling people that they have the right to choose God, to look up and say accept Gods hand at their own volition. Inviting people to say to God: I accept what you've done for me, and I accept that without your hand holding mine...I will not become the person that you have planned for me to be.

Man...what an answer. It was exactly what I was looking for. It was exactly the passage that I needed to read to put this question to rest for myself.

As I contemplated and prayed about it the past couple of days I did come up with some illustrations for myself that I wanted to write down so I didn't forget. I know that we can't understand all the ways of God. There are Holy mysteries that will not be revealed until the end times. But even so, I felt I should be able to come up with examples of how God can be in complete control, even while people are exercising the free will to ignore Him. Illustrations for how we can be preordained to sin, but at the same time choose a one way eternal trajectory to Hell. 
Here's what I got:
In law, one can be in control or possession of an object without touching it. This is a concept that my clients often don't want to hear about. It's called 'Dominion and Control'. For example, when the marijuana is in arms reach of two people, but neither one of them is holding it, they are both guilty of a crime. They can both be charged and successfully prosecuted for MJ possession. Another example: When I'm teaching my son to ride his bike, there are moments when I take my hand off his seat so that he can in fact guide the bike on his own. He doesn't understand all that's happening. He doesn't know whether I am directing him, or if he is directing himself...but in all aspects I am still in control. One little slip, and I'll be there to catch him. However, he his exercising the Free Will to peddle and steer, all the while entrusting me to guide his journey. Both of these thoughts came to me in the middle of the night. I was struggling to imagine how God can be in control without directly touching or interfering with our choices. I'm shocked that I remembered them.

One last thing. As humans, we so desperately want to put things in a linear timeline. We want to say that God must be cruel to have decided from the beginning wether some of us would be sinners, and others repenters. And that the sinners would be punished at the end of time, for what they were preordained to become. That sounds cruel doesn't it? But what we forget and what is hard for us to comprehend, is that  God is a mist that completely envelops the linear concept of time. He is, at the very moment that I'm typing this, at the beginning the middle and the end of the timeline of the universe. At the same time you exercise the free will to sin, God is watching it happen...but he is also still at the beginning of time knowing it will happen, and also at the end of the timeline with the hindsight of whether you ever repented for the sin. So he is in complete control, and complete knowledge of the past future and present, because He exists in all of it. Another way to describe this:

Lets say you are at the bottom of a dark tunnel inside a mountain. At the other end, at the opening of the tunnel, you can see the daylight streaming in. Once a day you catch a glimpse of a train roll by. You can only see the train at the exact time that it goes by the mouth of the tunnel. But God...he is perched on top of the mountain. He can see the train coming, as it arrives, and as it is far gone past the tunnel entrance. This is a great illustration of our perspectives, verses God's perspective.

The lesson for me? God is in control of my life, and he has a perfect plan for my life. I can see that by the way he has positioned me to spend time with these amazing Christians over the past five years. Even the smallest decision could have resulted in Reba and I staying in Baltimore, or never finding our living faith in the risen Christ. It was a fragile journey that I know I could not have navigated without God running behind my bike, hand right behind my seat. I have the free will to direct choices about my career and my personal life. I even have the right to look up and reject God, or choose to hold his hand. But beyond that, I entrust the rest to him. The rest of the stuff is beyond my pay grade. I entrust Him completely with the big picture. to exercise my freewill and watch the Superbowl. Much Love.